Part of being out of your comfort zone is being uncomfortable, and part of my reason for coming to Malaysia was to get out of my comfort zone. Let’s just say mission accomplished.
I’m not going to lie, it has been a difficult week, and the culture shock of being in a developing, southeastern Asian country is unlike anything I have ever experienced before.
As much as I love traveling and new adventures, much of the past few days has been spent desperately clinging to anything and everything western, as I cautiously come out of my shell. There is a big difference between jumping into experience a new culture while on vacation and accepting the realization that you will be living in this very (VERY) different country for the next two years.
So soon after arriving in Malaysia, I learned that my office is actually not in the Kuala Lumpur city center (the downtown), but instead in Cheras, one of the city’s suburbs. In fact, UCSI thought it best to put me in Hotel Caliber for my first two weeks, which is in a dirty, all-Chinese district of the city where practically no one speaks English, at least not well. In fact, I am the ONLY non-Asian here, which has made things a bit lonely.
Luckily, I discovered the city center is a $4, 15-minute cab ride away, and vastly different than its surrounding areas. KLCC is actually quite modern. It is dominated by the Petronas Towers, two quite stunning twin towers that were the world’s largest between 1998 and 2004. Attached to it is the ridiculously huge, six-level Suria KLCC shopping mall, which not only has practically every popular American brand, but loads of high-end designer stores and my favorite European shops that I could never find in the U.S. (Zara, Mango, TopShop etc.). In front of that is KLCC Park which features a large, pool/fountain that comes to life in the evenings with a pretty impressive water show. The area also has practically any kind of food you could want ranging from every type of Asian cuisine and lots of American restaurants and fast food places. Interesting side note: as a mostly Muslim country, it is really difficult to find pork products around here. Instead, I have noticed restaurants offer chicken “bacon” and chicken “ham,” products that look like the pork equivalent, but in fact, are not. I find it very amusing :).
So on Day 2, I decided to sneak a peak at the UCSI University campus (my employer) to see if I would like to live in the area. While the university itself looks nice, my reaction to living nearby was a loud, hell no! The surrounding area is mostly residential but absolutely reeks of sewage and is full of open gaps in the sidewalk that reveal the dirty running water below. There are random piles of garbage everywhere, and I found myself holding my breath on a number of occasions. I quickly decided it was worth the money and the time to commute from KLCC.
So the last few days have been spent looking at apartments, and hopefully, I will be moved into one by the end of this week. I found a nice one today that is about a five-minute walk from the Petronas Towers that I like and tomorrow I will see a few more.
Though it has been a difficult week, I have been slowly but steadily pushing myself further out of my cocoon (and KLCC). Today I went on my first tourist excursion and visited the Kuala Lumpur Bird Park which is supposedly the largest, free-flight aviary in the world. Though I have never been much of a bird person, the park was pretty impressive. It is huge and full of lush green vegetation, waterfalls and ponds. Nearly the whole thing is covered in a large net, which allows many of the birds to fly and trot around with the tourists. The more exotic species are in their own contained areas but are still pretty cool to see. Some of the highlights of my visit were listening to the hornbill birds bark at each other (I swear they sounded like dogs!) and watching the storks and flamingoes feed near the waterfall, some a little too close for comfort… Perhaps the coolest part of my trip was getting my photo taken with some of the birds. For RM8 (about $2.50), you pick two birds to perch on you while one of the park employees takes your picture. I was just a tad squeamish and thought the whole thing would be a quick photo and move on. But my photo lady had other plans. To my (slightly terrified) delight, she took like five photos and kept moving the birds around in different positions and insisted that I pet them. I must say, it was pretty cool and an experience I’m not sure I could have gotten in the U.S.
Tomorrow will be my first day at work, which I am looking forward to. It will be nice to get more settled in and start meeting new people. So for now, onwards and upwards!