It’s true what people in Penang say about drivers in Kuala Lumpur: They drive really fast and are one brake pedal away from a major wreck. I added that last part.
It’s pretty scary to be in a car with a real KL driver. Drivers love to hit the gas hard and then tail the cars in front of them closely, even if it means pumping the break real hard every few seconds.
They follow some interesting rules: Why drive in just one lane when there are two? Merge means nosing your way into a lane just far enough to force the other guy to jam his brake. See pedestrians? Speed up and honk as a warning that you’re coming through, so they best wait as you whiz past their toes at 30 mph.
And unlike in Bangkok, the traffic actually moves in KL, so crazy drivers operate at decent speeds. Los Angeles drivers don’t even come close. Imagine aggressive New York drivers, but worse.
Parking lots in this country are poorly laid out, that goes for Penang and KL. Streets and alleys are one-way only and parking areas are so narrow that there’s no space for other cars to pass. This effectively means that people trying to get out get caught in the squish of cars stalking shoppers to get a spot. I experienced a traffic standstill inside of a mall parking lot, it was mind numbing.
There’s also not much regard for safety in this country or any others in Southeast Asia. It’s undoubtedly my American upbringing and the litigiousness of society back home that makes me even notice these things. Still, it’s like an urban jungle out there.
Open trenches are everywhere, so you have to watch that you don’t step into one when exiting your car. There are little stairs and uneven ground in places you least expect. I’m not sure how very old or disabled people get around. And to top it all off, there’s no car seat rule for children.
Malaysia is the first majority Muslim country that I’ve visited. A little over 60 percent of the population practices Islam. The rest is roughly 20 percent Buddhism, 10 percent Christian, 6 percent Hindu and then other minor traditional Chinese religions.
The majority of women wear headscarves, but otherwise I didn’t notice much overt conservatism. Malay society overall actually felt more tolerant in some ways than even Thailand.
In Thailand, a woman must wear a dress or a cap-sleeve blouse and a skirt, otherwise she’ll get lots of strange looks. In Malaysia, the Chinese and others who don’t practice Islam don’t seem to feel pressured to dress conservatively. They wear strappy sleeveless tops and short shorts and no one seems to care. Everybody gets along.
But the conservative government has tried lately to create social divisions. Most recently, a Malaysian court made international headlines for outlawing the word “Allah” for non-Muslims. It’s a move to repress the practice of other religions, as the only word for God in Malay is Allah. Christians and others who speak Malay use the word.
The Islamic police in Malaysia have also been in the news recently for crashing weddings and funerals and dragging brides and dead bodies away because the ceremonies allegedly involved persons who were at one time Muslim. The police also recently raided a wedding and jailed 17 transgender women for being an offense to Islam. A court later sentenced all but one to seven days in prison and had their heads forcibly shaved.
Now is the season for Middle East visitors in Malaysia. I saw some women wearing full hijab or burqa. Nothing showing but their hands and eyes. I’m told they come to Malaysia because they feel a little more welcome here than in other places.
And in unrelated news, this country has an obesity problem. They put sugar in everything and I did notice that of the Asian nations I’ve visited so far, Malaysians are by far the chubbiest. And no wonder: there’s such good food in this country!