Critical Reflections on the Kuala Lumpur City Center

Upon arrival in Kuala Lumpur several differences in the city were immediately noticeable. As soon as you step off the plane there are places for Islamic prayer in the terminal. If one was not aware that Malaysia was an Islamic country the presence of these prayer centers affirms this fact.

Once everyone was settled in, the first place we went to in Kuala Lumpur was Jalan Alor, literally translating to “Food Street,” for dinner. There are no words to describe Jalan Alor at night. Street vendors feel almost all encompassing as you walk down the street while staff from each place to eat shoves menus in your face while dragging you to sit down. The experience is, in one word, surreal.  Adding to this chaos is the fact that Jalan Alor, giving off the vibe of a pedestrian use only location, has cars, mopeds and bikes zipping down the block within a foot of your seat while you eat.

While eating it is impossible not to notice the dichotomy in the skyline. The immediate built environment is one of antiquity but is sharply contrasted with skyscrapers, which were built within the last 5 years, painfully noticeable in the distance. Early 20th century shophouses surround Jalan Alor, highlighting the heritage of the people who originally lived in the neighborhood, while the condominiums that are in the background represent the new urban setting.

These aspects are similarly seen in the Petaling Street Market. At night people stand shoulder to shoulder while walking through shop after shop, offering you different knock off goods for low prices. Even as the surrounding buildings suffocate the shoppers the skyscrapers are still looming over in the distance, reminding the people of the new guard in Kuala Lumpur.

These aspects of Kuala Lumpur; the religious presence, the hectic density and striking contrast in built environment are all aspects that are different than Pittsburgh. One way to describe Kuala Lumpur is an organized mess. Getting from place to place isn’t hard but the route you have to take, and time it takes to find something that is seemingly close by, is different than the meticulousness of Pittsburgh.

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