Kuala Lumpur, MALAYSIA – It’s going to be a great summer in Houston.
I know this because I am in the only place on earth I know of where a Houston summer seems refreshing in comparison. Welcome to Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, site of the 2012 World Gas Conference, some 10,000 miles from Houston.
Malaysia was a former British colony that became independent in 1957. This constitutional monarchy is split by the South China Sea into two: Peninsular Malaysia and Malaysian Borneo. Land borders are shared with Thailand, Indonesia, and Brunei, and maritime borders exist with Singapore, Vietnam, and the Philippines. The capital city is Kuala Lumpur though not the seat of the federal government, according to Wikipedia.
Two-thirds of this diverse country is covered by forests. Since independence, Malaysia has developed one of the best economic records in Asia, with GDP growing an average 6.5% for almost 50 years. It now has the world’s 29th-largest economy. Nearly 30 million live in the country with 3 million residing in this sprawling capital city, home of Cesar Pelli’s world-famous 1,483-foot Petronas Towers.
High-rise buildings are cropping up all over the city. The Petronas Towers were built to be the centerpiece of the financial district. The convention center is next to the towers as is a glamorous shopping mall that would be the envy of any city.
Arriving after my two-day trip, a designated driver picks me up for the 35-mile trip to my hotel. Taip is a gregarious third-generation Malaysian whose grandparents moved here from India. We discuss everything from palm oil (the leading export) to politics to Western movies to his biggest passion – professional wrestling. Tuesday nights they can’t wait for WWE on national TV. John Cena, you’ve got major fans over here.
Everyone is extremely courteous and appreciative of the interest shown in their country. On the surface, those of varied nationalities appear to work well together though some say that native Malays who comprise about 50% of the population receive preferential treatment by the government. Islam is the national religion but freedom of religion is evident.
Getting back to that heat: This is like walking into a blast furnace. Temperatures are in the mid-90s with matching humidity. I literally watch waves of heat drift skyward from the steamy sidewalks. We are truly in the tropics here.
My hotel is a 10-minute walk to the convention center, if you know the way. The streets curve every which way so unless you check for nearby landmarks, getting lost is easy. Trust me. That first day’s trip to the center takes 20 minutes, even longer on the way back as I carry a loaded briefcase. Dehydration and the effects of serious jet lag are combining forces against me; but the fourth security guard I ask finally directs me back to the hotel.
I won’t get lost again, but my shirts are soaked in perspiration within five minutes of leaving the hotel.
I do a guided tour one morning along with Italian, Argentine, and Australian tourists. We drive through Chinatown, Little India, walk into the stunning new Chinese temple, up to the gates of the king’s palace, the national war memorial that was designed by an American, and end up at a leather goods shop, a sarong and shirt store, and a chocolate candy store that especially seems to attract Chinese tourists.
We have limited TV; no wrestling, plenty of soccer on ESPN, some 9 a.m. baseball games, and full coverage of the Queen’s diamond jubilee on CNN.
I have an affinity for Her Highness, being that she’s had the job about as long as I’ve been alive. But don’t you wonder when poor Charles is going to get his chance? My survey of Brits at the conference is pretty unanimous. Sorry Charlie.
Returning to the airport, the speedometer cracks 160 kmh. I hold on tightly and close my eyes. Sometimes it’s best not to know.
P.S. Thanks to the housekeeper at the Corus Hotel who turned in my forgotten iPod.