Out and About in Kuala Lumpur

As much as we loved George Town, eventually we decided it was time to move on and see more of Malaysia. We spent four days in Kuala Lumpur just before Christmas exploring the city sights and getting a dose of culture.

Batu Caves

Just north of Kuala Lumpur are the Batu Caves, a series of caves and cave temples dedicated to the Hindu god Murugan. The main cavern is over 100 meters above the ground and you must climb 272 steps to reach the complex. Outside the caves sits another Hindu temple and museum as well as a nearly 43 meter high Murugan statue.

The area was full of monkeys that have lost all fear of humans. The caves themselves were very large and not that easy to capture on film, but the statues at the temples both inside and outside the caves made for interesting photography.

Petronas Towers

The landmark symbol of Kuala Lumpur are the Petronas Towers. At 88 stories with a sky bridge between them at level 43, the twin towers are an impressive sight.

At the base of the towers is a mall that, despite being in a Muslim country, seemed quite ready for Christmas. The sound of Bing Crosby singing Christmas tunes rang out through the mall.

The main Christmas tree in the mall below the Petronas Towers. A live Santa and choir were scheduled to appear a few hours later.

A mall was not the only thing at the base of the towers. A free art gallery featured an exhibit on an art project where Petronas funded graffiti artists to create giant murals around the city about the Malaysian identity. On one hand, it was encouraging to see young Malaysian artists inspired to create public art to bring about a shared sense of public pride and identity. On the other, it felt too orchestrated - oil company and government funding, a fancy music video, and an aggressive Twitter hashtag campaign (#tanahairku) that seemed to rob some of the authenticity from the art. The overall feel was like that of a parent or uncle who was trying to be cool but didn't quite know how to fit in with the young kids. The rebel, edgy spirit that street artists are often known for was undercut by the professional marketing of Petronas and government funding. On the other other hand (religious statues in Asia often have many hands, you see), I am in support of public and privately supported art efforts meant to unify a population around its diversity, even if it feels a little top down.

There is also Petrosians, a science center aimed at kids that we're told does a fantastic job of explaining how oil is key to many of today's technological advancements.

The Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra

Finally, the basement of the towers also served as home to the music hall of the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra. Upon arriving to town, I checked the MPO's schedule and found two pieces of good news: 1) they were playing "Carnival of the Animals" by Saint-Saëns while we were in town and 2) tickets are heavily subsidized. I snagged two front row tickets for Kelsi and I (which also happened to be the cheapest in the house) and we prepared for a cultured evening.

We hit a minor snag that afternoon while picking up our tickets. The main at the box office kindly clarified what the strict "smart casual" dress code meant. No matter how nice our sandals are, closed toed shoes are a strict requirement of "smart casual". We were then forced to spend the remainder of our afternoon searching for the cheapest shoes we could find that were actually large enough to fit our American feet.  At the time we only owned sandals as we had both thrown out our other shoes on the road as we wore them out.

The search for the shoes was well worth it, however, as Kelsi and I both enjoyed the performance more than any other classical music concert we've ever attended. Sitting in the front row our view was partially obscured by the stage, but we were so close I was reading the first chair's music over his shoulder and as we looked at the members of the orchestra that weren't obstructed from our view, we could see intensity and emotion in their face as they played. The first chair cellist, in particular, has such an expressive face as he played I literally laughed out loud several times during the performance.

If you are like us, you probably have heard parts of Carnival of the Animals even if you don't know it by name. Hearing the piece live while watching the performers elevated the music to an experience I don't think I'll soon have the fortune of experiencing again. We laughed during the cuckoo movement, sat captured by the first cellist during the swan movement, but our favorite was without a doubt the aquarium movement. I was literally slacked jawed as it rang out through the auditorium. As they played it I found myself wishing the movement would not end. It was a moment of music I don't think I will ever forget.

You have probably heard the aquarium movement before. Whether you have or not, I have embedded it below for your listening pleasure.