One of the things that amazes me the most – even four months in – is how close everything is within Kuala Lumpur. This morning I decided to watch the new Stars Wars movie and it was no more than a ten minute drive: finding a reasonable parking spot took longer.
The last time I lived in Malaysia, it was on the outskirts of Kajang, and any journey into or out of Kuala Lumpur took approximately 45-60 minutes, worse if traffic was more unkind. So any plans would need to have factored in the time element: want to watch a show at 11am? To be safe, leave the house at 9.30am. A meeting at 5pm? Make sure you’re already on the road by 3.15pm.
I took a conscious decision to live in KL because over the 18 years that I have spent in the UK, I was never more than a 30 minute walk or bike ride away from work; and the thought of living in Bangi where my parents’ homestead is and spend – at a bare minimum, 90 minutes a day – on the road, felt untenable, alien – and a waste of time. It seemed… inefficient, with little gains to be made in other respects. [My brothers and sisters, for instance, live with the commute because they gain in terms of childcare, property prices and quality of family life living where they do].
And I must say this lack of distance, this ability to be anywhere within a 10-20 minute drive or cab ride, continues to make me smile. It’s actually privilege… and sometimes it makes me feel guilty. Not having to sit in traffic is something I am lucky to be able to afford: both financially and as a lifestyle choice.
These are the small, small things that make a big, big difference sometimes. It’s strange, it’s alien, it’s unsettling, even. In fact, the whole city still feels strange, alien and unsettling. It’s been over four months, and I bet it will still feel like this in four decades. Kuala Lumpur is a dynamic city, always under construction, always with a shifting underbelly that you miss if you blink too slowly. I think I’m going to end up even more lost when I leave than when I arrived, but I think that’s alright.