Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Merdeka Square Tour - Kuala Lumpur

As is true of city dwellers everywhere we only find out what our home city offers when we have a house guest. This time we signed up for the free Merdeka Square Guided Tour, sponsored by Kuala Lumpur City Hall. When I saw the tour map I imaged a fact-filled, boring walk from building to building. I don't find viewing historic buildings as engaging as visiting a community full of traditional foods and crafts.

I was wrong. A potentially dry tour was informative and entertaining. Our guide was Jackie Wong; he did an excellent job of combining facts with stories. My initial hypothesis, based on thinking about our favorite guides in India, Vietnam, and Malaysia, was that more mature guides are better. (We had at least one youngish guide in Indonesia who challenges this hypothesis. He had the same skills as older guides.)  I recalled a guide in India who said that he found people interesting and that is what kept him doing a potentially boring job. A better hypothesis.

Model of KL - Upstairs at City Gallery

I have no idea if Jackie Wong enjoyed people or found them interesting, but I would be shocked if we didn't. Our tour group of 11 had tourists from France, Sweden, China, the UK, Canada, and the US. Jackie shared our names and nationalities with the group. This simple strategy encouraged short conversations as we walked along.

The tour started at the KL City Gallery, the former home of the Government (British) Printing Office. As we looked at its exterior Jackie told us about John Russell, who came from England to establish the printing office in KL (I googled John Russell to make sure that I remembered the facts correctly. His father was not the man listed on his birth certificate. Rather his father was the step-father of his mother. John Russell and his wife put their first born son in a fondly home. A contrast to Victorian England's puritanical reputation. One of his sons owned various business ventures including Boh Tea, which is currently led by a third-generation family member. I found this bit of history interesting, because my recollection is that tours of the Boh tea estate is all about tea, not its founders. This contrasts with Royal Selangor Pewter where you might even meet a family member in the sales room.

I half expected that we would wave at the National Textile Museum, but we went in and viewed the rooms with the different national costumes (Indian, Malay, Chinese, Orang Asli, and Peranakan) and accessories. We stopped to see the confluence of the Klang and Gombok Rivers that give Kuala Lumpur its name, i.e., muddy estuary. (I always thought that it meant muddy waters.)

We stopped at the former KL City Hall, now the City Theatre, where its dance troupe performed three dances. (Jackie told us that each performance is different, and the number of dancers may vary.) The performance was entertaining - neither overly long or overly pretentious. All the dancers were Malay. I learned that at least one dancer trained at the Temple of Fine Arts. I would like to have learned more about where the dancers studied. Dance performances by Indian or Chinese troupes are relatively common. Performances by Malay groups seem equally uncommon.

It's not every City Hall that has a dance troupe

Our last stop was the Royal Selangor Club, where
we were able to order drinks at the long bar at members' prices. The club's decor felt very clubby. At the entrance to the long bar was sign not allowing ladies. We were told that we (women) could enter the bar, but we would
have to drink on the veranda. Somewhere there was a miscommunication. No problem, we sat on the veranda and enjoyed the view. A much better ending than finishing in a gift shop. 

My final surprise was when we left. We asked for directions to GoKL, the city's wonderful bus that loops around downtown. We were directed to Central Market, which was where the saw the union of the Gombak and Klang Rivers, i.e., very close. We go to Central Market often and we have been to performances at the City Theatre. But I don't remember being at the back of Central Market or if I had I didn't pay attend. Same with the City Theatre; we approach it from another part street. So I not only learned more about the city's history, I improved my knowledge of its geography.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Doug and Liz,
    This is Umut, the Turkish student in NCSU back in 1996 whom you were the "host family" for :) Today, just out of nowhere, I thought about you guys and wondered how you have been doing since the last 15 years or so. I am glad that I was able to find your blog through a 5-minute web search. I wish you good luck in your new life in Malaysia. My email is umut.eksi@gmail.com.
    All the best,