Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Tallest Building My Ass

It’s 4:30am as I’m starting this. I’ve been sitting in this small, windowless room for nine hours. At some point during that time, if my brain worked properly, it would have told me to go to sleep. If my brain worked properly, it would be telling me to do that right now.

It isn’t that I’m not tired. I’m very tired. It’s not even that I have insomnia. I could close my eyes and be gone inside a minute. I just don’t.

It sounds stupid, doesn’t it?

I’ve had this problem all my life.

Some kid on Pulau Tioman introduced me to Spider Solitaire. It’s one of those dumb games that comes built-in with windows. It should be called Freebase Solitaire. That’s what I spent the last nine hours doing. I didn’t move. I didn’t even go to the bathroom. My back is sore from sitting frozen in the same hunched-over position all that time.

Unhealthy.

To get to Kuala Lumpur, I took the ferry from Pulau Tioman to a small town called Mersing, then caught a bus across the peninsula to KL. I was the only non-Malaysian onboard. It wasn’t at all the crowded, sweaty, smelly, bumpy ride I was expecting. It was a brand new deluxe bus with personal lights and fans above each seat. The road was newly paved and as smooth as any road I’ve been on. The houses we passed also seemed reasonably nice. Malaysia is definitely crawling its way out of the third world.

It struck me during this ride that I’d somehow acquired the notion in childhood, and still carry it in the back of my head to some extent, that you can’t live a comfortable and happy life outside the United States or one of its affiliate subsidiaries. Not true at all.

Funny side note: the in-bus entertainment was a Metallica concert video called "Cunning Stunts."

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I saw this resort on Tioman. It was built seven years ago, and as the story goes, the investors ran out of money before it opened. They also found out that their waterfront was a protected marine park, so they couldn’t build anything off it. It’s been sitting there empty for all that time. The rooms are ready, but no one is coming.

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Fruit bats hanging out in a tree.

Okay, Petronas Towers. According to the Malaysian government, it’s the tallest skyscraper in the world, so of course I had to make a day of it. But as I discovered, it has numerous problems:

1. To start with, it’s ugly. Two giant ballpoint pens reaching into the sky.

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2. Petronas only has 88 floors. The Sears Tower has 108. The World Trade Center had 110.

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3. There’s just no way it’s the tallest building in the world. They measure it at 452 meters, counting the full height of the antennas. They measure the Sears Tower in Chicago at 442 meters, but curiously, they decided not to count the antennas on that one. If they did, it’d be over 500. The Sears has a viewing deck all the way up around 435 meters, whereas the top floor of Petronas is only at around 370. But it’s a moot point anyway, cause you can’t even get up that high. Which brings me to my next point.

4. If you’re going to go to the trouble of building such a tall structure, it’s a good idea to actually let people go to the top. Not Petronas. All they offer is a trip to their 41st floor skybridge, a staggering 170 meters above the ground. There are hotels in Kuala Lumpur that go higher than that. There are HILLS in Kuala Lumpur that go higher than that. It’s like being in any reasonably tall building, except it’s worse because you know you’re not even halfway up to where you could be looking out from.

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I had a better view from my balcony in Brisbane.

I’m having to get used to being hit on fairly frequently by Malaysian women. Of all things, Superman seems to be really popular here, and they think I look like Clark Kent. I’ve heard this a couple times, and I’ve also gotten Peter Parker. I guess the glasses make me look like a mild-mannered alter ego.

One woman stopped me in the street and told me I was American. I agreed. She started chatting me up. I told her I was from New York, and she asked if the World Trade Center had been destroyed. I confirmed that yes, it had been. She told me her sister was going to America and tried to drag me to see her. I told her I was tired and had to get back to my hotel, but she insisted until I finally agreed to meet the two of them at 5:00pm. I really really didn’t want to. It was very awkward.

I get back to my room and immediately start stressing about whether or not to meet them. I felt obligated, as an American, not to be rude. But I had a pretty strong inkling that this woman was going to try to marry me off to her sister, and I didn’t want to deal with that.

In the end, my conscious and subconscious minds colluded to prevent me from showing up at the designated time. I took a nap and awoke around 10 to 5. I showed up at the meeting place at 10 past. They had left already. It was the perfect, guilt-free outcome. I was there. They just didn’t wait around long enough.

Malaysia has a similar ethnic mix to Singapore, but in different proportions. There are many more indigenous Malay people, less of a Chinese presence but still strong, and not many Indians at all. What amazed me is that they all really do get along pretty well. Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindi living in harmony. It’s heartwarming.

I asked a cab driver how they managed to coexist peacefully. He explained that if they didn’t, they had their heads cut off.

Fair enough.

Shopping for bootleg s tuff is really fun. I ca n get thousands of DVDs for USD$1.50 each. I can get a cartridge with 100 Game Boy games for USD$15. All sorts of imitation clothing and watches are available, though I have no use for any of that. It’s a bit annoying dealing with the salespeople, but it’s great what you can get. The moral issue has no impact on me. There’s just no way Malaysians could afford to buy this stuff at the prices we charge. It’s too easy to pirate and it’s impossible to prevent.

Anyway, I don’t plan on engaging in it other than when I’m in these countries, and I doubt I’ll even bring much of the stuff I buy back with me. It’s just disposable entertainment for when I’m sitting around in my hotel.

I will probably cave and watch a bootleg of the new Matrix movie if they make one of decent quality.

Has everybody heard about that Chinese actor who committed suicide a few weeks ago? His name was Leslie Cheung. He starred in Farewell My Concubine and some other lesser-known films. He was getting on in years and losing his good looks. Work was drying up, so he decided to end it all. He had plans to meet his agent for lunch in front of his hotel in Hong Kong. She called from her cell phone while he was up at the gym on the 44th floor. He told her he’d be right down.

And he was.

I really admire that. If you’re gonna go, make it memorable. And if at all possible, do it with a sense of humor.

I had a great conversation with a Malaysian cab driver named Man. He wanted to move to the US, so he had me explain what salaries are like and how much it costs to live there. I told him that lunch at a restaurant in a place like New York or LA can cost $15, once tax and tip are included. Then I had to explain tipping, which he found mind-boggling. $15 is about what Man spends on food in two weeks.

I tried to discourage him from going. He had that old-fashioned image of America as a happy fairyland where opportunities abound and hard work is always rewarded. I don’t know if my efforts did much. That’s a difficult image to shatter without letting someone experience it firsthand.

We had a really good talk about the whole terrorist thing. Once he realized I wasn’t a Bush supporter, the floodgates opened. Man is a muslim, and like most muslims, he’s very worried about the American attitude toward his religion. And well he should be, I suppose. I explained that most of us really don’t know much about it, and we don’t particularly want to. I told him that when people have money, they don’t want to be exposed to people and places that don’t, because it makes them feel obligated to do something about it. And I told him that most of us are very frightened by the rest of the world.

I think he was happy to hear me say all that. He gave me his phone number in case I ever got in trouble. He was a really swell guy.

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Went to another Chinese restaurant. It had a vegetarian set meal that included vegetarian shrimp, vegetarian squid, vegetarian chicken, and vegetarian fish ball soup.

Went to the hawker stands in BB Park. There wasn’t anything I’d be willing to eat, but it was neat to look at.

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Okay, I’m off to Sipadan in Borneo for some diving. Then Sandakan to see monkeys and stuff.

33 Responses to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Tallest Building My Ass

  1. Mom

    I’m in awe – and I wonder how you will feel about the U.S. when you return. I have pictures of you in your various countries taped around my office. You look quite thin in the picture at the southernmost part of Asia continent and I understand why after hearing about your food choices. Keep writing – I feel as if I am traveling around with you. Love, Mom

  2. Judy Kimball

    Matt, enjoying your insights on your travels. You’ll probably get to see the Matrix before we all do–although I’m planning to go this Wed. at 10PM. Continue to explore!

  3. Jennifer Rice

    Dear Clark: stay away from wet cats, bad chinese food, bootleg DVD porn, and cab drivers who support bush. Love Lois

  4. Matt

    I’d heard of skyscrapers.com, but never went. So they somehow managed to get the antennas on the Petronas Towers to be officially regarded as part of the building’s structure. That’s so lame. It’s just a vestigial pole they stuck on the top. You can’t go anywhere near it. Yeah, I’m pretty sure I’m still losing weight. It’s hard not to. I don’t know why travel isn’t hyped more as a way to lose weight. Of course, you have to go to the right places.

  5. Paul

    Alright Matt, Been to KL a few times. Totally agree with the Petronas Towers “Sky Bridge” experience. Only letting visitors go about a third of the way up sucked. And no it definitely aint the tallest building in the world now. I think you must have had an unexpected bad food experience as KL food is 10x better than here in London and at least 5x cheaper!

  6. Justin

    Matt… I don’t care what anybody else has said in the comments section before… you kick ass. I showed your dancing video to my mom and brother, they thought it was absouletly amazing. I wish I could travel the world like that. Dance on man.

  7. Alex

    If you want to go up something tall pay a visit to the CN Tower in Toronto :) There is an observation deck stationed at 450Meters, which is only a few meters short of the top of the Petronas TOP!

  8. Elynne

    Was your trip that bad? I live in this horrible country.. Ha ha ha! Food wise, unfortunately, you really need a guide.. Wet cat was probably from the rain.. And I have nooooo idea where you ate at but damn, that’s just NASTY!

    The head cutting off thing, comes from some day in history, some blackmarked day, when all different religions clashed and I heard something about the Muslim’s tying the heads of their enemies on the lamp post or something.. It’s not in the history books, have no idea why.. Yet everyone knows..

    PS: Yes, even as a Malaysia I agree, the twin tower’s suck, serve no purpose and it would’ve been better if you went to the Menara Kuala Lumpur, which has a restaurant with really good food..

    And oh yeah, damn I saw your feature on MSN and I just gotta say, I LOVE YOUR DANCING.. You remind me of that dancing hamster that became some fad..

  9. Leila

    hey matt. i’m a malaysian myself..soo….about the food….damn.. u really need some guide man! malaysian food is fabulous…i have no idea why did you have to go to that stinky chinese restaurants!! there is much more in malaysia than the ones u’ve experienced. i just love MALAYSIA! come again and i will definitely show you where the good foods are!

  10. em, dude..u’re totaly awsome…!
    Petronas twin towers… well, some of my malaysian friends calls it the “jagung”, the malay word for corn. it’s just 2 corn sticking out of no where… it sux big tyme… ehehehe…

  11. Jv3nus - the other msian -

    I agree to Elynne + Aris. There really is a whole lot more than wht u experienced. I’m in MD,USA rite now and HELLL i miss KL! I think US & MY are two very different place to live in. It really is hard for me to choose where i want to be when i graduate.

  12. Jackie

    You should have gotten a proper guidance when you travel in Malaysia.
    You sounded more like an arrogant yankee freaks to me.
    You know what… learn to appreciate and less complaining plz…

  13. Nick

    tip : ask around if you wanna eat good food in malaysia.
    you should have asked the taxi driver to recommend you and bring you somewhere.
    so… give malaysia another chance alright? haha.. please.. do come back…trust me… you were just unlucky… :)
    but anyways.. love your video !!! 😉 you really really inspired me…

  14. Joy

    I’ve been around the world like you and I think KL is the heaven of food. If American spend 1 hour to cook, Malaysian would spend 4 hours to cook. In KL, you could find Malay food, Indian food, Chinese food (I mean the nice one), French food, Thai food, Western food and everything…but too bad your first instinct told you to go to a dirty Chinese restaurant, lol.

  15. Joy

    Haha..you also expect the road to be bumpy? In fact, Malaysia has better roads than the US…newly paved, wide, smooth, good network & etc but no nice map like the Mapquest. And that’s also the reason why they have very high road accident rate..nothing would bother them driving fast, no potholes, cracks and bumps like the road in NYC & New Jersey.

  16. Ash

    Matt, I love your dancing videos! Oh and I’ve been to Malaysia and it is a heaven to me. The food is wonderful, you should really get a tour guide next time. Malaysia is far from bad you know.

  17. sophia

    cool~~ i really wonder how did u get this kind of idea to do the dance!!~
    its really creative!
    btw..im a malaysian too~ sorry that u had a bad experience with the food and so on..but i guess its normal~~ sometimes things just dont go with what u hope it would be~ till then have a fun fun fun experience on ur next trip ^ ^

  18. Nick

    You’re honest and it’s brutal. I like that.

    Alright so you were complaining about the food here being sucky. Sir, you ARE wrong! You’re the first foreigner to say that.

    Matt, you deserve better than your faulty judgement on Malaysian food. The next time you come back to Malaysia.. try asking for “Nasi Lemak”. It’s our specialty.

  19. First I have to say that I love your videos and love the whole concept.

    Unfortunately, when I looked up Malaysia in your travel diaries, I was a bit dumbfounded to see the brief/shallow summary of Kaula Lumpur.

    Not sure where you were staying, but the food variety in KL expands to a lot more than just that one Chinese restaurant you ended up in. Not to mention the number of restaurants in the twin towers (which you mocked) – Thai, Indian, Burmese, Malaysian, Chinese, Taiwanese and good fusion as well. Plus there are tonnes of restaurants scattered around the city that are world class.

    I even recently took a friend of mine from melbourne (where I studied) to a banana leaf restaurant with good indian food and she loved it!

    Kuala Lumpur really deserved a better and fairer review than that – especially the comparison to Singapore. Unfortunately, you just didn’t know where to go and what to do to really experience the culture here.

  20. random_stranger

    i gotta say for a person who traveled so much, you do really lousy research on your travel destinations. i’m beginning to think all you cared about was getting that ugly dance shot of yours and then run away as fast as you can… you are just giving world travelers a bad name.

  21. malayneum

    you shouldnt travel. go back home. ive met a lot of travellers, but none as ignorant as you.

  22. win

    I love the video but not the dancing tho :).
    anyway just want to say that u did a right choice not to meet the lady and her sister. I heard from a friend it is a scam. They approach the travellers and then rob them.they will invite u to the house for dinner or lunch and then rob all your money without u realise it.
    If u ever come to Malaysia again will bring u to taste the local food even better cook for u hahaha.

  23. Ken

    hi ya… matt… i am a malaysian student studying at overseas right now… first of all, i saw ur dancing video, it was really amazing… u did a good job and bring fun to the people around the world… that’s should be rewarded…
    but after i read through your blog about your travelling stuffs in malaysia especially in Kuala Lumpur, i felt that’s the worst thing i had listened from the foreigners who had been travelled to Malaysia… even now i met with most of the people around the world who been travelled before to Malaysia, they always told me they like Malaysia especially the food, the people and the culture… The food is absolutely amazing and cheap with its price… that’s why i have been overseas for years, i still can’t wait for our malaysian food which come from the hot and spicy Malay food, Indian curry soup and traditional Chinese food… you are a bit unlucky and had tried the worst in Malaysia… that’s all ended up for it…
    yup, you been asking why people in Malaysia can live in this country harmony… that taxi driver told u about the “head cut off”, that is due to the taxi driver might not well using “English” to communicate with you… actually, the people who come from different backgrounds, different complexions and different religions can stay in one country harmony and growing together, that’s must be something like the “laws” that protect the people and human rights… otherwise, the country might not be grow steadily… it’s not what had been told by “head cut off”, that’s really ridiculous…
    all right, then… perhaps your next stay in Malaysia in future will be more fun and enjoyable… at the end, as a suggestion, next time you shold pay a visit to Penang island as well… the food there are incredible fantastic and the city is full with malaysian history and culture in this small island called “Penang”!!…

    Lastly, cheers for your amazing video throughout the world!!…

  24. Pissed Off wit the Title

    the truth is petronas twin tower is nt tallest building in the world but tallest twin-tower in the world.. please get that rite!! and u went to the wrong restaurant.. OMG!!

  25. Hey, sorry for a very late discovery of your blog.

    I admire your creativity (materials for the blog).

    About the KLCC being the tallest building in the world, i am afraid there are some rules about that.

    You see, according to the rule (sorry, i only heard of the rule in National Geographic) the so-called “antenna” of a building cannot serve as other purpose than itself. Meaning, KLCC’s “antenna” is not an “antenna” at all, it’s just two things that stick up to the sky.

    This is why the “things” are counted as part of the building and the “antenna” on the Sears towers dont.

    I think, there is a reason why Tun Mahathir (http://www.chedet.cc , yes he blogs now), the former Prime Minister of Malaysia did that. The reason he didnt go all out was to create a controversy about that “antenna” so that people would discover Malaysia faster; by comparing to Sears Towers, besides saving the cost. He is a brilliant guy and personally, Cesar Pelli did a good job with the buildings design.

  26. Dear Matt,
    I love your video and fun watching it over and over again. But my impression was suddenly changed when I read the above article..
    “Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
    Tallest Building My Ass”.

    Dont you think the above title was not so appropriate & should have been done in better way? May be this is OK for Western Culture but not for the East. Before you start your next video probably good for you to do more reading, try to understand & be more sensitive on local cultures, taboo and so on.
    You need to understand and accept that people arround the world have been practising their own way of life since long long time ago and what you have gone thru or see in your own country (so called ‘Developed Nation’) can not be considered as ‘standard for everyone to follow. It just your own culture, and not everyone culture. Thus you have no right to tell this is bad, that are ugly..I though Oz people write better than American!

  27. Expat in Malaysia

    Matt,

    Thank you for sharing your experiences. I enjoy reading them with your humor and insight.

    My feelings did change on this one however.
    Along with someone wrote a couple years ago, I also feel that you took Kuala Lumpur in with a great amount of arrogance.

    As an American myself, I find the Petronas Towers breathtaking at night, and see them as a wonderful step toward the future.

    What really began to irk me here, was your attitude in describing America to Malaysians. Thanks to attitudes such as yours, it has made it more difficult for my family to adjust to living in Malaysia. Most people are very friendly and open, however most view Americans as just as arrogant as you came across in claiming that we have money, and therefore don’t want to know about other cultures because of some guilt factor.

    Many of my expat friends here volunteer at local orphanages and work with terminally ill & handicapped children. I find your views offensive, but beyond that, in particular the ego you have in spreading that image of all Americans, when you will find some of the most selfless folk among the expat community.

    To make such broad claims as to American views on Muslims is extremely naive, and hurts your fellow Americans, who flounder in the wake of such absurdities. I’m glad for you that you weren’t here, but perhaps you should have experienced the rioting & protesting when C. Rice came through KL to see the damage that views like yours do when they begin to sum up an entire nation of people. Next time try to think about all the people who live and work for America in those nations before you spout nonsense.

    You may not have liked Bush, but you do more damage to the American identity than you know.

    There is much animosity against Americans at times, and you perpetuated it to an alarming degree in one of my favorite cities in the world.

    Good job.

    Also, glad you enjoyed your ripped-off purchases. Malaysians have legal stores that charge less than we pay in America for those items. All you did was support the slave trade in Southeast Asia by purchasing sweat shop items. In Cambodia small children are still sold by their parents to sweat shops so they can make those things you bought.

    Have fun in your travels.
    I hope somewhere along the way you found a conscience.

  28. ss467

    You definitely did not spend enough time researching what KL has to offer. First of
    all, the Petronas Twin Towers are the tallest twin towers, not the tallest skyscraper. I dont know where you heard that claim, but do you think Malaysians are stupid enough to make a false claim? Do you think we don’t know there are other tall buildings out there in the world? I was fascinated by your video, but when I read your blog I was very disappointed. You give off the impression that you’ve traveled to all these wonderful destinations and immersed yourself in the culture but I don’t think you did. You were just trying to be the next Internet sensation.
    Malaysia is known to have a sensational cuisine. I dont know if you ordered the vegetarian set meal because you are vegetarian, but if you’re not, you missed out on a lot of great food KL has to offer.

    And just so you know, Malaysia is not ‘just crawling out the third world’. We have been a developing country for decades. Do your research!!!!

    As a Malaysian studying in the U.S, I am quite shocked at your arrogance and ignorance. I have heard many wonderful anecdocotes about foreigners experiences in Malaysia. I am sorry you didn’t have a pleasant one.

  29. shopot90

    ouchhh on that last comment…

    well I guess everyone is up to their own opinion..

    we can’t blame Matt entirely for his post because this post was on 2003…

    I’m pretty much hoping that he’s realised now on what he has done wrong and he has upset people

    But fellow Malaysian, we are brought up with good manners… so why not we just let this one slips..
    I mean haha, he is just a man that at a wrong place at a wrong time and a slightly controversial blog post.

    Though I hope Mr Matt actually comes again to Malaysia to have your perception changed.

    Anyhow, cheers everyone and DANCE ON!!!!

  30. Samantha

    I didn’t know this blog was such a long time ago. and yes.. As a Malaysian, I’m so sorry for you Matt that you end up at the wrong place with the wrong people and also the wrong time.

    Not all malaysian’s have the thinking of living in America is a fairytale land.

    Not all Malaysian chinese ladies will find American man attractive just because he holds a passport saying that he is white and he is from America. (maybe some stereotypes and horny ones)

    Hahahah yes I agree with others. Hope you’ll come back here and travel again!!

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