Hello to all my dear readers from the concrete jungle called Kuala Lumpur! I have been here for more than a month so it´s time to share our experiences with you.
Our volunteering project in Nepal finished at the end of June and we didn´t want to go back home to Slovakia so we looked for any cheap plane tickets from Kathmandu. Air Asia is a renowned low cost airline operating mostly in South East Asia. Something like an Asian Ryanair. There were several flights from Kathmandu to various interesting destinations for reasonable prices. After weeks of checking and comparing prices, we chose Kuala Lumpur. The one-way ticket costs 120 EUR including 20kg of baggage. At that time, it was the the cheapest flight from Kathmandu to South East Asia. We were considering Malaysia too because after Singapore, it´s the most developed country in the region. I would have liked to go to Singapore as well but Peter said he would need a country with some greenery 😀 So that is how we ended up in Malaysia.
Kuala Lumpur and a big cultural shock
After purchasing tickets to Kuala Lumpur (KL), we googlefound out that KL is a very modern city with skyscrapers. Guys from Nepal who were in Malaysia as a migrant workers mentioned that for instance. (Malaysia is among those vital countries for Nepali overseas laborers along with all Persian Gulf countries). We were expecting to be culture shocked after spending 5 months in a small village in a Nepalese lowland. But the shock that arrived was way bigger than we expected. It took a while for us to realize that hot shower was again a common thing and we are not obliged to change our clothes several times a day because there is air-condition everywhere in the interior.
We landed in Kuala Lumpur around 10pm. We took a train from the airport that was fully air-conditioned with screens displaying world news in English. We arrived to our hostel around midnight. At about 2am, we walked around our neighbourhood which is in the center of the city and looked for a place to eat. We ended up in a 24-hours McDonalds where we watched the Football World Cup on the big screen. There was a bunch of people coming from all around the world and nobody paid attention to that white couple who just came from a different planet. On the contrary, we felt the difference enormously. Only few days ago, we needed to carry flashlights every where if we intended to stay outside after the dark. When we took strolls around our village, plenty of villagers carefully watched our steps. Everyone wanted to talk to us, take pictures with us, add us on facebook and simply interact with us. Villagers were mostly very nice and friendly sometimes even a little bit too much.
Working at the reception in a very busy hostel is very demanding
It has been already more than one month of working at the reception in a backpacker hostel located directly in the city center of KL. It takes less than half an hour to walk to the famous Petronas Twin Towers, the tallest buildings in the world between 1998-2004. They are still recognised as a tallest twin buildings. Our job is a voluntary service we found through voluntary database helpx (links are attached at the end of this email). We have free accommodation in a hostel and we get food money. We do quite a serious work. We check people in and check-out our guests, we handle money so we got to know the Malaysian currency (Ringgits-RM). BTW, the smallest bills are made of plastic! Officially it‘s called polymer banknotes and Malaysia has it as well as other countries such as Canada, Israel and Romania. We provide directions to the tourist highlights in the city, we inform guests about the traffic and how to get to the airport and book a taxi to the airport, where to do laundry and so on. Now, it´s all clear and easy because most of those places we actually visited but during the first days, navigation was much harder.
Regular customers at our hostel are Westerners aged between 18 and 25 coming mostly from the US, Canada, Australia, Western Europe. We have 80 beds, dormitory and private rooms for 6, 4 and 2 people. We are almost always fully booked which means that our boss and owner, Patrick, is a good businessman but for us, it´s a lot of work at the reception because all the time, there are questions, questions, questions 🙂
I had a similar receptionist job at the backpacker hostel in Amman, Jordan two years ago during my Middle-East summer of 2012 (if you didn´t read about that, I can send you the story :). Back in 2012, I really felt in love with a nice quiet reception job. At that time, the hostel in Jordan was not really popular, with pretty bad reviews (for some unknown reasons, I didn´t check the reviews before) so there were not much guests, moreover it was during Ramadan and during all my shifts, I was just watching movies, reading books and writing. There were rarely more than 5 people coming during the day so I had simply a relaxed time there. Our current hostel is quite different, it´s one of the most booked hostels in Kuala Lumpur and it requires a dedicated staff. We don´t plan to stay here for the whole summer (although, it‘s summer all year round here :-D) and for now, it was a nice change after Nepali lowland. Now there is a time for description of some interesting hostel guests.
Our hostel is full of exceptional travelers:
- British guy who is riding his bike through Asia. He started in London.
- Iranian guy currently living in Stockholm, Sweden, who studied some technical stuff in Budapest, Hungary and several times visited Slovakia.
- Cyclist from Wales, who was riding his bike around Pakistan only few days after the Taliban terrorist killed two Slovak climbers under Nanga Parbat back in summer 2013. His father works for the military in Iraq came to see his son here and they both were about to bicycle together around Malaysia.
- The Dutch guy who was trying to get his working visa for Thailand and it took him three weeks. He kept extending his stay here and at the same time waiting for the important signature. He got it few days ago. Congratulation Wilko!
- Another Dutch guy who injured his feet and had to walk on crutches during his first days in this hostel. Later on, he tried to walk without them so he walked slowly and with difficulties and when he finally recovered, he left his crutches here.
- Brazilian guy who is traveling in South East Asia for several months and he comes to our hostel regularly and now starting his own receptionist career as a volunteer in Malacca, historical colonial city close to Kuala Lumpur. I am sure he will turn the hostel in Malacca into something similar to our cozy place 🙂
- Japanese/American guy who is currently working for the United Nations in Bangkok in a human right issues but surprisingly he doesn´t look super serious, he rather has a regular hostel-backpacker friendly look. He missed his flight back to Thailand so he unexpectedly extended his stay and in the meanwhile he made some grammar corrections in the first paragraphs of this text. I am actually very grateful for that and I hope he is not going to miss his next flight.
- British guy who currently lives in China needed to renew his Chinese visa. He went to the interview at the embassy, waited several days because it was a public holiday and then he got desired visa 🙂
- African-American old guy from New York City who traveled in more than 50 countries lives now in Brooklyn, right next to the café I used to work back in the summer in 2010.
- American guy who did his internship in Sony Pictures Studios in Los Angeles, This big studio was our regular (and the biggest Friday´s) customer when I worked in a cozy pizzeria in Los Angeles back in summer 2011.
- American guy who studies endangered,indigenous languages, speaks fluent Malay and goes regularly to the Borneo Island to do a serious research. Later on, we found out, he is a Mormon from Utah and he learned local Malay language during his missionary work here.
- Slovenian guy who just came from his yearly program of working holiday in New Zealand. We both admired his super pictures from the beautiful scenery and shared common Eastern Europeanism. We went together watching the final of Football World Cup in a nearby shopping mall where they played it on a big screen. It was at 3am here but we didn´t get a place to sit, it was super crowded!
- Estonian guy who is a complete rarity here. No locals heard about his tiny country so he said that his country is so small, untouched and in danger so they had to put it under Unesco protection
- Czech girl Šarka currently living in Australia who came for a holiday
- Czech girl Veronika who studies in Taiwan, came with her Mexican boyfriend for backpacking in South East Asia.
- Finnish girl who asked me about my origin and after that she asked me in Czech language: Do you understand when I speak Czech? Her father is Czech so she was bilingual.
- Japanese guy who speaks 5 languages was surprised and little angry after he asked me about some local places for cheap alcohol. I don´t know them so I couldn´t have told him. He couldn´t understand how it‘s possible that someone coming from an alcoholic Eastern Europe is not aware of those places.
- Two Koreans who flew here for a weekend only for attending Katar airlines recruitment days. One Saturday morning, when I started my morning shift, I saw two guys in a suit drying their hair with a dryer. The whole hostel was sleepy after Friday night and those two guys were ironing their shirts. They were not successful but will try their luck next time.
- Two Slovak girls Evka and Katka coming from their holiday in Bali, Indonesia walked-in with their Chilean friend asking for a free beds. They stayed for one night and we explored the city together 🙂
- Slovak student of Chinese language from British university just finished her one-year study programme in China. She is now traveling with her American boyfriend in the region of South East Asia.
- Slovak lady from central Slovakia (the region we came from) who works in Mallorca, Spain came with her Austrian partner for a short Asian holiday.
- My university classmate Katarinka, who is right now working on a project promoting social enterpreneurship in Kuala Lumpur. She comes occasionally to our hostel and then we go exploring outside.
Ramadan in cosmopolitan Malaysia
Even though our life in Malaysia is mostly dedicated to our hostel job as we work, sleep and eat here, the world doesn´t consist of only Sunshine Bedz! The holy Muslim month of Ramadan just finished recently. During the 9th month of the lunar calendar, Muslims are fasting from the sunrise to sunset. 60 per cent of Malaysia´s population are islam followers and fasting was literally in the air. Ramadan is the major celebration for the dominant Malay-Muslim population and that is why the atmosphere of feast and joy started regularly everyday after the sunset. Last two days are public holiday here and are called Hari Raya. Unfortunately, we didn´t get any free days because our hostel was fully in use (as always :-D) Fasting or rather starving I experienced in Jordan during my hostel job two years ago was fortunately not happening. Only few shops and restaurants were closed during the day so we ate as usual.
Malaysia consists of three cultural and religious entities. The largest one is a Malay muslim community. However we found them way more liberal than the Muslim we met during the travels around Middle East. Covered woman holds often the hand of her husband when they walk on the streets or has her head resting on her husband´s head when sitting on the bench in the park. We haven´t seen this before in the Middle Eastern muslim countries. Malay-Muslims speak Malay language (very similar to Bahasa Indonesia language). They don´t eat pork and poultry and other meat need to be killed in a halal style. That is why there are two separate meat sections in the supermarkets. Halal meat section (suited for Muslims, animals are ritually slaughtered) and non-halal where I once bought very expensive ham.
Second cultural and religious group in Malaysia are Chinese, they speak Chinese and of course they know Malay language as well. Third group consists of Malay-Indians or Tamils. They follow hinduism as their religion and speak Tamil which is not very similar to Hindi language but their written letters are pretty much resembling to the Nepali or Hindi writings. Tamils as all Hindus don´t eat beef.
This complete mixture of cultures results in a high variety of meals provided here. But it´s necessary to mention that it´s still all Asian, which means very very different from our Eastern European cuisine, it´s generally spicy and oily, We are starting missing our home food. From time to time, we cook in our small kitchen in the hostel. Lately, I prepared pasta with broccoli, scrambled eggs with cheese and ham and some vegetable salads. We liked our small culinary experiments and all the time we are very excited about sharing with our Asian co-workers but unfortunately, for them it is really very very different. Our co-worker Indonesian girl Vely Sia is saying all the time: it´s very good but very westernized. Actually she never has a problem with finishing her portions, so most probably it´s not that hard to digest our experiments 😀 Oat meal porridge with fresh tropical fruits like mango, litchi, pineapple is also very very tasty! We try very unusual fruits like durian, mangoosten or rambutan.
For ending, I want to say only a few exagerrated words about this wonderful city and we can go to bed 🙂
Kuala Lumpur is a very cosmopolitan city full of colours, tastes and scents from all the world. Everyone can be dressed the way he/she wants. You are walking in the street and at the same time have a chance to see a completely covered muslim woman, Indian girl in a colourful sari, very light-dressed Chinese woman and a white hippie with dreadlocks. The city never sleeps, there is never ending traffic jam so better to take a train, monoral or metro. It´s a New York in Asia and I love it so much! But we are slowly moving (at least mentally) to another destination.
Many thanks for your attention, thanks for reading this super looong mail and I am ready for your feedback 🙂
Our hostel website: http://www.sunshinebedz.com.my/
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