Move to Kuala Lumpur?
July 1, 2009 4:26 PM   Subscribe

Should I move to Malaysia (KL) for a year?

It looks like I may have the opportunity to take a 1 year assignment in KL for my job (I live in the US). The dollars-and-cents and career stuff make sense, but really, everything I know about Malaysia comes from either No Reservations or Tomorrow Never Dies.

I'm currently leaning towards going, but mostly based on a "why not" rational. Anything pro or con I should feed into my decision? Any must have factors that I should look for in a relo-package? (e.g. a car is necessary, make sure you're getting an apartment/house in X area, etc.)

Bonus Questions:
If I do go, must see/do/go/eat things?
Any advice on using KL as a launching point for traveling to other places in SE Asia as well as possibly Japan and Korea?

I have seen the suggestions here and here.
posted by cosmonaught to Travel & Transportation around Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (32 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
KL is probably the best place to launch oneself into Asia for weekend trips: Air Asia and Firefly are headquartered there.
posted by mdonley at 4:34 PM on July 1, 2009

posted by jquinby at 4:35 PM on July 1, 2009

If your lifestyle includes recreational drug use, Malaysia might not be the ideal place for you to live - being a foreign national won't help you if you run into trouble with Malaysian laws concerning illicit drugs. That's the main thing I can think of that people don't consider.
posted by Lolie at 4:41 PM on July 1, 2009

KL is a pretty cool city. I have only visited briefly but it has an awesome mix of modern/trad and western/eastern, amenities, great parks, restaurants etc., its also a great location from which to do travels around SE Asia. what an awesome and exciting opportunity. I say go for it!!!
posted by supermedusa at 5:25 PM on July 1, 2009

I love KL. It's one of the best hubs for travel in the whole asian region. You can even get flights to Australia for under $400 from there.

Malaysia is a great country. The climate is good, the trains are excellent (overnight cross country sleeper with starched bed linen for $16 a trip - awesome). The language is easy to learn. There are lovely national parks. The food is delicious. The people are friendly, even in more strictly Islamic regions. And the architecture is really interesting. Personally, I'd take the job in a heartbeat.
posted by Kerasia at 6:14 PM on July 1, 2009

Go, it'll be an awesome assignment. For all the reasons Kerasia pointed out and more. People are extremely friendly. I've been trying to get transferred there for years.
posted by arcticseal at 6:15 PM on July 1, 2009

As someone who has recently returned from abroad (not KL though), I say go for it. It is a wonderful opportunity to be able to live and work somewhere else. If it is a possibility for you to go, then go. Make sure there is an opt-out option once you get there so that you at least know you can leave if you don't like it. It's better to at least try it than to not go and then always wonder "what IF?"
posted by starpoint at 6:16 PM on July 1, 2009

Definitely go. A year will fly past before you know it, and you'll have wonderful memories for the rest of your life. Malaysia is a very nice country, everybody speaks quite good English (with some amusing local vernacular, lah), the variety and quality of food is amazing, and the infrastructure is pretty good. My Malaysian friends gripe about, well, everything (just like the rest of the humanity) but it's easy to travel around the country, hospitals are well-equipped (and Singapore is a short flight away for anything that can't be handled locally), sanitation is generally pretty good, shops are well-stocked even in small towns, there's always an air-conditioned restaurant or shopping mall to cool off in, internet access is easy to find, and people are generally pretty mellow about foreigners (at least, they were when I was there in 2004).

Even in more traditionally Islamic areas, like the East Coast, there are enough non-Muslims around (mostly Chinese-Malaysians) that nobody gets bent out of shape if a woman's hair is uncovered. Although I'd still dress modestly if I were going to those areas, nobody in KL will care if you wear shorts on the weekends. (Normal American business casual attire would be fine for the office.)

Things to eat: during Ramadan, check out the special buffets that lots of hotels and restaurants put on. They're a bit of a splurge but offer a mind-boggling array of foods and special holiday treats. Non-Muslims are welcome to partake and the staff will probably seat you first while the crowd mills about waiting for sunset, but I think it's only polite to wait until everybody else can start eating.

Another fave: lime juice/limeade/lime drink, generally called limau, which just means "lime" and properly refers to the actual fruit but commonly means the drink. The limes used in the drink are different from any limes I've seen in the US: about the size of a cherry and intensely flavored. Order a limau and the guy will ladle some sugar syrup into a tall glass, smash about 3 limes into it, fill it with ice water and plop a straw into it. Mash the limes a little more with your straw, stir well, and know the meaning of true bliss: a cold limau on a sweltering tropical afternoon on a rickety plastic chair under a lazy ceiling fan.
posted by Quietgal at 7:11 PM on July 1, 2009

Oh my god, go. The food in Malaysia is incredible. KL from what I remember is very cosmopolitan. Eat lots and lots of roti canai for me---delicious tortilla-ish (but better) fried bread that you eat with curry sauces. And Char Kwai Teow--rice noodle dish. And satai--meat on a stick, often served with peanut sauce. and nasi goreng--fried rice full of awesomeness.
posted by stray at 7:46 PM on July 1, 2009

I've spent 5 weeks in Malaysia... DEFINITELY GO!

Weekend trips to:
- Bangkok
- Kra'bi (a beach resort), also in Thailand. You can fly to an airport close by
- Perhentian Islands
- Penang (Pinang)

Best food ever. Best people ever. I'm still friends with some of the folks I met over there.
posted by zpousman at 7:49 PM on July 1, 2009

Joining in to say that I really enjoyed Malaysia and KL, although it was during a rather brief visit. The markets were wonderful, people were very helpful, food was great, and I was able to use public transport. The city and countryside both felt safe, and everything I wanted (internet, shopping, food) seemed easily accessible.
posted by BlooPen at 8:00 PM on July 1, 2009

You all know exactly what I wanted to hear. I'm sold... I think.

So, one other data point and question:

I'm Jewish, of the non-practicing, non-believing variety. I have an identifiably Jewish last name and Semitic good looks. My dad talked to a Malaysian colleague who told him, basically "Malaysia is a great place for your son to live if he doesn't mind living in an anti-Semitic culture." I'm pretty sure I don't, as long, you know, they don't beat me and stuff.

Everything I can find on the web ties back to a speech the PM gave in 2003, and what I'd think is some pretty typical stuff for a Muslim country relating to Israel.

Nothing to worry about, right?
posted by cosmonaught at 8:22 PM on July 1, 2009

...and I'm very clear on the difference between Israel and Judaism. I know the line can get a little blurry for people (on all sides), but I don't automatically equate people having problems with Israel with people having problems with Jews.
posted by cosmonaught at 8:43 PM on July 1, 2009

.and I'm very clear on the difference between Israel and Judaism. I know the line can get a little blurry for people (on all sides), but I don't automatically equate people having problems with Israel with people having problems with Jews.

There are a lot of pockets of Islamic fundamentalism in the SE Asian region, but the extremism is targeted against "the West" in general. In those regions, being an American is more likely to be the source of any antagonism towards you than being Jewish. To those extremists, we're all infidels and that's what makes us targets, not which particular flavour of infidel we happen to be. It's not likely to be an issue with the vast majority of people you encounter.
posted by Lolie at 9:02 PM on July 1, 2009

Just checked our government's travel advisories and Indonesia and East Timor are the only places in the region where there is an anticipated threat to Westerners at the moment .
posted by Lolie at 9:11 PM on July 1, 2009

Hi. I'm an ethnic Jew, practicing Muslim, living in Malaysia for going on 7 years now. Malaysia is awesome for all the reasons people said above and you should really go.

About anti-semitism: Yes, nothing to worry about.

Basically, you will encounter a small chunk of people with idiotic ideas about who/what Jews are stemming from the I/P conflict. But none of them will have ever met a Jew*, and they will totally not be able to sniff you out. So if you are not feeling like educating people, you can just not share your Jewish heritage, tell them you're an American and not religious, and it will probably never come up.

If you do feel like sharing, you'll find most people are perfectly happy to meet a jew and will be interested to hear what you have to say. Explain the difference between Jews, Israelis and Zionists and you will have accomplished a lot. Just avoid being argumentative about mid-east politics. You will not find anyone holding grudges or treating you badly after learning you are Jewish or American - Malaysians are so friendly and nice. You will just have the burden of being an Ambassador for your People.

There is absolutely nothing to worry about in the sense that lolie is talking about. Malaysia is ridiculously open and friendly to tourists. I wish our government wrote travel advisories for major American cities...
posted by BinGregory at 10:33 PM on July 1, 2009

The only thing I would warn you about this the weather. I spent a week there in August last year and while you certainly get used to the heat, I do wonder what it would be like to live in the tropics for a full twelve months. That said, there are lots of advantages to living in Malaysia - particularly being a central hub to SE Asia and Australia. And there are several different regions in the country to experience everything from tropical rainforests to incredible coastlines. KL itself is in some parts like any other major Western city - but there are so many interesting places to discover that are not that far from the centre of the city. Take the train, take the monorail - it's a fascinating country.

But it is hot most of the time.
posted by crossoverman at 11:20 PM on July 1, 2009

Don't worry about the weather. Your body will adapt and, eventually, you'll sweat less. And try to get to Borneo while you're there. It's a very cool part of Malaysia and very different, from what I've been told, from KL.
posted by RobertFrost at 11:53 PM on July 1, 2009

I've only been to KL on a business trip, but it is wonderful. The weather is nice, the buildings are beautiful, the culture and history is fascinating, the people are friendly, and oh goodness the food -- teh tarik is unbelievable nectar of the gods that you must try immediately upon arrival.

It's been several years since I've been there, but what I found about costs while there was that goods cost about the same (a little less) as in the States, but labor costs were significantly less. Disturbingly so. However, the ultimate result is that many things are just much cheaper. For example, when you eat at any restaurant a meal is goods (the food) plus labor (cooking and serving the food, cleaning the facility). So, the total cost is much less. Anything that has a cost based more on labor than goods is significantly cheaper.

If by chance you will be working in Cyberjaya, you will be thrilled with the facilities there.

You mentioned being Jewish, and it reminded me of one odd conversation I had with someone while there. I'm from the States, he is a Muslim living in Brunei, who had traveled to KL for the week for work on the same project with me. He asked if it was correct that the 9/11 attacks were because "all the Jews are in banking, and banking is centered in New York." No kidding. However, I'll say that this question was asked genuinely: He did not know something, and was receptive to an answer. It wasn't hate; it was ignorance and he wanted to know more. I told him the truth (all Jews in the States are not in banking and we don't "keep" Jews in one city). This was completely satisfactory to him.

So, I share that to point out something that may be my own generalization. Clearly, he had heard something like that from someone else. But, there was no problem really; he was equally receptive to hearing the honest answer. I wouldn't characterize that exchange as anti-semitic, and saw or heard nothing anti-semitic while there. Of course, there are prejudiced people in every country, but I did not see anything specific while there.

I'd go, in a heartbeat.
posted by Houstonian at 1:34 AM on July 2, 2009

try to get to Borneo

Yeah, I'm in Borneo. It's like the frontier: much wilder, more rugged. Even Peninsular Malaysians are struck by the difference. The national parks out here are fantastic, like Mulu, so remote you have to fly in, and then take a longboat from the base camp. You get dropped on a bank of a river and that's the trailhead. Definitely worth a visit if you get tired of the city scene.
posted by BinGregory at 4:36 AM on July 2, 2009

I think you've made up your mind, but I'd say definitely go. A friend's parents spent a year there for work and had no problems. I wasn't completely enamoured with KL, but it's super easy to get to other areas of Asia, so that's a bonus. In fact, if you can work in a month or more of travel after your work break, it's something to start considering now.

It's also a big city, so I doubt you'll want for any amenities. The mall under the Petronas Towers could be plopped into a major North American city and you wouldn't realize. The food is great too.
posted by backwards guitar at 5:07 AM on July 2, 2009

Once the newness wears off, it's a poor man's Detroit... with coconut trees. Good place to visit, not a good place to live.
posted by mpls2 at 6:11 AM on July 2, 2009

mpls2, can you elaborate on that...?
posted by kathrineg at 8:00 AM on July 2, 2009

mpls2, can you elaborate on that...?

Exoticness aside, it's an objectively crappy city. It's dirty, polluted, obscenely hot and humid (which doesn't mix well with the pollution), and its only modern culture is a poor imitation of Western culture. Overall, KL feels like its trying too hard to be a world-class city.

And I think the food is seriously overrated. I mean, it's food (and possibly polluted if you eat at one of the famed roadside stalls). Then again, I like a Wendy's burger and fries as much as filet mignon.
posted by mpls2 at 9:29 AM on July 2, 2009

I lived in KL for one year and I loved it. However, part of the reason I loved it was because I was part of a big ex-pat community. If you go you'll really want to break into that community or it could get pretty lonely. The locals are likely to be friendly, but are very unlikely to become your friends. It isn't like moving to Europe for a year, the muslim/non muslim, east/west divide is pretty strong there. You'll probably encounter some anti-semitism, just like you'll encounter some anti-America rhetoric, but at least when I was there is was fairly rare and as long as you aren't an idiot and try to get into a debate with someone it's no big deal. Things did get worse however after 9/11, I'm not sure if they have calmed down or not. Given the current economic climate things are probably still a little tense.

I lived in Ampang which I really liked. Lots of ex-pats live there. A lot of ex-pats also live in Bangsar or at least they did. I haven't lived there for 9 years. I think Bangsar is kind of far from everything. Some people also live in Petaling Jaya. Where you choose to live will largely be a factor of where you are working. I wouldn't suggest commuting from Bangsar to Ampang for instance, however plenty of people do.

The one thing I will say about KL is it is more dangerous than it looks. Not that it is really dangerous, but you will need to choose your housing carefully. There is a reason why most of the places you will look at have bars on all the windows and doors. A couple of families were robbed in the middle of the night and tied up until morning while I was there. They weren't hurt, but pretty terrifying. My purse was stolen at night be a guy on a motorcycle and I was dragged for a bit. Nothing too serious, but still shook me up pretty good. Guns are highly illegal in Malaysia, so machetes are the weapon of choice and people get held up by machete all the time. The drug laws are no joke under absolutely no circumstances should you ever get within 100 feet of an illegal drug.

All that said, Malaysia is a wonderful country with a really interesting and diverse culture. The food is amazing and you really don't have to worry too much about getting sick. You'll learn to love the heat. It's in the middle of a rainforest, so that's always an adventure. It pretty much rains everyday at 4, but it's about 90 degrees so it really doesn't matter too much. There are like 3 rainy seasons, which I think defeats the purpose of calling them seasons, but anyway. The streets flood, it rains harder than you ever imagined it possibly could, your house gets struck by lightening about 10 times, it's all very exciting.

Virtually everyone speaks english to some degree so it makes it a very easy place to get around. Bahasa Malay uses the latin alphabet so you can read most signs and many words are very close to the same in english. I really enjoyed my time there and it's very easy access to the rest of SE Asia and even Australia isn't too far away. That's all I can think of right now, but feel free to memail me.
posted by whoaali at 1:49 PM on July 2, 2009

Malaysian here!

If you like beaches and rainforests, Malaysia has some amazing places You could probably sign up for tours that have accommodation and transportation taken care of (the currency exchange makes this very favourable).

The food is amazing -- if you prioritize taste over everything else. I have lived for many good years in the US, and I realize that a good percentage of the American population are willing to overlook standard/ substandard food for ambiance/ health reasons. Not that there is anything wrong with that. Because in Malaysia, the food might be not the most hygienic around, nor the place clean or good for conversation, but, oh, the taste! Even the most rudimentary, basic hawker stall would sell good food. One, however, can't be too picky about the conditions that it might be served in.

As for your worries on anti-Semitism, what BinGregory said. I would add that you could probably pass off as Scandinavian if you wanted to -- in other words, no one would be able to tell you apart from any other Caucasian dude. (Just like how a fair amount of people in the States automatically assume that I am from China and launch into "ni hao" upon meeting me -- somewhat condescending, but, eh)

Cons include:

A car is necessary. Public transportation is terrible (especially the buses), and it's hard to get anywhere with it.

Security is an issue -- not violent crime, but petty theft like pickpockets, snatch thiefs, burglars. Laptops and mobile phones are especially popular items (Grip your mobile phone tightly when you're talking in public. Don't walk along a road with your laptop in the open)

If you need advice on areas to live, feel free to MeMail me.
posted by moiraine at 2:08 PM on July 2, 2009

it's a poor man's Detroit

Everybody's entitled to their opinion, but I'm from Detroit and that's gotta be the stupidest comment I ever read. Malaysians I know who have been to Detroit are shocked, shocked, that an American city could look like that.

Detroit: Zero mass transit. KL: Crowded but functional light rail throughout the city. Cabs and buses plentiful. Yeah, you might want a car if you want to be on time and don't enjoy the press of humanity.

Detroit: Highest per capita murder rate nationwide for many years. Any long-time resident has or knows someone who has been a victim of violent crime.
KL: Very little violent crime, though property crime is an issue as others have said.

Detroit: Population steadily dropping, vast swathes of empty, abandoned or unlivable areas
KL: Rapidly growing, crowded, bustling neighborhoods. Property values far higher in US dollars.

Detroit: Eerily empty downtown, most skyscrapers are two generations old or older and the ones that haven't been torn down are standing vacant.
KL: New, architecturally interesting buildings popping up everywhere you look. Vibrant street life.

Detroit: Cultural wasteland, 85% of population from a single ethnic group
KL: Dizzyingly multicultural, four languages widely spoken all around.

Detroit: A national tragedy by any nation's standards, what more for the richest nation on earth.
KL: The pride of its country.

Look, KL has it's problems, and it's no New York or London, and maybe doesn't even hold up to other SE Asian capitals. But Detroit?! Clearly you've never been there.
posted by BinGregory at 11:16 PM on July 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

If I do go, must see/do/go/eat things?
Don't bother with the Petronas towers if you've been up anything in NY or in the Sears Tower or the John Hancock.

DO NOT MISS the absolutely fantastic Museum of Islamic Art. Lots of beauitful artifacts, great explanations, and many many examples from places that don't come to mind first when you think "Islam" (Central Asia, China, Africa). It is one of my best memories of KL and of all the museums I've visited ever anywhere.
posted by whatzit at 7:32 PM on July 3, 2009

Yes to the food, if that's your only factor ;)

KL has changed a hell of a lot since whoaali went there, but surprisingly some things are still the same. Bangsar is still expat (and now hipster) central, and has *become* the center of everything as far as trendy artsy Western culture's concerned. There's been a resurgence of youth culture recently that's encouraging. People are generally friendly though you may have to shoulder some stupid comments about Westerners.

The politics is awful, but it likely won't affect you too much. The public make up for it.

Air Asia gets you everywhere in the region and is pretty decent. There's public transport, but don't count on walking or cycling unless you're willing to risk your life every once in a while.

There's a gazillion shopping malls catering from cheapo factory rejects to high-class designer gear. It is a try-too-hard city (Malaysia has issues with insecurity) but there are also tons of earnest sincere people everywhere. You'll meet both the hustlers and the helpers. It's a crazy town.

Let me know what you're interested in and I'll hook you up (especially if you're artsy). I'm not from there but did live there for a little while - I'm from JB, which is across Singapore.
posted by divabat at 8:20 PM on July 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

KL has hipsters??? Dear god things have changed... I just can't even imagine what that must look like.

I should also have mentioned that I was a teenager when I lived there so my life more or less revolved around going clubbing and hanging out at the mall (KLCC woo). You would probably have classier and more diverse interests.

Anyway, one other thing I forgot to mention, if you can definitely go to Thaipusam. One of the most amazing things I've ever been too. Absolutely unreal.

Also, when I lived there we didn't have a car and 95% that was totally fine. Things may have changed, but we lived in an area with lots of cabs and I virtually never had a problem getting one (unless there was a torrential downpour which obviously does happen since you are in the middle of a rain forest). Cabs are (were) cheap. My mom continued to live there for 3 more years after I left to go to college and she started having more and more of a problem getting cabs to pick her up (presumably because of some anti-westerner sentiment after 9/11). However, that was awhile ago, so it's probably not a problem anymore. I never used public transport because cabs were so cheap.
posted by whoaali at 9:42 PM on July 3, 2009

whoaali: Your guide to KL hipsterdom. Granted they tend to be a bit more sincere than their Western counterparts, but still.
posted by divabat at 11:11 PM on July 3, 2009

Go. Now.

And if you can get to Borneo, as others have mentioned above, you will never forget it. Malaysia is a breath of fresh air if you've ever been to a carnival like Thailand and just found it dirty and crass like I did. The national parks are as gorgeous as anything else, the diving is world class if you're into that (and if you're not I'd suggest you get into it!), and one can find beaches to rival anything else on earth (Perhentian Islands).

I didn't spend too much time in KL the few times I've been to Malaysia, but I can attest to the beauty and allure of the rest of the country.
posted by fso at 7:27 PM on January 6, 2010

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