Kuala Lumpur is the melting pot of cultural diversity. From the moment you arrive you can marvel at the abundance of people who flock to this city daily. You marvel not only at the abundance of people but at the variety of cultures and ethnicities of those people. Walking through the busy, crowded streets on any day you will see people from all different backgrounds, Indian, Bangladesh, Chinese, Malaysian, Indonesian, Iranian, and the list goes on. People from all walks of life live together in this bustling city and what amazed me the most from my 24 hours here was how friendly they were, not only to people of their own culture but to people of other cultures, as well as foreign backpackers such as myself.
I had decided to Couch-Surf for the first time. For those unfamiliar with this fairly new trend it goes something like this – A community of travellers lend their couches to other travellers who need a place to stay. There is no payment required other than the return of this favour if the opportunity arises. It’s quite a remarkable exchange of generosity if you think about it.
My first host would be Ira, a Muslim Malaysian girl born to a Chinese mother and a Malaysian father, an example of the variety of nationalities that call this place home. Ira and I got on from the moment we met. She picked me up from the train station and took me out to dinner with her two friends, both of Iranian background. So here I was, a girl from Sydney, Australia, having a wonderful dinner with a Malaysian and two Iranians, exchanging stories, discussing political and environmental issues about our home countries in depth, learning from each other as each word presented itself, and sharing a meal that ironically was made up of a mixture of Indian and Malaysian food. Even more so all of us at the table were of different faiths; we had different upbringings, and perhaps even some different values, yet none of that mattered to us. There was not one ounce of judgment anywhere in sight, just laughter, conversation and common understanding.
It got me feeling in awe of the multicultural understanding that dwells in this contrasting city. Could other cities alike not look up to KL as an example of people living together harmoniously? Indulging in each other’s cuisines, sharing spaces, providing multicultural opportunities to its entire people. It’s sure an example of what could be and an example of how our differences are not what matters, but rather our similarities.
One of the things that stuck with me from my day in KL was witnessing one particular similarity that we share. I was in search of altruistic opportunities for this blog but as I was short on time and flustered by the midday heat I settled for a recommendation I had received about a nearby Buddhist temple, giving out free vegetarian food in celebration of the first day of winter in the Chinese calendar.
The morning after I met with a friend and indulged in some delicious southern Indian food from Nadas restaurant in Bangsar and while eating noticed a free book stall, with all donations going to a local community group. The similarity I was seeing was altruism, the concern for the welfare of others, altruism shown by Buddhists, by Hindus and by Muslims, including my host. My quest for kindness and compassion in a large city such as KL had not failed; it had only allowed me to see altruism from a different perspective.
So I suppose the moral of this story is that we are equal, and have many more similarities than we choose to acknowledge, including one of which is altruism. We can learn from each other and live together if only we started to understand each other and accept that our similarities are much more important than our differences. I hope Kuala Lumpur is just one small example of the altruism and cultural diversity I witness on this journey, for the world is full of wonderful people if only you take away your judgement and open your eyes to see.