Same place, different eyes.
We used to come a lot to Kuala Lumpur to visit when I was younger, and I have powerful memories of those experiences. Particularly etched in my memories are the aromas of this place – not just the (incidentally) amazing food, the hawker stalls, but also the scent of shopping malls, the entrance to Chinese restaurants, the faint stench of sewerage and rubbish in dirty alleyways, the busy streets, my grandmother’s house, street-side shops selling cheap imported Chinese goods.
The smell of the city hasn’t changed – but the look of it has. Or rather, a few new high rises have popped up here and there, but it’s more that this time round I am seeing different things, and taking a different perspective on what I see.
I have always loved the bustle of KL, the constant movement, and the mosaic of skyscrapers, ground level hawker centres, and rows of two-storey shopfronts, the way it all lights up at night. (I think I find something aesthetically pleasing even in the infamous traffic jams, though I don’t enjoy being caught in them). But now I appreciate it even more as a visually-striking city; nothing like a European city, of course, but KL does have a sweet, though often hazy, skyline marked by some fabulous architecture. Plus, as Lonely Planet comments, a lot more greenery than you’d expect in a city of this size and sort.
I don’t remember there being this many foreigners. A stack of the usual – Australians, “Americans”, the English, Germans, the Dutch, the Japanese – but also a surprising number of families from the Middle East. I guess we didn’t go to tourist hotspots much with family when I was younger, and I didn’t pay much attention to the people around me.
I thought people could tell just by looking at me that I don’t live here. Wrong. They can only tell when I open my mouth, otherwise I can pass for a local … and that doesn’t weird me out or phase me as much as I thought it would. It doesn’t please me either, as such; I’m pretty ambivalent about it.
So I am a tourist in the city where I was born. I happen to have lived here till I was three; I happen to have family here; I happen to look like a local and am often approached or treated as such. But I am most definitely a tourist. And I am okay with that.
One thought on “Being a tourist in my birth city”