“Malaysia – Truly Asia”

My last few posts were about Venezuela, mostly because my first visit to the country showed me so many things that inspired me to write. I will be headed back to Venezuela soon, and will probably have more to write because I find the country to be so inspiring; however, in the meantime, I want to write a little about my trip to Malaysia.

I am currently in Malaysia participating in the AEO Study in the USA international education fairs, which will travel around several countries in Southeast Asia. In Malaysia, we stopped in Kuala Lumpur (the capital and largest city) for a few days, and we will head to Penang (the second largest city) very soon, as well.

Recently, I saw a commercial about fun, adventure, good food, and friendly people in Malaysia. Apparently, this is one in a series of commercials in a campaign to draw tourists to the region. The tagline: “Malaysia, truly Asia.”

malaysia truly asia

It is my first time in Malaysia. Prior to coming here, I had heard that the country is very developed; even so, I have to admit that I still had an image of a developing nation in my head. I thought it would be like other places I have visited in Southeast Asia, with buildings falling apart, many people living in poverty, long lines, crumbling infrastructure, excessive air pollution, bad traffic, etc.

As far as my visit to Kuala Lumpur (KL) goes, I could not have been more wrong. Here are a few of the characteristics of KL that struck me.


Efficiency was certainly a prevailing theme of my visit to KL, beginning from my first moments there.

Upon arrival, I made it through the immigration line very quickly, and my bags was already on the carousel. That never happens!

I was able to follow the signs quite easily to the KLIA Express, the train that runs between the airport and Sentral station, a train/bus terminal that has links to much of the city. Though the procedure for purchasing tickets had changed due to renovations that are in process at the airport, everything was still very easy to figure out, with very little delay. The ride from the airport to Sentral Station was quite fast (approximately 30 minutes), and, again, everything was very efficient.

Everything continued in this manner throughout the entire trip. KL is so organized, and so international-friendly with its efficiency, simple processes, and bilingual signage everywhere. I was very, very impressed.

Friendly people

I find that Malaysians are incredibly friendly people. Everywhere I went, people greeted me with a smile and a slight bow with their right hand crossed over their heart. They make the same gesture when saying “you’re welcome” after one thanks them. This heartfelt gesture is symbolic of the treatment that I received from everyone I met there–once again, from the very beginning of the trip.

Upon arrival, I was greeted by an immigration officer who was courteous and friendly. He welcomed me to his country, said a few nice things, and encouraged me to eat their local foods. What a difference compared to immigration officers in most countries, who barely acknowledge your presence–and a big difference from my country, where security issues force our immigration officers to treat everyone with suspicion.

This continued on throughout my trip to KL. Nearly everywhere I went–hotels, stores, etc.–people were incredibly helpful and friendly. In addition, English is used quite commonly in the city, and it was normally quite easy to communicate.


Watching traffic and life on the road in this city was a completely different experience than in my previous visits to other Asian countries. Not only was the infrastructure modern and well-maintained, but drivers followed the rule of law, as well. Cars were not speeding and cutting each other off all over the place, and the state of the roads looked far from chaotic. Most people get around in cars, by bus, or by rail–there were very few scooters or motorcycles anywhere, and no sightings of motorcycle drivers wearing face masks to protect themselves from exhaust–a vision that is almost ubiquitous in other Asian nations.

Traffic moves calmly through the city on well-maintained roads.

Traffic moves calmly through the city on well-maintained roads.

Beautiful buildings

KL is a beautiful city. The buildings are well-maintained and reflect the country’s cultural heritage from China and India, as well as elements of Islamic influence.





Many of the buildings have beautiful designs, stonework, and arches. We saw some light posts that were decorated with artificial flowers, and others that were in the form of chandeliers.

Green space

I don’t think I have ever seen a city with so much green space in my life. KL is incredible. It is a city of 1.6 million people, but it has a small number of high rises, and they are developing the city with a great respect for life. There is a section of the city (“Lake Gardens,” I believe) with beautiful gardens that boast many tall trees with the greenest foliage. I swear, the temperature in that section of KL seemed 10-15 degrees cooler than everywhere else–a wonderful thing for a city that regularly averages about 33 degrees Celsius on a daily basis! It was completely refreshing.


Tremendous amount of green space in this city.


Another amazing thing that I noticed about KL was the amount of diversity among its people. There did not seem to be a single “look” to the people of KL, whereas I have visited other Asian nations in which the people were more homogenous. One can see the mix of ethnic backgrounds in many of the people there. Beyond that, there are also many transplants in KL–I met many people from India and from various nations of Africa, as well. I really loved the diversity in this city.

Overall, I loved Kuala Lumpur, and it really gave me a terrific impression of Malaysia. It is not surprising to me that the country has such a great reputation. Beautiful cities, friendly and diverse people, in a system that is multilingual and easy to understand–I could definitely go back to KL in the future! I hope that their “Malaysia, truly Asia” campaign brings the nation its just rewards!

What’s next for Venezuela?

This week, Venezuela has been dominating international headlines due to the death of President Hugo Chavez.


Since my trip to Venezuela last fall, the country has been on my mind. In my last trip to Venezuela, I did not meet a single Chavez supporter. When he won the election, I worried that things would fall into chaos there; however, things seemed to remain calm, and I was impressed.

Now that Chavez has passed away, I wonder what is next for Venezuela?

The Venezolano constitution mandates the following:

  • The Vice-President (who is appointed by the President–not elected by the people) serves as Interim President until the next election; and
  • The next election must be called within 30 days.

As such, Vice-President Nicolas Maduro was sworn in on Friday, March 8th, and he has indicated that elections will be held in 30 days.

This seems like an enormous feat. How on Earth will this country of 28 million be able to organize a presidential election in such a short period of time? If they are able to pull this off, I will be seriously impressed.

I have to admit that, once I learned of the passing of Chavez, my thoughts turned immediately to Henrique Capriles Radonski. He is the leader of the opposition party in Venezuela, and ran unsuccessfully against Chavez last October.


Apparently, Capriles is gearing up to run against Maduro; however, from what I have been able to gather in the media, it seems that Maduro is favoured to win. We will see what happens.

In the meantime, it seems that, once again, I will be in Venezuela at the time of a presidential election, as I will be heading down there for Expo-Estudiante. Will I witness history, or will it be more of the same?

Contrasts in Venezuela

I recently spent a few days in Venezuela. As a North American, I found this country to be full of interesting contrasts. In my view, this was particularly true of the nation’s capital, Caracas.

After leaving the airport in Caracas in order to drive into the city, you have to drive on a coastal road that gives you a spectacular view of the ocean. I cannot describe how beautiful it was (and, unfortunately, due to a failure in my SD card, I lost all my photos of the trip, so I cannot show you, either).

After a few minutes, the coastal road turns inland between a series of rolling hills with trees and plants of the most beautiful shades of a luscious, deep green. At certain times of day, the sunlight begins a dance around the peaks of the hills, casting shadows across the trees in a way that really captivates the eye.

Unfortunately, the scenery quickly changes, as large, sprawling neighbourhoods of favelas come into view (I think the word for this in English is a “shanty town”). I was surprised by the size and the spread of these neighbourhoods, which seem to rival (or perhaps surpass) comparable areas of Rio de Janeiro. I uploaded a photo of these favelas in my previous posting about the Venezuelan election. These neighbourhoods spread across the hills; at the foot of these hills lies large amounts of trash in the form of plastic bags, papers, food remnants, etc. Life in these neighbourhoods cannot be easy; in fact, I recently saw a report on CNN International that describes public major housing projects led by Chavez to help people move out of favelas and into nicer apartments with access to schools, clinics, and other services at no charge.

Once inside Caracas, the scenery changes again to show a relatively modern city, a typical downtown that could be in any country of the world. There are many vehicles of all types on the road, and buildings with interesting architecture.

As we go further into town, you begin to see campaign signs appear to support President Chavez and his challenger, Henrique Capriles, contrasting the status quo vs. change and a new way of life.

I stayed in one of the nicer hotels in Caracas; however, in my opinion, this hotel was disappointing compared to similar hotels in other capital cities around the world that I have visited.

At first glance, the rooms seemed quite nice, clean, and spacious, and the windows provided a beautiful view of the hills that surround the city; however, upon closer inspection, I found that the furniture in the room was actually becoming run-down, with stains and spots and other elements that made me feel as though my room was less than clean.

The toilet failed to function at times, and I had to open the tank and fiddle with it to get it to work again; this happened three times on the trip.

The hotel staff, though friendly enough, was inattentive, making everything from meals to the service request I placed about my toilet take much longer than it should have.

Again, this hotel is considered to be one of the best accommodations in Caracas. To me, it represented the contrasts within the city.

Caracas is stunningly beautiful, and nearly every Venezuelan I have ever met has been friendly. Indeed, the Venezuelan students in my university’s ESL program have typically been an absolute pleasure, attentive to details, careful to follow procedures, and conscientious about their schoolwork. They are the reason why we have decided to spend more time and resources to recruit students in Venezuela.

With these things in mind, I keep coming back to the idea that Caracas should be teeming with tourists, foreign businesses and investments, and development projects to improve housing, infrastructure, employment, and the overall economy of the area. Unfortunately, that does not seem to be what is actually happening there. Instead, I heard stories about how many Venezuelans are trying to leave the country, seeking better opportunities elsewhere and trying to avoid the problems, the poverty, and the crime that affects the country. Another contrast, when you comoare these people with those who have benefited from Chavez’s social policies and projects.

Overall, Venezuela and its many contrasts were an inspiration to me. Now that we are a week after the election, I find myself wondering about what will happen there. What is going to happen to this country in the next 10-20 years?