I’d be lying if I said my first impressions of Kuala Lumpur were glorious. It’s not that KL had done anything wrong or it was a bad city but I just didn’t get quite the same feeling of excitement as I did on Day 1 in both Shanghai and Taipei. I know they’re all very different cities and it’s not fair to compare but I couldn’t help it.
I thought a good place to begin to uncover Kuala Lumpur was to head to Merdeka Square. ‘Merdeka’ means ‘freedom’ in Malay and it was in Merdeka Square on 31 August 1957 that Malaysian independence from Britain was celebrated and the Malaysian flag was raised for the first time. I had arrived in Malaysia 19 days before the official Independence Day celebrations but with all the flags publicly draped and hoisted over seemingly every building (inside and out), you were in no doubt some big national celebration was coming!
The main architectural attraction is the colonial Sultan Abdul Samad building, built in 1897 and known simply as Government Offices in the early days as it’s where the British colonial administration of Malaysia based itself. It’s domes are made of real copper!
In the middle of the Square is the large cricket green, much the same as it was during colonial times.
Malaysia was the first ex-British colony of my trip so far, and I was to soon visit another two (Singapore and Hong Kong). I have never been entirely ignorant of British colonialism but it was here in Kuala Lumpur that I began to get a grasp on the sheer scale and impact of it. British colonialism wasn’t all bad (say, when compared to Japanese colonialism…) but my growing awareness of this part of my national history made me both increasingly uncomfortable and curious. I really wanted to learn more, about the good and the bad! So there in Merdeka Square marked the beginning of my investigations.
Look out for another blog post further alone the line all about my reflections on colonialism.