Having spent less than 12 hours in Kuala Lumpur, and all of those being ‘after dark’, I really can’t tell you much about Malaysia, but as I was coasting in to Sentral on the AeroBus shuttle I had time to just watch and think. After checking into my hotel I then, as is my habit, took to the streets in search not only of food but also of the ‘real people’ — and it only took me a few seconds to find them!
Every city I travel to fascinates me in it’s own unique way, and just when you think that the next city will probably be like other ones you’ve been to before, you’re dazzled (or awed) again, and your expectations thrown out the window.
Kuala Lumpur (at least on the strength of my initial observations) seems to have an invisible divider about 30 feet above ground level — everything above this invisible line could be transplanted directly into any western country and would look right at home — magnificent buildings all lit up brilliantly at night, extensive roads infrastructure with elevated expressways, swiftly flowing law-abiding traffic, neatly manicured landscaping falling away from the edges of the roads, and a general air of economic prosperity.
But below my invisible 30 foot divider exists the paradox that is the ‘other’ side of Kuala Lumpur. Within a block of my hotel I encountered a bustling collection of basic but busy ‘Restoran’ (restaurants), 4 people apparently homeless and living on the footpath, several women surreptitiously offering ‘services’, and more ‘blind’ people than I’ve encountered in the past year! At first I wondered how there could be 8 or 9 blind people out on the streets with their cane within just 2 or 3 blocks of where I was staying, but I may have to investigate further — I get the feeling that at least 1 (and quite possibly more) were not in fact as blind as they’d like you to believe, and perhaps it was an income-generation ploy… Certainly, some of them were approaching locals asking for money. There seemed to be more road and footpaths under construction than complete and in use, and the passage of pedestrians along the sidewalks was far more reminiscent of other Asian countries I’ve been to, having to dodge around street vendors’ stalls and people walking in any and every direction.
Economically, Malaysia is reported to have low unemployment levels and is relatively prosperous. I haven’t researched whether it’s officially classified as a ‘developed’ country yet, but it’s certainly more prosperous than many other Asian countries. And it also seems to have better behaved drivers on the road!
As I rode the shuttle bus back to the airport this morning, the thought crossed my mind that:
You can gauge the economic prosperity of a country by the degree to which there is law and order amongst the vehicles on the roads.
I’m not quite sure what to make of that. I’ll ponder it some more. But wouldn’t it be fascinating if the cause of poverty was directly linked to whether or not people obey the law… and does that occur because of a mindset and culture, or because of enforcement of the law? Certainly, this brings me back to my long-held belief that corruption (i.e. bypassing the law) is a critical issue in pretty much every poverty-afflicted country.
But it’s the classic chicken and egg dilemma — do we fix poverty by fixing the corruption, or do we fix the corruption by fixing the poverty? What do you think?