In my last post I illustrated the discrimination, loneliness, and pain I have experienced as a black woman living in Cambodia, but of course not all of Southeast Asia has hateful tendencies. This past week I spent sometime in Kuala Lumpur, otherwise known as KL, Malaysia’s capital city. Although I was only there for a short period of time I felt like a human being instead of an alien for the first time in three months. KL was filled with people of so many different religions, ethnicities, and every skin complexion you can think of, yet, there was an overwhelming sense of respect for everyone’s differences. I will risk sounding cliche and say that being in KL was a breath of fresh air.
Eye- opening Moment on Black Identity in KL One eye-opening moment, of many, occurred to me while I was touring the Bantu Caves, one of KL’s many attractions. While the person I traveled with was suddenly no where in sight, I suddenly found myself surrounded by six tall men alone in a dark cave. Although I initially felt a slightly uneasy, I felt more at ease when they made it clear that they only wanted to take pictures with me. They waited for me to say yes before coming too close and didn’t touch or grab me without my consent, as almost all Cambodians and Chinese people have done when they wanted to take pictures with me.
“Why do you want to take pictures with me?” I asked. They said, “because we have never seen hair like yours and we think that it is beautiful.” What made this moment so memorable is that it was a major contrast from my Cambodian co-worker’s exclamation of “ahhh, your hair so scary, how did it get like that!?” Which was her reaction when I took out my Senegalese twists and began wearing my natural curls to work. Some of the onlooking Khmer coworkers saw how this offended me and have made an effort to compliment me on my hair ever since. Nonetheless, I still receive more hateful reactions to my skin and very existence from Cambodian people than positive ones. In contrast, I received numerous compliments from Malaysian people who said that my skin and appearance is beautiful. No longer was my skin “unpopular.” There are many Malaysians my complexion, and much darker, as well.
Religion The presence of religion in Malaysia is very rich and the religious diversity is very obvious. You cannot walk the streets of KL without seeing a mosque, temple, or church, often in the same vicinity of each other. The supermarkets and restaurants primarily offer Halal meat to respect the large population of Muslims in the country. However, one religion did not seem to dominate the others and religious customs and norms did not seem to be forced upon people by society.
The Beauty of Malaysia Aside from the beauty I saw in the people, the city and surrounding country side put me in awe. From the waterfalls at the top of the mountains to the tea plantations, it was absolutely exquisite.