Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Big City Gets Bigger

In the best possible way, Kuala Lumpur is quirky. It is stores like "Goo Goo Wonderland" (in English: Party Depot) and dishes that bear the title of "supreme," and candy shops called "Chocolate Kingdom." It is open-air markets with smells wafting and stinging the nose, and residents whose direction-giving abilities rival only the Romans. It is flashy shopping malls with more designer shops than Fifth Avenue, and then a million knockoff stands fifty yards around the corner. Most important, though, it is corporations whose taglines claim the effort of companies rather than the quality of them: the Pavilion Mall calls itself "The second-best mall in Southeast Asia;" a coffee shop brags that it is "striving" to make the best coffee in KL; even Kuala Lumpur itself claims to be "on its way" to becoming Asia's most important city.

A woman getting street food in Kuala Lumpur
We are surrounded by storefronts, shopping malls, restaurants that boast not what they are but what they hope to become, advertising their aspirations just below their names. We are surrounded by en-route-ness, by not-yet-ness, by still-trying-but-fear-not-it-will-happen ambition. Yes, KL is plenty quirky, but its refusal to nonchalantly accept complacency is contagious. As a fellow Fulbrighter reminded me, "This city is still a baby." It is growing. And we have found ourselves in the middle of its becoming, building, bettering glory.

The Petronas Twin Towers
Could anyplace be more appropriate for us newly-arrived Fulbrighters? We, too, all seventy-five of us, are working to realize lofty (but entirely possible!) aspirations. We are teachers, advocates, writers, scientists, researchers, learners. We, too, are becoming, building, and bettering; not focusing outward and posting it on billboards as is KL, but working just as adeptly on an internal level, a level that can only be understood personally. We have been in Kuala Lumpur for two days, long enough to achieve jet-lag and a vague familiarity with the city. Our Fulbright grants are now beginning. I can't wait to see what these next ten months of teaching and learning, of building, becoming, bettering Kuala-Lumpur-style, will bring.

A mosque in downtown KL

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