Kuala Lumpur History  

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Kuala Lumpur, roughly translated means "Mouth of the Muddy River" and refers to the muddy area where the Klang and Gombak rivers join. It was this muddy area that was first settled by tin prospectors in the 1800's. This mining settlement grew rapidly and by 1857 or so traders, merchants and others, enticed by the opportunity newfound riches provided, arrived at this shantytown setting up businesses and the rest, as they say, is history.

In due course a man of Chinese descent, Yah Ah Loy, was appointed 'mayor' and responsible for the behavior of the Chinese community. However 1870 was a disastrous year for the newly formed community; a fire caused by civil unrest between the different Chinese groups and that coupled with a devastating flood destroyed the entire town. 1896 marked the arrival of the British and British resident Frank Swettenham pushed for the rebuilding of the city and eventually transferred the central government from Klang, consequently establishing Kuala Lumpur as the capital of the newly formed Federated Malay States.

As for Malaysia itself, it seems to have been settled first by aboriginal people some 10,000 years ago. Nonetheless, the mineral rich country has long attracted immigrants from Sumatra, Cambodia and even the Philippines in search of wealth. It was the Srivijaya empire from Sumatra in present day Indonesia that brought Hinduism to Malaysia in the 7th century. The Srivijaya Empire eventually succumbed to another Indonesian empire, the Javanese Majapahit Empire and at the beginning of the 1400's a prince from Sumatra set up shop at Melaka. In no time Melaka became the centre of spice trade from the Moluccas and a desirable piece of real estate. Fortunately for the Sumatran prince, a certain Chinese admiral named Cheng Ho sailed into Melaka and subsequently forged an alliance with China that protected Melaka from marauders and allowed Melaka to expand its influence on the peninsula to what is pretty much present day Malaysia.

For the next 100 years or so the Malaysia's fortunes increased to the point where European countries became interested in its wealth. First to come knocking were the Portuguese in the early 16th century who stayed on for better than 100 years but were never very well liked and did not leave a lasting legacy. Next in line were the Dutch who also stayed on for more than 100 years but in trying to control everything to their advantage actually sowed the seeds for the decline in Melaka's power and glory.

The last colonial power to lay claim to Malaysia were the British, who to their credit saw the potential of Malaysia as a free trade zone at Penang on the west coast. For a brief time during the Napoleonic wars the British took control of Dutch assets on the peninsula and this convinced them to expand in the area, which they did by sending Sir Stamford Raffles down the coast where he eventually landed in Singapore. In 1826, Melaka, Penang and Singapore formed what was then known as the British Straits Settlements.

After WWII, the British, finding it increasingly difficult to maintain its empire decided by 1955 that Malaysia would become independent together with Singapore and Brunei. This group would be known as the Federation of Malaya. On 31 August 1957 this Federation was declared independent. Then in September 1963 the Federation of Malaya was joined by Saba and Sarawak to form Malaysia. It was troubled from the start. Brunei pulled out at the last moment - afraid of loosing control over its oil and Singapore left nearly 2 years later (declaring independence on 9 August 1965) thereby leaving Malaysia as it is today.

Reminders of Malaysia's colonial past can been seen throughout Kuala Lumpur. Guided tours will take you past many of these historic landmarks including Sultan Abdul Samad Building, The Royal Selangor Club and St. Mary's Cathedral, one of the country's oldest Anglican churches and so on.

Malaysia is an Islamic country with Islam as the state religion. However that said there is, for the most part, wide tolerance for freedom of religion. This can be seen in the multicultural Kuala Lumpur. The total population of Malaysia is approximately 21 million persons comprised of people from several different ethnic groups and religious faiths: Native Malays (aka Bumi Putra - "sons of the soil") are the predominant race with 59% of the population. Almost all Malays are Muslim. The next largest ethic group is the Chinese with about 32% of the populace. The Chinese are an eclectic mix of Taoists, Buddhists and Confucianists together with some that are Christian.

The third largest group would be Indians at about 7% of the population. Most Indians are Hindu but there is a large percentage that are also Muslim. The remaining 2% of the population is mostly indigenous tribesmen on Eastern Malaysia.

However it is important to note that certain states of Malaysia have a stronger Islamic influence and tend to be stricter in social etiquette. For visitors looking to worship there are any number of convenient mosques, churches, temples and shrines.

Simple Etiquette
Generally, this melting pot of different cultures and races is very much Westernized in social etiquette, however it is important to recognize certain different cultural and religious characteristics.

Cultural etiquette has been described as the unspoken but assumed behavior that conveys politeness. Therefore it is important that you take the time to learn about and follow "local etiquette". In Malaysia, especially in east coast of the peninsula where there are more conservative (devout) Muslims, there are a few specific rules that visitors should be sure to know about and follow.

Many Malaysians usually greet each other with a less than firm handshake and may then place their right hand over their heart after greeting you as a sign of sincerity. It is also considered impolite to hand or receive anything to a Malaysian with your left hand - as in most Islamic countries the left hand is considered "unclean" and thus insulting. If this makes the action somewhat cumbersome by having to change hands, take the time to do it anyway.

To beckon someone, especially someone who is older, simply refer to him or her as "uncle" (pakcik) or "aunty" (makcik). People younger than you may also address you with such a term - take it as a compliment! Also, most locals will bow towards the elderly as they walk past them as a sign of respect (though not frequently seen in Kuala Lumpur that much nowadays).

Physical signs of affection in public are frowned upon and on the East Coast of Malaysia, men and women keep a safe distance from each other in public.

There are certain areas of mosques that should not be entered by non-Muslims. Signs are often displayed or people will inform you. Conservative dress codes will need to be adhere to when entering such places (some mosques that are popular or historic will have robes available if you are not properly attired). Shoes must be removed when entering a mosque or temple.

As well, shoes are almost always removed prior to entering a Malaysian home and are sometimes removed before entering some buildings (a collection of shoes at the door is a giveaway that you should remove your shoes).

A common sight will be that most Malaysians eat with their right hand. In many local restaurants this is an acceptable behavior. If you do wish to follow suit make sure to use your right hand as the left is used for more basic bodily functions (which explains the reason for the above greeting etiquette!).

Do not use your right forefinger to point to people, places or give directions. Rather use your right thumb with your four fingers folded underneath (this takes most Westerners some getting used to).

If invited to a Malaysian home, it will be best if you come with a gift. Though this is not a must, the host will definitely appreciate whatever you choose to bring - be it a souvenir from back home, some fruits or drinks purchased from a store around the corner. Even amongst Malaysians themselves, this practice is observed. Bringing a gift is known as carrying buah tangan, which literally means "fruit of the hands".

Lastly, Malaysians are nothing if not hospitable and will go out their way to offer guests a drink or snack - it would be impolite to refuse.

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