Thursday, March 10, 2005

Kuala Lumpur, Day 2

On our second day in KL, the A-Team divided its efforts between meetings with the Malaysian Textile Manufacturers Association and the Malaysian Industrial Development Authority. Our usual song and dance about lost luggage preventing us from having business cards was met with polite understanding by government officials eager to pitch foreign direct investment in their country, which this year had vastly exceeded last year’s goals. Both authorities provided enormous insight into doing business in the country, which, for the purposes of textile manufacturing, appears more focused on the production of fabrics than on garments, the manufacture of which Malaysia seems content to cede to Vietnam, China and India, among other neighboring states. Again, an array of tax incentives exist here, depending on which side of the coast a company intends to operate and its level of partnership with local business entities. As in Vietnam, capital remittances back to the US, such as dividends, go untaxed and the standard corporate tax rate in Malaysia is 28%. However, discounts on that tax range from 60% on operations built on the west coast and 100% on the east coast, where labor is more plentiful but access to other major Asian cities is more constrained.

Alfred, a third-generation Chinese, proved a worthy tour guide, shuttling us around KL in a 500-series Mercedes, taking us to opulent hotels for lunch and cocktails and offering fascinating insights on the idiosyncrasies of Malaysian society. This city has one of the most Byzantine traffic systems I’ve ever encountered. If Houston’s buildings had been designed by I.M. Pei and its roads were laid out by an acid freak, you’d have a fairly good proxy for the climate, scenery and navigability of Kuala Lumpur. Security at major buildings can be quite rigorous and non-Muslim drivers dropping off passengers can expect to have their cars searched by security officers with little to no warning whatsoever.

Even though early Spring temperatures routinely exceed 90 degrees Fahrenheit and humidity levels rival bayou cities such as New Orleans and Houston, air conditioning is not nearly as abundant here as it is in those towns. The city’s business casual dress is easy to understand and more than 15 minutes spent walking about in suits bordered on torture.

After returning, Charlie and I perused a local electronics shop to negotiate fantastic prices on 5.1- and 7.2-megapixel digital cameras for prices not likely to be seen in the US for another 18 months. As soon as my batteries are charged, I look forward to uploading a raft of new photos. Afterwards, we availed ourselves of the Ritz Carlton pool for a swim and some Tiger Beer, which during my time in Saigon and KL, has become a fixture in my bloodstream.



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