Wednesday, March 09, 2005

A Word on the Working Girl and other observations on a heretofore wildly underrated Eastern Metropolis

I believe this topic is a bit overdue. In Vietnam, a few days ago, was a day of The Woman. I can’t remember the exact name of the holiday, but the day marks a milestone nonetheless for a culture traditionally bound to the Confucian decree that a man is worth 10 women, a heritage that squares poorly with women’s 85% concentration in factories. I will refer new visitors to this site to a previous discussion of Vietnam’s added emphasis on bringing women from the farm to the factory, where current GDP growth is most concentrated. An official at Vietnam's Department of Planning and Investment explained to us that Vietnam hopes to compete with China on the basis of quality, rather than quantity, and thus women's meticulous attention to detail is an asset in textile plants.

The sudden emergence of women as a social and economic force is a fairly salient point to consider as one navigates Southeast Asian urban society. As in Vietnam, Malaysian bars, such as the Beach Club, which is a short walk from the Ritz Carlton, can seem overrun with prostitutes. In Kuala Lumpur, the rule of thumb (which I gathered from a helpful Australian) is that two consecutive eye contacts constitutes a deal in the making. It should be acknowledged here that AIDS represents an explosive and devastating epidemic in Southeast Asia – although not quite on the order of the disease’s ravages in Africa – and thus the insane idea of transacting with a crooked-toothed prostitute, regardless of one’s level of desperation, must be weighed against a blood-serious concern for one’s longevity of life. As bemused as I was by the profuse compliments by would-be hostesses and by their invitations to “the toilet,” I was mostly depressed by this sad convention's prominence in such an otherwise first-world city.

What I have to offer at this point about Kuala Lumpur is woefully inadequate and I look forward to providing more useful information in the next 18 hours. This is, after all, a city of 1.4 million in a country whose median age is 23.8 years.

“KL,” as international hipsterati insist on referring to Kuala Lumpur, on first blush resembles Las Vegas minus the casinos, or a Los Angeles minus the celebs. Neon signs reign supreme and visual curiosities such as bars with shark tanks above them are par for the course. Naturally, such comparisons do the city a massive disservice. The city has the effect on a first time visitor that New York or Tokyo has on same. One’s neck throbs from constant craning to admire post-modern architectural landmarks such as the Petronas Towers, which are every bit as staggering as any to be found in Paris, Tokyo or New York. The city fairly teems with all manner of Mercedes, Ferraris and other luxury vehicles, which stream past store windows gleaming with exotic gems, advanced electronics and tailors who deal cheaply in some of the finest materials. A tailored cashmere suit can cost roughly $300, although I understand better deals can be had in Singapore and Bangkok.

Kuala Lumpur is, like most cities in Malaysia, a city dominated by Muslims and yet, most commonly understood Muslim conventions, such as frequent prayer breaks that halt business and women draped in hijab, are relatively subdued. English and Chinese are the most commonly spoken languages and the area is an ethnic gumbo of a variety of Asians and Australians. The commonness of English was a happy circumstance for my team, which, in booking a driver and translator and interpreter, got both in the form of a single person, "Albert," who drove us all over the city in large-bodied Mercedes.

The next day’s dispatch will deal, presumably, deal more directly with the mores of doing business in KL and our specific experiences.

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

<< Home