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Petronas Towers by night
(Malaysia: Kuala Lumpur)

April 1994
Malaysia: Kuala Lumpur: Petronas Towers by night

Here stands one of the mighty Petronas Towers, the tallest buildings in the world - unless you're from Chicago. Apparently the building part of the Sears Tower rises higher, but the pointy thing on top of the Petronas tower is higher than the highest pointy thing on the top of the Sears Tower's original construction. Confusing? You bet. The important thing is that it's a very tall building.

When I visited Kuala Lumpur in summer 1998, construction was going on around the clock all over the city. In other Southeast Asian capitals, the economic crisis had silenced the jackhammers and stilled the cranes. But in KL, something - either optimism or naïveté - kept them hard at work.

It had been four years since I last visited the city, before these towers had been built. That visit had only lasted a few days, but I fell in love with the easy wit of its people, its stimulating diversity of culture (and food!), and the intense mixture of old and new. When I came back, I was a little disoriented by all the new towers and elevated trains, and for a time I worried that my favorite haunts had been paved over. But as I wandered the streets in the days to come, I found them all, one-by-one, and it seemed to me they'd managed to save all the good parts despite their rush to modernize. I hope I can say the same thing next time I return.

2001 addendum - Well, it's begun. My favorite cluster of food stalls (opposite Pudu Raya) has been turned into a parking lot. And the quirky old train station is getting decommissioned in favor of a giant box no longer in walking distance of downtown. And the new airport is absurdly situated, hours from the city. Nevertheless the city still tops my list of favorite urban places. The food and the humor and the contrasts remain, I was relieved to see.

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