By Mohammed Aly Sergie
ArabianBusiness on the towering achievements of Malaysians and Malaysia.
A business trip to Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, is becoming an increasingly common stop on any global executive's itinerary. The city leads the country's fast-paced development in trade and commerce, banking and finance, manufacturing, transport, information technology and tourism. Considered one of the fastest growing economies in South East Asia, Malaysia is also the largest and most innovative Islamic financial services hub in the world.
At a stratospheric height of 452 metres, the 88-storey Petronas Twin Towers dominate Kuala Lumpur’s skyline and reside in the heart of the city centre.
Malaysia is divided into two areas, East Malaysia and Peninsula (west) Malaysia. Its biggest city and commercial centre, Kuala Lumpur, often referred to by locals as KL, is located about 40 km inland from the west coast of the Peninsula and lies in a valley surrounded by jagged hills at the intersection of two rivers - the Klang and Gombak. Today, Kuala Lumpur is home to 1.3 million people, with more than six million in the surrounding metropolitan areas. It is the political, economic, and cultural heartbeat of Malaysia.
Malaysia, a middle-income country, transformed itself from 1971 through to the late 1990s from a producer of raw materials into an emerging multi-sector economy. Growth was almost exclusively driven by exports - particularly of electronics. As a result, Malaysia was hard hit by the global economic downturn and the slump in the information technology sector in 2001 and 2002. However, by 2003 the economy had grown by 4.9%, overcoming the regional slowdown that was caused by the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus in neighbouring countries. Growth topped 7% in 2004 and 5% per year in 2005-06.
Following the East Asia financial crisis in 1997, Malaysia has taken measures to guard against future economic crises. Healthy foreign exchange reserves and a small external debt greatly reduce the risk of another economic slump. However, the economy remains dependent on continued growth in the US, China, and Japan - top export destinations and key sources of foreign investment. In light of this the government presented its five-year national development agenda in April 2006, which targets the development of higher value-added manufacturing and an expansion of the services sector, especially in financial services.
According to the World Bank, Malaysia has a gross domestic product (GDP) of US$148,940bn, slightly less than half of Saudi Arabia's GDP.
The total population of Malaysia is almost 25 million, with 1.3 million people residing in its capital. The population's average age is round 25 and 32% is under the age of 15. The majority of the populations, 60.4%, are Muslim, 19.2%, Buddhist and 9.1% are Christian. The country is ethnically very diverse, comprising of Malay, Chinese, Indians, and indigenous people.
Every year Malaysia enjoys increased numbers of tourists. This year, during the month of July 2007, a total of 1,713,951 tourist arrivals were recorded, an increase of 18.2% compared to 1,450,319 in the same month in 2006. Cumulatively, tourist arrivals recorded from January to July in 2007 were 12,404,377, representing an increase of 23.9% compared to 10,014,540 in 2006. The growing tourist market is no surprise, Malaysia and in particular Kuala Lumpur, have attractions that would rival any flourishing city.
At a stratospheric height of 452 metres, the 88-storey Petronas Twin Towers dominate Kuala Lumpur's skyline and reside in its city centre. The towers achieved world record status in the 90s, and still remain among the world's tallest buildings. The design of the towers is based on geometric patterns common in Islamic architecture. Special features of the towers include the double-deck sky bridge, which is open to tourists from Tuesday to Sunday. (There are 1300 tickets issued on a first-come-first-served basis. Tickets are free of charge.) Taking in the view from the sky bridge may not be everyone's cup of tea - especially those with a fear of heights - but the view is testimony to how far this city has come over the years, and how much more development is on the cards.
Kuala Lumpur is lined with a plethora of exquisite local restaurants which feed the city’s stylish citizens and tourists alike.
Apart from offices, many of the city's modern buildings are home to Kuala Lumpur's tourist attractions. The Petronas Philharmonic Hall, home of the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra and the Petronas Performing Arts Group as well as the 100,000 sq ft Petrosains Science Discovery Centre can both be found there. Trendy shopping mall, Suria KLCC, (Kuala Lumpur City Centre) where luxury brands, such as Armani and Gucci, are also within the Petronas Towers complex.
The Chinese community is one of the largest minority groups in Kuala Lumpur, and as with most large cities, they congregate in Chinatown around Petaling Street. This is one of Kuala Lumpur's most popular tourist destinations. In the evenings, a line of stalls come to life, offering products of every description, from fake leather goods to the obligatory ‘Rolex' watches. The area attracts many locals and visitors in search of bargain items, including inexpensive dresses, shoes, fabrics and souvenirs. Chinatown transforms itself into a bustling and lively night market when part of the road is closed to traffic at about 6pm.
For non-Chinese shopping, Kuala Lumpur offers many options. The Central Market is a huge centre with restaurants and a good place to shop for antiques and exotic handicraft. If your timing is right, visit the Sunday Market (it is usually open from Saturday night until the early hours of Sunday morning). This is the place to be to pick up a piece of Malaysia, but always remember to bargain - it is something of a national pastime.
Kuala Lumpur is lined with a plethora of exquisite local restaurants which feed the city's stylish citizens and tourists alike. One of the most popular is Bologna Restaurant, situated in the Hotel Istana. The unique style of this Italian eatery is contemporary yet sophisticated. Marble and glass combinations create a stunning interior and the warm colours and paintings which adorn the walls make this the ideal place for a romantic Italian dinner for two.
Starhill Gallery, Malaysia's newest and most exclusive shopping mall is where the finest brand names in the world are to be found, but also features one of the most luxurious food-courts available. One thing that you can't help but notice when visiting Malaysia is the wide variety of weird and exotic fruits. When staying at any of the city's hotels, you may come across an unusual rule - hotels forbid guests from bringing in the native ‘durian' fruit - Malaysia's ‘king' of fruits. The spiky, pungent, and somewhat cloying fruit has a unique taste. Some describe think it tastes like onions and garlic mixed with strong cheese. You will either love it or hate, but you will have to try it. Most locals will, at some point, insist that you try it.
Kuala Lumpur is fast becoming a city of museums. The National Museum contains exhibits of Malaysia's past and holds themed exhibits seasonally. The recent history also has lots to offer: the Tunku Abdul Rahman Memorial housing the memorabilia of the nation's first prime minister; the Tun Abdul Razak Memorial in memory of the second Prime Minister (the memorial itself is housed in the official residence of the Prime Minister); the Police Museum; the Islamic Art Museum; the Civil Service Memorial; and the Kuala Lumpur Natural History Museum. The Islamic Arts Museum is especially impressive with its inverted domes and display of mosques from around the world.
Aside from the museums, Kuala Lumpur's cultural mix makes the city very appealing to architecture enthusiasts. The Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Mosque, often referred to as "the blue mosque", is one of the largest mosques in South East Asia. Its size is humbling - with an enormous, dark blue dome and four minarets standing at 142.3 metres.
Kuala Lumpur’s cultural mix makes the city very appealing to architecture enthusiasts.
Decorative Islamic calligraphy adorns the dome and main prayer hall, while the overall architecture integrates ethnic Malay design elements. The mosque is adjoined by a small lake, which makes it a particularly serene setting, especially at sunset. Visitors should dress according to the Islamic dress code. Suitable attire is provided at the main entrance.
If time permits, a quick day trip outside of Kuala Lumpur puts you at the limestone Batu Caves. It lies a short distance north of town and the main cave has to be accessed by climbing up 272 stairs. Hindu devotees perform annual pilgrimages during the festival of Thaipusam by putting on kavadis and climbing to the temple inside the main cave.
To experience the forests surrounding Kuala Lumpur, a 40 km journey to Temple Park places you in a tranquil natural oasis. In addition to the exotic plants, be sure to take in the waterfalls at the park. This peaceful setting is the perfect place to unwind from fast-paced Kuala Lumpur.
Like all Malaysians, Kuala Lumpurians are proud of their heritage and are known to hold many annual festivals in celebration of their culture.
This year, in conjunction with Malaysia's 50th year of independence and Visit Malaysia Year 2007, the Ministry of Tourism and the Malaysian Armed Forces (MAF) co-hosted the Kuala Lumpur International Tattoo Show in September.
The festival, held at the city's Merdeka Stadium, featured performances of military band music and cultural acts from across the world.
The Merdeka Stadium is hailed as the "birthplace" of Malaysia's independence because it was here on August 31, 1957, that power was transferred from the British Empire to the newly independent Malayan government. The stadium is an important part of Malaysia's history and in February 2003, the stadium was named a national heritage building.