Thursday, 16 December 2010

Shell-shocked by Malaysian Misogyny

I didn't expect my stay in Kuala Lumpur to be so disquieting (or, in my case, 'quieting'). I hated the way the Muslim men looked at me, and it was the sort of situation where I knew that I pretty much had to 'sit down and shut up' or risk drawing unwanted attention to myself. Possibly the most unpleasant moment was when I was about to enter my mid-range hotel, the AnCasa. There were two Muslim workers, one at the driveway and one at the door, who shared a smirk as I went by. All I had done was smile at the first one - the second one didn't even make eye contact with me, he pointedly kept the eye contact with the other worker for the purposes of reaffirming some kind of damaging stereotype about Western women. I felt slightly insulted, and spent the rest of my stay in KL trying to refrain from working myself into a suitable state of outrage. I was a guest in a country I was not a citizen of, I reminded myself over and over. Other minorities such as the Chinese were responsible for bettering the situation, not me.

In a way, staying in Chinatown probably gave me a warped view of KL. On the other hand, in a warped country, the best perspective is the most skewered. Sort of like staying in the gaybourhood of a homophobic city.

Anyway, I'm shell-shocked because Malaysia is the best-performing economy in Southeast Asia. Thailand, which is so much more liberated, gender-wise, deserves this status, I believe. I'm continue to be soothed and taken good care of by Thailand's tourist infrastructure and impressed by the friendliness of the people, and I'm sure eventually the bad taste in my mouth left by KL will fade away...

I had some resistance to getting with the smiles here - reverse psychology, if you like. I'm slowly warming to the way this ritual is handled (like most others), and relishing its underestimated charms.

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