Kuala Lumpur, day one…

I’ll focus on a more detailed “itinerary” when I actually get around to writing my trip report, though figured I’d provide a quick update, especially about my interactions with locals. I started yesterday morning by visiting the Petronas Towers, which are damn impressive.

As I left the towers to walk towards the Kuala Lumpur Tower, a Malaysian lady in her mid-20s approached me. Now, I always have my guard up when traveling internationally, since there are more scams out there than I can count. I remember being in Istanbul and almost falling for the shoe shine scam, or being in Paris and almost following for the ring scam. So whenever I’m approached by someone abroad, I first check my pockets and then proceed with caution.

She walked up to me and said “excuse me, what color is your hair? I like it.” Okay, that seems like an honest enough (if not slightly strange) question. I told her it was blonde(ish), and she asked if I colored my hair. I said no, and she responded that she really liked it. After an awkward pause she said her name was Rose, and asked where I was from.

The funny thing is, Americans aren’t really liked around the globe, and to a large extent I can understand why. Fortunately I’m a German American with dual citizenship, so I can in good conscience say I’m from either place. However, when the situation doesn’t feel “threatening,” I’ll be honest, and I often find they like speaking to Americans. So I explained to her I was from the US, and she asked me where. “Tampa” or “your nearest airplane” probably wouldn’t ring a bell with her, so I usually just say the city that I left the US from, so in this case I said “Los Angeles.”

Long story short, her sister is moving to Los Angeles next month to be a nurse, and she invited me over to dinner to meet her sister. It’s not that I didn’t want to go, it’s just that it all proved a bit complicated since I was in the process of switching hotels, didn’t know what time I’d be available, didn’t have a phone, etc. She was beyond relentless, though, so that proved to be an adventure.

After that I went to the Kuala Lumpur Tower, where my admission gave me access to one of their other “attractions,” one of which was an F1 simulator. Okay, that sounds cool enough, I’m in. As it turned out it was literally a 17″ Dell computer monitor with peddles set up. Yeah, not what I came to Kuala Lumpur for!

Then I went to one of Kuala Lumpur’s larger malls, which had this store:

Hmm, I’ll have to take my mom to Kuala Lumpur for shopping sometime. She might even like this place more than “Forever 21.” šŸ˜‰

Then as I was escorted up to the lounge by a bellman at the Le Meridien, he started the conversation by asking where I’m from. Again, I went with Los Angeles. His eyes grew wide as he asked if I had ever been to Hollywood. I said I had, and he responded with “isn’t that where Chuck Norris is from?” I chuckled, and he said with legitimate admiration “I feel so honored to have met someone that has been to Hollywood.”

On the whole I’m having a great time, and Malaysians have been incredibly warm and hospitable.

Filed Under: Travel
  1. Wow, we’re actually getting a glimpse at Ben’s life ‘in country’….. not just the lounge, the plane, and the hotel! Nice!

    FWIW, we’ve generally found SE Asians very friendly toward the US. Of course, they are also friendly to everyone else!

  2. Ben, Welcome to hospitality country, I made friends on street in KL, make sure you try the “Teh Tarik” it is tea with cream..

  3. Americans usually think they’re hated everywhere but that’s really not true!! I guess you could blame your media / politics for that, because most people really enjoy meeting Americans, even more so with Obama as president! America still is the promised land for people all over the world!! Of course, when you’re in Afghanistan, you might want to take care, but in Malaysia.. no need really!

    Please stop thinking the rest of the world hates you guys, it’s not true!

    PS The friendly lady inviting you to dinner with her sister that just happened to be moving to the place where you’re from could be a scam. They could take you to a restaurant that charges a ridiculous amount of money for food or drinks, which you then have to pay before they let you leave. So as a tip: you pick the place/area when you’re meeting up with someone you met on the street. Don’t let them take you to a place where you don’t know where you are!

  4. @Wouter —

    I don’t think all of us Americans think the world hates us….

    But I think there are certain people who would like us Americans to think that the world hates us, and some of them show up on this blog.

  5. When you got invited over for dinner, you should have asked if she was part of the Mileage Plus Dinning program

  6. I’m leaning towards scam. After hearing about a similar experience years ago from someone who visited KL, I was on my guard during my trip last September. Sure enough, right outside the Petronas Towers I was approached by two friendly young Malaysian women who wanted to know all about where I was from. When I explained I was leaving the country later that night (which was true), they seemed less interested in being friends.

  7. Wow. That story had scam written all over it, Ben. “What color is your hair”?! Her sister just happens to be moving to LA. Sure. Just wow.

  8. Total scam. This happens in Bangkok quite often. The “mark” who goes along for the dinner usually ends up drugged and robbed.

  9. You guys make it sound like “drugged and robbed” is such a bad way to go. šŸ™‚

    I read this blog all the time and a lot of people give Ben a hard time for not leaving his hotel (which, honestly, we don’t know if he does or doesn’t – we just know what he writes about). Now, he’s leaving the hotel and you guys are going to have the poor guy paranoid.

    Of course, the whole story is useless without pictures of the young Malaysian women.

  10. Steve is right, this is a scam, this is very, very common in KL, I heard a lot of similar stories from my friends, these girls usually wander around the tourist hotspots, they would invite you for a drink, and then drug you & clear your pocket, although the pick up line the girl used in your case is the worst I’ve heard of……..I can’t believe after so much traveling you have no clue on this? You made a mistake by telling her that you are a visitor, you should have just walked away or let her know you work there.

  11. As a proud American and overseas Veteran, I can understand foreigners disliking Americans with an unreasonable sense of entitlement that complain about their room upgrades at 5 star hotels and complain about having to wait a little while in an exclusive executive lounge while the suite they were generously offered is made ready. Incredible.

  12. You missed out on a classic scam.
    We all missed out… because,
    The worse the experience-the better the story

  13. The Malaysian women may have been prostitutes of some sort. I saw that scam in Guatemala.

  14. Hah, now that I think it over, I feel like a total idiot. Wow, how did I *not* think it was a scam? I guess she came at me in such a bizarre way that I actually believed it.

    @ Ted — And it would be very fitting for my mother. šŸ˜‰

    @ NYBanker — ROFL!

    @ Carl — I certainly don’t mean to offend and appreciate your service. Look, I’m a “proud American” (as cliche as the phrase is), though I’m not sure what part of my post you take issue with. It’s a fact that American’s are, on the whole, not very well liked abroad. There are plenty of surveys that back that up. I guess you take issue that to some extent I can understand why? I’m not going to get into politics here, though Americans do generally have an “I’m from the greatest country on earth” attitude, and it rubs off on people. And that’s for the Americans that actually travel abroad. It’s not an issue for the people that read this blog (since y’all love to travel), but I can’t even count how many people I know that have no interest in traveling abroad and learning about different cultures. They have that “I live in the greatest country on earth, so why would I want to go anywhere else” attitude.

    Compare that to Europeans, that for a large part travel extensively from a young age. Americans are just often not as global as others. That’s all I’m saying, and maybe it’s just the fact that I’ve lived in Florida for 10 years…

  15. @lucky – Not offended at all and I enjoy your blog. But a critical reason why that dislike exists is the sense of entitlement and poor manners we display when we do not get our own way. And I see that more and more from many nationalities, not just the Americans.

    Perhaps part of it is a dislike of our nationalistic pride as you suggest, or the fact that we don’t like soccer, who knows? But I found the timing of your remark to be a bit surprising given some of the recent content on your blog and twitter page that, in my opinion, feed into the ugly American stereotype.

  16. @ Carl — Just curious, what aspect of the blog would that be? The Le Meridien situation, or something else? I don’t know about you, but for a one night stay I don’t find it acceptable to promise something will be ready in two hours and then have it be four hours. The thing is, I was incredibly nice about it. I would have been totally fine had they just upgraded me to a corner room, though they gave me an option — a corner room now, or a suite by 5PM. I went with the latter based on the information I was given. I couldn’t have been more polite, despite their genuine indifference towards the situation. The one place I made a complaint was on Twitter. Unreasonable? You be the judge…

    Besides, the point of the post was simply to point out that hotel hopping can be very time consuming when on a vacation. It’s a tip for others and something I’ll consider in the future, by just staying in one place.

  17. @lucky – yes on the LM and to a lesser extent Andaz, but as you wrote regarding LM, you were offered a room at check-in and you chose to delay that for an upgrade, granted based on a flawed hotel estimate. Understand your frustration, but check-out delays are not uncommon. Am sure the LM will do better next time. Enjoy your journey and I look forward to the trip report.

  18. As an American living outside the USA now, the exchange here between Carl and Lucky is one I’ve had before with many friends/family back home.

    Americans certainly have a much higher standard for customer service than many other societies. For many developing nations around the world where competition hasn’t existed in their capitalistic market for a long time, our adage of “the customer is always right” hasn’t been fully ingrained yet. Not saying this is good or bad, I also have high expectations for customer service in my new land that aren’t always met, and I usually try to educate/sweet talk the manager on why they should meet my needs.

    What I do get upset about with Americans traveling abroad is they must be more flexible, or simply more cognizant that this vacation country is not the USA, won’t have everything you expect, so you should learn to roll with things. Not targeting this at Lucky or anyone in specific, just making a general statement.

    And finally, my biggest pet peeve now is Americans who visit foreign countries (like mine) and don’t bother to learn a lick of that country’s language, if English isn’t predominant there. Unless you plan to stay in your international 5-star hotel the whole time where you know staff are bilingual, I feel an American tourist who tries to push English on his host country is simply unacceptable, rude and reinforces the stereotype that Americans think everything conforms to them.
    Americans would hate if a Chinese tourist walked into their outlet mall store in L.A., brought clothes to the cash register, started asking questions in Madarin and then began getting mad in Mandarin when the staff couldn’t respond.
    Support the tourism book industry, but a handheld Lonely Planet phrasebook before your trip, and learn how to say some stuff. It’ll make your trip more enjoyable.

  19. @ Bob — I certainly agree with you in theory, especially that Americans don’t put enough effort into learning foreign languages. That being said, as an American that also speaks German and some Spanish, I think it’s unrealistic to expect a tourist to learn the language of the country they’re visiting. I mean, I’ve visited over 40 countries, and don’t think it’s realistic for me to learn 25+ languages. That being said, I never expect anyone to speak my language, and certainly hold myself responsible for any communication errors. The exception would be chain hotels abroad, where I think it’s realistic to be able to expect to communicate in English.

    That being said, English *is* a global language. It’s why I’m able to get around fairly easily in almost every city/country I’ve visited. Most people speak at least a little bit of English, while the same isn’t true of Mandarin (outside of Asia, at least).

  20. Speaking of foreign languages, besides speaking Brooklynese…

    When we’ve headed to foreign countries, I always learn the 10 most important phrases. It’s amazing how far a good morning, or a thank you goes!

  21. As with French in the past, English is the preferred global language. This does not imply America is better or worse than other nations, rather it is a method of communication. Nevertheless, it is a worthwhile endeavor for people to learn and speak a second or even third language.

  22. Don’t even play the language card. Ben’s right — English is *the* global language.

    1. Every non-English speaker on earth is hugely incentivised to learn English. Don’t believe me? Think about the locals working in the fanciest hotels in Bangkok next time you are there. Think those are nice jobs relative to their countrymen? Think they could get that job if they didn’t speak English? Even my lawyer friend in Germany tells me that being super-fluent in English is his ticket to a payday. Americans have a much much smaller economic incentive to learn a language — though in the future, that might change as Spanish continues to infiltrate. For all of the nonnative English speaking world, there is no decision as to what second language to learn. There is no question of ‘should I learn French? Should I learn German? Should I learn Chinese?’ You just learn English. Period.

    2. Many Americans, young Americans, actually speak a good amount of a second language. I speak a decent chunk of French. But what percent of the time am I in a French-speaking country? So most locals never get to find out that I know some French! Meanwhile, every non-native English speaker gets to show off their rudimentary knowledge of English to just about any foreigner they meet. Even if it’s just ‘What color is your hair?’

    So consider this the next time you play the language card. If you could tell me one language to learn that would let me communicate with almost every person who didn’t speak English, I would! But you can’t.

  23. Interesting that the anti-American comments show up overnight by US time-zone standards….. thus, I’d say it’s likely not Americans making these comments!

  24. As a fellow German-American, I find that traveling as a German does not win me many friends either. If you tell people you’re Canadian, they’ll usually be nice to you.

  25. Just to clarify: the data shows that many people don’t like *America* (and what they usually mean is the politics: wars, foreign aid, hypocrisy, etc.). Most people don’t have a problem with individual Americans per se.

  26. I guess I must not travel in the same places as some of you. As an American I have never felt unwelcome anywhere. Maybe they’re talking behind my back or something. It’s been my impression that in many places they dislike American foreign policy but generally like Americans as clarification notes. I have had some interesting political discussions with folks in places as diverse as Malta, Cambodia and Bhutan. But I tend to agree with people opposed to our foreign policy anyway so there’s no conflict.

    I agree though that obnoxious Americans aren’t liked. Just like obnoxious Brits, Italians, Chinese, etc are also not liked.

    And with the language thing, it’s not like you must become fluent and be able to flawlessly communicate. No one expects that. But you CAN make an effort. At least learn the local greetings and “thank you”. That does go along way. You’ve got plenty of time on all those long haul flights to learn those few basics.

  27. The other thing to keep in mind when talking about learning other languages is that depending on where you travel (and how long you are going to be visiting) it just may not be feasible to learn very much beyond the very basics.

    I frequently travel in Asia where many of the languages require different tones and require sounds that an English speaker is just uncapable of pronouncing (at least to begin with, obviously anything can be learned with time).

    I always make an attempt to learn some useful phrases (and I have mastered hello, goodbye, thankyou, and basic counting in almost all the countries I’ve visited) but on several occasions when I try to go beyond the basics the native says something along the lines of “just speak English.” That’s the reality of the matter, frequently their English is better than my Mandarin, Cantonese, Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese etc. If I persist in butchering their language (while frequently humorous for both of us) it doesn’t really accomplish anything. And anyone that tells you they are able to master more than the basics of Thai while on a 2 week vacation is either a linguistic genius or a bald faced liar.

    Now all of that being said I Never get frustrated if someone else doesn’t speak a lick of English, after all why would I expect them to, I’m a visitor in their country. Plus it also leads to pretty hilarious attempts at communication using hand signals, drawings, and miming!

  28. As a native British English speaker living in Japan (who speaks Japanese), I believe that the minimum any traveller should be able to say in the native language is “Thank You”. In the end, I fully believe that the biggest problem Americans face is not not speaking the local language, but slowing down their English or reducing it to basics. Too many times I’ve been in the vicinity of embarrassing American tourists who not only expect the locals to speak English, but to speak it fluently. All Japanese learn English for 6 years, but few shop assistants can speak it conversationally or understand a question at the first hearing, let alone reply.

    PS: Nice going in KL and enjoy the shopping! It’s my second home ^_^

  29. I did see this on a travel site.

    There is a very common and standard card game scam played on tourists in Malaysia. The tourist will be shown a foolproof system to win a game of blackjack or poker after being invited to a locals house for dinner.

    Once the traveller is continuously ā€œwinningā€ under the hosts guidance, a rich friend of the host just happens to show up. (Sense where this is heading?)

    Once the rich guy loses a few hands, the traveller increases the bet, even making confident trips to the ATM until the host and his mates uncover their foolproof win system, resulting in one poor traveller.

  30. Like Glenn said, it is generally the American politics that can come into dispute. I have never had any trouble around the world. I really like KL (probably going back for a third time next year)and find the people to be very, very nice (genuinely – not scam related). Although in this case, it seems like a scam. Malaysians are more reserved and not likely to as a total stranger about their hair.

    Some Malaysians see America as a land of opportunity and I have had people ask me to help them obtiain an invitation letter.

    You mentioned the towers and mall, but did not note the KLCC park and fountains at the base of the towers. It’s a wonderful place in the evening to hang out and relax.

  31. Don’t apologize for being who you are-whether American, German or whatever. There’s always going to be someone somewhere who doesn’t like someone else, even Canadians. As for Europeans traveling more than Americans, well, sure–each country is smaller than most U.S. states, making travel and inter-connection among cultures much easier. As for stereotypes, Lucky is certainly exhibiting that most common of German traits, wanderlust.

  32. Bob your comments about language are a little bit out of line. As Ben says English is the global language. It is the most common second language in the world. Further I don’t consider English the language that Americans forced on the world. It was the British that spread English through much of the world. English is the language that people that want to get ahead in life learn. Traveling I’ve met so many people that speak at least some English. You’d be surprised at the number of people of I’ve met from 3rd or 4th world countries that speak FLUENT English!

    When traveling abroad when speaking to someone, I always ask them if they speak English. The only local words I learn are thank you and hello. I was in France for 3 wks recently and not one person was rude.

  33. KL BlackJack Scam

    “It works like this: A dad and a couple of female relatives start chatting with you and find out where you are from. Surprisingly the dad had a daughter going to there to study and the mother is worried of her daughter in a foreign land. So the dad asks you back to his house to meet the mother and to maybe help with her concerns.”

    “These professional conmen/women move around the city solo or as a couple. They target single male travellers on the streets They will approach you in a friendly manner, asking you the time or other general questions. Then they will ask you where are you from, when you answer, they will supprisingly say they have an uncle that is planning to visit your country.”

  34. How is it you understand that Americans aren’t liked around the world? You’ve traveled enough that you’re not dumb enough to fall into stereotypes. It’s also extremely poor writing to rely on or express stereotypes.

  35. Wow Lucky, I think we opened a can of worms šŸ™‚ My sentiments on language are in line with you and some others. Unrealistic to learn a language everywhere you go, in the end you will screw it up and make matters worse. But a decent attempt at the pleasantries is usually appreciated.

  36. Americans certainly have an air of entitlement and I’m guilty of it with my platinum statuses with hotels and airlines.

    I always keep myself in check with a reminder of a great scene in the movie BEFORE SUNRISE where Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy are in a bar — in Vienna — at midnight — and they observe a NY couple who are pissed off that the service is so slow.

    NY TOURIST: Can you believe this service?

    NY TOURIST 2: I can’t. If this waitress was working in New York right now, her ass would be fired!


    Dudes, it’s midnight in Vienna and maybe you gotta expect a little less.

    Then again, upgrading when travel certainly makes it more fun.


    As for the scam…remember, nobody is kind to you without a reason — unless, of course, if they are just kind.

    Once, at Charles de Gaulle, I came across a gent who had his “wallet stolen.” He needed $120 to rebook his ticket. He showed me the ticket. He was trying to call his brother to get him to wire the money. I was about to walk away but something in me felt the story was true. I lent him the $120 for the flight the next day — that night, he invited me for drinks at his hotel in Paris — and when I arrived, he announced he was treating me to dinner. He was so struck by my kindness he was really taken aback. He treated me to dinner and I learned he was quite a fascinating guy. He paid me back too (he got a hold of his brother who wired him he money) and we are friends to this day, so take that story with a grain of salt next time a stranger approaches.

  37. Yeah, I’ve been tickled with a similar situation in some cities before. I’m not going over to anyones house in a foreign country with both some heat and my Ranger Buddy. too many things can go wrong. With women making propositions it is actually even more difficult, as sometimes ones objective so be VERY wary when diving in.

  38. It is America rather than Americans that I find people have negative feelings about abroad, but I have been put in the position where people expect me to defend the actions or quirks of my government (trying to justify presidential pardons to a table full of Aussies in Canberra??)

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