A Stranger in My City

By Christina Kim - Tuesday, March 05, 2019

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I grew up in the city and it is none other than the capital city of Malaysia.
The bustling streets of Kuala Lumpur, the hours-long traffic jams, the dusty roads, dazzling lights, magnificent skyscrapers and flamboyant lifestyle are just random scenes that fill up my daily growing-up journal. They may inspire awe in out-of-towners but to me along with the rest of the urban city dwellers, these are just all too familiar scenes we have grown accustomed to.
Despite the negativities that surround the city, the constant debate of the rocket-high cost of living, the ever-worrying air pollution index and its effects on one's livelihood, the rising rates of crimes and mortalities from traffic accidents, and a whole long list that goes on, the city is still and simply just home to me.
I am proud of my city, like many others would, of the places they grew up in because it is just the place we are most familiar with and a place where most of our memories are created and continue to stay until this day.

I left my city after high school, but I was never really that far away from my city. Even when I was studying in another city, or pursued my career placements in other cities, I was always just a drive or a flight away from my home city. That, I consider a blessing though I would also love to live in a different city, in a different country someday.
I have been living away from my city for years now yet it is only a distance in physical measurement as in my heart, there is never a moment I have forgotten about my city.
Deep down inside, I even constantly compared other cities around the country to my city. It is just ingrained in me that I am a city girl.

Much as I love my city, it has been a while since I have actually taken a real trip downtown to the heart of the city and to experience the city for myself and it was just what I wanted to do to relive that hustle bustle and glamorous facade of the city that had long taken a backseat in my mind.
Little did I know that my perception and pride of the city would change with that trip.

I am not ignorant to the common perception of the attitudes of major city dwellers, often labeled as obnoxious, snobbish, arrogant, selfish, and just downright rude. It is a comment that most city folks would jump upon in defiance and flatly deny. Not only the city folks, I am sure anyone would too, for I am sure that no one would want to ever be associated with names like that. 

I have also been to many cities around the world, and I have seen my fair share of city behaviour to add to that of my own city and I still proudly say that my city is far from them. However, I have recently been disappointed and stand to retract that statement from my dictionary. I started to see the city in a different light when I was there, living right across the shopping mall, walking on the pavements with mad motorists buzzing and honking beside me (and constantly stepping aside in case one swerves too close for comfort, to avoid being hit or having my bag snatched), crossing the road (that is a challenge) and of course, braving the crowds like one would in a sea of paparazzi. We are talking about more than a million population here (I am including the tourists). There is no end to both the human and road traffic. Elbow pushing, body grazing, loud whispers in my ears (the wrong ears for they are intended for others), and unwelcome stares are just the appetisers of the city scene. The constant race and competitive rush to escalators and elevators even where there is no crowd nor need to hurry is just baffling, and don't get me started on people who press the close button on elevators even when they see people heading towards it and there is only one or two person in it. *Shrugs shoulders in bewilderment*

Customer service is also less commendable despite the city being pinned as one of the major tourist attractions or a stopover for most businessmen. I would have expected better since it is after all a financial city and every breath taken in this city equates a dollar sign. I am not bashing every single one of them and to be fair, I have encountered the good ones as well though rare but I was more appalled by the airy and insincerities of the people around here. Of course I am not expecting warmth and exchanging hugs or telephone numbers, but the very least, that you do not come across as stuck-ups or unfeeling.
There is no sense of trying-to-be-nice to the customers, as I have experienced in some restaurants and outlets, not to mention taking the initiative of helping the customer that I really do fret the image of the city in the eyes of the foreigners, or perhaps as most locals would be quick to say, "They only treat the foreigners better. They cannot be bothered with locals".
I have always known this but to affirm the truth is not quite as easy because it felt like a betrayal to my home country. It is an act that will tarnish the country's image and tear its dignity to bits and pieces and I refuse to do that.

Yet as I roam around my own city, I try to find that sense of comfort, that sense of familiarity and hospitality and sadly, I could not. We were once a nation of kind and helpful people, lovelies and warm towards everyone we meet, but these vibes seem to have disappeared from the skies of the city and in its place, the same thick animosity of coldness and grey as the unhealthy polluted air shrouding the city for years. I do not feel close to this atmosphere, I do not feel like I belong and I definitely cannot relate to this city which I proudly call home. Where is the love, the Malaysian identity of warmth that we were once so proud of?
It now seems so cold, steely and unfeeling, just like the metal, iron, cold-cut steel and the tightly rimmed glossy windows with its stern deflective gazes staring right back at each other at the prime of their heights decorating the cities with their magnificent skyscraper statuses.
People no longer have a genuine smile, nor a kind word and "please", "thank-you", "sorry" seem to be a thing in the past. There is simply no emotion and I simply wonder if I am in a machine rather than a human inhabited city, for it felt like clockwork, the way everyone was operating, rather than humanly.

The city, my city as I once called it, feels unfamiliar to me now. I felt like I was in a different country, and I am not labelling other countries as unfeeling but simply because just by association of unfamiliarity since I did not grow up nor live there. 
Maybe it has been a long time, maybe I was just disconnected, maybe it is just development, are all but many reasons that run through my head and also what I tell myself to explain to my partner about this animosity in the city, yet I know deep down inside, it is not the case. 

I am sad to see this change in the city, not that it used to be all lovey dovey or close knit in the past, but at least it was not to this point of robotic-like. 
(I apologise as I think even robots these days are programmed with emotions and kindness in them).
I just no longer feel this is home, it feels so unfamiliar, so distant, and it is simply different. However, I do not think it is the end nor it is beyond salvation for I always believed in hope and human beings can always make the change because we are not programmable logic but we are beings who are capable of making wise decisions.
I do not want to see Kuala Lumpur or any city in Malaysia for that fact, to be called out as one of the rudest cities in the world nor that it is the most unliveable city. It puts not only those who dwell in the cities to shame, but also the rest of the nation and that would be very unpleasant indeed.

It is our city, our country and we all have the right to make a change. We should start with the little steps, and it is nothing major we need to do but just a smile. Yes, start by a simple smile when you see people on the road, tourist or local alike (you may just want to be wary when it comes to the opposite gender, but it is all within one's discretion).
We do not have to give a big smile at every single person, but just be nice. If you accidentally knocked into someone, say "Sorry" and smile.
If you see someone struggling with their groceries or have their hands occupied, give way or even offer to hold the door open, with a smile.
If you are heading toward the escalator, you can wait in turn instead of rushing and just let others go first. You do not lose your life when you lose that few seconds. While doing that, just smile.
You will be amazed at how many people would smile back or appreciate your gesture, not that we should be looking at appreciation.

If we are to incorporate these little gestures, they will slowly become habits that would no longer feel like we are doing it but they will rather come naturally. That is what is needed, to revive that friendly atmosphere and slowly, infiltrate the city, the country and slowly even the world with that sense of warmth for everyone to feel humanly again. That is what differentiates us from machines, human compassion.

I do not like this feeling of being a stranger in my city, I want to come home to a city that is filled with love and warmth and to just fit in like one would at home.
I want others, especially international tourists to feel the same and that we Malaysians can proudly tell others that this is our city, and to make themselves at home in our cities. 
For that to happen, we should create that welcoming ambiance to make others feel welcomed and just comfortable and never want to leave. 

I hope that the next time I am back in the city, I will no longer feel like a stranger, lost and forlorn in a place I know as home.



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*Author's Note: 
This is not a sponsored/promotional post, and solely based on author's personal opinions and do not represent the general public. 
Experiences vary from one individual to another.
You do not have to agree with me.

Art Direction and Photography Styling by Me.
Photos/Videos all belong to me and are copyrighted.
Please kindly ask for permission if you need to use any of my images.




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