Friendship cannot be bought, for it is a gift!
“I love Allah”, declares the veiled girl in a roadside advert next to a motorway. Islam is Malaysia’s official religion. Malaysian people have, however, got used to living in a multicultural society, as over the course of history, lots of different religions have made their way here; Christianity from the colonials in the west, Buddhism and Taoism from the far east and Hinduism from India.
It's impossible not to notice the mixture of cultures represented here, as we walk the streets of George Town, capital of the island of Penang. Numerous, impressive mosques, churches of different denominations and decorative eastern temples, all enrich the city's scenery in perfect harmony with each other. In the city's China Town, red paper lanterns light up the shopping streets, and the shops names and signs are all written in Chinese characters. The street kitchens are cooking up a storm and the sales stalls are filled with small bric a brac. Only a few minutes away, the streets of Little India are infused with the fragrant smell of strong curry, and the sounds of eastern music, pour out of the speakers of tea houses. The people around us are wearing piercings, body paints and bangle bracelets along with traditional saris or flared trousers. Only a stones throw away, the splendid Komtar-tower’s shopping centre awaits, with all the big names of the west; Chanel, Dior, Gucci, Vuitton etc. In Malaysia, the atmosphere and surroundings, can change completely from one block to the next!
Kuala Lumpur with it's incredibly tall skyscrapers and formula 1 track, tells a tale of Malaysias financial prosperity. We get to enjoy some incredible views from the metal pedestrian bridge, which runs between the silver coloured, Petronas twin towers and also from the glassy observation deck in the KL-tower. What impresses us the most though, is the boundless friendliness of the forever smiley Malays. A great example of this comes our way right in the centre of the metropolis. We're walking along with a map, trying to find our way to the KL-tower, when a tiny, slightly weathered-looking car pulls up beside us. A dark eyed lady behind the wheel, asks us where we’re going. When we say that we're on our way to the KL-tower, she tells us that, it's still quite far to walk and since to her we're looking a bit tired already, she offers us a lift there. Soon we're squished in the pocket sized car with her and her teenage daughters, who are on their way back from school. The journey from the business centre of the city, to a telecommunications tower on a small hill, takes about ten minutes in the afternoon rush. Glad to have saved our, already quite beaten feet, we offer to pay a little bit for the lift. The young mother refuses to accept any payment and when we leave a note on her back seat she runs after us to return it, with the words, “friendship cannot be bought with money, for it is a gift! “ Astonished, we hug her goodbye and walk inside the tower.
As we're standing inside the lift, which will soon take us 276m high, to admire the view over Kuala Lumpur, I wonder whether tourists could encounter the same level of hospitality in Finland. I also stop to think about whether I would have done the same, selfless favour to a tourist I had met by the market place in Kuopio and whether I would have driven them to one of my town’s attractions, like the Puijo tower for example. I'm embarrassed to say I don't think I would have! How about you?