(Laura practising her harem girl dance steps.)
When I visit U.K. I try to experience the English lifestyle. Warm beer, pub grub. I also try to see as much of the cultural and historical sites I can. Buckingham Palace, the Changing of the Guards, Stonehenge, the moors etc. etc. When I get the chance to visit the USA I will also want to try the American way of life. "Have a nice day", real beef burgers, giant milkshakes, popcorn by the ton etc. etc. In either place, the last thing I want to do is go look for nasi lemak or teh tarik or dim sum or any of the other things that I can get at home at a fraction of the price.
Well, apparently the Arabs are a little different from me when they travel. Or so it would appear looking at some of our efforts to attract more Middle Eastern tourists. Right in the heart of KL's Bukit Bintang area is Arab Square, a little square of land which used to be a children's playground for the residents in the area. It has been transformed into a piece of little Arabia.
Ain Arabia (meaning ‘source of water’) has a gazebo, park benches, feature wall, kiosks and pedestrian and street lights. It features works by Uzbek carvers and Syrian painters, a welcome archway AND an Arabian teapot-water fountain as a welcome symbol ...
The ex-member of the Yemen Parliament, Dr. Saadaldeen Talib even said that, "It’s very relaxing for both mind and soul and makes an ideal meeting place for the Arabs," says Saadaldeen who was among guests at the recent official launching ceremony by Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak.
Tourism Minister, Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor said that with these and other efforts at Arab-ising "...we foresee a good increase of tourists from those regions..."
In efforts to further woo Middle East tourists to Malaysia, Adnan said a designated area called "Ain Arabia", or the Arab street, located inBukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur, was introduced to showcase various Middle Eastern restaurants and shops.
So instead of building on the history and the color and the cultures that are inherrent in the Bukit Bintang area we are on an all out effort to create something alien and totally out of place. Sound familiar?
We are told that pre-9/11 the Middle Eastern flers loved to visit Europe and the USA. Do you think that the Europeans and the Americans tried to change their cities or their cultures to tap the Middle Eastern tourists $$$? Of course not. They knew that tourists come to experience the American or European lifestyle. And if they, the Arabs, couldn't do that they wouldn't go, would they?
I am told that according to ministry figures Singaporeans make up the largest group of visitors (8.79 million) to Bolehland. So how come we don't set up shops selling Bak Chor Mee and other uniquely Singaporean delicacies? How come we don't dedicate a section of the city to them? Let's say, Jalan Alor. Managed with typical Singaporean efficiency? With all the eating stalls housed in ultra-clean hawker centres with clean toilets. The Thais make up the second largest group, 1.73 million. So, let's build lots of big, golden Buddhist temples somewhere.
Sigh. I guess Bukit Bintang is going to undergo a transformation whether we like it or not. Wait...I've got a slogan for the Tourism Ministry's marketing efforts in the Middle East...
IT'S LIKE YOU NEVER LEFT HOME.