Tim Fauth on Kuala Lumpur “The people drive across the country just to have soup”

A park in Kuala Lumpur: “The cityscape is varied: very, very colourful”
A park in Kuala Lumpur: “The cityscape is varied: very, very colourful” | Photo: Anna & Michal

Cocktails on the helicopter pad, natural greenery, cheer and diving with dolphins. Kuala Lumpur has everything one could want ... except for vegetarian spreads. Goethe staff member Tim Fauth explains why the Malaysian capital city smells bad and good at the same time.

Is it true that your institute is located on a golf course?

No, but Google Maps thinks it is. People who want to visit us often are shown the golf course as our location if they search for “Goethe-Institut Kuala Lumpur” and not the official name, “Goethe-Institut Malaysia.” The telephone number is also incorrect, but sadly Google refuses to remedy the error.

In a few words and off the top of your head, what do you think of when you hear “Kuala Lumpur”?

Ethnic diversity: it’s the home of Malays, Chinese and Indians. The cityscape is varied: very, very colourful with minarets, mosques, Chinese and Indian temples, church steeples. Tropical heat: no rain for six weeks, high humidity, it’s stifling. Huge traffic jams: the city not only stinks of traffic, but smells of cook shops and food stands selling Malaysian, Chinese and Indian food, as well as foods from neighbouring countries.

What are the must-sees or must-dos in Kuala Lumpur?

The Heli Lounge Bar is really popular right now, a former helicopter pad with very rustic furnishings. It’s great for cocktails at sunset. It is circular, has no railings and at the edge drops 34 stories into the abyss. Nature is phenomenal here, too. Everything is green. Drive a stick into the dirt and next day it’s a tree. Malaysia has 28 national parks. There are also smaller rainforests you can reach by car in half an hour. One even has a canopy walk, a sort of hanging bridge between the treetops from which you can watch the animals.

What’s typically Malaysian?

Goethe associate Fauth: “It’s loads of fun to drive in Kuala Lumpur” Goethe associate Fauth: “It’s loads of fun to drive in Kuala Lumpur” | Photo: private Eating! Malaysians are always eating – at least that’s how it seems. They are willing to drive half a day across the country just to have a certain kind of soup in Penang. But the actual meals are very quick. By the time I’ve picked out what I want, my Malaysian friends have long finished and asked for the check. And Malaysians love mobile phones. They may have this in common with people in many countries, but here communication at the dinner table goes so far that it’s often easiest to reach the person sitting opposite you using WhatsApp.

What was your biggest culture shock?

I didn’t really experience a culture shock because I had been in Asia before. But there is still plenty you have to get used to here. For example, unless you’re trying to kill yourself you can’t walk or cycle downtown. There are no bike paths and only a few pedestrian pavements. But I love to drive in Kuala Lumpur; it’s loads of fun. Here, a red light is a mere suggestion and that really suits my driving style.

What can we learn from the people of Malaysia?

Deep relaxation. Sometimes Malaysians are frighteningly disorganized. For instance, I was once invited to a foreign language congress. I didn’t receive the programme until the day before and happened to read in it that they had scheduled me as a teacher instructor for the entire next morning. These are things that would turn your hair grey in Germany. Not here, though. Here, you understand that everything will somehow work and afterwards everyone is cheerful.

The Petronas Towers are among the world’s tallest buildings The Petronas Towers are among the world’s tallest buildings | Photo: Tim Fauth What do Malaysians know of Germany?

Germany is perceived as the nation of cars and engineers. That suits the views of our course participants who are learning German in order to study engineering or something technical in Germany. Outside of that, there’s not much. They only thing most know about otherwise is perhaps German football.

What do you look forward to most when you travel to Germany?

My family, my friends and vegetarian sandwich spreads. I also ask people to bring them for me from Germany.

What do you look forward to when you return to Kuala Lumpur?

My job, which I love and is so varied. Sometimes I think to myself, “I work where other people go on holiday.” I think quarry ponds in Germany are great – and I’m not being ironic – but diving with tortoises or swimming with dolphins is also very nice.

The questions were asked by Jessica Guaia.

Tim Fauth was born in 1971 and grew up in Düsseldorf, where he studied history and media science. He studied to teach German as a foreign language in Bochum. He worked for Thomas Cook for fifteen years and travelled in every direction from his base in Bangkok. Today, he knows Southeast Asia better than he does Europe. He taught German in Thailand at Rajabhat University, which is situated on a beach. He did not want to settle down there for good over umbrella-topped cocktails, so was happy to receive the job offer from the Goethe-Institut Malaysia. Today, he is the head of the language department there.