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‘Coming To The City Story’ From A Rural Migrant In Kuala Lumpur

This is the story of 21st century Asia.

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia- A good percentage of the people that you meet in any given big Asian city are from elsewhere — namely, the countryside. Many of these people have a story about coming to the city.

These are the same exact stories that America once generated during its big period of urbanization/immigration. They usual go something like: young naive country kid moves to the big city. He is met by a friendly local who seems as if he is going to help him and show him the ropes. He robs him instead. Young naive country kid is left with no money and has all kinds of adventures as he struggles to survive. He finds a way and settles into the city. His kids are 100% urban and don’t appreciate his struggles or want to hear his “coming to the city” story yet again. The end.

These stories are real, and they are being played out all over the rapidly urbanizing countries of Asia and Africa. Sometimes I like to listen to them.

My Uber driver the other night had one if these coming to the city tales.

He was from some far-flung village in the north of Malaysia — the kind of place where every young person leaves ASAP to come to Kuala Lumpur. “All of my friends, everybody I went to school with, they are here now in Kuala Lumpur.”

“When you first moved here was it hard?” I asked him.

“Yes, it was very hard. I had many troubles,” he began. “I tried to rent a house when I first arrived. I give the man the money and there was no house! He just takes my money. Then I have no money and I don’t know what to do.”

“Did you call the police?” I asked, just to hear what he would say.

“No, I don’t call police,” he replied.

“Why not?”

“I don’t call police because you don’t trust anyone in Kuala Lumpur.”

“Will the police take your money?”

“Yes,” he responded rapidly, almost before the words were out of my mouth.

This is the reaction to the police that people have in most countries of the world. You don’t call them unless you absolutely have to and, for the most part, you avoid them at all costs.

Why? They rob people.

People who go to the cops because they were robbed is like putting a big flashing sign over their heads saying, “I’m an easy target that can be robbed at will,” and they are often robbed twice.

Imagine living in a country where you can’t call the police? Where the cops serve the function of keeping public order, not protecting citizens or their property.

In the United States, the cops will beat you but they generally won’t rob you, extort you, or demand the payment of bribes. While I’ve been beaten twice by cops in the USA — once for verbally objecting to an illegal search and seizure — I would not hesitate to call them if I was a victim if a crime.

That’s a special privilege that I have to admit that most of the world doesn’t have.

More on Vagabond Journey: How The Police Make Money In Bangladesh (And Most Other Countries)


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Filed under: Malaysia, Travel Diary, Urbanization

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3706 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

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