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CYBERJAYA, Malaysia’s (First) Tech City, Visits 2 & 3

How I to go about these projects.

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Covering a place is a three act ordeal. While I follow no set process and, admittedly, take whatever comes my way, my research travels are generally shaped a little something like this:

First visit

I show up unannounced, walk around and talk with random people attempting to garner a general impression and woo the serendipitous. I’m shooting for the view from below perspective — the stuff that people are talking about, what they do for work, where they go for fun, and the things that are going on behind the scenes that nobody who is speaking to me in any kind of official capacity would ever say.

Second visit

I meet with the highest level officials/authorities/developers possible. I’m looking for the view from above here from the people who are calling the shots. The men in suits should never be ignored: they’re the ones who know what’s really going on. Whether or not they will tell me much about it beyond a press release is the game. At the very least, they will usually provide a macro view of what’s going on, which will should provide me with a few veins of interest to excavate deeper.

Third visit

I meet with those in the middle, the people working on the ground, bringing the projects/movements/phenomena that I’m writing about to life. Ultimately, my first and second visits are to set up this third visit, which often expands into four, five, or even six visits and numerous storylines.

I returned to Cyberjaya twice more last week after my first visit the week before. These visits will provide the meat of my articles about the place that should start coming out in other news and urbanization publications in the weeks to come. But I will publish excerpts from my experiences there that don’t make it into anywhere else here on VBJ.

For now, I will stay that the place is an excellent example of a typical large-scale new city building project. It has all the elements: a big vision, government backing, private investors building the infrastructure, and everybody involved intentionally seeding growth via giving companies tax breaks, building gaudy amount of new university and high-school campuses, and bringing in commercial entities — such as McDonald’s (which took 15 years of effort).

There is a new population out there now that only recently moved in. Prior to two or three years ago, there was nowhere for anyone but the most wealthy to even live, so those previous reports about the place being a failed development can’t really be taken seriously. Basically, Western journalists get points for coming to new Asian cities, looking around for a minute or two, and then declaring them a flop. They seem to write with impunity — emerging Asian markets can’t possibly do it better than we can, so why waste time actually applying due journalistic dilligence, doing any research, or even talking to anybody?

The problem is that they rarely fail. The track record for new cities in Asia is startlingly impressive, and many of the places that we take for granted as being the economic engines of today were the ghost towns and “failed” new cities of yesterday.

The problem here is that there are no points available for the journalists to retrace their steps and take off their blinders. Nobody wants to hear about ex-ghost cities.

Cyberjaya is at the twentieth year of its development — right at the point where things start to get interesting.


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Filed under: Journalism, Malaysia, New Cities, Travel Diary

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 3722 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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