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Putrajaya: A Window into Malaysia’s Future

I have traveled thrice to the neighboring country of Malaysia, a land that I have truly grown to admire. To many Westerners, Malaysia has historically represented the exotic and the enigmatic. Yet Malaysia is also a country that is vigorously aiming to become a fully developed nation by the year 2020, and no other city could more finely illustrate the country’s prosperous and industrious future than the administrative capital of Putrajaya.

In the grand tradition of intricately designed capital cities, notably Washington D.C. and Canberra, Australia, the very young city of Putrajaya is an excellent representation of the architectural and engineering ingenuity of the Malaysian people. A study tour there conducted as part of my diplomatic seminar workshop gave us an opportunity to see for ourselves just how brilliantly planned the city is. As it was so eloquently stated in our tourist brochures, Putrajaya is indeed the manifestation of the symbiosis of man, science and nature through meticulous planning and inventive urban design merged with a solid respect for the environment; hence, its nickname “Intelligent Garden City.”

Since the late 1980s, Malaysia’s revered former Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohammad had envisioned a new federal administrative center that would replace the country’s largest city of Kuala Lumpur (KL) as the capital. This capital would do more than help alleviate the heavy traffic and congestion from KL, it would project an image of an orderly and aspiring future city, as well as to make certain that KL would continue to evolve as Malaysia’s chief financial center.

Eventually, a lush 4,932-hectare jungle area some 30 minutes south of KL was selected as the site upon which the new capital will be built. The capital was named Putrajaya in honor of Malaysia’s first Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman Alhaj.

As we began our drive tour through Putrajaya, we all took note of the marvelous designs of the street lights along the wide and clean roads, which are symbolically based on motifs such as wau (giant kite) and obor (torch). Our affable Malaysian tour guide informed us that much of the majestic buildings and monuments that we would see actually weren’t completed until well into the late 1990s. He further told us that although much of the city would be reserved for the construction of government offices, commercial and residential establishments, 38 percent of the city’s total land area would be set aside for green parks and lakes.

True enough, we spotted a number of lots in between several of the new buildings which seemed to be solely designated for nature preservation purposes. Considering that a large number of local government officials and foreign diplomats would eventually be relocating here together with their families, this particular urbane concept is all the more appealing.

Our first tour of the day was the magnificent Putra Mosque. This mosque is topped with a radiant pink-colored dome, and as our guide escorted us for a closer look, we only noticed how more stately it was with its beautiful architecture and captivating interior design. Non-Muslims in our group, including myself, were only allowed to approach the mosque as far as the entrance point, while our Muslim colleagues did their prayers inside. But from outside, we were still able to observe a few people doing their prayer rituals while facing towards Mecca as it is indoctrinated in their religion for them to do so.

While hearing the mesmerizing Muslim call of prayer, we listened in fascination as our guide explained to us the history of Islam in Malaysia and its impact on national culture. He also told us how the Putra Mosque was built from rose-tinted granite and can accommodate a maximum of 15,000 worshippers at any given time.

The mosque consists of three main areas: the prayer hall, the Sahn (courtyard), and the function rooms and learning facilities.The astounding minaret is influenced in its design by the Sheikh Omar Mosque in Baghdad, Iraq. Standing tall at 116 meters, it is the tallest minaret in this part of Malaysia and has five tiers, representing the Five Pillars of Islam.

We were then led to the nearby Perdana Putra, an impressive building that somewhat bears a resemblance to India’s colossal Taj Mahal.The Perdana Putra is a fascinating combination of Islamic and Mogul architectural design. It houses the main administrative offices of the current Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi, the Deputy Prime Minister, Ministers and Deputy Ministers serving in the Prime Minister’s Department, as well as the Chief Secretary to the Malaysian Government. With its luminous green domes and graceful flags adorning the building, we simply couldn’t resist the temptation to take an endless array of photographs both of the Perdana Putra itself and of ourselves in front of the building. I could only imagine the pride and honor which all government employees who work here would feel.

The last site which we thoroughly explored was the Putrajaya International Convention Centre (PICC). As our bus approached the Centre, some of us couldn’t shake off the impression that the building resembled a large circular spaceship from a distance. While certainly not a UFO, the PICC is quite futuristic in its outline. It covers a massive floor area of about 135,000 meters, has over nine levels, with a plenary hall that can accommodate nearly 3,000 delegates!

Suitably enough, the PICC served as host to the 2003 Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) Summit. Undoubtedly, the PICC is another source of pride for Malaysia, and will surely help propel the country to further international prominence in hosting more momentous conferences and expositions in the future.

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