London mayor Boris Johnson blends in with 'beautiful KL'

KUALA LUMPUR - Known for his unruly blond hair and headline-grabbing statements, London's unconventional mayor Boris Johnson did not forget to bring along his trademark eccentricity to Kuala Lumpur.

Indulging in his passion for cycling, Johnson, who is on a three-day visit here, hopped on a bicycle for a 10-minute ride from the Abdullah Hukum LRT station to the Setia International Centre where he wowed his audience by speaking in Bahasa Malaysia.

Introducing himself and expressing how he felt about the city, Johnson declared: "Saya Datuk Bandar London, Kuala Lumpur sangat cantik! (I am the mayor of London, Kuala Lumpur is very beautiful!)"

Having earlier toured the city on foot before sitting down for a breakfast of nasi lemak, chee cheong fun and mee rebus at a Hainanese coffee shop, Johnson praised Kuala Lumpur for its vibrancy and optimism, which gave it the potential to transform into a top regional city.

Noting Kuala Lumpur's multi-culturalism, Johnson reminded the uninitiated that he, too, was not a true-blue Brit. His great-grandfather was Turkish.

"Most people would say I speak with a fairly convincing English accent," he said, drawing laughter and applause from the audience.

Johnson said he was impressed with Kuala Lumpur's connectivity to the ASEAN region after taking an AirAsia flight from Jakarta to Kuala Lumpur.

To further boost KL-London ties, he suggested more direct flights between Kuala Lumpur and London, and hoped that the British government could simplify the processing of Malaysian student visa applications.

Johnson also thanked event organiser S.P. Setia Bhd for investing in the Battersea Power Station project, along with consortium partners Sime Darby Bhd and the Employees' Provident Fund.

Noting Kuala Lumpur's history as the meeting point of Sungai Klang and Sungai Gombak, Johnson said Malaysian investment in London's development had created a similar confluence between the two cities.

"For over 40 years, there has been scepticism - whether Battersea could be redeveloped - and now, things are finally moving ahead," said the 50-year-old former journalist and Conservative Party politician, who won the London mayoral election in 2008.

He later took questions from the floor, with Star Publications (M) Bhd's group managing director and chief executive officer Datuk Seri Wong Chun Wai asking how a city could maintain its national identity amid a high influx of foreigners, a situation happening in London as well as in Kuala Lumpur.

Johnson said all great cities faced the challenge of immigration, noting that 40 per cent of Londoners currently were born outside Britain.

To preserve London's British identity, Johnson said it was important for students to continue learning and speaking English and have knowledge and pride about the country's history.

To a question about talk of him becoming the Prime Minister, a subject the mayor has often been asked, he said: "Being mayor of London has totally changed my understanding of politics, which, to me, is not about being clever or cunning but about relentlessly applying myself to a problem.

"The mayoralty is a wonderful job that allows me to get things done faster and has blunted somewhat the appetite for more power."