A Malayali in the Malayan Peninsula

After a lengthy 4 hours on a cramped AirAsia flight, served by less than casual stewards and air hostesses, we finally fly down into Kuala Lumpur (its golden lights fluttering like a million fireflies) and from there we take a taxi to a comparatively run down area of Malaysia – Petaling Street. Its 3 am and our group sets down gear in cubicle sized rooms, almost immediately drifting off to sleep with dreams of the morrow bordering our subconscious minds.

Excited as we were, we rest till noon before setting off to explore Petaling Street with its famous China Town, a fusion of colour, noise and people. This place, with its cluster of fake-branded items, is a shopper’s paradise if we are willing to haggle. We don’t try our luck yet. Right now we have food on our minds, and wandering down the street which goes every which way at right angles into more shops, we chance upon a Chinese restaurant. This particular place turns out to be our mainstay for the rest of the trip. My friend being from the North-eastern part of India, is delighted at the sight of food- boiled, stewed, poked, herbed, grilled or fried. However, I am overwhelmed. I gingerly choose a few items, after making sure they are nothing out of the ordinary. But the little that I taste wins me over completely and I top it off with a Chinese herbal tea (This I understand is good for the immune compromised, sniffling traveller).After lunch, we wander further down the street which is almost completely canopied by paper lanterns – orange and yellow and charming with its air of chinoiserie aesthetic.

A little later, we take the metro to the city centre to scour the market places, in particular the Sungei Wang Plaza, Lowyat Plaza and the surrounding areas. By sundown, we move to Jalan Alor to check out South East Asia’s most visited food street scene. Oh what a sight! The variously shaped paper lanterns, designed intricately with Mongolian art, are a photographer’s dream, when lighted up. But quickly overshadowing this is the sight of food (I use the term loosely) in glass counters – ingredients both gross and unimaginable for someone all the way from South India. Sundry items on sticks, ready to be barbequed, give vague ideas of their previously active selves. I decide that it is better to capture their essence through my lens rather than torture my taste buds. I tag along with my excited friend looking for exotic but palatable dishes. In the end, my foreboding native sense restraints me to a measly Bean-sprout Chicken Rice. My friend orders a Chinese dish, the name of it eludes me now, and we enjoy our respective choices while thinking of those which we discarded.

As we laze around the street after dinner, the crowd catches my attention, because they reinforce in my mind the idea that food connects people. They gather by the hundreds in that street looking to indulge their different tastes at restaurants which range from Chinese, Japanese, Thai and Vietnamese to all that is European and Continental. I busy myself, focussing on snails in water, frogs on sticks and cute mushrooms all waiting to be cooked (or photographed). I pick up a Durian- the king of fruits – but the taste is so outrageous it makes me want to throw up even now. I also try the Dragon Fruit which in contrast is so mild as to be almost tasteless.

Our senses still active from all that we had seen and tasted, we restlessly retire for the night. The next day we cruise along Times Square, taking in the sights and sounds of Malaysian culture. The Malayans live in a land which is a mix of the old and the new- the old stamped into a rapidly changing landscape. The monorail and the skyscrapers look out of place in a street dominated by faded old buildings and crowded advertisements. The constantly moving crowd, with its fair share of loungers, easy-going tourists and prostitutes, make up the population of the city centre. Of particular interest to me are the old troopers at the street corner – three grandpas – trumpeting out a lively jazz tune, oblivious to the world around them. How they were enjoying themselves! In contrast, there is also an electric guitarist strumming out sounds indecipherable to me, a few blocks away. The old and the new blends in Times Square, where the hop-on hop-off buses appearing once in a while calls out to eager tourists and the purple Go KL buses – absolutely free for natives and tourists- encourages public transport. Malaysia is definitely an inspiration if anybody wants a lesson on tourism development.

Our next few days are in Langkawi – a tropical paradise, but soon we are back in KL and hurrying through the rest of our itinerary. During our free time we discover Berjaya Times Square, the biggest mall in Malaysia. Like the bull set loose in the arena, we romp around, gathering all we can on a dwindling budget. Even then, the narrative is incomplete without a word on how the maxis and the dresses, the sweaters and the jackets makes me long for another trip to Malaysia, just for shopping.

We push our tired selves to the Aquaria which holds the wonders of the deep sea, albeit in man-made gigantic underwater tunnels and tubes. The slimy, translucent jelly-fish is the most attractive of them all.  Later on, at the Petronas Twin Towers, we put our photographic skills to the test under a scorching sun, trying to fit the steel and glass structure into one frame. Inside, we explore the sky bridge with its 10 inch thick walls that twist and turn to brace the massive tower against the wind force blowing at about 170 kmph. The tower offers panoramic views of the city melting into the horizon while in the immediate vicinity of the tower, cars look like tiny toys arranged on cardboard streets. Later on, as the tower becomes illuminated in front of a multi-coloured dancing fountain, we marvel at its architecture and the imposing sight it is. Fourth only to Burj Khalifa in Dubai and the tallest twin towers in the world, it is no small wonder. Our dinner that night is a blur of exotic dishes as I am tired from the activities we had packed into the day.

The last on our list is the bird park, but it is the most awaited part of the trip. The burst of colourful feathers, the flutter of wings and the strutting of the birds in open air makes it a bird paradise. The birds are free to roam as the place is fully netted above the trees. How ingenious! The innumerous birds, walking in step with us, include peacocks, egrets, flamingos and storks. At the photo booth, macaws and cockatoos clasp their claws on my hands and shoulders, while a pelican cuddles up on my lap. They seem more bothered about posing than fearing my presence so we click some amusing pictures.

More trips to the shopping streets including the famous Central Market (established in 1888) follow. Central Market is an artist’s heaven with handicraft items sold for exorbitant prices. Hopping from one shop to another, we pick up souvenirs and memorabilia, to bring back to our loved ones some tangible evidence of our vivid experiences in Malaysia.


8 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by saki koshy on July 14, 2014 at 5:54 am

    Good catchy title. For liveliness, the feel at the bird park could have been more vivid. Parasailing left out?


  2. Posted by amma on July 14, 2014 at 11:37 am

    goo………..d. May be you could have said more details if written immediately after the trip. Of course can still add with some photos too.


  3. I’m jealous.:)


  4. Love this,love this,love this! ❤ "their previously active selves" and this one too
    "(its golden lights fluttering like a million fireflies)" .


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