Hanging with the boys in Kuala Lumpur
February 26-28, 2013
(Posted by Xavier, pics and comments by Kristin)
We arrived into a bustling overcrowded bus terminal in what I would describe as the most exotic city we had visited so far. The afternoon rush hour was in full swing on this warm and humid day, as a light drizzle of rain started to fall. The air was thick and heavy from a mixture of car fumes and the scent of food wafting from street vendor carts. The sound of the city surrounded us like no city had done before on our trek. Kuala Lumpur (or as the locals refer to it, KL), is a throbbing crossroads of multicultural, historically Indo-European influenced metropolis.
A bit dazed from a long bus ride, we approached a security woman to ask for directions. We knew our hostel was close by, we just needed to find our bearings. Seeing us loaded down each with one large backpack on our backs and a smaller one on our chests, she looked over to us and asked “why so much stuff?” We laughed, because we had been wondering that too.
She quickly pointed us in the right direction, saying it would only take 15 minutes to get there by foot. We set off as the drizzle started to subside, only to be approached by several taxi drivers offering to take us there for what we thought was a price way out of line. Foreigners we were to this big city, but not foreign to the ways of being hussled. We decided to just wait out the rain and walk.
We made our way down crowded boulevards clogged with stalled traffic, grateful we had decided to walk as we passed the mayhem of vehicles. One quick left turn off the main road, a short walk down the block, and we arrived at our hostel, right next to a Hindu temple.
We checked in, unloaded, asked for some recommended eateries nearby and quickly made our way out to forage for dinner. We settled too soon for a meal at a corner open-air diner, as we were both too hungry to look further. We finished eating and decided to venture out in the city a bit before calling it a night. And venture we did. Walking down the street a little further we saw a crowd of people in what looked like a large alley full of vendor booths. It was the Jalan Petaling Market at Madras Lane.
In we went and were quickly besieged by all sorts of guys trying to sell us anything from the latest bootleg copy of any CD or DVD, jewelry, perfume, watches, etc, etc, etc.
But after we got by those guys it seemed to calm down a bit, only to be replaced by the crush of the locals and foreigners all there to find the best deal. And there were many deals to be made, because this place had it all. All sorts of clothing, jewelry, electronics, rugs, and great food. The market area is made up of one long street converted into a closed-to-traffic, multi-booth shopping bazaar with a similar street disecting it perpendicularly down the middle. Too bad we had eaten — we missed out on some great food. But wait! What’s that delicious puffy pancake thing? Ooo, ooo, its peanut pancakes and coconut ones too!
We loved those in Langkawi and couldn’t get enough of them there. So we were definitely having those again here in KL. We bought a few and made our way back to our hostel. On our way back we passed a rather cool looking reggae bar; the “Chinatown Reggae Bar” was soon to be our regular spot for a night cap at the end of each day here in KL (thanks to ladies night specials!).
Our first destination the next day was the famous Batu Caves just outside of KL. We quickly figured out KL’s modern and much used subway system — a slight challenge with several lines run by separate operators. We appreciated the separate ladies car as well!
But what we were not ready for though were the beggars that congregated at the subway entrances. Maybe it was just that it was the first time we had seen them on our world trek. Nothing we hadn’t seen before in the states, and this being a large multicultural metropolis, we were sure it wasn’t going to be the last place we would see this.
Arriving at the Batu Caves we were taken by the cliffs.
Jetting straight out of the ground are some spectacular mountain cliffs which have a Hindu temple built into the of them, and the modern subway system took us right to the entrance.
No sooner were we out of the subway looking at the large Hindu god edifices, when we saw all the monkeys running around.
Yup, monkeys again.
I guess monkeys in Malaysia are like sheep in New Zealand. But this time these monkeys ran around like they owned the place, I mean temple. Don’t be eating anything around them, because the first chance they get they’ll snatch it away from you (especially if it is in a red wrapper).
Climbing up the steep steps to the Hindu cliff temple you had to make your way around not only the slower moving people but the monkeys racing around too.
Yeah, so we got our fill of cute monkey pictures.
Mama monkeys with babies.
Humpy monkeys (avert your eyes!)
Monkeys trying to take my camera.
And monkeys on my back.
MONKEY ON MY BACK!!! Hey, hey! GET THE MONKEY OFF MY BACK!
Dang! The best part about having a monkey on your back is getting that monkey off your back. Okay enough of that monkeying around, back to climbing up the temple and taking in the view.
It’s a holy site so we ran into quite a few monks doing what they do.
Let me take a moment here to tell you that during our entire trip I’ve been getting some pretty intensive stares from the locals trying to make out just what I am, as in what ethnicity or country I come from. Some even stop me to ask. It got to a point where I would play a guessing game with them. They never guessed USA or American. So here I was walking around this fantastic Hindu temple inside this incredible large cave watching this Hindu monk finishing doing his worship. When he looks over to me and asks, “Armenian”? I shake my head no. “Indian”? No. “Malaysian”? No. “European”? No. He shrugs his shoulders motioning that he gives up. I tell him “American, from the USA”. He nods his head approvingly, then he gives me the thumbs up and says “Obama”. I give him the big thumbs up back and say “yes”. Enough said.
From one view point to another we headed off to see the Petronas Twin towers. (Cone heads!)
Having bought our tickets for the tower tour one day in advance, we hoped that we would be lucky and have a clear day. Well clear is a relative term for KL, but it was clear enough for a view of the city and the surrounding area. The first thing I noticed about the towers besides the beauty and towering size, was that on the elevator ride up, you really couldn’t tell you were moving. They had cleverly installed video screens on the sides that ran images of a much slower ascent than we were actually making. The first stop was the platform bridge that connects the two towers.
The bridge holds some kind of superlative record, perhaps highest skybridge. From there we traveled all the way up to the top for a 360 degree vantage point to enjoy all of KL.
What a view!
After the towers we came across this modern park, being enjoyed by the locals.
We also took a self guided walking tour around the historical part of town, including the beautiful and most photographed building in KL, the Sultan Abdul Samad Building and the surrounding grounds.
Plus we made a quick visit into the Kuala Lumpur City Gallery, to Kristin’s delight, to take in a little history and background of KL.
The nearby Textile Museum building was also beautiful.
We would have loved to had seen the large mosque complex too, but it was closed for major repairs. But the charm that KL had for Kristin and me was the disappearing older areas and shops of KL.
We enjoyed walking down those streets seeing the night markets come alive, as we did in Jalan Alor, watching the locals come out to hawk their goods, or walking into long time established tea houses like “The Old China Tea House” for a cup of really good tea and wonderful service. But it’s the ambience in these places that tells you instantly when you walk in, that’s here is a place with a long history. Let me just sit here and imagine what it must have been 100 years ago, because all that decor is still here, wonderfully taken care of.
It was just one of those places that we stumbled upon. It was at the end of a long day of touring KL, and we had decided to try to locate one last place before calling it a day. Tired and hungry and both of us a little more than ragged, we stumbled down a busy street trying to locate a street sign, address, anything that could give us some insight if we were close to our destination. Well we must have looked pretty lost as we crossed in front of a group of older men all sitting around drinking beer and talking in front of a half closed restaurant. I was looking up at the old marquee sign of the place trying to make it out when one of the gentlemen asked me what I was looking for? I looked at Kristin to confirm the right name of the place.
“Yut Kee restaurant?” I said. The man responded “this is the place, you found it! Come on in.” “But it looks like you’re closed.” I said. “No, Jack is just closing up but we always hang out here for a couple of hours.” Then another gentleman, a tall well groomed Indian man with a turban, gets up and says, “yes come in, we can get you something to drink and maybe a small bite to eat, before we completely shut down the kitchen.”
And with that we were escorted to a nice table right in the middle of this clean, older, well worn, rich in heritage dining room.
Soon thereafter Jack Lee, the owner, came out and introduced himself. We explained that we had been on a mission to see if we could find his place, Yut Kee restaurant. With a broad smile he then started to give us the history of his store, how his father had started it, and now he was handing it over to his son to continue with the business. He showed us the antiques in the place, pictures of key events, his father’s picture hanging in the dinning room.
It was wonderful to hear him talk about it all. He left us to enjoy our snacks and beverages and every once in a while one of the gentlemen sitting at that table in front of the restaurant would get up and come over and ask us if there was anything else we wanted. We kindly said we were fine and they would walk back to their group of six or so men talking it up. The more we sat there, the more I was intrigued by this group of older men.
What a great mix of cultures, I could see Indian, Malaysian, an old white bearded Chinese man, that could have been some character right out of some Akira Kurasawa (yeah, I know, he’s Japanese) film, light skinned, dark skinned, all talking it up as if they had known each other for decades. There was something fascinating about them and the Yut Kee restaurant setting that was calling me over there. I finally told Kristin “I’ve got to go over there”. And so I did, and for the next hour or two, Kristin and I were taken into their fold.
Passing the time talking about their lives, the city, the history of Malaysia, the history of the restaurant, all the years they had all been coming here to do what they were doing now, their family’s history, social problems, politics, they wanted to know about us, what we thought of KL, we were one of the boys.
And all the time they kept refilling my glass of beer, as I kept telling them I really shouldn’t. By the end of the evening when we went to pay our bill with Jack Lee, he tells us “that’s fine, it’s on the house. I’m glad you went out of your way to find my establishment.” And he wouldn’t take our money. We traded email addresses with him and a few of the gentlemen, shook their hands, gave them our blog info, and that’s how our best night in KL, no wait, best night on our trip so far, ended.
That night was special to us as we sat there exchanging points of views, ideas, laughs, and concerns, with a remarkable group of men who had been gathering there for decades! What we learned, appreciated, and shared will stay with us forever. And with that, I am sad to mention that this special place, Yut Kee restaurant, is scheduled to be leveled to make room for a new high rise development. Our hearts reach out to them and many other places like that, that are being lost to make room for supposedly better development. May historical preservation serve to save these little pieces of history.
Our last contact mentioned that Jack’s son, Mervyn, has located a new (old) place to move the family’s Yut Kee restaurant, right behind the current location. If you get a chance, check out the website below for a wonderful article on Jack Lee’s Yut Kee restaurant.
To top it off, this was our view leaving the guys.