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10 reasons why I love KL

This 1st February, Kuala Lumpur turns 44 years old as a federal territory of Malaysia. Love it or hate it, KL is the lady in red that makes an impression. Tacky or classy, it’s in the eye of the beholder.

But in keeping with the concept of this blog, and in honouring this city I’ve lived in for 17 years (gosh, it has been that long?), here are 10 reasons why I love KL and will continue to call it home, even though I’m from Penang. Yes, I still identify myself as a Penangite even though I’ve lived longer in KL than Penang.


  1. KL is great for non-drivers

Traffic can be horrendous in KL for drivers during the rush hour commute, and expensive parking rates will put a huge dent on your wallet if you’re working here, but it’s relatively easy to move around by public transport or on foot. As someone who can’t drive, KL works for me.

My main mode of transport into the city is by train (KTM Komuter, LRT, monorail). From the train station, it’s possible to walk to many places, unlike the suburban townships that are mostly surrounded by highways. And the best way to discover the city’s nook and crannies is on foot.

What about taxis? Yes, our taxi drivers are on the world’s worst list, but there’s Uber and GrabCar now. Buses? Frequency and punctuality of buses into the city centre still need to be improved but within the city, you can hop onto the free Go KL buses.


  1. The greenery is a soothing sight for sore eyes

Despite the skyscrapers that dominate the city’s landscape, KL is still quite green. Shady trees provide respite from the scorching sun and soften the edges of the concrete jungle. There’s even a forest reserve (Bukit Nanas) in the heart of the city, at the base of KL Tower.


  1. Its population is very diverse


KL has always been a tempat cari makan (a place to make a living) for out-of- towners and foreigners alike. Today’s Bangladeshis, Nepalese and Myanmarese are last century’s Chinese and Indians. You can find a sense of belonging even among strangers. When I first moved here, I used to attend mass at St. Joseph’s Cathedral. I called it the church for lost souls. Unlike community churches in the suburbs, it’s easy to maintain anonymity here if you want to. Old city dwellers, Filipino maids, diplomat families, new arrivals… all can come and go without much fuss in the house of God.


  1. Free activities


City living is always expensive but there are places you can go to for free. How about catching a free movie at KLpac (look out for free screenings of international films every two months or so) or Content Malaysia Pitching Centre?

If you’re an art buff, visit Galeri PETRONAS, Ilham Gallery, and Bank Negara Museum and Art Gallery.


  1. There’s something to do every weekend

I don’t know why some people say there’s nothing to do in KL. There’s so much happening I need a 3-day weekend (one day to go out, one day to do housework and one day chillax and recover). With Facebook, it’s so easy to seek out groups with similar interests.

If you like photography, join photo walks or look out for special talks and exhibitions. For arts, history and culture, there are events organized by groups such as Malaysian Heritage and History Club, Pusaka and Badan Warisan Malaysia. If music is your thing, there’s the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra and No Black Tie.

Also check out Meetup for various interest groups (sports, arts, social, etc.) and Time Out KL.


  1. The malls have character

Ya, ya, there are too many malls here, but let’s go with the positive spin, okay? There are different malls for different folks.

KLCC is a personal favourite of mine. It was my weekend hangout I first moved here largely because I was renting a room then and needed to get out for some me time. After church, I would take the train here for lunch, a movie, Sunday banking, book browsing at the Kinokuniya bookstore, errands at the post office, grocery shopping at Isetan, art admiration at Galeri PETRONAS…

I don’t go there often now but I still love the place for it’s international vibe. The crowd is cosmopolitan, the layout is simple enough that you don’t get lost in the maze, the size is manageable (you can walk from one end to the other in about five minutes) and there’s a park outside.

While KLCC is prim and proper (yet approachable), Sungei Wang Plaza is the kooky cousin, and still hip at 39 years old. Think Vivienne Westwood vs Anna Wintour. This is the place to go for funky fashion and fun finds. Be warned that you could get lost in there, so if you like something, get it then because you might not be able to find the store again.

Pertama Complex in the grittier part of town is underrated as far as malls go. It may not look much from the outside (or even inside), but this is the kind of place where you can get your shoes resoled, fulfil your rocker dream with bespoke leather pants, give people something to talk about with a holster for your gun and source for sewing supplies – do you know how hard it is to get something as simple as press tarts and elastic bands in the fancier malls? This 40-year-old mall is also home to the Yoon Hin bag shop, where you can get genuine backpacks (Osprey, Deuter and the likes) at prices much lower than anywhere else. Just bring cash (credit card not accepted) and be prepared that Madam Sia may not like you for some reason.


  1. The weather

The weather is always nice for a swim, especially in the evening when the sun has warmed up the water.

Hell, yeah! I actually love the tropical weather here. I hate the cold and I don’t like being bundled up and having to carry a jacket, scarf and gloves whenever I go out. I love the freedom of going out wearing something light and not having to add and remove layers of clothing. You complain so hot? Pop into a shopping mall or restaurant lah. There’s air conditioning everywhere and sometimes, even the Mat Sallehs complain our air con is freezing (I sometimes wear a wool jacket in the office).


  1. Democratized dining


KL is a city of wonderful contrasts. You can be hoity-toity and indulge in omakase for RM380 at Nobu, or slurp delicious noodles next to a drain for under RM8. I tend to go for chap eats because they often taste better when it’s just about the food rather than the décor or image.


  1. You can play tourist in your own city

Every now and then, be a tourist. Go for a guided walk and discover your own backyard. Do the museum or temple thing. Eat your way through Chinatown and Little India. I bet you would be saying “I didn’t know we had this!” a lot.


  1. We have some amazing architecture


As a person who is drawn to aesthetics, I love many buildings in KL, both old and new. In the old part of KL, the influences are varied: Moorish (Sultan Abdul Samad Building and the Kuala Lumpur Railway Station), art deco (Central Market, Lee Rubber Building, OCBC Building), colonial (Muzium Telekom), traditional (Rumah Penghulu Abu Seman) pre-war shophouses (Medan Pasar). For modern architecture, the condominiums around KLCC give the city a very international appeal.

So there you have it, my top 10 list. How about you? What do you love about KL?


A new face

I’ve never considered myself a looker (except for that period before puberty hit when I was cute and aspired to be a model). I’ve always felt that I had a profile that’s not easy on the eyes. A flat, huge nose; oily, slit eyes that disappeared when I smiled or laughed, red skin with visible pores… I don’t photograph well either and rarely take selfies.

That lack of appreciation changed with one unfortunate kitchen accident, a lapse of judgement really.

It was a Tuesday, 1st September. Back to work after the Merdeka weekend. I had just returned home the night before from the company’s R&R Club trip to Pulau Perhentian. On the way back, we stopped at a stretch of road selling keropok – Terengganu is famous for its fish crackers.

My haul was fresh keropok lekor and dried keropok ikan (fish), sotong (squid) and udang (prawn) to be fried later. Many of my colleagues bought ready-to-eat keropok and I knew they would be sharing that at work. So I decided I was going to be different and bring freshly fried keropok lekor for the office.

That morning I set out to fry the keropok. The first batch went in and was cooked without much fuss. I thought they were not golden brown enough, so left the second batch in the oil a bit longer and went to the hall to fuss over other things.

That’s when I heard popping sounds from the kitchen. I didn’t give it much thought – maybe the keropok was a bit wet from being in the fridge. When I went to check on it later, I saw a few pieces lying around the pan – the keropok had jumped out!

I went closer and that’s when my face was hit by the popping oil. Why didn’t I shield my face?! I think the oil was just too hot because the keropok had exploded out of its skin (it has skin?) like a sausage popping out of its casing. My entire kitchen floor and stove was coated in a film of oil.

I didn’t panic because getting oil splashes is common when deep frying. But this time it was more serious. After sorting out the stove, I went out to my patio garden and cut off an aloe vera leaf. I slit a knife in, opened it up and applied the gel to my skin.

My face hurt a little and I was contemplating between going to the office or working from home because frankly, I could use some rest after the long bus ride and highway crawl the previous night. Plus, my left side of my arm and legs hurt from a bad sunburn. In the end, I decided to stop by the clinic on the way to work.

The doctor didn’t notice anything amiss. He retrieved the results of a blood test I was supposed to collect weeks ago. I told him I was there for something else and he was like, “Oh! Yes, I can see some redness.” He gave me two tubes of Burn Aid and two days off and that was it. It was all very uneventful. Hello! Half my face was fried!!

So back home I went, after packing some lunch from a nearby coffee shop. I didn’t do much that day. I checked in online to catch up with office matters, then veged out and took it easy although the plan was to use the day off to clean the house and work on some personal writing projects.

Looking at myself in the mirror filled me with regret and a tinge of sadness. The burns were on the right side of my face – cheeks, near the eye, near the lips, a bit on my ear and collarbone too. By then they had turned into welts.

Still, two days off should not be wasted just like that. I decided to go to town the next day for a banking errand and meet up with an ex-colleague. I hid under a big hat, from the sun and also curious eyes.

There was really nothing to do but accept my mistake and get on with life. My burns had turned crisp like baked potato skins. My face looked mud-splattered. I wondered how long they would take to heal and how bad the scarring would be. Maybe I could sport my scars like Seal. Nah, it’s different for girls.

When I went out, I applied BB cream to mask the burns and also protect them from the sun. I explained the marks before anyone asked – to the watch repairer’s sister (she advised me not to consume soy sauce to minimise scarring), my friend, the fruit seller (he recommended bedak sejuk and kunyit). I figured I should use natural products as much as possible and switched to an aloe vera cleanser (bought from South Africa two years ago). I also skipped scrubs and exfoliation that would irritate the skin.

On Thursday it was back to work and another round of explaining. I think my colleagues were more sorry than I was. I guess it’s harder for them to look at me. I was fine as long as long as I avoided mirrors.

As the weekend approached a colleague mentioned that it would be a good time to give my skin a rest – no makeup, let the skin breathe. But I had plans for the weekend and was not going to give them up to stay home. BB cream, hat, sunglasses. My ‘potato skins’ had dried up and was starting to peel off. The skin underneath was a bit raw, but it looked like it would turn out fine.

When the new week rolled in it was almost like the accident never happened. Just a bit of redness. My colleagues were amazed. I am thankful.

It took the possibility of lifelong scarring to make me appreciate what I have. Now I feel more confident and sexy… as long as I don’t look in the mirror too much. Being comfortable in one’s own skin is certainly easier than being outside criticising it.

Anti-litter superhero!

Over two months ago, I wrote about my encounter with a litterbug. This morning, I met another, and again, I decided not to let it go.

Why? I don’t know. Maybe my life is too boring and I need to shake it up a little, get some adrenaline rush by telling total strangers off. If people can call me ‘aunty’, I have the right to be naggy.

I was on the train, reading a back issue of the Edge when out of the corner of my eye I saw a woman on the seat across drop a sweet wrapper.

I gave her the stare. Eyed her, looked down at the litter, back at her. She noticed but made no effort to pick it up. So I returned to my reading. Should I let it go? Or give her a good scolding and risk a punch in my face?

I decided to go for the ‘shame’ route. Again.

As the train neared my stop, I went over to her and said, “Can you pick that up? I’ll throw it for you. There’s a dustbin outside.”

My action took her by surprise. She picked it up, hand hovering over her open bag, unsure whether to stash it away… I took the wrapper. Two actually. Kopiko sweets. Got off the train, threw them into the bin.

I think this is my purpose in life. Telling off litterbugs.

Apathy and vandalism

Keeping our environment clean is our responsibility. Not just our homes and immediate surroundings, but public spaces too.

The KTM Komuter train was new, one of 39 6-coach trains brought in to replace the old 3-coach ones – filthy, crowded and always in the workshop.

The new ones are bright, clean and there are even coaches reserved just for women (before you get a hissy fit – this is not discrimination – we women appreciate this service because sexual harassment and safety issues are real concerns). Unfortunately, vandalism has reared it’s ugly head, with several windows broken by stone-throwers.

If the train continues to be abused, soon, we will be back to uncomfortable rides. That’s why I want to play my part in keeping it nice and clean. Once the vandalism starts, it will grow and grow and we’d soon be riding in filth again. Have you heard of the ‘broken windows’ theory by social scientists James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling?

Their 1982 study suggested that in a neighborhood where buildings have broken windows, people are more likely to misbehave. Because they figure no one would care. Keeping facilities and spaces in good order may stop further vandalism and even prevent the escalation into more serious crime. Don’t believe it? Ask yourself this. Are you more likely to spit and litter at spick and span KLIA or the old Puduraya bus terminal?

An orderly and clean environment implies that the area is under surveillance and that criminal behavior will not be tolerated. Neglect like broken windows, graffiti and rubbish signals that the area is not monitored and that one can get away with criminal behavior.

This theory is supported by Dutch scientists who found that cyclists who parked their bikes near a wall covered in graffiti were twice as likely to litter than people who parked near the same wall after it was painted clean.

Recognising this social behaviour have given rise to vacant property managers such as Camelot. The property slump in Europe has resulted vacant buildings at risk of squatters and vandals. These property managers promote ‘live-in guardianship’ by placing temporary tenants at low rents in buildings that would otherwise remain unoccupied. It’s a win-win situation for owners who cannot find market-rate renters and tenants who can’t afford market-rate rents.

Random Acts of Kindness

Did someone just make your day because that person did something nice for you? If you like that feeling, how about doing something nice for someone, even if it’s someone you don’t know. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture. Even something small would be appreciated and remembered.

The easiest is to pay someone a compliment. I once received a nice one from a stranger, a lady who walked up to me at Kinokuniya to compliment me on my dress. It didn’t take much effort on her part but she made my day.

David once complimented a lady at a restaurant on how well-behaved her pre-school daughter was. He says, “My oh my, did she beam with pride after that… it felt really good on my part to make a total stranger feel good about herself (and her kid).” Well David, mothers love it when you praise their kids. And it was nice of you to let her know she’s doing a great job.

Once in awhile, I share my umbrella with strangers. I would still do it even though one incident left me feeling “why bother?”. It was raining and I was waiting at the traffic lights at Bukit Bintang. Seeing that a girl was getting wet, I stood next to her and held my umbrella over her. She just stood there, didn’t even say thanks or acknowledge me. I even crossed the road with her!

The next time I sheltered someone was at the traffic lights in front of my condo. This time, I got a warmer response. It was a visiting family member of a neighbour I don’t know. He thanked me and would always say “hi” to me whenever we bumped into each other.

I also make it a point to always warn to people when I see their bags (especially backpacks) unzipped. I remember when I didn’t many years ago, I got pick-pocketed not long after. Karma?

One of the best acts of kindness I’ve come across is of my friend Julian. This is his story:

“It was Thaipusam eve and I made a u-turn on MRR2 because Batu Caves was jammed up and I was low on fuel. At the petrol kiosk, an Indian guy came up and asked to borrow my handphone. I was a bit hesitant but I did anyway. He wanted to call a friend to help him with his punctured bike tire. He couldn’t get his friend so he called a tire repair guy. I  heard him haggling over the price because he didn’t have enough money. He agreed anyway. I asked him how much more he needed and gave it to him although it was the last note in my wallet.”

Julian, I admire you for taking a chance on him, what with all the horror stories we hear of nasty people preying on good Samaritans.

Julian’s story reminds me of an incident that happened in Kuching when I was a little kid. My Dad and I were on his bike back from midnight mass (Christmas). Halfway home, his bike ran out of petrol. This was back in the days when there were no 24-hour stations. The road was deserted (this was in the 80s).

Then a group of young bikers who were passing by stopped to see what was going on. I thought, mati lah. It was just me and my Dad and the nearby graveyard.

After finding out what was wrong, they offered their petrol. Using a hose (I think Daddy found it at a nearby mechanic shop) and the styrofoam ‘bowl’ from his helmet, he sucked out the petrol to transfer it from their tanks. Thanks to those boys, we made it back home. Their kindness was an unexpected Christmas gift.

Comfort Food

I’ve been in Syria for a week. Just like Morocco, there is very little variety here when it comes to food. In Morocco, it was tajine and couscous and not much else. Here, it is falafel sandwiches, roast chicken and cheese pastry. So I was pretty pleased to have two half-boiled eggs and Maggi mee (not my favourite food back home in KL) for breakfast today. We bought the eggs last night and had the noodles with shredded chicken leftover from dinner. Simple food, simple pleasure.  Yum yum!

To the Year of the Tiger!

The year of the tiger is said to be not a very good one. That’s why I take comfort in this greeting from a friend:

“Tiger simbol kuasa yang menghidupkan kembali yang lemah untuk perjuangan masa depan yang lebih cerah.”

Translated, it means:

“The tiger is a symbol of power that strengthens the weak, to fight for a brighter future.” 

For those whose Chinese zodiac doesn’t favour them this year, check out the Western one. There has got to be something good in there. 

Happy New Year everyone! I’ll be away for three weeks. See you next month.