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Selamat Datang, Malaysia!

(Published in The Malay Mail on 18 November 2013)

A photo of the pepper-pot towers greets me each morning as I wait for the kettle to boil. It reminds me of what I’ve been missing these last three years.

It was high time I saw the real deal again, and in a recent “boleh” moment I booked a flight back to land of Selamat Datangs. The departure was executed with military precision: the kids deposited with grandparents in the UK; a cat sitter installed in Paris and the hubby ordered to disengage from his CrackBerry.

The list of to-dos, must haves and must eats were predictably large, but here’s a taster of what we got up to:

One wet datang: And I’m not referring to the monsoonal rains; although they were truly munificent. It felt so good to step off the plane at KLIA and inhale the warm soupy air (honestly), to see those vibrant headscarves again (a joy to behold) and to open the loo door to reveal a waterlogged floor (hmmm)…

It’s funny how you forget certain things. Those two essential ingredients needed for a successful visit to the lavy: tiptoeing into a toilet cubicle to avoid aquaplaning on wet tiles and having your own pocket tissues to hand. Mind you, and not to labour this toilet-talk too much, but using water rather than tissue to clean one’s derrière is far more hygienic. Why do you think the clever French invented the bidet?

Malaysian boleh: Very naughty of me, as this observation ought to be listed in number one place. And, while you might have your grumbles, the traffic is still a nightmare (worse with the new metro line construction), the political climate sucks (when will Barisan Nasional be toppled?), some bugger nicked your handbag (what’s new?). But the same can be said about other countries we’ve lived in. What sets Malaysians apart, and I’m talking the full spectrum—Chinese, Bumi and Indian—is their happy and can-do disposition. I’ve noticed it all the more powerfully for the three year absence.

You can’t beat Malaysian hospitality. The smile says it all. And, when I try a “sedikit sedikit” of Malay, people literally flip with excitement like I’m some rare and wonderful species that ought to be popped into a museum and admired.

When I smile in Paris people grimace, or worse still, pretend it didn’t happen. When I try speaking French, it invariably elicits a tart English reply (which roughly translates to my grasp of English is far superior to your French and I shall let you know about it). Only last week my local pharmacist instructed me to: “Please be quiet”.

Mamaks stalls and the like: Let’s be honest, the BEST food in Malaysia is served up fresh, hot and delicious from your own favourite mamak stalls. I hit Kampung Padang wet market to stock up on fresh curry leaves and kaffir lime, and to wolf down two roti canai and teh tariks in the mamaks next door while trying hard to forget the video that my gorgeous Malay friend Intan had just shown me about a certain roti maker And if Jane, my dear Chinese friend, is reading this please accept my apologizes for spoiling your plans for a posh lunch in Bangsar 1: time was short and I had to have a steaming plate of Kway Teow in my favourite noodle place Seng Lee, Damansara Heights. So generous with the cockles.

The “ber” months: For those shouting mad Mat Salleh, I did know our visit would coincide with the monsoon months, ok? How could I forget, for my Filipina maid Riza used to say: “The rains happen in the ‘ber’ months ma’am”.

October is a top time to visit. There are few tourists daft enough to stay on the monsoon whipped East coast. Naught more to keep us company than the chatter of jungle bugs, the thunderous crash of ocean waves, a friendly Macaque monkey and a motley crew filming a group of willowy models for Fox TV Asia. The delights of the “Unmistakably Malay, Unmistakably Excellent” Tanjong Jara was ours to enjoy.

SkyBar, Traders Hotel: Just voted KL’s “Best Nightlife Experience” by Expatriate Lifestyle readers, and our taxi from LCCT airport post our Kuala Terangganu experience had one remit: get us there before last orders! We arrived to very dark Petronas Towers, but enjoyed a cocktail and light show in the bar. It wins my award for the “Quietest Nightlife Experience”, but it was 1240am on Monday morning.

KL restaurants: The Grill at the Mandarin Oriental: the most expensive, and dare I say a tad-overrated, restaurant in KL. But ABC Acme Bar close by was très urban and modish—like a restaurant straight out of Alphabet City, Manhattan but for the yellow “slippery floor” barrier and metal bucket full of rainwater I almost tripped over on the way out!

“No Spitting” sign: As seen above a water fountain near Coffee Bean, LCCT airport. Too funny! Another sight I’d forgotten about. I know it’s a religious Chinese practice used to ward off bad spirits…I can cope with that, but not, however, the loud and smelly belching of KL taxi drivers. Boy do they let it rip; let’s have a “No Belching” sign?

The KLCC Park no-fun-allowed-lah police: the fun busters were at their best, heartily blowing their whistles (when they weren’t eating or dozing off) at innocent park goers who dared to enjoy themselves in what remains of KLCC park (given the current construction). No loitering, no kissing, in fact no breathing-permitted-park police.

Cloudy Bay: to most KL-ites this means an expensive New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, to us, however, they are the names given to two Angora rabbits we rescued from a box discarded behind our former house in Bukit Tunku. Cloudy, with a broken right ear and Bay, with abnormally long teeth, I discovered were still at large and as boisterous as ever with their new family.

But did I do everything? No lah. And so I’ll be back sometime soon to cross many more items off my bucket list. And until then, my hibiscus-coloured memories and my morning pepper-pots will need to sustain me.

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