As we have said before, Malaysia is hot. So the natives tend to do one of the following: eat ice cachang, camp out in front of the a/c, or…go to the mall.
Utama mall in Kuala Lumpur is enormous. I’ve been to the Mall of America a couple of times, but the scale of this place puts that to shame. I mean, the entire floor of one wing is a movie theater. Dad, justtwomorethings and I went there one day–after dragging me away from the pet shop at one of the entrances (they had kitties and a sugar glider, ok?)–to walk around.
The problem was, due to Malaysia’s continued economic development, a lot of trade happens with the Western Hemisphere. And all that trade brings all the Western brands, which there is a growing demand for in Asia. However, since we all come from the Western Hemisphere, this rendered most of the mall depressingly similar to what we could have gotten back home, size aside.
Dad, admiring a bank of Samsung Curved TVs
However, there was an interesting little nature exhibit in the middle of the place. It was nice to see an attempt to recognize nature in the rampant stampede toward progress.
Dad and Uncle down the street
Petaling Street, one of the many outdoor market streets of Kuala Lumpur, was a bit of a disappointment. A lot of guides will recommend it as a great place to get souvenirs–and you may find some–but I preferred the Cultural Center. The part of Petaling that we went to was more full of western brand knockoffs and counterfeits than real Malaysian handiwork, very tourist-trappy. It also, being open air, was hot and humid.
I thought it far more appropriate for people watching, and checking out the street food stalls. The mechanical chestnut roaster was pretty cool, and we grabbed a bag of longgan fruits (which look kinda alien on the outside, but removing the peel yields a sweet, juicy treat).
You go to Asia, you eat on the street.
It’s more cleaned-up than I remember. You don’t have vendors standing on the corner or spilling out of alleyways or wandering around anymore. They all seem to have moved into no-frills food courts, five or six stalls with permanent fixtures like hoods to funnel off the smoke and coolers for perishables, although you should still just try to forget about the idea of sanitary preparation.
Street food court
But the food is ultra-fresh, prepared to order, tasting exactly like it’s coming from people who have spent their entire lives concentrating on just three or four dishes, and dirt-cheap by Western standards. A couple dollars for noodles with sauces that seem to bloom into pungent, delicious life on your tongue, and keep blooming till, reluctantly, you swallow, even though you feel like the taste is still unfurling and you’re going to miss something good. Delicate soups, filling without being heavy. And warm soybean milk with airy crunchy you tiao to dip into it, possibly the best breakfast on earth.
Noodles with pickled jalapenos, off the street
Another noodle variation off the street, fishball soup in back
you tiau and warm sweetened soybean milk
And man, that’s just Kuala Lumpur. Penang (whenever we get to it, ’cause it’s taking longer to work through all the photos than either entropyenator or I figured) street food is like this taken to infinitely good.
I suppose I should have expected KL to have an aquarium. I mean, Malaysia is pretty much a nation of islands. But I was thinking more zoos–and it being so humid out, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to walk through a zoo although I usually love that sort of thing.
So aquariums, being indoors with the wonderful A/C, were just the ticket. The Aquaria KLCC is right under the Kuala Lumpur Convention Center, not too far from the famous Twin Towers. Admission is 50 ringgit or about $15.50 USD–I initially thought that this was a little expensive for such a little place, but the Aquaria is surprisingly extensive for an inner city aquarium. It features several feeding “shows,” a touch pool (I refused to touch the sea cucumbers, no matter how fuzzy black they were), oceanarium walk-through tank, frog exhibit, and an otter exhibit.
We stayed for two feedings, the piranhas and the Asian small-clawed otters. I, obviously, preferred the otters, causing Justtwomorethings to laugh at all my squees. They were cute! The otters obviously knew what time of day they got fed, because we could see them pawing at the door before the show, and the zoo keepers trained them to do little spinning tricks in exchange for shrimp treats. Only two otters were actually trained to do the tricks for the show, but we caught the trainer giving the rest (there were 4 otters total) extra snuggles in the back after the show.
Happy Fathers’ Day to all the Dads! Especially mine 🙂
Speaking of Dad, this trip was interesting partly because of all the reunions–and not just of family. In the US, when you talk about class reunions and alumni, it pretty much refers to high school and college. In Malaysia, though, Dad was meeting up with old middle school and elementary school classmates. I don’t know about you, but I can’t recall half of my classmates from that far back, but Dad and his were recognizing each other and swapping stories like the past 50 years was nothing. It was amazing, and pretty fascinating.
Dad’s old middle school even has its own alumni clubhouse in Kuala Lumpur, something that I think is usually reserved for universities in the US–and even of those, only the very top-tier. Family of alumni could come, so we got the uncles, aunts, cousins, and their associated husbands, kids and fiance together for dinner one night. True, the building was no great shakes, and the furniture and facilities pretty spartan, but the place had its own chef. And, most important, the food was good, simple and unpretentious.
After Hong Kong, we headed for Malaysia to visit our father’s side of the family. First stop: Kuala Lumpur.
It was really, really hot and humid. Like, beyond steam bath. Like, you’re aware at all times that the human body is majority water and really, only a thin layer of cells distinguishes you from a puddle. What made it better was the desserts, particularly the ice kechang. Basically, this is shaved ice–actually shaved, paper-thin curls as opposed to the crushed and/or flaked ice that passes for it in the West–topped with at least five different things that range from syrups to fruit to jellies to tapioca pearls to sweet corn. And giant mounds of it, too. If it was smaller than your head, you weren’t getting your money’s worth.