KL’s sightseeing attractions include the world’s tallest flagpole, the fifth tallest radio tower, the Petronas Towers – once the world’s tallest buildings, now surpassed. All are hyped as unrecognized wonders of the world. Well, okay, the Petronas Towers are impressive, but they are, after all, just two more pillars of glass and steel, and the tallest flagpole is still a flagpole. The only time I recall seeing the pole it didn’t even have an outsized flag flapping at the top.
So, with a morning to spend in KL, what do you do? Head to Chinatown — the earlier the better. Mornings, Jalan Petaling is free of the cheap goods sellers that fill it in the evenings. It’s not so claustrophobic, and in the early hours the old folks are out to take their tea and porridge at the food stalls and shops in the alleyways off both sides of the street.
My favorite is Kedai Hon Kee, just left of the first main intersection along Jl. Petaling (after entering the market from the Jl. Cheng Lock side). It’s just a little porridge shop – Singapore’s been wiping them out for decades in hygiene campaigns, but what can be dangerous about piping hot rice porridge with a choice of chicken, pork, or fish bits? Add a raw egg, soy sauce, and chopped up fried breadsticks for a satisfying breakfast. It’s got to be good judging from the workman-and-old-codger clientele. The noodle stall next door is good eating in the evenings, too.
There are plenty of other options among the alley stalls and pushcarts – fresh fruits and juices, fried traditional breads, pastries, noodles of all varieties, or just tea. Call it browse-and-eat shopping, a pleasant way to spend a cool early morning. Next you can explore Chinatown and the city center as people arrive in buses, trains, and taxis for the working day. Trucks will be parked in front of old-time wholesalers, loading to distribute goods to neighborhood provision shops. Newspaper distributors will be dropping off bundles of papers for collection by news agents. And anytime after 8:30 you can pop into the Junk Book Store at 78 Jl. Tun H.S. Lee.
Anyone who loves tumbledown secondhand book stores shouldn’t miss this place. I don’t know which is more dangerous — the ground floor with two floors groaning above, or the third floor with the dusty books stacks testing the rotting strength of the creaking beams. It’s the kind of book shop where My Friend Flicka is in the poetry section, and 20-odd high school copies of The Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household bespeak a deal too good to pass up. Adelyn Koh, the proprietress, seems to have bought up the libraries of every expatriate and colonial officer that ever left Malaysia. The really good stuff is kept in an office on the third floor for viewing by connoisseurs and collectors; ordinary book lovers have to make do browsing through the shelves, watched over by Adelyn’s apologetic father. “Have you ever seen anything like it?” his eyes ask whenever you run into him and feather duster in the jumbled bowels of the old shop. No, I haven’t, not in Asia, although I suspect you might find something like it in Hong Kong.
From the Masjid Jamek rail station walk along Jl. Tun Perak in the direction of the Oriental Bldg (Burger King is opposite). Turn right at Jl. H.S. Tun Lee. The Junk Book Store is in the first block on your left. Continue south along H.S. Tun Lee to enter and explore Chinatown, the Central Market, and the food and market stalls of Jl. Petaling.
Copyright © 2006 Tropical Tramp