THE FILMING OF ’6NORTH’ 5/6 MALAYSIA Part 1/2
At Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) we said goodbye to the Grandma who was returning to Perth and made our way to baggage collection, money exchange and then immigration.
I wish Malaysian immigration officers would be more cheerful to visitors. They talk more to their colleagues than tourists and this isn’t a great first impression. I have always thought that ‘first impressions last’ and that a good first impression is really vital for business. I view immigration as an important part of any country’s tourism business!
When I said ‘Hello’ to them it was ignored. When I said ‘Thank you’ and ‘Goodbye’ they ignored too. The staff just kept talking among themselves. Perhaps they ignored me because I looked like a local and they thought that no welcome was necessary. Or perhaps they did not like me choosing to have an Australian passport over a Malaysian one! Perhaps I have changed since I have been away in a positive Western environment and now I notice their behaviour very unwelcoming. I certainly would have liked start of this paragraph to have been more positive, maybe next time I visit I will come back with something more positive to say.
Anyway, apart from my first impressions of the immigration staff, I noticed that the rest of the airport staff were much more courteous and humble. We quickly found ourselves at the ground floor taxi stand where we purchased our 2 Ringgit ‘proof of booking’ ticket for a registered taxi and we were led to one that was already waiting outside. The usher was a very friendly gentleman who made every effort to make us feel welcome and the Malay lady driver could speak English well too.
I practiced my Malay language on her when we were inside. Malay is officially called Bahasa Malayu (Language Malay) which is usually shortened to just ‘Bahasa’. She spoke with me in Bahasa and thought that I was still good even after having been away for so more than three decades. This made me feel great because I could use this language with anyone who could not speak English there.
We had arrived on a Sunday afternoon so traffic was reduced and the trip towards KL was quicker than a work day. It took about 50 minutes to get to Petaling Jaya, or ‘PJ’ which is a major town before reaching KL. The drive had been picturesque and green mostly but I did see more developments coming up along the way. It certainly was not as all green as I had last seen on my way to the airport 10 years back. Now, lots of jungle had been cleared and replaced with palm oil plantations and there were excavations in other areas presumably for housing, commercial and industrial development. I also remember there used to be much more rubber plantations when I left KL in ’79. Every time I return to KL almost everything I see actually looks very new to me. It was over-riding my memories and I felt quite sad about it. I wonder if other ‘older’ ex-Malaysians would feel the same way.
Then, guess what happened…our driver got lost! She had been using Google but it had brought us to the wrong spot. We knew it was the wrong spot because it wasn’t the same place as we had come to eight months ago on our first visit to Alwin’s address. We did not recognise this whole area at all. Things don’t change that fast in KL or could they!
Stephen checked the map and guided the driver. He knows a thing or two about planning having designed his first town in the 1980s. He figured which way the driver needed to turn. We were about ten minutes drive from where we were supposed to be. Lucky he can remember locations even after seeing them only once. As the driver followed his instructions the street started to look more and more familiar and as we got closer, then we knew exactly where we were. Finally we got there. How weird that we pay drivers to find a place for us and yet we do their job for them.
Our hosts weren’t at home so we asked our driver to ‘phone them to say we had arrived safely and would somebody unlock the gate. She made the call and then left. While we waited for somebody to come we did some filming for the docco. Then somebody arrived and unlocked the house for us. At last we were inside just in time to escape the heavy tropical downpour by minutes, and evening fell.
This house was originally Alwin’s parents’ home. Alwin had studied in at the University of South Australia in Adelaide and had returned to KL to establish his own business. His parents had created a charity organisation named the Malaysian Bhuddist Cooperative Society (MBCS) and this home is used for their community functions. We were so fortunate that they allowed us to base ourselves there temporarily for 6North. I had helped Alwin on occasions in Adelaide and he had always referred to me as Auntie Sarj and now it was his turn to host me in KL. We were tired and needed to rest. We set the alarm to wake up before Alwin came by. As they say “There’s no peace for the wicked”.
No sooner had we fallen asleep than Alwin arrived with his new female lawyer colleague Joo Ee to take us out to dinner in a district named Bangsar. I remember Bangsar but now it is so different. It is the place to go if you want to be seen’ with your flash car and fat wallet. Now it boasts the best buildings, restaurants, and prestige vehicles. It was packed with people looking for a place to park and be seen eating. We were told that this was a quiet night and that it is usually busier. Apparently the quality and variety of this trendy food is the best that money can buy. We each wanted to have different things so we went to an open sided cafe that made to order. Being in an open-sided cafe meant that we were also exposed to street sale people, even though this was a posh area. These enterprising sales people were very politely taking their opportunity to sell you things while you dined……. Well it was ‘meant to be’ because we needed new lights for filming and a young salesman by the name of Sufyan Mehar (pictured below with Stephen and Alwin) with a very pleasant sales manner showed us two compact adjustable light-weight rechargeable lamps that used dozens of very bright LED lights which were going to be ideal for our docco interviews. (They are so good that we still use them today) We are very grateful to him for selling us two lamps at cost price. He said he wanted to contribute to our documentary because we had told him that we were financing it all by crowd funding sponsorship. He told us that he sends his income back to his family in Pakistan. The attention we were getting when we filmed this enjoyable chat brought us some attention from other diners who were beginning to wonder who we were and whether we were important for them to know. It was time for us to go to another cafe for dessert…..
At the nearby dessert cafe I was determined to order a bowl of chendol/ice kachang. This is a delicious looking and delightfully refreshing cold drink/dessert that is designed to re-hydrate you in a very pleasant way. Inside the bowl is a small mountain of shaved iced with lashing of syrup made from sugared water and coconut palm sugar. This ice is covering a stash of surprises like jellies, red beans, sweet corn and the ice is topped with green coloured vermicelli and other sweet treats. I know that for some readers this may sound like an odd mixture of flavours for a dessert but it is delicious. However these days this recipe is made with various ways and it all depends on the person’s choice of ingredients at the time of making it. I had grown up with this sort of treat in my youth and hadn’t had it for so long that it was wonderful to eat it again, even though it was straight after my filling main meal! The warm humid weather makes me so thirsty that this sort of natural dessert is something I still crave for and Alwin knew I’d be missing it. It was delicious!! On our way back from dinner Alwin took us to a Karaoke bar where Alwin’s girl friend Angela had been singing with some guests. I shared some songs with her by joining in and then as we were leaving the place we met a nice young man by the name of Fizral who was working at this bar from Sabah (East Malaysia) where we had lived in the 80’s and we started a pleasant conversation and by the time we got back it was 3am! Finally we were home and slept well that night in the peace and quiet of the neighbourhood. The MBCS place was empty and it certainly gave us the opportunity for some good rest to recharge our batteries after such a journey.
The next morning Alwin’s parents had bought for us from the local shops a traditional Malaysian breakfast of ‘Nasi Lemak’. I had missed this too. I felt so welcome and I really appreciated their hospitality. Soon after breakfast Angela arrived to take us out to lunch! I have mentioned this before that Malaysians like eating because there is so much fantastic food available to crave. We did the same at a restaurant owned by a young man from Sarawak which is in East Malaysia in the northern part of Borneo across the sea to the east of West Malaysia. He specialised in cooking dishes from Sarawak and our host Angela graciously paid for our meals. We relished the flavours and always found a bit more space for a few more mouthfuls of awesome flavours. I felt like I was in my childhood again. Things seemed familiar once more. As usual our lunch didn’t end till late in the afternoon. Then we went home to wait for Alwin to fetch us to Sophia’s.
Alwin took us to visit Sophia who also had studied in Adelaide and they had met each other during their university years here. She is now married and works in Adelaide but had temporarily returned to her parents’ home in Putra Jaya with her new born baby girl to be with her family. Putra Jaya is where government officials live because it is close to the Malaysian parliament.
Alwin and Sophia are both good examples of students who have achieved success through further study and hard work overseas and had made their parents very proud.
It had felt rather odd for me to have not cooked while on the trip so far and I was at risk of being spoilt and becoming lazy so while we were at Sophia’s parents’ place I cooked for everyone while her parents were out. While waiting for everyone to return we shared some quality baby time. When her dad, husband and brother-in-law came home we all enjoyed what I had cooked for dinner that evening.
In the morning we woke to traditional Malaysian breakfast of ‘Roti Chanai’, just like I had enjoyed in my younger days so for me it was a ‘blast from my past’ but for others it was normal!
After breakfast we made our way to sight-see in Putra Jaya with Sophia, her baby and her brother-in-law.
Sophia also wanted me to meet up with her good friend Dr Saras who had received her PhD in communication and media studies from The University of Adelaide in 2014. This was a great idea because I could record another student success story which Dr. Saras allowed us to record.
After a great round trip of Putra Jaya which was like our Capital City (Canberra) but at a much bigger scale Sophia then took us to Shah Alam to meet Dr Saras. Shah Alam is a large satellite city outside Petaling Jaya and KL. It is ironic that we never met Dr Saras when she was in our small city of Adelaide studying TV media journalism for four years with other students whom we also knew of through Alwin but instead met Dr Saras miles away in Malaysia in a crowded city of millions of people. But we are so glad that we did meet her. She had been an experienced political journalist/ reporter on Malaysian TV.
Saras loves to cook and so we share the same passion for making food that pleases others. It was getting close to lunch so of course it was necessary for us to eat again! I was becoming so Malaysian…. Sophia and Saras took us to a restaurant near Saras’ University of Technology. We went to a Restaurant called Chili Merah (Red Chili).
The array of choice of food was amazing, something like over 50 dishes! It all looked so appetisingly familiar that I tried to fill my plate with as many of the options as I could until it could hold no more. My eyes grew larger than my stomach and I had no hands free to take a picture of it either!
The strange thing is that even though it was served from a bain marie it was not like the Western buffet at all. It is not ‘all you can eat’. You cannot go back again for more serves like we do in Oz. So, with Saras being our host she was going to pay for everybody’s meal and the cashier needed to know how many options had been placed on each plate and that was going to be a difficult for mine because I hadn’t counted how many went onto my mountain! I had been so excited at the range of options that I simply didn’t know that I should have kept tally.
Anyway, what a wonderful lunch and thanks to Saras for paying! Now, can you believe what happened next? You’ve probably guessed it…..as we walked slowly through the car park being so full with our lunch packed into our stomachs we had to pass by a Chendol cart in the car park. Well, we had no option but to buy some dessert too. My goodness, am I becoming a Malaysian or what?
This reminded me of when I was a kid and I’d love to have Chendol if I had enough coins in my purse. The Chendol man would even cycle up to our house if he thought he stood a chance of selling a bag or bowl of Chendol. I admire that enterprising nature that was not afraid of hard work. This is the sort of environment I was raised in and I guess that is why I am enterprising and known as a ‘hard worker’.
Our time with Sophia had to come to an end. After saying our thanks and goodbyes to Sophia, her baby (pictured below) and her brother-in-law we went with Dr Saras to her university where she is employed full-time in the media department. She kindly gave us permission to interview her about her experiences studying in Adelaide. We arranged to meet her the next day to go to her hometown of Rim near Jasin just outside Melaka, so that we could interview her father. Then we returned to Alwin’s parents MBCS that evening for a good night’s rest.
Most nights we didn’t get to bed till about 3am and rise a few hours later and we were just half way mark of our journey of 18 days. You can imagine how tiring this would get so we tried hard to get some good rest for the next day’s journey but as you know, worrying about having to wake up can prevent you from sleeping well.
We knew we needed some rest because the next day Dr Saras had invited us to visit her father in Melaka (Malacca) which is south of KL. His house is in Kampung Rim which is just east of Jasin. We were supposed to be at a particular destination by 10.30am the following morning so that Dr Saras could drive us down to Melaka. Now remember, we did not have a ‘phone to rely on. We were doing things the old fashioned way; the way we used to do when we were growing up, we’d set a time and place and ‘we’d be there’, and if we were late people would wait. This wasn’t to be….it is the things that went wrong that made for story unpredictable and yet intriguing and this is what makes our doco different because we met people we didn’t know but needed.
The next morning we started our journey at 9am to meet Saras by 10.30am by taxi and commuter train. The peak traffic would have passed by then.
There were no taxis around at all. This place was in well-established area and you could say that residents don’t need taxis so none came in to the area and we could not call for one without a working phone. After half an hour of walking we could sense that it wasn’t going to happen and we were going to be late. We could not call her and so we were just hoping that she would wait for us like people used to do in the old days and she knew we didn’t have a phone on us.
We walked to a main road away from where we lived and saw a few taxis pass by, so things were looking more hopeful till we tried to stop, many of them and although they were empty they waved that they could not take us. They all did this and we wondered what was wrong with us, or them. What had happened to us in Shanghai as written in my book was happening here too. Perhaps it was the time of the day when taxis switch shifts. We had no choice but to walk on to another main road that looked like it might lead us towards LRT (light rail transit). It was getting hot too.
As we walked past some homes we saw a man getting his car ready to go out and we asked him if we were going in the right direction to the LRT. He just nodded without wanting to say much so we walked on. A little further we saw an elderly lady making her way to her car too and we asked the same question. She said yes but that that we would be in danger if we tried to cross the busy highway ahead because there was no place for pedestrians to cross. But she didn’t offer to help us in any other way than give this advice so we walked on towards that highway.
I was beginning to think that there was no way we were going to meet Dr Saras today!
As we approached the highway, and yet still one block away from it, the traffic noise became so loud we could barely hear ourselves think let alone talk to each other. The beeping of the horns started deafening our ears.
The moment we approached the highway a car beeped and stopped illegally for us ! It was the same older lady we recognised her immediately and cars were queuing behind her so she urged us to get into her car quickly so she could move on. She was giving us a lift to the LRT because she felt so bad that she hadn’t thought quickly enough to offer us before. She apologised and said she felt so bad that she let us walk off like that and that she should have offered us the lift to take us to the LRT station because by car it was mere 10 minutes but by foot at least an hour walk in that blazing sun. We thanked her for her kindness and asked if she would mind if we filmed her, she agreed. Her name is Madame Liu and she saved us that day totally!
This proved my point that you could live without a phone if you really had to, and, that there are still good people around who will go out of their way to help you, simply because they are good people.
Madame Liu is 89. She lives alone since her husband passed away. Her children have grown up and have families of their own now, so she has plenty of time on her hands and so she tries to keep herself occupied. She values her independence. At her age most ladies of Asian heritage would be either living with their adult children and their family or be in a nursing home or housing for the elderly. I asked her if she has noticed a change in life in Malaysia and she agreed that everybody is so very busy that they have little time for each other, or for the elderly. Her viewpoint was that today’s modern society puts pressure on the traditional family structure. Both parents need to work to pay their mortgage on the house and loan on their car or send their children to a best school they can afford, for the benefit of the family later on. This time commitment means the elderly get less time with their younger generations and sometimes they have to fend for themselves if they want to maintain their independence. Some are lonely, and this is not how I remember the older generations feeling. I remember the grandmas and Grandpas living in the same house and caring for the little ones, teaching them things they needed to know about values and life’s lessons. This doesn’t seem to be happening anymore.
Madame Liu is proud of her children and their children’s successes. She understands their burdens and is happy that they all are generally happy and that she has done the best job she could of bringing them up well because that really is all that she could have hoped for in life. She is satisfied. She raised them well and all she wants to see is that they are happy with their own family. She appreciates her own good health and that she has the freedom to be able to drive so well still. I felt safe as she was driving so well among the hustle and bustle of the traffic there which truly is mayhem.
I told Madame Liu that our documentary is about people needing to take time to understand each other because this helps everyone. I told her how many countries we had already visited in such a short time and she said next time we should stay longer. If she hadn’t taken the initiative to pick us up we would most certainly have missed our appointment with Dr Saras and never got to Rim.
I know that it is not fair on others when I inconvenience them by not having a phone but it does mean that I get to meet strangers who are kind enough to help and this is worth celebrating. So, on reflection, I admit that my idea to do this trip without technology just to see what it would be like to go back to the old days did cause delays that inconvenience other people, like Dr Saras, I do believe that it brought me into contact with other people who helped us and I am pleased that we met these people in this way because it reassures me that there are good people willing to help you when you need help. We would not have met them if we were self sufficient with a ‘phone. We would not know how kind they are if we were self-sufficient. We would not know their own story because we would not have met them. It is these unexpected chance meetings that add unique and intriguing value to my documentary. Madame Liu dropped us off at the entrance to the LRT. We thank her not only for the lift and the chat but for allowing us to film her too. I told her that she was most certainly my ‘Angel’ for that day! On our way into the station Stephen and I talked to each other about how nice it is to meet good people. We were finally on the LRT and heading to Kuala Lumpur to change direction and go to Shah Alam where we hoped Dr Saras still patiently waiting for us.
By now we were familiar with Malaysia’s LRT (light rail transit). The previous year we also discovered that they dedicated coaches painted in bright pink for ladies only and named it (Koch Wanita, Coach Woman). At the beginning I did not understand the meaning of it until Stephen and I got on it and realised a minute or two later that all the people on it were female! So now we were better prepared and felt we knew the transit system well. When we reached KL Central we had to wait a lot longer for the next train to Shah Alam. This gave us time to ask somebody on the platform if they would lend us their ‘phone to call Dr Saras. We asked two young Indian men if they could help us? At last Dr Saras heard from us that we are still on our way and she said she was going to wait for us. While we waited for the train to Shah Alam I talked with the two Indian men about their lives. They told us that they were from Bangladesh on work visas and that the money they earned in Malaysia was better than back home so their families were relying on their income they could transfer. This kind of situation happens a lot in Malaysia it seems. My curious nature makes me ask these sorts of questions of people I don’t know. I think it is good that Malaysia is allowing such flow of work and money for someone to live their dream of earning the basic necessities for life. I felt that these two young men were shy to talk with me in English so I tried my best to speak in Hindi (India’s national language) and they appreciated that regardless of fluent or not they were very respectful. I liked the fact that they were working hard to provide for their families. I assumed they respected their older generations back home too. Perhaps this can be maintained despite the pressures of this modern hi-tech world. Unlike the West, these young men have their immediate families and their parents and sibling’s well-being constantly on their mind, their dream is to care and provide for their family with whatever they can earn; certainly a noble ethic! I wished that I could have helped these young men more in return but they smiled and declined any payment from us, so I wished them good luck and good health to keep working for their families and have a safe journey home when their work is done.
Finally we arrived at our destination and met Dr Saras and told her the whole saga. We set off from the car park outside the railway station. We were on our way south to Melaka. Her home where she grew up is in Kampung Rim.
Dr Saras said that it would be a good three hour journey so we’d better get comfortable and buckle up. We all got into her brand new car, I sat up at front, she told us about her time studying for her PhD at The University of Adelaide and Stephen filmed the scenery of our journey.
Initially there was more oil palm plantation than jungle but the further we drove away from KL the more I saw the remnants of rubber plantations. for an hour or so we stopped at a roadhouse to stretch our legs and have something to eat and drink, for a change! I felt at home again, yaay!
Then we were on our way again to Melaka. Melaka has a rich history of ‘Nonya food’ which is a fusion of Chinese and Malay cuisine. The society has had a long relationship with the Indian community too. Soon we were going to be turning left and east towards Kampung Rim where Dr Saras’ father ‘Sami’ lives by himself now that all of his three adult children have left home. We arrived at Sami”s house, the same house where Dr Saras dreamed of her successes and studied hard to achieve.
Sami is well respected in Kampung Rim. He and his late wife ran a sundry store that was open nearly all hours for the townsfolk and he still operates it as an LPG tank supplier. He always encouraged Saras and her siblings to study hard to make something of their life. He is a well known by locals who respect his hard work and his opinion. They particularly admire his wisdom to encourage his children to study hard for a good future.
Later in the afternoon Sami took us to the oldest local “Kopi” coffee shop in the Kampung. It is by the local river. It is an open sided corrugate iron roofed large stall with numerous tables and seating for local men to mingle and play card games or checkers. We saw them chit-chatting about life. It is usually for ‘men only’ but thanks to Sami’s importance in the local community there was a special exception made for me as the only woman customer! Luckily I could greet them in Bahasa. I didn’t tell them that I could only understand about 50% of what they were saying! I was pardoned by the men because I was an ‘Aussie’ and with Stephen beside me and the confirmation that we were a long-time married couple from Adelaide where Saras received her PhD from, we fitted in straightaway and the townsfolk welcome us warmly then returned to their checkers and newspapers.
On a notice board behind Sami was a local newspaper article on who caught the biggest fish from the river. It had been Sami of course, the local hero. It was heartening to see the camaraderie in this ‘men’s club’.
On camera Sami told us his story of Dr Saras’ journey to Australia to further her studies. He spoke of his joy and worries about sending her to study abroad for the very first time. Then he told us about the time he came to visit her in Adelaide and stay for a while during her studies. He had made friends here, of course, he is the sort of person you want to be friends with. He told us about a ‘friendly Australian’ who made him feel at home. He also met not so friendly ones who soon changed their attitude once they got to know Sami, because, Sami was and still is an OK guy!
Sami remembered all of the places he had visited here; Rundle Mall, the Adelaide Hills and the Glenelg beach to name just a few. He spoke fondly of every experience and would love to return. I feel that Sami is the lucky one. He was able to enjoy and take part in some of his daughters activities and get to know her environment here that was so different to her environment back home. Sami and his wife had a loving sweetheart marriage and it was so sad that she passed away so soon without seeing her daughter graduate! He still misses her but takes pride in the fact that together they raised three children who did their best to respect them by studying to the best of their ability to make their parents proud. They both educated all their three children at the best level possible. I feel very fortunate to have met and interviewed such a good father.
As we sipped our 30 cent coffee the sun started to set and so Sami suggested that we walk along the main road of Kampung Rim. Every body we passed took time to greet Sami and talk with him. He would say that we are from Adelaide and to our amazement they all knew about Adelaide!
Then we came to a very old traditional Melaka style Kampung house like the ones you see on postcard and posters and black velvet banners. It is built without nails. We met the occupants; the man in his 80’s used to be the Datuk (Sir) for the area. We saw for ourselves how well-liked Sami is in his village. Finally we made our way home and it was time for us all to go out for that evening’s meal before retiring to bed and only to start early again the next day.
I told Sami that I came this far and I wasn’t going to miss out on capturing some rubber tapping moments on film in the nearby township of Jasin. So we had to have some shut eye soon to be able to do that early the next day.
The next morning, off we went to film rubber tapping not far from Sami’s house by car. Rubber tappers start tapping before sunrise and finish by 8am in order to avoid the mosquitoes. Sami drove us through the plantation but we could not see any people around. He seemed confident that we would see somebody soon but to us it seemed like the place was deserted. Then in the distance he saw one figure, then a second but no others. Sami recognised them. He knew them well. They were a mother and daughter team. When we reached them Sami told them that we were making a documentary and asked if it was alright for one of them to tap a tree so that we could film the process and the magic of the latex oozing out of the bark. The daughter agreed and used a specially shaped hooked blade to scrape the bark. after a few minutes the latex began to flow.We felt lucky to be there to see it and capture it on film for ourselves. Then the mosquitoes attacked us and we had to leave. They love sweet Australian blood. We wondered why they didn’t attack the tappers and then Sami showed us why. The mozzies love sweet Malaysian blood too but the tappers wear mosquito coils in vented metal drums strapped to their waist. In Oz we would rather spray rub on mosquito repellent. It worried me that the mosquito coils were still used and sold there.
Sami wanted us to experience some Roti Chanai, a favourite breakfast for all in Malaysia as well and Stephen’s favourite of course. I certainly didn’t mind having it after not having had it for so long. He also ordered Teh Tarik for us, this is Malaysia’s favourite tea. ‘teh tarik’ means to ‘tea pulled’. You’ve probably seen this on TV already but to see it for real it really does look peculiar when pulled, as if it is a continuous stretchy plastic, but it’s just liquid tea. Such an illusion. We also filmed the Roti being folded many times and spun, fried and then crushed by pushing the roti towards the middle vigorously before serving it on the plate.
I make my own Chai tea which is a bit like Teh Tarik. I sold it to raise money for 6North. $2 a cup made on the spot then customers started asking for my dry chai mix because they couldn’t bear the thought of being without it till the next market day! This is when I felt my duty to help the community with a natural mix of my own chai tea for $5 for a packet of dry mix that makes twenty cups. However my market days are coming to an end and I am a little sad to leave my customers wanting for more of my market food and products like my chai tea without arranging an alternative place of supply………
The morning during our outdoor Roti breakfast started to get humid and hot. So it was time to make our way back to Sami’s to pack our luggage again for the journey to KL.
But wait, it was nearly lunch time and we had to have lunch before before returning to KL. Yes, eating again. I was becoming so Malaysian now. Dr Saras is a good cook and while we were out she had made lunch for us: Southern Indian Dosa/Tosai (savoury rice and lentil pancakes) with her chicken curry to last us until dinner time, it was delicious and very filling!
We made it in time to catch the 2 o’ clock bus from Jasing (Melaka) to KL. It was sad to say goodbye to Sami and Dr Saras but we had to get to our 5pm appointment in KL and it was going to be tight because we had to rely on the vagaries of public transport.
When we were last in KL we met by chance a young businessman named Ihsan Husainy Hasbullah who owned a crispy pancake fast food outlet called Hot and Roll in the KL Central Market. (The Central Market is now a typical shopping mall and is no longer a fruit, veg, fish and meat market). We had left him our business card but not heard from him for 8 months. Then out of the blue, while we were in KL on this trip, he emailed us to say he had been trying to find our details to contact. Fortunately he emailed us while we were in KL on our 6North trip, which was perfect timing. Last time I was in KL Ihsan learnt that I am a Homestay mother in Adelaide and told me that he had studied in England.
This time I wanted to ask him on camera to talk more about those years and give advice to others about what to expect from the experience. We managed to get to the appointment on time. Ihsan met with us and we began our somewhat unusual interview at the counter of his stall. He told me all about what a Malaysian student could expect to experience as a new student in the UK and described his own experiences as reasonably typical of other Malaysian students at the time, mostly about the difference in the food and the weather and how important it was for students to adjust to cope with everything that was different. It resonated with my own experiences.
It was a very interesting and ‘confirming’ interview but Ihsan had to return home to cook his son’s favourite meal of Chicken Korma. We had to leave too to meet up with Alwin and Joo Ee so we thanked Ihsan for his time spent on the interview and kindness and that we hoped to meet again in future.
On my first meeting previously with Joo Ee I had had an instant connection with her as a ‘sister’. She was funny and easy to talk with. She wanted to treat us to another nice dinner. On our way to meet her it poured with rain. It was refreshing and cooling but the thunder claps and the lightning were so close and frightening that I was too scared to go outside so we stayed indoors to organise a sim card for our ‘phone so that we could communicate with people to avoid inconveniencing them. Plus we were going to be in Singapore next for one night only and didn’t want anything to reduce the time we had available.
Getting this sim card wasn’t as easy for us as foreigners. It is so much easier in Adelaide, like our most recent student from China recently found out. We expect convenience everywhere. It took us ages in KL to get approval for a sim card that we were only going to use for less than a day and a half. We were asked so many questions by the supplier who needed to photo copy of our passport for mere MR$10.00 credit (AUS$3.30!!) It seemed to take hours to process. In Adelaide it is a matter of a few moments. Life is so convenient in Adelaide, that’s why many students like to study here, they tell us in preference to other Western countries. I can”t believe the difference between the two countries in this regard and I think this is an area for improvement in Malaysia for the benefit of tourists. As soon as our phone was connected the backlog of missed calls and SMSs came flooding through……. as well as the constant calls to upgrade our phone service!! Not happy Jan!!
Armed with our ability to connect on the phone we came out into the night scene of heavy rain and lights reflecting on every wet surface. Finally we were able to use our phone and message Joo Ee to say that we were ready. The traffic was almost at a stand still because of the mass of cars and difficult visibility. What was more dangerous than the traffic was the risk of walking into puddles on the footpath because these puddles can easily be a flooded open drain! We decided on an easy pick up point for Joo Ee to stop but actually it was very tricky for us to cross the road to that point. When she arrived we filled her car with moisture because we were soaked to the skin. She wanted to take us to a North Indian restaurant because she knew that was my father’s origin. She grew up with Indians and can speak the language and likes the food. She says she’s like an Indian girl in a Chinese body.
There is no shortage of eating places in Malaysia. It might actually be as cheap to eat out than cook at home. The demand of better quality and variety is obvious and competition must be strong. People are eager to try what’s latest and what’s Western. If a restaurant has many diners on show then it is great for them because this attracts more… and new diners queue up feeling comfortable that the food must be good here.
So there are parts of the city where the wealthy and middle class are eager to try something new and expensive and yet you can find plenty of other areas where there are great restaurants that aren’t so expensive. I don’t think you will go hungry in Malaysia even if you only had a few dollars to spare each day. You can enjoy Mee Goreng, or Nasi Goreng and Roti Chani at all hours of the night. Life’s not cheap in the West concerning food and some have to rely on welfare and charity support just to eat.
Now this may come as a surprise to you but my stomach isn’t as tough as it used to be and I get an upset tummy every time I go to Malaysia. I really enjoyed the meal with Joo Ee and Alwin who came to join us later. We returned home that night with Alwin because his home was much closer to the early morning bus to Singapore than his parents place at MBCS where we usually stay. We had another late night and an early start again the next morning. Yikes…such an active life for such an old girl… The next morning I was on my way to Singapore to see why students from Singapore would wish to study in the West, especially Adelaide…. Stay tuned.