My last few days in KL have become challenging in terms of finding new places and activities to partake or discover. I have become too accustomed to the city; it really felt like second home. The McDonald’s store (near Mydin) that was being renovated before I flew to India has already reopened. I had to spend a few times at several internet cafes: at the Ambassador Hotel’s 2nd floor (3 ringgit per hour – open 24 hours), at a browsing shop called Kafe Internet in Chinatown (flanked by a 7-11 and a KFC, which has become my browsing shop of choice), a shop along Jalan Alor (cheaper at 2.50 ringgit, but god-awful speed) and at the 8th floor of Berjaya Times Square (with a hefty 5 ringgit per hour).
NEW HENTIAN PUDURAYA
It was such a thrill to find the renovated Puduraya Bus Station (Hentian Puduraya) almost completed, with escalators, gleaming glass panels and bright lights, and a spanking brassy façade. At night, they light up the still-closed side entrance lobby and it looks like the entrance of a hotel. I was told that the station reopens within the month, but thats what they said when I was here last July 2010.
There were still things I needed to do like the requisite shopping of gifts and my DVD hunt (one of my favorite activities during these travels). The 3rd floor shop at the Berjaya Times Square has already been closed by the frequent raids of the Optical Media authorities so majority of the titles I bought were originals from a nameless shop found also at the 3rd floor. I have been a customer of this DVD shop since 4 years ago every time I am in KL. They have a good selection of Japanese titles, but none else in terms of world cinema.
SUNGEI WANG SHOPPING AND DVD RAIDS
I went to Plaza Low Yat (KL’s largest IT Lifestyle mall) and checked out every floor, but nothing interested me, so I hopped to Sungei Wang (mall) where I was able to buy stuff for the family.
DVD stalls and shops in Sungei Wang sell both original and pirated discs mainly because the pirated titles aren’t exactly available for commercial release – so there’s no competition of commerce. The system here (as far as I can remember) is, you choose from an album of DVD titles, while they list down your choices (these are in codes like “W-067”, “J-742”). Once you have all of your choices, they will call these from somewhere, ask for a deposit (I was asked 50 ringgit deposit) then come back after 30 minutes to check out if the titles are indeed available, then pay for the balance.
Ninety percent of the time, this 30 minutes will stretch on for 45 minutes to 1 hour so do not bet on getting them earlier. From my choices of 30 titles (at 8 ringgit each), only 15 were available. I eventually left Sungei Wang with a lighter wallet and a huge smile on my face. I have to mention though that while picking out my titles, someone alerted them and they scampered like ants, hiding the albums into cabinets and hidden shelves. I was sequestered into the backroom while I finished choosing. Sounds familiar. DVD raids (for pirated discs) have finally reached KL.
I do advocate buying original discs, but the commercial titles leave so much to be desired. Truth is, majority of the titles that I got had no original equivalent in commercial shops so I do not understand these raids. If they don’t want people to buy pirated discs, provide these world titles in official commercial shops where cineastes can buy them!
Newly renovated McDonald's near Mydin and Chinatown (there's another branch beside Jalan Petaling which has busted AC's)
SRI GANESAR TEMPLE
That afternoon, it rained in KL; the first tears from the sky in a long time, so everyone was in high spirits. Nothing brings a smile on the face than a little fall of rain. After the gentle downpour, I discovered a surprise. I took a walk along Jalan Pudu until I reached 7-11, and discovered that there’s a Hindu Temple at the back of 7-11, at a road parallel to Pudu and rightfully called Jalan Pudu Lama. This Hindu temple was a welcome sight, but seemed misplaced.
Hindu temples are a rare sight in Malaysia. This was called Sri Ganesar Temple. I stood there for a while to observe the goings on. Food were being distributed and a tout (with his hotel brochures) stood beside me saying, “Food is free, you can go in and join them”. I smiled. I must have looked famished or penniless? Haha.
There were Hindu priests draped in typical South Indian longyi (lungi). Devotees were carrying coconut shells, lighting them up like candles, while praying or saying their intentions, before violently breaking them and mashing them in a concrete container (this was a common Hindu practice which I haven’t “studied” yet). It felt intrusive to go in so I just stood outside observing. I peeped through a hole from the side and looked further.
I have visited KL for so often and never knew such temple existed just a hundred meters or less from my hotel. I couldn’t believe it! The road beside the temple was sinewy and sloped uphill. Another discovery was that just at the back of Jalan Pudu was actually a hill; a quiet community far removed from the hustle of the backpacking urban jungle. There were guest houses (I saw a small guest house with some 20 tourists sitting outside) and big deserted houses that eventually led me to Tung Shin Hospital just a couple of blocks from my hotel.
Jalan Pudu a few hours after its first rain in a long time.
They take a coconut shell with them and light it like a candle while praying. After this, they violently throw them down a concrete (with all the intentions of breaking the shell).
Sri Ganesar Temple's inner sanctum. This is a stolen shot from the outside, thus the absence of flash (and a motion-sensitive photo).
DVD STASH AND TIPS ON AVOIDING CUSTOM INQUISITION
The number of my DVD titles have radically been depleted, but I felt there were very few worthy titles to purchase. Compare this with another long haul trip two years ago when I even crossed borders carrying about 60 DVDs which was a huge risk in itself.
If you’re from Mars and hasn’t been made aware yet, DVDs, VCDs and music CDs have become “regulated items” much like pain narcotics and sedatives. You cannot just buy them in a foreign country and not declare at the customs. My suggestion is: never handcarry them in your plane. Check them in along with your baggage, remove them from their DVD cases, place them in a DVD album and separate the covers and you will be spared from an intrusive and unnecessary inquisition. (My brother, bull headed as he is sometimes, got questioned once for carrying Vietnamese DVDs in his hand carried bag.) Also, it is better to keep the receipts, just to show them that these titles are for personal use only. (When you’re carrying 50 titles or so, that excuse won't hold water.)
For this trip, I was actually smug with my purchases. By countries alone, the list is enviable: one from Taiwan, 3 titles from Poland (which is a surprise since there is almost no audience for such films among mainstream Asian film goers), 1 from Portugal, Michael Haneke’s Oscar winning “The White Ribbon” from Germany (Oscar Best Foreign Language Film); a new film by one of my all-time favorite directors Francois Ozon called “The Refuge” from France; another French film starring Juliette Binoche called “Certified Copy” directed by another of my all-time favorite film masters, Iranian film maker Abbas Kiarostami; even Polish film master Andrej Wajda has a film (“Zemza: The Revenge”); a gay-themed Chinese film called “Spring Fever”; a Malaysian film called “Aku Masih Darah” which tackles religion and the new generation of Muslims (partly filmed in dreamy Cameron Highlands); a film that recollects the Chittagong revolution against the oppressive Pakistani regime called “Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey” starring Indian superstar Abhishek Bachnan; a giggle-worthy Indian romcom called “I Hate Luv Storys” starring the charming pair of Sonam Kapoor and Amir Khan; another favorite film maker, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s ”Guzaarish” (he directed “Sawariya”, “Black” and the modern classic “Devdas”); one Mexican (which tackles abduction and incest); one Korean; one Japanese; several Chinese films and a flick called “Miral” that tackles terrorism and the Arab-Israeli conflict, starring – hold your breath – Frieda Pinto (cinematic heroine of “Slumdog Millionaire”).
Now tell me I was wrong on being smug.
This is the Eye in the Sky!
When it started raining, I was walking along Jalan Bukit Bintang on my way back to my hotel. I saw a hop on-hop off bus and a poster of Korean superstar "Rain" who was going to have a concert. Justin Bieber follows in a few weeks. Filipino-American Superstar Bruno Mars ("Just The Way You Are") was also in town fresh from his concerts in Manila and Cebu.