Jan 21, 2014

I don't have an Indian friend, and Little India.

I celebrated my 22nd birthday last July. To be honest, I’m rather surprised when I realized that I’ve never had a real Malaysian Indian friend until Shaarmen.

(side effects of a Chinese primary school & high school childhood: not so muhibbah. but i'm learning!)

(This post will be slightly ignorant-racist). I was on assignment to write something on Deepavali, and it came as a shock to realize I don't have much (if any) Indian friends. Is that sad or what. 

Well, there’s that indian boy in primary school. We were in standard two, deskmates, spent most of our time playing eraser wars. I thought he was my friend. Until I lost my textbook for many many weeks, and then I found my scribbles all over the earlier pages of the textbook he was using.

See, scribbling pays off. He cried so hard and denied everything. The teacher scolded him and returned my textbook to me.

Till today I’m not sure whether he intentionally took it or it happened by accident.

Needless to say, we weren’t friends anymore. :(

I still feel bad about it though.


My second encounter with Malaysian Indians is with all the wonderful English teachers in my high school. In an effort to combat Chinglish, our school got lots of good Indian English teachers so the students will HAVE to converse with them in English. The plan worked a bit, I think.

Anyway, I loved Mrs Maniam, Ms Malini, Ms Regina, Madam Anna, Ms Manimala and all of them. Since English was my strongest subject (God knows how bad my maths and everything else is) I paid a lot of attention in class. HAHAHA.

Ok lah I talked a lot and ate sticky candies but still, impressionable 13-year-old me remembered this:

Mrs Maniam was talking about the wonderful topic of money, and she exclaimed something along the lines of: “if you give me RM1 mil, just let me go to Little India and I can spend all of it in 30 minutes!”

I remember thinking, "Wow, so Little India is shopping paradise for the Malaysian Indians." 
High school was also a period of constant public-transport-taking. and we kids would brave the tin can buses which cough up exhaust and always look like they’re on the verge of falling apart. 

These tin can buses have no air-conditioning, and the bus route to the main station always includes passing by Little India. 

I remember peering through the grimy half open windows, watching the Indians thronging Little India, but never gathering up the courage to step off the bus.
Little India remained a hazy memory of bus exhaust and extreme Malaysian heat; until last year, when Ling Ling suggested that we play tourist at Little India, of course I said yes. It’s time I step outta my comfort zone.

We wandered around looking at different shops and asking for saree prices.


But the cloth and handiwork are really gorgeous…. …. There are plenty of huge Indian clothing stores selling numerous bangles, sarees, textiles, Punjabi suits, etc. And business is good!

If I was a tourist, I would definitely buy one as souvenir. We kept ooh-ing and aah-ing over the stuff but walking away when they told us the prices :( 

Some cost upwards of RM1000, and average price is like RM200 plus.

I'll definitely buy one when I travel to India. Heh. 

It’s quite impressive, the way Malaysian Indians have managed to preserve their heritage so well. 

If you go Chinatown in KL, it’s more like banglatown and there’s no way you can find huge mansion-like stores selling cheongsams and samfus with good business, we Malaysian Chinese are abandoning our traditional clothing.

The only one I’ve seen is a small exclusive traditional nyonya cheongsam store in Jonker Street, Malacca. Cheongsam is a major outfit challenge, though.

I digress. 

The weather is just-right that day! It just drizzled a bit, so the air's pretty fresh, there's ample sunshine, and it's not too crowded. 

I’ve been craving for vaguely coconutty Indian sweets (oh I forgot to mention the Indian neighbor when I was a baby. We moved house when I was 9 so there wasn’t any clear recollection of them. But I remember the sweets and murukkus lah. Too bad neighborhoods today don’t do that anymore), so we bought some from a street stall.  


To make things worse, some vaguely synthetic weird perfume smell was wafting up from the Laddhu. HA I KNOW THE NAME OF THESE THINGS OK. 


(ok lah i googled)
After a couple more bites, I threw the rest away :(

I tried another candy store called Richman's though. It's so sweet, the back of my teeth ached from the first bite. No joke. But at least it’s nice, crunchy, and coconutty lah. 

We went on to buy lassi, checked out a dusty traditional frame shop (had a huge project going on heh), and also visited Klang’s oldest bakery.

Apparently it’s been around for many many years, and their pandan layer cake has been adorning ling’s family’s birthday celebrations for at least 24 years. The lady boss says they probably are. I bought the last slice of pandan layer cake on the rack while lingling joined a group of interested observers to watch the baker sifu make durian cake.


"durian cake by special order only."


We ended the tour with the flower stall street.
Somehow, there are quite a few funeral arrangements.  
Their flowers are like RM35 a bunch! While KK’s is RM50 per bouquet.

We were pressed for time that afternoon. I think I would love to go back and revisit Little India. So many beautiful shops to photograph and people to interview. And I think i saw a second hand furniture store there, a long time ago. Must go hunt. 

The Klang municipal council has prettied up the area a bit, made the pavements more walkable, added in heritage row signboards and such. Go for a visit! 

"wah this signboard got all languages, must take photo"

it's painfully interesting the way our government stresses on racial harmony.  It's Visit Malaysia Year 2014, they have a beautiful campaign ongoing, and RAW's doing his duty as a travel blogger to help out the #VMY2014 cause. 

Basically he gives different travel bloggers a set of questions on Malaysia. It's a good read. 

One question in particular stood out. I think i'll start asking this question a lot. 

"Did you find any place or thing that is overrated or underrated?"  

So I put this to an Australian friend.

She has spent a lot of time in Malaysia, and here are her answers: 

"That's a tough question. Overrated? I'd say it's ...... ....... ..... ...racial harmony. We hear so much about it but when i came here........ ......... hmmm. nope, not happening."


"Underrated would be, roti canai. It's my favorite food."

There you go, ladies and gentlemen. While politicians shout and holler about racial harmony, racial issues, then churn out the racial blah (re: case in point); i'm honestly tired of it all. 

It's these little things that matter, like a signboard that proclaims its message in ALL languages. 

I have one regret though. Why didn't i take up the courage to step off the bus all those years ago?

(all photos by lingling)

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, definitely racial harmony is over rated. It is not more than a mere slogan. But nice journey you had to Little India, Klang, Joyce.

    And the laddhu? No, I never liked it. It tastes so sweet and there is this herbs taste which I don't like. Hehehe