Ah come on all you lads, let’s forget and forgive / there’s a world to explore

We went to Malaysia.

On our third day there, we were lucky enough in Kuala Lumpur to bump into Peter Hoe. Brigid had writ­ten pages of notes for our ten days tour­ing across Malaysia, most tak­en from the web – from Tri­pAd­vi­sor and the like. Some were not as help­ful as we’d hoped they might be (like the Dim Sim up by the Thai bor­der, which was a bit of a dri­ve from the Traders Hotel across from the Petronas Tow­ers, although our nav­i­ga­tor almost got us there a few days lat­er but that’s anoth­er sto­ry). Oth­ers, such as the tip about Peter’s Empo­ri­um, just off Chinatown’s famous Petal­ing Street, were bang on.

We’d wan­dered down, through Chi­na­town, past the intrigu­ing T-shirt that asked ques­tions about this strange­ly enig­mat­ic coun­try, stuck some­where between a pre-medieval Arab world and the mid-21st cen­tu­ry in South East Asia.

We’d decid­ed (ok, I decid­ed, based on a few guide­book or vague mem­o­ries from a taxi dri­ve a year ear­li­er) to check out Cen­tral Mar­kets. I like a noisy, over­crowd­ed Asian mar­ket as much as the next over-heat­ed tourist. Sad­ly KL’s Cen­tral Mar­ket was not it. Appar­ent­ly, it used to be just that, but now it’s a very sani­tised, clean, bor­ing waste of space full of ‘eth­nic’ knick-knack shops stocked with items from Bali.

So we left and wan­der­ing in ever increas­ing cir­cles in the 35 degree mid-day sun look­ing for some­thing, until Brigid sug­gest­ed we search out the rec­om­mend­ed Peter Hoe (every­body say….) Empo­ri­um, and we found it, hid­den away on the sec­ond floor of an old build­ing, with­out a sign.

We actu­al­ly stood out­side it for ten min­utes, smil­ing at the nice Indi­an girls, vague­ly look­ing around and feel­ing lost, like the out of odds tourists we were – until we not­ed the build­ing num­ber. Gosh, this was it, how sil­ly. We went in, up to the sec­ond floor.

Peter’s place was an oasis, a refuge from the heat. And whilst Brigid and San­dra wan­dered around (look­ing at the items, most­ly from Bali but very well select­ed), Blake and I went into the café. I bought a Lemon drink.

Two actu­al­ly.

And looked around for a hat (Brigid said I already had one in Bali so it was a waste – she bought me a trav­el iron instead, but that was lat­er…)

And out came Peter. The build­ing, he said, was once the tallest in KL. So much so that the Japan­ese Kem­peitai had used the place as their head­quar­ters dur­ing the occu­pa­tion. He point­ed out the rem­nants of the room divides that once broke the large room down into small­er units and men­tioned that the rooms were where the Japan­ese broke peo­ple down too. It was a chill­ing thought that six­ty years ear­li­er this oasis was once a place of screams.

Peter felt he’d exor­cised the ghosts of those days by remov­ing the par­ti­tions and fill­ing it full of rather more beau­ti­ful rooms and we nod­ded but won­dered all sorts of unhap­py things any­way.

In a city like KL, or indeed any Asian city, you need a Peter Hoe, oth­er­wise you spend your time wan­der­ing waste­ful­ly around the likes of the Cen­tral Mar­kets.

So we lis­tened to his advice on things to do and food and head­ed off in the direc­tion of the rec­om­mend­ed Islam­ic Arts Muse­um next door to the impos­ing, although rather clin­i­cal look­ing, Nation­al Mosque (there are some stun­ning mosques in KL but this, from the out­side at least, is not one of them).

We quick­ly realised that, as help­ful as Peter was, clear­ly he was not one who walked. His instruc­tion of a five-minute easy stroll, under the won­der­ful old colo­nial rail­way sta­tion (although as Blake point­ed out, per­haps not so won­der­ful to the depor­tees select­ed by the for­mer ten­ants in Peter’s build­ing, to go north to Thai­land in 1942–3) was opti­mistic.

Half an hour lat­er, through the trop­i­cal mid­day heat and over the rail­way sta­tion, we arrived.

We wan­dered the muse­um for some hour or two, and the fab­rics, cal­lig­ra­phy, weapon­ry and much more were inspir­ing­ly beau­ti­ful in their exe­cu­tion and detail. I par­tic­u­lar­ly enjoyed the Islam­ic archi­tec­ture room but was not alone in not­ing that the prophet’s palace in Med­i­na (it’s the one at the front of the pho­to in the link) was quite mas­sive and think­ing that he was per­haps anoth­er reli­gious ‘prophet’ who had decid­ed that claim­ing a direct line to the lord was an easy way to a not insub­stan­tial fol­low­ing and lifestyle.

And we wan­dered through the ‘Women in Islam’ exhi­bi­tion, but felt uneasy that 14 cen­turies of Islam seem only able to pro­duce some thir­ty women wor­thy of note and many of those pro­filed here were pro­filed as pow­er­ful wives or moth­ers of male rulers. It was uncom­fort­able and both Brigid and I com­ment­ed that they did them­selves few favours with this exhi­bi­tion.

That evening we wan­dered to Peter’s next rec­om­men­da­tion, a lit­tle Chi­nese hole in the wall just south of the Buk­it Bin­tang strip. Amongst the best Chi­nese food in KL said Peter and he was not far off.

The Paper Chick­en, as greasy and unhealthy as we knew it was, was just fine, and we com­pen­sat­ed our­selves by remind­ing our­selves of our morning/afternoon walk.

The own­er, a Chi­nese-Malay woman called Jes­si­ca arrived and announced that she’d lived in Papaku­ra for many years, with her Welsh hus­band. I don’t think many New Zealan­ders make it south of Jl. Impi to the small food dis­trict she oper­at­ed in, or at least she said so and we talked for quite some time.

She was enthu­si­as­tic. She was also opin­ion­at­ed.

She tore into all sorts of peo­ple: Maori, Unions – well actu­al­ly that was the core of it – over and over. And New Zealand. My very good friend, Blake, who is half Maori and a for­mer Union nego­tia­tor, sat very qui­et­ly. I was quite proud of him as a less­er per­son would’ve tak­en her strong­ly to task – tak­en those gap­ing chasms in most of her rants and dri­ven a Toko­roa Tim­ber truck & trail­er through them.

But I guess she smiled so much and chat­tered so sweet­ly that he couldn’t bring him­self to do it. And then after all that, she grinned and said she’d kept her NZ res­i­den­cy – just in case y’know…

We won­dered what hap­pened to Jen­nifer?

You see, next door was a rather upmar­ket look­ing café: ’Jen­nifer: Tai­wanese Food’. Some­body had put a bit of mon­ey, effort and thought into the place. That said, though, it was a week­end night and the lights were off. Every­where else in the precinct was busy but Jen­nifer was tut­up – closed.

We asked Jes­si­ca but she was very cagey: some­thing about an affair with the Myan­marese chef. But it didn’t wash, it sound­ed very non-com­mit­tal. We looked and won­dered, but it seemed Jen­nifer had clear­ly gone. Maybe she’d decid­ed that the com­ple­tion was too much and hopped it back to Tai­wan with the guy from Myan­mar. But it seemed strange that Jes­si­ca, who had an opin­ion on most things, had no real idea where her next door neigh­bour was.

Where is Jen­nifer?

Thank you, Peter.

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