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Wat Chetawan – A Beautiful Thai-Buddhist Temple in Petaling Jaya, Selangor

Buddhism is a major religion in Malaysia, with around 20% of the population subscribing to the belief. As most devotees here are of Malaysian Chinese descent, many Buddhist temples in the country incorporate Chinese elements in their design and architecture, and tend to also include Taoism, Confucianism, and Chinese folklore influences.

Thai-Buddhist temples are much rarer, especially in the south of Peninsula Malaysia (there are more up north, due to their close proximity with Thailand). In Selangor, as far as I know, there is only one major Thai-Buddhist temple : Wat Chetawan in Section 10, Petaling Jaya. Tucked in a quiet suburban area, the temple is located just next to a church, and has over 60 years of history.

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The idea to have a Thai Buddhist temple was first conceived in 1956 by a group of Thai sanghas (monks). The proposal was well received by the Selangor government, who awarded the group two acres of land to build the temple. The project was also backed by the local community and sponsors. As a mark of the friendship between our young nation (Malaya gained independence in 1957) and Thailand, the late King of Thailand himself, Bhumibol Adulyadej, donated to the temple and officiated its opening when it was completed in 1962.

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Over the years, the temple has undergone a few expansions, and today includes several shrines, monks quarters, a columbarium, and even a ‘herbal sauna’ where you can go to relieve aches and pains (the concept reminds me of the Thai massages you can get at Wat Pho in Bangkok).

The main shrine is located up a short flight of stairs flanked by two multi-headed nagas, known as Phaya Naga (lord of the nagas). Nagas are mythical serpents in Buddhist, Hinduism and Jainism, but they hold special reverence in Thai culture as patrons of water and medicine, so you will often see nagas ‘guarding’ the entrances to many Thai Buddhist temples. A popular myth is that nagas dwell in the Mekong, and were even involved in the creation of the mighty river itself.

Video for those who are lazy to read (subscribe if you haven’t already!) :

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Before coming to the main shrine, you’ll pass by a pavilion housing a Phra Phrom (Four-Faced Buddha). Phra Phrom is a unique deity that is often associated with Thailand, and whose origins are believed to be Hindu (it is believed to be a representation of the Hindu god, Brahma). Thailand was once part of the mighty Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms in the region, and it is not at all surprising to see a blend of different cultures.

The Phra Phrom shrine here is decorated with colourful glass and mirrors, with offerings laid out in front of each altar. There are also small elephant statues surrounding it, as elephants are seen as symbols of good luck and fortune, as well as being the national animal of Thailand.

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The main shrine looks resplendent in shades of yellow and gold, with gilded windows and a curving roof topped with chofas (a decorative ornament at the corners, made to look like a tall, thin bird, or a horn).

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Two apsonsi flank the stairs leading up to the prayer hall. Apsonsi are mythical beings from Thai mythology, depicted as half woman on top, and half lion on the bottom. They are said to guard Himavanta, a legendary forest in the Himalayas that is full of magical creatures. Apsonsi aren’t the only chimeras in Thai mythology: there are also kinnaras – half-bird and half human celestials that are believed to be excellent singers, dancers and poets.

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After removing my shoes, I stepped into the spacious prayer hall. There was a row of golden Buddhas on one side, each holding a pot. Devotees can drop their donations to the temple into the pots.

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The Buddha statue in the main prayer hall was clad in bright saffron robes and seated tranquilly on a golden, intricately-carved dias studded with shiny pieces of glass and stones. The workmanship is a marvel to look at. Offered up a donation and prayer for good health for the fam and I – and an end to this pandemic.

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Coincidentally, a monk was offering blessings, so I joined the session. While chanting prayers, he sprinkled devotees with holy water. You can get bottled holy water as well to take home.

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Aside from the main prayer hall, there is also the Bhrama Pavilion, which houses a few other Buddhas and statues of former temple abbots.

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You can grab some free books on Buddhism in this area. The books are usually printed by religious organisations, and even devotees with their own money, as the spread of dharma (Buddha’s teachings) is believed to help gain good karma.

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As I mentioned earlier, the Buddhism in Malaysia usually has a Chinese influence, and this is no exception at Wat Chetawan. So amidst the elephants, roof spires and Thai-centric architecture, you’ll also find traditional Chinese influences: like this shrine to Guanyin (the Goddess of Mercy) which is distinctively Chinese – think tiled orange roof, topped by a pagoda and dragons. Next to it is another shrine housing the Matreiya Buddha (commonly known as the Laughing Buddha – a Chinese semi-historical figure-turned deity).

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You can light a pineapple-shaped or lotus-shaped prayer candle. Why pineapples? Well, I’m not 100% sure, but I think it’s because in Chinese culture, pineapples are seen as symbols of good luck and fortune, because they are called ‘ong lai’, which is a homonym for ‘wealth/prosperity comes’. As for lotuses, lotus flowers are a common motif in Buddhism – since they grow and bloom in mud, they represent purity, rising from murky waters.

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You can also find statues of characters like Son Wukong from Journey to the West – a classic 16th century Chinese novel based on the pilgrimage of Tang Xuanzang (he’s a real life monk who spent 20 years travelling from China to India to get sacred Buddhist texts).

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Even if you’re not a devotee, Wat Chetawan is a good place to visit for its beautiful architecture and rich culture. If you come on a weekday, when it’s less crowded, the surroundings are actually quite tranquil and conducive for meditation – or just to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Entry is free, and there are some parking spaces within the compound.

WAT CHETAWAN THAI BUDDHIST TEMPLE

No.24, Jalan Pantai 9/7, Seksyen 10 Petaling Jaya, 46000 Petaling Jaya, Selangor

Open daily from 9AM to 5PM

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Attractions in Jenjarom, Selangor – Ban Siew Keng Temple

It has been months since I last traveled anywhere other than a mall for groceries (due to the COVID situation in Malaysia) – but since travel restrictions have recently been eased, the fam and I decided to go on a quick day trip to Jenjarom over the weekend.

Tucked between Banting and Klang, about an hour’s drive from Kuala Lumpur, Jenjarom is a mid-sized town with a population of about 30,000. The town grew from a Chinese new village – settlements that the British set up during the height of the communist insurgency in Malaya so they could keep an eye on the local Chinese population – which is why a majority of the current Jenjarom residents is Malaysian Chinese, of Hokkien descent. In the 1990s, when youth unemployment soared, the area became infamous for gangsterism and other social ills such as prostitution and gambling.

Thankfully, these days, the town is better known for its tourism, especially from the Fo Guang Shan Dong Zen temple, a massive temple-cum-attraction by the Taiwan-based Fo Guang Shan monastic order. Chinese New Year is a good time to visit, as the temple holds a grand celebration every year, complete with stunning decorations. (I visited in 2017; read about it here.)

Although FGS gets more tourists, there’s actually another temple within town that is worth a visit. Enter Ban Siew Keng, which is located just a stone’s throw away from FGS.

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The story goes that there used to be four small Chinese temples in Jenjarom, each dedicated to a deity. It was costly and difficult to have four celebrations for each deity, so in the 1950s, the villagers pooled their money and resources to build a temple to house all the deities under one roof. Thus, Ban Siew Keng was born. The original building was a simple wooden structure, but it has since been renovated into the grand structure that we see today. The temple grounds have also expanded to include parking spaces, a food court, and a small but well kept park.

Video here if you’re lazy to scroll:

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Even the furnace for burning offerings is beautifully decorated!

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Stone steps leading up to the main shrine, complete with dragon carvings and the customary foo dogs guarding the entrance.
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Ban Siew Keng’s architecture is typical of many Chinese temples, in that it mixes elements of Buddhism, Taoism and Confuciusnism, as well as those of Chinese culture. Think red lanterns, dragons coiled around stone pillars and scenes of Taoist gods like the 8 Immortals hand painted on the walls, fierce-looking ‘door gods’ (they’re deities that guard the temple against evil spirits).

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The design here actually reminds me of Thean Hou Gong temple in Kuala Lumpur, especially the combination of red pillars and green roof tiles with blue and gold dragon motifs. Like Thean Hou temple, Ban Siew Keng also has a ‘dome’ on the ceiling above the altar, with a dragon at its centre surrounded with beautiful carvings.

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I also like the open space they have in the middle of the temple, which resembles the courtyards you find in old Chinese mansions. This allows for plenty of natural sunlight to filter in, so the space feels bright and airy. Despite the sweltering heat outside, the temple is quite cool, thanks to the lofty ceiling and marble floors.

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Scenes of gods and deities in heaven are painted all around the interior of the temple.
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The main altar is a spectacular piece of work, intricately carved and painted over in gold and red.

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The caretaker said it was okay to take a closer look, so I went right up to the front of the altar. Although it was mentioned that the temple was built to house four deities, there are actually five at the altar, including a Buddha. I recognised one as Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy in Taoism and Buddhism. The caretaker mentioned the name of the principal deity, but I forgot coz he told it to me in Mandarin and y’all know my Mandarin sucks, lol. 😛 There are two sets of statues on display. I’m guessing the smaller ones are from the original temples, as they look a bit weathered.

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Aside from the four main deities + Buddha, there are other deities as well, housed next to the main altar.
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In the old days, fortune tellers would setup their shop either within or outside the temple. You would get a ‘cheem’, or fortune stick, by shaking it from a wooden container until one fell out, then take the stick to the fortune teller to have your fortune interpreted. These days, temples use these contraptions where all you have to do is bunch up your sticks and drop them into the hole at the centre – the one that sticks up is your fortune. You then look for the slot corresponding to the number on your stick, and voila! Fortune.

Unfortunately, the fortunes at this temple are written in Chinese, unlike the ones at Thean Hou temple where you also get an English translation. So once again, my banana-ness proved to be a disadvantage.

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You can get a wishing ribbon to toss over the branches of the tree outside. This is more a cultural rather than a religious thing; in the old days, people would write down their wishes on ribbons and if you manage to snag it over a tree, your wish would come true, that sort of thing.

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The park outside is small but good for a short stroll. You can take photos with the 12 Chinese zodiac animals. Guess what my sign is?

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So if you’re coming to Jenjarom for a daytrip, do stop by Ban Siew Keng! FGS is a great place to visit and it’s much larger, but I think Ban Siew Keng has its own charm, and a very interesting history. It stands as a monument to the resilience of Jenjarom’s people, and how they’ve made a life for themselves from a small Chinese new village to the town it is today.

BAN SIEW KENG TEMPLE

Lot 5623, Jalan Sungai Buaya,Sungai Jarom, 42600 Jenjarom, Kuala Langat,  Selangor.

*No opening hours listed.

Getting there

Your best bet is by car, as there doesn’t seem to be a lot of public transport to Jenjarom. According to Moovit, the Wawasan Putera bus 730 stops at Jenjarom between Banting and Klang, and its 734 bus travels the route between Pasar Seni in Kuala Lumpur and Banting, with a stop in Jenjarom.

If you like this content, consider supporting me on Patreon. You can also buy me a cup of coffee on Paypal. Happy travels!

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Why Tamarind Square in Cyberjaya Is Perfect For Photographers and Lovers of Architecture

Brutalist architecture is characterised by functional, ‘soulless’-looking buildings, which often incorporate raw concrete and massive, monolithic designs with rigid, block-like shapes. The style was especially popular in the Soviet Union and its former allied countries from the 1960s to 1980s. Over the years, brutalism fell out of favour due to its association with totalitarianism and its cold, unwelcoming appearance — but the style has been seeing a comeback in the last decade, albeit with softer features and fixtures.

Tamarind Square in Cyberjaya seems to be one of these places drawing inspiration from a hipper, more modern version of brutalism, and industrial architecture. Developed by Tujuan Gemilang, the commercial development was intended to promote a ‘tropical retail and office experience’, and is arranged in an 8-figure courtyard with a ring road circulating the premises.

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On their own, the buildings might have looked austere and clinical, but the impact is offset by beautifully landscaped plants. Here you will find curtains of green draped over the side of metal walkways and staircases, and a cooling stream runs through the centre of the courtyard, which is lined with shrubs.The greenery is in stark contrast to the square’s raw concrete floors, stone pillars and exposed brick. Personally, it gives me a feeling of an abandoned place reclaimed by nature — and it’s easy to feel you’ve been transported someplace else, especially when there aren’t many people around.

Walking tour here:

Please like and subscribe if you haven’t already! 🙂
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Tamarind Square is spread across several blocks, with most of the shops concentrated on the lower floors of Block A. Aside from chic cafes and eateries, visitors will also find retail outlets selling clothing, eyewear and shops providing beauty and wellness services. The block is centred around a courtyard filled with plants and two-storey “stand-alone” shops. These are not connected to other shops within Block A, but can still be traversed via the ground floor and elevated walkways on the first floor. Pictured above is a shop called The Botanist (they serve artisan brewed coffee and handmade baos), which I’ve wanted to try for the longest time but unfortunately couldn’t on this particular visit. Other noteworthy cafes in the area include Herbs and Butter (Asian and Western fusion), Pastribella Bakeshop (cakes), Alcea Cafe (coffee spot) and Book Barter Cafe (they have book shelves where you can read while you sip on drinks).

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The layout of the place is such that you can round a corner and discover a ‘hidden’ nook, or staircases leading to your next adventure.

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The square is a popular place for photoshoots. During my visit, I counted no less than five couples, some with bridesmaids and best men in tow.
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Not all of the offices and retail spaces are occupied, which lends to the ‘abandoned’ vibe. But it’s good news for architectural photographers – you can basically take your time photographing and exploring without having to worry about crowds getting in your shot!

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Boardgame cafe
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I come to Tamarind Square mainly for BookXCess, which at 3,000 square metres, is the largest bookstore in Malaysia. Prior to the pandemic, it was also open 24 hours, so you could come for a spot of book-shopping if ever insomnia hits (is it just me?) Keeping to the theme, the store’s design is similarly industrial (it was apparently part of the car park — so you can see pillars with signs on them and yellow lines on the floor).

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Anddddddd self-control was defeated that day.

GETTING TO TAMARIND SQUARE CYBERJAYA

It’s best to drive or take a Grab, as public buses are few and far between, and do not stop directly at the Square. The nearest bus hub is the Cyberjaya Transport Terminal, 2 kilometres away. Driving, Tamarind Square is accessible via the MEX Highway from Kuala Lumpur, or if you’re coming from Puchong, the SKVE.

Tamarind Square, Cyberjaya

Tamarind Bldg Rd, Cyberjaya, 63000 Cyberjaya, Selangor

https://www.tamarindsq.com/

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Walking Tour: Bangsar South, Kuala Lumpur

Bordering the fringes of the Kuala Lumpur city centre, Bangsar South is perhaps best known as a modern business hub, home to multi-story office towers, luxury condos and chic retail outlets. The commercial area is nicely landscaped with parks, plenty of greenery and wide, paved roads, and the three main buildings – The Sphere, The Nexus and The Vertical – are all connected via convenient pedestrian bridges.

I was in the neighborhood recently and decided to walk around to take in the sights – here are some photos.

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I like how the area has been designed to incorporate lots of public green spaces, like this park with water features, sandwiched between towering offices. A perfect respite for office workers during lunch break.
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The iconic TM Tower, designed to resemble the shape of a bamboo shoot. It also looks remarkably like Stark Tower. When the Avengers premiered in Malaysia, the Avengers logo was projected onto the tower, as part of TM’s collaboration with Marvel Malaysia.
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One thing the Bangsar South neighbourhood has no shortage of: beautiful, modern architecture.
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Aside from offices, Bangsar South also boasts a repertoire of chic restaurants, cafes and eateries as well. Some of them are pretty famous; like Botanica + Co, SOULed Out, and The Farm Foodcraft. There’s also a branch of my favourite tonkatsu place, Tonkatsu by Ma Maison, here.
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Bridge connecting The Vertical, The Sphere and Nexus.

I’ve been watching a lot of walking tours on Youtube lately, so here’s my attempt at one! I don’t have a gymbal or anything so it might be shaky at times.

Registration of Marriage @ Thean Hou Temple, Kuala Lumpur

For non-Muslim Malaysian couples who wish to get married, there are a few places where you can get your marriage solemnized and registered; namely the National Registration Department, or a church, temple or association where they have an assistant registrar of marriages. In KL, Thean Hou Temple is a popular place for Chinese couples, as it is a beautiful venue that offers plenty of photo opportunities.

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My good friend Helen and her husband Hong initially planned to have their ROM here on May 20 (5/20 sounds like ‘wo ai ni’ / I love you – so it’s a very popular date! ) but due to the pandemic, it had to be postponed to July. Although the temple has reopened to the public, there are new SOPs in place – so be mindful of these when visiting for leisure, or if you’re attending someone’s ROM.

Note: This is a post on my experience attending an ROM as a guest, so I will not be including info on what documents you need / the procedure. Some useful links here and here. 

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Considered one of the most beautiful Chinese temples in KL, Thean Hou is eponymously named after its principal deity, the Heavenly Mother, aka Lady Mazu. Like many Chinese temples in Malaysia, the temple offers a blend of Buddhism, Taoism and cultural elements. Located atop a hill surrounded by lush greenery, the temple also has awesome views of the city and its surroundings, making it a popular tourist attraction.

To ensure health and safety, a canopy has been set up leading into the main building, with a clearly demarcated route – so you enter from one side and exit on another.

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The marriage registration office is located at the basement, where the temple’s food court and souvenir shops are. Before entering the premises, visitors will have to scan their details via QR code, and have their temperatures checked. Visitors are also required to wear face masks.

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The marriage registration office is divided into two sections. The front is a reception area of sorts – the couple gets a number, waits for it to be called, and then goes in to verify their details. Once that’s done, they can then proceed to rooms at the back where the actual solemnisation and signing takes place.

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Since ROMs are formal events, avoid wearing casual clothing like jeans, shorts or T-shirts and slippers.

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In light of the pandemic, only seven people are allowed into the room at any given time (including the couple). Helen had her sis/bro-in-law as witnesses, while Hong brought his parents and I was the +1 guest. So honoured to be part of their special day 🙂

In comparison to my own ROM at JPN (I got a rather chatty Assistant Registrar), Helen and Hong’s ceremony was quick and fuss-free. After signing some documents and exchanging rings, they were formally declared husband and wife in the eyes of the law, and given their marriage certificates. A life of wedded bliss awaits!

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We made our way up to the shrine and the temple’s magnificent courtyard for some photos. It was a Saturday but the temple was quite empty, so observing social distancing was not a problem.

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After the photo taking, the new couple left and I hung around abit more to explore/pray/snap more photos.

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There are new SOPs to observe when entering the prayer hall. Temple volunteers are at hand to control visitor traffic, and there are clear indicators on the ground as to where you’re supposed to go – as much as possible, they want visitors to follow these marks when offering up prayers.

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Vivid painting of a ‘door guard’ – images of fierce general-gods that are meant to protect the temple and keep evil spirits away.

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The principal deity at Thean Hou Temple –  the Mother Goddess. She is flanked by two other goddesses, Goddess of Mercy (Gwanyin) and Waterfront Goddess (Swei Mei). There are deity statues seated at the bottom of the large golden ones, surrounded by tall prayer light towers. Walls are lined with pictures of Bodhisattvas, donated by devotees to accumulate merits (or karma). You can get joss sticks outside by making a small donation.

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One of my favourite architectural fixtures at Thean Hou is the ceiling dome, which is intricately carved with a stunning pattern. The effect is mesmerising.

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Gone are the days of the traditional ‘kau chim‘ (fortune telling) where you shake a bunch of sticks until one falls out and you get a reading from the resident monk or fortune teller. These days, you grab the sticks from a holder, bunch them up and toss them. You get the number from whichever stick is poking out above the rest, then look for the corresponding number from the drawer and get your fortune. Hand sanisiters are placed next to them so you can sanitise before and after.

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You don’t say. 2020 has been a shitty year for a lot of people. ha 

 

Note: Parking can be difficult to find in the area. If you are driving, the temple has a parking lot but a RM5 fee (channeled to the temple as a donation) applies.

 

 

TTDI: A Photo Series

Hey guys! Not much to write about, so here are some photos for a change. These were taken when I went poking around the neighbourhood near my workplace during lunch break. Not sure if the places are empty because of the pandemic, or whether they’re always this dead lol. 

Enjoy! 

Location: TTDI MRT and TTDI Plaza 

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Visiting Tsukiji Honganji: Why Is There An Indian-Looking Temple In Tokyo?

There are plenty of beautiful traditional Buddhist and Shinto temples around Tokyo – but one, in particular, piqued my curiosity as I was Googling for places to explore around Tsukiji. Located not too far from where Tsukiji Market used to stand, Tsukiji Honganji is a Buddhist temple of the Jodo Shinsu sect, the largest in Japan, with a history dating back to the 16th century. What is notable, however, is the temple’s appearance, which is modelled after ancient Hindu / Buddhist temples from India.

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Physically, there’s nothing left of the ‘original’ temple, which was totalled in the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923. The current building was completed in 1934, and features many elements common to Hindu temples in India. Rather than the usual red typical of many Japanese temples, the Hongan-ji has a granite-brown hue; as well as dome-like shapes, elaborate carvings and even a pair of stone lions guarding the staircase to the main hall.

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The main hall, aka Hondo.

Japan is known to be more culturally homogenous than many other countries around the world, so it was amazing to see the blend of different cultural elements at the temple. While the interior features many Japanese elements, it also had foreign touches as well, such as a towering 2,000-pipe organ from Germany, and stained glass windows. I also felt it quite unusual to be in a temple with so little red – an auspicious colour for many East Asian cultures – but instead has lots of elegant black and gold.

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The main altar, with a Buddha at its centre. The temple also houses several important artifacts, making it a popular pilgrimage site.

 

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Getting There 

The temple is a 2-minute walk from Tsukiji Metro station.

HONGAN-JI 

3 Chome-15-1 Tsukiji, Chuo City, Tokyo 104-0045, Japan

Opening hours: 6AM – 5PM

Visiting REX KL – The Iconic Cinema Turned Creative Space In Kuala Lumpur

What do you do with a once iconic cinema that eventually turned into an abandoned eyesore in the middle of Kuala Lumpur? You give it a new lease of life – by turning it into a creative space for events and entrepreneurs.

Back in the 1970s, Rex Theatre, located close to KL’s Chinatown, was THE place to be. It operated for years before shutting down in the early 2000s, as people flocked to newer cinemas in glitzy malls, and ‘classic’ theatres, which did not have the facilities and technology to match, lost their appeal. The Rex Theatre was used as a backpacker’s hostel, low-cost housing and even an entertainment outlet, but the crumbling building was not well maintained, attracting drug users and unsavoury characters into its disused halls.

The old Rex Theatre. Image via Says.com and https://forum.lowyat.net/topic/3313616/all

It would have been easy to just bulldoze it down and build something new. After all, the old theatre was sitting on prime land that would be perfect for a shiny office building, another mall or whatnot. Instead, a project to revive the theatre, spearheaded by a group of architects, was put into motion, and REXKL opened its doors earlier this year as a space where entrepreneurs, small businesses and artists could meet, share and thrive.

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Went to check out the place over the long Malaysia Day weekend. Vestiges of its days as a cinema remain, such as the old fashioned tiled floors and signages, giving the space an air of nostalgia, while neon lights added to the retro vibe. On the ground floor, which sported an open layout, was a chic bar called Modern Madness Beer, an old-school barbershop and a cafe.

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Malaysia Day bazaar, with trendy outfits and flea market-esque clothing on sale.

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Hand made pottery

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Store selling various knick-knacks and curios, from camp equipment to traditional games

 

 

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We also bought a bottle of sugarcane tuak, a traditional fermented rice wine drink commonly enjoyed by the people of Sarawak. Although no sugar was added, the concoction was naturally sweet, with an alcohol level of about 10 percent.

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Moving on to the first floor, there were shops selling beautiful arts and crafts, such as bowls, handwoven items, bags, jewellery and souvenirs.

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A store selling items many of us growing up in the 1990s and before would recognise – tiffin carriers for food, vinyls, casettes, snow globes (do people still buy them these days?), paper weights, pen holders, and more.

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Spot Mr Pricklepants!

 

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Up on the second floor, we met Mr Lam Ching Fu, author of the book My Journey By Bus, in which he documents his journeys by bus around several states in Northern Peninsular Malaysia. The book is a fascinating insight into the characters he meets and his observations of the towns and places he visited, many of which are off the beaten path. The book is available in Chinese and English.

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A collection of Lam’s beautiful photos, mostly depicting scenes in small towns

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The bus tickets Lam accumulated on his journey

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Also on the second floor was the main theatre which has now been converted into an events/concert space. The hall was intentionally left looking unfinished, with a massive brick wall, age-darkened concrete and exposed skylights to give it that industrial, ‘abandoned’ vibe. REX KL regularly hosts bloc parties and music shows in this space, so visitors can keep updated via their Facebook Page. 

REX KL 

Jalan Sultan, 55000 Kuala Lumpur

Open Tuesdays to Sundays, 10 AM – late