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A Zen Experience @ The Selangor-Japan Friendship Garden, Shah Alam

Malaysia and Japan have long enjoyed good bilateral ties – and it’s no secret that Malaysians love everything Japanese, from its food to its culture and traditions. Anything trendy from Japan, such as discount chain store Don Don Donki (which opened last year), or brands such as Daiso, Uniqlo, and Muji, are hugely popular – as are the slew of notable Japanese restaurants (especially in KL) that are always packed with customers. Pre-pandemic, Japan was also one of the top international tourist destinations for Malaysians.

While COVID-19 has dashed many hopes for the latter, fret not. You can still experience a slice of Japan, right in the heart of the Malaysian capital: at the Selangor-Japan Friendship Garden in Shah Alam.

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Opened in March 2021, this beautiful park spans 2.4 hectares and is located adjacent to the Shah Alam Lake Gardens. Built at a cost of RM3.8 mil, the garden is meant to symbolises the warm ties between the goverments of Selangor and Japan, on top of being an added attraction for the state. For those who have missed travelling to Japan, a trip to the garden might just be what you need to cure your Japan blues.

Video below:

I came here with my parents a few months ago (but only got down to posting about it now :P)
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The gardens are beautifully landscaped, with five themed zones. Just next to it is the famous Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Mosque (also known as the Blue Mosque), its dramatic spires and giant dome peeking from above the tree tops.

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Expect to see Japanese-inspired features here, including trimmed bonsai trees, traditional torii gates which are commonly found at Japanese shrines, as well as fixtures such as tsukubai (washbasin – pictured).

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The central feature is a huge pond stocked with colourful koi fish. You can buy feed from the counter to feed the fishes and turtles.

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Next to the pond is the Rumah Selangor (Selangor House), which provides some welcome respite from the heat. For those who want the full experience, you can rent some summer yukatas to wear and imagine that you’re in an authentic Japanese garden. There is also a small museum at the back with displays of items from Japanese culture such as clothing and traditional dolls.

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We might not have sakuras in Malaysia, but these gorgeous bougainvillea blooms are just as pretty
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Meander along the shady pathways, past a maze of waterways and over small bridges with exquisite architecture, or just sit down on one of the benches and wile the morning away.

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Course, not all of the plants are similar to Japan, but I think the landscape architects did an excellent job at replicating the ‘feel’ of an authentic Zen garden.
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The garden has reflexology paths as well, where visitors are encouraged to remove their shoes and walk on the stones, which purportedly helps with improving blood circulation.

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Bamboo trees add to the authenticity
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The Zen garden section boasts features such as carefully stacked stones and meticulously spread-out gravel. In traditional Zen philosophy, this stripping of nature to its barest form is meant to promote meditation and bring out the meaning of life.

We spent a good hour strolling through the garden, and since it was the afternoon, we had the whole place to ourselves. Best of all, entry is free!

The garden is open daily from 10AM – 6PM.

SELANGOR-JAPAN FRIENDSHIP GARDEN

Persiaran Bandar Raya, Seksyen 14, 40000 Shah Alam, Selangor

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Photowalk: Things to See and Do Around Dataran Merdeka, Kuala Lumpur

How often do you play tourist in your homeland?

Pre-COVID, I always wanted to ‘discover’ new places and experiences – but this pandemic has made me realise that these things can be had, even in our own backyard: it’s all a matter of how you ‘frame’ it. Even something like grocery shopping can be an adventure!

The hubs finally arrived in Malaysia over Christmas, and while dropping off supplies at his quarantine hotel near Dataran Merdeka in Kuala Lumpur, I took the chance to do some sightseeing – and was pleasantly surprised at how much there is to explore within this small but historically-rich area.

Video below. Subscribe if you haven’t already! πŸ™‚

Video has some extra portions that include Bukit Bintang.

DATARAN MERDEKA

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There’s something very powerful and moving about being in places where history was written – you get a sense of being separated only by time, and not by space. Dataran Merdeka, or Merdeka Square, is one such place. It was where Malaya declared its independence from British colonists, where the Union Jack flag was lowered and the Malaysian flag hoisted in its place, and where our forefathers basically laid the foundations of our country.

The field was not purpose-built for this; rather, it was formerly used as a cricket field for the adjacent Royal Selangor Club, which was a country club for wealthy British and government officials. Fitting, then, that it was repurposed – I find the idea of taking something that stood for colonisation and reclaiming it as our own quite poetic.

Standing underneath the giant flag pole facing the green, it’s easy to visualise how this place would have looked like years ago – minus the modern skyscrapers – and marvel at how far we have come as a nation.

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At 95m high, the flagpole at Dataran Merdeka is one of the tallest flagpoles in the world!

SULTAN ABDUL SAMAD BUILDING

Even if you’re not a history buff, there are many beautiful historical buildings around Dataran Merdeka that make for great photos, such as the Sultan Abdul Samad building. Completed in 1897, it was used to house British government offices, and then the Malaysian Courts, post-independence. It is currently home to offices of the Ministry of Communications and Multimedia, as well as the Ministry of Tourism and Culture.

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Spanning two floors, the building is an eclectic mix of architectural styles, such as Indo-Saracenic and Neo-Mughal, which were popular in British colonies such as India, Sri Lanka, and Malaya. The arched windows are distinctively Moorish, and the towers are topped with copper domes, which are common elements in Muslim architecture. One of the building’s highlights is the clocktower, which was designed to mimic London’s Big Ben. It first chimed at the building’s completion, and has continued to do so ever since.

ROYAL SELANGOR CLUB

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As mentioned earlier, the field that is now Dataran Merdeka formerly belonged to the Selangor Club (now the Royal Selangor Club) – a clubhouse founded by the British administration as a place for British elites to gather and socialise. The club still stands, boasting Mock Tudor design and the style’s distinctive ‘striped’ look (which is meant to mimic historical homes with half-timbering effects).

Access is for members only, where they can enjoy facilities such as football fields, pool and billiards rooms, squash courts, tennis courts, as well as bars, lounges and restaurants. Pre-pandemic, there were tours that the public could join for a glimpse inside the exclusive clubhouse.

OLD CHARTERED BANK BUILDING / MUSIC MUSEUM

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Sporting similar Mughal architecture as the Sultan Abdul Samad Building across the road, the old Chartered Bank building was the very first bank to open in Kuala Lumpur. Aside from scalloped windows and a signature arched entrance, the building also has four large domes on each of the roof’s corners. An interesting story: as the buildings here are close to the river, the area was prone to massive floods before KL upgraded its flood and drainage systems. In 1926, a severe flood caused damage to millions worth of bank notes in the bank’s vault. So they took them out and laid them on the field to dry in the sun. It must have been quite a sight!

The building now hosts a Music Museum (I visited back in 2016), which chronicles the history and diversity of traditional and modern music in Malaysia, with displays of instruments and more.

KUALA LUMPUR CITY GALLERY

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Just next door is another historical building: the former Government Printing Office building, which was responsible for printing all government reports, publications and other media. Today, it houses the Kuala Lumpur City Gallery, a tourist hub with its own museum, souvenir shop and cafe. There is also an iconic “I Love KL” sign outside the building, which is popular with tourists. The building’s Jacobean facade is a nice contrast to the other Mughal-inspired buildings in the area, and features details such as oriel windows (windows that jut out from the wall). Fun fact: as electricity was not available at the time (the building dates back to the 1900s), the building was designed with lots of windows so that workers at the press could work better with natural sunlight.

I wanted to pop in for a visit, but unfortunately they were closed for cleaning. KL suffered a bad flood in December, and the KL City Gallery was also affected.

KUALA LUMPUR LIBRARY

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Bibliophiles will want to stop by the Kuala Lumpur Library (Perpustakaan Kuala Lumpur), which has an extensive collection of physical books as well as audio visual materials. You have to register as a member to enter, though, but the process should be quick and easy. Bags need to be placed in lockers. The library is open in the afternoon on Mondays, from 10am – 6.45pm from Tuesdays to Fridays, and 10am to 5pm on weekends. It is closed on the first Saturday and Sunday of each month.

RIVER OF LIFE MASJID JAMEK

A short walk away from Dataran Merdeka is the confluence where two rivers meet; namely the Gombak River and the Klang River. They come together in a Y-shape in front of Masjid Jamek β€” the oldest mosque in Kuala Lumpur β€”Β which was built in 1909 and was designed by (surprise!) a British architect. Although opinions might differ, I like to consider this place the true ‘heart’ of Kuala Lumpur, as opposed to the Petronas Twin Towers or even the Golden Triangle of Bukit Bintang. This is where KL got its name, as the Gombak River was once known as ‘Sungai Lumpur’ (literally ‘muddy river’), and Kuala Lumpur itself means “Muddy Confluence”.

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There are two bridges spanning the river, one located right in front of the mosque, which is the perfect spot for photos. You’ll also get to see the Kuala Lumpur Tower and Petronas Twin Towers in the distance. The walkway between the River and the back portion of the Sultan Abdul Samad building is nicely paved, and lined with greenery.

If you come at night, you’ll get to see a wonderful light show! This is part of the River of Life project, a river beautification and clean-up project by the government.
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Back portion of Sultan Abdul Samad Building.
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Morocco vibes
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View from the bridge near Masjid Jamek.
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Masjid Jamek compound.

If you’re interested in visiting the mosque, it is open to visitors β€” but non-Muslims would have to wear a robe or scarf to cover up. If you’re a man and wearing shorts, they have sarongs on hand too.

Dataran Merdeka is also quite close to Petaling Street (Chinatown), but I’ll detail that in another post. The area is central and easily accessible via public transport, including the LRT (Masjid Jamek stop). From there, Dataran Merdeka is a five minute walk away.

And there you have it! I hope this mini-guide has been helpful. If you liked this post, please consider supporting my blog via Patreon, so I can make more. Or buy me a cup of coffee onΒ PaypalΒ @erisgoesto.

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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. πŸ˜› 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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Malaysian Neighbourhood: A Photo Series

I’m back!

I know, I haven’t updated for close to a month now. Being cooped up at home is getting stressful, even for shut-ins like me who can go for long periods of time without human interaction lol. Even embroidering (hobby I picked up earlier this year) has lost its spark.

For some reason, I can’t seem to get out of this state of languishment. I dread having to submit work these days, despite having the luxury of working from home. Also I had a COVID scare a couple of weeks ago; tested negative and recovered from the flu, but ever since then I’ve been having trouble breathing / a feeling of tightness in the chest. The doc says it could be GERD, but it could also be anxiety.

I feel slightly better this past week, so I’ve been going for walks around the neighbourhood, just to get out of the house and get some fresh air. It’s funny how being deprived of the basic freedom of going out without worry, changes the way you see things. Every leaf seemes greener, and I notice tiny details, on shrubs and flowers and on the ground, that I would never have paid attention to before. It’s true what they say about not knowing what you have until it’s gone.

Here are some photos from my walkabouts. Enjoy!

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The park near my home is small but pretty. It hasn’t been well kept so there are a lot of leaves and branches strewn around, but it’s still a good place to go jogging. But if you’re a mosquito magnet like me, don’t go in the evenings. Alternatively slather on some repellent.
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It’s mango season. I never noticed how many houses in my neighbourhood have mango trees.
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Also papayas

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Bougainvilleas are also called ‘paper flowers’ (bunga kertas) in Malay because of their thin petals.
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There’s a house a street away from where I live that has this beautiful garden in front, and it’s always bursting with blooms.
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Ixora, known locally as bunga jenjarum (needle flower). When we were kids, my brother and I often chained the flowers together to make garlands.
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Yellow alamanda

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A neighbourhood tuxedo meow in the grass. Despite its grumpy look, it was actually very friendly and allowed me pats.
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My parents have been into gardening these days.

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Notices prohibiting people from going to the adjacent neighbourhood.

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The Malaysian national flower, Bunga Raya (hibiscus).

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Hope you enjoyed this photo series!

2021 is coming to a close; I feel like I haven’t even processed 2020 yet lol.

Hope you’re all doing okay, wherever you are.

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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 β€” 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 β€” 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! πŸ™‚
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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 β€” 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.

Have You Ever Seen Kuala Lumpur This Empty?

With its glitzy array of shopping malls and eclectic mix of restaurants, cafes and entertainment outlets, Bukit Bintang is often dubbed the heart and soul of Kuala Lumpur. The main thoroughfare – Jalan Bukit Bintang – used to see a constant flurry of activity day and night, especially near Pavilion KL, one of the country’s premiere shopping destinations. Things are much quieter these days due to the pandemic.Β  Granted, it was drizzling during my visit – but it’s still odd to see this usually bustling spot devoid of tourists.

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It’s notoriously difficult to get a good shot of the fountain in front of the mall, since there are always tourists / visitors milling about. Now’s my chance!

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The walkway connecting Pavilion Kuala Lumpur to nearby malls ie Fahrenheit 88, Lot 10 and Sungei Wang. In all my years of coming to KL, I have never seen it this empty.

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Decorations are also subdued. There are a couple of trees at the front of the mall for the upcoming Mid-Autumn festival, but it’s pretty toned down by Pavilion KL standards.

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This current pandemic has had an adverse effect on everyone across the world, not just in terms of health but also the economy. Hopefully it’ll tide over soon.

If not, we’ll just have to learn to live with it.

 

 

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.Β 

Enjoy!Β 

Location: TTDI MRT and TTDI PlazaΒ 

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