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Tian Hock Kung – The Snake Temple of Klang

I’ve always had a fascination with temples—and being raised a Buddhist (the faith of which a majority of Malaysian Chinese people profess to), I’ve been to my fair share of unique places of worship in Malaysia. Among them are:

But just when I think I’ve seen it all, my backyard surprises me with a hidden gem — Tian Hock Kung, also dubbed the “Snake Temple of Klang”. I chanced upon some pictures online while doing research; there wasn’t a lot of info available in English, but it was enough to pique my inner travel journalist. So I decided to drag the Hubs, a fellow person of culture, on an impromptu adventure to seek out the place.

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Once the capital of Selangor, Klang is one of the region’s oldest cities, known for its colonial buildings and rich heritage sites. It has a huge Hokkien Chinese population, and as such, there are dozens of beautiful Chinese temples within the city, some of which are over a hundred years old.

Tian Hock Kung is tucked in a quiet locality next to the Klang River, a few minutes drive from the city centre. There are no signs along the way pointing to the temple and the building is hidden from the main road by foliage, but it’s not that difficult to find (you can Waze there, or look out for Klinik Kesihatan Sungai Berthek, which is just next to it).

Even though it was a weekend, and most temples would have seen at least some visitors, it was so quiet that we thought the place was not open to visitors. But since the gate was open, we ventured in cautiously. No caretaker was present; we were greeted only by a skinny black and white dog, ie the informal temple guardian.

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On the outside, Tian Hock Kung looks like an ordinary Chinese temple, with all the elements — curved orange roofs, lots of red, typical Chinese motifs. But as you walk closer, you’ll see why they call it Snake Temple.

In place of dragons or phoenixes, which are common motifs that represent auspiciousness and prosperity, you’ll find dozens of life-like snake statues and carvings; coiled around pillars in menacing poses and perched atop roofs.

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Even for someone without ophidophobia (fear of snakes), looking at the figures can trigger a feeling of uneasiness — even though they are clearly not alive. I think it stems from a primal sort of fear : a NatGeo article suggests that fear of snakes may be hardwired, a remnant from a time when being wary of dangerous animals gave humans an evolutionary advantage. Even though only one in five snakes are venomous (a smaller number are fatal to humans), and snakes are generally shy creatures that would run away from people rather than attack them, I think the natural reaction for many of us towards snakes is to get the hell away from them, lol.

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A large green snake figure surrounded by flowers and plants on a giant wheeled float.

There is also, perhaps, another reason why we fear snakes. Their appearance and slithering movements seem cold and alien; far removed from mammals like ourselves, and so unlike cuddly, furry animals such as dogs and cats.

PS: For those unaware, a majority of the Malaysian Chinese population subscribe to an amalgamation of Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism, the latter two which incorporates many elements of traditional Chinese folklore and pagan practices of ancestor worship. Tian Hock Kung is primarily a Taoist temple, but it has a Guanyin statue as well, which is worshipped in both Buddhism as a bodhisattva, and Taoism as a deity/god.

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So why does this temple have so many representations of snakes?

Since I couldn’t find a caretaker to answer my questions, I can only rely on info I found online (most of these are written in Mandarin, which I can’t read lol and had to Google translate— so excuse me if I get some things wrong in translation).

The deities worshipped here are three sworn brothers, and like many Taoist deities, they are based on real historical figures. They are Zhang Gong Sheng Jun, Xiao Gong Sheng Jun, and Hong Gong Sheng Jun. You will find their statues inside the temple, with the main deity sporting a green face.

I’m not 100% sure which brother it is (I think it’s Zhang Gong Sheng Jun) but the god has an affinity for snakes and was known for defeating a thousand-year old snake demon. He also carries a magical weapon that used to be a snake which he subdued. You can read about the legend here.

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The interior of the temple is quite spacious, and the ceiling features an octagonal window with a Yin Yang motif — the primary symbol of Taoism — surrounded by other Taoist symbols that represent the different Immortals, such as the fan, gourd, iron crutch, and flute. In the centre of the room are several small but intricately carved wooden shrines with wooden seats on them (I’ve seen this before and I think they’re used to carry the deity statues out on religious parades). During our visit, there were also large stacks of paper offerings, sorted into neat bundles.

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Of course, it won’t be a Snake Temple without at least one resident snake — a huge albino python in a cage in the corner. Apparently snakes used to come here from time to time (on their own). According to a China Press article, in 2011, a six-foot-long python climbed into the temple and made a cozy nook for itself behind the altar, just before the deity’s birthday celebration. However, the snakes don’t come anymore, likely due to the surrounding neighbourhood’s development.

PS2: The northern state of Penang, another Chinese majority place, also has a snake temple, but instead of being in cages, the snakes roam freely around the temple. The history behind that temple is super interesting too, but I haven’t visited, and that would be a story for another time.

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Wall paintings. I think they tell the story of the deities worshipped at this temple.
Not being able to read Chinese characters is a real bummer. :c
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The main altar has been designed to look like a cave, complete with stalactites and outcroppings. There are three nooks, each housing one deity. The main one, as mentioned, has a green face, with a dragon on its back, and many smaller deities at the base. There are also large snakes with glowing LED eyes on each side of the central altar.

Unlike Buddhist statues, which often have serene, calm expressions, Taoist gods can appear quite….intimidating. In Cantonese, we call it having a strong sat hei, or ‘killing’ aura — ie a fierce disposition which is meant to scare away evil. You need not fear if you’re not an evil-doer, but those with evil in their hearts, beware.

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More paper offerings, these in the shape of clothes.
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Why pineapples? Pineapples are symbols of prosperity and good luck — the Hokkien word for pineapple ‘ong lai’, sounds like ‘prosperity comes’.
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The entire time we were roaming around and taking photos, there was not a soul in sight. I would have liked to speak to the caretaker to understand more about the place, but it was also a positive experience in a way, as I could take my time exploring without having to worry about bothering anyone.

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While on my way to the toilet, I chanced upon an area that was almost hidden from sight, adjacent to the main building. Peeking in, I saw that it was a shrine to the Taoist god of the underworld, Yanluo Wang. The entrance was designed to look like the gates of Hell, flanked by Hell’s guardians in Chinese mythology, Ox-Head and Horse-Face. As the name suggests, they have the bodies of men, but the head of an ox and the face of a horse. They are believed to escort newly deceased souls to face Yan Wang’s judgement, where they will subsequently be sent to the different levels of hell for punishment, based on their earthly crimes, or sent on to heavenly realms if they’ve been good people. Trivia: Japanese mythology has similar beliefs, where they are known as Gozu and Mezu.

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If what the temple committee wanted to achieve was to evoke a sense of fear and apprehension, then they certainly succeeded. The shrine was located lower than ground level, so visitors would have to descend steps to get closer (I did not because no way, Jose), and it was also bathed in an eerie blue light.

Instead, I respectfully (call me superstitious if you like, better safe than sorry!) asked for permission to take photos (the husband, a Christian, looked at me with a funny expression at what must seem to him absurd; ie me talking to the air, lol).

There were baskets of paper offerings lined up on one side of the shrine, a small table and chair on the other with some teapots (for mediums to channel the gods, perhaps?) on the other. Like at the main shrine, Yanluo Wang’s shrine was made to look like a cave, with the deity elevated on an outcropping, flanked by his assistants, the Black and White Guards (Heibai Wuchang). Taoism is heavy on balance, and like the concept of Yin and Yang, the Hei Bai Wuchang represent rewarding the good, and punishing the evil.

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Before leaving, I paid a visit to the Na Tuk Kong shrine within the temple’s compound. You might be wondering why there’s a dome resembling a mosque, and why the deity within seems to be wearing traditional Malay clothes. Well, when the Chinese migrated to Malaya centuries ago, they brought their folk worship beliefs with them; that is, paying respects to the local guardians and spirits they may encounter in this new land. Malays probably have another word for it — penunggu.

Klang’s Snake Temple is an interesting look into the Malaysian Chinese community’s way of life, culture, and beliefs. It’s a unique mixture of adherence to long held traditions passed down through hundreds, perhaps thousands of years – combined with new influences shaped by centuries of migration and assimilation. Definitely one of the more unique temples around!

TIAN HOCK KUNG (KLANG SNAKE TEMPLE 巴生天福宫)

Lot 3115 & 3116, Jalan Siakap, Jln Tepi Sungai, Taman Teluk Pulai, 41100 Klang, Selangor

Opening hours: 9AM – 11PM (daily)

PS: I hope you liked this post! Please consider supporting my blog via Patreon, so I can make more. Or buy me a cup of coffee on Paypal @erisgoesto

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Pulau Ketam Day Trip 2022 — Selangor’s Unique “Crab Island”

If a foreign friend was traveling to Malaysia for the first time, where would you recommend they visit?

Perhaps Melaka for its rich history, Penang for its art and food, Langkawi for its gorgeous beaches, or Sabah and Sarawak for beautiful nature. Not forgetting Kuala Lumpur—the bustling metropolis and the heart of the Malaysian economy—with its eclectic mix of skyscrapers, glitzy malls, colonial shophouses, and chic cafes; a true melting pot of the region’s culture and influences.

Pulau Ketam, however, is probably not the first place that comes to mind. That should change — because it’s an excellent spot for visitors seeking something truly immersive and local. Doubly so for the Malaysians who have yet to pay this place a visit! You might be surprised at the unique experiences you can find in your own backyard.

Here’s a video for the lazy-to-read people. Also to give you a ‘feel’ of how it’s like on the island!

Located off the coast of Port Klang in Selangor, Pulau Ketam (or Crab Island) is a fishing village established in the 1880s by Teochew and Hokkien Chinese immigrants. The settlement, built on mudflats surrounded by mangroves, is known for its quaint homes and elevated pathways built over stilts, which gives them the appearance of floating over water during high tide. What started as a small fishing village soon grew; today, the island hosts some 1,000 homes.

In the past, the main industry in Pulau Ketam was fishing, but tourism now contributes a major part to the local economy as well. Visitors to the place are mostly Malaysians; the few times I have been here, I have not seen many foreign tourists. All the more reason to put it on your itinerary !

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GETTING THERE

Since there are no roads connecting the island to the mainland, villagers have their own boats in lieu of cars whenever they need to travel for supplies. As for visitors, the only way to access Pulau Ketam is via ferry from the South Port Terminal in Port Klang. If you’re driving, you can park your car at the Asa Niaga Habour City compound, next to the terminal.

The terminal can be quite warm, and crowded on busy days, but there is a canteen where you can order drinks and finger food, as well as stalls selling snacks. There are several ferry operators here, so once you step into the terminal you’ll be greeted by touts yelling out prices.

We went for the Alibaba Cruise (RM20 – return tickets, RM12 – one way) which is slightly cheaper than a speedboat. Regretted this decision, as even though they have scheduled departure times, they still waited for the boat to be full before they left the port. We waited more than 45 minutes on the boat, which was supposed to leave at 11.30AM, but only left around 12.15PM. -_-

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Either way, off to Pulau Ketam we go!

The ride takes about 30 to 40 minutes. If your boat has a deck on top, I suggest sitting there so you get a nice view of the mangroves. But maybe not in the afternoon because the weather can get extremely hot.

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WHAT TO DO ON PULAU KETAM

I last came here in 2016 and made a blog post about my trip (read it here) – so you can check the post out if you want a gist. This time around, I’m going to share more photos and commentary, because on my previous trip I didn’t really get to explore as much as I wanted to.

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Walk along the pier and enjoy the breeze. If you come in the afternoon, when the tide is low, you’ll see hundreds of tiny crabs and mudskippers crawling around in the mud (hence the name Crab Island).

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A new addition since my visit in 2016 – colourful signage and some nautical/ocean-inspired art installations. You’ll also find some interesting murals scattered around the island.

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Houses on Pulau Ketam are built on stilts measuring around 1 to 10 metres above the water. Most of the structures are made of either wood or concrete, as are the walkways that form an intricate maze connecting the many different parts of the village. Because of how narrow the streets are, there are no large vehicles, only motorbikes and bicycles. You can rent a bike to get around the island, but I prefer exploring on foot, since you can really take your time to soak in the sights.

Take note that most of the bikes are electric. Since they don’t produce a lot of noise, you have to be aware of your surroundings while making your way through the alleyways!

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Despite it’s remote location, Pulau Ketam is well equipped with all sorts of facilities. They have their own police station and volunteer fire brigade, 3 primary schools and a secondary school, a post office, and even a Maybank (so don’t worry if you’re strapped for cash – there’s an ATM machine within).

The internet and call quality is probably better than what I get at home (thanks for the ‘coverage’, Digi!), and they also have a constant supply of electricity and water from the mainland. You might still find a couple of homes with a rainwater harvesting system, which is what they used before a direct water supply was installed in 1991.

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Mini post office and souvenir shop.
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Pulau Ketam’s Jalan Besar (main street) bustles with activity, flanked by seafood restaurants, snack stalls and souvenir shops. It was high time for lunch, so we popped into one called Restoran Kim Hoe.

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Very Chinese decor. Bright red lanterns hanging from the ceiling, red fans, auspicious paper cutouts, red chairs and round tables, all the trimmings.
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It was just the Hubs and me and we didn’t want to overstuff ourselves, so we went for fried squid and kam heong style bamboo clams to go with our rice. The squid was fresh and springy, the batter deep fried to crunchy perfection. There was some seasoning in the batter so it wasn’t bland, and the chilli sauce complemented it well too.

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Bamboo clams get their name from their long, cylindrical shells. I think they taste like a meatier cross between oysters and Live Venus clams (what we call in Malaysia and Singapore as ‘lala’).

Because shellfish tends to have a briny, ‘fishy’ smell, they are usually cooked with strong spices such as curry and kam heong. FYI, kam heong is Cantonese for ‘golden and fragrant’ – a fitting name for an aromatic, rich sauce made from dried shrimps, curry powder, shallots, and garlic. Here’s another fun tidbit: kamheong is a Malaysian Chinese creation! Chinese immigrants here took influences from their Malay and Indian neighbours (hence the curry powder, dried shrimps, and other spices), added it into their own cooking, and voila.

The version at Restoran Kim Hoe is tasty. The clams were not cleaned thoroughy so there was a bit of sand left in them, but I understand that it’s difficult to get the sand out entirely sometimes. Otherwise, an excellent dish!

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Having had our tummies filled, it was time to explore the streets.
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Chinese immigrant communities back in the day were deeply religious and had strong beliefs in gods and the supernatural. More so for a fishing village, as they were dependent on the sea and nature for a living. As such, you’ll still find many temples scattered across the settlement. The one right after main street is probably the most photographed/popular, but if you wander deeper, you’ll find other temples too. Although small in size, the temples are colourful and richly adorned – great for photography.

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I love the detailing here! Aside from dragons, which are a common motif in Chinese temples, you can also see that they have crabs, as well as other sea creatures like shrimps, squid, octopi, and fish.
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An empty wooden altar in the hall next to the temple with phoenix, dragon, and cloud motifs.
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A shrine dedicated to the Thousand Hand Guanyin.
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Since most of the villagers built their own homes, no two houses on Pulau Ketam are the same and each boasts unique features. They’re mostly single storey, but there are some grander double storey homes as well. They’re also painted in various colourful shades. No two homes next to each other have the same colour – I wonder if they discussed beforehand like “Hey, I’m going to paint my house yellow, so maybe you can take blue instead?” xD

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Instead of cars, villagers have boats parked next to piers in front of their homes.
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Keep your eyes peeled for interesting murals. I like this creative piece – if you look more closely, you’ll find that the yellow guy on the left has an Ultraman tattoo on his belly drawn in the style of a Chinese deity!

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Many homes on Pulau Ketam leave their doors unlocked during the day – something almost impossible to see in the big city. But I guess if you’re stuck on an island (with their own police station to boot), it’s going to be pretty hard to run anywhere unless you have your own boat…

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A local Datuk Gong shrine.

Fun fact: a lot of people don’t know this, but the deity/spirit that the Malaysian Chinese here worship as Datuk Gong is actually – wait for it – Malay! That’s why you’ll often see the figure within these shrines dressed in traditional Malay clothing, such as a songkok and sarong.

The story goes that when Chinese immigrants came to Malaya, they brought their folk worship beliefs with them (specifically the worship of Tudi, or the god of the earth/the local deity of whatever land they’ve settled in). It was believed that the Chinese back then blended it with the animisme that some Malays practiced in ancient times, before they embraced Islam – hence why Datuk Gong has the appearance of a Malay personage.

This belief is also prevalent in other Nusantara Chinese communities, such as in Indonesia and Singapore.

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Someone’s hall in front of their house, complete with rocking chair to wile away the hours.
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More colourful homes. Some of these have been renovated and turned into homestays, but the more traditional ones are still made of wood.
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Another temple.
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A Taoist temple with a hexagonal window featuring the Yinyang symbol. There were a few very old, weathered looking statues within. Unfortunately the temple was not open during our visit.
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A clan association building.

Clan associations were the OG social networks – a place where people could mingle, and where they could go to for support, especially financially. In the 1800s, when many Chinese emigrated overseas in search for a better life, they often travelled long distances and arrived on distant shores with nothing but the clothes on their back. Clan associations were founded as a way to offer a support network for its members, and to build camaraderie and a spirit of kinship in a place far from home.

The associations would pool together resources to help solve problems that their members might face, such as securing a loan so start a business, buying land for burial, or building temples. They also facilitated personal and business introductions, and acted as important links to their homelands back in China. Some of these clan associations became very wealthy and powerful, such as the Khoo clan in Penang.

Today, clan associations are dying off because the roles they used to fulfill have been taken over by modern institutions such as banks or business associations. Also, many Malaysian Chinese communities no longer have any links to China. Their role, if any, has evolved to focus more on culture, education, and social service.

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A villager’s garden, filled with gorgeous blooms.
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Pulau Ketam is not very big, and you can probably explore everything within the day. We were done by 3.30PM, caught the next ferry back, and reached Port Klang by 5PM.

To be honest, nothing much has changed (aside from the addition of a couple more homestays?) – but that’s the beauty of living in a village like this. Seasons change, but the essence of the place – it’s quaint charm, the friendliness of the locals – remain constant. Personally, I love the story behind how Pulau Ketam came to be, as it’s a testament to the resilience of the Chinese immigrant community in Malaysia, most of whom came to Malaya with nothing, and built a life for themselves here.

There are a couple of things to remember while planning a trip here:

  • Bring a hat or sunscreen, as the weather gets super hot. Maybe because they don’t really have trees to shade the place, or because they’re located in an intertidal zone.
  • Most places operate with cash, but some have upgraded to accept e-wallets too.
  • Please remember these are actual homes and that there are people living in them, so be respectful.
  • The last ferry from Pulau Ketam leaves at 6PM on weekends, and 5PM on weekdays. While chatting with a local, she told me that some tourists forget this, miss the last boat, and are forced to spend the night on the island lol. Be mindful of the time!

PS: I hope you liked this post! Please consider supporting my blog via Patreon, so I can make more. Or buy me a cup of coffee on Paypal @erisgoesto

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Beautiful 130 Year-Old Malaysian Chinese Temple: Kwan Imm Temple, Klang

Mention Klang, and the first thing that comes to mind is probably bak kut teh – the town’s most famous dish comprising pork ribs, mushrooms and beancurd cooked in a complex broth of herbs and spices.

But dive deeper and you’ll find that the royal town of Selangor has plenty to offer, from vibrant cultural hubs – such as the Little India district, where one can shop for spices and sarees, or tuck into authentic Indian cuisine – to beautiful heritage sites like Kwan Imm Teng, a historic 130-year old Chinese temple dedicated to Guan Yin, the Buddhist/Taoist goddess of mercy.

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Founded in 1892, the original temple consisted of a simple wooden pavilion, built by Hokkien immigrants from China who settled in Klang during the tin mining boom. Since then, the temple has been relocated three times, to its current location along Jalan Raya Barat. Today, visitors are welcomed by an impressive outer pavilion, complete with studded wooden doors, lionhead-shaped door knockers, and lanterns.

Video below. Subscribe to my Youtube channel if you haven’t already!

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Entering the temple grounds, you will come to the grand-looking central pavilion. On both sides of the archways are granite stone carvings depicting figures of deities and dragons. Meanwhile, the building’s eaves are tiered and resemble clouds, while the roof boasts the signature Chinese temple look, with curved edges. Offerings of joss sticks may be made and placed into the large urn facing the structure. In the middle of the pavilion sits an intricately carved wooden shrine housing Budai, or the Laughing Buddha.

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Look up and marvel at the richly carved and gilded ceiling, which form a mesmerizing spiral pattern around several sacred symbols made to look like a flower. Coincidentally, you’ll see the colours of Buddhism (white, yellow, red, blue, and green) widely represented here. These colours are also common in Chinese culture and architecture, as they represent the five elements, namely wood, fire, earth, metal, and water.

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The temple’s spacious courtyard comes in handy during religious festivals or ceremonies.

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Moving on to the innermost pavilion, the structure features a more enclosed design, its facade mostly covered in intricate stone reliefs and carvings. Once again, dragons, deities, clouds, and flowers are common motifs — but instead of a curved roof, the inner pavilion’s design is features more tiers, and appears more angular.

Our timing was unfortunate as the hall was closed for prayers. I caught a glimpse of the interior, though, which has an even grander ceiling, as well as a large statue of Guan Yin.

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Fun fact for my non-Chinese friends who are wondering why dragons are so common in Chinese culture. In Chinese mythology and folklore, dragons are considered benevolent creatures, with magical powers that allow them to control wind, rain, and water. As such, they are meant to symbolize strength, power, and good luck. Some Chinese families still consider it auspicious to have babies born in the Dragon Year of the Chinese zodiac (the next cycle is in 2024, so if you want a Dragon baby, plan accordingly :P).

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Just outside the prayer hall you can perform kau chim, an ancient Chinese fortune telling practice which involves asking the divine for answers to any questions that a devotee has. The practice is said to have originated in the Jin dynasty around 3AD. And because Chinese culture has strong Buddhist roots, a lot of these folk practices assimilated into religion — which is why you’ll often be able to kau chim at Chinese Buddhist/Taoist temples.

Each cylinder contains a bundle of sticks, each with a number. Devotees shake the container until one falls out — then match it to the corresponding fortune. Back in the day, it was more common to find a fortune teller on site, who would interpret the fortune written on the paper in context to your question. These days, like everything else, it’s self-service. lol

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Just next to the inner pavilion is a smaller, simpler structure housing two Buddhas. This is actually the ‘original’ building before the temple was expanded, and you can see the foundation stone on one side of the wall.

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We’re not done exploring! Don’t forget to stop by the adjacent Chinese-style garden for some rest and respite from the hustle and bustle of Klang. It comes complete with pond stocked with koi fish, a small bridge, a gazebo, and plenty of greenery.

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A tranquil oasis in the heart of the city.

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To be honest, I’m surprised there isn’t more publicity for Kwan Imm Temple as a tourist attraction, given it’s rich history and beautiful architecture. While locals seem to know about it, I wouldn’t have found out about the place if I hadn’t specifically been googling “places to visit in Klang”.

So the next time you’re in town for a bak kut teh fix, allocate some time to stop by Kwan Imm Temple. Entrance is free. They’re okay with photos, but as with any place of worship, be respectful during your visit. 🙂

KWAN IMM TENG (KWAN IMM TEMPLE) KLANG

30, Jalan Raya Barat, Selangor Darul Ehsan, 41000 Klang, Selangor

PS: I hope you liked this post! Please consider supporting my blog via my Patreon, so I can make more. Or buy me a cup of coffee on Paypal @erisgoesto.

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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! 🙂

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 — the oldest mosque in Kuala Lumpur — 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 — 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 on Paypal @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. 😛 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 — 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:

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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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