After ten months, Malaysia finally lifted its interstate travel ban yesterday (11 October). The decision was made in light of the country achieving a 90 pc vaccination rate for its adult population.
Many are understandably excited at being able to see their families; while others are keen to travel again, even domestically. The recent Langkawi travel bubble — a pilot project for fully vaccinated travellers to visit the island for tourism — was seen as a success, generating some RM24.9 million for the local economy.
Personally, I’m still a bit cautious about travelling for leisure, because as much as I want to be out and about, I live with my parents and they’re in the vulnerable category. But I understand that achieving COVID-zero is now almost impossible — so the next best thing is to learn to live with the virus. For those who want to travel, I think the best that you can do is to use common sense (which seems to be severely lacking these days!). Wear a mask, sanitise and avoid crowded areas (if you see that a place is crowded, don’t lah go and berpusu-pusu there with no social distancing wtf).
Anyway, now that the PSA is over and done with: for those who are headed south, LEGOLAND® Malaysia Resort is slated to reopen on October 14. Legoland Malaysia is the only one of its kind in Asia — so families and fans will be able to enjoy a complete experience encompassing the LEGOLAND Theme Park, Water Park, hotel and SEA LIFE Malaysia once the resort resumes its operations. And even though they haven’t been able to operate for months at a time due to the pandemic, the resort has not been idle: there’s going to be a brand new attraction, called Planet LEGOLAND®. This immersive build experience encourages children and parents alike to unleash their imagination by building, unbuilding and rebuilding the world of their dreams with LEGO® bricks.
As guests arrive at PLANET LEGOLAND®, they will be greeted by a six-foot-wide LEGO globe built out of more than 200,000 bricks. The idea behind it is to envision a future filled with positivity and joy, something that the world needs to ‘rebuild’ following the aftermath of the pandemic. From there, guests are welcome to select one of four different themed stations to create their masterpieces: whether they prefer dragons, princesses, knights, vehicles, animals and creatures, or ninjas. Younger guests with smaller hands are not left out, as there is also a DUPLO® station. Once you’ve got your masterpiece built, snap a selfie with the model and share it using the #RebuildtheWorld, then place your individual models onto the globe!
Returning to Play With Safety in Mind
Like any responsible entity, the resort has health and safety measures in place. At PLANET LEGOLAND, there is a 2-metre distance rule, and the usual safety guidelines apply, such as face masks, the use of hand sanitiser and reduced capacity are enforced. All bricks in the space are also ‘quarantined’ for 72 hours after sanitisation, while build stations are cleaned several times daily. *Of course, PERSONAL responsibility is very important too, so do your part to be a responsible guest!
Welcoming guests back to the resort are a series of sweet deals. Purchase 4 Triple Park passes and you can get a 2D1N stay at LEGOLAND Hotel for free. The passes will also be eligible for upgrade to an annual pass. Meanwhile, those who already have annual passes can renew them at a 25% discount, so if you’re a family of five, you stand to save up to RM350.
Malaysia has come a long way from last year – and I don’t mean that in a good way. From being lauded as a ‘model’ for other Southeast Asian countries for its quick response to curbing the coronavirus pandemic, we now have the highest cases of coronavirus per million people, at 205.1 cases (at the time of this writing) – higher than that of India.
How did it go so wrong?
Well, if you ask me, it’s a combination of many factors: poor governance, weak leadership, a lackadaisical attitude and a lack of discipline among the public, poor enforcement, double standards… the list goes on. Malaysians are also notorious for being super invested and enthusiastic at starting things, but are terrible at sustaining them. Sure, in the beginning, it seemed like we had our shit together. Everyone cooperated, and there was a sense of solidarity that we’d all get through this together. But as time went on, people either got tired of keeping up appearances, or simply did not care anymore. There are some who have no choice but to be out and about, due to economic reasons. But there are also plenty who are contributing to this current wave because of a “it won’t happen to me” attitude. And frankly, as someone with two elderly parents in the vulnerable category, I find this behaviour disgusting, and I cannot fathom how anyone can be this reckless and selfish.
There was a viral post by a local doctor recently on how she had to perform an emergency surgery for a pregnant woman who was diagnosed with COVID, and yet STILL went to visit relatives over the holiday season, KNOWING FULL WELL she was putting everyone’s lives at risk, including that of herself and her unborn baby. It’s time like these that I wonder if there could be a waver of some kind; like if we know you’re going to contract COVID because you’re being a stupid idiot, doctors can refuse to treat your stubborn, selfish ass.
But we can all talk about my lack of faith in the human race until the cows come home; it doesn’t change the fact that we are in a serious situation. I’m not trying to be a doomsayer, but our front liners are exhausted and on the verge of a breakdown, many people have lost their jobs, our hospitals are bursting, and our vaccine rollout is super slow.
Which is why I signed up for the voluntary AstraZeneca vaccine programme recently. And I was very VERY lucky to be among those who managed to grab a slot, because thousands of others did not make the cut and will have to wait for whenever the next one, whichever brand it is, becomes available. Of course, AZ was not my first choice, but with how things are going, I think it’s the ONLY choice for many people to protect themselves and their loved ones.
To give you a bit of a background, Malaysia is supposed to get a bunch of vaccines from different countries. The three main ones are AstraZeneca (12.8 million doses), Pfizer (32 million) and Sinovac (12 million), and we’ve also placed orders for Sputnik V from Russia, and CanSino Biologics, from China. That sounds plenty for our population of 32 million. The problem, however, is that only a sliver of these orders have arrived in Malaysia, and our government is extremely slow at administering the vaccine to the population (you can read a more detailed report about the reasons why in this article). So it is that while neighbouring Singapore has already vaccinated 25% of their people, and even Indonesia with its large population has done 4%, Malaysia is lagging behind at an abysmal 3%.
In the early days, the government announced that vaccination would be done in stages: frontliners first, followed by seniors and those with comorbidities (since they are most at risk), followed by everyone else. Being a relatively healthy 30-year-old, I fell into the LAST category, which meant that if everything went according to plan, I’d be inoculated sometime at the end of the year, or early 2022. Seniors, like my parents, were supposed to start their vaccination in April.
Malaysia being Malaysia, April came and went, and my parents (and many other seniors) were still waiting for an appointment. The government seemed to be dragging their feet, and the lack of info further added to public frustration. Now I’m not blaming our medical system. I know our front liners are working crazy hard. But I think they are limited by many things (like manpower and availability of vaccines and facilities), and the poor way the programme is coordinated isn’t helping at all.
The vaccines that arrived earliest were small batches of Pfizer, which were given to our frontliners. Then came the AstraZenecashots, and many were reluctant to sign up because of the blood clots scare. This was a couple of months ago when cases weren’t that high, so a lot of people adopted a “wait and see first” attitude. The take-up was so bad that the government opened it up for volunteers, even if they weren’t from the Phase 2 (seniors/comorbidities) category. I initially wanted to register for this, but my mom cautioned me strongly (I’m being polite here) because she was worried, despite me explaining that it was all rumour-mongering and that the percentage of blood clots happening is really low. Like 8 per 1 million. To set her mind at ease, I decided not to volunteer. Cases weren’t that high at the time, and I thought as long as the seniors were vaccinated first, then I could always wait, since I didn’t get out much anyway.
But then May came and there was the Raya holiday. Despite being warned that there would be fines and possible jail time for travelling interstate or visiting friends and family, thousands still slipped through the cracks and risked their lives and health to go see their loved ones. I know it’s difficult to be away from family. Heck, I haven’t seen my husband since we had our wedding ceremony in February 2020. But that isn’t license to do whatever the hell you want. Sacrifices are necessary – we are essentially at war with an invisible enemy. The worst thing would be to infect a loved one and watch them die because YOU can’t fucking stay at home. Well, maybe you wouldn’t feel the guilt, because if you did – if you had even a shred of responsibility in your being – you wouldn’t have done it in the first place.
So here we are, at 8,290 cases as of May 28.
Now, seeing that shit has hit the fan, people started to go into panic mode. My mom, who was initially so against getting AstraZeneca, finally asked if I could register for her on the MySejahtera app, when the second phase of the voluntary programme opened for seniors aged 60 and above.
“What made you change your mind?” I asked.
“Well, I called your cousin and he was talking about how your aunt and uncle are getting it. And it seems like the chances of blood clots are low.”
“That’s literally what I’ve been telling you since Day 1, and you didn’t believe me.”
“Yeah, well… the cases weren’t that high before. And our rollout is so slow. Even seniors haven’t been vaccinated yet. Who knows how long we’ll have to wait?”
I would have very much liked to say “I told you so,” but I didn’t want another fight so I just did what she asked. And as long as my parents are getting vaccinated, I guess it doesn’t matter if it took an outsider to convince her lol. “You and Cyrus (my brother) should take it too,” she said. “You’re both in the last category, and we’re not even sure if you’ll get it next year, at the rate this is going,”
From naysayer to advocate! I thought.
Unfortunately, the time for being able to leisurely sign up was over. EVERYONE was thinking the same thing. On Wednesday, when the government opened registration for below 60s, it was pandemonium. If you’ve ever tried buying concert tickets for a popular band online, it was exactly like that.
I knew it was going to happen, and that the website would probably crash due to traffic, so my brother and I had our laptops and our phone at the ready at 12pm. The registration got delayed until 12.15pm. Once the button appeared, we were both clicking furiously on both sides: I had one hand on my mouse and the other hovering over the refresh button on my Samsung. True enough, the website kept crashing. At one point, I managed to get to the registration page – but it wouldn’t allow me to select the state I was in. At another, I got past that stage, but it wouldn’t allow me to set the date, even though the slot showed it was still available. Then, of course, the dreaded “I am not a robot”, and having to pick out the frames with bicycles or highways, only to have it crash and repeat everything all over again.
By sheer luck or force of will, I finally managed to submit my details after 40 minutes, and my brother got his shortly after. Registrations were closed after just over an hour, in which over 1 million slots were snapped up.
I was one of the lucky ones. Many of my friends expressed frustration, not only because they didn’t get it, but also because the entire experience with the website was such a shitty one. There were memes about how many laptop mice and phone screens must have been damaged that day.
Surprisingly, there were people who appeared not to have gotten through, but received a notification the next day that their application went through. My notification came almost 48 hours later. The earliest available date when I clicked was on 4 July. So July it is. My parents are getting theirs in late June, and my brother in late July.
Honestly, I just feel like it’s a load off my back. I’m not really worried about myself, because I feel I’m fairly healthy and strong – but I’m worried about catching it and spreading it to my parents, who both have comorbidities. Beyond the physical aspect, I also think getting the vaccine is a good thing for my mom’s mental health – at least she would feel a little safer knowing that we have some form of protection. My mom has always been an excessive worrier, and this pandemic has just exacerbated the condition, to the point that it makes things difficult for everyone else living under the same roof. Not that it’s her fault, of course – that’s just how some moms are, and I know that despite her demeanour, she wants what’s best for us.
Life feels like it has been on hold for the past 1.5 years. Can’t wait for things to resume some semblance of normalcy again – or at least normal enough that it’ll be safe for us to go out again (and for the hubs to travel here!).
It will be a long and hard road, but I’m hopeful the day will come. Until then, all we can do is keep ourselves, and our loved ones, as safe as we can.
PS: Update – The government has just announced a full lockdown from June 1 to June 14, whereby only essential services will be allowed to operate. This will be similar to the first lockdown we had back in March 2020. Dunno, just feel it’s a bit too little too late seeing as how people have been calling for one for the longest time.. rather than allowing leniency and just letting things drag on until it got to this point – but hey. I’m not a policy maker, nor am I an economist, so what do I know?
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.
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:
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).
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.
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!
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).
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
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Gone are the days when local and regional films are thought to be inferior to Hollywood productions. Thanks to a burgeoning film industry, Southeast Asian movies are on the rise: and while they may lack the big budget their Hollywood counterparts have, some of these films more than make up for it through creative storytelling, beautifully choreographed scenes, and something Hollywood films might find hard to integrate – culture and heritage.
Tarung Sarung (literally ‘sarong fight’) is one of these movies, and it surprised me with how much heart it has, despite the simplistic plot. Directed by Archie Hekagery and starring young actor Panji Zoni in his movie debut, the film was supposed to be released in April last year, but was postponed due to the pandemic and subsequently released on Netflix on 31 December 2020.
Deni Ruso (Panji Zoni) is the spoiled and arrogant young scion of one of the richest families in Jakarta, who thinks that money makes the world go round. After a fight in a club which was caught on camera, Deni’s mother Dina sends him packing to Makassar, to manage a resort development project and learn some responsibility. There, he meets Tenri (Maizura), a local girl who is passionate about environmentalism, and is opposed to the resort project.
Deni hides his identity from Tenri in order to get closer to her, and sparks fly. Unfortunately, he gets on the wrong side of Sanrego (Cemal Faruk), a local thug who intends to marry Tenri. Sanrego challenges Deni to ‘tarung sarung‘ (literally, sarong fight) – a traditional martial arts practiced by the Bugis people of Makassar, whereby the participants take part in close one-on-one combat within a sarong. Naturally, Deni gets pummeled, and wanting revenge, seeks help from the village’s undefeated former champion Pak Khalid (Yayan Ruhian), who runs the local mosque, to train him in the ways of the sport. And while Deni starts off wanting to get back at Sanrego, he soon finds motivation and strength from other reasons: the love of Tenri, belief in himself, and ultimately, finding god.
Tarung Sarung is heavily inspired by The Karate Kid (I mean, Deni Ruso? Daniel LaRusso? lol) and follows the typical martial arts film formula, where we follow the journey of our naive and inexperienced hero undergoing training and tutelage under a master, emerging not only stronger physically but as a better person. And while the film doesn’t bring anything groundbreakingly new to the table, it still makes for a surprisingly entertaining drama about teenage love and discovering one’s self, with bits of action thrown in.
Now, I haven’t watched many Indonesian films so I don’t have a benchmark to compare it with, but I felt that the acting was pretty good, especially from Panji Zoni, who pulls off the role of rich, spoiled brat really well. (If I was 10 years younger I’d probably be fan girling coz he’s pretty cute).
Yayan Ruhian as Pak Khalid is also superb. He exudes a tranquil, Mr Miyagi vibe; friendly and wise, but not someone you’d want to piss off. Granted, I did feel that some of the other performances felt rather forced, like Deni’s two sidekicks Gogos and Tutu (who are there to provide comic relief), and the villain Sanrego whose one-sided personality seems to comprise of only over-the-top machismo and angry grunting…but overall I liked the characters and performances, as they feel relatable and believable. Tenri, for example, is a well written character who, despite wearing a hijab and being covered up, is a strong, independent girl with her own dreams and aspirations – a departure from the usual damsel-in-distress roles girls that look like her are supposed to play.
What I really enjoyed, however, is the film’s unique Indonesian perspective, which is refreshing to see in a sea of cookie-cutter action films themed around fighting and violence. Deni, who believes in nothing but the power of money and influence, is slowly guided to discover more about god and religion, which is obviously a big part of Indonesian life. Prior to watching the film, I had also never heard about tarung sarung (which is a real thing in Indonesia), so it piqued my interest in art. Back in the day, duels were fought to the death with badik (a traditional dagger) but this is no longer practiced today (in the movie, they fight bare fisted instead).
There are also interesting bits highlighting Indonesian culture, such as a scene where Deni takes part in pindah rumah, a practice where everyone in the village works together to help carry an entire house from one place to another (this can be done because the traditional homes in Makassar are usually made from wood and have stilts, so they don’t have piling in the ground unlike regular houses). Pindah rumah is also done in other Austronesian countries like Malaysia and the Philippines.
Another thing the movie does right is the cinematography, which is gorgeous and highlights the beauty of rural Indonesia – it’s sandy beaches and blue seas, the charm of its small towns and villages, and the warmth of its people. Without spoiling too much, I’d also like to commend the clever ending, I think some audiences might not like it, but I felt like it was very different and subverted expectations.
That being said, Tarung Sarung does have a couple of flaws. For me, it’s the long and draggy run time – at nearly two hours, I feel that the film could have done without certain scenes that don’t add much to the story. The fight scenes are all well choreographed, as expected of a film starring Yayan Ruhian (he was in John Wick 3, by the way. remember that epic scene with the two Indonesian shinobis?), but they are few and far between, which may leave audiences wanting more, since this is supposed to be an action film after all.
Tarung Sarung has a standard if somewhat cliche plot and characters, with a uniquely Indonesian flavour and a good mix of romance, coming-of-age, action and drama. And while it won’t be winning any Oscars anytime soon, I think it’s a nice and entertaining film nonetheless. Worth a watch.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5.
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Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown has a storied history. Like many Malaysian cities with a rich tin mining heritage, it started off as a pioneer town, with a large Chinese migrant population. Although Malaya was then under British rule, the colonists often appointed overseers from within the respective communities – and in KL, a “Kapitan Cina” administered over the Chinese.
One of these Kapitans, Yap Ah Loy, is attributed to the founding of KL’s Chinatown. After devastating fires, floods and civil war between the Chinese (from the Hakka and Cantonese clans) for control of the tin mining trade, many of the miners and coolies were keen on skipping town. Yap persuaded them to remain in KL and ply another trade: growing rice and crops. He opened a tapioca mill in Petaling Street, which allowed trade to recover. In Cantonese, Petaling Street is called ‘Chee Cheong Kai’ (starch factory street), a tribute to its beginnings.
Over the years, Chinatown’s flavour changed (I wrote about this in a previous post, which you can check out here). It became less of a hub for Chinese culture and more of a cheap market for counterfeit goods, managed by foreign workers from Bangladesh, Myanmar, Vietnam, Indonesia, Pakistan and India. This loss of authenticity is the reason why I have not returned to Chinatown for many years – until recently. Times are hard, and the pandemic means that many foreign workers, whether legal or illegal, have been sent home. The street is much quieter now, and most of the stalls are manned by local Chinese again.
Thankfully, one thing that has remained unchanged through the years is food – and Petaling Street is home to many well-established, decades-old institutions, such as a 40-year-old muachi stall, a 2nd generation roast duck kiosk, wantan mee, and of course, Kim Lian Kee.
Widely touted as the ‘birthplace’ of Hokkien Mee in Kuala Lumpur, Kim Lian Kee was founded by a Fujianese migrant, Wong Kim Lian in 1927. That makes it close to a 100 years old! The brand has since expanded all over Malaysia, with proper restaurants in malls and commercial areas. At Petaling Street, the ‘original’ hawker stall, which has outdoor seating, sits just across the road from a slightly more upscale-looking resto with air-conditioning.
The style of cooking and noodles may have Hokkien roots, but Hokkien Mee was created by the Southeast Asian Chinese diaspora – and as such, you will not find it in China. Three places are known for their Hokkien Mee, and they are all slightly different: Penang’s version features thick noodles in a spicy broth made from prawn shells, prawn heads, prawn and pork ribs, served with pork slices, hard boiled eggs, kangkung, bean sprouts, fried shallots, sambal and lard. Singapore’s Hokkien Mee is stir-fried, lighter in colour and comes in a fragrant sauce made from stewing prawn heads, meat, clams and dried fish.
KL’s version, which is what Kim Lian Kee serves, is known as Hokkien char by Penangite Hokkiens, to differentiate it from the soupy one. It is stir-fried in a dark soy sauce together with ingredients such as pork, squid, fish cake, cabbage and lard. A good Hokkien Mee should be cooked over a charcoal fire, and the intense heat (wok hei) helps to seal in all of the flavours.
I had high hopes for KLK’s Hokkien Mee. Unfortunately, while it was decent, I would not say it is the BEST that I’ve ever tasted. The noodles were nice and had bite, but they also had a strong bitter taste, likely from kan sui (lye, used in making yellow noodles). The yuet kong hor (moonlight kueyteow – raw egg on stir fried kuey teow noodles) was also just… okay. A tad disappointed, as I was expecting more from a place touting itself as the ‘birthplace’ of Hokkien Noodles. Oh well, you win some, you lose some.
Aside from noodles, Kim Lian Kee has an extensive menu offering dai chow dishes like fried rice, fish and meat items, vegetables, tofu, etc. We got a fried rice with shrimp. Again, not bad but nothing wow either. The rice was a little hard. Uncle Roger would have a couple of things to say,
The best item that we ordered (the bro agrees) was the fried chicken wings. They came in a set of three pieces, freshly fried and still piping hot. The chicken was marinated well and had great flavour, the insides were juicy, and the skin was crispy.
Our meal along with drinks came up to RM68, Considering that we were in a tourist area, I think it is still a fairly reasonable price.
KIM LIAN KEE (PETALING STREET)
92, Jalan Hang Lekir, City Centre, 50000 Kuala Lumpur.
Opening hours: 11AM – 11PM (closed Wednesdays)
*The original hawker stall is at No.42, across the road, and is only open at night from 5PM.
**If you’re looking for awesome Hokkien Mee, I have two other suggestions. One is the Kim Lian Kee branch at Aeon Cheras Selatan, although I haven’t been back in 5 years so the quality may be different now), the other is Aik Yuen Hokkien Mee in Setapak, behind the Tawakal Hospital. The latter is literally a shack and looks dodgy af, but you know those are the kind of places that serve the best food lol.
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At first glance, Tanjung Sepat looks like any sleepy fishing town – boats docked by the river mouth, narrow roads flanked by wooden homes, quaint flower gardens and vegetable patches. Venture further in to Lorong 4, however, and you’ll find a bustling area where you can find all sorts of delicious delicacies, from handmade paus to local snacks.Villagers have made the area into a food street of sorts, with their homes doubling as food stalls. Some offer seating, while others sell snacks that you can get for takeaway.
Tanjung Sepat is famous for its pau (buns) – and there are two popular places to get them. One is Mr Black Handmade Pau, which is closer to the centre of town; the other is Hai Yew Hin, located at Lorong 4. The shop is a nondescript wooden building, but you can easily find it by looking out for the long line of patrons spilling out onto the road. Their signature is mui choy bao (pork with Chinese mustard), sang yoke bao (pork chunks with egg), vegetable bun, as well as various baos with sweet fillings such as red bean.
Tried the sang yoke bao when I got home; it did not disappoint! I enjoyed its light and fluffy texture. The egg and pork was filling as well.
If you want to have your buns fresh out of the steamer, you can dine in at the coffeeshop across the road. They also sell loads of snacks such as fried crab rolls, shrimp fritters and fishballs.
HAI YEW HIN
Address: 405, Lorong 4, Off, Jalan Besar, Pekan Tanjung Sepat, 42800 Tanjong Sepat, Selangor (opening hours: 1PM – 6PM (Mon-Fri), 10AM – 6PM (Sat – Sun)
Next to the pau place is a store selling pastries such as tarts and biscuits, which are made fresh in house. It’s easy to be enticed by the smell of baked goods as you walk past the shop, and you’ll get to see the store assistants in action as they expertly pack up kaya puffs, lou por beng and egg tarts neatly into plastic containers.
Another must-try in the area is coffee from Kwo Zha B. This small but charming kopitiam is run by 3rd generation coffee roasters, and is quite popular – there are pictures of food show hosts and celebrities adorning one side of the wall. The coffee beans are locally sourced from a nearby village and roasted with sugar, margarine and salt – creating a deliciously smooth and rich flavour.
Perfect for a hot day! You can add a scoop of ice cream for extra oomph. Kwo Zha B also sells their coffee in powder form so you can make your own drinks at home.
KWO ZHA B
Address: No. 15, Medan Selera Lorong 3, Tanjung Sepat, 42800, Selangor (Open daily 10.30AM – 4.30PM)
If you still haven’t gotten your fill of cold desserts, walk a bit further to Jalan Sekolah’s Hin Leong, which has great cendol. They offer several flavours, including the traditional one with green cendol and red bean, as well as pumpkin and durian.
The inside is air conditioned, so you can escape the sweltering afternoon heat. There are other snacks for sale as well.
The traditional cendol is good, and the chewy rice flour jelly has a satisfying texture. If you like flavours like salted caramel, you’ll enjoy the pumpkin cendol, which has a salty aftertaste that balances surprisingly well with the rich coconut milk. I like that they serve the cendol in coconut husks – more sustainable and environmentally friendly, less mess and easy to clean !
HIN LEONG TRADING
Address:359, Jalan Sekolah, Pekan Tanjung Sepat, 42800 Tanjong Sepat, Selangor (Open daily 10.30AM – 5.30PM)
I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again – I have a love-hate relationship with Manila.
On one hand, I love how culturally rich and historical it is, with its museums, churches and art galleries (And Jollibee, of course!). On the other, I’m not a fan of its insane traffic, the pollution, and the fact that its one of the most densely populated cities in the world. It’s extremely difficult to find a quiet space.
Having been here several times, I often get friends asking me if Manila is worth visiting (for many Malaysians, the Philippines is not as popular as other S/E Asian destinations like Thailand or Indonesia – and if they do visit, it’s usually to Boracay). My answer is always “It depends on what you like.” If you’re thinking the type of packaged cultural offerings you often get in Bali or Chiang Mai, or a beach getaway (because Manila is by the sea right? lol), then you will be disappointed. Manila is not a place to ‘get away from it all’. But if you’re up for a bit of urban adventure in a chaotic and colourful city…then Manila has a certain charm.
While quarantine restrictions are still in place due to COVID, that doesn’t stop you from planning for your next adventure. Since June 24 marks Manila Day – commemorating the 449th anniversary when Manila was proclaimed as Spain’s capital city in the Philippines – I’ve made a list of my favourite places to visit! For those who have never been to Manila, this will give you a good idea of what to expect.
If you’re new to Manila, Intramuros is undoubtedly the best place to learn about the city’s rich history. Dating back to the late 1500s, this old walled city has walls that are at least two-metres thick and six metres high, and is home to many historical landmarks, from churches and gardens to old mansions and museums. You can walk around the impressive stone ramparts, some parts of which have cannons on them, or ride around in horse-drawn carriages called kalesa.
SAN AGUSTIN CHURCH
One of my favourite places to visit in the area is the San Agustin Church, which was founded as a monastery by Augustinian monks. Part church, part museum complex, the building has a sad and haunting beauty, with austere stone hallways and sombre oil paintings. This is in stark contrast to the church proper, which features stunning architecture rivalling the grand churches of Europe. There are also galleries filled with religious artefacts and even a crypt. If you’re a history nerd like me, a visit to San Agustin is a must.
BALUERTE SAN DIEGO / SAN DIEGO GARDENS
The San Diego Gardens is one of those rare oases in Manila that offer a quiet respite, with tranquil European-style lawns and fountains that make it popular as a wedding photoshoot venue. The Baluerte San Diego, a small fort within the gardens, is the oldest structure within Intramuros. Its purpose was to ensure a clear view of the place and prepare against invaders. Back in the day it had all the facilities: courtyard, water supply tank, lodging and workshops – but all that remains of what must have once been a thriving fort are bare brick and stone.
The story of Jose Rizal fascinates me. I am no revolutionary, but as a writer, there is something very moving about how Rizal’s writing set a fire in the hearts of the Filipino people that eventually led to their fight for freedom against their Spanish oppressors. His story is a true embodiment of how the pen is mightier than the sword.
Fort Santiago is where Rizal was housed before his execution in 1896, and visitors to the fort will see a pair of bronze footprints embedded in the ground and leading out to the gate – said to retrace Rizal’s last footsteps. Inside the fort, you will also find a shrine/museum dedicated to this Philippine National Hero, which contains various memorabilia including poetry pieces, letters he wrote to family and friends, replicas of sculptures, paintings and more.
PLAZA SAN LUIS
One of the items on my bucket list is to visit Vigan, a town known for its Spanish colonial architecture. In Manila, you have Plaza San Luis, a complex that contains five houses, a museum, theatre, hotel, souvenir shops and eateries. Since Intramuros was nearly levelled during the war, many of the old homes were destroyed, and the homes here have been replicated to represent different eras in Filipino-Hispanic architecture. The overall colonial feeling of the place – with its quaint courtyards and staircases – makes it easy to believe that you are peeking through a window in time. You can almost believe that some rich young ladies in traditional Filipinianas, giggling behind their fans in the summer heat while out for an afternoon stroll, are just about to round the corner.
This cathedral was rebuilt a whopping eight times – it kept getting destroyed by fires, earthquakes and whatnot. While the architecture is not as grand as St Agustin, I like the stained glass art that it has, as well as the replica of Michelangelo’s La Pieta in which Mary cradles the broken body of Christ.
A short distance away from Intramuros is Rizal Park, one of Manila’s few green areas. Like many old parts of Manila, it teems with history – hundreds of nationalists were executed here during Spanish rule, including Jose Rizal. It is fitting then, that the Philippine Declaration of Independence from America was read in this spot, and that the park was named after the revolutionary himself. When Pope Francis visited the Philippines and conducted a mass at the park, six million people turned up – that’s 1/5 of Malaysia’s population! While I wouldn’t say Rizal Park is the best park I’ve ever been to (litter is a problem), I think it’s a great place to visit if you’re sick of Manila’s endless malls. There are a few smaller parks within like the Nayong Filipino which are nice to explore.
NATIONAL MUSEUM OF ANTHROPOLOGY
With it’s tall, white-washed Corinthian columns and wooden doors, the grand-looking National Museum of Anthropology (aka Museum of the Filipino People) is hard to miss and is just a stone’s throw away from Rizal Park. Part of the National Museums of the Philippines, it houses the anthropology and archaeology divisions, spanning five floors. Coming from Malaysia where we have pretty lame museums (sorry, got to call a spade a spade), I was blown away by the quality of Manila’s major museums. The quality of the exhibits, as well as how they are arranged (with sections dedicated to indigenous art and culture, the history of the Philippines during the colonial era, etc.) offer interesting insights into the development of modern Filipino society.
NATIONAL MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS
Filipinos are artistic people – there’s even a stereotype about how all Filipinos are good at singing and dancing (these people have obviously never met my husband) – and art has always been a way for the people to express themselves, even in times of oppression.
The National Museum of Fine Arts, which is housed in the former Legislative Building, is a testament to this creativity and resilience, with works by national artists such as Juan Luna, Félix Resurrección Hidalgo and Guillermo Tolentino. In fact, when you walk in, the first thing you will be greeted with is an almost floor-to-ceiling work of Juan Luna Y Novicio’s Spoliarium – possibly one of the Philippines’ most popular pieces of art. The gallery is filled with artistic treasures, most of which reflect the country’s European-influenced past, and there are pieces that are so intricate and detailed, you can’t help but marvel at the level of craftsmanship that went into creating them. It’s definitely a place that you can get lost in for hours.
NATIONAL MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY
Another must-visit is the National Museum of National History, which has a very picturesque central court that boasts a structure called the DNA Tree of Life, as well as loads of interesting exhibits on nature and geology in the Philippines. There are sections dedicated to botany and entomology, marine life, mangroves and more. Even if you’re not into natural history, the architecture of the building alone is worth dropping by for.
I try to visit the local Chinatown whenever I visit a foreign country. Idk, call it a subconscious need to reconnect with my roots or whathaveyou, lol.
Manila’s Chinatown, Binondo, is the oldest in the world, dating back to 1594. Its narrow, chaotic streets, with its haphazard signboards and buildings, can feel claustrophobic, but it has a charm of its own. What I like about Binondo? The food. There are legendary establishments here that have been in the same family for generations, such as Eng Bee Tin – known for their hopia (a type of pastry) and tikoy (sticky rice cake – in Malaysia we call it niangao). If you’re here, look out for a shop called Ling Nam, which serves mami noodles (plain or with pork asado) – I stumbled across this gem purely by chance. There are many restos around the area that I haven’t had the chance to try yet, so I’m looking forward to another visit!
*This post was originally published in April 2012 on an old blog. I am gradually migrating some of the content over to this site, and will backdate them once I’ve got things sorted out. (I’ve also added in some updated info). In the meantime, enjoy!
This is a long overdue post. I’ve been lazy busy with stuff at the magazine. Amidst the crazy hustle and bustle of work and saving up for my big Euro trip, I took the weekend off for some well-deserved R&R, far away from the concrete jungles and smoke fumes. Sounds cliche, but never underestimate what an island getaway can do for you. Langkawi it is!
Departing from the LCCT.
I was feeling really tired for some reason and dozed off right after takeoff. Regretted this immensely after getting off the plane and vowed to stay awake throughout the rest of the flight during the return journey.
Located far to the north of the Malaysian peninsula, Langkawi island is a lush green landscape of hills and bright green paddy fields underneath an almost unearthly bright blue sky, with an equally bright blue ocean reflecting it. The name of the island derives from Malay, Lang(eagle) and Kawi (a type of stone).
It has been over 17 years since I last stepped foot here, but from the looks of it, this scenic cluster of islands has not changed much. It still exudes the sleepy feeling of an island town where tourism is the main activity, where the shops are still quaint-looking and rarely over two storeys tall, where streets are unlit at night and where the biggest shopping mall is approximately the size of a Hypermart here in KL.
One thing I remember clearly from my visit all those years ago was seeing an eagle fly by Eagle Square. It was the first time I had seen one, and the way it beat its wings majestically as it soared through the air struck me, even as a child, with the same feeling as I feel now whenever I’m in beautiful places. That feeling where your heart seems to burst with emotion and how blessed you are to be witnessing all this breathtaking beauty.
We rented a modest Proton Wira for three days to get around. Much easier and cheaper than taking a taxi.
The first order of the day was to go raid the chocolate shops. Chocolates, liquor and cigarettes are duty-free in every shop on Langkawi island, and you will see tourists buying a whole luggage-full of stuff to bring home. I mean, six sticks of assorted flavoured Toblerone bars going for only RM20? A 6-pack of beer for only RM9? Now THAT’s a good deal.
Then it was off to the Langkawi Underwater World. Spanning six acres, it is the largest aquarium in the country. Entrance is quite pricey at RM28 (*updated price 2020 – RM46), and although the place is quite old (it opened in 1995), it’s pretty well maintained. There are over 200 marine and freshwater fish species at the aquarium, as well as a variety of small animals and even birds.
You can explore several sections within the complex, namely Freshwater, Tropical Rainforest, Temperate and Sub-Antarctic. The Tropical Rainforest area houses wildlife such as lizards and skinks, birds and fish.
The aviary allows you to walk freely amongst birds, like flamingoes. They seem very used to human presence.
The Sub-Antarctic is home to cute penguins. At the Adelie penguins enclosure, I saw this penguin standing perfectly still, gazing up into the white lights. It kind of reminded me of the scene from Happy Feet where the hero penguin gets caught and after a while got stoned as the rest of them because they were stuck inside their cages for, well, literally, forever. Just waiting for feeding time, standing around, swimming in that confined little space with no hope of ever leaving. Some might even be born here and never know that beyond these walls, there is a place where columns of ice are as large as titans, where their kind fished and swam freely in the oceans. It’s a sad existence. I felt rather sorry for them. I feel that animals should be free, but at the same time, there is educational value in zoos and conservation centres – although many of these are mismanaged which causes some of the animals to suffer.
The rockhopper penguins were much more aggressive. They swam faster, were more active and dove into the water quite often to swim, before leaping up again.
Moving on to the aquarium proper, which houses plenty of sea life. The highlight of the section is a 15-metre ‘underwater’ tunnel that you can walk through, which has sharks, turtles and giant stingrays.
A Fu Manchu fish, so called because of the tiny ‘moustache’ it has on its face. It showed me its butt when I tried to take a photo.
Aside from the marine and wildlife, there is an educational centre and 3D theatre, as well as a cafeteria within the premises.
All in all, the Langkawi Underwater World is a family-friendly attraction where you can enjoy a couple of hours of educational fun. A worthwhile stop if you’re in the Pantai Cenang area.
LANGKAWI UNDERWATER WORLD
Zon Pantai Cenang, Mukim Kedawang, Langkawi, Malaysia.