This year has been a big revelation for me. Where Australia’s trip last winter made me realised that I’ve come full circle with myself, two weeks ago, my trip to Kuala Kubu Bharu cemented my reason for being here. In Malaysia.
While for many, it’s either about not having a choice or tied down to family and such.. for me it’s none of that. I could at anytime leave this country and had planned that way since I was a kid. I desperately wanted to get out since young because I’ve never felt like I belonged here yet here I am. Where my friends thought I’d be the first to leave and never return, it hasn’t been the case.
Till today, I remember the one thing my mum said when I was in Leeds, chilling at Nix’s house a year ago.
“So decided to move there?” she asked or something to that effect.
In that moment, part of me wanted to say yes but I didn’t and I knew if I did, she’d support my decision. That was the plan, has always been the plan.
And like the saying my English teacher once told me, man proposes, God disposes. This couldn’t be farther from the truth.
That is until this trip.
It was a spur of a moment, one day sometime three weeks ago I suggested to Anis to head up to KKB to meet the uncle she had wrote about in her blog for #TSBreakAway and see what he thought about it. Then I mentioned it to Nigel who wanted to tag along. The week later, she told me they will be going on Friday. I was with Ashraf who was the resident mentor and videographer for this project we’re involved and casually asked if he wanted to go up too, see if there’s anything we could add into the #TSBreakAway footages.
So at 6AM all of us (three #TSBreakAway Zombies and one Xplorer) were up and made our way to KL Sentral train station. This would be my first time going to KKB by train and apparently it was a first for the guys too. From here, we had to switch train in Rawang after an hour and then head to KKB in 30 minutes.
The train ride was very scenic and by the time we were in Rawang, the train we took was empty. So hey, we were like kids taking over the carriage like our own, talking about the 80’s and 90’s like it was yesterday while snapping photos and recording the view in between.
If I had to take a trip to anywhere, this fun bunch would rank at the top of my list.
We had no plans when we got to KKB, just another random day exploring an old historical town and meet this charming uncle Anis interviewed. We didn’t expect that our trip would be something mind blowing, to a point that it was literally breaking us away from the norm. So as we were tracking down the route Anis took for #TSBreakAway solo assignment back to the tailor shop, she told us she was intrigued by this old barber shop (roughly about 40 years old) on the same street from where the uncle was working but didn’t check it out then because it was busy with people.
So I had this “brilliant” idea to get the guys to give us a reason to drop by and help Anis get her story. What I didn’t expect was for them to go along with the plan. I kinda sorta challenged Ashraf to cut his hair and get a shave since it looked like he needed a fresh look. Nigel too but only Ashraf agreed to do it. I did however got Nigel to do the old school shaving tho!
Once the guys were done with their “spa” session, we continued on our next journey like kids going from one candy shop to another. I like how in this town, no one looked at you like you don’t belong here. They just continue doing their thing (at a slower but peaceful pace) and treat us like we’re part of them. Despite the uncle didn’t remember Anis initially, he entertained us with his stories of yore. Made ourselves comfortable in his 50 over years old shop, watching as he cut the wool for his customer and even managed to teach Nigel a bit of Pinyin. Who knew they both shared the same surname? Of course, he wasn’t spared from being lectured too for not able to read Mandarin. Haha! It’s like watching father scolding his son for a mishap. Ah KKB.. you sure know how to charm us.
In case you’re looking for this particular uncle to do your pants or suits, just ask anyone in KKB for “The Shirtless Uncle” and they all know who you are referring to :)
You know how when you got the ball rolling with one story, you went and dig deeper? Yeah, this was exactly the case. We moved from one shop to another just looking for something, anything. Then Nigel read about this other uncle who has an old watch shop which coincidentally was just around the corner from where we were. I mean, c’mon, while you’re here you might as well do what’s in your bucket list. But when we arrived, we didn’t expect that it would set the course of our adventure after this.
You know how when you go to a shop in a city, they’d be breathing your neck or for some reason, it makes you feel like you either have to buy something or get out of the shop quick? This was neither the case. We hung out at his place, admiring the many beautiful black and white photos of him and his shop which was taken by other photographers in the past. We talked about his background and what he love to do. Then, I heard a dog barking at the back and his wife was so sweet to show me her pet. Feisty looking little poodle. Cute tho. But feisty, bouncing away while barking at me and I was told this little one bites. So yeah, I just leaned my back on the wall adjacent to the dog. Later, she told me about two other cats who are friendly with the dog and brought them out for me to play with. Yeah, we pretty much made ourselves very comfortable.
A spirit I have not known existed in KL or Selangor. That ease I love and strive for is in this old town after all.
Anyway, after all that shop talk we’ve made, the owner of the watch shop decided to bring us to check out his daughter’s cafe, a few doors away from his. Too bad we already had our lunch (one where I was scampering around looking for a clean toilet and an aunty from a kopitiam across the street was accommodating and got me to use hers without any expectation. She even wave and greeted me when I passed by her shop again later that day). Seriously, no one here forces anyone or expects anybody to get anything from them.
When we were at the cafe looking around at the 80’s local music posters and antique memorabilia scattered all over, his daughter went up to Anis and took out her phone to show a photo she took of a namecard she thought would be useful to us.
“I think all of you should check out the small photography gallery. You’ll like it! But I don’t know if it’s open today but you can call this guy.”
This must be the gallery Anis mentioned earlier in the day which I’ve never heard of despite visiting KKB a few times in the past. There’s only one place that sounds like this which also housed many other art related items but given how everything are, it’s no surprise that the gallery is not open. Well it is, you just have to call a few days in advance. I guess we’ll have to make another trip back and get inside the gallery. Seriously, it’s almost unheard of to know that art takes place in towns like these here. If there are, no one’s spreading the word. Which is sad.
This whole place calls out for a revival. THE perfect town to have art residency. Which got my head buzzing and throbbing, I wish I could manifest those emotions into papers. Slowly eventually I will. Some kind of community project all four of us made a pact to work on. I hope.
That burning sensation was only secured even more when we met Aunty Sim Ling Ling who threw us off with her generosity. Initially, we didn’t know what we stumbled upon since the owner of the shop went to KL for acupuncture. Then we roamed inside the shop looking at the things hung from the ceiling. You’ll find anything and everything here, it’s amazing. So she slowly emerged behind the counter making conversations with us and we being the cheeky kids, asked her all the old school items we could think of when we were kids. Excitedly, she said yes to all of it and even ran inside to grab it.
Where could you find “Buku Tiga Lima” that still costs 20 cents or pencil with rubber tip would still be 10 cents?
All of a sudden, we all had an idea to buy something from her as a souvenir to commemorate this surprising adventure of ours. Aunty Ling Ling was so jovial entertaining us with the things in the shop and also her tuxedo cat named Baby.
From one thing led to another, I don’t know what got me agreeing when she said “Let’s have coffee?” and walked really fast to the kopitiam next to her shop. In my head, I thought she said, maybe when we come again, we’ll have coffee with her. I didn’t expect to have coffee there and then.
We all ordered our drinks and the moment she found out that I’ve been looking for this particular Kaya Puff KKB is notorious for, she immediately got up and went to the shop.
Ashraf, Anis and I looked at Nigel, who was on the phone at that time.
“Psst..Nigel, we have a situation. Need to intervene..Psst…”
By the time Nigel got off the phone, she came back with a box of Kaya Puff all ready for your mouth to salivate. *slap head*
And that she’s got this smile you just cannot not smile back at her. Cannot not accept her gifts. Cannot not accept her friendship. Just can’t.
Of course, I’m saying that in a good way. She even told us about the aunty who makes the kaya for the pastry shop..who happens to be doing it right that moment in that very kopitiam we were in.
BEHOLD! She was so efficient, she pre-ordered a tub of homemade kaya and delivered to our table each. Like what is this? Am I really in Malaysia?! By this time, we were all shaking our heads, didn’t know how to repay her kindness with and that she refused our money when we wanted to pay for it made us feel even more unsure. Appreciative of her kindness but also didn’t want her to think we’re taking advantage.
“No, no. I’m not petty over these things. I just want to share.” She told us.
At this moment, only then I know the real meaning of Malaysian Hospitality (MH). If we wanted to dig any story from KKB, this is the deepest KKB allows us. The heart, the bulb, the inspiration. You cannot go any deeper than this. No way.
So, as usual, you know we had to check out how this kaya was made and it takes 7 hours to make a big pot by one old lady and sells it around the town. When I asked if she wanted to sell it out of KKB, she said no. Dang it! Looks like I’ll have to come back here and replenish my stock.
Looking back, it’s true, KKB is mainly populated by the elderly folks who prefer the quiet and slow paced life. Which reminded me a lot of my late grandma who till she was bedridden, insisted she needs to work, to get the mind working. And that’s exactly what each of them are doing here..that and also because none of their kids wanted to take over their business because the bigger cities offer so much more. Hard working people makes me want to work harder.
Part of me was sad by this fact but another part of me can kinda sorta relate to their kids because it’s been years since my dad been pestering to take over his business but I refused because really, what he’s doing and what I need to do is on totally opposite spectrum. But I still feel sad for them because when they are no more around, what will become of KKB? This town can’t possibly die out of natural death! Over my dead body.
So enter that buzzing brain of mine which Ashraf, Nigel and Anis added more fuel. We just need a plan to execute this thing. I’m sure combining our nutty brains together, we’ll be able to do something but yeah, as of right now, I’m letting the pot simmer for a bit. I still have other paperworks to complete. Gah!
Oh yeah, so how did we end our session with Aunty Ling Ling?
Sneakily, she already paid for our drinks beforehand. Oh Aunty Ling Ling, you really blew us away with your sweet charm. Sigh.
To end this unforgettable trip we did, I found this draft poem I wrote while I was in the train in Sydney a few months back. One I think describes KKB profoundly to me.
A return trip is in order!
Ticket to the Unknown
It ain’t so bad,
This train to no where,
Worst case would be to arrive
To a place you’ll write your story
For the rest to read and navigate.
There’s a moment in our lives,
When the ticket you bought
May not be the place you thought;
You’ll arrive in peace and harmony
But then, peace is anywhere no?
Such is the life this dwarf leads
For those hunters may not see
The beauty therein lies
in front of thee.
Oh what a waste when it flee.
So where will you go,
What will you see?
Just take a trip
Wherever it may be
and just hold on tight for this journey.
Sidenote: Nigel took some superb black and white photos from this outing. I think this is by far he best work, you gotta check it out here!