Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Kuala Lumpur’s Underrated Beauty

C'est Moi encore; in the reflection of an elaborately-carved, wood-framed mirror at the Kuala Lumpur Crafts Complex.

KL is so near yet so far.

I could coach there in six hours, or fly there and spend a good four hours from point to point. But either way, it’s quite a chore so I end up going to Bangkok more often.

The lure of friends is what keeps me going back, however. William, a journalist whom I met on a junket to Ancona/Italy, is one person I hang out with pretty often in KL. We managed to touch base on Friday night at Liquid’s relaunch party, after which we drove off to Frangipani with his friend Ken (self-professed mediawhore who happens to own the Apothecary at Lot 10; Annick Goutal, Aesop!) and Melvin (ex-Publisher of V Magazine). The vibe’s great as usual, chilled and upbeat all at the same time. Like a fabulous host, William introduced me to more than a dozen faces that night, of which, Brian/Bryan seemed most agreeable—and dare I say it—stunning. I didn’t even get to say hello to my Fashion Editor, Brian, until the end of the night. We met for coffee again on Sunday afternoon together with Kelvin at San Francisco Coffee/Lot 10 (which is the all-time Boys’ Central), and even had time to drop by at Low Yat Plaza to grab a few DVDs.

I also met Kin, who picked me up at my lobby at Nikko Hotel, and we had tea at Aseana Café. I’ve come to realize that it’s a really beautiful place with great clothes, homewares, and even food and crowd to boot! (Hats off to Farah Khan. Does good friend Lorraine Hahn get many goodies and private viewing when new collections come in?) As Kin laboured over his lunch of rojak and porridge, he took pains to tell me about his new concept for his soon-to-be-revamped Igewels jewellery store. Thanks to the tight schedule, we didn’t get to make it to Klang for seafood, nor the drool-worthy bakuteh done in a dry fashion—the soup comes on the side while the main portion of pork is piqued with spices and jiuhuchar. We both felt it was a shame that we didn’t get to see his new, beautiful home in Bangsar (an area which is burgled quite often unfortunately; Kin lost RM 6000 and audio equipment from his car in a wink), which would surely be what my editors at V Magazine are looking for. So small is KL, that I ran into Kin and his friend Robert (just back from the warzone that is London) at a really popular eatery on Jalan Alor on the night before my departure. But no matter, I’ll come back again in a few months, and also catch Wai Kit, former Chief Editor at V Magazine, with whom I work closely with. I’m also waiting for William to send me an invite to the Malaysian International Fashion Awards come November. =)

Oh and did I mention that I was in KL for work?

As a guest of Tourism Malaysian, we were hosted in Kuala Lumpur for a six-day media junket at the service-driven Nikko Hotel, and were brought on a whirlwind tour of the malls (Curve, Starhill Gallery, KLCC), shows during Utusan Melayu’s Fashion Week (featuring batik and bumiputra splendour) and various other touristy sights. What was very beautiful about this trip was that I saw a very beautiful side of KL that I’ve never seen. And how apt that I should see it only ten years after my first trip to KL when I was fourteen, and with my Klangite friend.

At the touristy Saloma restaurant with its uninspired buffet selection, I saw the richness and great colours of a (Malay) culture that I previously knew little about. The costumes on the bodies of the abled dancers came alive under the spotlight, and for once, I was rooted to my chair. Equally mesmerizing was the wedding ceremony exhibition at the Kuala Lumpur Crafts complex where I saw displays, ornaments, costumes and the works in pink, gold and light green—refreshing and pompous at the same time, creative and inspiring all the same. On the fashion front, trad-chic Noor Arfa and recently (and in an even greater way) Tom Abang Saufi have been bringing batik and ethnic wear to more fashionable frontiers—even Jimmy Choo would be proud.

Over the years since Putrajaya came into being, very little publicity has been done for the extremely, unjustly underrated township, which I rate the best attraction of the Selangor state, ever. As an A-list sight, it is calm, stately and magnificent with a hint of Islamia in its government offices and edifices, broad and grand boulevards, the modern Vision bridge and the sight of the awesome mosque in the distance. If this is the new face of KL, I am relocating and first in line! I highly recommend a day devoted to a close study of the buildings in the area; I wonder if Cyberjaya is as breathtaking. The well-designed and informative Royal Selangor Pewter Gallery has also been bypassed in favour of shopping in Bintang; apart from plugging pewter creatively, there is also a School of Hard Knocks where I learnt to knock characters (essentially just my name and date) into a pewter bowl; it then becomes a visitor’s souvenir afterwards.

Even Starhill Gallery is shaping up as the new Gaysorn Plaza (Chitlom, Bangkok) as it opens its newly-refurbished doors. Gaysorn Plaza, formerly a quiet shopping mall in the late nineties, has rejuvenated itself and wrestled excellent tenants and shoppers from worthy competitor, Emporium Shopping Centre. And at the hopeful Starhill Gallery, pots of lengthy twigs as well as sprigs of fresh green slender leaves have been placed in calculated positions to evoke a certain sense of luxury in the interiors, while Francis Yeoh’s YTL management has lured even the likes of Asprey to set up a store there. The Feast level in the basement plays host to a varied mix of restaurants, of which the most promising are Singaporean-owned Vansh, a North Indian restaurant, the newly-chic, Hong Kong-owned Luk Yu Tea House, and Bangkok-owned My Thai by Jim Thompson eatery which was playing contemporary Thai pop at lunch hour. A very beautiful mirrored passage way punctuated by gleaming lights has been tastefully constructed to link Starhill Gallery to Marriott Hotel; remember the Swarovski-studded interiors of the washrooms in London's Sketch? (Marriott Hotel, however, is not scoring points with me for its small and overpriced rooms at RM360, compared to generously big ones at Shangri-la at RM225.) Perhaps I might also add that Arabs would soon become a permanent mobile fixture at the Starhill Gallery as their spending power is unsurpassed; of late, Arab has become KL’s unofficial third language, appearing in tourist publications, maps and even entry/exit signs at key tourist sights; halal food, kebabs and doses of shisha are all aplenty in the Bintang district.

As the trip wound to an end, I was surprised to find Ron in KL. I came back one evening from a late-night dinner and there he was sitting in the lobby of Nikko Hotel nursing a mock mojito. We talked for the next four hours before turning in, and spent the next morning browsing the heartlander Ampang Mall, where I packed off a box of baklava for my family, with fellow journo, Shazna. If only Ron had arrived a few days before, we could have gone out to see the town together, but oh well. And before long, we found ourselves in the hotel’s car bound for KLIA for the cumbersome one-hour flight (but four hour journey) back to Singapore.


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