The Culture Peddler

by cedhausen

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Posting my grandmother’s picture yesterday reminded me of another similar shot, albeit more colourful. Today’s Photo of the Day: the culture peddler. This was taken at Kuala Lumpur’s Central Market, or Pasar Seni as it is more commonly known. The historic building is home to many peddlers selling all kinds of trinkets and souvenirs, usually at a higher price once they know you’re a tourist. I like how the lady in the picture is surrounded by all these little items that summarise Malaysian culture. From the top right, you have these crimson wau bulan (literally, ‘moon kite’), national symbols that can be found on the fins of Malaysia Airlines airplanes; woven fans at the bottom that are a common sight in many households; indigenous masks to the left; Chinese traditional instruments in the foreground. It’s like trying to find Waldo in this vibrant discord.

This would be one of the places I’d bring my foreign friends (I don’t like the use of the word ‘foreign’ here… but ‘international’ sounds unnecessarily cosmopolitan.) to visit, given how dynamic the place is. It’s a horn of plenty for souvenirs we would never get for ourselves, but accept graciously with a smile if given to us, before passing it on to the neighbour’s children since they look too… colourful for a twenty-four year old. I never buy souvenirs for friends unless it’s something culturally exclusive and practical, which is why I usually end up getting everyone bookmarks whenever I travel. Today would’ve been one of those days where I become tour guide and occasional haggler for a couple of friends from Singapore, but they only had a seven hour layover before their train up to Penang and were desperate for a shower so I had to reschedule a few things.

The initial plan was to take them up to Batu Caves, a famous Hindu shrine, and possibly someplace else before rushing back to the train station at night but the boys were more interested in food so I decided to take them to Lima Blas, which serves fabulous Peranakan food along Jalan Mesui. If you’re ever there, order their Nyonya fried rice (only available during their lunch service). Of course at 4PM the place was closed, so we ended up at my favourite café, Feeka for a hearty fare.

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I discovered Feeka when I had to write a review for it and it has remained at the top of my list ever since. Food photography is something I really need to work on… There are so many Instagrammers out there who have mastered the art so effortlessly and produce aesthetically pleasing shots of food displayed on the table, I actually can’t bring myself to eat them because they look so pretty. One thing I do know is that natural lighting is everything for the perfect shot, and over-saturating the colours will only disrupt the presentation instead of enticing the palate.

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Single subjects are easy to capture, but I need to learn how to arrange multiple subjects within a frame. New challenge! This means I’d have to eat in large groups more often… Anyway, my friends and I finished our meal easily enough, including desserts, before I transported them to my place to freshen up. It would be their last chance for a shower before the twenty-two hour train ride to Bangkok, and they were perfectly fine missing the Petronas Twin Towers. I guess personal hygiene trumps cultural peregrination this time.

Within two hours of leaving Feeka, we were out again for dinner at this massive hawker centre, Asia Café. Now the food there may not be represent the best of the best in Malaysian cuisine, but very few places can claim supremacy over it in terms of variety. People don’t visit Asia Café to have a fantastic meal, they come simply because they know what to expect from it. My Singaporean friends were happy to be there because they got to try variations of familiar favourites, and I promised to take them to sample the local Bak Kut Teh the next time they visit (the Singaporean version has a much more subdued flavour).

At 9:30PM, we said our goodbyes at the train station, and the very audible silence that ensued on the drive home numbed me. I love having people over and I love taking them out to town because they energise me. I enjoy exchanging our travel experiences, dissect cultural differences, and talking silly in the car as we head on to our next destination. With their departure, comes a silence that’s at once familiar yet alien to me.

… why am I being so pensive again? This better not transform into a habit. Anyway, it’s 3:30AM, it’s late, I’ll probably end up waking up incredibly cranky in four hours. I know I haven’t talked about my job yet, but maybe it’s for the better that I’m postponing that till tomorrow since Friday (my first day) had been a rather slow start for me… I guess you’ll find out why tomorrow.