| Soya Says

Travelogue – Gong Xi Fa Cai Kuala Lumpur

A foreigner can photograph the exteriors of a nation, but I think that this is as far as he can get. I think that no foreigner can report the nation’s interior – its soul, its life, its speech, its thoughts.

Says one of the English literature’s greatest, Mark Twain, in his book – How to tell a story; and other essays.

Now I’ll be honest, I wanted to stay true to Mr. Twain and only photograph the exteriors of Kuala Lumpur. I had no plans to write a blog but when you are 2 hours early at the airport, there aren’t many things you can do. To make sure that this doesn’t look like an endless rant, I will not go beyond 9 points. Please note that since I was on an official trip, I didn’t have the time to visit places a usual traveler would.

1. To start with, I must say the movies have painted a totally wrong picture of flying international. It is not as easy as realization of your true love in one scene and taking the next flight in the 10 seconds later! Visa approval takes at least 5 business days, gathering Visa documents could also be a pain and just like the visa, you will never see movie characters in the queue for currency conversion!

2. Kuala Lumpur’s climate is a lot like the usual coastal cities. Relatively hot and humid.

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3. City’s infrastructure is impressive. You are definitely going to notice way too many skyscrapers. The highways in the city make distant traveling quicker. Add to it the human-less smart toll-gates that never slow things down. Traffic, just like every other big city, is a pain. But if you are someone from a city like Bangalore, that isn’t an issue in Kuala Lumpur 😉

Tip – Petronas Towers (as seen in SRK’s version of Don) and Menara KL are two places you shouldn’t miss.

4. Local transport isn’t that easy. There are several type of taxis available but they all charge differently. Metered taxis have the lowest fares. Then there is an LRT (we call it Metro train) as well. But you would definitely miss the ease of waving your hand to call an auto 😊

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5. Those of us who think they are ‘too cool’ for Bollywood are going to be in for a surprise. People from the sub-continent that have been living there for generations must have been the catalyst for this but Malaysian people in general are well aware of Hindi movies and actors. I was astonished when a local band in a very popular nightclub performed ‘Chammak Challo’ and I am pretty sure they would not know the meaning of a single word from that song! 😀

6. Islam is the state religion which means Malaysia is a Muslim country. This perpetuates from eating joints clearly mentioning that only halal food is served to women sporting hijab. The commercialization of Muslim wear and its fashion quotient proves how this has evolved into a global multi-billion dollar industry.

7. If you are a veggie you might have a hard time finding food options.

8. We write Hindi in the devnagri script. There is no separate script for the Malaysian language so English (Latin) alphabets are used to write Malaysian. Chinese can also be seen appearing regularly.

9. Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Sri Lankans (since we all look the same) are an easy find. But Kuala Lumpur is truly a multi-ethnic city and you are bound to notice people from all parts of the globe. This raises the bar of being inclusive and the feeling of ‘One World’ especially when you ask for directions from a Pakistani or share your seat with a Chinese in the LRT.

We may have our preconceptions about Pakistanis or how Bollywood is worth nothing but its fitting to end this blog with another line from Twain,

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.”

PS – If you are wondering, “Gong Xi Fa Cai” is how you say “Happy New Year” in Chinese. It’s a 15 day celebration and my trip was during the Gong Xi Fa Cai time! Here’s a video of Yu Sheng, the Chinese New Year Salad,

Yu Sheng is a Chinese new year delicacy. It is basically a salad which I got to taste first hand on my trip to Kuala Lumpur in 2015. Each ingredient in the salad represents a certain auspicious symbol,

Fish – abundance
Pomelo – luck
Pepper – money
Oil – excess of profits
Carrots – blessings of good luck
Radish – prosperity in business and promotion at work
Peanut crumbs – gold and silver or eternal youth
Sesame seeds – flourishing business
Deep fried flour crisps – gold
Noodles – Long life

When you add each ingredient to the plate, you are supposed to recite greetings of good luck and prosperity. When every ingredient is added to the plate, everyone will yell “lo hei” seven times, while tossing all the ingredients together (as high as possible) and eventually toward the center of the plate, to spread the luck around.

Story of the Origin

Yu Sheng has its origins in southern China but became a unique tradition in Singapore and Malaysia. Legend has it that a man and his girlfriend were stranded in a temple due to bad weather and had nothing to eat but carp they had caught. Finding a bottle of vinegar at the temple, they added it to the raw carp and thought it was delicious. The legend turned into practice in which fishermen along the coast of Guangzhou started celebrating the seventh day of Lunar New Year by eating their catch. Migrants from that province brought the tradition over to colonial Malaya by mixing raw fish with carrots, vinegar and turnip. In 1964, the modern version of Yu Sheng was created by four Singaporean master chefs at a renowned Chinese restaurant. They named it Yu Sheng, with Yu meaning fish or abundance in Mandarin, and Sheng meaning raw, but when enunciated appropriately, it also means life. Together, Yu Sheng symbolizes “abundance of wealth and long life.” The tossing action is called lo hei in Cantonese, which means “tossing luck” or “rise again.”

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