In a Not So Faraway Land
“Klang residents can’t speak a word of English!” a friend of a friend snorted snootily. I gasped; I spluttered; and I choked; for I am solid proof of a living, breathing being, born and bred in Klang that knows more words in the English dictionary than Bill Gates can buy, if I do say so myself. Poor old Klang has long been the object of torment and misconception at the pleasure of Kuala Lumpur, Petaling Jaya, and Subang Jaya dwellers. Sadly, outsiders see Klang in a stereotypically negative way and would give no room for change of perception for as long as the sun rises in the East. When someone asks where I come from, it takes one word–Klang, for them to exclaim “Klang?!” with that look of annoyance mingled with disgust. What’s sadder is that these fallacies I must say are even shared by Klang locals themselves. However, one thing is evident and that is Team Klang sticks up for our own little town, and is ready to bark back any criticism coming from the impudent ignoramuses from supposedly, and I quote, “cooler” parts of the Klang Valley.
To know this misunderstood town a little better, let’s delve into a bit of its history. Klang is the royal capital of the state of Selangor. The Sultan’s royal palace, Istana Alam Shah, is located at Jalan Istana, recognizable by its huge gilded purple gate. Real gold, you ask? Nah, I doubt it, or chunks of it will go missing every day. It is rumoured to have an enormous aquarium with an amazing variety of marine species, pampered with royal treatment. Who knows if it’s true? I’m not allowed inside palace grounds. It would certainly be a shame to get shot for trespassing and die. My late grandfather, may he rest in peace, had interesting tales to tell about the palace as he’s been to visit several times. He knew the late Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah Al-Haj, may he also rest in peace, personally. Unfortunately, now that I’m on the road of appreciating and absorbing as much history as I can, I’m too late!
Klang is named after the grotesque Klang River which snakes across the middle of the town. One of the reasons Klang is taunted relentlessly is because of this very river to which everyone will agree as obscene, repugnant, radioactive, a flagrant error of humanity, and every other foul word in the book. Fishing is free there if you have a taste for mutant seafood. A rapid growth of modern townships such as Bandar Botanic and Bukit Tinggi has really hyped the place up. JUSCO Bukit Tinggi mall is a welcome change to the dead Klang Parade or decrepit Shaw Centrepoint. Bukit Tinggi especially is effervescent at night with the brightly lit commercial blocks. Restaurants and cafes stay open till late.
The town boasts of a few monuments like the Tugu Keris. It is a flashy, towering silver Keris that ‘hellos’ motorists on the left side of the Federal Highway. Built in 1985 as an emblem to the Silver Jubilee of the Sultan of Selangor's installation, it…hasn’t rusted. Besides that, there is the Klang Royal Gallery located in the nonagenarian Sultan Suleiman building. It contains the hoo-ha, heritage and history of the Selangor sultanate. If that’s not enough, let’s take a trip to the Gedung Raja Abdullah. This big brown boy first housed weapons, tin, and food. Then, the British converted it into an administration office. Today it’s a tin museum; a window into a whirlwind past that was crazy and colourful.
Ah, and what’s a town without food? Klang is known nationwide–or at least around the Klang Valley–as a food sanctuary. The dish that renews our faith in mankind and bears people a scrap of reverence towards Klang is (long live forever) bak kut teh. Literally translated from Hokkien to English, bak is meat; kut is bones; and teh is tea. So you can pretty much imagine what this dish looks like. A clay pot filled with pungent dark soup, pork, an assortment of mushrooms, and fried bean curd. The only fault my finger can point at is the gross pig intestines.
Moreover Klang is famous for viva la seafood. We easily have the best seafood cuisine in the whole region if not the country. Tucked away in remote, tiny Telok Gong, it is accessible only by car as no other modes of public transport go this way. Looks like we want to keep it our little secret and not have to share it with the rest of the world. But a secret like this is hard to keep and people come from as far as Johor and Singapore to try the must-do-before-you-die seafood. The locals and I swear by the seafood served in Coconut Flower Seafood Restaurant. It is like riding a Spanish fighting bull through the eye of a tornado. Oops, cat’s out of the bag now!
Let’s not forget the celebrated Klang Cendol along Jalan Nanas. The business has come a long way since starting out on a tricycle. It advanced to a cendol van, and now the business owners have a shop so full of customers, they can retire in five years and live like kings. I take joy in describing cendol let alone eat it. Cendol is a sweet Malaysian delicacy usually taken as dessert. It’s made from shaved ice, topped with creamed corn, grass jelly, red beans, and green noodle-like cendol from which the dessert is christened; rose syrup, coconut milk and gula Melaka spilling at the sides of the bowl, all swept up in the shape of a volcano. And rightly so because the taste is just explosive! Other than cendol the shop sells rojak, another popular, lip-smacking meal. The word rojak means mix; hence the dish is an outrageous blend of noodles, bean curd, hard-boiled eggs, fried dough fritters, bean sprouts, and cucumber, with a splash of thick, sweet and spicy peanut sauce. Voila–a perfect blend of Malaysian ingenuity.
For a dash of the old-fashioned feel, Chong Kok Kopitiam delivers aromatic, world-class coffee, scrumptious toast and nasi lemak. Why do I call it vintage? Because it’s a delightful little shop out of time; stepped out of a classic film and into the twenty-first century with its antique tiles and glass window panel, the words “First Class Bar” plastered across. That’s just what was during the British colonial era–a first class bar. Old customers love nothing better than to sit at a table with a cup coffee and reminisce about ‘the days’.
The Klang community never goes hungry with around the clock mamaks. Thank the heavenlies for mamaks. How do the anes/boss’/joes manage to keep on their feet and serve ravenous customers all those hours? Hats off to the people who serve, ladies and gentlemen. But enough about food or I’ll be rushing off to the nearest mamak.
Klang culture is loved by many and despised by some. The mood is quaint, quirky, old school, and unhurried. City dwellers accuse Klang of being ulu (rural or backward). They expect us to bask in their magnificence of cosmopolitan modernity, but I tell you the glorious bulbs that dance and light Klang up can bring KL to the stocks of medieval shame. Time slows down in this town and people are relaxed. Even the cost of living is lower so it’s good news for skinflints like my Chinese self. Best of all the traffic is not as constipated as it is on the busy streets of KL.
Klang is a blend of the old and new with long-standing places like Melawis and happening new sites like Bukit Tinggi; and that’s just South Klang alone. The birth of Bandar Baru Klang in the North rang no jubilant bells because it began as lifeless as dried out pickles. The place was a white elephant during the 90s, but as sure as the tiny acorn sprouts into the mighty oak tree, so did BBK grow into a thriving vicinity. Soon Aman Perdana and Setia Alam joined its ranks and formed the formidable North Klang that boomed to the borders of Shah Alam. We truly have the best of both worlds.
The largest and busiest port in Malaysia, Port Klang, is no stranger to us. Formerly called Port Swettenham after Sir Frank Athelstane Swettenham, Selangor’s British Resident in 1882, it was his brainchild export tin after the old harbor, Pelabuhan Batu, was too shallow to anchor vessels the likes of the Britannic. It during the tumultuous WWII that Port Klang contained another kind of transport–allied aircraft. It was here that the Royal Selangor Yacht Club was initiated by then Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak. Port Klang is currently under the jurisdiction of the Majlis Perbandaran Klang (MPK).
MPK finally pulled through with the new flyover that connects North and South Klang. The works took forever to finish. In fact, construction had been going on for years and it really clogged up traffic. Now the flyover is open, traffic has eased but the orange cones and bumble bee concrete dividers are still in sight. Sigh, the council is lazy Klang culture personified.
The regrettable part of Klang culture is the association with high crime rates. “Klang is a den for thieves and pirates”, someone once joked. Boy would I give him a taste of my sucker punch if I weren’t a lady. “Crime is frequent in Klang but so is it everywhere, you moron.” Residents are always careful not to compromise on safety. Move in a group, don’t go out in the dark, keep your eyes peeled for unusual activity around you, and run away from motorcyclists brandishing machetes.
The Little India enclave is one of the endearing pieces of the Klang puzzle. Competition among scores of shops leads to cheaper prices, leaving consumers spoilt for choice. Stalls occupy both sides of Jalan Tengku Kelana and overflow onto back lanes. A myriad of Indian articles such as sarees, accessories, textiles, food, flowers, gold, and household items are available. Deepavali sees the street turn into vibrant spectacle of colours, lights and sounds. My personal addiction is the Indian coconut candy. There is no leaving Indian street without a box of candy. Little India just about puts Klang on the map of civilization.
Ugh, the slimy part of Klang culture called the lala culture makes my stomach churn. Lalas are people who throw on mismatched clothing and accessories, inspired by God-awful Japanese fashion. Their hair are impossible splatters of colours and come in extraterrestrial shapes. There is no particular age-group for this parade of freaks. You get baby lalas and grandlalas. They don’t realize they look like Christmas trees or rodeo clowns. They are fashion disasters; their clothes cheaper than the free peanuts served on airplanes. It’s not that lalas can’t be found in KL, PJ or Subang, it’s just that they’re concentrated here in Klang. No wonder they call Klang the Lala Headquarters.
Another charming aspect of our culture is Taman Rakyat, the recreational park packed with screaming kids and robust senior citizens. There are slides, swings, see-saws, monkey-bars and everything rowdy children dream of. It gets annoying being surrounded by a throng of running, pushing brats, but it is a play park. There are also empty plots where youths show off their skills on skateboards and rollerblades. These empty plots are also occupied by the same group of adorable elderly people every evening, line dancing or practicing Tai Chi. Picture this; wrinkly grandmas and grandpas put on the radio, get into position, move energetically with Oriental fans in their hands to some crackly female voice singing an old favourite Chinese ditty. Behind the park is mountainous ground with a trail that the very same group of elderly folks blaze up and down every dawn in their tracksuits, funny caps and “Good Morning” towels. Wow, these ancestors are incredibly gung-ho!
The times I think about Klang and the funny tales it has to offer tickles me pink. It reminds me of the story of the frog who turned into a handsome prince. This is the extraordinary saga of how a friendless plot of red earth, weeds, wild trees (and slithery reptiles, I’m sure), became the town it is today. So stop picking on it like the townspeople did Frankenstein, thank you very much! Still could do with improvement on infrastructure and I’m sure we could find room for more shopping malls though. All in all, Klang has an odd charm that doesn’t lure you with an untamed fiery passion if you’re new to it, but is forever to the kooky Klang gang who call it home. And how!