Yesterday while riding the LRT train, I realized a young Malaysian was speaking to me. I hadn’t really heard what he said, so I asked for a repeat. “Are you a Buddhist too?” he asked. That was totally unexpected. “Yes, but what made you ask me that?” I said. He pointed to the mala I wear on my wrist. Oh! And showed me his, on his own wrist.
We had about 10 minutes to chat before I reached my station. He has visited an uncle in the U.S. once but hasn’t lived abroad. He certainly didn’t seem any different from any other 20-something Malaysian — except that he had initiated a conversation with a foreigner. (In my experience, young people here are the opposite of outgoing around strangers.) I enjoyed his sincerity.
I had business at the post office this morning, and then I walked to the Maha Vihara Buddhist temple, which is not far from the KL Hilton, where I’m staying now. I had never been there before. I saw lots of preparations for Wesak (the Buddha’s birthday), which will be celebrated on Monday — large paper lanterns, hundreds of small oil lamps, fresh new banners flapping in the breeze. A few monks in dark orange robes milled about.
A layperson called Mrs. Kow offered to show me around. Everyone’s been working very hard to clean and decorate for the holiday — the monks themselves are cutting the tissue paper designs for the lanterns, among other things. Wesak is not only the biggest holiday of the year but also the best opportunity for raising money to support the temple and the monks. Mrs. Kow said they’re working to create an education center to train monks from Malaysia. Most of their monks come from Sri Lanka. “Their dharma is wonderful, but they don’t speak our language,” she said. They do give dharma talks in English on Friday nights and Sunday mornings, so I suppose she meant Bahasa Malaysia, or maybe Mandarin.
What I saw at Maha Vihara was nothing like the traditional Chinese Buddhist temples around Malaysia, where people come in and light incense (joss sticks) and then leave, and where there are rarely any monks in robes. Several times Mrs. Kow mentioned how learned their monks are (she said “our monks”). Unfortunately, the Friday dharma talk was canceled because of the holiday work. Maybe one day I’ll return here for Wesak.
For today’s obligatory food porn, I took the monorail to the Imbi stop so I could visit the big electronics shopping complex called Low Yat. I wasn’t sure I could find the place I remembered, but it turned out to be very easy, as it was right beside one of the entrances to Low Yat.
The first time I had this was in Hong Kong. I saw a lot of people eating exactly the same thing in a very crowded, very small restaurant there and indicated that I wanted whatever it was they were having. It’s tough to say which is better — the sweet, crispy, chewy pork; the heavenly shrimp-stuffed wontons; the rich broth; or the slurpy noodles.
Later I met up with Kiran and Milton for the last time on this trip. We went to a restaurant near Kiran’s house in Sentul called Naili’s Place, where I had black pepper beef steak and ABC, a dessert I adore made with shaved ice, syrup, assorted beans and jellies, and evaporated milk. That would have been quite enough, really, but Kiran had decided I just cannot leave Malaysia without eating some fresh durian, which just happens to be in season (although it’s still early in the season).
If you’re familiar with Andrew Zimmern’s TV show on the Travel Channel, you might remember durian as one of the few things he has spit out. Yes, this is a food that Zimmern cannot eat. I don’t mean to brag, but I can eat it. Not a lot of it, and certainly with nowhere near the gusto of a Malaysian, but it’s not bad.
We drove into Chow Kit and crawled through traffic on narrow Jalan Raja Alang until we found a stall selling the “king of fruits.” Kiran parked right there and jumped out, with Milton hot on her heels, and before I was even out of the car, they had selected their durian and the seller was hacking open the thorny rind. We sat down at a flimsy table behind his stall and he laid out paper napkins, bottled water, and the two neat halves of our durian. Within minutes my two friends had consumed almost all of it, while I daintily gnawed around the pit of my second and final piece.
More photos here.