Food and a funeral

We missed our breakfast at the hotel this morning. B was feeling a little ill, probably a consequence of too many long days and late nights. But not to worry, as good food is never far away in Malaysia!

Behind our hotel, down along Jalan Walter Grenier is long steel canopy, rusted with age. Beneath this are small Malay and Indian hawker stalls serving up a wide variety of dishes to the locals. I had discovered this place during a previous stay in KL and started my day with roti canai and Milo ais almost every morning.

That was what we ordered today. Roti canai (pronounced chanai) is a light and fluffy Indian flat bread made by kneeding and spinning around dough and frying it on a large circular hot plate. It is served with curry sauce. Milo ais is a Milo drink made with boiling water and condensed milk into which ice is placed. It is very sweet.

After our late breakfast we wandered around some of Bukit Bintang’s shopping centres. Berjaya Times Square was largely empty and devoid of many shops, though I did stop to admire the Sony Vaio store.

There were more computers at Low Yatt plaza, though I was only window shopping and checking out the prices for comparison with Australia and Bangkok. Sungei Wang and BB plazas provided more of interest to B – clothing and shoes.

It was time for lunch, so we crossed back to Jalan Alor for tom yum soup and char kway teoh along with limau ais (refereshing sweetened lime juice with ice) and starfruit juice. On the way back we bought a bag of mangosteens. Despite the tough looking exterior, these fruits are easily bruised and their shells stain fingers and clothes red. But they taste like fruit salad and are quite delicious.

Our afternoon was a more serious and programmed affair. We met up with B’s mother, aunts and uncles back at the hotel to go together to her uncle’s cremation and interment. The seven of us piled into a van for a drive to the crematorium and cemetery where her grandmother was laid to rest.

As seen enroute

The cemetery was a quiet location with beautiful views of the city and many flowering trees. The sides of the crematorium building were open to the breeze and views. The funeral director brought out the cremated remains in two aluminium tubs. A bowl filled with sand held sticks of incense and candles. We each held a stick of incense and took turns to bow three times to the urn that would hold the ashes and the bowl, before placing the stick in the sand bowl.

The next step was to use chopsticks to places three bone fragments in the urn. An assistant then poured the remaining bones into the urn. He needed to grind the remaining tub contents down to a powder before it could all fit into the urn. The urn was then given to us.

Before taking the urn to its resting place in distant Nilai we first paid our respects to the grandmother’s grave. Then he were off on a long drive down the same motorway we had travelled the day before to Melaka.

The cemetery at Nilai was ony recent, but the location was very restful. Chinese style tombs and temple buildings were built on a hill overlooking the grave plots. B’s uncle’s urn was to be placed in one of these.

The uncle was a Buddhist. A table with fruit, buns and incense was laid out in front of the cremation remains wall. A female Buddhist monk then began a very long singsong prayer during which she played small cymbals and a bell. It was so much more peaceful and spiritual than the Christian funeral services that I have attended before.

After the ceremony we returned to the cemetery reception buildings and were treated to plates of kuih, Malaysian sweets, and nasi lemak (coconut rice) wrapped in newspaper. I had been wanting to eat kuih, but had found very little in the shops, so I was quite delighted!

We returned to the hotel in the early evening. It is the best time in Malaysia, when the Sun drifts behind the huge tropical clouds, casting a gold and brown light across the land. A good time to be in a country town or undeveloped part of the city where the rundown shops are just beginning to close and the hawker stalls are awaking for the night’s dinners.

We met some old friends for dinner at a Chinese restaurant. Behind our table a big roast suckling pig was being carved for a wedding celebration in the next room. We were celebrating Chinese New Year with a traditional Malaysian dish called yi sang. Julienned vegetables, dried fruit, slivers of raw salmon and crispy strips of fried wonton pastry are mixed together by everyone on the table with their chopsticks.

I didn’t eat everything that was served up, including jellyfish, sea cucumber and fish bladders, but there was plenty to eat and it was very nice.

B expressed a desire to eat cendol, green mung bean flour “worms” in crushed ice, coconut milk and palm sugar syrup (gula melaka) to the table. So after the dinner we all drove down to their local area to a cafe specialising in Melaka nyonya foods. I don’t like the taste of gula melaka. Sometimes the vendor can replace it with ordinary sugar syrup, but this one used sarsaparilla flavouring instead, warning me that he had no idea if it would taste any good and I was trying this at my own risk.

I liked it!

Once finished we drove to the friends house, then back to the hotel. I have already raved on the Chinese New Year lights, but Kuala Lumpur is magnificently lit up all year round. Curtains of blue and white lights hanging off trees, yellow light cables wrapped around them. Multicoloured artificial palms light up roundabouts. Shops identify themselves with colourfully illuminated signs. And watching over it all are the truly breathtaking Petronas Twin Towers, silver candles in the night skyline. It must be a colossal waste of energy and, as someone trained in astronomy, I know that it is visual pollution for the night’s sky, but it is so beautiful!

Tomorrow we leave KL for Bangkok. But not before we eat again, and again!

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