Saturday, February 19, 2011

Winter Vacation: Kluang

M and I referred to Kluang as "the Shiso of Malaysia," and it became more and more apparent that this was the case the longer we stayed there.

In the bigger cities in Japan, it's not too hard to get around or make yourself understood in English. Many people speak it, if only a little. You need know no Japanese to get around in Tokyo. You can manage Kobe and Osaka, too, as well as lots of other big cities with a bit of willingness to look around for the English there. But if you get out in the countryside (liiiike Shiso?), fewer and fewer people really speak English. This isn't a problem for us in Japan, because we either know some Japanese or know people who do.. but Miriam and I would have only the phrases outlined in the guidebook, and no knowledge whatever.

Happily, Zul and his mother met us at the bus station, dissolving instantly our worries about not knowing either a, where we were in town, or b, how we would get in touch with them. They took us to dinner and we spent the evening enjoying their company.

From Winter Vacation Part IV: Kluang to KL

We went back to their wide, airy home where we looked at some photos of childhood Zul before getting caught up in a Malaysian movie (Adnan Sempit) which was excellently bilingual (with subtitles switching between Malay and English at the screen bottom). The movie was a good illustration of the way people around us were often talking in Malaysia. It also made more apparent the way that English is kind of a class marker. The movie's protagonist is not good at English, but the high-born object of his affections (his boss) certainly is, and a Malaysian dude who has been spending time in London is threatening to steal her away. The movie was really fun, all the more so because Zul explained the points we would have otherwise missed, having not been steeped in Malaysian (popular) culture ourselves. Things like the meaning of the word sempit (narrow-minded), the culture of the motorbiking ruffians, etc. I don't know if you can find this movie in your local rental shop, and I of course would never advocate illegal downloading just so you might enjoy it, so...

The next morning, we went to breakfast at Zul's favorite coffee shop, Kluang Rail Coffee. It is an establishment of some renown, and that was where we first tried kaya (coconut jam). Our various breads came slathered in it, with slabs of butter wedged in too. It was heavenly. Zul's mom taught us how to properly open the soft-boiled eggs (after his attempt failed), and I also tried the cham, a brew of coffee grounds and tea leaves together.

Kluang Rail Coffee: also delicious!
From Winter Vacation Part IV: Kluang to KL

Then we went to the post office and to a market area to shop for souveneirs. Most of the goods we brought back for friends (and selves), we got in the market at Kluang. Zul's mom even bargained with the shopkeepers for us, pulling the (already in ringgits) price down further.

Dragonfruit in the market outside where we got souvenirs. And yes, delicious.
From Winter Vacation Part IV: Kluang to KL

On the way back, we stopped for lunch at a restaurant reported (by Zul) to have been the favorite of the old king.What stands out in my mind there, and in all of Kluang really, is the bougainvillea growing everywhere I looked. The restaurant had a picture of the old king up on the wall, and had the feel of a very classy, high-style hangout from a long time ago. Made me think of rich people in old movies.

You can see the old king in the background!
From Winter Vacation Part IV: Kluang to KL

From Winter Vacation Part IV: Kluang to KL

After this, we needed to go catch our bus to KL, so we loaded up the car, exchanged hugs and promises to write, and M and I got one last look at Malaysian suburbia through the windows of the car.

The bus rolled north through tamed-jungle looking miles of ..maybe rubber trees? I don't really know. On our way to meet Anis in the capital, and our last stop!


  1. hi, dropping by here..:) love the way you write about Kluang...I'm a resident of Kluang, been staying here from 2008..

    nice blog u have here!

  2. Thanks for stopping by! I enjoyed Kluang and I wish I could have stayed a bit longer!