When I announced my itinerary for Kuala Lumpur Anand wanted to know if I had any plans already scheduled. I placed myself fully at his disposal and he said he would take care of that. The only thing I wanted factored into the schedule, I told Anand, is my age! This day he had organised a gathering of professionals in the shipping industry in Klang in a conference hall of the building where Trans Asia had its office. He also suggested that we take the car there so that those who gathered there would have the opportunity of ‘wishing the Champion’. Accordingly, it was confirmed that we would leave at 8.30 am so that we could also get the car washed before reaching the venue of the meeting.
Anand’s wife, Dhanya, had prepared wheat puttu and peas for breakfast. Puttu is a personal weakness; I can have that for all three meals of the day. The smell of steamed wheat puttu is ‘music to my nose’. As soon as I opened the door of the room, after getting dressed, my nose directed me to the table for a special breakfast. Dhanya had made the puttu with the right consistency, taking care to balance the flour and water, so that it is not lumpy. I knew my day would pan out alright after that excellent start to the day. On the way to the meeting Dhanya got off to go to her office, where she works with a structural design team. They had shifted residence to where they are staying now so that Dhanya would be closer to her place of work. Their affectionate daughter, Gauri, spends her day in a play school near Anand’s office. She loves to be at the school where she learns something new every day. Yesterday she was proud to show off her colouring efforts. I was happy to see her going so willingly to the school. Anand and Dhanya told me that she is often reluctant to leave the school even late in the evening!
After Gauri was dropped it was time to get the car washed. Car washes are not difficult to find in Malaysia. I have found them even in smaller towns. Many of them are automated drive through facilities. But we went to a manual one, where the car was given a thorough external sprucing. I avoided vacuuming the interior because of the amount of luggage that was in the car. The RM10 was well worth the work done. Anand had taken special permission to park the car right in front of the lobby of the 30 floor office cum commercial complex. To say that the car was the cynosure of most eyes that entered the building this day would be an understatement.
The third floor meeting hall was already set for the morning function. Anand had reserved it for the first half. Beverages and cookies that are part of the normal arrangements were already there and I helped myself to a cup of strong coffee, while waiting for the invitees. Anand had also made arrangements for a light meal of sandwiches and noodles. Nearly 25 invitees turned up for the session, which started right after the refreshments. After the welcome address by Phillip, a doyen among the shipping fraternity in Klang, and introduction of the speaker by Anand I shared experiences of my drives and beliefs I have picked up in the course of the expeditions. After the formal session ended with a vote of thanks we went down to the car and Anand affixed the sticker on the car to signify that Malaysia was done and dusted for the return trip to India. Only Thailand and Myanmar remained on the way to re-entering the Indian stratosphere!
The Klang office of Trans Asia has ten employees across management levels. I spent quite some time with them talking about travel and the Company and responding to questions they put to me. Later I went up to the office and enjoyed the commanding views of the town’s skyline. Anand and Suresh took me for a special lunch of Bah Kut Teh in the Pao Xiang outlet in the office complex. Bah Kut Teh dishes are all of pork and the Pao Xiang brand is famous for the cooking style. The meat is tied with cotton strings to extract excessive oil and fat from the meat and keep it intact during the long process of cooking. Special Chinese herbs are used to cook, which gives the meat its taste. We ordered three different dishes, which are basically different types of pork. The main dishes are served in traditional Jijong bowls that are kept warm by lighting a flame underneath it. A bowl of rice accompanies each dish. The soup in the bowl is replenished whenever needed. The food was amazingly tasty, especially the ham.
We went back home to leave the car there – I was not prepared to risk parking it in public places after hearing horror stories the previous evening about cars getting vandalised and broken into. It is not that I had any valuables in the car, but I was willing to risk the exposure. Later we went in Anand’s car to the Central Market, which is historic and a major tourist attraction in KL. At the entrance to the pastel blue building the year of its first construction is shown as 1888, when it was built to serve the tin mining community. It was a wet market then and continued to be so well into the 20th century. Many renovations have been done to the building over the years, most recent being the annexe in 2006 which showcases the cultural milieu. The second floor of the market has a large food court. During my earlier visits to the market I had always made it a point to have nasi lemak from one of the stalls there, which is recognised widely as the national dish of the country.
Not very far from the Central Market is the Petaling Street in KL’s China Town. A visit to KL, for me, is never complete without a stroll in the street. I used to pick up ‘pirated’ copies of latest English movies, music and ‘branded’ watches at bargains from here, besides feasting on street food. Anand had never been there before. We walked around and in and out of shops and stalls looking for bargains. CDs and DVDs were no longer on display and sale. But watches there were in plenty. After what I thought is a hard bargain I bought a couple of them. As we were about to leave the street I saw a stall selling pens. I asked for Mont Blanc and was presented with two sets of them; both were look alikes, but one was better in quality and looks than the other! Bargaining was tough and hard, but I managed to get a few of them at what I thought was a decent price. Humidity was over powering. We had Tiger beer from a wayside restaurant. Just opposite the restaurant was a shop selling tops. Kassim, the guy who tended the stall, finally agreed to give me a couple of them at the price I was willing to pay for them. The beauty of such deals is that the shop and stall vendors make you feel that you have driven a hard bargain and got more than your monies worth! I am hopeless at bargaining; even I came away from Petaling Street with my collar up in the air.
Suresh and his family, who were visiting him from Kerala as schools are on vacation, Dhanya and Gauri were in the Tropicana Mall by the time we reached there. Dinner was at the Golden Dragon restaurant, a typical Chinese set up. Plenty of food was ordered and when it arrived the waiters ensured enough space on the table by serving large portions in the plate and clearing the dishes to make room. The meal was sumptuous and filling. I normally close a meal with a large helping of fruits or desserts. But after this meal I could not even have a glass of water.
The stay in KL had come to an end. It was to Penang that I was headed for next day. I was meeting Anand and his family for the first time and I am grateful for the way they treated me. I felt comfortable in their home as I would in my own.