Been five months!

It’s been close to five months since I last posted something here. Here’s a little summary of what I’ve been up to:

I was unemployed for one month plus. It was nice. I got to wake up at 10 every morning, went to popular brunch spots on on weekdays when tables would be easy to find, read a lot, play Cities: Skylines for hours on long, reconnect with some old friends, spent more time with my parents, met someone special 3 months ago, and of course, travelled spontaneously.

But after a while, I got bored and found myself in need of a larger sense of purpose, so I cut short my break and began job hunting. A couple of weeks into my hunt, I received a decent offer in a PR consulting firm, so I, with no formal PR experience to boot, took the leap of faith and jumped in. Began my new gig in July, and it’s been two eventful months ever since. I must say that I enjoy this job as it involves a lot of writing and public engagement; I love people, so I have no complaint about doing the latter. There are stressful periods, however, and life in the agency isn’t as glamorous as a lot of people think. It involves long hours and a lot of patience, as you have to deal with some really tough nuts to crack sometimes. Challenges notwithstanding, I can see myself being comfortable being in this industry in the long run.

On my travels, I managed to cover a number of places, some of which I had never been to previously. Here’s a map of where I’ve been to since April:

Places I've been to since April

I plan to write about some of my these cities in my subsequent posts. Stay tuned!

Speak soon,

FH

60 Minutes in Old KL

Kuala Lumpur has got to be one of the most dynamic cities in Asia today. It is fast-paced, and with flurries of construction activities spread across its large urban expanse, exudes the appearance of a boom town preparing itself for the future. Malaysia has been experiencing rapid economic growth since 1980s (albeit at a slightly muted pace lately) and KL is the showcase city chronicling this phenomenal shift of the nation’s fortune. The rise of western-style consumerism has turned much of the city into a sprawling, featureless metropolis of hundreds of banal malls, gridlocked cloverleaf intersections, posh condominium blocks (with a lot of empty units, however), and many, many Starbucks, KFCs & McDonald’s outlets.

Pockets of Malaysia’s pre-boom past still exist, however, awkwardly amidst the city’s sea of skyscrapers. The old quarter of KL, the epicentre of which sits at the confluence of the Klang & Gombak river, is only 4 LRT stations’ away from KL’s modern, bordering on featureless downtown of huge malls & cookie cutter office blocks. While various efforts have been made to rejuvenate this much-blighted area of town, you may still witness the rustic elegance of near crumbling Chinese style shophouses interspersed with old temples and open air markets here.

Crumbling shoplot, Old KL
Crumbling shoplot, Old KL

Lebuh Pasar used to be the central business district of KL. The area is characterised by its grand shophouses & office buildings, some of them ornate, with neoclassical columns & accents. Many of these buildings were already crumbling until the recent effort of rejuvenation turned the square into a pleasant public space, with neat benches and fountains. The buildings surrounding the square have been repainted in some vibrant colours.

Shoplots facing Lebuh Pasar, a pedestrianised public square
Shoplots facing Lebuh Pasar, a pedestrianised public square
A Moorish inspired structure, KL
A Moorish inspired structure, KL

The area surrounding Lebuh Pasar is fairly pedestrian-friendly, but expect creaky pavements & broken traffic lights. There appears to be a large presence of Bangladeshi migrant workers who live and work in the area. Many of the local shops have Bengali, instead of Tamil, signboards/advertisements alongside English & Malay, a reflection of Malaysia’s constantly evolving demographics.

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An Indian flower shop, Old KL
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Lorong Bandar 1, KL

More random shots taken using my humble iPhone 5S camera:

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Street art carrying a rather sanitised message of patriotism, Old KL

Of course, every stroll in old KL has to end with some delicious food, and this time around I chowed down an amazing Chettinad meal at Betel Leaf, Lebuh Ampang.

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It was a great meal, I’ll probably talk more about the restaurant later.

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Exploring our own turfs can be an exciting experience; it opens our eyes to beautiful things that we might have overlooked all along. Next time, if you have the time, grab your backpack, bring a bottle of water, get on the LRT and stop at the Masjid Jamek/Pasar Seni station. You’ll find youself in a colourful part of town, pretty rugged & unpolished at that, but refreshingly vibrant & authentic.

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Speak soon,

Faizal Hamssin

A City Of Contrasts

Shanghai is a city of contrasts: it’s a place where the nouveau riche flaunt their wealth in a smart neighborhood just a few blocks away from the derelict ungentrified streets of Old Xintiandi. It is a place where capitalism coexists with communism. Mao is still a much-revered figure, ironically so, considering that he was the man responsible for repressing the very lifeline of Shanghai’s economic prosperity at the height of his Cultural Revolution; the city’s entrepreneurial character. From the scammers who roam the bustling Nanjing Road to the business executives working in one of Pudong’s gleaming skyscrapers, Shanghainese really know how to make money. Ethnically the city is nowhere near homogenous. Its cosmopolitan vibes are felt through the diverse selection of food on offer in the city. The noticeably sizable Shanghai Muslim community, just like the Chinese Eurasians of the city, appears to be very well-integrated, if not assimilated, into the mainstream Chinese society.

This is a massive city; there are as many people living in Shanghai as there are in the whole of Australia. It is so crowded that it puts Seoul to shame, the roads are a total chaos, and Westerners used to waking up to clear, blue sky may find Shanghai air a little too heavy to their lungs. Shanghai is definitely not for everyone. The city gets pretty overwhelming at times, but the people are surprisingly friendly and the food good, so I still regard Shanghai pretty highly in my book. Living there I’m not keen of, but going there for a visit is very much worth it.

Explore the city beyond the skyscrapers and the Jetson-esque highways and overpasses that are the omnipresent feature of the new China, and enjoy getting lost in the maze of the older parts of Shanghai, where things are still very much alike what you expect to see in China; rundown but very charming hardware shops, art deco buildings clearly past their prime, and seedy cafes where people, especially the elderly, gather for a round of Chinese chess. That’s where the charm of the city really lies.

The shots were taken using my modest-yet-reliable digicam:

Faithfully restored old shophouses
Colors
Geometry
Jin Mao Tower and Shanghai WFC
The ungentrified part of Xintiandi