Saturday, 26 March 2011

Malaysia: Kuala Lumpur Central Market

Strolling past fruit and sundry vendors that line colorful Petaling Street, this November morning’s journey runs through Chinatown on its way to the Central Market.

Located in the heart of Kuala Lumpar, Malaysia, the closed-air market is a baby blue and white two-story building.  Formerly a wet market, the pungent, balmy air just outside, smells of fresh shrimp and cuttlefish hawked by the vendors positioned along the building’s outer perimeter.

Once inside the building, it turns into a vibrant lesson in Malaysian culture. Malaysia is a culturally diverse country and while the majority of the country is Muslim, there is also a strong Indian and Chinese presence as well as the Baba-Nyonya.

Baba Nyonya is a term used to describe the descendants of Malay women and Chinese men who married after Chinese settlement in the fifteenth century. Though there is a defined Chinese influence, the Baba Nyonya have developed a style and cuisine all their own.

The market boasts a multitude of shops vending affordable and original artwork, textiles, and souvenirs. Indian shops sell iron and brass castings of various Hindu deities while the Chinese vendors sell assortments of various incarnations of Lord Buddha.

In between, devote Muslims sell artistic and inspiring written Arabic phrases from the Koran and baju mals, the traditional Muslim wardrobe worn to Mosque. While most of the products are local to the various Malaysian cultures, products also come from Indonesia and Myanmar.

While the shopping is a unique experience, more unique are the Fish Spas. On the east edge of the market, on the first floor, are giant tanks full of tiny fish. Though the market used to be a hub for culinary fish, these fish serve a very different purpose.

Sitting on cushioned benches surrounding the tanks, with their pants rolled up, are giggling tourists and Malay locals alike. Customers of the spa dip their feet into the tank where hundreds of tiny fish swarm their legs, eating off dead skin cells.

To the unseasoned fish spa participant, the experience is exceedingly ticklish and the average time one can leave their leg is roughly thirty seconds before yanking it out in a fit of laughter. Those with a little more experience simply sip coffee as the fish make a meal of their epidermis.

While thirty seconds at a time is all I could stand, the proprietor looked at me with scorn as I surrendered at about minute two. The cost was twenty-five ringgit for twenty minutes and it is considered impolite to abandon the process even a second early.

After my feet have been chomped clean, I go upstairs where there are a multitude of reflexology clinics specializing in the art of foot massage. Since I had been walking all over the country and foot care was becoming a theme of the day, the twenty-minute rubdown was greatly enjoyed.

With my appendages rubbed down, greased up and free of dead skin cells, it was time to make my way back downstairs for a rich coffee and pastry at the elaborate food court.

After scarfing down some local noodles and a tapioca bao, which is Vietnamese, I begin the long walk back to the beautiful Istana Hotel located just a quick walk from the Petronas Towers, the tallest twin buildings in the world, where I will join other tourists on a journey to the top of Malaysia tallest building.

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