I’ve made the occasional foray into Chinatown in KL before – I distinctly remember a trip to the market here for frog porridge several years ago – but I haven’t ever explored it properly, so I decided to sign up for a guided tour.
Chinatown is famous for its market, which specialises in fake designer clothes and watches and other tourist tat, but I was with a local, so we gave it a wide berth. Teen Teen, my guide, took me to see the street art in Kwai Chai Hong. It’s a little street tucked away at the back of a row of shophouses The name means Ghost Lane or Little Devils’ alley, and the locals believe it refers to the children of the shopkeepers, who were left to their own devices while their parents were busy shopkeeping, and caused mayhem tearing up and down the little alley at the back of their houses.
The area has been done up and prettified now, and has lots of street art. One large row of paintings shows the history of Kuala Lumpur.
The pillars on either side of the shop front describe what the shop sold or offered. We found an original pillar outside an old shop house, which had been a doctor’s surgery. It’s flaking and peeling and in desperate need of renovation.
We walked over a cute little bridge to see the street art portraying the way of life in Little Devils’ Alley in its heyday.
Presumably the children in the picture on the left are the little devils that the street is named after.
Our next stop was a Chinese temple – the Guan Di Taoist temple built in 1888. I’ve always admired the practical Chinese approach to religion – they don’t pray for world peace or something nebulous in the future, they ask for something concrete and immediate. This temple was dedicated to the Gods of War and Education. Obviously, as an ex-teacher, the first shrine I visited was the God of Education, and inside a glass case on the wall were rows of exam timetables. Parents come in and pay to have their children’s timetables placed next to the God in the hope that he’ll exert a benign influence. Teen Teen told me that she has also seen parents standing right in front of the God holding up an exam timetable and praying loudly for divine grade inflation.
The God of War didn’t have many takers on the day we visited – but as he will only grant wishes to those with a pure mind, that must act as a deterrent for most people. There were just a couple of elderly men kneeling in front of him, and it wasn’t clear from their body language whether they were praying for war or a ceasefire.
Our final stop on the tour was the cake shop, where we tried the beautiful wedding biscuits filled with red bean paste, and the bizarrely named wife biscuit flavoured with melon and orange.
We also had a look at the local vegetarian restaurant …
… specialising, amongst others, in those well known vegetarian dishes called braised lamb chop and fermented pork knuckle.