The Founding Of Kuala Lumpur
To understand Petaling Street, it is important to understand how Kuala Lumpur was founded.
Kuala Lumpur traces its origins back to the 1850s, when the Malay Chief of Klang, Raja Abdullah, hired some migrant Chinese labourers to open new and larger tin mines. The Chinese labourers landed at the meeting of two rivers- Sungai Gombak and Sungai Klang.
These mines developed into a trading post that came to be considered a frontier town. Like all frontier towns, living conditions were bad, diseases were widespread and fires and floods often plagued Kuala Lumpur.
As with many pioneer towns, Kuala Lumpur was filled with a population that was largely made up of male labourers. Men who could afford it spent their leisure time at the brothels, and at the widely available opium dens and gambling booths. Many stayed at crowded lodges where they slept on wooden beds right one top of the other, or in straw beds in the corridors. Sometimes they even slept in shifts when the space they slept on was rented out to others while they were worked.
In this cramped, filthy and smelly environment, a new city was being built.
A civil war broke out in 1870. The Chinese community, split between the Cantonese Ghee Hin and the Hakka Hai San. The British were called in to help end the conflict, but the fighting between the two clans caused many buildings in the area to be burnt down and damaged.
The mines were abandoned during the War. After the war, the miners could not return to work because the mines became flooded. Yap Ah Loy, a powerful Chinese leader at that time convinced the miners to remain in Kuala Lumpur. He opened a tapioca mill in Petaling Street where tubers from his farms were brought to be ground into flour. This is why even till today, Petaling Street is called ‘Chee Cheong Kai’ which means ‘starch factory street’ in the Cantonese dialect.
All around, you see many traders selling their wares. This place is very popular with tourists looking for lasting, fake goods. If you don’t mind fake goods, then you can walk out of Petaling Street carrying a couple of Louis Vuitton or Chanel bags.
Piracy is a booming business here too, with DVD sellers tempting you with their selection. You will be asked to pick your DVDs from a catalogue and walkie-talkies are used to get your order to you in a black plastic bag. Be aware that raids are conducted often and if it’s not your lucky day, you might be questioned for buying pirated DVDs. Otherwise, be prepared to see the sellers run away just as fast as they came.
But fake goods and illegal DVDs are not the reason many people come here. It’s the street food. One famous food is the local fruit called the ‘air mata kucing’ which means ‘cat’s eye’, mixed with syrup and ice. ‘Air mata kucing’ makes a good icy drink on a hot day. Other stalls offer a variety of Chinese pancakes, chessnuts, ‘tau foo fah’ which is a soy bean dessert, and a host of other interesting Chinese street food.
In the many narrow alleyways, barbers set up their chairs and wait for customers looking for a cheap haircut and a clean shave.
You might spot some old men sitting around drinking and reminiscing about the good old days. These men may look old and frail, but they can easily drink you under the table! This tradition of sitting around, drinking whisky was popular since the times when Chinese immigrants came here to work in the tin mines.
Be warned: while walking around, there are pickpockets.
Tips On Bargaining
Bargaining is a must in Petaling Street. Here’s a quick guide on how to do it well.
- Before you bargain, go to a few shops and get to know the general price.
- Don’t show any enthusiasm for the item you want. Look at several items; do not ask for prices yet. When you do ask, ask the prices of a few items and do it in a disinterested way.
- When you are ready to buy, always let the merchant quote the price first. He will insist that you tell him how much you want to pay, but don’t fall for that. Wait for him to start, and when he does, look shocked.
- Start a counter offer with the phrase ‘Kurang lagi!’ Remember this term, ‘Kurang lagi’. It means, ‘lower the price’.
- Your final price should be 40% to 50% of the initial asking price so start your bargaining even lower than this but don’t start too low because if you counteroffer with a ridiculously low price, the merchant won’t be bothered to do business with you. And you might even anger him.
- Remember to smile! The merchant is much more likely to lower the price if you are friendly. Bargaining should be fun.
- It’s easier to get a discount if you buy several items together. Do your research well, and whenever possible, buy everything from one stall.
- Don’t be afraid to walk away. Seeing a potential sale walking away, the merchant may meet your price, or at least offer a further discount. If not, at least you now know the lowest price for the item and can bargain better elsewhere.
- Don’t feel obligated to buy unless you’ve agreed on a price.
- Once you agree on a price, you must buy the thing. If you can’t get the merchant down to a fair price, then don’t buy it. If he comes down to your asking price, then you must buy it.
- Always have small change and pay the exact amount.
- Above all, have a heart. Many tourists take bargaining too seriously. Remember, these merchants are just normal Malaysians who work hard to feed their families. Those extra Ringgits probably mean much more to them than they do to you.
Have fun bargaining and maybe you’ll go home with a few branded items as many tourists do!
Wherever you are going to travel, you should bring usb lighter in anticipation of an emergency, besides that lighter is also very necessary under any circumstances. Given its simple but elegant and easy to carry shape, it is a futuristic lighter without gas.
Until next time, “Choi Kin” and Goodbye.