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Secrets of Kuala Lumpur – What You Don’t Know If No One Told You
When you’re at Batu Caves…
1. The huge golden statue is the famous Hindu god, Lord Murugan. It is at 42.7 meters and took 3 years to construct and was unveiled in 2006. It is the tallest Lord Murugan statue in the world.
2. ‘Batu’ means ‘stone’. ‘Batu Caves’ means ‘stone caves’.
3. An Indian trader was inspired by the ‘spear’-shaped entrance of the main cave. The spear is the divine weapon of Lord Murugan. Apparently, he saw that the entrance of the main cave was shaped like a spear- to see that, you might need to stretch your imagination a little.
4. It is an excruciating 272-steps climb to the top of the stairs.
When you’re at Guan Di Temple…
1. Also known as the Kwong Siew Association temple, which is a clan association, referring to a gathering of Chinese immigrants who had come from the same province in China. Think of it as a club for people whose ancestors came from the same area, or a place where people with the same family name gather.
2. At the main entrance arch, look up and you will see a red fish right in the middle of the entrance arch. Strain your eyes and you will see that the fish is actually spouting water from its mouth and balancing a giant pearl. The fish is a symbol of prosperity in Chinese culture. This is because the word for fish in Chinese, which is ‘yu’, sounds like the word for riches or abundance.
3. At the door there are two fierce looking Chinese soldiers- they are the guardians of the door and they protect the temple from demons. Each of them holds a weapon and a pearl.
4. There are also two stone lions. They are the Chinese guardian lions, and their job is also to protect the temple from demons. Look carefully at both and you will see that they actually strike very different poses. Guardian lions are always made in pairs- one female and one male. The one on the left is the female guardian lion, and she has a cub in her paws, representing the circle of life. The one on the right is the male guardian lion, and he has a paw on a globe to represent his feeling the ‘pulse of the earth’. Symbolically, the female guards those who live inside, and the male guards the structure of the temple. And if you look closely, you can see a pearl in their mouths.
5. On the top of the door with the blue frame, you will see 4 big Chinese words that mean Kwong Siew Association, and you read from right to left. Strain your eyes on the six little characters on each side. They tell you the name of the writer and when it was written.
6. Every year, a divine sword is brought out so that worshippers can touch and lift this very heavy 59-kilogramme weapon for good luck and protection. The sword is said to have special powers, and if you lift it three times, you will be protected. Provided if you have a pure and righteous heart.
When you’re at the Sri Mahamariamman Temple…
1. The temple resembles the human body on its back, with its head positioned towards the west and the feet towards the east.
2. Mariamman is the goddess of rain, and she is very popular in South India. In Tamil, one of the many languages of India, ‘mari’ means rain, referring to her association with rain. But ‘mari’ also means change, referring to her changing forms into many other gods. She is also the god of diseases. During the summer months in South India, in March to June, people walk miles carrying pots of water mixed with turmeric and neem leaves to ward off illnesses like measles and chicken pox.
3. Lining up to worship Shiva, one of the main gods in the temple, are 65 statues of deities; each has a story to their own. One of the deities was Nadaraja. After years of prayers and devotion in the jungle, Shiva finally appeared to him. But one of Shiva’s eyes was bleeding so Nadaraja plucked out the bleeding eye and replaced it with his own eye. Then the other eye started to bleed as well, but Nadaraja could not offer his other eye or else he could see no more, so he offered his leg, and as soon as he did that, he disappeared.
4. At the right side you will see the Navagrahas, loosely translated as the cosmic influencers. There, you will see the English translation as Nine Planets, but in reality, it really refers to the nine markers of influence. That’s why you see the sun and moon there as well.
When you’re at the Chan See Shu Yuen Temple…
1. The temple is sometimes known as The Green Temple.
2. On the red pillars on both sides are Chinese characters that remind the current generation not to forget their ancestors. Chinese people remember their ancestors through a unique tradition called ancestor worship. They would put up pictures or inscriptions about their ancestors and offer food and joss sticks as a way to seek their blessings. It’s similar to the Catholic practice of seeking intervention from the saints, upright people who have passed away.
3. The first thing that will strike you is the open space concept. You will realize that the courtyard is inside the building as opposed to the outside.
When you’re at Petaling Street…
1. Yap Ah Loy, a powerful Chinese leader 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.
2. Petaling Street is famous for it’s the street food. Try a 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.
3. The most important phrase to keep in mind when haggling is ‘Kurang lagi!’ which means, ‘lower the price’.
When you’re in Masjid Jamek…
1. Jamek, or Jumaat means Friday in the Malay language. It is significant because prayers are held every Friday afternoon. Prayers on Friday afternoons are as important to Muslims as Saturdays are to Jews, and Sundays are to Christians. Masjid, as you may have guessed, means mosque.
2. Look out for the two red and white striped minarets. They have small chatris or umbrella-shaped cupolas on top. There are a large number of small chatris at the top of the entrance and at the corners of the mosque.
3. On the minarets, speakers are placed high up and they are used broadcast the azan, or the Muslim call to prayer.
When you’re at the Sultan Abdul Samad Building…
1. It was named after the reigning Sultan of Selangor at that time, Sultan Abdul Samad.
2. It was built with the ‘Mahometan’ style of building, also known as ‘Neo-Saracenic’.
3. It is constructed entirely of brick.
4. The clock tower is sometimes known as the Big Ben of Kuala Lumpur. On 1 January 1982, the clock tower became the venue for a historic event when the time between Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore were standardized. On December 31, 1981, at 23:30 hours local time, citizens in Peninsular Malaysia adjusted their clocks and watches ahead by 30 minutes to match the time in East Malaysia, which was 00:00 hours of January 1, 1982. In a blink of an eye; the Malaysian Standard Time is now +8 GMT!
5. Beneath the tower is the word ‘Merdeka’. Merdeka means Independence. Every year, during Hari Merdeka or Independence Day, thousands of spectators gather here to watch the colourful parade along the streets and performances held at the field opposite of the road.
When you’re at the old National History Museum…
1. The arches are intended to make the façade more complementary to the nearby Mogul-styled buildings.
2. The two corner domes high above are made from a precious wood called ‘belian’ timber, and it is said to be the hardest wood found in East Malaysia. It is very valuable because it does not succumb to rot or insects. In fact, in East Malaysia, it is often used to build longhouses for its superior strength and longevity. The belian timber is now illegal to be exported.
3. During the great floods of 1926, the bank’s vaults were flooded up to 1 metre above the floor. Business was handled upstairs in the living quarters and the bank staff came to work by sampan, or wooden boats! Eventually, millions of dollars of soggy bank notes were laid out on the field, or Padang to dry, under the watchful eye of the police!
When you’re at Merdeka Square…
1. It is here that the immortalized proud declaration of ‘Merdeka’ by the first Prime Minister of Malaysia was heard when Malaysia achieved its independence from colonial rule on 31 August 1957. Here, the Union Jack was first lowered and replaced with the flag of Malaysia. Later the National Anthem called ‘Negaraku’ was played for the very first time, heard by the peoples of a newly independent nation.
2. On a windy day, you will be able to see the flag of Malaysia, or Jalur Gemilang fluffing in the breeze. Jalur Gemilang or Stripes of Glory is the name of the Malaysian flag.
When you’re at the Royal Selangor Club…
1. A popular drink of British officers here was the ‘stengah’. ‘Stengah’ means ‘half’ in Malay, referring to half a measure of soda water, and half of whisky, served over ice.
2. The club was nicknamed “The Spotted Dog” because two Dalmatians belonging to the wife of one of the club founders guarded the entrance whenever they visited. The club is also sometimes referred to as “The Dog”.
3. The Long Bar, a portion of the club is off limits to women even until today. Apparently, according to its club president, men would ‘drink and get very excited when they watch the games and they didn’t want the ladies to see their exuberant behaviour, hence they decided to bar women visitors from the Long Bar.”
4. The club is also the birthplace of the Hash House Harriers, a world famous running club where at the end of the run, participants are treated with icy cold beer and cigarettes.
When you’re at St. Mary’s Cathedral…
1. This Anglican Church was consecrated in February 1895 and was elevated to the status of a cathedral on 8 September 1983.
2. From the inside, you will see the nave, or the centre walkway that leads to the altar, has an open-timbered roof constructed of Malaysian merbau and seriah wood, two precious Malaysian woods.
When You’re At Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman
1. Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman is often mistakenly thought to be named after Malaysia’s first Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman. It’s actually named after Malaysia’s first King, Tuanku Abdul Rahman. Tunku is an honorific, while Tuanku refers to the monarchy.
2. Among the famous patrons of the Coliseum Cafe was Somerset Maugham.
While You’re At Market Square…
1. The arty Central Market used to be a wet market.
2. Jalan Hang Kasturi was named after Hang Kasturi, one of the five famous warriors during the time of the Malaccan Sultanate, who was rumoured to have had an affair with one of the Sultan’s concubines. The Sultan ordered Hang Tuah, another great warrior to kill his best friend, Hang Kasturi to prove his loyalty to him.
3. If you look carefully, the main corner of the OCBC building is not sharp and accentuated; instead it is slightly curved.
4. The Sin Seng Nam restaurant behind Central Market used to be called the Red House, due to the distinctive exposed red bricks.
5. The clock tower at Market Square was erected in 1937 in honour of King George VI of Britain.
6. Look closely at the Old Gian Singh building. Different sections of the building were built by different owners; hence as you run your eyes along the building, you can see how the architecture changes from left to right moving from Dutch to English to Islamic.
7. The Oriental Building looks like a radio from the 30s.
8. Lebuh Ampang used to be called Chettiar Street. Chettiars are a south Indian caste of moneylenders. Money lending business is so closely associated with the Chettiars that in Malaysia, if you ask someone for the money that they owe you, they might call you a Chettiar as a joke. Look for the elusive house number 85. It’s a Chettiar house.
9. Many shops at Jalan Tun H.S Lee hang feng shui mirrors to ward off evil spirits and bad luck. It was believed that when evil spirits looked into the mirror, they will be frightened by their own image and will run away.
10. Look carefully at the angle of Sze Ya temple. Set at an awkward angle to Jalan Tun HS Lee and Lebuh Pudu, the temple is built according to feng shui principles.
11. In 1859, a war broke out between the Malays and the Chinese. In this conflict, Kapitan Shin Kap, the head of Sungei Ujong, south of Kuala Lumpur, was captured by the Malays and beheaded. His death became sensational because according to local legend, when Kapitan Shin Kap’s head was chopped off, white blood flew out. The Malays believe that the spilling of white blood indicates that the person is a saint. They begged for forgiveness and allowed the Chinese to retrieve his body for burial. As a result of this miracle, the Chinese began worshipping him as the deity of Chinese miners in Malaya and Kapitan Yap Ah Loy built Sze Ya temple in his honour.
When you’re at the National Monument (Tugu Negara)…
1. Standing 15 metres or almost 50 feet high, it is made of bronze and was designed by the famous Austrian sculptor Felix de Weldon. De Weldon also sculpted the famed Iwo Jima Memorial in Virginia, United States.
2. On August 27th 1975, a communist terrorist set an explosion at the monument and it suffered extensive damage. It was later restored and a fence was erected around the place. This area was declared a protected area between sunset and dawn. Everyday at dawn, a soldier raises the national flag and lowers in at dusk.
3. Each figure symbolizes the seven virtues of the fallen heroes: leadership, suffering, unity, vigilance, strength, courage and sacrifice.
4. The figure holding the flag is the only figure that does not hold a gun.
5. The two fallen soldiers represent two dead communists. You can differentiate them with the hats they wear.
While you’re at the National Mosque (Masjid Negara)…
1. If you stand far enough, the roofs look like two umbrellas- one open and one folded.
2. Many tour guides say that the 18 points on the roof symbolize the 13 states of Malaysia and the 5 pillars of Islam. This is not true, and one of the architects has already confirmed that. However, the story still goes around among locals and tourists alike.
3. The mosque was to symbolize the newly achieved independence and there was a proposal to name it the Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj Mosque, to recognize the efforts of the first Prime Minister of Malaysia in achieving independence from the British. However, the humble Tunku declined the honour. The mosque was later named ‘Masjid Negara’ or National Mosque.
4. Where the tourist counter is, you will see several clocks over your head. These are ‘salat times’ or Islamic prayer times.
5. Since art that shows human figures is considered idolatrous, calligraphy and abstract depictions are the main artistic expression in Islam,
6.. The construction that juts out of the wall, which is shaped like an archway is the ‘mihrab’, and it indicates the ‘qibla’, which is the direction of the Kaaba in Mecca.
7. Islamic architecture is often called the ‘architecture of the veil’ because the beauty of these creations is often found in the inner spaces, and is not visible from the outside.
8. The Heroes’ Mausoleum is the resting place of several major political figures in Malaysia.
When You’re At The Petronas Twin Towers…
1. It has 88 storeys, reaching a height of 379 metres. The height of the towers is measured to the top of its structural components. The pinnacles at the top of each tower give them another 73 metres. The overall height of the towers is 452 metres, which is the official height of the Petronas Twin Towers.
2. Initially, the idea of making the towers the world’s tallest building was not the plan, but right before construction, that became a goal and the architect added the two tall cones that you see on top of the towers.
3. Tower One was built by a Korean company, while Tower Two was built by a Japanese company. Korean and Japanese national flags were put on each building, and a friendly competition began as the flags rose higher and higher as the towers were being built. The friendly competition was finally won by the Koreans by a thin margin.
4. The base is actually in the shape of an eight-pointed star. This is the Islamic Rub El Hizb symbol.
5. The sky bridge is vital structural component. During high winds, the towers can sway up to 30 centimetres, and the bridge allows the towers to sway individually, yet remain connected and aligned. It is the highest sky bridge in the world.
6. The towers provided a backdrop for many Hollywood movies; most notably in the film ‘Entrapment’, starring Catherine Zeta-Jones and Sean Connery.
7. The French building climber Alain Robert, nicknamed the French Spiderman, attempted to climb the towers three times by bare hands. The first time was on March 20th 1997, but the police stopped him when he reached the 60th floor, just 28 floors away from the top. He tried again exactly ten years later on Tower Two but again was arrested by the police when he reached the 60th floor. The third attempt on September 1st 2009, was successful as he eluded the police and after 1 hour and 40 minutes, managed to climb all the way to the summit of Tower Two. He took out a flag- not a French flag, but a Malaysian flag- and waved it from the top.
When You’re At Thean Hou Temple…
1. At the entrance is the Chinese deity of Marriage, or a Chinese Cupid if you like. This celestial matchmaker is called Yue Xia Lao Ren or ‘the old man in the moon light’. Instead of using arrows like Cupid, he uses a piece of red string that is tied to the man and the woman’s feet.
2. A very unique feature of Thean Hou is the open space concept. The courtyard is inside the building as opposed to the outside.
3. Dragons are prominent here. The highest order is the five-clawed dragon, followed by the four-clawed and three-clawed dragon. Since the five-clawed dragon is considered an imperial dragon in China, the further from China a dragon went, the fewer claws it had. That’s why Korean dragons have four claws and Japanese ones have three.
4. This temple is built to honour Mazu. According to legend, she was a real life person. When she was born, she did not cry; hence her name, which means ‘silent girl’. She had many association with the sea. One tale tells of her wearing a bright red dress, standing on the shore during harsh weather to guide fishing boats home.
5. ‘Kau chim’ or Chinese fortune sticks are a fun thing to do here.
When you’re at the Old Railway Station…
1. Big domes are prominent here. They resemble a hollow upper half of a sphere. Domes signify the vault between heaven and the sky in Islamic architecture.
2. Below the big domes are the chatris- a flat plate that holds the dome. In fact, ‘chatri’ means canopy or umbrella.
For the best and only audio guide to Malaysia, visit Audio Guide Malaysia.
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