Shopping in Malaysia, the Old Way
KUALA LUMPUR — A vibrant cornucopia of colors bursts from tables laden with tropical fruits and Asian vegetables. Nearby, slick eels splash noisily in a tank and a tray of catfish fight for their last breaths, as men push trolleys past elderly women doing their morning shopping.
Beneath the tables holding the seemingly endless array of produce at Kuala Lumpur’s Chow Kit market, whether chunks of meat or mangos and limes, puddles of water gather amid dropped vegetables and discarded fish bones.
在吉隆坡的秋杰路市场(Chow Kit market)，摊位上一排排的食品与物产仿佛望不到边，无论是鲜肉，还是芒果和柠檬。摊位下掉落的蔬菜和抛弃的鱼骨之间，是一摊摊的积水。
The traders readily admit it is a noisy, dirty scene, but here, in one of the oldest and largest wet markets in the city, is a glimpse into an aspect of traditional Malaysian life in a city where multistory shopping centers have mushroomed in recent years.
Big malls, with their spotless facilities, designer brand names and cinema multiplexes, have become the primary places for shopping and entertainment for many young middle-class Malaysians. But Chow Kit market retains the rough-and-ready tumble of a place where everyday goods, like shrimp paste, peanuts and delicately wrapped Malaysian sweets, have been bought and sold for more than 50 years.
“They’ve got everything,” said Nori Malek, 64, who visits the market most mornings. “I come to see friends, buy fish, buy vegetables, then go back home and cook.”
Visiting the shopping malls is almost unavoidable during a stay in Kuala Lumpur, but a morning spent meandering through the narrow aisles of Chow Kit market, where the multitude of goods reflects the dynamic mix of Malaysian cultures, can be a feast for the senses, although it can be a little overwhelming.
The market has somehow managed to survive the development craze that has swept much of the rest of the capital in recent decades. The Petronas Towers, the tallest twin buildings in the world, can be seen hovering nearby through the hazy morning sunshine.
But with Chow Kit slated for a makeover into what the government promises will be a more hygienic, user-friendly market, now is the perfect time to visit, before some of its more traditional characteristics fall by the wayside.
A short taxicab ride from the city center will deliver you to Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman, one of the main thoroughfares running through the Chow Kit area (“jalan” means street in Malay).
在市中心坐上出租车，几分钟就会到达东姑阿都拉曼路(Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman)。这条路是纵贯秋杰路区域的主干道之一，名字中的“jalan”在马来语中意思是“大街”。
Just down the road from the elevated Chow Kit monorail station (another transport option if you are staying near a station), head down Jalan Raja Alang and enter the market on your left, opposite Safuan Plaza.
从高架单轨列车秋杰路站下车(如果你下榻的酒店附近有单轨列车站，也是前往秋杰路市场的交通方式之一)，径直向南，到达拉惹阿郎路(Jalan Raja Alang)，你会发现秋杰路市场就在你的左手边，沙福安广场(Safuan Plaza)的对面。
Stalls selling exotic fruits greet visitors at the entrance. Rambutan, whose fine spines poking out from its skin help it live up to its name (“hairy” in Malay), dangle from strings above mangos piled up in neat rows. Petai, or stink beans, still encased in their long green pods, hang over multiple varieties of eggplant.
This part of the market is dominated by Indonesian and Malay traders, who chop, weigh, slice and wrap goods for their morning customers.
Further in, stall holders of Indian, Chinese and occasionally African ethnicity can be spotted.
The pungent smell of dried shrimp signals that you have arrived in the meat and seafood section, where chickens, their legs pointing skywards, share tables with lumps of beef and ruby-colored livers.
Cattle carcasses hang from hooks as butchers carve off slabs of flesh. Cattle heads, teeth bared menacingly, wait for customers to take them home to flavor their soup.
As he deftly slices the skin from a cow’s head, Serozudi, an Indonesian man who has been working here for 20 years, says he sells about 15 heads a day, at 120 ringgit, or $38, each.
With water trickling down the concrete aisles (covered shoes are a smart choice), it does not take long to realize why Chow Kit is called a wet market.
Down the left side of the main building are stalls selling wholesale goods like toilet plungers and kitchen utensils, spices and nuts and piles of dried chilies in hessian sacks.
Sticking to the main thoroughfare can help you orient yourself, but pick your way down the side alleys and you will be rewarded with a peek into the production processes that go into creating some Asian favorites, like the tofu at Jason Yeo Kok Hiong’s shop, a family business that has been here for more than 40 years.
只在主通道附近活动会让你方向清晰，不至迷路。但只要踏进远一些的通道，就会觉得这种冒险完全值得——你将有机会亲眼目睹豆腐等亚洲美食的制作过程。詹森·杨国雄(Jason Yeo Kok Hiong)的店铺就是一间做豆腐的家庭式作坊，在这里营业已经40多年。
Inside, steam curls around a man as he scoops huge ladles of boiling soy milk from a vat, pouring it into blue tubs where it is left to settle, before another man pours it into square wooden frames, covers it in cloth and places another plank on top to squeeze out the water. Later, the tofu will be delivered to restaurants around the city.
At the back of the building, the market’s only cake stall offers an abundance of Malaysian sweets and deep fried snacks, sold alongside clothing like the baju kurung, the long skirt and long-sleeved top traditionally worn by Malay women, and batik cloths.
Loop around to the right and you reach another building, where old men sit at Chinese coffee shops, drinking strong brew and smoking. An elderly noodle maker rests nearby, his morning’s work, wrapped in plastic, on display on trolleys awaiting collection.
In one of the few signs that modernity has begun seeping into these old alleyways, a stall decorated with Chinese lanterns advertises prepaid Internet deals.
There are no tourists in sight, and many of the traders, like Jinny Chew, are happy to chat, calling out “good morning” as you pass.
Ms. Chew, who sells black beans, dried mushrooms and canned meats from China, soy sauce and gnarly roots of Malaysian ginger, says she is looking forward to the market’s renovation so that it will be a cleaner place to work.
She has been working at a stall called Yee Fatt Heng & Co., which previously belonged to her husband’s grandfather, seven days a week for more than three decades, rising at 4:30 a.m. to reach the market in time to prepare for her first customers.
她所在的店铺“余发兴公司”(Yee Fatt Heng & Co.)是她丈夫从爷爷那里继承而来的。她每周工作七天，已经在这里工作了30多年。每天早上她四点半起床，然后赶到店铺，迎接当天的第一批顾客。
The shop has helped Ms. Chew, 60, give her three children university educations, but she said she did not want them to take over the family business.
“It’s very tough in the market life,” she said in English. “I’ve got no chance to sleep in the morning, I don’t have holidays. I don’t have time to rest.”
Ms. Chew says fewer customers visit the market these days, preferring to visit shopping centers where the parking is easier, but she is hopeful that the redevelopment may draw back some customers.
Further down the aisle, Khairul Iskandar, 40, is not prepared to wait for customers to come to him. He has started a Web site to sell his roots, limes and flowers, used in traditional Malay medicine.
He says traders need to cater to the shopping preferences of young Malaysians, as well as their older clientele.“They don’t want to come here,” he said. “They just want to see the item on the Internet. They order online.” And then he delivers.