A couple of Sundays ago we got in the car and headed, as we often do around 4:30 on the last afternoon of the weekend, to the pasar malam (night market) to put together the makings of a dinner.
Sometimes we hit the market at TTDI - we favor it for its size and the variety of items on offer, for its excellent fresh seafood selection, and for the putu piring vendors (though we haven't seen them lately) who stuff their rice flour fluffies with a delectably smoky and sticky type of gula Melaka (palm sugar). But Bangsar is closer to home, so often we end up there. By now we've memorized the layout of the market and can head straight for our favorite vendors.
We arrived to find the market moved a couple blocks down from its usual spot directly behind Bangsar Village Shopping Center to a smaller street. It felt crowded and unorganized, and looked different. What was with the color-coordinated canopies, replacing the red, yellow, and green umbrellas that to me say 'Here is a Malaysian wet market'? There seemed to be more prepared foods on offer than at the old location, and fewer vegetable, fruit, and seafood vendors. Where was the huge Indian produce stall with the uber-fresh, springy herbs and soft, squeezable limes (not easy to find in KL!), run by a staff quick to smile? Where was the guy who offers 3 boxes of Cameroon Highlands strawberries for 10 ringgit, and the small-time fish seller with his single styrofoam cooler of John Dory or salmon?
Little did I know that we were witnessing progress. It seems, according to an article yesterday in the Star newspaper (which for some reason I can't locate on the site), that the relocation of the market was at the behest of Bangsar business owners and members of the Bangsar Baru Residents' Association. The Chairman of the latter was quick to point out his sensitivity to the cultural significance of the market ('We are not against the night market as it is part of Malaysian culture...') but pointed out that it created traffic problems that 'inconvenience[d]' the community.
First, might the fact that a huge, city block-wide shopping center which dwarfs the rest of the neighborhood is about to open alongside the market's old location have something to do with the move?
Setting aside the truth that what KL - and Bangsar - needs least is another mall, is this market, which had been in it's old location for going on two decades (thanks SW for that info)
years (well, for 1.5 years at least, as long as we've lived here), really such a burden for Bangsar business owners? Devi's Corner (a restaurant also set alongside the market), for one, is packed every Sunday, even during market time. I used to see weary families of expats stopping in at Madame Kwan's for a refreshment when the heat and bustle of the market got to be too much for them. Now really -- when we say 'Bangsar business owners' had a problem with the market, exactly which business owners do we mean? And why, after so many years, is it such a problem now? Might it be that relocation of the market has been in the cards all along, ever since ground broke on the Coffee Bean-anchored monstrosity that's risen in Bangsar's midst, just to make the developers of said shopping mall happy?
Second, complaints about the 'traffic nightmare' created by the market. We've driven in Bangsar on Sundays, both when the market is setting up and after it's started. The most we have ever had to sit in our car, waiting to travel maybe 3 blocks, is ten minutes. And that's unusual - 5 minutes is more the norm. Said 'traffic nightmare' is easily avoided by parking on the other side of Bangsar Village Shopping Center and walking to the market. Moreover, according to our experience a couple weekends ago, the relocation of the market hasn't changed a thing traffic-wise.
Finally, those canopies, which KL City Hall has required vendors to purchase, and which, according to the Star article, a spokesman for the municipality said 'will create an image of uniformity and hygiene.'
Whaaaaaaat? Utter poppycock! Does DBKL seriously think that a sea of brand new (for now, but not after a few weeks' use) blue material is going to attract shoppers and tourists ... or that the lack of it will keep them away? I don't know about you, but when I see blue cotton I don't think 'HYGIENE!' DBKL is known for its hare-brained maneuvers - I don't think there's a Kuala Lumpurian reading this who will disagree - but this really takes the cake. Why the heck should vendors be required to pay for DBKL's desire to color-coordinate reality?
In spite of its relatively higher prices, Bangsar's pasar malam is a real pasar malam, frequented not just by monied expats (I'm betting the Chairman is not among its regular patrons) but by Malaysians. And by Bangsar residents (not all of whom, by the way, are monied expats and hip, swinging singles), folks who come to sup the famous laksa assam and snack on Stadium Popiah, buy flowers, pick up some pickled mustard greens or homemade kaya, and meet friends. It's a nice little bit of Malaysia (as is the morning market) in the midst of bland Bangsar, with its lookalike bars and formulaic theme restaurants and shops and - now - multiple shopping malls.
Can't DBKL just leave well enough alone? Doesn't it have other things to do? (Arranging for regular trash pickup in our neighborhood comes to mind.)
And can't some certain BBRA members (are all Bangsar residents opposed to the old location?) appreciate the beauty of the fact that their neighborhood - unlike many in KL nowadays - still has some character and real street life? Those who wish to avoid the 'nightmares' of urban life - traffic, congestion, noise - might consider moving out to the 'burbs rather than trying to turn their urban neighborhoods into twee little versions of 'city living'.
Good luck to the vendors. We wish you the best. But if the pasar malam doesn't return to its old self, with the old crew, we won't be back.