Posts Tagged ‘Kuala Lumpur’

petronas towers

Standing at the patio of a hotel in Kuala Lumpur, I saw this view of the Petronas Towers. I like the detail, and the contrast, made by the row of palms.

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sheila majid songs

The month of May began with a unique musical note.

Sheila Majid, Malaysia’s jazz diva was in Los Angeles last weekend to give a concert celebrating her 30-year mark in the music scene. Sheila is very popular in many countries in South East Asia, and some of her hits are considered modern classics of Malay music.

I’ve always liked her songs, especially her hits in the 1990s. So I made it a point to be at her performance. She gave a great show, singing her greatest numbers that the audience came to hear, plus segments paying tribute to musicians who have inspired her including Michael Jackson.

Sitting in the theater, listening to her belting out her hits, while the chandelier lights on the stage threw prisms of pink and purple rays, at times I felt that I was in an emotional-dreamy space or some kind of a time tunnel.

You see, In the 1990s, I was living and working in Kuala Lumpur, the capital city of Malaysia. And her songs brought me back there.

I was very fortunate to get a career as a feature writer for a daily newspaper in Kuala Lumpur, and those years were among the best working years of my life. To me, there’s nothing like the energy and atmosphere of a newsroom. We always get the news first. I met people from all walks of life, seen many places, while on assignments.

I was in charge of a number of columns including art and women’s issues, and I had great bosses who gave me the independence and trust to manage the columns with minimal interference. I worked with a group of interesting colleagues, and out of this, several life-long friendships have developed.

At that time, my father was still alive and living in Kuala Lumpur as well. He was also a journalist, (he preferred the word ‘newspaperman’) in his younger days. Now that we shared the same profession, we had a lot more to share, discuss, even argue. And I learnt a lot from him.

One of her songs that Sheila sang that night was Aku Cinta Padamu which means “I love you”. It’s a beautiful ballad about a woman who wonders how many times or ways she has to convince a man that she loves him while he remains unsure. It brought a crystal clear memory of a morning ride on the bus, on my way to the newspaper office.

(At the time when I was riding the Metro buses in the city, the driver often had piped in music throughout the bus. Usually it would be from a radio station, the medley of songs entertaining him as well as the passengers on the commute.)

That morning, Aku Cinta Padamu was played by the radio DJ. I was going through the break-up of a long term relationship. And hearing that song, the tears just flowed down. I was both sad and embarassed, quickly trying to wipe the tears, hoping that the passengers who were standing in the bus would not see my meltdown.

But on the whole, the 90s were good years. I actually had seen Sheila performed in Malaysia when she had been invited to sing at a product launch event that I had to cover. In that time between her performance in Kuala Lumpur and this one in Los Angeles, some threads of my life have changed, and some have not. I guess that’s life.

Ah,….songs. They do have their special way of transporting you back to the past.

And so, to everyone who have been a part of the journey, of my years in Kuala Lumpur, thank you for the life experiences and the memories.

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Elegant facade Tanjong Pagar

The beautiful facade of the station. In earlier days, the Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) train was one of the main means of transport that enabled Singaporeans and Malaysians to visit each other's country.

Singapore, May 2011: I knew that I had to visit the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station. This would probably be the last visit for me before the building stop operating as the railway station that I had once known very well, during a time in my life when I made many trips on the Singapore-Kuala Lumpur route.

It was late morning. The station was quite empty, the most obvious folks were there snapping photos, rather than the travelers.

I was doing the same, seeing for the first time some details that I had missed while hurrying to catch a train, or rushing to go home after disembarking from the train.

I wanted to snap a photo of myself with the ticket counter behind me. I approached a woman and her teenaged son for their help. They were happy to oblige.

The boy took a photo of me with my digital camera, but he was not happy with it. With youthful enthusiasm, he asked me to pose for another one.

It occurred to me that youth and train journeys share a common quality. They symbolize adventure and new discoveries. And that’s the way it should be.

Some of the train journeys of my youth held that adventure. On train journeys with friends, there were lots of laughter and funny, kooky observations as we hovered around the threshold of adulthood. A train ride with my father created a quiet, peaceful kind of bonding. And the train rides taken alone were early experiments in independence. When there was a shift in our family structure, though, some train journeys became tinged with more complicated emotions than just adventure.

I heard and read that many Singaporeans have taken a final train ride to Malaysia before the tracks would be closed for good in July. A friend suggested that we take such a ride. Sounded like a logical thing to do, but I didn’t have a strong desire to do so. Perhaps, it’s because the many trips are somehow still fresh in my memory. I can recall the feel of the seat, the chugging vibrations of the train’s movements, and looking out of the windows with their slightly murky panes.

And somehow, the station, rather than the train, seems to play a bigger role in my imagination today.

Walking out of the entrance, I passed the taxi stand. It was still situated where it had always been all these years. I stood there for a while. And I could see the scene during the station’s heyday when the taxi line was long with the returning passengers, eager to catch a taxi onwards to the comforts of home.

Then I left the station and started walking towards the bus stop. This time, I had no baggage.

Goodbye to a long-standing landmark. Captured in my camera, and in the pages of my personal history.

Tanjong Pagar Railway Station

A ticket to ride. A train journey is unique. I loved being able to glimpse at the snapshots of lives as the train passed by smaller towns. Passengers on the KTM train were often friendly. I had met and conversed with several interesting people on the trains.

train journeys

During the station's heyday, crowds of passengers would rush through this gate when the train from Kuala Lumpur or Penang arrived.

Tanjong Pagar Railway Station

A detail that I noticed for the first time.

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(Photo from The Star)

(Photo from The Star)

On this home trip to Asia , while resting in a hotel in Petaling Jaya and surfing through the television channels, I was pleased to catch Zoom in @RTM featuring Sheila Majid.

I’ve always loved her songs, and they are among the ones that I listen to most in my life in California. Needless to say, living away from Asia, I seldom get to see her perform “live” over the television, so this was an extra treat.

You know how it is, listening to your favorite songs after a lapse of years adds another layer of memories and significance. And I can see that response on the faces of her many fans in the audience.

And it is always a pleasure to see a true professional perform with passion and authenticity. Additional, one always admire artistes and creative individuals who continue to reinvent themselves and at the same time, remain true to the style or essence that garnered them all their fans.

Sheila was all these on this show.

At the same time, she alluded to herself now being in her 40s and needed an occasional breather by changing her pace with slower songs. I bring this up, as I have observed and believe that many women hit the second prime of their beauty in their 40s.

It is not the kind of youthful beauty of a woman in her 20s . But it is a “fuller” kind of beauty. I believe that going through the rough and tumble and challenges of life, falling and getting up again adds strength, and a certain kind of radiance to a woman’s looks. Sheila has gone through such challenges, such as her very public divorce, and she has developed that “fuller” beauty.

Earlier in the day, I had savored a plate of Hainanese Chicken Rice, later watched the skyline of Kuala Lumpur. And to top it all with a performance by one of Malaysia’s and Malay songs’ best singers, made it a really enjoyable day.

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