Golden dragons sit atop the striking green fa?ade, flanked by golden arches on the left and (overpriced) gold topped taxis beneath. A unsightly blue roof stretches along the entire street, designed to keep out the elements and whatever little charm the facade has to offer. “Jalan Petaling,” the multilingual signboard suspended from the lowest tier says. Petaling Street.
Petaling Street, a narrow stretch of road in downtown Kuala Lumpur is the green dragon facaded, blue roofed home to a gigantic flea market selling bootleg merchandise. Fittingly, the market operates from dawn to midnight, drawing an enormous throng of bargain hunters looking for Rolexes and Patek Philippes; Guesses, Guccis, Givenchys and Louis Vittons; Star Wars and Flight Plan and Sims and Civilization and food.
A row of stores on each side of the street, and down the middle of the street a double row of stores with their backs to each other, splitting the narrow alley into two narrower alleys. Enter through the left, bargain your way up the street till the end, gawk at the vendors selling fried fish, and kabab rolls and ice kacang, and a Rolex or two; turn around and haggle back down the other way. Along the way, a sensual treat: the bright flouroscent lighting, the smell of sweaty bodies laden with faux Italian fashion goods mixed in with the the smell of barbecued fish, the sounds of hagglers haggling and touts touting.
To the shopper, the bustle is endearing, an alluring setting for an exotic shopping experience. To the non-shopper, the bustle sucks. It overwhelms, intimidates, drains.
And hence, I choose to stand guard at the dragons while the wife enters the market.
“Be back soon,” she says.
“Ok.” And I start waiting…
A young man wearing a shirt that requests people to consume him walks up real close to me, and smiles. I smileback. “DVD, boss?” he asks. “I got all good movies.”
What followed was chaos. Before I could answer, he walks up sneakily behind another person who is not wearing a shirt – his friend, I would learn later. Eat Me then loudly screams into the shirtless guy’s ear, scaring shirtless out of his wits. Shirtless turns around and angrily shoves Eat-Me, who staggers back into the waiting arms of an old Englishman who lets out a startled scream himself and then recovers enough to say “Wot?”
Eat-Me grins insolently, puts his arm around Englishman and asks him, “You want DVDs?”
“No, and don’t touch me. I don’t want to be touched.”
EatMe finds this hilarious, so he laughs very loudly and punches me on the stomach.
“Don’t touch me, ha-ha-ha, Don’t touch me. You want DVD boss?”
“I would love to, but that Rolex burnt a big hole in my pocket.” Proud grin accompanies bad joke. Eat-me looks bemused and then leaves.
Cue the next person in. Thin. Male. Dirty white shirt. Button-down, adding to the incongruity. Rings on his ear, a ring on his nose, and one around the lower lip. Several rings on his fingers, a box in his hand. Incredibly, Ring walks to me.
“Here boss, you wanted Rolex?”
“He said you want to buy Rolex,” he says, pointing to Eat-Me.
“No, I was joking.”
“Don’t joke boss, this is our business.”
Ring moves away. Eat-me comes back. I duck into McDonalds and buy a tea and sit down at a table. I must’ve been halfway through the tea when a young man in a yellow shirt approaches me.
“Sir, when are you leaving?”
“When are you leaving the table?”
“After I finish my tea. Why do you ask?”
“People are waiting.”
So I set this tea aside, and order another one. This one tides me over for a minute more. Yellow shirt approaches, and I beat a hasty retreat in anticipation of conversation.
Back outdoors. Ring spots me first.
“I got Tag also. See this watch, runs only on body heat. Also Bentley. Buy one boss.”
“I don’t want anything.”
Ring leaves, only to reappear in a minute.
“No. One minute ago, I said said no watch. Does that RING a bell?” Prouder grin, poorer joke.
“Why you laugh boss, this is my business.”
“Sorry, but no thanks.”
Ring now walks up to EatMe. Without any obvious provocation, EatMe kicks Ring hard on the shins. Ring yelps. Shirtless enters the fray and shoves EatMe.
EatMe falls hard on the ground, and does a backwards somersault, landing right in front of me.
“This guy must be nuts”, I think to myself.
“You will think I am mad boss,” he says, with the now obligatory punch on my stomach.
“Why?” I respond, stunned. “I don’t think that.”
“No, you will think now boss if I say I will sell you DVD for only 5 Ringgits. You are my friend.”
This here was a mind reading moron.
“Sorry.” I rush back into the McDonalds, back into the hands of my yellow shirted friend who can’t stay away from me for more than a minute.
More tea later, the wife shows up. Looking cheery and refreshed. I whisk her away in a hurry, before my new friends spot her and insist on being introduced.
“You look grumpy?”
“Not grumpy, just sad. I wish I’d said goodbye to him.”
“Don’t worry about it…”