Time for my semi-annual ritual humiliation at the Immigration Department. After 12 years here married to a Malaysian, I ought to be well on my way to Permanent Resident status. But permanent residency is predicated on holding a Spouse Visa, and I have as yet been able to get one. Kuching says I’m married to a West Malaysian, and therefore a foreigner in Sarawak, so I must apply in Ipoh. Ipoh says we live in Sarawak so we can only apply in Kuching. And Putrajaya, seeing that I am caught in a catch-22 between two state governments, be like

ada aku kesah
“Like I give a f..k.”

Yet hope springs eternal and every six months or so the wife and I conceive another gambit that just might work and we’re off to Putrajaya again. We planned for an overnight stay. Mana tau, they might need something notarized, or the photos need a blue background instead of white or the other way around. Maybe they’d like me to drop urine! Or give a blood sample. But in the event it took a mere 30 minutes for a mid-ranking official to come up with a reason to say no this time around. That left me with nearly 36 hours to kill in KL! Yay!

Masjid Jamek
Masjid Jamek

Coming in from the provinces as I do, riding the trains and hitting the pavement in the great metropolis is excitement enough. I took a train to Masjid Jamek and decided to strike out for Chow Kit, where I might be able to break my fast on some durian. KL was not so hot as Kuching has been this Ramadan, and with breeze and clouds I was able to walk at a steady pace without needing to stop and cool down. The streets were busy with foot traffic although the cafes were empty. Most of my trek was a straight shot down Jalan Raja Chulan, a part of town I hadn’t seen before. I reached the Chow Kit market and finally plonked down in the Masjid Jamek Pakistan as worshippers assembled for a second round of Asr prayers.

Masjid Jamek Pakistan
Masjid Jamek Pakistan

After berbuka I headed out for a spot in the market I had noted on the way in. Everything was very different by night! Big trucks belonging to veggie wholesalers had pulled in and were unloading industrial quantities of produce. Great hills of petai! Fields of lemongrass! It reminded me more of Eastern Market in Detroit than Pasar Satok, the large central wet market of Kuching.

Mounds of Petai
Petai, or Stinkbean in English

Interesting, but I was after Durian. The seasons are different between the Peninsula and the Island, and so the Sarawakians have had no durian as we endure a particularly hot and dusty Ramadan this year. In Sarawak also the durians are all unnamed varieties – durian kampung. Which I like just fine, don’t get me wrong, but when in KL I do enjoy trying all the fancy cultivars that are on offer: Musang King, Udang Kunyit, D2, D101. Finally I made it to the durian stalls and settled in to my reward. Little plastic chairs at a folding plastic table, but the drinking water was freeflowing and the view of KLCC in the distance was magnificent.  Magnificent?  Well pleasant, certainly.  It was pleasant.

Durian by KLCC-light
Durian by KLCC-light

The next day took me toward the view I had been admiring the night before. The wife had business to attend to in the gently swaying twin towers, leaving me with a few hours to kill in the ultra-opulent shopping extravaganza that makes up the bottom of KLCC. With food off the menu, there was really only one destination for me: Kinokuniya. As far as this out-of-towner knows, there is no better bookstore to be found in the city. Leaving was harder than walking away from the durian stand, because you can count on your belly to tell you when to stop eating but your credit card lies lies lies.

Books from Kinokuniya
Books from Kinokuniya in descending order of seriousness.

Looking up from the shelves, who should I see but A. Samad Said, sasterawan negara, browsing the shelf next to me. I was starstruck! I would have, I should have taken a picture, but… he looked exactly the way he does in every picture I’ve ever seen of him: long white hair flowing into long white beard falling over white cotton clothing, wizened, squinting behind thick round glasses, shy beneficent smile ennobling his countenance. When we married, my wife had an old copy of Hujan Pagi in her collection and I told myself I would be able to read it one day. Reader, I still can’t get off the first page. But I’m sure it is brilliant! And one fine day when I have read the whole thing from cover to cover and understood every blessed word, I will march down to Putrajaya, slam it on the counter, and, Pacino-in-Scarface style, demand my Permanent Residence.

Published by bingregory

Official organ of an American Muslim in Malaysian Borneo, featuring plants, pantuns and pictures from the Malay archipelago. Oversharing since 2002.

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