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Malaysia: Kuala Lumpur Chinatown

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Kuala Lumpur Chinatown | Malaysia | Asia

[Visited: September 2013]

Founded around the middle of the 19th century, Kuala Lumpur has grown into a multi-million inhabitant city, and continues to expand fast. Its population is a mix of diverse Asian nationalities, and this reflects in the city. One of the most interesting areas for the visitor is Chinatown. When I got off at the Maharajalela monorail station, I did not have to walk far for my first stop: the Guan Yin temple right next door. A small temple, there are some interesting artifacts outside its walls, like old, red decorated vases, and scenes sculpted on the wall. Crossing the street took me to the much bigger, and more interesting, Chan She Shu Yuen temple. Its outside walls are decorated with scenes sculpted and painted out of stone. Unfortunately, I did not know exactly what story they had to tell, but it surely made for a great sight. Once inside, it turned out that the temple was under reconstruction, and the central area was off limits. The rear area of the temple was accessible. But for the visitor, the most attractive part of the temple is its exterior.

Picture of Kuala Lumpur Chinatown (Malaysia): Decorated wall outside the Guan Yin temple in Chinatown

Walking north, I arrived at the beginning of the main thoroughfare of Chinatown in Kuala Lumpur: Jalan Petaling. Here, at its southern point, it is still a quiet street, with some crumbling old buildings where the Chinese characters sculpted in stone are a clue as to their origins. When I reached the start of the busier section of Petaling Street, I turned right, saw some more old buildings, and walked north along a shopping street. Most shops here were traditional, small Chinese shops, side by side with more flashy, modern joints, and a few street stalls. When I reached a crossroads where the street market spilled onto the street I was walking on, I turned left. I had arrived at the bustling heart of Chinatown. A market where you can not only buy vegetables and fruits, but where you can also find clothes, and a lot of fake Made in China stuff. But I was not in a shopping mood, and did not want to be in this noisy part of Chinatown, so I walked on, and out of the shopping streets. At once, it was quiet around me.

Picture of Kuala Lumpur Chinatown (Malaysia): Inside view of the historic Sze Ya temple

When I reached a bigger street, it was impossible to miss the Sri Maha Mariamman temple, with its typical, tall tower, or gopuram, completely covered in brightly painted sculptures of Hindu gods - some with musical instruments, or riding white horses. I crossed the street, left my shoes at a counter, and walked around the premises barefoot. This is the oldest, and supposedly also richest, Hindu temple in Malaysia; it was remarkably empty when I visited. I followed the road to the north, dropped into Guandi temple, passing some more older buildings and houses, until I reached the Sin Sze Si Ya, or Sze Ya, temple, tucked away in a small courtyard, and squeezed in between modern buildings. A perfume of incense reached my nose, coming from small, stone incense burners, and large incense incense hanging from the ceiling. While small in size, it is one of the oldest temples of Kuala Lumpur, and was founded in 1864. Inside, it appears stuffed with flowers, candles, wooden sticks in wooden containers, altars, paper lanterns, statues of the patron deities Sin Zhe Ya and Si Zhe Ya; the colours red and gold dominate. Rays of sunlight were filtering through the shutters in the ceiling, spreading delicate light over all the religious objects and the few people inside. I stayed in a corner, to have a break from the city, to have a moment of retreat, to find serenity, to observe. It was an appropriate way to end my exploration of Chinatown.

Picture of Kuala Lumpur Chinatown (Malaysia): The colourful and ornate tower of Sri Maha Mariamman temple seen from below
Picture of Kuala Lumpur Chinatown (Malaysia): Sculpted scenes on the roof of the Chan She Shu Yuen temple
Picture of Kuala Lumpur Chinatown (Malaysia): Colourful modern houses right in the middle of Chinatown
Picture of Kuala Lumpur Chinatown (Malaysia): Colourful deities on a wall in the Hindu temple of Sri Maha Mariamman
Picture of Kuala Lumpur Chinatown (Malaysia): Historic Sze Ya temple seen from the inside
Picture of Kuala Lumpur Chinatown (Malaysia): Shiny skyscraper in the background of colourful old shophouses in Chinatown
Picture of Kuala Lumpur Chinatown (Malaysia): Old building in Chinatown
Picture of Kuala Lumpur Chinatown (Malaysia): Dragon on a vase outside the Guan Yin temple
Picture of Kuala Lumpur Chinatown (Malaysia): Ornate doors in the Chan She Shu Yuen temple
Picture of Kuala Lumpur Chinatown (Malaysia): Golden statue in a corner of the Chan She Shu Yuen temple
Picture of Kuala Lumpur Chinatown (Malaysia): Detail of the Sri Maha Mariamman temple with a statue
Picture of Kuala Lumpur Chinatown (Malaysia): Detail of a head of a statue of a deity at the entrance of Guandi temple
Picture of Kuala Lumpur Chinatown (Malaysia): Statues and offerings at an altar in the Guandi temple

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