Most of you probably don’t know this, (it’s not like I’ve been publicly advertising this nugget of information to everyone) but despite being a true-blue Bangkok angler, I’m actually not fully Thai. As a matter of fact, around fifty years ago my mom and her siblings were all born in the slums of the Kuala Lumpur. She and brothers were born to Chinese immigrants right around the corner of Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, a road famously named after Malaysia’s first prime minister. So with a huge chunk of her family members still living there, we usually went on visits about twice a year. Of course, this time round I’ve sort of become a much more serious angler than I had ever been. This time round I’m the Bangkokhooker.
PART I: The Haruan
Prior to my arrival to KL I had been corresponding with yet another fishing blogger, Chin of http://sportfishin.asia/. Though we’ve never met prior to this particular KL visit we did exchange several emails chatting about the different types of fishing available in Malaysia. So when I finally arrived in Malaysia, we met up to go do some fishing. We talked even in real life about how things are different in Malaysia. The topic mostly centered around fishing quite rightly.
According to Chin, the pay ponds are quite badly done compared to the ones found in Thailand. Some ponds implement a three-hour maximum on their fishing licenses. The general standard of fish health and activity in these ponds are also quite disappointing. Why didn’t Malaysia have a thriving stocked-fishing scene? This may be a long shot but my theory is that thanks to the country being Muslim, these ponds’ profits are not fueled by alcohol sales. Without alcohol a slow fishing day is quite literally a day where you are moving your hand back and forth in the intense South East Asian sun. It’s sort of like being a sun-dried tomato masturbating away in the sun with no promise of a climax.
There were some similarities as well. Most of the freshwater species they hunted were the same as Thailand’s. The main fish to catch on lures there were what they called, “haruan”. For us Thai folk that’s just the plaa chon or the striped catfish. Their giant snakehead or plaa chado is known locally as the “toman”. And, just like the giant snakeheads in Thailand, Malaysian tomans have been fished to death with big ones being incredibly hard to find. They also have hamphala barb there, they’re called sebarau.
While some things were quite different many were quite the same. It’s sort of like the old Asian adage, “same same but different”.
Being the awesome guy that he is, Chin took me shopping and fishing to allow me to see a side of Malaysia that could only be shown by a local angler. We first went to Red-Hot anglers (open Tue-Sat 11am-8pm, Sun 11pm-3pm, 16, Jalan SS26/4, Taman Mayan Jaya, Selangor, tel. +603-7803-0724) a tackle shop run by a young angler that sells anything from fishing lures to fishing kayaks. What caught my attention, apart from the three huge kayaks sitting in the store, were four limited edition Rapala X-rap lures. They had a unique colour theme unlike any other Rapala lures I have ever seen. Chin explained that it all started when one Malaysian angler, tired of the foreign lures not having a colour theme to represent the local species of bait fish, sent his colour theme designs to the Rapala offices. So impressed they were by his designs, the people at Rapala decided to use them which promptly made me buy two of the four.
A few days later the two of us went to do some haruan fishing just 40 minutes out of town. The fishing location was an abandoned mining site. It was once an area rich with minerals perfect for creating quality fine sand but once the sands were depleted the big holes in the ground were left to fill up with rainwater. Over the years local fish species made their way into the different little ponds via floods. Today it has become a thriving haruan fishing location. It was something very different for me, due to the nature of the ponds (there were easily around 20 ponds) being very spread out fishing here there was a lot of hiking up and down steep paths to get around. Great exercise by the way. At the end of the day Chin landed two young haruan. I hooked a sizeable one using a Rapala CD but it got away. It was still a fantastic experience to be out in the natural areas of Malaysia.
At the end of the trip me and Chin said our good-byes. It wasn’t really a good-bye though since he had sold me on the idea of returning in mid-September to do some serious sailfish fishing down in the South China Sea. So I guess I’ll be back.
PART II: The Coliseum – sizzling nostalgia
This recent trip to Malaysia was filled with a bunch of new and interesting experiences. I had the chance to do some shopping for unique lures and fished in an abandoned mining site with a local fisherman. With enough new experiences for the trip I decided that the best way to end it was to visit my roots with the family to honour the older experience. I went back to my mother’s childhood.
As mentioned earlier, mom and her three brothers spent the earlier part of their childhood growing up in the slums of Kuala Lumpur. Today the slums of Jalan Tuanku Abdul Raman (formerly Jalan Batu) are no more. Instead the area has developed into a vibrant metropolitan area with shops, high rises and private parking lots in every direction. However, even with all the new things popping up in the area, nostalgic remnants of the Colonial era still linger in present day. One of these gems of the past was the restaurant my great-grandfather worked at until he died from liver cancer, the world famous Coliseum Cafe and Hotel (open daily 10am-10pm, 98-100 Jln Tunku Abdul Rahman, Little India, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Tel. +603-2692-6270).
Opened in 1921 not much as changed at the Coliseum. The exterior and interior design still looked the same as it did back in the old days. Hat racks still filled the room signifying a more fashionable era. Even the staff wear the same white uniforms as they did 89-years back. In fact, even some of the staff members are as old as the restaurant itself!
Started by some Hainanese people the Coliseum Cafe is a place where one could get sizzling steaks as well as proper Hainanese cuisine under the same roof for very modest prices. Upon walking in diners will almost be drowned by the sizzling steam of the thick gravy hitting the hot plate or the aromatic tang of cigar smoke wafting in from the smoking lounge depending on which door they enter from.
The restaurant is most famous for its tender sizzling steaks which cost roughly RM30.00 unless one chooses to go for their very big Chateaubriand steak (RM60.90).
As for me, my epic meal consisted of their famous Stuffed crab shell (approx. RM11- juicy chunks of crab meat with herbs, spices and green onions deep-fried in its shell), their Chateubriand steak (a superbly tender piece of meat served with creamed cauliflower, potatoes and some seriously thick gravy), followed by their home-made Caramel custard (approx. RM8.00 – a soft delicate dessert with that magical melt-in-your-mouth properties drizzled in a shower of amber caramel).
At the end of the meal mom said hello to the head server of the day, a Captain Ho (Captain was a title given to head servers). At 89 years old this ancient Chinese man had lived through two World Wars and the first Malaysian independence day. Even though 40 years have elapsed since my mother’s departure from the area (they eventually moved into a real house) good old uncle Ho still responded, “ah Fun is that you?” (Mom’s Chinese name is Pui Fun and only those really close to her would call her ah Fun). “Most of the men who worked at the Coliseum were either single or had wives back in their home countries like China. Me and your uncles were the only kids in the area so we were like their children,” mom explained, “one of them even let us try some of his opium haha” okay mom, TMI.
And so the trip ended with memories both old and new. As I looked at the KL skyline one last time before heading to the airport I see that the concept of the harmonious existence of old and new begin to fade as sky scrapers begin to tower the view while old colonial buildings were cast into their shadows. Things change I guess.
See you in a month Malaysia and thanks for the good times.