If I were to write a narrative of my first (nonconsecutive) weeks in Kuala Lumpur, it would be one of heady political chaos followed by a contemplative decrescendo into the month of Ramadan. It would start out in KL and it would begin with a bang – namely originating from the disbursement of tear gas administered during the Bersih 2.0 protest. The organization, named after the Bahasa Malay word for ‘clean’, which is still pushing for a more transparent electoral process, garnered a level of mass appeal which Malaysia hasn’t witnessed in decades (while also managing to totally skewer my weekend plans). Most of the inner arteries of the city were chocked with a maelstrom of protesters – instead of gridlock, for a change – putting the capital into a complete standstill.
That was the heady part; and it happened to coincide with the commencement of my new job (One that I was promptly introduced to through a form of Indian speed training known, quite comically, as “baptism by fire.”) But, fortunately, the chaos soon subsided. And after my two-week interlude in New York, I came back to a much calmer Malaysia: one in preparation of Ramadan, the holiest month of the Islamic calendar. Throughout the month, adherents of Islam demonstrate their devotion by forgoing eating and drinking during daylight hours, as well as abstaining from sex.
Malaysia, though it is a de facto secular nation, purportedly forbids Muslims from eating in public during the holy month under penalty of law. It is not uncommon to see signs posted in restaurants (in Bahasa Malay only) warning that Muslims are barred from eating or drinking there. The result is a pleasant one for Indians, Chinese and other foreigners – a whole lot of empty restaurants, often run by Malays who can’t eat until dusk, with snappy service times. No complaints from me so far.
However, if you are a Muslim (or even Muslim looking) who doesn’t want to observe Ramadan (like one of my coworkers) you will be bottlenecked into eating in private or facing possible verbal scrutiny or even fines.
Besides quick queues, Ramadan also brings with it shorter working hours and a veritable bevy of cheap food. Before dusk every day, Ramadan bazaars (see picture) set up shop, selling traditional pastries and barbequing chicken and lamb satays abreast to tall jugs of fruit drinks. Here is a shot I picked up outside the Bangsar LRT station.