The Girl’s Guide to Urban Living in Kuala Lumpur
My life living in the city is coming to an end, and I decided to share all the things I’ve learned when it comes to living in the cosmopolitan that is Kuala Lumpur. Horror stories, recipes, lessons in life, and all the things that make urban living memorable. Living in the city will always be memorable, to me. I’ve encountered some of the most puzzling things (obese monkey in the middle of the street), fell in love with a wonderful man, learned lessons and see the world in a different light. What I miss most about my apartment, is watching the sunset with tall buildings in sight.
Since I finally have a smart phone with some cool camera applications, I decided to snap some pictures in the ‘Toy Cam’ and Polaroid mode to add some (blunt) colors to the post.
I live in Changkat Bukit Bintang, the heart of Kuala Lumpur that beats every hour of the day, thumping with night-life, shopping, entertainment, and dining, it is practically the perfect place to live in Kuala Lumpur. Prefered by expats and teaming with hostels for budget travelers, Bukit Bintang still remains as one of the must-visits of Kuala Lumpur. Attractions include Jalan Alor, a street lit with Malaysian hawkers and other Asian cuisines, and Changkat Bukit Bintang, a street teaming with night clubs and fine dining restaurants, and the occasional Irish pub.
1. City Life is Not Sex in the City
Oh, yes girls! Sexy and the City or any other television shows may have glamorized the idea of city life swarming with man-candy, romantically-lit streets and luxury living. But the truth is, not really.
Urban living is painfully quite stressful and most of the time, it just makes your blood boil. Think its hot to be wearing those platform pumps from Charles and Keith? Think again. The roads are filled with vicious pot-holes and teaming with trash, so you’re bound trip, fall, hurt your ankle and have people stare at you for falling and not do anything about it. Its happened to me, so forget about the man of your dreams help you up after a tumble.
2. Location, Location, Location
It must be of utmost importance to be realistic and know that city life isn’t really what it is. Another essential tip before moving to the city, is to know where you want to live, and why it’s a good choice. First, you consider a budget for your room/apartment rent and then consider the cost of utilities. If your budget’s flexible, start small first. I initially started with a budget of RM500, but after realizing that the amount was a little too unrealistic, and I eventually increased my budget to RM1000. If your workplace is really close, walk or use the train (Monorail, LRT, etc) to commute. It took me 30 minutes to walk to my old office and it had its pros; I can guarantee I get a daily dose of an hour of hassle-free workout each day and I don’t have to bother gasping for air in a crowded train or bus, and I get some natural vitamins while I walk in the morning. The cons include arriving in the office with a ‘glow’ (my glamorized version of perspire) and sometimes having to literally prepare for a rainy day. Also, when it comes to renting a place to stay, take note of all the conveniences (food stalls and restaurants, grocery stores, public transportation, apartment facilities, etc). The benefit of living in an expat/tourist area provides the benefit of having a variety of food stalls and numerous 24-Hour stores, banks, and some obscure culinary gems!
3. Hydrate and Eat Well
Its common knowledge that the city is a lot more polluted than the suburb, and the heat gets flaming hot during the dry season. I’m no geologist, but I understand the allegory about the heat getting trapped between concrete buildings and all that jazz. But in nutshell, our mothers constantly advise us to keep hydrated by drinking lots of H20. But girls, its extremely crucial to be getting hydrated when you live in the city. The weather’s humid, your lips get chapped in the office from the freezing cold air-conditioning, and also from your from your room (if its air-conditioned).
So, drink at least 2 litres of water a day, use a lip balm with SPF, incorporate a hydrating product in your facial regime like a hydrating toner, and wear sunscreen. Hats may be fashionable, but in the heat, sporting a fedora can be bad news as wearing hats generally keeps the blood from flowing around your scalp, which may result in headaches, migraines and what’s worse, it can stop your hair from growing. Use an umbrella or get yourself a pretty parasol!
4. Dress Up For the Right Reasons
City living, as I’ve mentioned before isn’t always glamorous. Most of the times, hotspots in the city has its cons for being a little seedy and dangerous. Tengkat Tong Shin is a good place to stay for the nightlife, food and the close distances to a number of malls and train stations. However, the area is also teaming with prostitutes, pimps, resident loonies, and some generally rude people who need a good talkin’ to. I rarely ever dress up in a pretty dress and heels, but when I do, it would only be when I’m with my boyfriend for a date or when I’m going out with parents, dining somewhere special, or special occasions, really. Most of the time, when I’m off to work or just grocery shopping near-by, I wear flip flops, a cute baggy top, and black sweat/yoga pants. I simply do so to avoid attracting unwanted attention. I’ve seen hawkers get their money bags snatched in daylight, so its really important to make yourself invisible. Sadly, its not always successful as I’ve been approached by a pimp in my first month of living in the city. What’s worse is that he actually hangs out down the street and I practically spot him everyday on my way back from work. If this ever happens to you, avoid confronting and simply ignore them.
5. Urban Survival Skills
The great benefit of living in the city is independence and personal liberty. Oh yes. When I first moved in, I thought like was going to be awesome! Sushi on Mondays, Chinese on Tuesdays, Cheeseburgers on Wednesday, Economy Rice for Thursdays and Tapas for Friday. It was such for about a week until I realized it was too expensive to live like that, but I do miss the routine. I do love cooking, but the apartment you live may not have all the facilities you really want. For me, I wanted an oven in the kitchen, a comfortable couch and a DVD player that actually works. But sadly, that was too much. My kitchen only had two stove tops and a microwave, the couch is extremely old, broken and probably a nesting ground for some insects, and the DVD player is entirely in Vietnamese and the other house mates wore it out with their weird Vietnamese music playing daily like those 24-7 chanting tapes you hear in temples. Because of that, I turned my room into my little studio apartment. The bed was a couch, my laptop was my telly. I adorned my room with an electric kettle like in a hotel, I decorated my wall with my scarves and hats, and equipped shelves with my books and DVD collection. I have no desk, but I turned a stool from IKEA into a bedside table, and used a patterned dress as a table-cloth. My room is insanely mismatched that it is personally mine and its divine comfort to me.
But decorating isn’t the only skill you’ll need. I aim to be a top notch home-maker to my boyfriend, so in our months of dating, I have grown up a lot. I deciphered new tricks for cleaning and polishing, and whipped up some of my little signature recipes such as my economical microwaved mac ‘n’ cheese, grilled orange chicken, the hearty chicken stew, pea and ham soup, no-bake (or pan-fried) chocolate chip cookies and my delicious home made ice cream cake. Mmm..
I will soon share these recipes!
6. Sharing is Not Always Caring
Living with people is not always fun. Not to sound racist or evil, its a little difficult to live with people that come from extremely different backgrounds, or in my case, immigrants. I have no problems with immigrants at all, but I sometimes find it very frustrating when people move in as a group, and expect others to be okay with the way they live simply because they’re the majority. In my unit, I’m the only local in the apartment. The tenant who lives here is a white-collared Indonesian, and the rest of the women are from Vietnam (or Dragons, as my boyfriend and I call them for lols). I have nothing against people from Vietnam, but when you live with about 5 of them in an apartment, its inevitable that you as a human, begin stereotyping or generalizing the entire population. I admitted it. They’re all women, working here illegally (and I’ll let you guess as what). Oh, I’m so mean! Catty claws are out!
I don’t really care so much about what they do outside the apartment, but my biggest concerns are their living conditions. A small tiny bedroom fit for one, is inhabited by 3 women, and the largest bedroom is inhabited by 5, sometimes 6, or sometimes 7. Its so messed up. The apartment also has a fairly small refrigerator..and it holds food for um..let’s see…7 mouths to feed without the tenant or myself in that figure! Extreme, no? These women I live with do not seem to have some sense about living with other people. They’re extremely loud and sometimes take things that do not belong to them especially food and essential things. When I first moved in, one of the girls ran away with my brand new expensive flip flops. So, unless if you live with civilized people who speak the same language as you do, consider being a little OCD and keep track of EVERYTHING you keep in the kitchen or where its available for others. I’m not saying they’re all thieves, but just keep in mind that there are people, even locals like that and its better safe than sorry.
7. Prepare For Late Pay Cheques
Just when its the season for me to stock up on food, toiletries and cosmetics, my employers decide to delay your pay cheque for certain reasons. Did I mention its a massive inconvenience? You have utility bills and rent to pay, food you need to buy to feed on, moisturiser for your face and in some special cases, a holiday where you need um..Pocket money? Or my current woe…to buy Christmas presents?! The list goes on what we need to get, but be prepared. Keep at least a hundred or a 50 in your bank or box of treasures..Or be on good terms with someone with cash. In my case, I take loans from my parents.
8. Food for the Kitchen
Cooking for yourself is important, but sometimes when you don’t have the utensils you need to make the meal you desire, you learn how to make-do with what you have. I am a chubby one and I love love love food. I love cooking and I enjoy eating. Its hard not to believe it when you see me in person. I love bacon, I love cheese, I love meats, and I have an aching sweet-tooth!
When my boyfriend last visited, I wanted to make something sweet and romantic that we can both enjoy, and that’s when my Ice Cream Cake made its debut! No cake in there, but its prepared in an aluminium pan that cake’s usually stored in. How did I make it?
Ice Cream Cake Recipe
You’ll need :
Vanilla ice cream
Peanut Butter/Nutella or both
1 Crunchie Bar
1 Snickers Bar or any of your favorite chocolate candy bars
Cookie Dough (no egg)
Chocolate biscuits or bourbon biscuits
A muffin of your desired flavor (optional)
Caramel/Butterscotch syrup for topping (optional)
A round aluminium pan
A big bowl and a big spoon to mix.
First, leave the ice cream in the fridge to soften. Meanwhile, start chopping up the candy bars and Toblerone into small chunks and place them aside, then start crushing the biscuits into small tiny pieces as well. Also, if you’re incorporating a muffin or cookie dough, chop it up into tiny little chunks and set them aside.
Next, take out the ice cream and set aside how much you can fit into your pan. Once you’ve made an estimation, place the ice cream into a big bowl, and then mix your ice cream with two dollops of peanut butter or Nutella, based on your preference. Once the ice cream’s got that flavor, start throwing in all the ingredients and with your spoon, mix well. Once that’s done, pour the mix into your aluminium pan. Make sure it is sitting on a plate to avoid any spills, etc. Then, cover the pan with a sheet of aluminium foil and freeze for an hour or two. If you want, you can take it out once its frozen to place a layer of Nutella for a dark base.
Once the ice cream is completely frozen and ready to be consumed, take out the sheet, turn it upside down and slowly push the ice cream down onto the plate. Then, you can choose to sweep another layer of Nutella (like frosting) or get down to business with topping it with some syrup and whipped cream! Lastly, grab out the spoons and play some Nina Simone for a sweet, romantic delight!
[Extra tip]If you’re chopping up a Crunchie bar, you’ll notice some shavings of the honeycomb scattered around.. Save it as a topping!
Another recipe of mine includes microwaved mac ‘n’ cheese.
Economical Microwave Mac ‘n’ Cheese
A spoonful of Macaroni
3 Cheddar Cheese Slices
A cup of full cream milk
Salt, Pepper and Chicken Bouillon/Stock/Seasoning
One tablespoon of butter
Before you get down and dirty, start boiling your macaroni in a pot of water al dente. Then, in a saucepan, add in the butter and let it heat up but careful to not let it burn. Then pour in the milk and let it simmer (do not boil). As its heating up, sprinkle some of the chicken season, salt and pepper for savoury goodness. Once the milk starts to thicken slightly, turn off the heat and sieve the macaroni and place it in a bowl. Then, pour the milk into the bowl, and stir the pasta in. Don’t worry about the milk collecting like soup at the bottom. You can choose to stir in a small amount of butter to get it yellow and buttery. You can also add half a teaspoon of mustard to give it a bit of a tang.
After the pasta is well mixed with the milk, start layering the cheddar slices on top of the pasta. Slice them up for better coverage. Sprinkle some salt and pepper on top, and microwave on medium-high heat for 3 minutes. Once its done, use a spoon and mix the cheese so that it spreads all over. The milk collecting at the bottom will work well with the cheddar to give it some moisture, and that gooey stickiness.
Average cost of this would be RM15, and you can have about 4 meals.
9. Get The Best Deals
Living in the city gives you variety. Variety and convenience in shopping, entertainment and food, especially. Do a little walking around, and try every restaurant at least once. Living in the heart of the city also means numerous events taking place, so you won’t always have to think that shopping and eating out would be one of your top activities. Parades, exhibitions, public shows, etc are also usually free or costs a small fee. Other than that, do sign up for deals from Groupon or MyDeal. With many deals and promotions to choose from, you can start by pampering yourself in a gorgeous spa at a fraction of the cost, and even shop for some nifty tech-gadgetry and appliances for your kitchen!
10. Explore and Make Every Moment Count
When I moved to KL, I only knew very little about where I lived and what interested me. My knowledge was only limited to the Bukit Bintang and my weekly routine would be grocery shopping and bargain hunting in malls. Take some time out with a partner and walk around some the unglamorous areas of the city. Urban Exploration’s such a great way to combine urban survival skills and adventure in a concrete jungle. Visit abandoned sites like the abandoned flats in Titiwangsa, take pictures and share them with your friends on a blog. Or step out to the Malaysian equivalent of Central park and head to the Lake Gardens for a picnic, and finish off with a game of Ultimate Frisbee. Discover some of our local music bands at One Cafe in Chow Kit and come home with a new CD.
Living in the city doesn’t always have to be about checking out the hottest clubs nearby or getting your fix of luxurious cosmetics and clothing. Taking a trip to the dodgy areas can give you a bit of a feel about what the city is really all about. Whether it’s an immigrant area, or a street teaming with bars, with prostitutes swarming all over, just hold your breath and take a stroll. You’re here to live, anyways. Step out of your comfort zone to call yourself an urbanite who has seen it all!
I sincerely hope these tips I’ve provided gives everyone a chance to taste Kuala Lumpur like I have. Whether you’re local or foreign, I think my guide’s fairly comprehensive and unique enough for you to want to give inner city life a chance. It may be hectic and hazardous, but its great. I’ll be moving back in with my parents for a while, and go back to living in the suburbs and eventually work out a plan to move in with my boyfriend in a small apartment even smaller than suburbia. Before I sign off, I’m posting one of my feel-good songs by Lily Allen called LDN. A fun song about living in the city and the deceiving, glamorous facades.
To download: Lily Allen – LDN (right-click, Save Target As..)