Last stop in Selangor
Kuala Kubu Bharu, a town of only 33,000 people, is the northernmost railway station in the state of Selangor. I was curious about the next stop, Tanjung Malim, a town famous for its dumplings, but I would have to cross a state border to get there and I didn’t want that. The idea was to confine myself to Selangor.
I had no clear plans on what I would do in KKB. I had read about a massive flood in 1883 and a series of floods in the early 1900s that led to a new settlement, but apart from that, I knew nothing else. My only plan was to walk around, find a few friendly faces and chat with them.
Surprise me. Hit me with your best shot, I thought when I first stepped out of the Kuala Kubu Bharu train station a fortnight ago.
At the time, I didn’t know that KKB would draw me in, and that I would make a return visit.
Like most shops in this quiet town, Syarikat Khen Thye Hin has been around for decades. When I first went to Kuala Kubu Bharu in late October, the owner Mr Yap Chee Chong told me how his grandfather had opened the shop in the old town of Kuala Kubu, way before KKB even existed.
“A long time ago, this was a tailor’s shop. My grandfather made men’s and women’s clothes.
“This shop used to be at Kuala Kubu Lama but then one day there was a big flood in 1926 or 1928. I don’t know the year for sure because this is only what my father told me,” Yap frowned as he tried to remember.
“My grandfather was able to save some of his things during the flood and when the orang putih– the British- decided that the town should be moved to a new place, the business moved too and we opened a new shop here in 1930. Then in 1948, I was born,” he said.
“The shop is no longer just a tailor’s shop, though,” I pointed out. I could see all manner of things from where I stood- magazines, fishing tackle, bottles of shampoo.
“No, now we sell all sorts of things,” said Yap, a smile forming at the corner of his mouth.
When I returned to KKB with my friends two days ago, Yap was away in Kuala Lumpur and only his wife was around. I hadn’t met her on my first visit.
Yap’s wife, Mrs Sim Ling Ling is a youthful-looking 65-year-old whose eyes lit up when she spoke about Kuala Kubu Bharu.
“I’m not from here, I’m actually from Chaah in Johor, but ever since I met my husband and moved here, I’ve become fond of KKB. It’s a small, quiet place but that’s why I like it.
“Small towns are different from cities. My son lives in Cheras where it’s so busy. Over here, everyone knows everyone else. In Kuala Lumpur, very few people even know their own neighbours,” she said, her voice soft and gentle.
We were at the Yoot Loy Coffee Shop, where she had generously bought my friends and I some delicious kaya puffs and small tubs of warm, freshly made kaya.
I asked Sim how the business had evolved from a tailor’s shop to what it is now. As far as my friends and I were concerned, the shop was a treasure chest of childhood memories- there were bright green Popinjay soaps, ‘three-five’ notebooks and children’s pencils with a little eraser at the top. I even saw a bottle of the grooming cream that my late granddad used to rub into his hair.
“Yes, my husband’s family used to have a tailoring business but not anymore. A shop needs to sell a lot of different things to do well, otherwise it won’t make much money,” she said.
“The situation might be more difficult for us if this were a larger town with a shopping mall and nice shops, but KKB is still small and people still buy things from us,” she smiled.
She gestured towards my empty glass and offered me more tea. “Teh sudah habis. Mau lagi ka?”
I’m back at home now, no longer in Kuala Kubu Bharu, typing this furiously and trying to meet a deadline at 23:59 tonight.
In every country, city or town I’ve been to, the real stories have always been about the people. The wonderful thing is that nobody has to go far to experience kindness and generosity. Not only did Mrs Sim insist on paying for our kaya puffs and tea, she sat with us throughout and waited in the drizzling rain until our taxi driver came to pick us up.
We stare in awe at the Grand Canyon and the Taj Mahal, but it is people whom we connect with. Why else do we travel, but to connect with others like us or to at least discover what lies beyond the ocean, over the mountain, across the river.
Or in my case, to simply see what I would find at the northernmost railway station in Selangor.
*As this is my final post for this project, this is a quick but big thank you to Tourism Selangor, Empire Hotel, Travelmate Magazine, Travelution Magazine, Fotografika, the Damansara Performing Arts Centre and Canon.
© 2013 – 2014, Anis. All rights reserved.