Central Market Kuala Lumpur

My dad used to have a shop inside Central Market, selling all sorts of bags and luggage. Actually, he used to run two shops, one in Sungai Wang and one in Dayabumi. When Central Market was re-opened in 1986, he decided to move the shop in Dayabumi to Central Market. He closed down the shop in Sungai Wang a few years later due to rising rental and decreasing business. So as far as I am concerned, the only shop that I remember hanging out in is the one in Central Market.

Interesting fact: I was born in 1986. The entire shop moving operation happened when my mom was on maternity. I never saw the shop in Dayabumi, not even as a toddler, I have only heard about this shop from my parents.

Brief history about this Central Market. It was originally built in 1888 by the British and served as the wet market for the tin miners that settled in Kuala Lumpur. Wet market meaning market that sells fresh produce such as vegetables and meats. As KL developed, this building suffered a series of threats of being demolished. Somehow it survived and in 1985, it was renovated and converted into a heritage shopping mall and opened it’s doors in 1986.

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My dad ran his Central Market shop for a total of 21 years. Since the new millennium, business has been rapidly deteriorating as the newer shopping malls and departmental stores took over as the preferred shopping destination for locals, and tourists were simply not very good business potential as far as bags are concerned.

My dad has been making losses with the shop for a few years running and kept it going with the money he made from his school bag supplying business. The only reason he kept it going for that long was that he loved the idea of having a home base, so to speak. And he made many friends among other shop owners and was sad to leave.

But in 2007, the new management team of the building decided to increase the rent almost threefold. I suspected they did this only on selected targets, wanting to kick out shops that they deem not related to heritage. It is just a suspicion though, I don’t really have any proof. Anyway, my dad decided enough is enough.

When I was in Liverpool for the summer semester in 2007, Operation Tear Down commenced. I left KL with the shop still being around, I returned with the shop already gone. I remember my mom telling me over MSN voice messaging that the shop has closed down for good. It was a pretty emotional day for me. 🙁

Central Market

Since our shop was no more, there was practically no reason for me to go back to visit. I think over the 7 years or so, I have only been back for 2 times. Once to visit some old friends to inform them that I am back from the UK, and once was during Chinese New Year a few years ago.

So, when I found the opportunity to visit again last Saturday, I was pretty excited. I have heard from my parents that the whole place looks very different now compared to what I remember. It is time to see with my own eyes.

First thing I immediately noticed is the side strip pedestrian only pathway, Jalan Hang Kasturi. It used to be pretty bare, with 2 rows of coconut trees on the side. Now they built a series of Wau (Malay kite) arches and named it Kasturi Walk. Used to be a free area where illegal vendors set up stall to sell really cheap snacks. Now it is jam packed with souvenir stalls, managed by Central Market’s management. I heard each stall rents for RM 1000 per month now.

Central Market

When I stepped inside the building, I was really shocked. It felt familiar, but at the same time also unsettlingly unfamiliar. It is very confusing.

The air conditioning is still as cold as I remember, and the floor tiles were still the same old randomly mismatched color tiles. Back then, the air conditioning was one of Central Market’s signature draw for the locals. It was located strategically between Petaling Street and Masjid Jamek, so people who walk between these 2 places would come inside to escape the heat, if only for a while.

But… what’s with all these stalls on the main walkway? I remember when Central Market’s management rights got sold to a new company, it was 2004 or 2005-ish. When these new fellas took over, they immediately created new stall spaces to maximize rental revenue. But it was done sporadically. Now, it seems all the open spaces has been fully utilized. It is no longer relaxing to walk inside this building. Say what you want about how they transformed the building for the better, to me, the fact is just that they have been going on a rental revenue maximization rampage.

Okay, enough complaining. Let me show you where our shop used to be.

Central Market

It’s a rather frustrating story. When my dad gave up his option to renew the rental contract, we were told that our shop space would be allocated to other heritage based shops. But when we came back a few months later, it was disappointing to see another luggage shop in place. And it seems that the new owner is a distant relative. Mom said that she had a chat with the new owner, the new guy said where we failed, he will succeed. His will be a highly specialized Samsonite luggage shop instead of being a jack of all trades like what we did. Back then, our shop sold luggage, handbags, schoolbags, travel backpacks, wallets, umbrellas etc.

Well, it felt awesome when I saw the shop last Saturday. Apparently, after some cock talking, this new shop has reverted to something similar like what we used to do, selling a wider range of goods.

I spent most of my weekends in the shop as a kid. All my siblings did. My parents wanted to train us to work hard instead of spending time relaxing at home. Every weekend we would have to 去Market看店 (go to Market to take care of the shop), Market being our short form for Central Market. It was all good memories..

Central Market

I see that the anneh (Indian) snacks stall under the stairs has survived. I have many a sweet memories with this stall, literally. I bought countless sweets here, it was 20 cents for a packet of 5 candies. I bought countless boxes of Tora chocolates here. And Choki Choki sticks. Do you know Choki Choki? It is a very awesome thing.


Central Market

Apparently, this lao kok kok (antique) lift is still alive and kicking too! I was almost in tears as I watched it ascend and then descend as it triggered another memory.

Actually the lift is pretty pointless to have. The building is for the most part only 2 floors, Ground Floor and First Floor. It would be faster to take the staircase that the lift.

But then, this lift has see through glass on one side of the wall. Us kids would get into the lift and be in awe with the view outside the lift as it went up and down. We treated the lift as a fascinating toy and used it so much that the security guards had to come and kick us away!

Central Market

I walked to the back end of the building and found myself staring at Central Market Annexe. Actually I am not that fond of this name.

This new building was opened in the 1990s, I can’t remember which year. It was originally called Central Square, and it had a different company managing it. When it opened, it was intended to be a hip and trendy shopping mall for the youngsters. There was an Odeon cinema and a video game arcade. I watched Titanic and Armageddon here. I learned how to play Street Fighter here.

Sadly, it only lasted for a few years. I think this place suffered from being too small and not able to really carve out a niche for itself. Central Market soon took over this building and renamed it as Central Market Annexe. Somehow it doesn’t sound right to me. I still prefer the old name, Central Square.

Central Market

I was curious to see what else survived. My thoughts went to the rooftop. So I climbed the stairs to second floor.

Back then, there were two food courts in Central Market. The one on first floor was what we dub The Tourists Food Court, where the food was less delicious and much more expensive. Then on the rooftop, there was another food court. This rooftop food court was dark and dodgy looking, but the food is cheaper and delicious. Only us insiders and a handful of old time locals knew it’s existence.

Central Market

Ah, it appears that this rooftop food court has survived!

Central Market

But… what the heck? It is renovated. It looks clean and nice now! I went in for a spin, saw no familiar faces, and left.

Central Market

 

I was getting hungry by then. Since I am now technically an outsider to this place, maybe I should join the tourists and check out the first floor food court. It was renovated too and looked nothing like what I remember.

It used to be only a few stalls, now the food court has more than 10 different selections. I settled at one of the stalls called Mini Wok. What a genius move!

Central Market

Fate has a strange way of working. When I was making my order with the cashier, the cook peered out from the kitchen. I recognized the cook! She was the one that I always frequented on the rooftop food court! Even more surprising, she recognized me!

Me: Eh?!
Cook: Eh eh?! Sunstar boy!?
We know each other not by name, but by the shop’s name. Sunstar was the name of my dad’s shop.

We spent a few minutes catching up. Apparently, shortly after we left, the food courts were all renovated. There was a slot in the first floor food court, so she grabbed it and moved downstairs. After all, business is better downstairs.

Central Market

After some small talks, she went back inside to prepare my order. I went to get myself a fresh papaya juice for RM 4.00, and when I got back, I was greeted by an overflowing plate of Cantonese noodles. Malay styled Cantonese noodles (mee goreng Kongfu) does not taste the same as conventional Chinese style wat tan hor, but they are delicious in their own way nonetheless.

How much did I pay for the noodles? RM 0. I wanted to pay her, but she wanted to belanja (treat). Since she wouldn’t take no for an answer, and I am no bloody good at insisting on saying no… well…

 

40 Comments

  1. Although I’ve never been here, I feel like packing my bags and going there right away. It’s so wonderful and this landscape’s absolutely stunning. Would you fancy going back there soon?

    • Well, I don’t normally come back to this area for visit very often, but I will if there is a need to do so. I’m not even in Kuala Lumpur nowadays, I’m working in Penang, 4 hours away. I only come back home for a visit once every month or two 😉

  2. Thank you for sharing your memories.

    I agree that not all shops in CM are heritage based and it’s kinda weird to see actually.

    How nice to be recognised by old faces eh?

    And so generous of her to belanja you. For old time’s sake. ^^

    • Actually CM has never been a 100% heritage shopping center until the new management took over. For people who grew up there like me, it is actually weird to see it being filled with more and more souvenir shops..

  3. Loved reading your memories! It’s always so bittersweet to return somewhere and see it all changed, especially when it’s changed to cater more to tourists. I’m sorry to hear about the ending of your father’s shop. But what a surprise that that cook recognized you!

    • There was no other way really. With all the departmental stores setting up shop all over the city, there was no way small scale shops can compete.
      I am surprised that the cook recognized me, really! I saw quite a few familiar faces that day, but only one person recognized me. It was a good feeling.

  4. Oh dear, I have never been there before…. nobody took me there.. hahaha… KL Central got la.. but not the central market… looks interesting.. and now I know you are a towkay’s son! Si tau chai!

  5. That must be so nostalgic walking down memory lane. I have been to Central Market only twice. What I remembered was lots of souvenir shops and there were buskers outside. Amazing isn’t it that the cook recognised you after all these years? And so sweet of her to give you a treat 🙂

  6. oh central market.. I used to frequent this place during my schooling days, lots of stuffs to buy and to reference for my artwork.. but now, I guess I only go there if I am bringing visiting friends to look around.. hmmm, eating there?? I guess I have never done so, *jakun*

    • I suppose this is an ideal place. Lots of cultural items to see and buy, and with air conditioning 😉

  7. Oooo…what memories! I used to drop by really frequently, dunno what for. I think I just loved it here, watch the artists at work and what not. There was a music shop, Victoria – bought a lot of cassette tapes from there. Yes! Cassette tapes – that was so long ago! They had a branch at Sg Wang also. Oh yes!!! I happened to see the Thomas Cup on display here…that year in history when Malaysia won. The 2nd time lah…not the first!!! I’m not THAT old…and if there was a Central Market then, I guess it would have been a wet market at the time.

    • Btw, I think the fish would have died already? There was a fish that they kept in a small container…and when it grew and grew, it became an S-shaped fish. They moved it to a bigger place – was on display in an aquarium, I remember – one shop towards the back of the place.

      • I know the aquarium, it was a fascinating place for me, but I don’t remember any S-shaped fish. Maybe it died when I was still a toddler to remember much..

        • Go go go! Funny, I don’t recall seeing any aquarium that day. Is the fish shop still there? If my memory serves me correctly, it was another shop struggling to make ends meet towards the end of our tenure..

      • I think long ago no more fish shop there. That’s why I always walk in through the entrance near the annexe and never noticed the fish shop. Used to be right at the left hand side when we walked in from the Central Square building.

    • Ahh Victoria! Yes! That was where I got my Andy Lau cassette. They had it rougher than us, they closed down in the early 2000s. It was hard running a standalone music shop when those big music chains set up shop everywhere. Why buy from a small shop when you can buy from the more established big chains?

  8. What a detailed post about Central Market alone.. I remember that light blue building only.. Never been inside before.. But already enough I think looking at your post, feels like I’m already there, hehe.. Yep I know Choki Choki.. I bought like 3 packets once and I could finish them at one go! 1 packet got like 4 sticks? And that was 12 sticks at one go! Whoa, your kongfu mein is overflowing and banjir man! And you paid nothing for it, cool !

    • Last time, it was sold in individual sticks at that snacks stall. I don’t remember the price, but it was more expensive than the 20 cents sweets. It was a treat that I cannot afford all the time.
      LOL, my mee kongfu is a great representation of what nepotism is about. If you know people on the inside, you get the good deals 😉

  9. What a great trip down memory lane! It’s always interested to see how places change – sometimes for the better, but unfortunately sometimes for the worse too!

    • Very true. Unfortunately the latter is more often the case in this country. Take this Central Market for example, I think they wanted to create a comfortable heritage looking place for the tourists, in the process they took out the essence of what makes the place so special: a real market, where you can buy anything you might want or need all under one roof. There used to be a pharmacy, a toy shop and a cosmetic shop, all have since been priced out of the place to make place for more souvenir shops. As a local, this place is fake to me now. It does not represent Malaysia at all..

  10. Wah, what a trip down memory lane it must be for you when the cook recognized you. I know about the food court at the roof top. I have been up there to look see look see a long time ago but have never eaten there.

    I have watched a movie at the Central Square back then. I remember the cinema being small.

    You know I used to go and walked around CM (1995 to 1999) so I could have seen you when you were manning your father’s store back then. LOL!

    • The rooftop was not for the fainthearted. It was dark and dodgy looking, people who didn’t know better would normally bail when they saw the entrance.
      LOL! Do you remember buying any bags or wallets or umbrellas there? We might have met before then 😀

      • I did not buy any bags there but I walked into all the shops there to look see look see. Upstairs there used to be a shop selling school uniforms and my friend married the son of the boss of that shop (but latter divorced d).

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