Saturday, May 22, 2010

Colours of 1 Malaysia and Martha Stewart

I began writing this entry from Kuala Lumpur, specifically from my computer as I sat under a canopy in front of a major KL avenue that had been temporarily turned into a big, colorful stage complete with costumed dancers on stilts, flame throwers, and every sort of amazing performer you could possibly think of, representing each region of Malaysia.

Tonight was the big night for the Colours of Malaysia parade organized by Malaysia's very efficient Tourism Malaysia department. The King and Queen of Malaysia attended, along with international VIPs like Martha Stewart. Meanwhile, Travelife's editorial team attended the event at the kind invitation of Tourism Malaysia since we're already in KL to shoot a cover for our anniversary issue.

We arrived in KL this morning, after an hour's drive from Genting Highlands. One of my friends just texted me earlier that it's terribly, almost unbearably, hot in Manila; meanwhile KL is comfortably cool so I've been walking everywhere -- from shopping mall to shopping mall, just to get a feel for what locals are doing and buying.

For lunch, our vivacious guide Eddie, who has become fast friends -- or shall we say partners in crime? -- with Travelife's Managing Editor Jon, took us to a literal hole-in-the-wall that served fantastic bakuteh (pork ribs in soup). I happened to mention to him that I love bakuteh and try to have it every time in Singapore. My favorite place for bakuteh is the coffee shop of the Raffles Hotel. I've tried bakuteh elsewhere in Singapore, but I still have to find one I like better than this.

"Do you like bakuteh with a thin soup or a thick soup?" He asked me. I couldn't remember which one the Singapore version was, but I had a feeling I liked thick soup better. So I said I liked thick soup and, thank goodness, for he then told me: "Singapore's bakuteh is usually in a thin soup, but the Malaysian version is much thicker. Today, I take you to the best bakuteh for lunch."

This was how we found ourselves in this hole in the wall that we would never have known about otherwise.

After lunch, we had some free time so I walked over to the Pavilion shopping mall, which is supposed to be the highest end shopping mall in Malaysia. Again, I just wanted to get a feel of current KL. Indeed, one side of Pavilion had all the high-end stores including Cartier, Hermes and Zegna. The other side had middle brands like Massimo Dutti and Nike. I really wanted to find good-quality local brands and shops, so I ended up buying nothing. At least it was a very good walk after all that bakuteh for lunch.

In the evening, just before the Colours of Malaysia began, we went to the Royal Selangor Club, Malaysia's most prestigious private club and ordinarily off-limits to women,I was told. Here we sat on the lawn having high tea while waiting for the festivities to begin, with a nice view of Malaysia's flag on top of the world's tallest flagpole on a clear and bright blue evening sky lit up by the illumination from skyscrapers around. It was quite dramatic, really. One of the club's officers also gave a short history about the club, but mostly we all took our phones out and started pounding away intently. When I happened to look at what exactly everyone on my team was doing, I realized that everyone was on Facebook mobile!

"Thank goodness for Facebook!" I exclaimed, and everyone smiled. It was certainly a good way to spend the hour.

Finally, we crossed the cricket field from the Royal Selangor Club to the makeshift performance and audience seating area made by closing off a major KL thoroughfare and transforming it into an event space. A literal street party of fantastic proportions that was so intoxicating that even I felt like dancing. The two-hour extravaganza began at 9 PM and the entire performance was simply amazing. For most of the night, I stood in front of my seat, eyes glued to the performance area as 5,500 dancers -- each dancer had a number on his or her wrist, as Malaysia was trying for a world record that night, and did it -- passed by me and then eventually danced in unison. The colorful assault of visuals struck me completely speechless and the vibrancy of the songs and dances was just electrifying. This will probably come across as trite -- but it was so true that watching this performance made me feel alive. And when the finale came on -- a traditional dance followed by a dance performed to the music of "Malaysia Truly Asia," accompanied by fireworks -- it sent shivers down me to witness so many people singing and dancing so joyfully.

Later, our friends from Tourism Malaysia told me that every single one of them is required to learn this dance along with some others. Talk about focused marketing.

There were many VIPs that evening, but Martha Stewart stood out in her beaded blouse and with her blonde hair amidst a pavilion full mostly of Asians. I was lucky enough to get very close to her, and I'm posting this photo I took with my Nokia phone of Martha with the Malaysian Minister of Tourism.

Tomorrow is our cover shoot day and frankly I'm quite excited. We have Zahnita, one of Malaysia's top models, posing for us; and Dexter, our creative director, and Brian, our photographer, have the shoot all worked out. She's coming to our hotel very early tomorrow morning, which is in a few hours, as we'd like to get as much done before the heat and then the rain catches up. Catch you all tomorrow when the shoot is over.

(PS: Most of the photos here were taken with my camera phone so excuse the poor quality in the interest of speed and timeliness.)


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