Radzi B Mohamad and chef Otto
Goh, present Le Cirque desserts to
communications director Rosemary
Wee in Shangri-La’s Restaurant
JUNGLE TO MEGACITIES
Two Worlds as It
Leaps into the Future
Text and photos by TIM BOXER
found Malaysia undergoing a
continual transformation, from Asiatic primitive to contemporary to
futuristic mega modern. Shining new apartment complexes are springing up all
across the landscape. Vast shopping malls rival the ornate mosques and
temples in grandeur.
Rest assured, Prime Minister Dr.
Mahathir Mohamad’s administration is making sure the ecological balance of
the tropics is scrupulously maintained. He is adhering to a policy of
protecting the rainforests even as resorts and vacation playgrounds encroach
on available land.
I was impressed with the high
quality of lodging everywhere I went. In the capital city of Kuala Lumpur, I
stayed at the luxuriously appointed Shangri-La Hotel. Here, too, progress
Rosemary Wee, hotel communications
director, told me about Sirio Maccione coming here with two chefs to
introduce the sumptuous desserts from his world famed Le Cirque 2000 in New
Up the steps to the Batu Caves.
“My restaurant manager and chef
went to New York for two months of training at Le Cirque,” she said.
Now Restaurant Lafite at Shangri-La
offers Le Cirque’s sinfully rich delicacies for its many distinguished
guests, who have included Al Gore, Nancy Reagan, George Schultz and Margaret
“Last night,” Wee said, “we
hosted the Scorpions, the heavy metal group from Germany.”
Lafite is now closed, while Adam
Tihany, who designed Le Cirque and Spagos, weaves his magic to redesign the
restaurant. Lafite is scheduled to reopen in March after a stupendous
“Actually,” Wee said, “the
entire hotel will undergo a major renovation. The 720 rooms will be reduced
to 660, with more suites added while smaller rooms are converted to
self-contained long-stay apartments.”
Can’t wait to come back next
spring to relish the enhancements.
Hindu worship inside the
BEST way to sightsee is with a
local guide. I can recommend Mohammad Finar B. Abu Samah (Phone 03-971
2903). He came with a driver and car to show me the sights and offer
historical and cultural insight. He’s quite knowledgeable.
He took me to the Syarikat East
Coast Handicraft Batik Factory where I saw how they made high quality
shirts, scarves and wraparound skirts (kebaya) all with unique designs, no
Next we went to Royal Selangor, the
largest pewter factory in the world, where I saw them making goblets,
decanters, coffee sets, vases and letter openers – all lead free. It was
explained that pewter is made of 97 percent refined tin strengthened with
antimony and copper.
We visited a traditional Malay
house, which is made of timber and rests on stilts. That’s for three
reasons: protection from animals, protection from floods in the rainy
season, and for ventilation.
We stopped to view Tugu Negara
(National Monument), dedicated to the 13,000 who fell fighting the communist
insurgency of 1948-60. The monument depicts seven soldiers holding up the
flag. If it looks familiar, remember that it was created by Felix de Weldon,
the American artist who sculpted the flag-raising Iwo Jima monument in
I saw the Church of St. Mary,
oldest Anglican church in the city, from 1885.
I also saw Thean Hou, a Taoist temple dedicated to Kuan Yin, the
goddess of mercy.
Traditional Malay house on stilts.
Monkeys and idols
THE Batu Caves, north of the city,
was indeed an interesting experience. Discovered by an American naturalist,
the caves now hold Hindu shrines.
To get into the main limestone cave
chamber, I walked up 272 wooden steps. I didn’t see the bats – they were
in a separate cave – but several monkeys roamed at will, to the delight of
camera toting tourists.
Indian worshipers came in bearing
trays of food for the gods. Bare-chested priests attended to the rituals
while people, in bare feet, prostrated themselves before the image of an
elephant that had been discovered in the wall of the cave. Other idols were
placed around the cave.
A couple days later I saw busloads
of schoolchildren coming to the Batu Caves to seek divine blessings for
their exams. About 350,000 students from around the country converged on the
caves for this annual ceremony that lasts five hours.
Gold and diamonds
We made a pit stop at Habib Jewels.
This is one place you should definitely not miss, especially during Mega
Sale months (December, March, August) when prices of their 22k gold,
diamonds and pearls are 40 percent below regular prices.
Meer Sadik Habib, managing director
and son of the founder, escorted us on a tour of his jewelry factory and
Meer Sadik Habib with his gold replica of
Petronas Towers valued at
An elegant piece in their
collection is an exquisite pearl necklace crafted from 37 almost perfectly
round golden cultured South Sea pearls, among the rarest in the world.
This being the Mega Sale month of
August, I couldn’t pass up a bargain, so I asked to see some trinkets
suitable for my Nina. He showed me pink sapphire and diamond matching
earrings and necklace set.
How much? For the earrings $3500,
necklace $38,500, and the brooch goes for a paltry $17,200.
Habib showed me his pride and joy,
a gold replica of the Petronas Twin Towers, the world’s highest building.
The bejeweled miniature is crafted from 6 kg of yellow gold, 1,206 diamonds,
121 blue topaz, 20 pink sapphires, pearls and a lemon quartz set on a slab
of malachite. It took nine months and is valued at $270,000.
I settled on a 24k gold necklace
for Nina. It set me back only $260. Now that’s a bargain – thanks to
Mega Sale Carnival!
Learning local lingo
BY the way, although most
Malaysians speak English, you can easily acclimate yourself to the Malay
language by reading public signs. That’s how I learned this limited Malay
See how easy it is to learn the