KL Chinatown’s night women

Its about 9.20pm and a slight rainfall dampens the air.

Traders along Petaling Street in Chinatown are bereft of their usual high traffic of shoppers. Their spirit however is sheltered to fight another day… afterall, this is one of their common susceptibilities. From a cluster of tightly packed vendors, someone yells out in Cantonese -“Why must it rain?!”

Tonight I was hoping to gain some insights to street prostitutes operating in Chinatown. If you look closely, they are along the fringes of Petaling street – particularly on the southern end, closer to ATC Law College. The covered pedestrian walkways in front of the old colonial shophouses are rife with hookers.

For weeks now I had been wanting to check out the upstairs of an old shophouse used by the prostitutes. Thats how I met Anna. A lady from Johore in her late 40s. (In fact, all the women working out of this shophouse are older veterans…. in the twilight years of their careers.)

I agreed to rm20 for a suck and fuck. She ushered me up a set of narrow wooden stairs. Light was streaming down from the landing area upstairs. The air suddenly felt so old. I watch as her moving silhouette cast an incredible picture against the shady green walls along the steep narrow stairs. How I wished I had my camera out….but I had to be patient. I cannot allow them to feel threatened. I have to win their confidence and trust.

An elaborately adorned red chinese alter greeted me as I stepped on the wooden landing. There were two other working girls…(also late in their years) and an old chinese man on a stool… I was lead into a 6×6 sq ft room partitioned by thin old wooden boards with an open ceiling. Seriously, every breath you take can be heard!

Anna closed the door and asked me to pay first. She asks for an extra rm1 for the room charge. Then droped it into a half cut mineral bottle. She didn’t flinch when i declined to have sex. I asked some questions and as expected she felt uncomfortable. Within minutes she was asking me to hurry. In between my ‘getting to know her session’ she had to answer a call from her son (whom she says is the reason why she keeps this job)

I ask for permission to take a photo of the room. She agrees but rushes me. I took what i could, remembering that the old man outside may become suspicious at the volume of talking that transpired. Anna leaves the room… I didn’t want her to do that yet…but left with no choice. I asked myself…do I risk it and go out the door with my camera? or play it easy and come back another day (as i have to anyway)


I walked out of the room with camera safely in my bag. The old man wasn’t there! I had the entire landing to photograph, including the beaming alter and other working girls… But Anna had already started going down the stairs. She was hurrying me to follow. Inside, I cringed at my missed opportunity.

This is the start….I tried to make a deal with Anna downstairs. It was a loose verbal agreement, but she will try and help me another time. The old man was lingering around. He looked at us suspiciously. I might have to appear in slight disguise the next time…ha ha ha
So the story on Chinatown prostitutes will start from here. Last night was the first of a series of ground work needed to document something.

The pictures will come….I hope 🙂


Happy Deepavali Kuala Lumpur


Ooops….I have carelessly forgotten to write down the proper name of this temple. Eveyone should know it – It sits on a small hill right opposite pudu bus station or rather next to Menara Maybank. These two pictures give different messages. One pits tradition with the inquisitive wonder of youth…the other, a simple squeeze of worshipers.

Life can be safe but lusterless, when one finds comfort in recurring life events. Life can be exciting and challenging when one searches for new directions in a sea of constant change. (Thats the polarity of the two pics for me :))

Chinatown potentials

After relooking at this particular picture, I am begining to see a potentially different and deeper angle of coverage on chinatown subjects. I think this new idea (well unknown to you till the pics are revealed) excites me…lets see what happens…

Food related businesses is always a chinatown potential.

This is also one area. About the buses that operate in and out of the area. I have already started collecting images on this topic…but haven’t found strong subjects yet.

Food related again. What can you say, its Chinatown. Well this is the most common and easiest to shoot. Of course its representive of chinatown’s old communities but this is also what everybody sees and can relate to. How do i make it special?

Jalan Silang

Honestly, I did not know the established extent of – foreign workers in Kuala Lumpur.

Jalan Silang provides in a single place – a large presence of Nepali and Burmese foreign workers who patronise restaurants, convenience shops, travel agents, telecommunications, music and video…all designed to cater specifically to these audiences.

I am surprised at the prolific restaurant outlets (mainly on the second floor of shoplots, so you don’t really notice them on street level) that offer Burmese and Nepali food. The restauranteurs themselves are Burmese and Nepali in origin…and their waiters too.
There can be much for me to cover here…I am still deliberating on how to approach it 🙂

Photographers block

After shooting in Chinatown streets for most of last week, I find myself still without a clear direction… of approach …of something to pour focus into… Sure street photography can be organic as I mentioned earlier, but if i wanted more depth in my coverage, I feel that I have to do more…

As i return to Chinatown more often, I can slowly feel that my perception of things around change. From the mysteries of something new, to the boredom of repitition. Its a mixture of “Gosh i am walking down this street again…everything seems the same… hey whats that?…nah…geez what am i looking for?!…” I see potential in subjects but i need to engage them deeper…. i am reluctant to do it…probably because the idea is not dramatic enough? I dismiss it and move on….and the cycle repeats itself…

I would love it if I could just return there more often in a week and just hack at the ideas. Find something. I believe it will always come. But can’t really do that cause of other commitments…so this ad hoc approach also has its effects. But its always going to be like this…probably for the good….cause nothing handed over on a silver plate will ever taste as sweet….

A chinatown hardly seen


Its before six in the morning in Chinatown. A Chinese worker cleans the walkway in front of a shop while a middle-aged Indian hooker stands across the road…still working. I have been debating in my mind whether to take these prostitution issues in Chinatown further. It may be interesting to see closer, where these older hookers work from and what they have to say.

Meanwhile, just a few streets away, that same morning – there is a thriving ‘Market of thieves’ (An early morning alley – junk market that opens from about 5am – 9.30am). Read what I had to say about it a few months ago. In fact this time I went back to have a proper chat with one really vocal vendor(I met the last time), but he wasn’t there – so I guess it’ll have to be another time.


Its Organic

I spent the last 2 days down by Chinatown. Trying to get a feel again, to what KLGTU is about. Sometimes its confusing to put into context what you see on the streets to what the project stands for. Recently, after coming back and analyzing my efforts, I was reminded that this KLGTU project is organic in its growth. Like a living organism – (although the basic structure exists), its final conclusion/output is yet unknown…and that the project grows, together with the extent of the people and the things that I seek out. However, most of the time its left to chance and ‘chance meetings’ are usually the ones that dictate the somewhat organic growth of KLGTU.
Stumbled by chance….a service like Western Union. Nepali foreign workers busy filling out forms for money repatriation – probably through a Nepali institution incorporated in Malaysia called IME Impex, along Jalan Silang.

Completely organic. This man arriving in Chinatown and looking for the address to his accommodation. I had chanced upon a pulse of what makes this place tick.

klgtu_15241.jpgThis street in Lebuh Pudu (Central Market side of Chinatown) the birth place of Yap Ah Loy’s KL…has mixed elements that take us back 50 years. Colonial buildings as a backdrop, modern day workers trying to catch a ride home, the new edition of more Rapid KL buses and the infallible recognition of those horrible red plastic chairs (No doubt a Malaysian identity).klgtu_1538.jpg This street hawking couple , has been selling fish and chicken congee since the British days. They were young lovers in their teens when they first opened up their stall. (I marvel at their dedication towards a single goal. Its probably evolved over time, but still unadulterated by modern influences. Most amazingly, they stayed simple and together!) He reminisces about the buildings around and how they used to live just a row behind, but economic development had forced them to move to Cheras some twenty years ago.

Another Chinatown scene. I feel its totally organic because…unintentionally…it manifested itself. I wasn’t at all looking to shoot people engaged in food preperation.