Last November, I flew to Malaysia to interview Jay Park, the KPOP superstar whose career will be chronicled for the latest E! News Asia Special. He's the third in the Asian series, following Malaysia's Aaron Aziz and the Philippines' Anne Curtis. I was the only Philippine writer to be sent to cover the two-day event, which included a party at Zouk, a press conference the following morning, and an intimate interview.
I felt excited because I haven't been in Malaysia and this would be my second trip this year. It would also be my second trip alone. I enjoyed my solo jaunt to Hong Kong in August, so I knew this was going to be fun, too. Unfortunately, I was only staying overnight and most of my time will be spent on assignment.
I arrived Sunday morning and had time to check in at the Mandarin Oriental and visit some nearby places. I chose to stay within the vicinity because I only had a few hours free before the party E! Network was throwing. I wanted to soak in the culture, but I was in the upscale part of Kuala Lumpur so I went to some malls at Bukit Bintang to do some light shopping. My hotel was right next to the Petronas Towers so I had a spectacular view of it every time I was in my room.
I was not disappointed. The shopping was overwhelming. Most boutiques are designer labels, but I discovered that you can find great deals if you know where to look. I stumbled upon this basement department store that had dirt-cheap clothes, and I bought a pair of brown oxford shoes for less than a thousand pesos. I wish I could have gotten the name of the store because I could spend an entire day just hoarding their stuff. They had bags, sunglasses, shirts, pants, everything!
I also bought some dress shirts at Isetan, a favorite haunt whenever I'm abroad. I noticed that Malaysian sales associates are incredibly helpful and accommodating almost to the point of subservience. Their desire to help is so much that I was embarrassed to ask for a larger size because the associate would have to remove another shirt from its plastic bag, unfold it, remove the pins, and unbutton it for you. And they do all this with a smile.
But the most grueling part of my excursion (apart from buying pasalubong) was my trip to H&M, something I can only indulge in when I travel. Not anymore, since they are opening their flagship store in the Philippines by next year.
I didn't have the time to change my peso into ringgit before I left, so I only got to do it in Kuala Lumpur's airport (my flight from Manila was early in the morning, the forex stations were still closed). I made the stupid mistake of exchanging only a portion of my money, so imagine my shock when I was at the counter at H&M, ready to pay for my haul when I realized I ran out of cash (humiliating) and my credit card was declined (mortifying). I had to rush to an ATM to withdraw but they didn't accept any of my debit cards. Strange, because I was able to withdraw in Hong Kong.
Call me a slave to upscale fast-fashion, but I worship at the altar of H&M. Their pieces are perfect for my wardrobe, even if I'm trying to scale down to minimalism. I went after the party at Zouk so it was closing in a few minutes. I had time the following morning to sneak in before the press conference since the store was a few minutes walk away from my hotel.
The registration for Jay Park's press conference wasn't until 10:15, so I woke up early to get breakfast and exchange my money. The front desk offered forex services but they didn't accept Philippine pesos. I was scared. What if the forex stores didn't accept pesos, too? It was ironic. I was carrying a shitload of pesos but I couldn't buy a damn thing.
I walked to the mall next to the hotel. Malaysia has this odd habit of opening their malls early, but the stores opened at 10. So there I was, walking around at 9:30, staring at the windows of Fendi, Chanel, Balenciaga, and Versace, waiting for the forex I spotted in Suria KLCC to open. I said to myself, if this forex doesn't accept Philippine pesos, then the items weren't meant for me. It's terrible but I have this habit of attributing my shortcomings to fate.
I rushed to the forex a few seconds past 10. To my horror, they wouldn't be open for another 30 minutes. I had my press conference in 15 minutes! I was still in shock when I noticed that the bank across also offered forex services. I was on the verge of tears when they exchanged my money, and I was out the door the second the teller handed me the ringgit, which was enough to cover my H&M purchases. It felt like gold.
The H&M near my hotel was across the street, and another odd thing I noticed about Malaysia was the painfully long wait before the pedestrian crossing sign turned from red to green. I spent what felt like forever before I could cross (run), and I bounded up the steps towards H&M.... only to discover that the door wouldn't open.
I felt exhausted, betrayed. How could the gods of fashion treat me this way? I am a loyal disciple to the discipline, to the brand, why couldn't they give me this one shot at.... oh, the automatic sliding door was just delayed. The end of the story was, I ran down two flights of stairs to the menswear section, got my items without trying them on and happily paid for my purchases. Time check, 10:15.
In the end, I was a happy camper. Culture eluded me, but I already have plans of flying back next July for a one-week trip. For one day, I got to experience travel from another perspective: the chance at consumerism. My total damage: three dress shirts, a pair of shorts, sunglasses, and a pair of shoes. I also bought postcards (which I collect) and some tea at Harrod's in the airport. Not bad considering I was there for roughly 24 hours.