Kuala Lumpur: the Scent of a City

6/24/2006 – If you are serious about competitive chess, then please mark down the dates between the 21st and 27th of August 2006 in your diary. That’s when one of the richest chess tournaments in the Asia Pacific region will take place. Native son Edwin Lam Choong Wai tells us about his beloved city and advises us to book a flight to Malaysia today.

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3rd IGB Dato’ Arthur Tan Malaysia Open

By Edwin Lam Choong Wai


Mid Valley City, Kuala Lumpur

Chess gladiators from all over the world will converge at the Bintang Ballroom of Cititel Hotel, Mid Valley City to battle it out for the top prize of US $4,000. Sponsored by chess enthusiasts and Honorary Life President of the Malaysian Chess Federation, Dato’ Tan Chin Nam, this year’s edition of the 3rd IGB Dato’ Arthur Tan Malaysia Open Chess Championship, with a total prize fund of US $18,000 will be the richest ever edition in the series, thus far. This represents an increase of US $3,000 from last year’s total prize fund.

As with the previous write-ups for this tournament, I will try and explore a different angled story for the benefits of you, dear readers. To those who have been here to Kuala Lumpur before, here’s a refresher course for you! I am going to introduce you to my city, the beloved Kuala Lumpur. In this article, you will read about and see the sights of life in this tropical land – through my eyes.

What’s in a name? River and mud…

Kuala Lumpur, a sister city to both Ankara in Turkey and Isfahan in Iran, was founded in 1857. This city has come a long way from being a mining town in the past. Housing the Cesar Pelli-designed Petronas Twin Towers, it is now the capital city of Malaysia, besides functioning as a regional and commercial hub.

How did the name Kuala Lumpur come about? Well, similar to other great cities, KL is founded quite near to a river, the confluence of the Gombak and Klang rivers by Yap Ah Loy, “Kuala Lumpur” literally means ‘muddy confluence’ in Malay language (“lumpur” is the Malay word for mud).

What is so unique about Kuala Lumpur, or KL? Some say, it is the spirit… others say, it is the beat… I’d say, “It’s not spirit, mate! It’s not beat… but, it’s the scent of KL that makes it characteristically individual!”

What scent?” a friend asked. “Except monoxide,” she continued. Pardon her, but, she was born in Penang, 300km up north of KL, you see. Ah ha! But, seriously, KL is more than scenting of monoxide! It has what I call the scent of diversity!


A game of golf amidst the undulating hills and rolling terraces

You can choose to close your eyes if you do not want to see. You can choose to cup your ears if you find your surrounding to be too noisy. You can even choose not to taste something awful or even not to touch something thorny and unpleasant. Out of the five senses of human life, you have a choice in four of them!

Rightly said, therefore that you cannot choose not to smell, as long as you still want to live! Not that I would claim myself to have the ‘nose’ required of all great perfumers but it is this basic sense of smell that enabled me to appreciate and enjoy the scent of life in Kuala Lumpur.

Walk along the Central Business District and you will find the scent of life. While exhaust fumes from vehicles inter-twined with the salty, sweet scent dominate the day, perfumery and EDTs from tired executives unwinding with a drink or two at nearby watering holes, spruce up life at night.


Indian sweets are widely available in Malaysia

As for the scent of food, just drop by Little India, you scent star anise, curry leaves, tamarind, turmeric and a host of other Indian spices. When you tour Chinatown (Petaling Street), you will be intrigued by the aroma of coffee-roasted chestnuts amidst five-spice scenting boiled pork leg and ribs. Nangka and pisang fritters – which are favored by Malays – are so fragrant that you will scent in from hundreds of meters away.


Scent of food. The fragrant ‘bah kut teh', or pork rib herb stew, served
with piping hot rice and ‘yeow char kueh’. Usually taken with Chinese tea.

Aside from the scent of life and the scent of food, there is also the scent of faith. Visit a Chinese temple and you scent fragrant joss stick carrying the faith of devotees to the Gods in the sky. Walk past a Hindu temple and you will not miss the scent of garlanded flowers dedicated to the Gods.


Scent of faith – the burning joss sticks on the altar of a temple,
carries the hopes and prayers of devotees to the Gods in the sky

Kuala Lumpur’s architectural beauty tells a story that spanned a century. With remnants of Malaya’s British colonial past fused with modern-day high rise office blocks, Kuala Lumpur is a symbol of the New Asia. To get a more direct feel of the scent of Malayan history in all its grandeur, go visit the museums and galleries.


The scent of history. St Michael’s, Ipoh… a colonial heritage

Alternately, try making your way up the creaking staircases of Yut Kee coffee shop along Jalan Dang Wangi and scent history in its truest sense – the scent of old wood and dusty ceilings coupled with the scent of black coffee brewing in the background.


Scent of tradition – the art of hand painting called ‘inai’

For the nature loving, a walk in the park would be pleasing to the eye and the nose, too! The million-year old limestone hill called Bukit Takun towers above the beautiful Templer’s Park with waterfalls amidst lush greenery. Templer’s Park, situated within 500 hectares of limestone hills, is located only about 10 km from KL’s city center.


Bukit Takun, the million-year-old limestone hill in Templer’s Park

Another must see is Batu Caves… a popular tourist attraction that, besides being the home to the Hindu God, Lord Murugan, also houses beautiful stalactites and stalagmites. The origins of Batu Caves is tied a mythical legend about a disobedient Si Tenggang that has been passed on from generation to generation.


The 272-step climb up Batu Caves to pay homage to Lord Murugan. Every year, Batu Caves will be filled with devotees and visitors during the Thaipusam festival.

Or, go to the Lake Gardens and visit the butterfly, bird and deer parks and be soothed by the scent of nature!

Whichever corner of KL that you are in, there is a unique scent, unfound anywhere else. Be it the scent of hope through herbal tea brewing in a Chinese medicinal hall, the scent of joy of a new parent in the maternity ward, the scent of sadness in a funeral and the scent of the future through squeaky clean, steel framed skyscrapers, KL is distinctively diverse in its own way.


The scent of success. GM Ni Hua with his team mates, triumphant in the 1st IGB Dato’ Arthur Tan Malaysia Open 2004

All these diverse scent come together in this 243.65 square kilometers land to give it a unique scent of its own! I am sure the fictitious character Grenouille (from the non-fiction Perfume, which is also known as Das Parfum) with the finest nose in Paris would no doubt find this city to be his la-la land!

“KL’s so cosmopolitan… there’s such a good mix of sub-cultures, different people from different background… there are those who are single and constantly in the rat race, the laidback ones… all types glued together in one city! You can find your own clichés… like me for instance… no one amongst my school friends is in Penang anymore. They are all here in KL! See, how nice… like a little Motley Crew thing,” she purred happily. Ah… maybe, that’s when all Penang-ites, like her, get together to talk about char koay teow, Penang asam laksa and Gurney Drive la!


Fishing hobbyists trying their luck by the seaside on a sunny Sunday

KL’s a vibrant, contradictory, evolving and dynamic city. KL’s vibrancy is best defined by its fast-paced work life during the day and smashing nightlife of clubs, pubs, mamak stalls and night markets or pasar malam! You can head to the city center and check out glitzy places like The Loft, Zeta Bar or even the cloud-splitting and breathtakingly beautiful Luna Bar. Other clubs such as Zouk, Beach Club, TwelveSI and Thai Club are also a hit with party-goers.


Night market, or ‘pasar malam’, should not be missed by visitors to Malaysia

Those who wouldn’t want to get smashed partying all night can choose a more sober option of hanging out with friends at ‘mamak’ stalls to chat the night away. That’s where biryani dishes, freshly made and bursting with spices, are served with a smile.

Contradictory is best described by a friend of mine as, “It is a rojak of everything. Traditional in a way, yet contemporary. Fast moving, yet relatively relaxing pace of life.” In short, the yin and yang of life in KL’s melting pot of cultures.


The breathtaking night view of KL, with the KL Tower and Petronas Twin Towers piercing through the serene, clear night sky

KL’s still evolving. Changing skyline, roads re-named, influx of new-aged cultures and migrants from all corners of the world contribute to an ever evolving nature of the city. With modern steel-framed skyscrapers existing alongside traditional, century-old shop houses, this is an example of balancing modern sophistication with a diverse cultural heritage. Further to that, with posh, fine dining restaurants right next to the famed beef ball noodle hawker stall along Changkat Bukit Bintang, KL’s a symbol of dynamism.

Just like the drop of water in an ocean, what I have just written above about KL, is just a small facet of what the city has to offer its visitors. That said, I would really want to invite you to come and visit KL. Come experience and ‘smell’ for yourself the unique scent of KL! Selamat Datang ke Kuala Lumpur!

Chess gladiators converge again at Mid Valley City…

Having already revved up your interest to come and visit KL, now, dear reader, we shall move on to talk about the chess tournament proper.

This coming edition of the IGB Dato’ Arthur Tan Malaysia Open Chess Championship will mark as the third year in a row that this tournament is held. Back again at Mid Valley City, getting there is not that difficult. You can choose to drive there, and parking is aplenty with 7,500 available bays. Alternately, one can also choose to use the ecologically friendly KTM Komuter to Mid Valley City. Other public transportation systems available include taking a taxi or the Putra LRT. One just needs to get off at the Bangsar Putra LRT station (again, also just one stop away from KL Sentral). There, you can hop onto the free shuttle service to Mid Valley City.


KTM Komuter’s Mid Valley station

The focus of this week-long FIDE rated event will again be at the Chinese, who amongst them have won the last two editions of the event. With the Chinese contingent having finished a strong second place at the recently concluded Men’s Chess Olympiad in Turin behind Armenia, will 2006 mark another year of Chinese victory at the 3rd IGB Dato’ Arthur Tan Malaysia Open Chess Championship?

As the players pit their wits against one another at the Bintang Ballroom of Cititel, Mid Valley City – the coliseum where chess gladiators do battle – the game of chess will eventually emerge triumphant, regardless of the results. As masterpieces of the chessboard are created and friendships are made, winning and losing paled in comparison.


Cititel Hotel at dusk, the venue where chess gladiators will battle wits come August 2006

In the inaugural edition of the event two years back, the tournament was met with great enthusiasm from participants. Top chess players from around the region – Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines, India, China, Australia, Ireland, and many more other countries – flew into Kuala Lumpur to participate. GMs Rogers, Ni Hua, and Antonio are amongst some famous names who took part.

Last year, the tournament grew in strength and stature, while at the same time attracting participants from many more other countries. Looking back at the 2005 players’ list and their countries of origin, one can’t help but spot Japan, USA, France and Russia, amongst others. While GMs Rogers and Antonio returned to a familiar hunting ground, they are joined in the fray by GMs Kunte, Humpy, Torre, Adianto and of course, how can I forget the eventual winner, GM-elect Wang Hao!

Undeniably, last year also saw Wang Hao blowing the field apart. Whilst 2004 proved to be a closer fight amongst the leading players going into the final round of the competition, 2005 was plain sailing for Wang Hao – who had wrapped up his first placing with two rounds to spare. And, how often do we forget that he is after all, only sixteen years of age, at that time.

With this year’s 3rd IGB Dato’ Arthur Tan Malaysia Open scheduled from the 21st to the 27th of August 2006, we will continue its journey, from where it left off after Wang Hao’s win last year. The Players’ Meeting is scheduled on the 20th of August.


GM Wang Hao, contemplating over his next move

The question in everybody’s mind now is whether GM Wang Hao will be returning to defend his title or not? Or, will China unleash another new, up-and-coming player into the world chess scene? All these questions will be answered come August 2006 at Mid Valley City, Kuala Lumpur.

Registering and accommodation

So, what else are you all waiting for? Go get yourself prepared, register yourself for the tournament and book your flight to Malaysia, today! I hope to see all of you here at Mid Valley City, Kuala Lumpur this coming August 2006!


About the author

Working full-time as a Public Affairs Manager at Procter & Gamble (Malaysia), Edwin Lam is highly passionate about the game of chess. Having grown up with an artistic feel of life, he somehow went about doing a degree in Commerce at Monash University’s main Clayton campus in Melbourne. Being the only child in the family, he had to follow his heart, not his head, and chose to return home to Malaysia, upon graduation. Knowing something was amiss in life, he started fiddling with the advertising industry, when he started working. Here, he deepened his love for writing – be it copy-writing, copy strategy development, article writing or even translation work.

As a lifestyle writer, his work has been published in Plan B, a men’s magazine based here in Kuala Lumpur. As a chess columnist, he has written for a host of international publications. Beginning with a regular column in the Philippine-based Chess Asia, he has branched out and contributed to the Melbourne-based Chess Kids as well as Australian Chess, which is under the editorship of FM Brian Jones. One of his most well known articles is the nice profile he wrote about GM Yasser Seirawan that appeared in the US-based ChessCafe.com. He also contributes regularly to the world’s top chess news site, Chessbase.com. His writings that have graced the web pages of Chessbase.com include:

Besides being a chess columnist, he is also currently coaching the school team of his alma mater, Tengku Ampuan Rahimah Secondary School, in Klang. Aside from chess, he enjoys motor racing (Formula 1, Formula Nippon and the Japan GT Championships), besides photography and traveling. Without doubt, he does all the photography of his articles.



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