10 years later, I was back in Kuala Lumpur. I had vowed never to return. Everything had been arranged and I did not have much of a choice. And so we woke up in KL one morning and, since one of my friends was a 1st time visitor, ended up on Petaling Street. The famous once-flea-market, now tourist-trap street with the red lanterns. And apparently under a glass roof, these days.
The shops lining the street did still sell traditional Chinese goods and foods, but the illegal copy industry of branded goods had taken over the whole street (how sad), save for a few stalls selling Indian print harem pants or street food. Otherwise it was sunglasses (Ray-Ban), “Louis Vuitton” bags, watches, “Gucci” T-shirts, and most, if not all, fake – of course. Apparently, if one is lucky one can find the real thing, sold on the street as an overflow product from a local factory. Most likely not, though, as such things would be sold in proper factory outlets, not out on Petaling Street.
How surprising to an (apparently) naïve person that the market for fake goods is large enough to carry a size of business of Petaling Street. Who buys all the quite obviously low-quality “Louis Vuitton” bags and “Dior” sunglasses? Asians? European or Australian tourists? What kind of social classes?
Every front side has a back side. The back (South) side of Petaling street is a jumbled mess. With up-and-coming hipster cafés like the Old China Café. Hipster. In KL, indeed. Next to fake luxury sunglasses, the search for authenticity snuggles close to the search for status at any cost.
It will be interesting to come back in 5 years time (of course only on idea level – I’m done with KL), to see how the presence of hipsters changes the offerings on Jalan Petaling. The crowd found in the cafés around Petaling seems to be of the somewhat well-off and well-educated lot, one that, when they choose to, would spend much money on things it cannot get from elsewhere. Perhaps there is yet hope for Petaling Street.
(Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; September 2016)