One night in KL: Introduction

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.

One Night in KL: The Jay Park force

My feature on Jay Park began the Sunday I arrived in Malaysia. I was to attend a party in his honor that night at the legendary Zouk, the Asian institution that plays host to the annual ZoukOut. I got to my hotel after shopping to rest and freshen up. I was staying at the Mandarin Oriental, with a spectacular view of the Petronas Towers, so I tried to make the most out of it. After a nice long nap and a nicer and even longer hot shower, I met my fellow journalists (a mix of Singaporeans and Indonesians) and headed to Zouk.

Jay Park whipping up the crowd into a frenzy. Photos from NBC Universal

Jay Park had this amazing energy on stage, that even a non-fan like myself enjoyed his performance. Photos from NBC Universal

 I was seated next to the stage so I mostly saw Jay Park’s profile

I wasn’t really expecting much because it was a Sunday evening. The outside of Zouk was also bare so I thought it was going to be an intimate party for press and friends. But the club was packed, filled to the brim with Malaysia’s elite and what looked like teenagers. I had a bit of wine as the opening acts performed and when Jay finally came on stage, everybody went wild. I only know Jay Park as the Korean who sang with B.O.B. for Nothin’ On You and for being the guy who was kicked out of KPOP group 2PM, but I was impressed. He sang and danced well. I think there was a point when I was singing along with the crowd (more like mumbling because the songs were in Korean).

The Petronas Towers look magnificent up close

I stayed for a bit after his performance but I left ahead of the press group. I walked back to the hotel, took some selfies with the Petronas Towers, and checked out some stuff at H&M (a more detailed writeup can be found here).

Photo from NBC Universal

The following morning was the press conference for Jay’s E! News Special Asia Special. They did a short preview of the episode (it looked promising), and Jay answered some questions. I think I asked what it was like having all those cameras following you around. As much as fame is tempting, I still believe that anonymity is the best luxury, where you can throw a bitch fit and not have everyone remember it was you (granted that no one recorded your outburst.).

While I waited for my turn for the private interview, I gorged on this wonderful citrus dessert at the buffet. I also took the liberty of stuffing my pockets with Twining’s Classic Earl Grey tea. In between mouthfuls of that dessert, I met a few executives of E!, including this one local who told me about her backpacking trip to the Philippines. She stayed at an inn somewhere in Makati, and her account of the city was accurate: on one side of the street you have a developed megalopolis and the other, you have ‘homeless people’ milling about. Of course, her description bothered me but I’m glad she enjoyed her stay. She loved Mang Inasal and had that for three days.

I pulled off a Beyonce and cropped the other writers out. Heh. Photo from NBC Universal 

Photos from NBC Universal

When it was time for the interview, I was joined by the two Indonesian writers who were with me at Zouk and for breakfast that morning. Their questions were geared towards the Indonesian fans while mine were random queries I cobbled on the plane ride to Kuala Lumpur. It was a smooth interview, Jay was enthusiastic, down-to-earth, and game for any question. There was this one time when I spaced out and upon landing back on Earth, he was talking about a piece of land a fan would like to give him?

Goodbye, Malaysia. Photo from Koji Universal

After the interview, I had enough time to pack before I was whisked off to the airport and found myself back to real life: the stress of the daily grind.

My exclusive story can be accessed here.