I continue my romp along the Kelana Jaya Light Rail Transit line in Kuala Lumpur, renewing my acquaintance with the city, viewing station displays for Hari Raya, exploring forgiveness and Malaysian traditions of Ramadan.
For the motivation for my project, and Stations 1 to 11 (Gombak to Kampung Baru), see Part One. Click on any photos below to expand them.
There’s a warning beep, the doors slide shut, and I grab a strap as the train pulls off from KJ11 Kampung Baru. Platform lights and advertising quickly fade away as we speed into the darkness beneath Kuala Lumpur’s CBD. I’m en route for next stop, next photo, next encounter on my railway-raya mission.
I presume the old mosque photos are remainders from last year’s theme. I’d have liked to be here – there might have been more variety than the artificial ketupats (a special food for Hari Raya introduced in Part One), which are indeed pretty, but getting a little repetitive by halfway through.
Again the phrase “maaf zahir batin” that you see everywhere during Hari Raya. “Maaf” means forgive, “zahir” means external or physical, “batin” means internal, emotional or spiritual. In all, a request for comprehensive forgiveness, which is a major theme of Ramadan.
Not only does God promise forgiveness to those who keep the fast, but in many Muslim countries prisoners are pardoned at Ramadan. On the morning of Hari Raya here in Malaysia, Malays don new clothes (often shiny satin pyjamas) and visit family graves, then ask parents and others for forgiveness. It’s doubtless often a mere formality, but for many it seems to be a deeply moving time. Some say the ketupat has a rough outside of woven leaves that represents our sins, while the white rice inside, like the new Raya clothes, symbolises our new purity once washed clean through Ramadan.
Every Ramadan Malaysian companies produce videos reflecting the traditional themes we are seeing here. On 30th June this year, for example, TV broadcaster Astro showed the above true story of ex-drug addict Herman asking his father for forgiveness. It was introduced with the words,
“We have all made mistakes or chosen the wrong path at one stage of our lives… It is never too late to seek or accept forgiveness because forgiveness has no boundaries. Tiada Noktah Untuk Kemaafan…. We would like to wish all Malaysians, Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri. Maaf Zahir Batin, Kosong Kosong.”
Located at the junction of the city’s two LRT lines, this is one of the busiest stations. Their Raya display had elf-like characters in a ketupat-patterned train or bus.
The Masjid Jamek station’s advertising often narrates a story right along the wall – above is the start of a Samsung-facilitated romance. Right now the station also has Astro’s more meaningful advertising, based on this year’s Ramadan hashtag of #kosongkosong. The word kosong means empty, nil, no score, zero, “not written or printed on”, the blank slate after Ramadan-Raya forgiveness and reconciliation when debts are written off and past wrongs wiped away. A man in one advert says, “I’d like to patch things up and kosong-kosong with my neighbour”. The corridor between Masjid Jamek platforms begins with the KL skyline alongside a village scene and the words “Try forgiveness, share with sincerity. Share your stories of kosong-kosong”.
The rest of the wall is painted with quotes on Raya forgiveness from local celebrities. “I want to kosong-kosong with all the teachers at my school because formerly I was very naughty.” “I want to kosong-kosong with the inhabitants of Kayu Ara because I used to always steal bananas near the prayer room.” “I’m easily angered, but if I do wrong I quickly ask forgiveness.” (Left below) “I used to skip fasting and forced my friends to buy food at the canteen. Please forgive me!” (Right below)
A month of fasting, then the day that brings forgiveness and reconciliation. A little like Lent and Easter. Coming home to bright new clothes and a fresh new start, joy and gifts and a feast. Echoes of Christmas and Christ’s parables.
On the way to this station we pop above ground again and the train speeds through the concrete-glass jungle for more great views of this great city.
A lady stepped before my lens as I shot the simple Hari Raya display from afar, through a gateway advertising lemon tea.
The central train station had both a Hari Raya presentation on the ground and the largest hanging sign of any station, in an elegant Arabic-type font.
The adjacent Nu Sentral mall (new since I was here in 2012) had the biggest Hari Raya village scene I saw.
As we pull out of KL Sentral the train speeds between futuristic glass towers. It’s like a sci-fi movie – I half expect to see the Millennium Falcon docking above or an X-wing fighter zipping past. Maybe this stretch of track inspired the life-size model-mural on the wall outside Masjid Jamek station:
This station is near a Ramadan Bazaar known for its coloured kuih or sweets (see Timeout KL), as bright as the upper part of the display.
Bangsar itself is a more upmarket expat suburb, reflected in the elegant drawing-room beneath, complete with framed photos of station staff, grandmotherly flowers (again), and the rural kampung scene relegated to a painting.
One evening after dinner I found a bonus display at Bangsar station further outside.
A station I’ve seldom visited, with a bright display that I simply shot from the ticket gates – the mosque domes perhaps recycled from last year. Outside, the brown-cream mosque under construction in 2012 appears to be complete, and cranes are erecting new tower blocks in every direction.
Again very green – as in India, often seen as the colour of Islam. By now it was getting late for lunch and I wouldn’t have minded if I’d had to swipe out through the gate. Being near my old stomping grounds, I knew there was a shady street stall of tasty fare around the corner outside. But the display was inside, so I soldiered on.
The stop for the University of Malaya (I visited the campus several times in 2012), with annoyingly bright sunlight behind the display and an elegant banner contrasting with the cartoon figures.
Now comes a long stretch of track past a forested hill. When I hiked through here three years ago I was a little nervous of the monkeys. After the Masjid Jamek mural, I wonder if there are bigger creatures in the jungle now.
A good effort from my home station of three years ago, beneath the Amcorp Mall apartment where I lived. The only display with herons (or any bird).
Inside the mall for Hari Raya was a village house façade.
And here’s the station’s flag-draped Independence-Raya display I shot in 2012.
A clean and compact display, with ketupats, duit raya envelopes and pelitas (definitions in Part One), all pleasingly balanced between ticket gates. My sense of direction is less well-balanced as I’m on-off-on-off, and the stations are merging in my mind until I forget which platform I arrived on or which way I was going.
Further from the centre, the tracks winds through tropical foliage that constantly threatens to submerge the buildings.
A modest display brightened up by the best electric ketupats of any station, while the bathroom entrance showed off their five-star win in the 2013 Clean Toilet Campaign.
Past a golden mosque dome glinting in the sun and we come to station 23. It’s early afternoon, my stomach is rumbling, and – despite air-conditioned trains between stations – I’m feeling rather warm. Commuters cluster under the platform fans. Here at the penultimate stop is a cheerful display with ketupats like slices of Rubik cubes. Only one more stage to go before I’m done and can head for the restaurants opposite Kelana Jaya.
The end of the line! An ex-local who has emigrated to Australia and clearly absorbed the culture – sunnies on his forehead and shirt unbuttoned halfway down his chest – offered to snap me and I accepted (unusually), to prove I’d made it. Beneath the platform, my final Raya display photo was delayed by guards toting large guns as I heard clinking and clashing. The ticket dispensers were being opened to unload the cash into large dark sacks.
“Syawal” comes after Ramadan in the Islamic calendar, a month of celebration to balance the month of self-denial. My water bottle had run out a few stations back and breakfast had been 24 stations away at Gombak, so it was time to break my own brief fast and transit across the highway overbridge towards a celebratory lunch. RM7 for a dried fish, dal and flavoursome sauces on rice, washed down by an ice coffee and a chat with immigrant waiters from Bangalore and Indonesia.
Cost of an edutaining day: RM15 (under NZ$6) for three meals and drinks, plus RM12.40 on the train for 24 LRT stations and 24 Hari Raya arrangements. I hope you enjoyed the ride as much as I did. If I made any errors along the way or offended any readers, minta maaf, I hope you’ll forgive me and we’ll be kosong-kosong. As Abu Bakar, Mohammed’s father-in-law, says at left below, “Water will not break when it’s chopped up. Accept my sincere apology.”
And now, the obvious question. Which station has the best display? I can’t see a clear winner, but my favourite three were Damai (KJ8), Bangsar (KJ16) and Asia Jaya (KJ21), with a big bonus prize to Masjid Jamek station (KJ13) for its moving and amusing murals both inside and out.