My 48 hours in Petaling Jaya

The satellite township of PJ has been devoured by the Malaysian capital’s overwhelming urban sprawl. Filmmaker Bradley Liew joins Jacqueline Pereira on a search for some of its surviving laid-back charms

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 March, 2014, 11:19pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 March, 2014, 11:33pm

DIRECTOR, EDITOR and independent filmmaker Bradley Liew does not subscribe to the territorial notion that residents of the Klang Valley (AKA Greater Kuala Lumpur) see themselves as either a Kuala Lumpur (KL) person or a Petaling Jaya (PJ) person.

"I don't think we hate each other. We just don't like driving into each other's areas," he says with a chuckle.

He is quick to admit that PJ is more complicated to navigate, if only because of the city's sections, subsections and roads. They are numerically demarcated and do not follow any consecutive numbering system.

An alumnus of the 2012 Busan International Film Festival Asian Film Academy and the 2013 NAFF Fantastic Film School of the Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival, Liew has lived all his life in PJ. It originally developed as a satellite township for KL, comprising mostly residential and industrial areas.

For the past few years he has made both PJ and Manila his home. So, whenever Liew returns after being away for months on end, he looks forward to sleeping in his own bed and hanging out with his two younger brothers in section SS2, PJ's largest and most populous area.

"Then I start eating the food that I have missed."

On Friday nights, his first stop is Nasi Lemak Maybank in Seapark. He spent his adolescent years eating there, as it's near his old high school. The same cool Indian guys, he says, stand around a humongous wok, looking bored as they fry batch after batch of seriously good spicy chicken. Even when he was creating simple videos at school, this plate of coconut-infused rice, spicy anchovy sambal, fried chicken and condiments was a must after a night out.

The 24-year-old's interest in film evolved naturally. Initially he worked to put a smile on people's faces, then to make them laugh. Finally, he realised he could influence people's perceptions. He found that to be a powerful motivator.

If he's in the mood for some retro vibes he heads to Uncle Chilli's at the Hilton PJ Hotel. This was one of the first upscale hotels to open in PJ and offers great cocktails and a dance floor with live bands and DJs.

Some Saturday mornings when he is home - which, last year, was only for three months - he pops into the SS2 wet market for dim sum. "They have a great food court and you can find every type of Chinese breakfast."

Each Monday night the square around the market transforms into a pasar malam (night market) selling everything from onions to underpants.

Occasionally he craves a root beer float in the A&W drive-in restaurant in Section 52. Existing long before Liew was born, this fast-food favourite is where classic nostalgia meets his childhood memories.

Liew's short film Sunrise was accepted into the Short Film Corner at the 2013 Cannes Court Métrage. Of 180 entries from across the region, Liew also emerged as one of 12 finalists at Malaysia's inaugural Tropfest South East Asia, the world's largest short film festival, held in Panang.

At the end of January he won the audience choice award for his film We Need to Break Up, a four-minute domestic comedy. Shot in a Filipino kitchen, it is based on the real-life dynamic between his actress friend and her niece. It wasn't the big prize, but it was equally gratifying.

He wants to shoot a film about PJ soon, having been surprised at the discovery of the area's seemingly seedy side. He found many sleazy lounges and bars when he drove around researching for a short film. "PJ looks like an innocent, proper, middle-class family place during the day. But I'm sure there is a lot of s*** going on."

PJ is self-contained. Yet its proximity to other parts of the Klang Valley and a slower pace of life makes it a desirable place to live. Liew is often drawn to the serene Lembah Kiara Recreational Park, located in KL's Taman Tun Dr Ismail, for a spot of exercise or simply to ruminate by its large pond.

After working up an appetite, he never misses a Teochew-style braised duck rice in the unpretentious Restoran Kam Heong in PJ State. Most of his friends are also from PJ, so he meets them at the casual BeerHive for after-dinner drinks.

He recommends the minimalist Sekeping Seapark for those looking for alternative accommodation in PJ. "With its open-air concept and outdoor bathrooms, it is a random piece of paradise in suburbia."

Liew developed a taste for coffee culture during his university days in Melbourne, so now he stops by Artisan Roast Coffee in nearby Taman Tun Dr Ismail on Sundays. "Their cakes and coffee are great, and I go there to meet my friends, not to watch the clique-ish arty-farty crowd that has claimed it for themselves."

Lunch? That has to be Dragon-i at The Curve. Although he loves their xiao long bao, he craves their beef brisket noodles - so much so that's he been scouring Manila's Chinese restaurants to satisfy his yearnings. The Curve's Weekend Bazaar is perfect for an after-lunch stroll but, if a local indie film is on, he watches it at The Curve's Cineplex.

Conversely, if he needs to burn calories, he heads to Camp5 at the neighbouring 1 Utama mall for a little indoor rock-climbing.

Liew is glad that new additions to the laid-back city, such as niche malls Jaya One and Jaya 33 are food-oriented rather than shopping-based, and low-key rather than loud. Neither a KL nor a strictly PJ person, he hopes nothing will change about his community-oriented hometown.


Getting there
Several airlines, including Cathay Pacific, Malaysia Airlines and Air Asia, fly daily to KL. Flight time is approximately three hours and 50 minutes, and Petaling Jaya is a 45-minute drive from Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

Where to stay
Sekeping Seapark, 1 Jalan 21/2, Seapark

Where to eat

  • Nasi Lemak Maybank, Jalan 21/11b, Seapark
  • Wet market, SS2
  • A&W PJ Drive-in, No 9 Lorong Sultan, Section 52
  • Restoran Kam Heong, 8 Jalan Tengah, tel: +60 12 383 5567
  • Artisan Roast Coffee, 4 Lorong Rahim Kajai 14, Taman Tun Dr Ismail, Kuala Lumpur, tel: +60 3 7733 6397
  • Dragon-i Restaurant, Lot 136 & 137, Level 1, The Curve Shopping Mall, No 6, Jalan PJU 7/3, Mutiara Damansara

Where to drink

  • Uncle Chillie's Bar, Hilton PJ Hotel, Jalan Barat
  • BeerHive, SSTwo Mall, Jalan SS2/72, tel: +60 3 7931 2581

While you're there

  • Lembah Kiara Recreational Park, Taman Tun Dr Ismail, Kuala Lumpur
  • Weekend Bazaar, The Curve Shopping Mall, 6 Jalan PJU 7/3, Mutiara Damansara
  • Cathay Cineplexes, The Curve Shopping Mall, 6 Jalan PJU 7/3, Mutiara Damansara
  • Camp5, 1 Utama Shopping Centre, Bandar Utama Tel: +60 3 77260420