I am on always on the look out for beautiful and interesting handicrafts and souvenirs to collect or bring as gifts when visiting family and friends overseas. Apart from places on the beaten path like Central Market or Petaling Street, it makes a refreshing change to find new venues where one can find such intriguing items.
When I heard about the Hari Kraf Kebangsaan 2016 , an annual festival happening at Kompleks Kraf in Jalan Conlay, I leapt at the chance to visit, as it is a rare opportunity to view some of Malaysia's best handicrafts under one roof.
Together with Yiga, we arrived bright and early on the first day of the fair and were practically the first people to arrive. The fair being quite large in size was divided into different sections ie. handicrafts such as baskets and homeware on one side, traditional Malaysian clothes and batik accessories on another.
I was pleasantly surprised by the range of goodies that were on offer. A bounty of rattan baskets, table runners, jewellery, handbags and ceramic pottery welcomed us as we entered the hall. Truly a shopaholic's trove of delights - and at reasonable prices too!
We got to banter and bargain with the vendors who had travelled from their particular state and region of the country. It felt good knowing that you were buying directly from the source and supporting the local economy at the same time.
One particular stall stood out with swarms of people hovering around its intricate wares. This was the Gerai OA, a "nomadic volunteer-run stall" which sells items made by the Orang Asli people. The Orang Asli are the "original" or indigenous people here in Malaysia and are the oldest settlers in the peninsular. Gerai OA are helping to kee the Orang Asli's traditions alive by "documenting, reviving and revitalising the heritage crafts" of the indigenous people.
I loved the rattan fishing basket made by the Jakun, the third largest aboriginal group within the Orang Asli. These baskets would look great as a feature decorative item in the home. Alas, I don't have much space left in my home for such large items but hopefully someone else will enjoy its quirkiness! Meanwhile, Yiga went gaga over all the beaded Sarawak jewellery.
I was taken aback at all the beautiful colours, textures and patterns that lay all around us. There were ceramic vases from Langkawi, baskets and handbags from Sarawak, and art pieces from around the region. I also felt quite proud that my country still has a strong traditional artistic heritage that is being maintained despite all the influence of international brands marketed daily to us. I do hope that this will continue and am hopeful that events such as this will help to reaffirm our Malaysian culture.
Having lived and been educated from birth overseas, I sometimes am quite embarrassed to admit that there is quite a lot about Malaysian culture I am still unfamiliar with. I find that as locals, we tend to take things around us for granted especially when it comes to elements related to our local culture whereas the expatriates and foreigners, who are here for a short window of time, seem to have an expansive grasp and knowledge of events and happenings going on in KL.
One such example is the Labu Sayong, a traditional clay pottery that originates from Kuala Kangsar, Perak and is generally used for storing and keeping water cool. The traditional form is usually in black with intricate designs carved onto the body of the pitcher. This was extremely popular in those days before refrigerators became the norm in Malaysia. Apparently the water can keep cold and clean for up to a week! I funnily enough have no recollection of seeing this in my relatives or friend's house, even as a child ! I was quite dumbfounded when Yiga, being a foreigner herself, had to explain what the Labu Sayong was and what its function was!
We also viewed some Islamic Art from Mr Yu Azman bin Hamid from Skill of Art who was displaying a collection of his acrylic masterpieces which were done in the style of Kufic art . Kufic art is one of the earliest forms of Islamic calligraphy and is representative of Islam as it does not depict images and is non-representational. Here again it was a pleasure to meet up and talk to the artist, who hails from Perak, hearing his views and understanding his interpretation of Islamic art.
After a good hour of shopping, we were famished and needed a little perk up as our energy stores were running low.
We then walked over to the Malaysian food stalls which were temporarily set up outside of the complex in the parking grounds.
There was a bevy of special culinary delights on offer such as nasi lemak (coconut rice), otak-otak (grilled fish cake) and sup daging (beef soup).
I decided to partake on some sup daging which looked extremely delicious, steaming away in a huge metal pot. Meat lovers would definitely revel in this dish! I was given the Soup Special which included the gizzards and offals. Definitely an acquired taste for some, however the adventurous side of me won over and I thought I would give it a go! It wasn't too bad for a first try however I think I will stick to my normal cuts of meat next time.
Yiga went with the Kelantanese speciality, Nasi Kerabu which is a Malay rice dish with blue coloured rice, dried fish and coconut stuffed chili. The rice is blue as it is soaked with the petals of the butterfly-pea flower. She gave her thumbs up for this dish and seemed very satisfied, the dish only costing her RM 3! Now that's something you don't come across so often these days! In fact most of the food on offer at the fair was below RM 10 so it really is worth going for a visit if you want to try some local dishes at a very decent price.
There were so many things to discover but unfortunately we only had a short time to take a quick look at some of the uniquely Malaysian clothes and batik accessories that were showcased that day. I do plan to make a trip back there as it is really a superb place to pick up some reasonably priced Malaysian traditional clothes, kaftans and batik accessories.
Parking is rather limited in the area, however, you can either fork out by parking at the neighbouring Royale Chulan Hotel or even better take an Uber or a cab.
I had planned to browse around and perhaps purchase a thing or two, but by the end of the morning, both Yiga and I were each struggling with our own brightly woven laundry basket filled to the brim with other goodies from the fair!
Do not miss out on this opportunity to collect and take home some of the best of Malaysia's handicrafts. The fair runs until March 6th !
The Hari Kraf Kebangsaan (HKK) is still ongoing! Last day to shop and visit is March 6th so try not to miss out on their special offers.
HKK is open from 10am - 10pm until Sunday March 6th and is held at the Kompleks Kraf building in Jalan Conlay. For more information go to hkk.kraftangan.gov.my or www.malaysiancraft.com.my or call (03) 2162 7459/7533.