Shopping malls, ice cream & Penang - things author Zen Cho misses about Malaysia


In a Penguin Random House Q&A, London-based Cho answered a few questions about her favourite places and foods in Malaysia. Photo: Handout

Miss visiting your favourite shopping mall during this pandemic? Don’t worry. Award-winning London-based Malaysian author Zen Cho reveals she does too in a recent Q&A series with international publisher Penguin Random House.

“One of the places I have missed in this long pandemic is One Utama, a shopping mall I spent a lot of time in as a teenager, ” said Cho, 34, proving that she’s still a Petaling Jaya lass at heart.

“As there are relatively few public community spaces, malls are a real centre of community and public life in urban Malaysia, ” she added.

The practicing corporate lawyer also shared that one of the first things she’s going to do the next time she’s back in Malaysia is to “visit One Utama and make a pilgrimage to Inside Scoop”, a well-known ice cream shop that offers interesting local flavours.

Cho’s comments come at a time when many Malaysians are forced to stay indoors due to the alarming rise of Covid-19 cases.

Early this month, Cho released her latest book called Black Water Sister. Set in Penang, the fantasy novel follows a medium who is drawn into a world of gods, ghosts and family secrets as she seeks retribution for her late grandmother.

Cho’s previous works include short story anthology Spirits Abroad, Sorcerer To The Crown and The True Queen.

In 2019, her story If At First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again won the US-based Hugo Award for Best Novelette.

Cho also showed that she’s not your average city girl. Like many of us who miss enjoying a beach vacation, she reveals in the same interview that she’s obsessed with Penang.

“It has some of the best food in the world... It’s a good place to visit if you like walking along the street and looking at interesting buildings, or relaxing on the beach, or trying street food, or exploring tropical gardens, ” said Cho.

Proving that she’s a real Malaysian foodie, Cho suggested the nasi lemak and several kuihs such as kuih dadar and pulut tai tai when asked about meals she would recommend to visitors.

One thing Cho says she’s proud of Malaysia is the cultural diversity.

“Cultural exchange and hybridity are a feature of many places and communities, but Malaysia is a particularly clear example of a country where diversity and hybridity have been baked into the culture... for me the best vision Malaysia can offer is of a multicultural society where difference is celebrated and assimilation is not the ultimate goal, ” she concluded.

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