AMPANG is many things depending on who you are and where you are from but to me, it is the only home I have known all my life and is synonymous with the feeling of comfort, familiarity and ease.
This small town with a history of tin mining has been home to four generations of my family on my father’s side and three generations on my mother’s side which makes me as thorough an Ampangite as they can come.
The only relic left from the town’s days of tin mining is Jalan Ampang, most of which is actually within the border of the Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur leading to many amusing conversations where people believe I live in one of the most sought after properties in the city.
Ampang is a mixture of everything from high-end properties to low-cost flats and it should come as no surprise that every sizable piece of land within its 38 sq km has been developed. After all, its history is almost as old as Kuala Lumpur’s, which began in the 1850s.
As a child and then a teenager, I was a busy bee and always preferred to roam farther and farther from the nest, which means almost all my favourite spots back home became known to me, thanks to my parents who have lived most of their lives here.
One such spot is a wild and picturesque hiking trail complete with a lake that I used to visit when I was training for my second Mount Kinabalu climb.
Living 10 minutes away from the nation’s towering icon, the Petronas Twin Towers, such a lush green enclave is a one-of-a-kind luxury which ironically enough, is accessed via an unassuming path between two homes in one of the established high-end neighbourhoods called Taman Tun Abdul Razak.
Those I meet here are all smiles and polite greetings, making me feel as if we were all sharing this big and wild secret garden every time I wend my way along the well-walked path which has connecting trails to other parts of Ampang.
I cannot talk about home without mentioning food and we all know that the town I grew up in has some pretty well known and still popular outlets which ironically, I rarely visit as it is not to my taste.
My parents have been health- conscious for as long as I can remember which means meals I ate growing up were usually quite plain yet delicious enough that I remember many dishes with a wistful sigh.
My mother may have hung up her wok a long time ago but a local vegetarian restaurant Mi Tho, which might as well be my family’s second dining room, is still around to serve up simple and tasty food at reasonable prices.
In the case of this establishment, it has been around long enough for me to watch the owners’ kids grow from infants to the precocious youngsters helping out in the restaurant today and before that, ownership changed a couple of times.
In another case of food bringing people together, my father and I would also take the occasional time-out together to go savour a steamed fish dish that is cooked with a generous mountain of shredded ginger and cili padi.
The hot and muggy conditions of the small food court where this dish is found makes it a no-no for my mother, who is unable to tolerate it. So it’s a special place just for me and my dad and in recent years, thanks to an unpredictable working lifestyle, become especially looked forward to as a bonding moment.
Another simple comfort I get from home arrives in the form of a small Hakka restaurant serving sticky rice dumplings, pan mee and even lei cha (rice accompanied with an assortment of cooked vegetables, nuts and green tea soup that is eaten all mixed together), another discovery of my parents.
I know almost no Hakka despite my partial Hakka descent from my father’s side but the food I definitely understand and why I find comfort in it is not just in its simplicity but how, despite the rising costs all around me, I can still get a decent meal here for under RM10.
Many have often wondered why I still choose to live in Ampang in spite of the dreadful traffic all days of the week and apparent lack of entertainment and retail options, in other words the typical trappings of a modern city lifestyle.
The way I see it, all those things are just a stone’s throw away in the capital but there is only one place where I grew up and a person should count themselves very lucky to still be able to go back to their comfortable world of their childhood especially as an adult in a crazy world.