musings on music, travel, books, and life from Southeast Asia

Posts tagged ‘Victoria Music’

The Comfort of Kuala Lumpur

I don’t travel much anymore. Really, I’ve pretty much lost the urge for adventure and seeing famous sights. And when I do travel somewhere, domestically or overseas, my goal is simply to relax.

Thus, Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia has become one of my very favorite cities to visit. It’s only a 2-hour flight from my home in Bangkok to get there, and upon arrival the customs and visa process is refreshingly easy and efficient. Going from the airport into the heart of KL is also painless thanks of the handy KLIA train link. Once again, fast and efficient.

When I’m in KL I pretty much stick to the same routine: eating and shopping. The culinary treats could be local Malaysian dishes or excellent Indian, Burmese or Vietnamese food. Fancy a good steak? There is The Ship or the venerable Coliseum. Plenty of sumptuous choices for any appetite.

As for the shopping I only have two targets: books and CDs. Since the demise of the Rock Corner chain last year the best place to find new CDs is the Victoria Music outlet in the Amcorp Mall in Petaling Jaya. For secondhand CDs, Amcorp Mall is also the best hunting grounds. There is a great little shop on the basement level of the mall, and on weekends there are several dealers who ply their trade at the mall’s indoor flea market. More on those goodies in a later post.

For books, the weekend flea market at Amcorp Mall also has a decent assortment of dealers, but the best buys are actually new books at one of the BookXcess branches. I think they now have 6 branches in the greater KL area, but I  usually peruse the shelves at the large outlet in the Amcorp Mall and I’m also fond of the newer location at Fahrenheit in Bukit Bintang. At BookXcess they sell “remainders” at dirt cheap prices and the selection is very good. If you want newer new books, you can try the huge Kinokuniya branch in KLCC.

Getting around Kuala Lumpur and suburbs such as Petaling Jaya is also a breeze thanks to the various electric train links, subway and monorail, all conveniently accessed by a single ticket. I wish Bangkok would get it together and offer their multiple train links on a similar single ticket. Sigh. Maybe in my lifetime it will happen.

I also love just walking around KL and admiring the modern architecture and the mosques and temples, plus bursts of colorful graffiti and crumbling older buildings, most of which I think may not be around much longer. The last few years has seen a construction boom all around KL. I almost feel dizzy looking around at the sea of construction cranes and building skeletons reaching towards the skies. What’s fueling all this construction I wonder?

I’ve also grown to like the people in KL. They are not as overtly “smiley” as the locals in Thailand or Myanmar, but I find them to be very honest and helpful. It’s an interesting mix of cultures, nationalities, and religions. Sure, you can’t ignore the predominant Muslim influence in the country, but there is also a strong Hindu and Buddhist presence too. Take the native Malays, Indians, those with Chinese heritage, and immigrants from Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and other Asian countries, and you have a diverse and dynamic cultural mix. Not to mention lots of great restaurants. I’m already looking forward to my next visit!

 

Keeping the Music Alive and the Pages Turning in KL

I returned from a four-day trip to Kuala Lumpur earlier this week. KL has become one of my favorite quick getaway destinations in recent years. I don’t much, if any, sightseeing at this stage of my visits, however. I have a clear agenda upon arrival: buy CDs, buy books, buy more CDs, and eat lots of good meals.

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Unlike Bangkok, where retail CD shops have become very scarce, Kuala Lumpur still does have several good shops that sell new CDs, both domestic and imports. Rock Corner sports the best selection and has several branches in the greater KL area, as does the Victoria Music Center, and there is even a branch of Tower Records still open! I had thought that Tower had finally bit the dust (as they have in the US) after their one large store downsized and moved into the corner of an electronics department in KL’s Times Square two years ago. But I accidentally stumbled upon their new location in the Gardens, adjacent to the Mid Valley Megamall, on the same floor at the Rock Corner branch. The stock at Tower is greatly reduced from their glory years, but it appears that Classical music takes up about half of the stock and those sales are keeping the shop alive. Tower also has a pretty good selection of Jazz and World Music, but their pop and rock offerings are pitiful at this point.

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Meanwhile, Rock Corner, despite having the largest selection and most interesting assortment of CDs and DVDs, appears as if they are struggling to stay open. Last year they closed their branch in the Mid Valley Megamall, as well as the one in the 1 Utama shopping center, and this year I was dismayed to find that they had also shuttered their original shop in KLCC. The manager at one shop told me that spiraling rents were to blame. But they still have four very well-stocked shops still operating in Bangsar Village, Subang Parade in Subang Jaya, the Curve, and the Gardens. My bulging bags coming back to Bangkok are evidence that they still have plenty of good titles.

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The Amcorp Mall also holds a few treasures for music lovers, especially on weekends. The Victoria Music Center branch there has a decent selection of CDs and the employees are very knowledgeable. On weekends the mall has an indoor flea market with several dealers selling secondhand CDs and vinyl records. A little browsing leads to a lot! A further lure at Amcorp Mall is the giant BookXcess store. They sell remainders — all new books at greatly reduced prices — in many categories, and you get a further discount if you have a member card. Speaking of books, the long-running Junk Book Store on Jalan Tun H.S. Lee is still around too. They sell only secondhand books and the prices are a bit cheap for the quality of the stuff they are selling, but it’s a fun place to browse. I am always amazed at the old treasures they have in stock. Any shop that has multiple titles by the likes of Donald E. Westlake, Ed McBain, and Ross Thomas is alright in my book! Needless to say, I usually find something to buy there, even if the book is overpriced and finding what you want is challenging. With its narrow aisles, low ceiling and baffling way of grouping books together, good luck finding what you are looking for. The books are neatly stacked, and most wrapped in plastic, but if they are organized in any manner at all, I have yet to figure out their system!

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Quirky or not, it’s still a pleasure to shop in places like the Junk Book Store and CD shops like Rock Corner, Tower Records, and Victoria Music, all of which are managing to stay in business and cater to “old school” customers like me who appreciate a well-stocked shop that is run by people who are passionate about what they are doing. Hey, all of this online crap is fun and shiny and oh-so-easy, but don’t forget about the brick and mortar shops that remain the foundation of the music and book business. They need your support now more than ever!

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KL Quickie

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Not much to say today, just posting a few photos that I took during my trip to Kuala Lumpur in January, just before the start of the annual Lunar New Year. As usual, I made multiple trips to buy CDs at various branches of Rock Corner and Victoria Music, bought a bunch of bargain books at Book Xcess in the Amcorp Mall (and couldn’t resist browsing the selection of used CDs at their weekend flea market), and had many great meals at places such as the historic Coliseum Café.

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On another food note, over in the Dang Wagi neighborhood, the legendary Yut Kee has moved! But regular customers need not worry too much; the revered kopitiam has only moved around the corner, to spacious new multi-floor digs. Unfortunately, I was unable to eat at the new location. I showed up on a Monday, the one day of the week they are closed!

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Kuala Lumpur Again and Again

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My first trip to Kuala Lumpur came about five or six years ago, and it was almost by accident. KL wasn’t really a city high on my list of places to visit, but needing to make a visa run to renew my non-immigrant visa for Thailand that year, it made for a convenient destination. I ended up enjoying my time in the city so much that I’ve gone back to visit every year since then.

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I engaged in a bit of the typical tourist sightseeing stuff the first trip or two, but there are only so many times you can marvel at the Petronas Twin Towers, so since those first few trips I have concentrated on three main activities: sampling the city’s delicious restaurants and street food; buying CDs from well-stocked local chains such as Rock Corner and Victoria Music; and buying books, both secondhand and new, at small shops and the giant Book Xcess store at the Amcorp Mall in Petaling Jaya.

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And, like I do in any place I visit, I bring my camera along end up taking lots of photos too. Here are a few shots that I took around Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya on my last trip.

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Victoria Music in Kuala Lumpur

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During my recent trip to Kuala Lumpur I spent a lot of time browsing the CD shops in town. Unlike in Bangkok, where it’s become nearly impossible to find good back catalog or anything other than mainstream new releases, there are several shops in Kuala Lumpur offering a very good selection of CDs and even some vinyl records. I may be one of a vanishing breed, but I vastly prefer shopping for real CDs, as opposed to downloading songs or buying stuff online. Okay, I’ve worked in retail since the late 1970s, so I’m biased, but I still think that nothing compares to the experience and ambience of shopping in a well-stocked store, and thankfully in Kuala Lumpur they have those in abundance!

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I think it’s safe to say that the Rock Corner chain of stores have the best selection of CDs in the KL area. I went to their branches in KLCC (next to the famous Petronas Twin Towers), Mid Valley Megamall, 1 Utama, The Curve, Subang Parade, and Bangsar Village, the latter branch having my favorite mix of new releases and older titles, plus the employees are all very nice, and the in-store music that they play is always interesting too. In some shops you invariably encounter a metalhead, hip-hop fanatic, or even someone who still worships Kenny G, but the employees at the Rock Corner Bangsar branch have much better taste in music!

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Another good chain in town is Victoria Music. I always visit their branches at the Amcorp Mall in Petaling Jaya and in Sungai Wang Plaza in the Bukit Bintang area. I stumbled upon both stores by accident initially, but I now go out of my way to visit them, finding that, like the Rock Corner stores, they have a good mix of new releases and back catalog. The young woman who works at the Amcorp Mall branch is always very friendly and invariably recommends something I had not thought of or had overlooked during my bin browsing. She is one of those retail wizards who know exactly what they have in stock.

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Both Victoria Music and Rock Corner also have a good selection of these new mini-boxed sets of CDs that WEA and Sony have been putting out the past couple of years. These sets include 4 or 5 entire albums by a single artist (dozens of popular names, such as Hall & Oates, Bill Withers, Fleetwood Mac, Foghat, Young Rascals, X, Chicago, George Duke, George Benson, and many, many more) all housed in cardboard sleeves and packaged inside a sturdy box. But the best thing is that they are priced not much more than what it would cost you to buy a single disc, so they are great bargains indeed. For some reason I never see any of these special CD sets at the shops in Bangkok and if check online at sites like Amazon they are quite expensive. But not in KL!

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During my shopping spree I found a ton of new music from the likes of Broken Bells, Robert Cray, Blood Orange, Bombay Bicycle Club, Capital Cities, Mazzy Star, Tory Y Moi, Paul Heaton, Low, Temper Trap, White Denim, Eddi Reader, and My Morning Jacket. And I bought plenty of older goodies from The Hollies, The Turtles, Peter Green, Crown Heights Affair, Solomon Burke, Husker Du, Willie Nile, Robin Trower, Paul Revere & the Raiders, and The Troggs, Gordon Lightfoot, oodles of cool compilations, and many more than I want to list!

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Another cool thing about the Amcorp Mall, in addition to Victoria Music and the giant Book Xcess store, is their weekend “Flea Market”. This indoor market features several dealers that sell affordable secondhand CDs, DVDs, and vinyl records. Some dealers even have Star Wars memorabilia and other collectible items. Something for everyone!

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Snatching it Back in KL

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As I noted in the previous post, I had another whirlwind trip to Kuala Lumpur last month. I don’t know anyone in the city except for the nice folks at my hotel, as well as the helpful clerks who remember me at the various branches of Rock Corner and Victoria Music where I always buy CDs, but always I enjoy spending time in Kuala Lumpur.

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I like to walk around Kuala Lumpur as much as possible, but when going somewhere that’s more than a few blocks in distance I use the handy train system they have, which includes a monorail and the KL Komuter line. This time around I ventured as far as Subang Jaya, in pursuit of — what else — more CDs, at a branch of Rock Corner I had never previously visited in the Subang Parade shopping center.

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There is not much in the way of historic buildings to see in Kuala Lumpur, but nevertheless I do enjoy the variety of modern architecture and skyscrapers that sprout up around the city, plus the colorful old shophouses in the Dang Wangi area. I had read something online recently about a rash of bag snatchings in the city, mostly perpetrated by thieves on motorcycles. I didn’t witness anything like that, and thankfully I didn’t have anything stolen, but I did see several notices around town, warning people to “beware of snatch thieves”. Such a shame that scum-sucking, cycle-driving thieves have to prey on pedestrians. Despite those warnings, however, I find KL to be a very safe city.

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As usual, I had meals — and a few nighttime bottles of beer — at Gantawin, the Myanmar restaurant located near Central Marker (Pasar Seni). And, as usual, I was the only Westerner in there each time I visited. But I get a kick out of eating monhinga for breakfast, having Shan noodles for dinner, and speaking Burmese with the waitresses. Plus, there is a variety of other Burmese business scattered on that street —including young women selling betel nut — another factor that makes Kuala Lumpur such an interesting and colorful city.

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Davy Jones & the Monkees

It’s easy, oh so easy, to dismiss the Monkees as a lightweight pop group that was nothing more than a made-for-TV concoction. But as a child of the 60s who was practically raised on TV shows like “The Monkees,” I have to admit that the band was an integral part of my childhood.

 

As you may know already, Davy Jones, the lead singer of The Monkees, passed away this week at the age of 66. After some quick math, his age doesn’t come as much of a shock as it did when I saw the obituary headlines yesterday, but nevertheless it’s mighty hard to fathom “young Davy” as anything more than that cute little British guy who sang most of the Monkees’ songs, and did such silly things on the TV show. Someone like that can never grow old, at least not in my mind.

 

Although the Monkees were indeed a “manufactured” band, assembled mainly for their ability to look good on TV, they managed to record a helluva lot of really good, catchy songs; hits like “Last Train to Clarksville,” “I’m a Believer,” “Pleasant Valley Sunday, “Daydream Believer,” the addictive theme song from their TV show, and many others. Okay, their music wasn’t as “deep” at that of musical contemporaries such as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Kinks, or The Who, but that doesn’t mean it was inconsequential. Their songs were loved by millions of young listeners.

 

Ironically, just two weeks ago, when I was in Kuala Lumpur, I purchased my first Monkees collection on CD. I found a copy of The Works, a 3-CD compilation by Monkees (released by Rhino and WEA UK) at the Amcorp Mall branch of Victoria Music in Petaling Jaya. This was more Monkees music than I really needed, but the price was so affordable that I couldn’t resist purchasing the collection. I haven’t even listened to the whole thing yet, but the death of Davy Jones has motivated me to put this into heavy rotation at home for the rest of the month. If nothing else, just hearing “Daydream Believer” each morning will bring a smile to my face and ensure that the day gets off to a good start.

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