JOURNAL: Lunch at the Old China Cafe (Plus A Restored Historic Laneway)
Tuesday, August 6, 2019
5:30 a.m. Room 4, Natalia Guest House
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Yesterday was a big day as far as camera gear and vlogging are concerned. For thing, I broke out the big gun: the Panasonic G85. And I found that it had been so long since I’d used it, I had no idea what I was doing. The last time I used it, I had set up both C1 and C2 for specific uses and combined them with back button focus and certain other settings. But I could not remember any of that. I ended up just setting it to Program mode and that’s it.
I noticed many differences from using the GoPro – good and bad. On the good side, of course, is the image quality. It’s not even close. The Panasonic produces a much more pleasing image. And with the zoom lens, I was able to get a variety of points of view on objects – close-ups and different angles. The GoPro gives me super-wide and that’s pretty much it.
On the negative side, the better image quality might not even matter. With the G85, I ended up shooting all kinds of more cinematic stuff – what they call B-roll – but I have no idea what to do with it. While I’m shooting the B-roll, I’m not talking. So there is no verbal story. It’s a visual story, and that is not my forte. I’ll have to edit the B-roll clips together and add music and transitions for them to make any sense. And I don’t know if that is necessary or my style.
And, of course, the Panasonic is extremely big and heavy compared to the GoPro. It is also distracting because there are so many controls, settings, and therefore possibilities in how to use it. I suddenly felt like a cameraman and not a vlogger. The GoPro does just one thing, and I never have to think about it, so I can relax and simply talk about what is on my mind. The field of view of the G85 is also much tighter on my face when I flip it around, and I don’t like that. And when I aimed it at my face, there was the usual trouble with focusing and exposure. That is a problem I have to solve if I want to keep using this camera. And though it isn’t a big problem, the G85’s size and more professional look draws a lot more attention. At least, I felt like it did.
The second thing that made it a big day was using the Rode Wireless Go with the Panasonic. I don’t think calling the Rode Wireless Go a game changer is overstating things. It seemed to transform the vlogging process completely. It was nice not to be tethered to the camera with a wire. I didn’t have to worry about tripping over the wire and getting it caught in anything, and I never had to untangle it from the tripod or the camera, as I had to do a lot before. More than that, the Wireless Go allowed me to separate myself from the camera completely. I could simply set it down on its tripod and then walk away from it and keep talking. In a way, it allowed me to reclaim some of that verbal vlogging style because the Wireless Go allowed for a kind of virtual cameraman. I could put the camera down on its tripod, aim the camera at a scene and hit record and then walk away from it. I could then enter the scene and walk around and do whatever I wanted. The tripod had become my cameraman. And this technique required very little in the way of thought or preparation. It just happened naturally, and it quickly become a regular technique.
The day began quite early because I woke up sometime between 2 and 3 in the morning, and then I couldn’t get back to sleep. I knew I should sleep more, but I got so frustrated and bored of just lying in bed doing nothing that I couldn’t take it anymore. I got up, and, in fact, started vlogging. I used the GoPro to start the day because I hadn’t really set up the Panasonic yet. I filmed myself talking about my daily routine, and I demonstrated my push-ups, sit-ups, and other things. When I reviewed that video later on, I found it to be very cringeworthy and somewhat repetitive. While in Bangladesh, I did a bit of video on me getting up, making coffee, and that sort of thing. I talked about some of my gear and how I’d had my Tim Horton’s mug for X number of decades. And then yesterday morning I did it again. That’s embarrassing, but at least I caught myself doing it, and I was able to simply delete the video clips. So I’m not fully the old man repeating his same stories. I have a bit of self-awareness about it.
I spent the morning working on the video of when I met Daryl and we went to Vintage 1988. I might be overly optimistic about that, but I found the final result to be quite pleasing. It was a nice change to see me interacting with another human being and even smiling and laughing. And the scope of the video was much narrower, so it ended up being shorter and snappier. There is some structural weakness in that our conversation at Vintage 1988 wasn’t covered at all, and it felt like that was missing. There was a lot of talk about going to Vintage 1988, and I concluded with a short tour of Vintage 1988, but there was almost nothing of actually hanging out at Vintage 1988 and chatting. There was no way to include our full conversation, since it was 3 hours long, but it would have been nice to account for that time somehow instead of just skipping it.
I also completed the video about the flight from Mandalay to Kuala Lumpur. I found the video so empty and pointless and boring that I was reluctant to post it. But I did. As I said to Daryl, if you worry too much about a video being good enough, you might never post anything. These vlogs aren’t meant to be polished works of art. They’re supposed to reflect real life (at least for me), and it’s better to just toss out something even if it’s bad. Something is always better than nothing. If some people find it boring and pointless, then that’s fine. There’s another video coming right behind that one.
Once I finished all of this work, it was mid-afternoon, and I had to rush a little bit. My plan was to bring the Panasonic to my regular noodle shop near Grocer’s Inn and film that experience. And then I wanted to revisit the places that I went to on Sunday with my subscriber from Penang – who I will call Li Jing (not her real name). I met Li Jing at Pasar Seni, and then we went to the Old China Cafe for lunch. Li Jing had asked me to do some research and give some thought as to where we could go for lunch, but in the end, she had the much better idea. In fact, it was much better for her to be in charge because she has strong opinions about most things and stronger likes and dislikes than I do. Plus, she knows a lot more about food and local restaurants.
I thought our lunch went extremely well. When we first set up our lunch date, I thought 11:30 in the morning was a bit early. I’m still in coffee-drinking morning mode at 11:30. I don’t even start thinking about food and lunch until 1 or 2 in the afternoon. But that early start worked to our advantage. When we arrived at the Old China Cafe (which was just around the corner from Pasar Seni), it was completely empty. Even so, the waiter seated us at a very small table for two right in the middle of the room. Li Jing clearly didn’t like the table or its location, and neither did I. The table was hemmed in on all sides by other tables, and people would clearly be bumping into us and having to push past us if the restaurant filled up. And the table was so small that there would barely be enough room for the dishes, and there was nowhere to put any bags. On top of that, Li Jing pointed out that there was a feng shui type of problem in that she was in a seat directly facing the entrance. And that was not proper. That is where a king or someone like that would sit as they hold court and survey and greet everyone coming through the door.
Li Jing asked the waiter if we could sit a table for four that was located against the wall in a better location, and he (rather curtly, I thought) said no. I noted that if I had come to this restaurant by myself, I probably would have been annoyed and displeased because of the rather discourteous and unfriendly tone of the waiter. As is typical of a Chinese restaurant, I didn’t get any feeling of warmth or welcome or friendliness. The waiter was gruff and businesslike, and I probably would have come away with a negative impression of the restaurant, and I wouldn’t return. But since I was there with Li Jing, things worked out better. She spoke to the waiter a second time about our table, and we ended up getting very nice seats at the end of a long, rectangular communal kind of table against the wall. This table gave us lots of room for ourselves, for our food, for our bags, and provided a nice buffer zone between us and the other patrons that started to arrive. It was the perfect table.
Being there with Li Jing also helped tremendously when it came to ordering. This restaurant served Nyonya cuisine, and she was an expert in this type of food. She also knew how the menu was structured. Some dishes were actually served as complete meals for one person. Other dishes were meant as a communal dish for everyone at the table to share. And this meant that the dishes were different sizes, and she knew how to deal with that. And she was far smarter than me when it came to combining dishes. I have the uncommon gift of always ordering the wrong thing. In this case, after settling on an appetizer and a main dish of pork, Li Jing asked me to select a vegetable dish. I scanned the list, and a dish of eggplant caught my eye, and I suggested that. To be honest it was the only vegetable dish that I even recognized. The others consisted of unfamiliar names. Li Jing gently suggested that the eggplant dish might not be suitable. The pork dish was quite wet and heavy on the sauce. And she said the eggplant dish was also quite wet and heavy on the sauce. The two of them together would not be appealing. She suggested something called Baby Kailan instead, and she was absolutely right. The Baby Kailan was a green leafy vegetable that complemented the pork dish perfectly.
The meal was exceptional, and I enjoyed every bite immensely. The one problem again had to do with the waiter and his tone. Even before we went inside this restaurant, Li Jing was talking about a signature Nyonya dish that she wanted me to try. But when she placed the order from the menu, the waiter grunted the usual “No stock” reply. Though in restaurants, the words “no stock” are generally replaced with a curt “finished”. Everything is always finished. There was no apology in the word or the tone in which he delivered it. If I remembered right, he even looked away from the table as if he was bored with us and with our silly food ordering nonsense. “Finished,” he grunted and then he ignored us.
Li Jing was just as displeased with this as I was, apparently. And she pressed him on what he meant. She fought back a little bit, and I was happy she did. She challenged him and asked him why it was “finished.” It’s a restaurant, right? This item is on the menu. Isn’t it your job to actually be able to serve the items on your menu? Don’t you prepare them for your customers that day? And the waiter explained that this particular dish (which was called Pie Tee or “top hat”) was prepared in advance, and they ran out of them yesterday and could not make any more today. As Li Jing explained to me later on, this dish required some time to prepare, and more “Top Hat” could not be whipped up when they ran out. In the end, we ordered spring rolls as an appetizer, and they were delicious. Li Jing was disappointed that I wasn’t able to try the Top Hats. I liked her for that, and I liked that she pushed back against the waiter’s somewhat abrupt manner.
After our lunch, we walked around the corner to a fascinating alleyway that I knew nothing about. I’m guessing that it is a new project, because I have walked around this neighborhood a lot, and I’d never seen it before. It isn’t fully completed (as I found out the next day), but it consisted of an alley that was a recreation of a typical neighborhood in Kuala Lumpur from around 1930. The walls had several paintings of men, women, and children engaging in typical traditional activities, and they were set up in such a way that people could interact with them and take selfies. For example, there was a tableaux of two young boys playing marbles while a little girl watched them from a window. There was also an elderly man engaged in calligraphy and hanging up his completed works to dry. Another painting was of a courtesan waving a scarf out the window. And at one end, a set of stairs led up to a balcony overlooking the entire alley. On this balcony, three children were playing jump rope, and there was an actual jump rope made of rubber bands that you could unhook from the wall and turn yourself with a young boy holding the other end. There was a barber chair up there with a painting of a barber on the wall. When you sat down and had your picture taken, it looked like you were getting your hair cut. On the wall behind the barber were paintings of many more people, including a very funny painting of a character from the movie Kung Fu Hustle. The woman with her hair in rollers and always smoking a cigarette was standing on a balcony above us and lowering a basket to bring up some food. I found the whole scene delightful.
When Li Jing and I visited, it was quite busy, and I wasn’t able to fully take it all in or enjoy it. And I think Li Jing found it a bit touristy and gimmicky. And, of course, it was touristy. It was 1,000% touristy, but I don’t always find that to be a bad thing. You could say that these paintings were touristy because people were taking selfies with them. From that point of view, they weren’t true art. But I don’t mind that because that was the whole idea behind them. They were designed and painted specifically for people to have their picture taken with them. That was their entire purpose. And from that point of view, I thought they were very well done. In fact, as I found out the next day, every painting had a QR code next to it on a plaque. And when you scanned the code, you were brought to a website with an audio track playing of the people in the painting talking. So far, I have only gotten one of the QR codes to work, and it played an audio track of the young boys arguing as they played marbles. I got a huge kick out of it.
My lunch with Li Jing was on a Sunday. When I set off with my Panasonic yesterday (Monday), I intended to return to this alleyway and spend more time there. When I went with Li Jing, I didn’t film anything. In fact, I didn’t bring out my camera at all during our time together. And when I returned and was able to spend more time there, I found out a lot more. The paintings on the walls were the main attraction, but the more time I spent there, the more details I came across, such as a century-old lamp post that was one of the oldest lamp posts in Kuala Lumpur, and an entire wall covered in wooden shutters. And I also learned that the series of doors that ran the length of the alley all led to individual cafes and restaurants and shops. These places were not finished yet. I met the owner of one of them. He was a young man from perhaps Spain. He told me that his cafe was going to be called Concubine. It was the last one on the end and right beside the painting of the concubine in the window waving her scarf. When completed, it will be possible to enter all of these shops from the alley or enter them from the main street outside and go out the back door into the alley.
I don’t know how things will work out with all the video I shot yesterday, but I felt pleased overall with my experience using the G85 during my noodle lunch and then visiting this traditional alleyway. And the Rode Wireless Go was, as I said, a game changer.