The thirsty mouse of Petaling Street finds a new home in Ipoh


I love revisiting old stories, and there is no story that I enjoyed writing more than The Thirsty Mouse of Petaling Street. It might seem strange that as an adventurous traveler, when I visit Kuala Lumpur I always stay at the same hotel in the same street and do the same things. Sure, I like a trip up to Penang and the highlands sometimes, but if I’m just passing through KL for the cheap airfares on Air Asia, I always make a point of stopping for a few days in Chinatown because Chinatown Inn 1 and 2 (I always stay at #1, incidentally but I’m told that #2 down the road is equally good) is in an exceptionally awesome location and if you book through Agoda, the rate is incredibly cheap. Being on a budget this time I booked a fan room for only $15 a night. The hotel is very nice and the staff are so extremely friendly and professional that I would not even dream of staying somewhere else. The wifi works ok (and is free), they sell drinks in the lobby, they mind your bags, they have a big TV and some lounges for when you just want to relax and the rooms are spacious and clean, and just outside is the bustling heart of Chinatown, Jalan Petaling, the set for the fictional crime drama “Petaling Street Warriors”.

I clearly remember the reason I booked that hotel in the first place. I read a negative review on Agoda that said that if you got a window room, the noise from the markets below was loud and continued until midnight. In my opinion this was not a negative but a positive ! Unfortunately it was not as noisy as this complaining customer had made out, but it certainly is in one of the best locations possible if you want to spend some time in this area.

I went out when the markets opened and wandered down to the pirate DVD shop where I’d met a fascinating vendor named Roy two years earlier and had gone out to a reggae bar with him and an American girl who lived on Lankawi Island and a friend of mine that I’d met online. I asked around if Roy was still around.

“Yeah, he’s on the corner now, outside the flower shop that opens at 4pm” someone told me. I thanked them and went and ate in the food court as usual, sampling some incredible Thai lemon chicken and later some of the best Indian curry I’d had in years, both for only 7 RM each. When evening fell, I went wandering down the street. I found no flower shop, but a pirate DVD vendor ran out and tried to convince me to buy some terrible and overpriced DVD’s but I knew from experience that his shop was a dump and he basically had nothing but western movies and porn. He even said “I have some of the secret stuff too if you want”. I wasn’t sure what sort of stuff was so secret that it had to be so unmentionable, but despite my curiosity I had things to do and as much as I would have liked to know what that meant, I’m sure I didn’t want to buy whatever it was anyway, so I just asked about Roy.

“No, he’s not at the flower shop. He’s at one of the bag shops down the street further” a guy named Akash told me after pressing a home-made card into my hand. I thanked him and wandered down past the many bag stalls, picking up a lovely adult’s Hello Kitty shoulder bag similar to what I’d bought at the stall two years earlier, but with a different design. The guy named a fairly high price and I grinned and showed him my old one. I said “I bought this from you two years ago. How about you give me the real price”. He knocked about 30% off his price immediately and I accepted even though I knew I could probably do better.

Wandering across the road I saw a somewhat familiar face and asked “Roy ? Is that you ?”, not quite recognising him with the beard. “David !” he said. “I remember you ! We went out together a couple of years ago and smoked shisha right ?” I was pleased his memory of me was as good as mine of him, especially considering the amount of people he must meet every day in the markets. We arranged to go and play pool and smoke at a rooftop bar after work since Roy himself didn’t drink alcohol due to being a devout Muslim.

When it came time to go out, I was a little bit distracted writing and I maybe missed our deadline by a bit. I grabbed a beer from a guy with a cart full of drinks and ice that he served to the locals after work and sat around waiting and watching all the market vendors laughing and unwinding with a beer. Eventually when I decided I’d missed Roy because the crowd was thinning out and everyone was going home, I decided to go for a wander. I headed down the nearly empty street past Roy’s old DVD shop. There was a small group of Chinese and Indian Malaysians there drinking outside the shop. I stood for a moment and then nodded to them. I made a comment about the street being quiet or something.

A big burly guy toasted me and said “Hey, why don’t you come and sit down ?” I thanked him and took the offer and they made room for me. He explained that his name was Jack and showed me the tattoo on the back of his neck where it was written. I guess that made him easy to remember, as being a short, muscular Chinese guy with large earlobe rings and tattoos sort of stands out. Another guy introduced himself as Satsuke. I chuckled and said “I knew you were half Japanese”. “How ?” he demanded to know. “The moustache. That short stubbly moustache on your upper lip is quite uniquely Japanese”. He laughed and banged his beer against mine with a big pearly smile.

A couple of guys wandered past, one begging and the other with a beer. They chased him out and told him to go home. I asked why he wasn’t welcome and Jack gave me a bit of advice I remember so clearly. He said “We all work very hard here until midnight every day. That guy doesn’t work. He would have bought that beer with money he was given. It’s not that we don’t like him, it’s just that we’re here to unwind after work. It’s a tough job and you don’t want to take that home to your wife. Keep your work troubles at work and drink them away before you go home so that you can go home with a clean mind and a happy heart to see your family”.

I nodded in appreciation and said “That is truly wise advice Jack. I like that a lot” and toasted him again with another beer I’d bought from the nearby 7/11. I turned to the small group and said “You guys know the mouse right ? The toy one that used to drink from the soda can in the middle of the intersection at night. I haven’t seen it since I’ve been here”.

Satsuke looked me with a slightly wry smile and said “You remember that huh ? That guy moved away. He lives in Ipoh now. He still has the mouse too. I can’t believe you remember that”. I said “The mouse was here every time I visited Chinatown. It was a really cool feature that I loved. I’m sad that it’s not here anymore but I’m happy to hear that you know where it went”. Another guy said “Yeah, go and visit Ipoh and you can still see the mouse. The guy still puts it outside every night. He’s been doing it for years either here or somewhere else”.

I was pleased to learn that the thirsty mouse hadn’t been stomped on or thrown into a rubbish bin but in fact had traveled to another part of Malaysia to entertain other people. Maybe one day he’ll turn up in Penang or even some other country altogether. I guess some things do change, a little. But people always remember them, and the thirsty mouse was an iconic part of Chinatown for the market vendors for years so it’s great that he’s still getting around Malaysia entertaining people just by drinking out of a toothpick “straw” from a soda can on the street.

I thanked my new friends for their company and promised to drop back tomorrow to buy some DVD’s (which I did, and got some fabulous recommendations on Singaporean and Malay movies and was thrilled when the store owner pulled out “Ilo Ilo” for me and I exclaimed “OMG that movie is so brilliant ! I am so glad you have it !”) and then gave a final toast in honour of the departed mouse and went back to my hotel to dream about pretty Malay girls and mice and all the fun things I would do the next day… which basically turned out to be buying about a dozen freaking Hello Kitty bags, cementing my addiction for Hello Kitty as clearly obsessive and unhealthy, as if anyone didn’t already know that.

I wonder if there’s somewhere I can buy a toy mouse to take back to Bui Vien street with me…

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