The air is bright in Kota Kinabalu, the capital of the Malaysian Borneo province of Sabah. The sky is blue all morning and the enclosing jungle emerald green. Colourful umbrellas shade a multitude of stalls in the famous KK Gaya Street Market.
There is a huge variety of fresh produce, including a huge pile of pink dragon fruit. One of the most popular stalls is just an old man sitting at his table writing what I presume are people’s names, or perhaps prayers, in exquisite calligraphy.
My daughter wasn’t keen on coming out to the market, complaining of the heat and being tired. Well she had been on a plane for a long time the day before and it is hard to explain jetlag to a four-year-old. We ignored her protests, of course.
Against the side of the street a line of blind people provide massages on low stools. A couple of coffee stalls are equally well patronised. Young men with bags of beans and a small generator running a grinder. The fragrant coffee is quickly bagged up for customers.
Wandering Kiwi Jr brightened up considerably when we found the colourful hair clips, the pink Hello Kitty bags and the cheap plastic toys. I enjoyed browsing through the piles of craftwork.
Everywhere local Sabahan families are busy shopping up a storm and enjoying the fair-like atmosphere. There’s nothing like the pleasure of a Sunday outing!
We pass the grand old Jesselton Hotel, one of the few remaining colonial buildings in Kota Kinabalu. It is open for afternoon tea but we opt for the Fuen Hook bakery instead. This is heaving with customers, despite its slightly complicated purchasing system.
I chow down on a delicious parcel of Nasi Lemak – a pyramid of rice with a spicy sauce, some chopped egg, strewn with peanuts and tiny friend anchovies. All wrapped firmly in banana leaf. The others had pastries and buns.
Then we got to the animal section. At first I was hesitant – were these being sold for food as I had seen elsewhere in Asian markets? How to explain this to a western child! But no, the fluffy bunnies, kitties, puppies, birds and fish are all sold from pop-up pet stalls.
My daughter has decided that she does like markets after all.
By Natasha von Geldern
The Gaya Street is held from 6am to 1pm every Sunday in the central business district of Kota Kinabalu.