Come to Mari Market in Bangsar

Just when I was beginning to write off new “bazaars” and “artisan markets” around town as unworthy of mentioning, a friend tags me on Facebook to the page for Mari Market. Still, it wasn’t until I saw it mentioned in TimeOut KL that it really caught my interest, and I’m glad I went to check it out!

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The problem with other markets is that there’s often a mix of vendors — some who sell original, handmade goods or edibles, whilst others could be your typical stall-in-the-mall vendor, peddling made-in-China cheapos. If you don’t already know, I’ll tell you why this is a problem: 1) It dilutes the authenticity of vendors who create their own products, to have stalls nearby selling mass-produced goods competing with them for customers; 2) because mass-produced vendors have a handy excuse to charge artisan prices for non-artisan goods — and that is an utter SHITE business practice, to both customers and genuine artisan vendors.

But there was none of that at Mari Market, or at least, a whole lot less. Every vendor was a local entrepreneur selling something they believed in and crafted from scratch. Whether it was the booth selling jars of organic belacan or the lady who could build your portrait out of coffee cup stains, everything was a joy to discover and browse. Mari Market successfully replicates the atmosphere of a European/American crafts market, but with a distinct local flavour (a coconut water stand, organic chili padi and papaya preserves are things you won’ find in an American farmer’s market.)

I’m told that Mari Market is held every four months, but this is the first one I’ve been to since coming back a year ago. I hope it runs again soon!

A Big Bad Book Sale

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I’d heard of this book sale before I moved back — 3.5 million books available at rock bottom prices, they said — and the hype is real! There’s quite a good variety within the genres of fiction, non-fiction, romance, cookbooks (of course) self-help and children’s books — there’s definitely something for everyone. Lots of architecture and design coffee table books (wasted on the likes of me) and biographies (but was a bit thin on bios of truly inspiring people) as well.

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The sale, held at the Malaysia International Exhibition & Convention Centre (MIECC) or Mines, is known as the Big Bad Wolf Book Sale. It’s quite well-run — an emcee was on hand to make any important announcement, including people who had lost family members in the aisles of books (although how that happens nowadays, when we’ve got fancy smart phones to call, text or whatsapp,) plenty of staff organising books on the floor and proactive customer service oriented staff greeting people at the entrance or ushering them to the next cashier.

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Besides books, there was also other merchandise like official BBW merchandise (i.e. t-shirts) notebooks, a bit of stationery and children oriented educational items. Outside of the book sale were more vendors selling vintage posters, signs, buttons and other knick knacks.

And there’s this “book chair”:

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I prefer to call it a book island because that’s what it looks like to me.

Here’s a few tips to navigate a sale this large:

1) With this many books stacked and stacked atop one another, it’s hard to muster the stamina to carefully scan every aisle for the ones you want, so come knowing what you want. They don’t have a way to look up a title at the sale, but the website lists the main fiction/non-fiction titles you can expect to see there, and it might be possible to get someone to help you search for your books;

2) Parking on the street is more expensive than parking within the MIECC (where the sale is held.) On the street, it’s RM5 on weekdays and RM10 on weekends, whilst covered parking inside is a flat RM4. No-brainer on which one you should pick;

3) If you want to avoid fighting — for books and parking — with others, go at odd times. The sale is open 24 hours from start to finish, and there’s no reason why you can’t go book shopping at 3 a.m. on a Friday night (consider that for next year because the sale ends this coming Tuesday.) If that’s too odd, getting there around 8 a.m. on a weekend worked just fine for me. Parking was a breeze and the crowd was still quite thin then; no lines at the cashiers; and,

4) Take a break from shopping. They provide convenient trolleys to store your books as you navigate the sale, but if you’re like me, all those books and aisles can give you shopping fatigue, and a headache after awhile. Make use of the coffee bar and refreshment stands on the mezzanine floor to recharge.

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I guess the main thing about this sale is that you won’t find the most recent NYT bestsellers. That’s how they can move books for so cheap — by getting novels that have been circulating the market for some years. You’ll find works by notable authors, but not their most popular books. The Dan Brown novel I found was Inferno, and not The Da Vinci Code, which is still not bad considering it’s a hardback edition priced at RM15. But on the upside, they did have plenty of Malcolm Gladwell’s David & Goliath retailing for RM10. Woot! There were a number of other authors whose books I saw listed on the BBW website, but couldn’t find at the sale. Next year, I’ll make it a point to visit the sale when it first opens, rather than at the tail end to see if I have better luck finding what I want.

Finally, I also wasn’t too fond of the far-too-many Hong Leong Bank salesmen who were ambushing people as they serenely browsed books. These people were literally everywhere from the moment I entered the space. They popped out in the fiction and non-fiction sections. In the romance section. In the self-help. In the children’s section. And once again when I was exiting the sale. They were so. Mega. Annoying. They dampened an otherwise pleasant experience.

Update: They extended the sale for a week so I went back and pored through the aisles. This was my final haul:

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The Curve Street Market

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Here I go again, writing about another market! This one I visited is at the Street in the Curve shopping mall, and is a more sophisticated version of a pasar malam: clean tables, sturdy overhead tents and a lack of noisy generators. The quality of items are closer to what you’d find in mall shops, which almost defeats the purpose of this market, but you can find stuff you wouldn’t normally get in malls. Like the most incredible array of colourful kek lapis I’ve ever seen. Continue reading