I’d been wanting to visit Lorong Kulit for a long time now. I can’t even remember the last time I stepped into this place. It’s open every day but Sundays are the best days to go, for many reasons. Lots more stalls are open and throngs of people converge like ants. It’s more festive too. You can’t find a better flea market in Penang than Lorong Kulit, which I believe (roughly translated) is called Leather Lane …
As a undergrad at USM, I had often come to Lorong Kulit, if only to buy the cheap fruits and VCDs. My friends and I used to come on motorbikes because cars can be difficult to park in this highly congested area.
Located behind the newly-renovated City Stadium, Lorong Kulit is as infamous as it is famous with Penangites. What exactly is Lorong Kulit? I think it is a personality onto itself. It’s been around for as long as I can remember. It supposedly started as a thieves’ market. The story goes that if your shoes/household items/etc. are stolen, you don’t have to make a police report. Just come to Lorong Kulit and chances are, you’d see your items sold here. Openly.
While that story is not totally untrue (just take a look at the odds and ends and bits and pieces for sale and you’ll know why), the flea market has grown into a Sunday market of sorts. Malaysians love Sunday markets. I know I do. It reminds me of my childhood when I used to tag along with my Dad to the Sunday market to shop for food.
But Lorong Kulit does not have a wet market section. It sells mostly household items, antiques, fruits, pickles, clothes, shoes, bags and more. There’s lots of Malay food stalls around too so if you get hungry while bargaining (yes, you do that but it only applies for certain items like antiques and gemstones), you can get anything from piping-hot satay to chicken rice.
According to the New Straits Times, the flea market “had its humble beginnings in late 1992 when the municipal council cleared out the second-hand goods dealers from Rope Walk, located off Penang Road in the town centre, where they had been trading by the roadside since the 1970s.They were originally supposed to move to Cecil Street Ghaut but a few of them defied the authorities and moved to the City Stadium carpark. Other traders began joining them and they have never looked back since.”
My uncle comes here regularly to buy cheap fruits like bananas, watermelons, durians, cempedak, apples, oranges, longan, grapes and lots more. My jaunt today at the flea market was to see how it has changed (I think I haven’t been to Lorong Kulit in more than four years!). I was not surprised to see that it was still as carnival-like as before.
The Viagra sellers are still around, hawking their wares by calling out via hailers. Oh, I don’t mean the little blue pill. I mean herbal Viagra like Tongkat Ali. The spiel is if you take their herbs, you won’t suffer anymore from “sakit pinggang, lenguh belakang” etc. etc.
I noticed something new though. The handphone accessory stalls not only offer fake Nokia handphone covers, they also sell you your fave downloads for RM2. With laptops wrapped in plastic (to keep out dust), the intrepid salesmen and saleswomen will help you download your favourite wallpaper, ringtone or game into your handphone. All for a fee, of course. These stalls seem to be doing rather well looking at the number of people milling around!
Gemstones caught my eye next. But a word though. These are gems for men. Yes, it’s not your Poh Kong or Venessa or whatever. It’s really a man’s world here. The problem of course is to ask oneself: how do you know which gem is real and which is fake? That’s why you have to find the correct gems trader.
Now Haji as he is called is a popular trader here. He’s been here for the past 10 years. He says his gems are cheap not because they’re fake (he’ll pull out a bag of fakes to show you how to discern the real thing) but because he’s honest, he’s been trading in Lorong Kulit for “sepuluh tahun” and rent is cheap (RM15 per month). So he can afford to sell cheaply.
Okay, so the man looked decent. And he did have a gift of the gab. He’d probably be a good con-man too, the way he talked about his gems. To make it even more convincing, he’s not shy to educate his buyers. He’ll tell you where the gems come from and prove it by showing you books on gemstones. Smart man. Before we left, he quipped, “Come and talk to me the next time you’re here. Doesn’t matter if you don’t buy anything.” He certainly knows how to make a customer feel good.
I enjoyed looking at the retro stuff and antiques. I can imagine that half the stuff sold here were actually someone’s rubbish. Someone who felt that it was too embarrassing to display that 70s wall clock and wanted something cool from IKEA. I am a little bit like a hamster, I think because I like old stuff. I wished I had collected some of the things which my uncles threw out when they were moving out of my great grandfather’s shop in Leith Street some 20 years ago. Everyone disliked the old irons, the deer antlers (for hanging hats!), the rosewood furniture. Hmmph. These things are now valuable. 20 years ago, it was pure trash. They still think it’s trash. I started keeping some stuff which my aunts wanted to dump a couple of years back when my grandma’s double-storey house was gutted by fire. So yes, I am a hamster in that sense.
Another amazing aspect of Lorong Kulit are the people. The traders are a friendly bunch. When we started snapping photos, one trader even smiled for the camera. I guess they’re used to being in the news. It deserves to be, as the market is a colourful slice of Malaysiana. Everyone does business side-by-side. The Chinese sell Buddha statues, the Malays sell Islamic books and tapes.
Whatever it is you are looking for, you will find something you like here in Lorong Kulit.
Even if it is nothing more than to feel like a Malaysian.
Here’s more on Lorong Kulit.