PJKITA > A snapshot of PJ Old Town Market today

A snapshot of PJ Old Town Market today

For over 40 years, the PJ Old Town Market has been a major landmark. It remains today, instrumental in strengthening societal bonds in Petaling Jaya.

Text by Deborah Chow
Photos by kG Krishnan


PJ Old Town Market, a permanent structure on Jalan Othman, stands stolid 43 years after it was built in 1974. Surrounded by motorcycles, vans and lorries in the cool of the morning, this three-storey building bustles with customers and rings with the voices of vendors offering their ware from the crack of dawn to late afternoons 7 days of the week.

The ground floor of PJ Old Town Market, which is also known to many as the Pasar Besar Jalan Othman, is a wet market, with its layout consisting multiple stalls selling local vegetables, fresh flowers for prayer offerings, meat stalls manned by foreign workers, and food stalls facing the main road.

The level above is segmented into lots, selling dried food stuff, spices, eggs, plasticware, and Chinese prayer paraphernalia. A tailor, a hardware shop, and a medical hall can also be found tucked between the passageways on this level. The highest floor is a carpark.

Many of the vendors have been part of PJ Old Town Wet Market for decades.

Mr. Loh has been selling vegetables here for 25 years. His stall is one of the first stalls one sees upon entering the market, a spread of lush leafy vegetables and small bundles of tubers laid out on display before him. A typical morning for Loh, who sells Cameron Highlands sourced vegetables, begins at 2 or 3am.

He has seen two major upgrades that changed the face of the market in the past 25 years. The first ‘renovation’, some 20 to 25 years ago, replaced the roof of the market. Four years later, the building was painted, giving it a fresher, cleaner look.

Another produce stall, Syarikat Andavar, occupies two lots — 285 and 286 —­ on the second level of the market since the ‘70s.

Sitting at a foldable table peeling onions with robot-like precision, the owner, who did not want to be named, recounts the glory days of the market 30 years ago.

“Back then this market was very busy. A lot of customers come every day not only from Old Town PJ but from Subang Jaya, Kampung Sentosa, Dato’ Harun. So much business so we closed very late in the afternoon,” she says, manning both the lots concurrently.

These days, she closes shop at 11am.

“Those days having a stall here, you could get rich. Through this shop I raised all my children,” she adds.

“Nowadays people shop at supermarket, everything pre-packed, no plastic bag, can shop online.”

A customer pays for some onions and she introduces him, “This man is a big man in the PJ Town Council. He does his marketing here since long time ago.”

Victor Oorjitham, has been frequenting Pasar Besar Petaling Jaya for decades.

The former Petaling Jaya Town Board Councillor (1970 – 1975) prefers doing his marketing here because the produce is the freshest he can find.

The vendors bring in their wares as early as 2am daily, from farms and wholesalers and spread them out on tables for customers who come in as early as 3am.

“Whatever you need for authentic Asian cooking, you can find here even now. All the spices, everything, it’s here,” Victor, who does the marketing for his wife, says.

In a corner of the market where the food stalls stand, working men and women sit at blue tables with stools attached, having breakfast before work — nasi lemak, pasembor, rojak, a variety of kuih, noodles, teh tarik and roti canai. Strangers sit together exchanging pleasantries over kopi-o.

People doing their weekly marketing are on first name basis with the vendors.

The mushrooming of hypermarkets, supermarkets and malls within close proximity of the market has not snuffed out the role of PJ Old Town Wet Market in the community of this township.

Despite its age and how it stands against contemporary consumerism, it remains instrumental in strengthening societal bonds and providing quality local products — bringing workers together for breakfast before they leave for work, providing the freshest produce for hundreds of households, carrying authentic Malaysian goods such as wild honey straight from the source, and being a place where people of all walks of life congregate to thrive and flourish as a community.