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In the wee hours of the morning, the side grills are open first and already there is someone sitting at one of the tables, eagerly waiting for his morning dose of coffee with newspaper in hand. He sits alone in the middle of the shop, quite oblivious to the noisy Metrobus covering half the entrance and the fact that the main door of the coffee shop is still closed.
A large sign in English reads ‘Lai Foong Restaurant’. Inside, there’s a huge mirror with painted congratulatory wishes from other establishments within the area, on the occasion of the opening of the coffee shop.
The coffeemaker, an almost zen-like Chinese man working like clockwork in the back of the kitchen, shares his thoughts between stirring coffee and looking after the steamer. ‘I remember coming here when I was really small. Now I’m 57 and I’m working here!’ He laughs. ‘I’m usually here by 4.30am. For me, I’m still young and I should work hard as long as I can. That’s how you survive in KL. Look, even the owner of the place still makes the beef noodles on his own.’
The boss arrives at 6.45am. He puts on a black apron and begins work at his stall, slicing stewed beef for the stock of his famous beef noodles. His wife and son are at the counter, manning the cash register. The other hawker stalls are fully operational with their respective captains.
Hungry patrons start trickling in, and by 8am, the place is packed. The regulars are always a welcome sight in traditional kopitiams. These are the patrons who announce their arrival with loud greetings to the owner. A Metrobus driver casually walks in and finds a spot for himself. An old Indian man enjoys his time with a cup of coffee. With people streaming in and out, the orders keep coming in from the old uncle who shuttles between taking orders and serving drinks. An old lady tells me to move away from the kitchen sink so she can start washing the dishes. She calls me a crazy person. I look at the coffeemaker, who says, ‘She calls everybody crazy!’