BY CHOY LEOW
For the first time in 30-plus years, I have returned to KL during Christmas.
This morning I took in an early morning outing from the hotel I am staying in with my family.
I strolled past rows of bars, clubs & eateries that used to be homes in the Doraisamy neighborhood my wife grew up in.
I headed towards the ‘once’ (most landmarks I know in town are such: ‘once’) notable Komplex Wilayah where I once interviewed for a entry-level opportunity shortly graduating from architectural school, and I jogged along a stretch of the Gombak River that’s now entirely edged with concrete embankments that perhaps one day could be ‘the river walk’ in town…
Passed by the ‘sons of the soil’ bank. I once stood on its top floors during construction in the late 70’s and was awed by the expanse of the city. It was a “privilege” I was given while accompanying a job captain from the firm I was working as a draughtsman to do field verification, producing all the aluminum door & window frames for the project. I also recalled the area where the bank stands now as being once ‘the bus terminal’ where my parents have taken me to many a trip in & out of town.
My mind’s eye still sees the layers of grime, diesel & soot deposits from colorful buses bearing names of various fleets…Selangor, Len Seng, Foh Hup…
I hung a right from that point onto what used to be known as Mountbatten Road, named after one of many British war notables, a relic of this country’s colonial past. Passed by the location of a department store I used to ogle as a kid, Robinson’s was its name.
I took a left towards “dai joong lau”, the place where history was made in 1957 where cries of independence were heard. Took a turn onto a ‘prince road’ & marveled at the sight of a St Mary Cathedral dated 1894 on its facade. Felt a tinge of disappointment that I’ve known little of its existence but glad that it still stands proudly today where it is.
I then proceeded towards ‘cat’s road’, once a prime north-south connector in & out of the city and caught a glimpse of the building where I once studied draughtsmanship before leaving for the States. And wondered what would have been if I had stayed…
From there I hopped onto a generous city hall square, pleasantly surprised to hear rushing and falling waters from the Klang River on one side of the marble-lined plaza and a sizable fountain on the other. It was a delightful distraction from the rumbles of traffic that time of day…
I swung left from there onto Tuanku Abdul Rahman road, named after the country’s first King, and ducked under the restored five-foot ways of the historic Coliseum Cinema, where I once watched a famous Indian flick about an elephant…
As I headed from there back towards the hotel, I looked out for places I once knew, like Globe Silk Store, still there adorned in colorful flags, pockmarked with advertisements and headlined by a “Sarah Hughes.”
I was met with disappointment further down where another business now occupied what I once knew as the ‘flagship store’ for Selangor Pewter, now known as ‘Royal Selangor’.
Life was just begin to stir as I concluded my early morning sojourn through the city. The Christmas decor seemed out of place compared to the ‘real white’ I’ve come to expect…with ‘Selamat Hari Natal’ just not having the same ring as “Merry Christmas”…
Back at the hotel drenched in sweat, I sat and thought of the sights, sounds and smells of the city I once knew. “Development, Distinction & Destination” come to mind, but also “Decay, Decadence and Disconnect.”
KL, the silky estuary where everything that glitters does not always bring riches to the throngs that come to here to seek fame and fortune.
I wish her well as she continues to harbor this country’s “1st world intentions”. Hopefully, we will see less “3rd world actions” in the generations to come.
The best of yuletide cheers to all and to all a heckuva new year ahead!
Choy Leow is a 52-year-old Malaysian architect who lives with his wife Connie and two college-going daughters Szuyin and Szumei in Apple Valley, Minnesota. He designs hospitals for a living.