BY AI-LEEN LIM
Food, family, friends. Maybe shopping malls. Definitely more food.
This list pretty much sums up my annual visits to Kuala Lumpur. It warms the heart, sates the cravings and often induces sleep: witness the obligatory nap after banana leaf rice. All in all, it’s pretty sedentary, fattening stuff.
This year however, I did something else. Something I usually do in older, colder countries.
I went on a heritage walk in the city where I grew up.
Run by Rakan KL, a people’s movement for preserving the city’s history and heritage, this free guided walk on Sunday morning took us to Chin Woo Athletic Association, Stadiums Negara and Merdeka, and boys’ school Victoria Institution. Adrian Yeo, social activist and tireless volunteer, led and talked, supplying historical facts and not a few anecdotes.
Audience participation yielded some gems too. How VI’s fancy photography club had its own dark room that doubled as a girl trap. The time Maradona played Mokhtar Dahari at Stadium Negara. Spending the night on the floor of Chin Woo, waiting for the May 1969 riots to subside.
By the end of two hours, the outing was no longer just a novel way to spend Sunday morning. It wasn’t even another ticked-off, been-there, done-that item with fascinating facts to match.
For me, the experience was far richer and more heartfelt than say, visiting Buckingham Palace, because I, like many of the other walkers, am connected to these buildings and the land they are built on. I’m as much a part of their history as they are of mine.
My father, Lim Heng Chek, taught in VI and trained for the 1956 Olympic Games in Chin Woo pool. My mother watched, elegant in her bathing suit and flowery cap.
My brother studied at VI, while I visited the VI pool every Wednesday afternoon, with other girls from our school swimming club,
In the 1970s, my parents took us to Stadium Negara to eat lok-lok (Chinese fondue), and play under the giant concrete mushroom. Which, incidentally, has been missing since 1997, together with the park in which it stood.
Which brings us to why these walks were organised: to highlight the impact of development – namely the MRT and Menara Warisan – on these historic landmarks.
Rakan KL plans to print walking maps so anyone can go anytime. For now, their Sunday walks are perfectly timed so you can have your heritage and eat lunch too. Nam Heong chicken rice on Sultan Street. Don’t forget the choy kiok (preserved vegetable stew).
Ai-Leen Lim is is a freelance writer who lives in Hertfordshire, UK.