Heritage

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Heritage66•JetWings•May 2012


dinodia photosStreet wise TexTCarol WestIt may be an alpha city with towering skyscrapers dotting the skylineand cutthroat deals pushing the economy, but a walk through KualaLumpur’s streets will show that it still retains its old-world roots.Inormally avoid guided tours like the plague. Thethought of spending half a day trudging aroundcity streets with a group of people I’ve never metusually sends me running the other way. But thatwas before I met Viji. Firstly, ours is a small group,and secondly, even though ongoing developmentis diminishing Kuala Lumpur’s heritage buildings,he promises to provide glimpses of the city’s soulalong with a commentary that ripples withhomespun philosophy.“I first heard this joke 35 years ago. What are thethree rings? First is the engagement ring. Secondcomes the wedding ring. The third is the suffering,”chuckles Viji, clearly delighted with his witticism.Navigating through Kuala Lumpur’s frantic traffic,we see the city’s shiny temples to consumerism—the bold signature buildings. The previous evening,the gleaming, titanium-clad Petronas Towers hadfilled our view from Traders Hotel’s hip Sky Bar,where cocktails were being served to visiting ‘roadwarriors’ and glamorous local girls were cocoonedon banquettes around an aquamarine pool. I’dseen Petronas looking its best; I didn’t need to gothere. Instead, wanted to discover whether the cityhad retained tangible links with its vibrant, multiculturalpast. And who better than Viji to discoverKuala Lumpur’s heritage and culture with, for thishas been his passion for 25 years, a passion hedelights in sharing with visitors.Facing page:Kuala Lumpur’sstreet marketsare abuzz withlife and trade in avariety of goodsfrom trinketsand traditionalhandicrafts tofood and fakeluxury items.Above: KualaLumpur’straditionalbuildings aregiving way toshiny skyscrapers.JetWings•May 2012•67


HeritageLeft: Viji talks us through the chequered history of the OldChina Café with help from the photographs displayed on thewalls.Below: Talking about the many changes that Kuala Lumpur isseeing over a cup of coffee at one of the shop-houses linedup near Panggong Lane.Past continuous, present intenseWe park opposite a popular tourist haunt, the OldChina Café, and as its wooden doors swing open,we step back in time. During the late 19th century,in an area then surrounded by jungle, this waswhere the Chinese constructed their first building.Typically, this was built as both the laundry andthe guild hall of the grandly named Selangor &Federal Territory Laundry Association—or trainingcentre for migrants wanting to enter the laundrybusiness. The café’s feng shui décor, antiques andsepia photographs of old streetscapes populatedby Chinese families in European finery are fadedreminders of that time. “The British encouragedthe Chinese to come initially to dig for tin, whilethe Indians were brought in as labourers to workin the rubber plantations,” says Viji of the twoethnic groups who now constitute 24% and 7%respectively of Malaysia’s cultural diversity.Down nearby Panggong Lane, we discover a row ofshop-houses. Despite the crumbling facades, there’sa sense of community here, with faded woodenshutters flung open, breathing life into rooms anddoorways upstairs that are decorated with incenseburning shrines. We stop for coffee and toastedsandwiches at a ‘temporary’ stall that’s been tradingfor 60 years. Built over a pathway and started bythe current operator’s grandfather, it won’t bethere much longer. Word on the street is that aconsortium has purchased a number of the oldshop-houses and will be redeveloping the site.A few doors down, the rumour is confirmed byK K Choo, a temple master who has already begunmoving remnants of his previous six generations toanother temple site in readiness for eviction. “I feelvery sad as this will be the end of an era for us,”says Master Choo who, through prayer, ministers asa medium to those seeking love, better health andprosperity. “All I ask is a donation from the heart.My work isn’t based on monetary return.”Robert MuirThat certainly can’t be said about Petaling Street,the city’s exciting and vibrant street market.It’s 11:30 in the morning when we arrive, andmerchants are busily carrying racks of shoes inreadiness for the day’s trade. We’re not here forfaux luxury bags and watches, however. Duckinginto a narrow opening, we unexpectedly discover awet market lined with fish mongers, bored chickensellers, cleaver-wielding pork peddlers and tofutraders fashioning their curd into a variety of orbsand squares.68•JetWings•May 2012


HeritageSimple delights and new insightsFrom there, emerging into bright daylight, we stopfor some rudimentary training in Hinduism at the SriMaha Mariamman Temple. “I see so many visitorscoming here photographing the temple but veryfew understand anything about what it represents,”says Viji, who proceeds to unravel a myriad ofmystical religious beliefs. During his dissertation,interested tourists gather around us, keen toshare in the enlightenment as to what the litbeeswax candle represents. “Light gives brightness,illuminating the truth, and opens your life topositive elements,” he explains.With that simple truth, it’s time for tea, and wesettle into the Common Wisdom Tea Shop on JalanTun H S Lee to ponder our newfound insights whilebeing instructed in the art of tea drinking. Tiny teatasting cups are set before us, the kettle boils onthe hob and the first cup of sweet green tea withjasmine is discarded—its purpose being to open theleaf. After sipping the light, flowery tea of palestgreen, the fun begins while matching a tea to mypersonality and taste. I’m a card-carrying caffeineaddict but the smoothly fragrant lemongrass,ginger and honey wins me over. Leaving the teashop, I realize that even though the city’s oldestChinese temple, Sin Sze Si Ya, lodges cheek-by-jowlalongside faceless commercial buildings, the ArtDeco Central Market building has managed to retainits authentic charm. The market is a comfortableplace to shop for trinkets, spa products, arts andcrafts from across Malaysia as well as a good rangeof food items. I also discover a comprehensive rangeof batik artworks and clothing along with Escapadeboutique’s retro-style fashion and jewellery.A moveable feastLunch is at Jalan Ampang, Kuala Lumpur’s oldestIndian street, where rice, vegetables, yoghurt,spinach mixed with ground lentils and pumpkinare served old-school style on a banana leaf. It’sduring this fingers-and-fork repast that I feel theurge to splurge at Kuala Lumpur’s newest, glossiestshopping complex, Pavillion. Right opposite Starhillon Bukit Bintang, this is where the young andhip come to flex their plastic. The Loaf at Pavillionproves a good people-watching spot overcoffee and dainty cheesecake pots. In thePavillion forecourt, water cascades over threeThe Sri MahaMariamman Temple,the oldest Hindutemple in KualaLumpur, was builtin 1873. Sitting onthe edge of theChinatown on JalanBandar, it is popularwith locals andtourists alike.Kicking back in KL after a shopathon usually involves food, and itdoesn’t get more local than Jalan Alor, the city’s famous hawker street.dinodia photos70•JetWings•May 2012


HeritageWALKING TOUR TIPSTo meet local people and understand KualaLumpur’s cultural heritage, book the Heritage &Cultural Trail Walk on www.serimalayatravel.comEmail: malaya30@tm.net.myTel +603 2272 2262Apply sunscreen and bring a sun hat. Eventhough 85 per cent of the tour is in the shade,five minutes in Kuala Lumpur’s intense sun canburn most skins. Wear comfortable shoes, asimple top and long pants for temple visits.Don’t forget your camera.Near Panggong Lane, we stop forcoffee and toasted sandwichesat a ‘temporary’ stall that’s beentrading for 60 years.Clockwise from below: Petaling Street sees a brisk trade infaux luxury goods; A portrait artist hard at work in his stallon Central Market, where you can find traditional arts andcrafts for sale; Malaysians have refined tea drinking to an art,a practice handed down from their Chinese ancestors.bowls hand-painted with luscious hibiscus blooms,Malaysia’s national flower that represents itsmulti-racial culture. There are enough labels here tosatisfy the most craving fashion maven, and on thetop floor, Tokyo Street is a tightly wound village oflanes and alleyways overflowing with dainty shops.Kicking back in KL after a shopathon usuallyinvolves food, and it doesn’t get more local thanJalan Alor, the city’s famous hawker street. At IkanBakar, diners chew to the rhythmic chopping ofcrabs and prawns behind the scenes as young menRobert Muir; © Dinictis; Dreamstime.com, ©Andy Selinger / Alamy / India Picture72•JetWings•May 2012

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