On a typical Saturday evening, I randomly decided to head in to the Kuala Lumpur city centre. Perhaps I was bored and had nothing better to do than to take the LRT and Monorail to the city when I really could have just lounged on my couch to catch up on reading and Facebook.
Under most circumstances, those who work in the city centre, including myself, would avoid going there on weekends. Five days a week are spent battling the horrendous traffic, paying exorbitant parking fees and lunches, walking at lightning speed between buildings for meetings; weekends are meant to stay away from the nightmare as much as possible.
The public transport route
My journey started after parking near the Bangsar LRT. I bought a ticket to KL Sentral as I wanted to catch the Monorail to Pavilion. My attempt to be touristy prompted me to stand by the window of both the LRT and the Monorail and to look at the view.
My route gave me a top-down view of the Kalamandapan Hindu Temple, Victoria Institution, Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman and, of course, a breathtaking view of the KL skyline. At most times, this same route would see me staring into blank space, earbuds stuck in my ears, and thinking of what I can expect at work for the next 9 hours. But that day was slightly different. There was no work to think about, no earbuds blasting my playlist, but a beautiful scenic view that caught my attention 100%. Then it occurred to me how beautiful this city I live and work in actually is.
The journey from Bangsar to the city centre was routine, but I couldn't help noticing the contrasting differences in lives the city holds. Along the route, classy hotels such as Aloft, The Majestic and The Best Western stand tall; the bustling streets of Chow Kit, Petaling Street and Jalan Masjid India leave behind a stench of backpackers' and tourists' footsteps; and Brickfields and Kampung Baru portray a more domesticated localised scene.
Fashionable Bukit Bintang
Absorbing the thick atmosphere in Jalan Bukit Bintang, I noticed how no single group of people dominated the area. Upscale shoppers, bargain shoppers, hipsters, diva wannabes, pickpockets, street salesman and Middle Eastern waiters are regular figurines in Jalan Bukit Bintang.
Tourists from Mongolia to Tasmania are constantly roving around the vicinity, snapping pictures, walking into bars, seeking directions from locals, hailing cabs — the list goes on. This place is the epitome of the international in Malaysia.
Just a short walk down to Jalan Changkat, a range of bars and restaurants with Irish, Japanese, German, Spanish and even Jamaican themes were busy opening their doors. And a little less than 2 minutes from Jalan Changkat was the famous Jalan Alor with its much-hyped street food. An image of Jalan Alor is even used as a backdrop in a Malaysian restaurant in New York City. It is sometimes hard to imagine that this is KL!
Quaint Kampung Baru
Not too far away, surrounded and obscured by KL skyscrapers, lies a curious but quaint Malay settlement. Neither rural or urban, the settlement sees an eclectic mix of residential areas and small commercial enterprises interspersed with public facilities such as the Kelab Sultan Sulaiman and Kampung Baru Hospital.
Sitting on prime land, this Malay area still displays a very old traditional way of KL lifestyle, compared to those we are used to seeing in the Golden Triangle or the Jalan Bukit Bintang area. It is also home to one of the more popular Nasi Lemaks in town.
The area’s roots trace back more than 100 years, when the British administrators decided that the Malays should retain their village lifestyle in the city. Furthermore, Kampung Baru also played a part in the May 13 incident, when ethnic Malays and Chinese were involved in a bloody racial clash. Since then, it has survived countless discussions to develop the area, and each time Kampung Baru has stood its ground.
Hospitable Abdullah Hukum
The same experience can be felt a few kilometres away, in Kampung Haji Abdullah Hukum. Difficult to reach by road and with no direct access from highways, Kampung Abdullah Hukum is believed to be named after a man who fought in the Selangor War. However, other variations say that it was actually a title given to those who have the power to punish those who commit crimes as there were no policemen and judges back in those days.
The official story is that the village is named after Haji Abdullah Hukum, who was originally named Muhammad Rukun. He arrived in the Malay Peninsula with his father in 1850 at the age of 15 years and worked as a farmer and a building contractor before he opened the village's land. He settled at Sungai Putih, which is now between Jalan Bangsar and Abdullah Hukum.
In recent times, wooden houses have been demolished and replaced with high rise residential towers, serviced apartments, offices and shopping complexes. It is safe to assume that this area will sooner or later lose its old touch, as more development replaces the old buildings.
Most noticeably, new developments such as SP Setia’s Eco City, next to the Klang river, will change its landscape and perception forever. Nonetheless, the image will still hold up, especially for those that witnessed the floods in 1971, the fire that burned down several houses and the May 13 racial riots, between those soon-to-be-built concrete jungles.
Right next to Abdullah Hukum, the area of Bangsar has been living up to its expectations of being an affluent residential area that have been much favoured by expatriates and also locals. It is hard to imagine that this area used to be a rubber estate before seeing its first residential area developed in 1969. That’s 60 years as a rubber estate!
Between then and now, many things have changed. On weekend mornings, the area is swamped with people mainly from the local community buying groceries either from the wet market in Lucky Garden or from the more upscale stores such as Grocer Village in Bangsar Village, or Jason’s Food Hall in Bangsar Shopping Centre where imported food products are almost always found.
As time goes on, the crowd increases and the roads start to accumulate traffic, caused largely by those who have a weekly family brunch outing and also those who nursed a bad hangover from the night before.
Coffee bars are crowded with people on laptops, iPads, and smartphones, chatting and laughing away. This scene goes on till the wee hours of the night.
A juxtaposition of old and new, of trendy and old world, of being unashamedly bold while being quietly hospitable, KL lives up to its moderate hype. I would rather not live in any other city. - December 12, 2013.