Monday, November 23, 2009

Travel to Kuala Lumpur (KL) – Peter Chan

My impressions of KL landmarks were developed over a period of time and came about as a result of a) Planned holidays, b) University of Singapore versus University of Malaya at sports, and c) Business. When I became knowledgeable about KL, I found many “Lampor Yan” can be from different dialectical groups but the preference is to communicate in Cantonese.

For me there were two memorable events that came as a result of a planned holiday; one took place in the mid-60s and the other in the early 70s. I start off with the early 70s event.

Just before my NS enlistment, my best friend “Fei Lo” Weng (buddies since Secondary Two) had to go to sea. Fei Lo completed his radio marine diploma course at the Singapore Polytechnic and like many others who took up flying or went sailing it was one way to financially support a family whilst conveniently to avoid NS. You see after Secondary Four, those who joined Singapore Airlines (SIA) – as commercial pilots and flight engineers, and Neptune Orient Line (NOL) – as marine officers – need not serve NS. This was highly unusual as most of us think of NS deferment for tertiary studies or part-time NS - in the Vigilante Corp or Special Constabulary.

Fei Lo knew that by working for NOL he was going to be away from home for 6 months to a year; in fact on the very first trip he went away for almost 5 years until we met again when I was in the university. During this period we kept in touch through snail-mail. Often when he returned to Singapore, he was on “stand-by”; ready to board another vessel in Singapore waters or fly to Nigeria to board a new vessel. He finally called it “quits” when he turned 33. Thus this trip to KL together was one way to spend our remaining days together.

Photo 1: Fei Lo, Aunty Ingrid and I in the Lake Garden (circa 1972). I took this hair-cut hoping that I could clear through NS Enlistment day but unfortunately failed to pass the actual test and ended up “4 X 2”. We took more photos at the National War Monument and an oval-shaped building in the Lake Garden.

We arrived in KL by train and our accommodation was at his maternal grandmother’s house in Salak South Gardens, a fairly new residential estate in the early 1970s. Nearby was the Salak South railway bridge. Salak South Garden had rows of terraced houses on a hill-slope.

I tasted the best sui kow and char siew fan from a kopitiam in that estate; “Lampor Yan” friends tell me it’s still the best in the KL area even now. Sui kow was for breakfast, the other being yow chay kwai with “Pai Kuak Tong”. I was very impressed with the size of the sui kow because in Singapore I could only find small wantons. Malaysian kopitiams were unusual from those in Singapore; the suburban kopitiams had at the most two stalls and a drinks operator. Most times one stall stayed open. I learnt something about Malaysian morning breakfast habits; Nasi Champur for Malays, Roti Prata for Indians and noodles for Chinese. Singaporeans will definitely have a hard time adjusting to Malaysian breakfast habits because bread is not often served at kopitiams.

Aunty Ingrid and her boyfriend drove us to many places, Port Dickson (nearest place to swim in the sea), Port Swettenham, Lake Gardens, Kajang (for satay) and Genting Highlands. That was the first time we stepped into a casino but it really was not a pleasant sight. I saw squatting women in tears, women who went to this little small window to pawn their jewellery for cash, and men who aimlessly paced up and down the corridor outside the casino.

Fei Lo and I went out on our own on some days. We visited the Merdeka Stadium and Fitzpatrick Supermarket at Weld Road. We even had time to pop into Bukit Nanas Convent to see my friend. Little did we know that among my friend’s friends, one pretty Malay student was later destined to be an UMNO politician/Minister. On one visit to Petaling Street, Chinatown we shopped for “Kat Chye”.

Photo 2: Left; Father’s letter to us (circa 1964). Right; PAP election headquarters at Batu Road. Batu Road reminded me so much of South Bridge Road in Singapore with all the typical advertising signboards and Chinese inscriptions on pillars (circa 1964). By September 1965, when the party was de-registered, there were 1,700 party cadres in Malaysia.

In 1964, I received my father’s telephone call from KL. As the trunk telephone link between KL and Singapore suffered “noise disturbance”, I heard him telling me he welcomed me to join him for a short holiday. My father was in KL because the PAP contested the Malaysian General Elections. So my mother sent me off at the Tanjung Pagar Railway Station for the train ride into KL and I had with me Malayan Dollar $20. It was a very enjoyable trip for this little young boy because his primary school textbook, “Malayan Geography Series” came “alive” about rubber trees, people at work, and valleys and hills. Interestingly I found many train employees were Indians and Sikhs, holding positions like train drivers, ticket inspectors and maintenance crew.

Photo 3: Left; Royal Selangor Club on the left of the Padang which in turn faced the Sultan Abdul Samad buildings (circa 1970), Right; The former Odeon Cinema@ Batu Road was also known as Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman in the mid-60s (circa 2007)

I arrived at the KL Railway Station and walked along a road leading to the Padang and the Royal Selangor Club. After taking road directions from some adults, I came to a mosque at the confluence of two rivers; Sungei Gombak and Sungei Klang. This part of town was highly unusual; many buildings look like they came out of the story book, “Aladdin and His Magic Lamp”. I never had seen so many buildings with Middle East architecture. Even in Singapore the slight exception was “The Arcade” in Collyer Quay.

Photo 4: Left; Klang River and Gombak River meet here and history tells us that this was the original spot where Kapitan China Yap Ah Loy founded KL (circa 1974). Right; Mountbatten Road (circa 1970). Some KL street names could also be found in Singapore such as High Street, Cecil Street and Cross Street.

When I met up with my father at Batu Road, I was not sure how to judge his facial expressions. I learnt a few things about politics; the bull symbol was for the Socialist Front, the boat stood for the Alliance Party, and “Sip Sip Ling” was PAP. As everybody was busy with the elections, there was a “Lee Suk Suk” who took care of me for the rest of my stay including making sure I boarded the Malayan Airways flight from the old KL Airport in Sungei Besi to Singapore. We went to see a Malay “silat” movie at the Odeon Cinema. Then off to Bukit Bintang for street-makan and playing the swings, merry-go-round and slides in BB Park (now Sungei Wang Plaza). Many years later I realised “Lee Suk Suk” was the DAP MP for Bukit Bintang. No wonder he knew Bukit Bintang so well at his finger-tip. Maybe “Lee Suk Suk” knew besides baby kissing, there was also baby-sitting.

Photo 5: Left; View of KL from Menara KL. Right; Tengku Abdul Rahman rode on this convertible on his way to the Merdeka Stadium to proclaim Malaya’s independence in 1957.

KL has changed so much that I can hardly “connect” with her. It’s too urban. Even up on Menara KL, I cannot make out the landmarks because the “old” is gone. However I did have a bit of luck. I spotted the first Malayan Prime Minister’s car which was used during the 1957 Independence Day ceremony.


Lam Chun See said...

Cannot understand how come your friend is call Fei Lo.

Icemoon said...

It looks like fashion has changed. Do tourists dress in shirt and long sleeves in KL? The B&W photo looks like ice age has struck KL.

The 1964 General Election! Did Peter meet Devan Nair??

Victor said...

More like 2 x Kou Lo (tall guys).

Victor said...

Peter, in 1964 you were only 10-year-old. You mean you travelled on the train and around KL town alone? O_O Oh my, your parents are extremely trusting of you and society at large then!

Is the boy in Photo 3 (left) you? Who took the photo?

peter said...

Fei Lo got his nickname from fatty Weng of Singapore Badminton Hall. Yes Fei Lo ballooned to 230 llbs (beer, sleep, etc) when he went sailing - i was wrong he quit when he was 36 yrs old.

Those days parents never worry so much like today's parents - what time you come home, where you go, got study or not, dont flien this fellow and that fellow.....want tuition of not if your grades not so good (today when children get As, still got some more tuition. How to improve beyond "A" grade? I don't know. E grade maybe got chance to climb to A grade but A grade......)

Victor, I never knew what was danger would you believe it? Wait till I tell you how I came out of a hole that was dug for the pillar foundation of a building then you understand. That boy not me - he's a Malay boy who was playing football at the Padang

Yah I met Davan but he too old to remember me.....There were others like Dr. Chen Man Hin, Toh CC, etc....

Zen said...

Years back I heard from my uncle that KL was famous for its food especially when compared to Singapore. So when my KL cousin visited me I took him to one of the best noodle shops in chinatown, but apparently the wandon noddles did not impress his palate. Last year we visited KL. This time around, we went to eat at one of their top noodle shops (tipped by the locals), and it was our time to be unimpressed with their version. What made it most disappointing was that the food in this shop were not cheap at all when compared to ours. In conclusion, I think the standard of Singapore food have caught up with the best in this region.

yg said...

peter, m'sians don't eat roti prata; they eat roti canai. you mean devan is still around (alive) and he is so old now that he can't remember the meeting.

peter said...

Thanks Yg for reminding me; slipped my mind because I knew it was something roti XXX but mental block.

Devan does not know me (always seem to be surrounded by Indian folks back then). I saw his figure then but to me then boys of that age not interested what adults do. All I was interested was what "boys wanna do". I only remember those names only if I had to call the elderly "Uncle this, Uncle that".

First time I tried sui kow, I wonder why Malaysian wanton so big size. Now I know the inside ingredients of the two are different. Anyway can someone tell me where got hawker type sui kow in Singapore?

Icemoon said...

Sometimes I cannot tell wanton and sui kow apart, cannot be prawn and pork paste difference? We have sui kow noodle (水饺面) in Singapore.

What's Kat Chye and Sip Sip Ling? The PAP lightning?

Zen said...

I was rather timid as a kid. My malaysian uncle used to lecture me. He boasted that when he was around the age of 11, he travelled state to state by train (after the demise of both his parents) in Malaya, seeking 'shelter' from his older brothers. I concluded that kids of his generation were really 'made' from sterner stuff.

Lam Chun See said...

Agree with Zen that the standard of KL food seems to have dropped.

Zen said...

I can remember the famous kajang satays which were well grilled over charcoal fire, juicy, tasty and were served together with a whitish-looking gravy. This unique gravy likened to the mee-rebus gravy(sprinkled with fried shallots) served by an Indian muslim stall near the former national library. This happened years ago. I do not know the present standard of kajang satay.

Lam Chun See said...

I think in those days, the other famous popular attraction near KL was Templar's Park which had a nice waterfall. There was even some news about sighting of a tiger or something like that in the 70's.

peter said...

Kajang satay was noted not for its taste but its sight. I never seen piles of satay stacked on top of each other like a pyramid.

The other attraction was to go up to the revolving restaurant on top of Federal Hotel. Whilst dining you catch a glipmse of KL from the air. I think I went up there for tim sum in 1972.

In later years I strolled across the Federal Hotel through a small lane to Jalan Alor where there were many good street stalls cooking Cantonese food. Of course there were many social escot agencies and you could see the girls reporting for work at 7pm.

Icemoon, "kat Chye" is preserved lime. Sweet and sticky and comes in a packet with a yellow cover and pink box (hope I can remember the colours). Seemed that it was KL's best titbit offering. When the Singapore Government banned this product, die-die had to buy in cartons from KL because made in KL.

Zen said...

During our recent trip to Malacca, we passed by a historical building named Malacca Club (founded in 1912), in which an incription stating that the tengku first proclaimed Malaya independence in this building itself on 31 Aug 1957, and if I am not mistaken, saw the same red chevrolet car (seen in peter's photo) that the tengku rode around merdeka stadium (only as part of the ceremony), parked in the compound of the club. Many people thought that proclaimation of independence was done in KL (capital), but it in actual fact took place first in Malacca. I believe the reason for choosing Malacca was that this state has the longest history of the country colonial past, as far back as 1511 - having ruled by portuguese, dutch, and english, not to mention under Japanese occupation for some years.

fighting fit said...

Salak South Gardens, that's a name i have heard before in my childhood days. We had some relatives that stayed there. Who knows? Maybe your grandma knew my relatives. Maybe we are related!
But I can't remember anything much about it now.

dining table said...

Kuala Lumpur is one of the famous place in Southeast Asia. This is great opportunity to see those old pictures of the city. It is a big previledge.