Hi. My name is Yi Wen. In a year, I spend 9 months in Kuala Lumpur but I am not from here. I come from a small city up north called Ipoh. Ipoh folks who stay in KL complain about KL; traffic jam, the food not as good, the food too expensive, traffic jam… KL folk complain that Ipoh folk like to complain. It is true.
Bagai rusa masuk kampung (Like a deer entering a village)
I have been in KL for over a year now. In my first year, I hated it. The air is bad. The skies are grey. People always say that small town folk get cheated in big cities. So the question of security and safety was always on my mind. I was a paranoid.
I am bad at socialising. It is funny for a law student. But it is true. I didn’t have a social life. I never ventured out alone from where I stayed and Brickfields. All I looked forward to was going back to Ipoh.
Tak kenal maka tak cinta (If you don’t know, you won’t love)
There are two roads one can take in a foreign place. Actually, they are available in any situation. The first road is that of discontentment. I can choose to hate KL. But I will be miserable. I will leave KL not knowing about KL.
The second road is utility. I can utilise the opportunity of being in KL to learn and understand. I can learn to cinta KL. I choose this road.
To subject myself to misery is silly. Dostoevsky wrote of a man with a toothache: ‘..he himself knows that his groans will not bring him any kind of relief; better than anyone he knows that he is overstraining and irritating himself and others to no avail; he knows that even the audience… are by now listening to him with loathing, they no longer believe in him in the slightest and know… that he could groan in a simpler fashion… and that he is only indulging himself out of malice and spite’.
Why do so? It is pointless.
To criticise without knowing makes criticism not legit. It is unfair and baseless. Thus, like how people go on soul-seeking trips, I am going on a soul-seeking trip. It is not my soul I am seeking. I seek the soul of the city.
I lamented that I do not have a proper university life. University life as we know it. Sprawling campuses with grandiose lecture theaters and labyrinth libraries. So many have that. I don’t.
Structurally, my university is two buildings on a street in Brickfields. It is sad. But the so-called utilitarian view is: My university is not in Brickfields; it is Brickfields. It is so much part of Brickfields that my legal education is amalgamated with my education on the streets. I like the direct connection with the real world. Many universities are so far from the real world they form their own world. They don’t have a connection. I do.
A clockwork city
I had the chance to walk around KL. I must see for myself the essence of KL. What makes the soul of KL? What stories can KL tell?
Architecture always fascinate me. If walls could speak, I would listen to their tales of their glory days. I like to close my eyes and envision people of the past going about.
In the chaos, who makes the city run like a clockwork every day? A city does not stand on its own. The people make the essence of it. The people can be the tuck shop aunty, the banker, the vagrant, the civil servant or the foreign worker. They give character.
A melting pot
Recently, I did something I don’t usually do in KL. I joined a walking tour of Brickfields alone. I am glad I did so. Otherwise, my experience would be quite different.
Although I spend a lot of time in Brickfields, I have never explored it. I have read of how culturally diverse it is. I have seen part of it but not all.
Brickfields is notorious for vice activities. It is also a thriving business centre of everything Indian. But it is also serves the Muslim, Hindu, Christian, Taoist, Buddhist and Orthodox Syrian Christian communities. The people are mainly the proletariat. People of different colour and faith live, work and play side-by-side. These make Brickfields the melting pot of the good, the bad, and the multitude of cultures and faiths.
This is the epitome of unity and harmony. Not the quack unity in textbooks that divides or the phony harmony preached as a national doctrine that seeks to desecrate or relocate places of worship in the name of ‘national development’.
That day, I saw Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, Taoists, Hindus, atheists entering temples and churches, listening to Hindus chant ‘Hare Krishna‘ and the azan, dancing and clapping to Christian youths playing Christian songs, and watching devotees approach mediums.
That day, I also saw Muslims refusing to enter a church. But I respect his view.
But on the whole, it was so real. To pen that down would be to reduce the experience to a mere preachy Form 3 student essay on how to promote racial unity. You just have to see it yourself.
Yang dikejar tak dapat, yang dikendong berciciran
In light of Johor’s unending hype for billion ringgit Iskandar to be the new tourist attraction, this tour accentuated how unnecessary it is. There is so much Malaysia already has to offer. It just needs to be properly preserved, improved and promoted. Why construct something new and expensive when what we have already is so unique and peculiar to Malaysia? What we have is what attracts tourists. We just need to work on it.
With sadness, the Hundred Quarters on Jalan Rozario and Jalan Chan Ah Tong, built in 1905 and one of the last KL government quarters, are gazetted for development.