Insider’s Kuala Lumpur is one of the most enlightening, engaging and seemingly honest book I’ve ever read about the city’s history and its coming of state. Lam Seng Fatt, a veteran in journalism has managed to put together facts, which I’m sure, painstakingly to uncover our beloved capital’s both glorious and hideous past. Reading the book was a strange play of emotions. While leafing through the pages, I was proud, heartbroken, amused and frustrated at the same time.
I’ve learned about the significance of Yap Ah Loy in the founding of KL, of which, without him there will probably be no us today. I’m sorry, if the government decides to take offence since it was a Chinese who took the trouble to build the city state from its old tin mining days. I just don’t want this to end up like another case of Hang Tuah’s posthumous disputed identity. So what if he is Chinese!? Yea, Yap Ah Loy is Chinese. As in CHINA Chinese. I am Malaysian, WE are Malaysian. Admit it, thank China instead and move on! It doesn’t matter which race started the development. The more pressing issue is where do we go from here as One.
I’ve learned so much more about the coming and unfortunate going of Bukit Bintang Girls School, as well as the still-in-existence Victoria Institution. I’ve got many friends who graduated from those schools, but I bet they never knew the inside outs of their school. Did you know that VI was the first school to introduce the prefect system? First founding of Scouts in Selangor? First to introduce science classes? And the murderous drama involving the acting headmaster’s wife? Time to pick up this book.
I was amused by how Malaysians always make fun of ‘having curry rice’ in Malaysian prisons. Honestly, till today I thought that was the staple delicacy served behind bars. This misconstrued statement came from the fact that the early wardens had names of ‘Fish’, ‘Curry’ and ‘Rice’. How canny is that! So there. If ever a Malaysian tells you they serve fish curry and rice behind bars, you know better.
I’ve understood that cronyism isn’t a modern governmental habit. They probably picked up from their governing ancestor, Frank Swettenham who conveniently had relatives, close and far, to be part of his dodgy ‘extended’ investment programs while developing the city. So, now we know where the root of the problem is. Then maybe, just maybe, the certain individuals governing this country, didn’t think there was anything wrong with engaging relatives when it comes to executing certain projects. Because it was OKAY in the late 1800s, thanks to Mr. Brit.
I’m awed by Tunku Abdul Rahman’s (Malaysia’s first and highly revered Prime Minister) tenacity when it came to building the National Monument to celebrate the country’s fallen heroes whose relentless fight against communism, provided peace to the rakyat. There wasn’t any ‘national’ budget allocated for even such respected intention, instead he had to (read this) raise funds on his own. Can you believe that!? Talent contests, dance shows, you name it, they donated it. All funds collected were used to build the monument to commemorate those who fell but remembered eternally. Today? What do we have? No proof, but I’ve a knack that sometimes the budget can be misused, or worse, wasted.
I found out that we do have a local heroic criminal who think he’s Robin Hood reincarnated named Botak Chin. He was a hardcore local gangster who have had collected all the accolades to qualify him as the local mafia. I just can’t believe that he mandated a standard of code for his members – liquor OK, cigarettes OK. But no drugs (?!). Killing OK, robbing OK. But not of the poor. Instead, a percentage of his loot was actually ‘donated’ to families who were in dire need of monetary support. When he finally got caught and sentenced to death, he even offered his eyes and kidney as donation to the needy. Honestly, I’ve got strong mixed feelings towards this dude. He’s really as the book says, ‘a misguided genius’.
I pined in heartache to discover so many of our wonderful heritage buildings who once witnessed the glorious colonial days of parties and soirees, are no longer here and some, unrecognizable. I wish someone would do something to restore these historic landmarks that should not be conveniently discarded simply because it’s not according to our Malay, Chinese and Indian heritage. Whatever that made us today, if it was part of our history, it was part of us. The Portugese, the British, the Arabs, the Japanese, the communists – they are all fragments which we should preserve to remind us just how far we have come. Not simply discounted and left to rot. Someone please… do something. Sigh.
What I just shared is only a minute portion of the wonders uncovered by Lam Seng Fatt. Really, it’s time for you to get this book if you consider yourself to be a decent Klang Valley-ite. I totally understand if you know only half of Malaysian history because you either dozed off in class or skipped it altogether. I was there. But this one, I promise you is one of the most refreshing perspectives of things – old and new.