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While most Malaysian Chinese were busy welcoming the Year of the Dragon in their respective hometowns across the country, some city dwellers in Kuala Lumpur’s oldest living heritage street, Jalan Sultan, however, are facing bleak moments. They are celebrating what might be their last Chinese New Year in this street.

A week before Chinese New Year, the owners of shop-lots in Jalan Sultan suddenly received the final notice from the Land Office stating clearly that if they did not sign an agreement before 30th January (9th day of CNY), the Land Acquisition Act will be imposed on them and the construction of the proposed MRT line will be bulldozed through – hence the loss of the century-old street in the history of Greater Kuala Lumpur.

Part of the MRT project aims to connect Sungai Buloh and Kajang, two major towns in Selangor that stretches 51km with 34 stations in between. The cost is a mind-boggling RM50 billions, funded by us, the taxpayers, of course. In the course of the construction, 21 buildings in Bukit Bintang area had been identified to be demolished and the tenants were told to move away for six years while another 20 shop-lots in Jalan Sultan and Jalan Petaling were told to move out for six months or even longer during the construction.

The entire project brings many questions to the mind, all without answers, as always. Firstly, why is the alignment not connected or integrated with existing transportation systems in the city? Poor connections will not encourage people to take public transport. Passengers will have to take a longer time and change multiple stations to get to their destinations.

Secondly, why so many people have to make way and MRT cannot guarantee that the land and buildings will be returned to the owners after the construction was completed? The people will be the loser in this deal – they have no place to stay or to earn a livelihood.

Thirdly, the landscape of Jalan Sultan and Jalan Petaling will be changed forever. It is not easy for a particular place or landmark to survive the onslaught of time and modernization but amazingly, some buildings along this area did just that, for example the Yan Keng Benevolent Dramatic Association. Today, this white and majestic building was still standing proudly but for how long?

Finally, the cost, why is it so very expensive, to the tune of RM50 billions? Is it because we have nothing else to build? How about more schools, public hospitals and dialysis centers for the lower income group? We are miserably short of these. In many vernacular schools, more than fifty pupils were crammed into a small classroom, in some hospitals, patients were turned away due to lack of beds and more people are dying from kidney failure because they could not afford the expensive dialysis treatments in private centers.

So, could the government, who gave its blessing, for once, put its priority right?

I do not speak on behalf of any of these owners or tenants for I do not know any of them. I spoke because I used to frequent Jalan Sultan.

Standing in the middle of the vast car park next to KL Commercial Book Company with thousands of Malaysians from all over the country and some foreign tourists for the Chap Goh Mei’s countdown on the night of 5th February 2012, I felt a tinged of sadness and anger. Sad because we are going to lose yet another historical landmark in the capital after Pudu Jail; anger because the people were not properly consulted.

Jalan Sultan held some fond memories for me. I first set foot on this heritage street in 1976 when I was twelve. Together with my uncle, aunty and two cousins, we took a trip to Kuala Lumpur from Ipoh. It was a long and tiring journey in those days when we travelled on the old trunk road, stopping to empty our bladders at Tanjung Malim and have a sip of drink.

Upon reaching Puduraya Bus Station, my uncle suggested that we took lodging at one of the oldest budget inn along Jalan Sultan which was near the bus station. It was Rumah Tumpangan Hoong Thoo, a very typical Chinaman inn, one you could no longer find any more these days. It had a wooden swinging door at the entrance, just like the ones in those cowboy’s bars.

As soon as we stepped into the gloomy looking inn, I saw an old and skinny Chinaman sitting on a wooden stool at the mahogany counter; he was the sole inn-keeper. He wore a white sleeveless Pagoda singlet and black short trousers matched with a pair of wooden clogs. The old man with a hunchback took a set of keys from the cabinet behind the counter and slowly led us up an old wooden staircase which gave out loud quaking sounds, then along a dimly lit aisle. We were taken to the last room near the common bathroom and toilet.

Once the doors to the room were thrown open, I saw two tall metal beds with white linens, a hanging fan and a wooden stand holding a metal washing basin at one corner. Moments later, the old man knocked at the door again. In his trembling hands was a small rattan basket which held a porcelain teapot with a few small porcelain cups. In his other hand was a metal hot water flask. My uncle gave him a few dollars as tips. I saw some European backpackers staying in this inn too. They looked like hippies to me.

Today, Rumah Tumpangan Hoong Thoo was no longer there. It was demolished some years ago and made into a car park – the very same car park where we stood that night. Beside this inn was a funeral parlor and convalescent home. It was gone too.


Further down the street after Kedai Foto Pak Tai was Hotel Lok Ann. Below the hotel was a coffee shop. We went there for breakfast – the wanton noodle there was very tasty but I have forgotten the name of the stall. We ate there three days in a row. On our last day in Kuala Lumpur, we had some dumplings at Restoran Yook Woo Hin diagonally across Hotel Lok Ann.

That Chap Goh Mei night I walked past Hotel Lok Ann again and saw some people standing inside the coffee shop, singing about the wanton noodles which I used to have as a child. A large crowd of people stood outside to watch, cheering them on and clapping wildly. Like these people, I wish the government will realigned the line and spared this heritage street, if it insisted to carry on with the project. Could this be too much for Kuala Lumpur’s folks to ask for?

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