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Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown – A Draw With Tourists
Many major cities in the world have a Chinatown, which is a part of the city that is dominated by Chinese culture. However, Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown is unique as Malaysian and Indian influences have added more color to the district. Visitors can browse inside a Chinese medical hall, cross the street to admire the majestic statue inside the Sri Mahamariman Temple, and enter the nearby Central Market to enjoy Malaysian nasi kampur or buy handicrafts such as tekats and songs. Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown is a melting pot of cultures and a testament to the tolerance and warmth of its people
This colorful network of streets and alleys is roughly defined by Jalan Tun HS Lee, Jalan Sultan and Jalan Cheng Lock. A jumble of neo-classical shops, modern shopping complexes, airy cafés and shops selling a host of wares ranging from salted fish, herbal medicines, Buddhist figurines and funeral paraphernalia make for interesting browsing. The character of Chinatown changes throughout the day. In the morning, office workers eat dim sum in restaurants and housewives wave in a wet market; in the late afternoon, the stalls begin to open for business, and in the evening, there are all kinds of lively events: the smells of cooking food linger in the air, the hoarse shouts of fruit sellers, customers haggling and shopping. waiters to passers-by.
The establishment of this district is inextricably linked with the founding of the city in 1857. Raja Abdullah, the Malay chieftain of Klang, led a group of Chinese prospectors to search for tin in the area, who landed on the east bank of the Klang River. near its confluence with the Gombak River. They established tin mines in Ampang, which attracted hordes of Chinese immigrants who settled on the east bank of the Klang River. The Malays settled mainly in the north, beyond Jalan Tun Perak.
In 1868, when Yap Ah Loy became the Kapitan Cina (Chinese president) of Kuala Lumpur, he set up his house, opium dens and gambling shacks in Lebuh Pasar Besar near today’s Central Market. Under his leadership, the settlement developed rapidly. In 1882, Sir Frank Swettenham, British Resident ordered the huts to be demolished and moved southwards, which led to the gradual shift of Chinatown to its present concentration. Along the former High Street, (now Jalan Tun HS Lee), the shops, especially those numbering 34 to 40, are original buildings from the 1880s. Today, an Art Deco clock tower stands at Lebuh Pasar Besar. It was erected in 1937 to commemorate the coronation of King George VI.
If you can smell the fish and poultry, step inside the Wet Market at Jalan Petaling, which has been operating since 1914! Gasping fish writhe on cement slabs, chickens are crammed into cages, pig wheels hang from hooks and piles of vegetables lie invitingly in baskets. The entrance to the wet market is on Jalan Hang Lekir — a street with a seedy past, as there were 39 registered public houses in 1890. For a more pleasant sight and smell, stroll along the five-foot shop streets on Jalan Hang Kasturi opposite Central Market. Witness the pottery and Chinese potpourri of vinaigrette goods such as century eggs, salted vegetables, sea cucumbers, bottles of soy bean paste, and salted fish.
A visit to Chinatown would not be complete without a visit to its tea houses. Patrons choose a type of tea that is brought by a waitress along with a tea set consisting of a burner, dipping kettle, miniature cups, a wooden spatula for stirring the tea and a small spoon for removing the dregs. The whole process of making tea is explained and demonstrated by the waitress. The guests are then given the privilege to repeat the tea-making ritual.
Historical sights are numerous. On Jalan Tun HS Lee (formerly known as High Street), the Kwang Siew Association was completed in 1888. The roofs and eaves of its temple are adorned with stone dragons and mythical creatures, while two granite lions watch over its entrance. The Sin Sze Su Ya Temple, built in 1864, is today hidden behind modern buildings. Continuing south will take you to the Sri Maha Mariamman Temple with its magnificent goporam (gateway tower). Built in 1873, this temple is arguably the most important in the city as the annual Thaipusam pilgrimage to the Batu Caves begins from here. Another interesting temple is the 1906 Chan See Shu Shu Temple, which is located at the southern end of Jalan Petaling. Its roofs and walls are decorated with colorful terracotta figures.
On Jalan Tun HS Lee, the elevated roof of the Old Victoria Institution looks out through the leaves of the angsana trees. Resembling an English cottage and made of timber and brick, it was designed by AC Norman. In 1911, the bungalow in its grounds was the scene of a murder. On April 23, 1911, Mrs. Ethel Proudlock, wife of the acting director, fired six shots at one William Steward, a European planter, killing him. In her deposition, Ms Proudlock claimed she shot Steward in self-defence after he had attempted to rape her. However, she was convicted of her crime after witnesses testified that the day before the murder she had met Steward at the Selangor club. The English writer Somerset Maugham immortalized this crime of passion in a short story, which was later made into a film entitled “The Letter”.
The modern face of Chinatown shopping can be found at Uda-Ocean and Plaza Warisan, as well as Kota Raya and Sinar Kota on the edge of the district. A large selection of local crafts is sold in the Central Market. Batik, songket, kris (Malay daggers), wood carvings and wau bulan (moon kites) are popular items snapped up by visitors. You can have your portrait drawn by artists or have your future predicted by palmists and astrologers. In the evening, Jalan Petaling (Petaling Street) comes to life under its confused multi-level roof. Stroll its brick floor past dozens of stalls selling handbags, sunglasses, CDs, VCDs, watches, perfumes and clothing.
Food is the number one pastime of Malaysians and Chinatown has plenty of Chinese food to enjoy. The Grand Chinatown Restaurant, Tang City Food Court and Chinatown Food Center Restaurant are filled with stalls selling noodles, hot pot, roast duck, grilled fish and dragon’s eye water.
Chinatown has many budget hotels. For more upmarket places to stay, try Hotel Mandarin Pacific, Hotel Furama, Hotel Malaya and Swiss Inn to name a few. A rich experience awaits the traveler in Chinatown. Make sure it’s on your itinerary when in Kuala Lumpur.
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