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Good Old Colonial Days

GOOD OLD COLONIAL DAYS There are 2 common expressions that one comes across frequently as one progress through life. One is that the grass is greener on the other side. The other is that of the good old days. I was born on 8/8/1950. The British Federated States of Malaya gained its independence or Merdeka (freedom) on 31/8/1957. I grew up over the divide. Consequently, I do not feel out of place in the company of the diminishing species of Chinese octogenarian Merdeka patriots. You encounter them at bah-kut-teh [Hokkien herbal pork-rib soup] breakfast, usually early in the morning, after their Chinese shadowboxing callisthenics or tai chi at dawn, in the coffee shop or kopitiam. Depending on their days reminiscences, I felt and would feel the same sense of affinity or identify with them, for I could contemporarily relate to their moment in local Malaysian history. For instance, when they should concur that they rallied against or, in the case of some as insurgents, openly fought to get rid of British oppression and exploitation, only because they erroneously thought that freedom and self-rule was better than colonialism, I nodded in quiet agreement. Likewise, when they should concur that, compared to the colonial British administration, the post-independence Malay-dominated administration was more corrupt and definitely more biased against the Chinese with its bumiputra (sons of the soil) policy, I also politely acquiesced. The Chinese, regardless of the fact that they may be 4th or more generation Malaysians, are still regarded as non-bumiputras. Confucianistic values would not have permitted me to publicly disagree with my octogenarian elders. Given their age, who was I to tell them what my father used to say reflect thus on everything that you see or experience in life, that like the moon they have a bright and dark side. Or, as I later found out, in reading up on the ways of the Tao learn to see the yin and the yang in all things. In my turn, as a young adult seeking freedom in a different sense, I made a decision to settle in Australia, thinking the grass would be greener on the other side. And, similarly, I suffered the impetuosity of my decision, for boy! Did I later pine miserably for home and the good old colonial days! For I have never again in my life experienced the same air of freedom or freespiritedness, the same sense of dj vu, the same degree of nonchalance, the same impulse for adventure, the same impertinence or devil may care attitude and acceptance of whatever comes, the same equanimity towards all things around me or indeed the same zest for life as in my wild childhood colonial days. It was purely coincidental that when independence from the British came I had also just started formal schooling six months earlier at age 6 at the neighbourhood English-medium government school Batu Road Primary School II. The II signifies the second shift, for Batu Road Primary School I and Batu Road Primary School II shared the same school buildings, facilities and amenities. The teachers and staff were different and the shifts alternated between morning and afternoon. So except for the fact that the 2 schools shared the same premises, they were quite separate and different schools. But formal schooling (unlike the carefree roustabout atmosphere of Kindergarten) brought with it, discipline, punctuality, manners, school uniform code, grooming and hygiene, being forced to speak only the red-haired devils language in the school compound, and most of all, the oppressive homework, exams and competition. The nation might have won its independence but I

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lost mine at the same time. Thus, I share the same divide as my octogenarian elders and patriots, and the same endearment for what they and I reminisce as the good old colonial days. My good old colonial days, give and take a bit, with some literary licence, would be when I was between the ages 5 to 8. This was at a time when the Federated States of Malaya was still a British colonial outpost in the Far East, colonised initially for strategic reasons, and later maintained to supply tin and rubber for the British Empire. These were post-WW2 years. By now the Federated States of Malaya was already the worlds largest producer of tin ore and natural rubber. It was and had been rich takings for the colonial masters. But throughout their rule, there was a natural inhibition on the part of the British only to exploit the natural resources and not develop any secondary industries nor, generally speaking, the economic well-being or political advancement of the native population. Colonies were there to supply natural resources to nourish the manufactories back in Mother England. Consequently, there were practically no mass-production factories that I can think of then in the Klang Valley in Selangor State, where Kuala Lumpur, my hometown is cited, at the epicentre. There were just tin mines in the Ampang, Sungei Besi, Kepong, Cheras, Sungei Way, Petaling and Salak South and other districts; and rubber plantations in Damansara, Subang, Sungei Buloh, Kajang and Rawang and other districts around Kuala Lumpur. Mechanical or engineering works were largely limited to Chinese-owned small-scale repair and maintenance workshops. My father was the owner of one such concern, a welding and panel-beating workshop, along Batu Road, on the northern edge of the town centre. Among other things, he was a subcontractor to Cycle & Carriage, repairing the dented panels and bent chassis of the British-made cars and trucks that they imported and shipped whole from England. Not unexpectedly, the entire economy was dominated by British-owned enterprises like - Standard Chartered Bank, Hong Kong & Shanghai Banking Corp. (banking), Straits Steamships, Pacific & Orient (shipping), Guthries, Harrison & Crosfield (rubber plantations), Consolidated Tin & Dredging (tin-mining), Warnes Brothers (motor vehicle & trucks), Fraser & Neave (soft drinks) and Robinsons, Cold Storage (consumer and household goods). Kuala Lumpur (muddy meeting place) started as makeshift ramshackled Hakka-Chinese tinminers gambling and brothel village in the 1850s at the congruence of River Klang and River Gombak, both flowing from north to south as they meander through Kuala Lumpur. According to local Hakka oral history, of the first group of a hundred odd Hakka tin prospectors, only a handful survived, most dying from malaria and tropical fever. The survivors however brought back stories of unimaginable plentiful tin upstream in Ampang. The tin rush was on. The muddy meeting place was where tin ore was sold to the Kapitan Cina, the Hakka triad chieftain (3 of whom, Yap Ah Loy, Yap Kwan Seng and Yap Ah Shak, have been immortalised by having streets named after them in Kuala Lumpur), protection money paid, money remittances and letters to family in China arranged through moneylending guilds and clan-houses, and more importantly the place where you came for a few days respite from hard labour by way of leong-tow-foo (a traditional Hakka dish of deep-fried bean curd casing filled with fish mince), pai-kow (a type of Hakka gambling), choei-loong (chasing the dragon opium smoking), khow-san (invocation to the Hakka deity Sze Yeh), treatment by Chinese sinsehs (traditional herbalists and acupuncturists) or the company of kai-pawh (prostitutes). The tin ore and other goods traded were then ferried a few miles downstream to Port Klang (or Port Swettenham as it was called in the colonial days). Due to its strategic logistical and economic location, lying halfway on the West coast of the Malay Peninsular, between Penang Island in the north and Singapore Island in the south, (both islands from which the British naval bases controlled marine traffic in and out of the strategic Straits of Malacca), in 1880, the British, (the decision of the then British Resident, Bloomfield

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Douglas), coincidentally or otherwise, also made Kuala Lumpur its mainland peninsular administrative capital. Where the Colonial Government sat in administration and in justice, money was to be made. But this was also where money grew on rubber trees and money came out of the tin-rich ground. It was also next to Port Swettenham where goods were shipped in from or shipped out to Penang and Singapore, en route to or from The United Kingdom and Europe to the West and Hong Kong and China to the Far East. Tin ore from Ipoh and other tin-mining districts in the Kinta Valley in Perak State immediately to the north and rubber sheets from Negeri Sembilan State immediately to the south, all were routed by rail or road for export through Kuala Lumpur, and conversely imports to these hinterland regions had to pass through Kuala Lumpur. Kuala Lumpur became the transport hub of the nation. In the Federated States of Malaya, all roads led to Kuala Lumpur. Thus, Kuala Lumpur, a place bereft of any natural attractions or public infrastructure and sans any rich Malay cultural heritage like historical Malacca, through fortuitous locus situs initially and later impeccable municipal administration under the British, became a stately cosmopolitan multifarious tropical metropolis. To say the least, the very urbane Sir Frank Swettenham, the newly appointed Resident in 1882, was not impressed with the squalid Chinese shantytown declared as the new colonial administrative capital. The Chinese tin-miners, as sojourners only there to make their quick fortune and then leave and return to China, understandably saw the place simply as a transient mining town. If they were inclined to stay permanently in Malaya, they would have preferred to settle in Ipoh, in Perak state, which they regarded as having good fung shui. Ipoh was surrounded by jagged limestone hills and gorges reminiscent of the gwei-lin landscape in Chinese paintings. Perak State was also where the Hakka-Hokkien Chinese Triad, the Hai San, had fought a long protracted war with the Hakka-Cantonese Chinese Triad, the Ghee Hin. Contemporaneously there were rival claims by Raja Ismail and Raja Abdullah to the Perak throne. The Hai San and the Ghee Hin took respective positions, aligning themselves to the rival Malay Chieftains. Under the Pangkor Treaty, brokered by the British, Raja Abdullah was chosen to be the Perak Sultan and the Hai San and the Ghee Hin forced to agree to a truce. Larut, later renamed Taiping (Big Peace) was given to the Hai San and Kamunting given to the Ghee Hin. The Hakka miners in Kuala Lumpur belonged to the Hai San Triad and they treated Kuala Lumpur as a temporary settlement. They haphazardly built flimsy dilapidated wooden huts east of, and established market gardens all over the low-lying riparian areas contiguous to, the river congruence, without any great sense of order or for hygiene. The streets were nothing more than narrow medieval-like alleyways; some fit only for pedestrian traffic, and went in disorderly directions, making the place like a maze. Rubbish was strewn everywhere and there were no proper drains or sewerage. In between rains the place was a quagmire of garbage, filth and pestilence. These and the surrounding malarial-infested swamps caused frequent outbreaks of malaria and typhoid. The Hakka Chinese tin-miners simply left it to the regular tropical downpour and floods to wash and flush all the rubbish and nightsoil into the rivers, and thus to the sea. Given that charcoal and kerosene were the main fuels for cooking and lighting, outbreaks of fire were frequent and when it happened it would simply sweep through the huddled-up squatter village. Under Sir Frank Swettenham Kuala Lumpur was meticulous laid out from scratch. He ordered that all roads had to be metalled and of at least 2 carriage width. Buildings had to be of brick and mortar and tiled. The low-lying areas of Kuala Lumpur were made properly drained by monsoon drains to mitigate the flooding that came with every tropical downpour of rain, (which was almost every afternoon, due to the convectional rainfall), thus restricting any serious flooding only to when the seasonal monsoon rains fell. The city streets were swept and household rubbish

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removed regularly and also street lighting was installed. By 1900s, most of those in legal and authorised housing had the benefit of electricity, articulated water and sewerage. Sir Frank Swettenham, (as were his successors), was imbued with the British sense of public law and order, health, service and justice. Except for special provisions to accommodate native customs and religions, every attempt was made to replicate Pax Britannica and the bureaucratic British Public Service. And so, Kuala Lumpur, as the administrative capital, as it burgeoned, became full of Commissioners, Director-Generals or their equivalents. You had the Commissioners of Police, Mines, Lands, Public Works, Railways, Health, Ports and Customs, the State Treasurer, the Director-General of Education and the Postmaster-General and so on. At the top of the hierarchy were the respective British Advisers or Residents of each of the Malay States and above all, the Resident-General who was also the Governor of the Straits Settlements (Singapore, Penang and Malacca), which were the only the true colonies; for strictly the Federated Malay States were only British Protectorates. The British when they arrived in Kuala Lumpur established themselves on the unsettled west bank of the River Klang, across the river from the Hakka miners village. They took to the high ground, and at the hillock (Federal Hill, now Bukit Aman) closest to the river congruence, they established their first administrative presence, a constabulary post. A police force was the first priority in what was still a rowdy, lawless place. Bukit Aman is still the site of the Federal Police Administrative Headquarters. From here the British had a strategic and vantage view over the swampy riverbank interspersed with Chinese market gardens, on their side, and across the River Klang to the Hakka miners village, on the east bank. In due course, upon implementation of Swettenhams town planning rules, the constabulary, magistracy and lock-up were shifted to a new police quarters over the river at High Street at the southern boundary of the Hakka miners village, which soon became, and is still known today to locals and tourists alike as, Chinatown. One can only imagine what rebel rousers and troublemakers these Hakka miners were, caught up in a triad den of opium, prostitution and gambling, for the British to locate their largest police force in Kuala Lumpur, right next door to Chinatown. As the oft-quoted proverb goes if the mountain does not come to Mohamed, then Mohamed has to go the mountain. As if to otherwise distance themselves further away from the Hakka Chinese miners village, although the more likely reason was to keep away from the malarial-swamps and other pestilence, the top-notch of the Colonial Service, like the Resident and other very senior officials, like the State Treasurer and the Chief Secretary, took to even higher ground, in the rolling hills, further west and southwest of Bukit Aman. There are too many hills to name, but this expanse of rolling hills was commonly known to locals as Lake Gardens (now Taman Tasik Perdana) and Kenny Hill (now Bukit Tengku). Alfred Venning, the State Treasurer under Sir Frank Swettenham, it turned out, was a botanist at heart. And for this love of his, Alfred Venning would be gratefully remembered in Kuala Lumpur, if not in Malaysian history. Over a period of 10 years, Alfred Venning organised the establishment of a botanical garden from the swamps and valleys between and among these rolling hills. The swamps were drained and the rivulets dammed to form a large lake, named Lake Sydney, after Sir Franks wife. The botanical garden was however appropriately simply named Lake Gardens. The Lake Gardens was planted with exotic tropical flowers and trees, many from India, Ceylon, Burma and other British colonies. Although the Lake Gardens was only about 100 hectares, to imagine its true expanse, you have to include the surrounding hills and forests which stretched for hundreds of square kilometres around it. Until recently these surrounds remained pristinely forested except where the autocracy and aristocracy had built luxurious bungalows and mansions on the hilltops. The hoi polloi were not welcomed to build and settle on this sovereign hill or these sovereign hills. It was in British realty terms Crown Land. You could only come and admire, envy or pay

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respects. In my childhood, there was no fencing delineating the Lake Gardens from the surrounding hill forests. As the Lake Gardens and forested surrounds were only 30 minutes walking distance from my home at 362, Batu Road, it became the western reaches of my childhood hunting ground. I came to this part of Kuala Lumpur not to admire, envy or pay respects to the colonial masters. I just came by innocuously wandering! For this forest was my childhood jungle adventure playground! What made it more exciting was that to get to this jungle adventure playground through the back-way, there were 2 preceding obstacle courses of adventure, which often ended up as the end-adventures themselves. First, I had to cross the River Gombak at the rear of Batu Road School. The school was 50 yards from the east bank of River Gombak. Second, over on the other side, i.e. the West Bank, there was the railway track leading to and out of the Kuala Lumpur Central Railway Station. The Lake Gardens and surrounds were immediately over, the other side of, the railway track. The means to get across the River Gombak, the back-way, at the rear of Batu Road School was a 75-feet swaying, cable, and suspension bridge, with a 2-width gangplank as the footway! For one who suffered and still suffers from vertigo, this was a daredevil adventure in itself; although, to put it in perspective, the bridge was only 3-feet above normal river level. However, as we, my twin brother, a cousin and I, found out on one fateful expedition across the bridge during a sudden thunderstorm during the monsoon season, when the river floods, which it can do without much prior warning, depending on the intensity of the downpour upstream, the bridges gangplank is suddenly virtually 2-feet under water. On that occasion, my cousin Thean Cheong was washed downstream by the strong river currents, but luckily he was rescued by a Tamil Indian villager, who happened fortuitously to be nearby. Thean Cheong, who is same age as me, is the only son of my mothers only male maternal cousin. That is very close kinship in Hokkien terms! Imagine my fate, had there been a disaster! On the best-case scenario, I would have been fostered out to replace Thean Cheong, as a payback, so that my maternal uncle could continue with his family lineage! Railway dare-devilishness could have brought more calamities had any childhood rail track antics gone wrong! Imagine enjoying throwing objects in the path of an oncoming train to see how they got hurtled by the engine-carriage or crushed by the wheels of the train as they went speeding past. Any one of us could have been hurt from the ricochet of the debris. Or worse, lying on the track and daring one another as to who would be the first to get up in the path of an oncoming train! We were really silly if not stupid intrepid adventurers. It is beyond words, this sense of freedom and reckless abandon; when childhood innocence had no sense of fear of anything, except maybe of my mother. The gardening bug or green fingers of Alfred Venning caught on with many of the other similarly minded enthusiasts among the senior Colonial Service. In no time the market gardens and swamps in front of Bukit Aman were dug up and drained, then a large rectangular area of about 10 acres or more, in the centre of the cleared and levelled ground, raised and turfed to form the colonial green and common, for the purposes of a parade ground as well as a cricket ground. Locally, it was simply known as the Padang or field. The Padang represented the southern reaches of my hunting ground. I went there when army or police parades were on or simply to see what I thought were some mad red-haired devils all dressed in whites, with nothing better to do then to stand in the hot sun, watching a ball being thrown by one to another of them, who will then try to hit the ball. And when he managed to hit the ball, then he and another will run up and down a measured straight line, before repeating their otherwise strange behaviour, over and over again. I know that this is the game of Cricket.

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Along the perimeter of the Padang, the Conservator planted raintrees. The raintree is a fine example of a tropical shade tree. It can grow to 80-feet in height, has luxuriant foliage and annually breaks out in bloom of little hairy, pink flowers; and more importantly, it has an extensive umbrella-like canopy, as wide in diameter as its height; thereby its name. The finest examples of this species of tropical rainforest tree can be found in the Taiping Lake Gardens, where they have been given heritage listing. The raintree was a popular shade tree and this was evident in their ubiquity, being planted by the British wherever they built new roads or schools or public buildings. They were also planted along the long driveway in both my primary school, Batu Road School and my high school, Victoria Institution. It has thus become part of my psyche or at least how I visualise my childhood by. The raintree provided shelter from the hot sun and afforded some cool in their shade. However, despite its name, it provided no shelter from the rain. The drive to create more natural arboreal shade whenever the opportunity arose was not unexpected. The British did not relish nor adapted well to the sweltering tropical heat. It is said to have driven many of these colonials mad or at least to the bottle. Thus we have the oft-quoted expression Mad Englishmen in the Noon-Day Sun. The tropics in this regard gave new meaning to the alcoholic spirit gin. It acquired medicinal status as a cure for depression. Perhaps to avoid misinterpretation, those who swear by this cure should qualify it to mean tropical depression. And to make things worse, Kuala Lumpur being inland, unlike Port Swettenham at the river mouth, did not enjoy the evening succour of sea breezes. And during the monsoon season, when humidity came close to a hundred percent, and if the air was still, Englishmen do become mad dogs. That was how the word amok, Sanskrit (and also Malay) for mad entered the English vocabulary. I must say that when I started experimenting with alcohol as an adult, I tried gin and tonic, with lemon wedge, on the rocks in British fashion, and it turned out to be a delightful thirst quencher, if there were more tonic than gin, that is. In contrast, the Chinese coming from a different therapeutic direction saw it more prophylactic to drink hot cups of Chinese tea. That is, instead of allowing the perspiration to ooze out adagio gradatim, you were supposed to instead, work up the sweat profusely, so that the flustered pores are continuously being flushed out, as if in a Turkish steam bath. In this manner the continuous intake of hot herbal tea enriches and invigorates the blood and the sweat generated gets rid of the body wastes and toxins. This is said to ching leung or to clear and to cool. Strangely enough, I have not to date come across a Chinese sinseh in Malaysia that is not HakkaChinese. The Hokkien-Chinese have taken this therapeutic practice of drinking tea to a level of culinary indulgence Bah Kut Teh, and although they claim this to be a Hokkien dish, if anything the honours should go to the Hakka-Chinese sinsehs. Bah Kut Teh means literarily meat bone tea, but the expression refers to the consumption of a Chinese herbal pork rib soup with rice and the associated drinking of Chinese tea. The Hokkien-Chinese would purchase the concoction of requisite Chinese herbs from the Chinese medicinal shops of the Hakka-Chinese sinsehs and simmer the pork spare-ribs and other cuts with the herbal mix for hours. The finished herbal pork soup is then taken with steamed rice, tauhu pok and taukee [deep-fried bean curd] and yu char keh [long dough sticks or crullers], and accompanied by copious cups of Fujian Tikuanyin tea. Over the years, the Bah Kut Teh ritual has become a sub-culture in itself. Just the issue of the best type or grade of tea, the material and design of tea utensils, the manner and correct procedure to brew the tea, is enough to set the mind boggling; left alone the best type of or choicest cuts of pork, or the optimal combination of different Chinese Bah Kut Teh herbs or how long the Bah Kut Teh soup had to simmer (akin to the Western choice of rare, medium or well-done as to steaks). My personal preference (which has remained unchanged since childhood) is for pork spare-ribs, belly-pork, hocks and trotters, pigs tail or baby intestine put into the herbal soup after it had

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been brought to boil gradually over an hour, and the meat then left to simmer slowly for half an hour, (but the soup thickness to remain consomm). I like the herbal concoction to include tungkwei (an aromatic ginseng-type root herb) and hioh-koo (Chinese winter mushrooms - akin to the Japanese shitake), and a lot of garlic bulbs and white pepper corns. I prefer the soup to have more dark honey soy and topped with a generous sprinkling of coriander leaves at the time of serving. The boiled rice should be made from aromatic long grain variety and fried in garlic and shallots beforehand. There should be a dip made of chopped fresh garlic and chilli for the meat. My choice of tea is 1st grade Tikuanyin (Iron Buddha Tea) brewed with steaming hot water; and the tea utensils are to be of seasoned ferrous-red clay. But there is no denying the British resilience despite their daily state of stupor under the unbearable tropical heat and humidity. One thing they relished was to be seen as the supreme of beings and the epitome of imperial glory and authority. There could be no greater glory or magnificence then that of the British Empire. They boasted of how the sun never sets in the British Empire. And what better display or portrayal of British colonial might and authority can you have than grand and stately institutional buildings in the new capital Kuala Lumpur. With untypical humility, the Governor Sir William Maxwells instructions to Sir Frank Swettenham were remarkably low-key, advising that a few effective-looking buildings would give an air of prosperity. And so began two decades of institutional architectural flourish and splendour never ever to be replicated in vision or design in Malaysia. The Civic Heart or Mile was to be on the British west bank, between the Padang and the River Klang, and to stretch for a mile, from the river congruence downstream to the site designated for the Central Railway Station. The first building to be built was the Secretariat Building (now the High Court and Supreme Court Building), and this was to be right in front of the Padang, so that the Colonial Secretary, if he ever visited, or the Governor or the Sultan could inspect guards of honour on parade in their honour on the Padang. It was the conscious decision of the State Engineer, Mr C. E. Spooner, (who spent years in Colonial Service in British India before being transferred to Malaya), that the building was to be of a Moghul design. The stucco Moghul/NeoGothic blend of architectural design of the Public Works Department architects, A.C. Norman and R.A.J. Bidwill, was later emulated in almost all the other institutional buildings in the Civic Heart designed by their successor, PWD architect A.B. Hubback. And so, facing the Padang, on the right of the Secretariat Building, (and across the River Gombak, near where it converges with the River Klang) you have the City Hall and Town Hall, the Survey Department Office and the High Court Building (all now the Sessions and Magistrates Courts Complex), and at the apex of the river congruence, the Jamek Mosque. On the left of the Secretariat Building you have the General Post Office (now the Court of Appeal Building), the PWD Building (now the Native Craft & Textile Museum), and some distance away, the Kuala Lumpur Central Railway Station and the Railway Administration Building. A.B. Hubbard designed all these public buildings just mentioned, and all in the same architectural style of the Secretariat Building. On the other side of the Padang, and facing the Secretariat Building, is the Royal Selangor Club House (then simply known as The Club), designed by A.B. Hubbard again, but in Shakespearian Tudor Manor style. The Club was after all the Colonial social meeting place, a home away from home. It could not be anything but laconically English in feel, looks and Devonshire atmosphere, mock fireplaces and all. Incidentally, The Club was where Hash House Harriers first started. The antics of a few Englishmen, gone troppo, and deciding to go out running before the sun set, before retiring to the bar at The Club, has become an international cross-country running cult. Sadly, today the colonial elegance and grandeur are almost all gone, both in spirit and in kind, and sadly missed by some, if not all. Like them or hate them, you cannot help but admire the

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British, for their stiff upper lips and for maintaining their airs and demeanour, whatever the occasion, rain, hail or shine like wearing suit and tie in the sweltering heat and humidity! Only A.B. Hubbards imposing Moghul monoliths and a few other stately British architectural antecedents, like Batu Road School (my primary school) and the Victoria Institution (my secondary school), both in neo-classical/art dcor design, remain as signature monuments to remind us of this glorious past colonial heritage. Now, Kuala Lumpur is a striving modern, almost decadently ostentatious, heavily polluted metropolis, albeit resplendent with skyscrapers, including the Petronas Towers, currently one of the tallest building in the world, exquisite modern Moslem architectural masterpieces and lavish shopping malls; and the Klang Valley is replete with modern high-tech factories and never-ending suburbia all the way from Kuala Lumpur to Port Klang. But in finding its economic spirit, I query, has Kuala Lumpur also lost its spiritual soul! It is trite to say that the establishment of British institutional presence around the Padang made Kuala Lumpur an institution. Like a magnet it attracted and drew in Chinese and some Indian traders and fortune seekers from all over and outside Malaya, such that by no time, it became almost depleted of the native Malays. Indians were very low in numbers in Colonial Malaya, until the British built the railways and established rubber plantations. The two main Indian suburbs in Kuala Lumpur are Sentul where the Railway Workshops and workers quarters were and Brickfields with its Indian workers quarters, adjacent to the Central Railway Station. Not that there were many Malays that were indigenous to Kuala Lumpur, at the time the Hakka Chinese tin-miners arrived; for they were usually estuarine settlers, and even if they lived up-river they would not live in a swamp, which was what the congruence of the Klang and Gombak rivers was at the time of settlement by the Hakka miners. Worried by this fact, the British in 1900, by gazettal declared a rectangular area of some 100 hectares, about a mile north of the Jamek Mosque, as a Malay Kampung Reserve. It was intended that by this act, the Malays would still be able to reside in the nations capital but still maintain their traditional kampung (village) lifestyle. This Malay preserve settlement is Kampung Baru. Its eastern boundary is the River Klang and its western boundary is the Chow Kit Wet Market, 100 yards behind my maternal grandfathers house on Batu Road. My family home, also on Batu Road, but further south and on the other side of the road is only 15 minutes walking distance away. Thus the huge expanse of Kampung Baru was the eastern reaches of my childhood hunting ground. The northern boundary of Kampung Baru is Princess Road. On the other side of Princess Road is the Kuala Lumpur General Hospital covering a triangular area about 40 hectares, enclosed by Circular Road (to the north) and Pahang Road (to the west) on the other two sides. Circular Road therefore cuts across Pahang Road, and later, further west, it also cuts across Ipoh Road. Ipoh Road, Pahang Road and Princess Road all meet at a roundabout called the Princess Circle and come out of the roundabout as Batu Road, the major northern arterial entry road to the centre of Kuala Lumpur. The Princess Circle (with the Capitol and Federal Cinemas nearby) and the Kuala Lumpur General Hospital (another area with many raintrees) marked the northern reaches of my childhood playground. I was not to know that while I was whiling away in carefree rambling in my childhood playground, lost in innocent unfettered childhood development, that I was going through (but oblivious to the) tumultuous eventful times. For it turned out that Kampung Baru was a hotbed of quiet revolution. In one of the cheap inconspicuous Chinese-owned hotels along Princess Road, Tengku Abdul Rahman (the Father of Merdeka and later the countrys first Prime Minister) was having clandestine meetings with Tun Tan Cheng Lock and others planning their strategies to struggle for Merdeka (Freedom). Funny, when looking back I never associated the name Tengku Ab with the first Prime Minister or had any inkling of the struggle for Merdeka. I

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thought it meant a dish of mushroom duck, for that was what it meant in Cantonese. I say this in the context of me, while one sunny morning, watching the Merdeka or Independence Day military parade of departing British Forces, outside my house along Batu Toad, on the 31 st August 1957, as a 7 year old boy; and heard the Cantonese neighbour, Ah Wong, shout out loud Matikah! Toong Koo Ab! - which in Malay/Cantonese meant - Die! Mushroom Duck! - which was of course rather meaningless. The closest I came to any notion of any fighting with the British, were secretive whispers of distant relatives fighting the British in the jungle. But at that age I was not to know they were communist insurgents or liberation fighters. I thought rather that they were some sort of triad members that operated in the jungle instead of the local neighbourhood. For the British police were often in the neighbourhood rounding up triad members for questioning. The triads were a normal feature of any Chinese community, and as such they were also a part of the local fabric. I was still too young to understand or notice their criminal activities. Nor did I have any fear of them or their presence. After all, almost all the brothel-keepers, hawkers and petty traders in the neighbourhood, and in fact, most of my fathers employees were triad members. The Tengku and his coalition partners (together the Alliance) however, unlike the communist insurgents, sought independence through peaceful petitions and negotiations. So, at least in the Malaysian example, it proves that the pen is mightier than the sword. I do not know enough of Malaysias political history to expertly comment on why the countrys leaders sought independence at the time they did or why the British conceded. I shall only add by way of speculation, certain insights sourced by way of kopitiam snippets of Chinese octogenarians reminiscing of the good old colonial days, with a qualification that old men are prone to some exaggeration in their old age. One root factor was the racist inclination, if not the inherent class-consciousness, (even among themselves), of the British. This attribute deterred or inhibited the Colonial Service from any public mixing with the locals, (except for Malay royalty or Indian and Chinese community leaders, so to maintain the pretext of the justification for colonial presence), for this was considered a social taboo, and any breach would inevitably result in any one of those British colonial officers in breach, being publicly ridiculed for mixing below their station or rank, and result in a possible humiliatory termination of their membership in their local colonial club. To a colonial public servant The Club was a refuge, where they could be with their own kind and kin. I was told that The Club and similar places were usually emblazoned at the entrance with a notice Members only. Natives and animals not permitted unless authorised., or words to that effect. It was later explained that the sign was not meant to be racist or derogatory, (and one can only accept this explanation in good faith), and that it was merely a notice to club members not to bring along their Asian servants or animals unless authorised beforehand. This patronising condescending attitude made the local populace feel subjugated rather than being protected. Another factor was the defeat of the British by the Japanese, when they invaded Malaya. This removed the apparent mantle of superiority of the British as a race. They had simply lost face in Asian parlance. The faade of British protection was found to be useless. However to be fair, to the British, they were unable to fulfil their mandate, when called to task, because they were tied up with defending Mother England from the Nazis. There was the possibility that if the British rejected the peaceful Tengku Abdul Rahman-led Alliance, they may end up collaborating with the communist insurgents, who believed in a violent overthrow. That would pit the whole country against the British. The tin mines, rubber plantations and the inhospitable jungle were not a battleground that the British favoured, as they found out during the Second World War. The British also did not want another India, where the struggle for independence caused hundreds of

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Good Old Colonial Days

thousands, if not millions, of lives, if you were to include inter-sectarian killings. After all, the Federated Malay States were protectorates, not a colony like India was. The loyalty of the population was to the local Sultans not the Queen. Nor was there a leasehold tenure to run its contractual term, like the case with Hong Kong. If your protection is no longer wanted it is simply time to go, preferably quietly than forcibly. Also Tengku Abdul Rahman was prepared to forgo any claim for a repatriation and reparation of all the substantial foreign reserves from tin and rubber maintained for the benefit of the Federated Malay States, which the British had exhausted on the war effort against Germany, (and therefore arguably, not in the defence of the Federated Malay States). In a sense it is good Merdeka was gained without acrimony. It is also generally good that the British left, or otherwise Malaysia would have remained undeveloped and having no economic function but to supply raw materials to the British, and the native population left to rural pursuits as miners, rubber planters or fishermen. On the other hand, in the good old colonial days, when the country was rural and rustic, undeveloped and mainly pristine rainforests, and its capital Kuala Lumpur was a quiet verdant tropical British outpost north of the Equator, there in my childhood I found my hunting ground, under the tropical sun and rain and the raintrees abound, in the kaleidoscope of rivers and forests, vernacular sights and sounds, colonial pomposities and minarets, Malay kampung and Chinese surrounds. Vince Cheok

Bak Kut Teh - Recipe This is a home deluxe recipe, not what you will normally find at the hawkers; who would leave out the expensive Chinese herbs, Chinese mushrooms, and might use lesser quality pork. Also, the hawkers would overdose the Bak Kut Teh with the flavour enhancer MSG (monosodium glutamate) which is not what we wish! This recipe is for a family-sized 4-6 person meal. Ingredients 2-3 kgs of pork bones to make the pork stock base [The Hawkers would use Hogs head]. 1-2 kgs of spareribs, cut into 2-inch pieces. After some experience in cooking pork spareribs you can diversify into other cuts or pork, and even venture out into (canned) abalones and seafood. Basic Items which you get from the Chinese Grocer Dried Chinese Mushrooms [soaked overnight] or use Fresh Shitake about 5 per person 3 sticks Cinnamon Bark 10 clusters Star Anise 5 stems of Liquorice Root 10 Chinese Red Dates 5 Chinese Honey Dates 3 short sticks of Dried Sugar Cane [Chuk Cheh] 6 whole bulbs Garlic, unpeeled, slightly crushed 3 tbsp White Peppercorns

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Good Old Colonial Days

1 tbsp Black Peppercorns 4 tsp Sugar 4 tbsp dark honey soy sauce 4 tbsp light soy sauce Accompaniments 6 shallots, finely sliced and fried golden brown [optional to put on the steamed rice] Some Hot Red Chillies [diced and mixed with light soya sauce as a condiment] Steamed Rice Fresh Coriander Leaves [to sprinkle on the soup] 1 packet of Deep-Fried Tofu Cubes or Squares [those that are airy inside and not solid] i.e. taukee & tauhu pock 1 packet of Deep-Fried Crullers Additional Deluxe Items which you have to get from the Chinese Herbalist Go to the Chinese Herbalist and tell him you want enough of each, to form a soup mix for Bak Kut Teh Chinese Angelica [Tungkwei] Chinese Ginseng [Panax Ginseng] [buy and use the cheap rootlets or root hairs] Polygonatum odoratum [dried leaves and flowers of Vietnamese mint] [Laksa Yip] Yuk Chuk [Rhizome of Solomons Seal] Wolfberries [Goji Berries] [these are now available at the Chinese grocer] Rhizome Ligustici [Chinese Lovage Root] [Hou Bun] Radix Rahmaniae [die wong] [Rehmannia] Radix Codomopsitis [Ju Zhi] [Buckthorn Fruit] Method The first step is to make the pork bone soup stock. Put water to boil in a huge pot. When the water is boiling profusely, throw the pork bones in for about 5 minutes. Then ladle out the pork bones, discard the dirty water, and put the blanched pork bones into another clean pot [the 2nd pot] with cold water, and set the water level about a pointer finger above the bones. The 1st boiling is just an old habit to sanitize the pork bones, because in days gone by they would use all types of discarded organs, hogs head and miscellany. Now for the 2nd step. Put all of the Basic Items all those items from the Chinese Grocer, [but not the Accompaniments or the fresh shitake mushrooms, if you are using them] and the Additional Deluxe Items all those items from the Chinese Herbalist, into the 2nd pot, and bring to a slow boil. Once it starts to boil profusely, turn the heat down to simmer for an hour or two. Add a bit of salt or pepper or sugar, just after an hour to adjust for taste. This 2nd pot is your soup base. Use a pair of chopsticks to pick out the cooked Chinese mushrooms and set them aside. If you have another big pot then filter this 2nd pot into the 3rd pot; and discard all the pork bones and the used-up basic and deluxe items; for they

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Good Old Colonial Days

have served their purpose. It does not matter if you do not have a 3rd pot. Leave the 2nd pot or the 3rd pot, as is applicable, to cool down until you see that the pork lard have congealed or coagulated at the top. You may have to leave it overnight to get to this point. Then carefully spoon out all the pork lard, for use in other cooking like Hokkien Mee. The pork lard forms a protective layer that locks in and seals the aroma and flavour. So you may wish not to skim off this layer until close to the use of the soup base. And even when you skim off the lard, you have to make sure that you still leave a thin film of lard, as you do not want to skim off any liquid; and further, a bit of lard is required for the full flavour. In my childhood, no one skimmed off the lard, as it was essential for full flavour; but those were the days before the fear of high cholesterol and heart attacks. Now, you will have a soup base that will be the foundation of your Bak Kut Teh meal. Now, for the 3rd or final step; i.e. when you are ready to cook and serve the Bak Kut Teh pork spare-ribs. Boil some water and blanch the pork spare-ribs, this is to clean the meat, and set it aside. Set the dinner table and place a portable butane burner or charcoal burner in the middle of the dining table; this is to make for better dining experience. Cook in the kitchen, if you do not have a portable stove. When the diners are all set, keep them busy with ti kwan yin tea. Fill up a crock-pot with the soup base, put in the parboiled spareribs, taukee & tauhu pock and mushrooms, and place it on the burner and put in on medium heat. When the soup starts boiling, the meat will sort off turn white and about to come off the bone, The Bak Kut Teh is then ready to be served into individual bowls and eaten. You sort of help yourself. Sprinkle coriander on the soup and fried shallots on the rice. Dip the crullers in the soup or use scissors to cut portions into the soup. Dip the meat into the chilli/soy sauce before eating. You sort of eat the meat, bite into crullers, eat some mushrooms, eat some taukee & tauhu pock in turns, with the steamed rice and once in a while drink some soup or sip some tea; all at a leisurely pace, as you converse.

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