How well does one know their own city?
That was the question we asked ourselves as we joined the group gathered at the Kuala Lumpur City Gallery at 9am on a Saturday morning. Having lived in KL for the better part of my life, I can safely say that I know the suburb that I live in pretty well… but out of that small area, I am terribly lost – Hani less so as she was more adventurous growing up.
I had found out about the Merdeka Square Heritage Walk while browsing through a news portal. Some further hunting around the web and 2 phone calls later, I found out that the local town council (DBKL) actually organises 3 different free walks around KL! – Merdeka Square, Brickfields and Kampung Baru. I wish that the Walk was displayed more prominently on the DBKL website – I had to hunt around a bit to find out exactly what time the Walk would start.
A little dubious about how the Walk would be conducted (Note: Malaysians have a healthy level of skepticism about their country), we decided to try it out.
The Merdeka Square Heritage Walk
We were greeted by our guide, Jane with a cheerful ‘Good Morning!’. Somehow through the blazing heat of that morning, she managed to keep up her cheerful demeanour.
We started off at the KL City Gallery, which was formerly the British Government’s Printing Office. The highlight of this part of the tour was the Kuala Lumpur City Model – a ‘miniature’ (if you can call 40ft by 50ft miniature!) model which showcases the developments of Kuala Lumpur.
Stepping out into the bright morning sunshine, we made our way to the 95-metre flagpole and the Victoria Fountain (can you imagine horses used to drink from this?) which had been brought over from England and assembled in KL in 1904.
The next stop was the National Textile Museum (formerly the Federated Malay States Railway Station and the Selangor Works Department).
Onwards to Lebuh Pasar Besar Bridge which crosses the Klang River. From this vantage point, one can see Masjid Jamek, one of the oldest mosques in KL, which is located at the confluence of the Klang and Gombak River. The prominent Chinese kapitan, Yap Ah Loy (1837 – 1885) settled around this area (previously known as Market Square) as it was where the boats docked along the river. This was where he reigned supreme over the Chinese community with his fiery temper and conducted his many businesses (legal and not so legal). It is now hard to imagine this area being a hive of bustling activity as the market was relocated to a site near the current Central Market after the death of Yap Ah Loy.
A quick walk along the river and we were at the Sultan Abdul Samad building. The clock tower is impressive and has not missed a chime since it was installed in 1896. Looking across Merdeka Square and looking up into the distance, we see the police headquarters, built on the hill – better for the police to view the populace!
The Walk then took us past the former High Court building and the Old City Hall (now the City Theatre). After a welcome break in the air-conditioned City Theatre, and some anecdotes from Jane about the expatriates who had lived in KL, we headed on to the Cathedral of St Mary. The cathedral houses a pipe organ built in 1895 by Henry Willis which is currently undergoing renovation by the same firm. Along the way, Jane manages to cajole a few more tourists who were wandering around the Merdeka Square to join the Walk.
The last stop of the Walk was the Royal Selangor Club – a social club for the expatriate community. Men used to sit at the Long Bar (it is still designated a men only area – hmmmph!), watch the cricket matches played on the greens of Merdeka Square, sipping nice cold gin and tonics on hot sweltering days. I was thankful to get a cool drink of water in my hand as I had forgotten to bring a bottle of water along for the walk and was parched by the end of it.
While we were filling out the review forms for the Walk, Hani and I started talking to a fellow Walk-joiner – a man from Holland who had unfortunately got his car towed by DBKL. After searching online and sms-ing 013 666 3255 (DBKL’s hotline number for towed vehicles), we located his car. We then offered him a lift to the compound lot to pick up his car. We ended the Walk by offering someone a little of the Malaysian hospitality our country is known for… but seriously, if something like this happens to me, I hope that some kind Samaritan would do the same.
All in all, we were pleasantly surprised by the professionalism and the amount of information imparted through the Walk. This was done in a very lively manner by our guide, Jane. Overall, kudos to DBKL for organising this heritage walk.
When: 9.00 am on every Saturday, Monday and Wednesday for a duration of 2.5 hours
Who: Organised by the Dewan Bandaraya Kuala Lumpur (DBKL)
How much: Free!