KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 23 — We are a motley crew gathered at the Gospel Hall KL bus stop. Some of us are in our twenties; some are senior citizens with grandchildren in different states or abroad. Race doesn’t matter; we are all Malaysians and all are excited to join a heritage walk to explore our shared history.
#KLMerdekaWalk is organised by RakanKL, a volunteer community group that conducts educational heritage walks for the public. Merdeka-era sites around Petaling Hill and the old part of KL are covered, as are their unique architecture and stories.
The month of August is chosen for the #KLMerdekaWalk, not only because of the upcoming 56th National Day, but also because this was the month when Stadium Merdeka was completed.
Our first Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman declared Malaya’s independence from the British here. August was also the month when Merdeka Park (now sadly demolished – but more on that later) first opened.
Our guide for the day is RakanKL member Adrian Yeo. Amiable and cheerful, he has all of us pumped up about the walk while ticking off names from a list.
While waiting for a couple more participants, Yeo shares with us what he had learned from being a #KLMerdekaWalk guide: “The more I researched, the more I learned about the stories of the buildings, people, schools and events that took place, and the more I fell in love with the heritage area.”
He adds, “Now it is like going for a date every time I lead a heritage walk. By sharing all the romance that once took place along the route, it feels more urgent and important to protect and stop the destruction of the entire Merdeka Park area.”
We first head to the Chin Woo Stadium, stopping to take a closer look at the BP (Baden-Powell) House across the road, a sterling specimen of Art Deco architecture that is due for redevelopment. One wonders how the Boy Scouts feel about this loss of their heritage.
Up the hill, Yeo reveals that the Chin Woo Stadium belongs to the Selangor Chinese Athletic Association. “I used to come here after school (Methodist Boys’ School across the road) to swim. This was probably the first Olympic-sized swimming pool in town.”
Inside the hall there are still students practising wushu. Martial arts encompassed health of the mind, body and spirit – something leaders in the days of yore appreciated. “Just like the Ip Man movies,” Yeo teases us.
Even though some of us grew up in this area when Yeo tests us about its history, most come up blank. “Did you know that the hill was once a nine-hole golf course, and before that, a cemetery?” Gasps and looks of wonder all around.
Our next stop is a more sombre affair. Posters with images of a missing concrete mushroom are plastered on the hoardings covering the site of the demolished Merdeka Park (fondly known by locals as Tunku Park) on which the multi-billion,
118-storey Menara Warisan project is scheduled to be built.
The parasol-shaped structure on top of the hill used to be a popular meeting spot – a true people’s place. Alas, the message “Have you seen this mushroom?” seems to mock those of us who have not experienced its glory days as a public space.
As we continue walking to Stadium Negara, our next stop, I couldn’t help but wonder, how much of our shared heritage will be left the next time we visit?
#KLMerdekaWalk takes place every weekend in August. Register for free at: http://klmerdekawalk.eventbrite.com/
This story was first published in the print edition of The Malay Mail, August 22, 2013.