Monday, April 26, 2010

Book: Insider's Kuala Lumpur by Lam Seng Fatt.

Insider’s Kuala Lumpur is one of the most enlightening, engaging and seemingly honest book I’ve ever read about the city’s history and its coming of state. Lam Seng Fatt, a veteran in journalism has managed to put together facts, which I’m sure, painstakingly to uncover our beloved capital’s both glorious and hideous past. Reading the book was a strange play of emotions. While leafing through the pages, I was proud, heartbroken, amused and frustrated at the same time.

I’ve learned about the significance of Yap Ah Loy in the founding of KL, of which, without him there will probably be no us today. I’m sorry, if the government decides to take offence since it was a Chinese who took the trouble to build the city state from its old tin mining days. I just don’t want this to end up like another case of Hang Tuah’s posthumous disputed identity. So what if he is Chinese!? Yea, Yap Ah Loy is Chinese. As in CHINA Chinese. I am Malaysian, WE are Malaysian. Admit it, thank China instead and move on! It doesn’t matter which race started the development. The more pressing issue is where do we go from here as One.

I’ve learned so much more about the coming and unfortunate going of Bukit Bintang Girls School, as well as the still-in-existence Victoria Institution. I’ve got many friends who graduated from those schools, but I bet they never knew the inside outs of their school. Did you know that VI was the first school to introduce the prefect system? First founding of Scouts in Selangor? First to introduce science classes? And the murderous drama involving the acting headmaster’s wife? Time to pick up this book.

I was amused by how Malaysians always make fun of ‘having curry rice’ in Malaysian prisons. Honestly, till today I thought that was the staple delicacy served behind bars. This misconstrued statement came from the fact that the early wardens had names of ‘Fish’, ‘Curry’ and ‘Rice’. How canny is that! So there. If ever a Malaysian tells you they serve fish curry and rice behind bars, you know better.

I’ve understood that cronyism isn’t a modern governmental habit. They probably picked up from their governing ancestor, Frank Swettenham who conveniently had relatives, close and far, to be part of his dodgy ‘extended’ investment programs while developing the city. So, now we know where the root of the problem is. Then maybe, just maybe, the certain individuals governing this country, didn’t think there was anything wrong with engaging relatives when it comes to executing certain projects. Because it was OKAY in the late 1800s, thanks to Mr. Brit.

I’m awed by Tunku Abdul Rahman’s (Malaysia’s first and highly revered Prime Minister) tenacity when it came to building the National Monument to celebrate the country’s fallen heroes whose relentless fight against communism, provided peace to the rakyat. There wasn’t any ‘national’ budget allocated for even such respected intention, instead he had to (read this) raise funds on his own. Can you believe that!? Talent contests, dance shows, you name it, they donated it. All funds collected were used to build the monument to commemorate those who fell but remembered eternally. Today? What do we have? No proof, but I’ve a knack that sometimes the budget can be misused, or worse, wasted.

I found out that we do have a local heroic criminal who thought he was Robin Hood reincarnated named Botak Chin. He was a hardcore local gangster who have had collected all the accolades to qualify him as the local mafia. I just can’t believe that he mandated a standard of code for his members – liquor OK, cigarettes OK. But no drugs (?!). Killing OK, robbing OK. But not of the poor. Instead, a percentage of his loot was actually ‘donated’ to families who were in dire need of monetary support. When he finally got caught and sentenced to death, he even offered his eyes and kidney as donation to the needy. Honestly, I’ve got strong mixed feelings towards this dude. He’s really as the book says, ‘a misguided genius’.

I pined in heartache to discover so many of our wonderful heritage buildings who once witnessed the glorious colonial days of parties and soirees, are no longer here and some, even unrecognizable. I wish someone would do something to restore these historic landmarks that should not be conveniently discarded simply because it’s not according to our Malay, Chinese and Indian heritage. Whatever that made us today, if it was part of our history, it was part of us. The Portugese, the British, the Arabs, the Japanese, the communists – they are all fragments which we should preserve to remind us just how far we have come. Not simply discounted and left to rot. Someone please… do something. Sigh.

What I just shared is only a minute portion of the wonders uncovered by Lam Seng Fatt. Really, it’s time for you to get this book if you consider yourself to be a decent Klang Valley-ite. I totally understand if you know only half of Malaysian history because you either dozed off in class or skipped it altogether. I was one of you. But this one, I promise you is one of the most refreshing perspectives of things – old and new.

If you can’t afford RM52.80, you can borrow it from me here.

Two cents conversation between Sparks and Lam:

Sparks: What made you decide to author this book and particularly about KL?
Lam: I was approached by the publisher to do the book on KL. They were coming out with a series. I think they managed to get the books on Perak and Malacca done too.

S: Who are your readers and what do you intend them to make of this?
L: The publisher intended it for tourists and locals who want to know more about KL.

S: How long did it take you to research, write and finally publish this book?
L: Researching and writing took about a year.

S: Are you happy with the outcome?
L: Yes, I'm happy.

S: How would you want this book to impact Malaysians?
L: I would like the book to inspire more Malaysians to write about their own country. If u go to the bookshops, you will see lots of books on Malaysia written by foreigners. That's a shame.

S: Have you gotten any support from anyone in producing and promoting this book?
L: Support came in the form of book reviews in the newspapers. Someone posted it in I was asked to give a talk at MPH in Megamall once, but few people attended.

S: If you have one wish with regards to this book, what would it be?
L: Well, I would wish that it would sell more copies.... (okay, on second thought, maybe you guys should really buy the book instead :P)

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