Chinatown Revisited

So many secrets lie buried within this living museum that even locals don’t have a clue.

Text & Photography by Jan Yong

Being born and bred in Kuala Lumpur, I’d thought I knew a lot about Chinatown as my mother used to take me there for shopping decades ago. I know about Chinatown’s most famous soya bean stall, Kim’s Soya Bean, which has been around for over 50 years or longer, and is now run by the founder’s descendants; as well as many other famous eateries there. And even a salon which has been in operation for over 40 years.

That is until I met tourist guide extraordinaire Jane Rai, who lifted my knowledge of Chinatown to the next level. Not your usual tourist guide, Jane has done extensive research on the history of this storied district in KL, the oldest in KL after the one at the Old City Centre where the Sultan Abdul Samad Building stands.

A 3-hour group walking tour led by Jane made me realise I didn’t even know half the history of the place. And that’s only a slice of the full history of Chinatown. Well, did you know that Petaling Street was once called ‘The Monte Carlo of KL’ due to a proliferation of opium and gambling dens, as well as being a hub of prostitution? But contrary to popular belief, people then used opium sparingly and addiction wasn’t an issue, so there was no stigma attached to it.

INDIAN INFLUENCE

As the oldest Hindu temple in Kuala Lumpur, the Sri Mahamariamman Temple attracts hordes of visitors before the Movement Control Order took place. Currently, it only allows entrance to a limited number of devotees. There is an interesting story as to why a big Hindu temple was built there, right inside Chinatown. Jane’s walk will provide a very captivating take on that.

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