By JEFF YONG
IT HAS been quite a while since I last stepped foot in Petaling Street or better known as Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown.
So, it was with great expectations when I read in theSun about a new tourist attraction, Kwai Chai Hong (loosely translated as ‘Little Devils’ Lane’ in Cantonese) in that part of town.
I got to re-discover Chinatown which has got more soul now – and a lot cleaner, too – as opposed to when the street was more popularly known for its ‘top-of-the-line’ imitation watches, handbags and apparel, and local Chinese delicacies such as sweetmeats, fresh fruit, dried fruit and an occasional noodle stall or two.
Those things are still available today but KL Chinatown has certainly taken on a more pleasant patina, especially with the relocation of the morbid coffin shops!
Some old double-storey blocks may have been torn down to make way for the nearby Pasar Seni MRT station – that’s development for you.
But what has been transformed is worth a shout, especially that old Post Office building near the police barracks that has metamorphosed into an attractive cafe.
I could still remember the stuffy atmosphere when I used to go there to buy postage stamps to connect to the outside world. Come to think of it, that place could have housed the country’s oldest post office.
The operators of the now cafe have turned it into a comely food and beverage spot worthy of mention. Especially with its airy and restful atmosphere resulting from the lush green ferns and other plants dotting the place against a backdrop of the precinct’s vast concrete jungle.
The wooden chairs there are something that caught my eye, too. They’re reminiscent of the elegant ones my parents bought decades ago.
I still remember my dad telling that they came from a country with a longish name – Czechoslovakia – a country that split peacefully into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993.
Foodwise, I had already “hollered” to my friends via social media texts that I needn’t travel frequently to Penang for my hawker food fix.
The cafe’s prawn noodles were decent enough with full-bodied flavour and spiciness. And so was its hot piping local coffee.
The cafe, which has a pleasant feel of a home in the 1950s, also serves local favourites like nasi lemak, curry chicken, Hainanese noodles, stewed ginger chicken or duck and toasted bread with kaya, to name a few.
The pleasant surroundings and lovely food are certainly a godsend after all the walking around in Chinatown!
There are other cafes and restaurants in the vicinity that have either just sprung up or given a new lease of life because of the thoughtful tourist-related developments.
Like the very pleasant air-conditioned place that sells chocolate products and chocolate-based beverages, and a time-honoured Hainanese kopitiam that’s still pulling in the crowds.
What about Kwai Chai Hong, the now colourful enclave that got me going there in the first place?
Kudos to the people who recreated the ambience of old, especially the glorious era of the 1950s and 60s. It’s now a great place for taking pictures against a backdrop of interesting murals.
No wonder I saw one wiry local actress-wannabe swaggering around to take pictures, perhaps to be sent to Bollywood directors!
The murals truly depict that golden generation.
They included a young couple in a romantic interlude, a middle-aged calligrapher and letter-writer serving then illiterate people who needed to communicate with their relatives back in China, a forlorn-looking child peering enviously through a steel-barred window at other children who got to play freely in the open, a flamboyant courtesan and a gruff-looking landlady still in her hair curlers!
The labour of love and delightful touches like the murals as well as some RM200,000 spent on cleaning up the previously poorly-kept surroundings alone have infused a new spirit into this part of Chinatown.
Going by the scores of people there daily, the Little Devils, real or imagined, would have surely approved of such a noble venture!
Jeff Yong, after making his mark in the twisty maze of mainstream journalism, has finally decided to enjoy what he does best – observing the unusual and recounting the gleeful. He can be contacted at email@example.com.