Past And Present

By Julian Mokhtar

The thought just occurred to me that I’m older than my country. By that I mean Malaysia, not Malaya. Well, technically my country would be Malaya because I was born there before it became West or Peninsular Malaysia almost exactly four years and one month later, but I grew up in Malaysia. As I write this, there are two national milestones just around the corner, Merdeka Day and Malaysia Day, so I thought of writing about how things have changed over the years. A bit of history through my eyes, if you like. There’s not much I remember before the age of five or so when we settled down in KL. I was unaware that Malaysia had been formed, nor of the Konfrontasi that followed. My first awareness of events outside of home and primary school were the Emergency, which was the background to my growing years, and the Vietnam war. KL has changed tremendously, of course. Thinking about it now, I see how several times over the years the changes have crept up on me. There would be small changes here and there, a department store closing down, a new building going up. Gradual enough to not take much note of, but one day I realized how much it had changed. There were a lot of bungalows, mansions even, along Jalan Ampang. Many were abandoned and every couple of years one would be demolished and a new building put up, and one day I’d be looking for an old landmark and find a whole stretch gone. My family used to live in the area between the Concorde Hotel and the Crowne Plaza Hotel. We would walk to the public swimming pool on Weld Road (now Jalan Raja Chulan), and on the way, would pass a grove of rambutan trees. At the time the Concorde was called Hotel Merlin, the Crowne Plaza (formerly the KL Hilton) hadn’t been built yet. It still feels odd, perhaps a little sad, to pass through there now, look at some tower block and think “that’s where our house was". On the other hand I’ve seen some parts of town with fine old buildings fall into disrepair and abandonment and then become reinvigorated with new businesses moving in and fixing up the buildings. Some maintain the original interiors which are always nice to see. But, a lot of the old buildings I knew in the 1970s are gone. Of course, I’ve watched other towns change as well. Melaka is almost unrecognizable compared to the somewhat sleepy town it was in the early 1970s. Fraser’s Hill and Cameron Highlands aren’t quiet getaway places anymore. Besides the physical changes, there are also changes in our society. I remember in the late 1960s and early 1970s, people seemed generally friendlier, more open and dare I say, broadminded. All races would hang out together, have a drink or some food, each would order according to what they can or can’t eat or drink, but all would dine together. Around the mid 1970s, there started to be more polarisation and people started withdrawing to themselves little by little. That’s a shame and I think we should all do something about it. It’s one thing I miss about that era of my life. Take a little while and think about places in your town that you know from your growing years. If you haven’t been there for some time, go and take a look and see what’s happened to them. Well, times change and the world moves on. That goes for us as well. We can get stuck by trying to hold on to things past, or we can move on as well and find something new.