Days of colourful bazaar numbered - Views | The Star Online


Days of colourful bazaar numbered

The morning bazaar along Kuala Kangsar Road, just a shoe’s throw away from Komtar (in the background), has offered decades of fun shopping experience for bargain hunters.

The morning bazaar along Kuala Kangsar Road, just a shoe’s throw away from Komtar (in the background), has offered decades of fun shopping experience for bargain hunters.

NEVER MIND Line Clear Nasi Kandar and its public health violations. There is an even larger group of traders facing the power of the city council and they seem to be going head on.

The Kuala Kangsar Road morning market enjoys a four-star rating on Trip Advisor, but the Penang Island City Council (MBPP) wants its 200-odd traders to be gone.

I went to interview the traders when word reached us that the council has begun cracking the whip.

To say the traders are unhappy is an understatement. Their rice bowls are being threatened.

They have been writing posters in red, angry words, criticising MBPP and the state government.

In some of these posters, photographed and flashed on Facebook, they lambast certain government leaders with undisguised resentment.

In all probability, these were the leaders they more than willingly voted in during the 2013 general election. But break their rice bowls and all bets are off.

Many of the hawkers are unlicensed, selling “everything under the sun”, according to a Trip Advisor reviewer.

This narrow road runs almost directly north and south, so the prewar houses block the sun until high noon.

The shade, I feel, must have helped the market evolve and thrive for so many decades.

How long it has existed is a point of debate. Some claim early traders dominated the road since before WWII. Others said they started only in the 1970s.

Fish, cosmetics, chicken, shoes, vegetables, back scratchers, spices, LED torchlights, fruits, toothbrushes – you name it, there is a stall that sells it.

There is some fun in that. Shopping can be a “therapeutic adventure” and de-stressing for many.

There is an unexplainable delight to scanning through haphazardly laid out offerings in search of bargains.

These unhappy traders will soon cease to exist as the eligible ones are assigned space in the new Chowrasta Market complex while those who do not have to move away.

MBPP wants Kuala Kangsar Road to be open to vehicles in the mornings and it wants to draw parking lots on the road.

Eligible traders must move into the RM13mil refurbished complex, which has 289 stalls with 156 on the ground floor, 58 on the first floor and 75 facing Chowrasta Road.

This raised concerns among Penangites debating on social media.

Many believe the market has an old-world charm and are in favour of preserving its excitement and carnival-like atmosphere.

Another side is for the law and order that MBPP has been imposing for many years.

A market on a road creates pollution, traffic jams and unlicensed trading.

The dilemma is: should we listen to town planners or retailers in deciding how to create a good shopping experience for people?

Will engineer-endorsed rows of stalls in a building or a noisy bazaar on the road splashed with colourful hawker umbrellas yield a delightful shopping paradise?

But there is another factor not so widely known.

Since the 1970s, a Hong Kong developer owns many of the prewar properties in the Kuala Kangsar Road area, particularly at the end closer to Komtar.

It is no secret that applications for planning permissions and building plans have been submitted.

Revelations of the ownership surfaced a few months ago when a prewar shop lot near a famous cendol seller in Keng Kwee Street, between Kuala Kangsar Road and Penang Road, was renovated without proper approval.

The area is within the buffer zone of the heritage enclave, and the developer will surely adhere to all the relevant laws.

For this corner of the heritage hub to thrive, however, the council is duty-bound to ensure that the road is usable.

It is the petty traders on that road who are not acting in accordance with the law, and so are they in the way of development?