THE character of Batu Arang town, 50km away from Kuala Lumpur, still remains very much the same as it was several decades ago despite rapid development taking place in the city and its surrounding areas.
The red-brick shoplots and wooden houses are still standing steadily.
These structures, including a Post Office, can be seen near the famous roundabout (Bulatan Utama) that was built in the 1920s.
Even the school building of Chap Kuan Chinese School, built in 1949 is still standing though its paint is cracked and dried.
One can reminisce the colonial era by visiting the famous “White House” built in the 1930s. It was used as the British Army officers’s mess.
Even the Batu Arang Police station, which was once the Malayan Colliers Limited management office, still remains.
Batu Arang, as history reminds us, was once a bustling town known for its coal mining activities. It exported coal worldwide rivalling Newcastle in Australia, which is currently the largets exporter of coal in the world. Even to this very day, coal is still found in Batu Arang but there are no mining activities taking place.
Apart from coal, Batu Arang was also known for brick manufacturing. Today, it no longer supplies coal and holds no significant role.
During the height of the coal mining activities, the miners were working three shifts a day — 24 hours. At that time it was estimated that there were 5,000 miners.
The nostalgic effect still lingers on the mind of the writer remembering the old days when most human traffice seen was miners going to work while in the opposite direction miners returned from their shift duties.
Although the mines stopped operations in 1960, the remnants of old historical buildings can be seen throughout the town.
Even more astonishing is the businesses and people who are here going about doing their daily chores.
Today, the old ventilation tunnels offer a glimpse of the old abandoned mines, but few are brave enough to venture into the darkness.
Picturesque lakes dot the town, but these were huge open cast mines which have filled with water over the years. Batu Arang is styill an idyllic town. People still move about on bicycles. Bicycle shops, coffeeshops, fruit stalls, market, food stalls and grocery shops are still the main features of the town.
The customers in the Chinese coffeeshops are mainly senior citizens opting to have coffee, toast or Chinese tea — spending long hours chatting about the past and present.
The close relationship of the people in Batu Arang is also very pleasing. Most people living there seems to know each other.
The people even raise their hands — a sign to acknowledge friendship — as they cross path on bicycles, motorbikes or cars.
Some of the coal miners who used to work at the coal mine have passed on, leaving the second and third generation to carry on businesses and other activities taking place there.
There are some who work on their land doing farming activities while others continue the business tradition passed on from their ancestors.
With a mixed population comprising mainly Chinese, Indians and Malays living together in harmony, Batu Arang can easily pass off as a good example of the 1Malaysia concept.
The slow pace of things here shows that the people, culture and history of this town should be appreciated and passed on to generations to come.
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