Beginning today, StarMetro takes you on a walkabout to some of Kuala Lumpur and Malacca’s historically-rich roads. Learn about the history and the people connected with these roads through this fortnightly feature.
A TABLE, a tree that offered shade, a pole to pull a canopy — that was all Mazri Mohd Isa needed to kickstart his nasi lemak stall in Jalan Chow Kit some 30 years ago.
“The road was not tarred and there were poultry running around. From that one table, our stall grew to its current size and more hawkers joined us,” said the 55-year-old.
The area famous for both good and bad reasons was named after Penang-born tycoon and public official Loke Chow Kit, who got involved in many business undertakings ranging from revenue farming to tin-mining, shipping and gambling.
He was once the general manager of the Kuala Lumpur-Klang railway concession, the involving in the Selangor, Pahang and Negri Sembilan farms. He also owned opium and gambling dens.
The firm he set up with his brother eventually grew into one of the biggest in Kuala Lumpur.
“Apa-apa pun ada (It has everything)” was how Mazri described Chow Kit.
“It was regarded as the city centre in the 1980s; when you were in Chow Kit you would bump into people from various states.
“People came here to do business, others came here to buy all the things they needed,” he said.
“Of course, Chow Kit was always seen as a place of vices where drug pushers and prostitutes gathered but that has changed a lot now, probably because they have grown old or they cannot make money here anymore,” he added.
Serious efforts have been in place in the past few years to clean the place up and were yielding positive results.
The dwindling group of drug addicts and transvestites retreat to the back lanes; the main streets of Chow Kit remain colourful especially with the good mix of races and nationalities trading and living here.
There are wet, dry and night markets selling a myriad of goods in the area once called Mini Jakarta; there are also shops that have stood the test of time selling watches, gold and medicine while “bundle” (second-hand clothing) and apparel wholesale continue to please the crowd.
Kuala Lumpur City Hall’s RM200mil upgrade of the Raja Bot market is a dose of modernity anticipated by the hundreds of traders.
Entering the area, one will find that Jalan Chow Kit is much smaller and quieter than the adjacent Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman.
In fact, Jalan Chow Kit had “shrunk” as part of it became Jalan Putra when Putra World Trade Centre was built in the mid 1980s.
Some locals said the former was used to refer to the entire area because its food centre was very popular.
“P. Ramlee played mahjong with his friends here and Sudirman loved hanging out here.
“Ramly Burger also originated from Chow Kit (Datuk Ramly Mokni’s burger stall was in Jalan Haji Hussein off Jalan Chow Kit),” said Mazri, who was still proud that he was among the 100,000-strong audience of the Sudirman concert in Chow Kit in 1986.
He enthused that he was also close to the owner of the traditional Malay house across the street — house No: 41 that was built in 1926 but is now vacant when the third-generation heir Normah Majawali moved to Putrajaya with her children.
Normah is believed to be the descendant of Sunta Puasa, one of the wealthiest tin mining bosses in Kuala Lumpur who was a close associate to Kuala Lumpur Kapitan Yap Ah Loy. According to records, Sunta Puasa was the head of the Mandahiling community originating from the elites in Sumatera, Indonesia who migrated to Malaya in droves in the 19th century.
Chow Kit was among the areas the Mandahiling community first settled.
The wooden house No:41 tucked in between multi-storey shop lots is a precious display of the Mandahiling and Perak architectural features.
“Sadly, thieves sneaked into the house to steal the antiques.
“The building needs to be protected and preserved.
“Anyway, you see the jambu (rose apple) tree in front of the house?
“It has never stopped bearing fruits all these years!” Mazri said.
Fruit seller Low Teong Hock, 60, said Chow Kit rose to its zenith in the 1980s when people from all over Kuala Lumpur shopped at the Hankyu Jaya and Batu Road supermarkets (now Plaza TAR and Neohotel respectively) before other malls were built.
He added that two cinemas namely Federal and Jing Wah also made Chow Kit a hot hangout.
“Back then, I would not have the time to talk to you like this, business was so good that I had to work from 9am to 9pm,” he said.
Music store proprietor Sam Kim Seng, 46, and his relatives were among those lured by Chow Kit’s business prospects 16 years ago.
He said business had dropped following demographic changes but the traffic was congested as ever.
“They called Chow Kit the red light district but I think that’s more of a preconceived impression.
“My children grew up here but they are fine, it is all psychological.
“Even though my business is not as good as before but I am happy that Chow Kit is still progressing with its old charm retained.
“Petty crimes have also been reduced, so people should not feel intimidated coming to Chow Kit anymore,” he added.