Retracing footsteps

12 09 2018

I enjoy visiting Kuala Lumpur for a variety of reasons. The Malaysian capital, known by its acronym KL to most, provides me with a sense of having returned home home in a way that home – some 200 miles away in Singapore – is no longer able to do.

An old market in KL.

It would seem strange, if not for the history Malaysia and Singapore shares and perhaps, for the frequent visits I have made to KL since I was a child. In the bits of the past, found in the modern of the bustling metropolis, I especially find joy in. The disorder of their shophouses, the clutter along the five-foot-ways, the colours and smells of old street markets and old coffee shops, are that reminder of the Singapore that I grew to love as a child that I would never otherwise be able to ever see again.

Lunch time at Lai Foong.

An old coffee shop that I remember from my childhood visits to the city, the Kedai Kopi Lai Foong, is one such reminder. An institution in a city in which there is no shortage of such old gems, the 1950s coffee shop seems little changed from the 1970s and is quite reminiscent of the busy urban centre coffee shops of Singapore’s lost past.

Mirror, mirror on the mosaic wall.  Mirrors were commonly given as opening gifts at coffee shops in Malaysia. Mosiac or kitchen tiles were commonly used on the walls of coffee shops both in Singapore and Malaysia as they could be easily cleaned and did not require frequent repainting.

Positioned at the corner of Jalan Tun H. S. Lee and Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock, it sits just across Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock from Petaling Street (or Chinatown). That and its proximity to Central Market – now the touristy Pasar Seni, has meant that the coffee shop has long attracted more than its fair share of the local crowd as well as a steady stream of out-of-town visitors. With Tripadvisor now inflating the number of would be visitors, any attempt to seat oneself in the confusion of tables and chairs in the shop’s confines, presents quite a challenge. Any intent to savour some of the coffee shop’s famous fare must now be accompanied by the patience of a saint, some guile, and most of all, a fair bit of luck; all of which I must have had when visited the coffee shop for a bowl of its much-talked about beef noodles back in June.

A scene reminiscent of the coffee shops of old Singapore, with its stalls lining the outer edge of the shop.

A posting I made on Facebook of the bowl of beef noodles invited a comment from a locally based acquaintance, in which a recommendation was made to have the wanton mee at Kedai Makanan Toong Kwoon Chye, another old kopitiam. With its location along Jalan Bukit Bintang also presenting me with an opportunity to reacquaint myself with an area of KL that I had lost touch with, there was enough of a motivation for me to hop on the MRT to Bukit Bintang, just a few days later.

Kedai Makanan Toong Kwoon Chye.

Despite the familiarity I had with the area, I had no impression at all of Toong Kwoon Chye prior to my June visit. I found it quite easily, tucked away in a quiet corner of the street. It might have been the time of the day but even if it was of a similar vintage to Lai Foong, Toong Kwoon Chye couldn’t have been more different. There was absolutely none of Lai Foong’s rush and time, seemed to slow to a standstill, the moment that I stepped into the coffee shop.

Furnished in what may be described as the classical kopitiam style, with marble topped tables and wooden chairs – sans the spittoons of course – Toong Kwoon Chye’s old coffee shop feel was made complete by its counter, even if it was somewhat more modern in looks than one might have expected. Just like any old coffee shop of the good old days, a row of clear-glass jars with red covers stood at one end, half filled with biscuits and other snacks for sale. With so much of a sleepy old out-of-town kopitiam vibe about it, it seemed fitting for me to while the morning away sipping on a cup of coffee and take the time to savour the plate of shredded chicken noodles that I had ordered.

The ebb and flow at Toong Kwoon Chye.

The lazy breakfast put me in the mood for an unhurried stroll, which first took me inside Sungai Wang Plaza. It was one of two interconnected malls from the 1970s I never failed to visit whenever I find myself in the area. The other, which I liked better, was Bukit Bintang Plaza. That has since made way for redevelopment. With little to distract me in Sungai Wang, I decided to continue my stroll outdoors instead and soon found myself retracing footsteps I must have last made some four decades past.

The changing face of Jalan Bukit Bintang – now missing BB Plaza.

The familiarity I had with Bukit Bintang had come out of numerous family holiday stopovers in KL. Holidays abroad in my childhood, with the exception of a visit to Thailand in 1978, invariably meant road trips across the Causeway. KL, a six-hour drive before the North-South Highway made drives a breeze, served as a break-journey point on the road up to more northerly destinations such as Cameron Highlands and Fraser’s Hill (at which the Singapore Government maintained holiday facilities for civil servants). The combination of affordable accommodation, shopping and food in Bukit Bintang, made it a good location to put up in.

Tong Shin Terrace.

One of the things we must have done with sufficient regularity, for me to have remembered them in such vivid detail, were the walks to Chinatown. That took us down Jalan Alor or Tong Shin Terrace, and then west along Jalan Pudu. Both Jalan Alor and Tong Shin Terrace seemed to have retained much of their character, although I am told that Jalan Alor’s well patronised nighttime eateries now cater to quite a different crowd.

I found myself taking a little detour into the area’s back lanes, perhaps in the hope of finding a nasi lemak stall that we had stumbled upon during a June 1979 sojourn in KL. That visit to KL was one to remember for several reasons. It provided me with my first experience as a football spectator outside of Singapore. The match that I caught was also one of huge importance to the Singaporean football fan of the 1970s, the Malaysia Cup final.

The back lanes around Tengkat Tong Shin.

The final, played at KL’s Stadium Merdeka, saw Singapore take on a Selangor team that featured Malaysian footballing legends such as Mokhtar Dahari, R. Arumugam and Santokh Singh. The final that year was significant for the debut of the talented Fandi Ahmad, who was also playing in the competition for the first time. Fandi, then 17, would go on to illuminate the competition in which Malaysian state teams and Singapore featured.

STadium Merdeka today, surrounded by a development that is seeing the rise of Malaysia’s tallest building, a 118-storey tower that will also be the third tallest in the world.

As the match coincided with a trip we were making, we were able to obtain tickets at the stadium when they went on sale. That made it all the more memorable, as it meant that we were seated in a section occupied by the crowd of boisterous home supporters in a match in which controversial 66th minute Selangor goal proved to be a turning point. Mokhtar would add a second to complete a two goal victory for Selangor but all that is another story. What would also make that trip one to be remembered was the joy of discovering nasi lemak at its simplest, served at a makeshift stall.

A courtyard hotel.

There no nasi lemak to be found this time, not at least the manner in which that was served. However, the back lanes yielded several new discoveries. Spruced up and a lot less familiar, they now feature brightly painted wall murals, modern eateries and a very nice looking courtyard hotel.

A back lane eatery.

Back out from the back lanes, it all became familiar once more down Tong Shin Terrace. An old block of flats, which I had always assumed to have been a low-cost housing development, came into view. I therefore was quite surprised to learn with Google’s help that the development, the Blue Boy Mansion, was thought of as a landmark development when it was erected back in 1962.

The Blue Boy Mansion.

Inside the Blue Boy Mansion.

West from from Blue Boy Mansion along Jalan Pudu, just past Tung Shin Hospital was another familiar sight. Now in disguise as the modern looking Pudu Sentral, it was unmistakably Puduraya, for a long while KL’s main bus station. The station now sees just a fraction of the bus services that used to operate out of it. I realised how time has flown by in attempting to recall when I last took a bus out of the station. That was a trip to made in the mid-1990s to Kuala Kubu Bharu to catch another bus up to Fraser’s Hill.

Hitting Pudu Sentral meant that I was closing in on Chinatown. As there was still time to spare, I decided to make my way to Lai Foong  in the hope of satisfying an urge I was having for its char kway teow, only to find the stall closed. The disappointment of that, coupled with the rising heat and humid of the mid-June Klang Valley afternoon, made the lure of modern KL – in the form of an air-conditioned mall – hard to resist. I soon found myself in one to cool off and then have a late lunch, before I headed back to Petaling Jaya where I was putting up.

Char Kway Teow at Lai Foong.


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Dawn of the new Kallang

10 06 2014

A view of the soon to be opened new National Stadium from across the Kallang River at dawn – the dawn perhaps of a new “Kallang Roar”. The stadium, part of the newly redeveloped Singapore Sports Hub, is a long overdue replacement for the much-loved old National Stadium, which came down in 2010. The old stadium, was where the much feared “Kallang Roar” was born in, the collective noise that was heard from the cheers, chants and stamping of feet when as much as 70,000 packed the stadium during the days of the Malaysia Cup.  The stadium, which features a retractable roof, will open its doors on the weekend of 21/22 June when it hosts its first event, the World Cup 10s Rugby.

JeromeLim-3502s

 





Rebirth

17 07 2013

The demolition of the former National Stadium in 2010 and the construction of a new National Stadium within the Singapore Sports Hub does bring to mind an art installation I stumbled upon at Sculpture Square back in 2010 – around the time the demolition work started. The work of local artist Ngim Kum Thong, Deconstruction, Destruction and Destination, examines the inevitability of deconstruction and destruction, the eventuality of which is a destination – much as what we have seen in the dismantling and demolition of an icon and the creation of another to replace it.

The sun sets on the National Staidum. The final stand as the old stadium built in 1973 was being demolished at the end of 2010.

The sun sets on the National Staidum. The final stand as the old stadium built in 1973 was being demolished at the end of 2010.

The former National Stadium, was completed in 1973, playing host to Singapore’s very first mass participation international sports event. Through the years, the 55,000 seat capacity stadium (it did take in crowds as large as 70,000 during its early days hosting Malaysia Cup matches) played host to many sports events including the well supported Malaysia Cup football matches and also National Day parades. It’s demolition in the second half of 2010 was a long delayed one – work on the Singapore Sports Hub was originally meant to have started back in 2008. More recently an announcement was made by the Singapore Sports Council (SSC) on the occasion of  the Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth’s visit to view the installation of the highest truss of the new stadium – approximately 77.5 metres above pitch level, confirms that the project is on track and the stadium will be opened as scheduled in April 2014.

The sun rises on the new. The new National Stadium and the Sports Hub takes shape - seen in April 2013. The Sports Hub is scheduled to be completed in April 2014.

The sun rises on the new. The new National Stadium and the Sports Hub takes shape – seen in April 2013. The Sports Hub is scheduled to be completed in April 2014.





Jalan Besar roars back to life

11 01 2012

Singapore’s finally back – after a 17 year absence, competing against football teams from Malaysia in what is the latest incarnation of the Malaysia Cup – the Malaysian Super Leauge. It was in anticipation of this that crowds gathered at the Jalan Besar Stadium to buy up tickets for the expanded 8000 capacity stadium which last featured as a Malaysia Cup venue amost four decades ago, back in 1973 when the likes of Quah Kim Song and Dollah Kassim were household names. With the crowd behind them, the Lions XII started well, dominating possession and scoring the opening goal through defender Baihakki Khaizan just after the half hour. Unfortunately, slack defending let Kelantan equalise just before half time. The Lions XII failed to raise their game in the second half and were punished when the referre awarded what seemed like a very soft penalty 10 minutes from time which Kelantan converted.

Last night saw Singapore's re-entry into a Malaysian football competition for the first time in 17 years. Strong support for Singapore in its participation in the past saw the much feared Kallang Roar being born. Did the Roar return last night?

The crowd had filled the stadium well before the match started.

Quah Kim Song heading the ball at Jalan Besar Staidum during a Malaysia Cup match in 1973 against Negri Sembilan. That year was the last in whcih Jalan Besar stadium saw the Malaysia Cup competition (source: National Archives of Singapore).

The appearance of some of the footballing greats from Singapore's past teams including Malek Awab from the 1994 Cup winning team lifted the crowd.

For many in Singapore, the game was looked at not just as Singapore’s re-entry into a competition it last participated in in 1994, but also to bring back some of the magic that the intense competition and rivalry that comes about competing against teams across the Causeway brought with it – something that many felt was lacking with the S-League. There was also the expected return of the Roar – associated with the much feared noise that our supporters made in the days of the National Stadium. While admittedly, the game saw a sell out crowd which made as much noise as it could at the start of the game, and when we scored the opener, there were long periods of silence as the game progressed and boos seem to ring a lot louder than cheers of encouragement during the peirods when some noise was heard. Perhaps the much smaller crowd of 7000 to 8000 that the capacity of the stadium permitted compared to 70000 we did see in the early days of the National Stadium when the Kallang Roar was born did have a part to play in this – that we can’t do anything about until the new stadium is built. What on the basis of the initial roar we certainly can do is to raise the level of encouragement and cheers we give our team. With that, and if the team build on the positives and learn from the negatives of the first match, there is no doubt that the Roar (at least partially), and the real magic of the competition, will return.

A section of the crowd.

The starting 11.

The season kicks-off at Jalan Besar to a huge roar.

Singapore dominated play and came close on two occasions as the first half progressed.

Singapore players celebrating the opening goal which Baihakki Khaizan headed in from a free kick on the right.

Rain drops seen in the glare of the floodlights. Part of the game was played in pouring rain.

Despite lots of goal mouth action in the first half Singapore failed to make further progress.





Drinks, keropok, kuaci: Malek Awab on the last time ever we saw the cup

31 07 2011

There is probably some level of excitement over the news of Singapore’s re-entry into the Malaysia Cup competition amongst the older football fans who have since 1994, been starved of an annual football tournament that brought a nation together. It was in supporting the Singapore team bringing people from all walks of life, as many as 70,000 of them, on the terraces of the National Stadium and many more who in the comfort and safety of their homes, felt one with those in the crowd. It was in lending support to what had effectively been the National team, and in the experience of the numerous lows and the few highs when the pinnacle was reached, participating singing and chanting both on the stands and at home, that fans wholeheartedly stood as one, as Singaporeans and football fans first.

Malek Awab today. Malek was a key member of the 1994 team that won the Malaysia Cup.

The 1994 season which was to turn out to be the final season for Singapore in the Malaysia Cup, was one during which the more highs than lows were experienced. It was a season that had commenced with the uncertainty of the gaping hole left in the coaching department by the departure of Ken Worden as a coach just a week before the tournament had started, had as the days progressed, turned out well, the pre-tournament efforts of Worden proving pivotal as the fitness levels of the members of the squad improved by Worden carried the Lions through winning the league and finding themselves pitted against their archrivals and bogey team Selangor in the semi-finals. The semi-finals played on a home and away format saw Singapore overcoming Selangor and knocking on the door of a cup that had in the previous 13 years proved to be an elusive target.

The National Stadium built in 1973, went on to be the home of the famous Kallang Road which spurred players such as Malek Awab and Fandi Ahmad on.

For a whole generation of players, it was an opportunity to end the drought, twice in the 1990s having lost to Kedah at the old Merdeka Stadium. This time around, a new arena beckoned – the 81,000 seat Shah Alam Stadium. It was one that the Lions had done well enough in to see off the threat posed by Selangor whose home was the Shah Alam Stadium. Many in the team had not tasted success, the last coming in 1980 when the skipper of the 1994 team, Fandi Ahmad scored the winning goal. Amongst those who had not won with the Singapore team was a certain Malek Awab, a diminutive midfielder who was once told he was too small to play the game competitively. Malek had since his introduction to the competitive game as a fifteen year old through the youth ranks of Farrer Park United, grown in stature on the pitch and had become one of the more recognisable players both on and off the pitch, plying his trade in Kuala Lumpur, before coming back to play for the Singapore Malaysia Cup team in 1994. I had an opportunity to interview Malek, who I was a big fan of as a Memory Ambassador for the National Library Board as part of the Singapore Memory Project.

Fandi Ahmad who scored the winning goal the last time Singapore had won the cup in 1980, skippered the Singapore side in the 1994 finals.

Malek had come a long way since his early encounters with the game which included seeking permission to leave early from school on match days to vend “drinks, keropok, kuaci” on match days, longing to be that guy on the pitch his customers were yelling their support for. He had, in his first Malaysia Cup season in 1981, the experience of reaching the final only to lose at the final hurdle, in a game he could not influence having spent the 90 minutes on the bench. It was for him, a chance to win the cup in Singapore’s colours, having previously won it with Kuala Lumpur.

The terraces which were often packed with up to 70,000 fanatical spectators during Malaysia Cup matches in the 1970s and where Malek Awab started his 'career' at the stadium selling drinks and snacks.

There was an air of quiet confidence within the team, having played well in the lead-up to the final despite the hiccups of seeing Michael Vana hauled up to answer questions on possible match fixing and promptly jumping bail and strongman in defence Jang Jung being suspended. The team travelled up to Shah Alam the day before staying at a hotel close to the stadium, and arrived at the stadium to a sea of red – three quarters of the stadium had been filled with Singapore supporters, some 50,000 of them in a crowd of 81,000 in the stadium. There was none of the antics of supporters on some of the travels around the Malaysian states – Malek recounted one incident in Kuching, Sarawak when spectators let a gunny sackful of cats (kuching being Malay for cats) during the warm-up. Malek knew that he and the team just had to do it for all those supporters who had made the journey to Shah Alam and had placed faith in the team to deliver.

Meeting a hero of 1994.

The game itself was all a blur for Malek – he can’t remember much of what happened on the field. What he could recall was how tense the game was, despite Singapore scoring the first goal through Abbas Saad early enough in the first half. The second half opened with Pahang pressing for a goal, hitting the underside of the bar before Singapore scored a second 8 minutes into the half through an on fire Abbas in a counter attack. The team welcomed that goal and certainly the many supporters in the stands and those who like me, watched it live on the television welcomed it to. With Pahang very much focused on trying to get a quick goal, spaces were left at the back for Abbas and Fandi to exploit which resulted in Abbas completing his hat-trick just 12 minutes later and with a quick fourth goal, all that was left was to hold out against a visibly deflated Pahang side. When the final whistle did come, the magnitude of the occasion finally got to Malek. He broke down, thinking to himself that he had finally in the twilight of his career, won the cup in the colours of the team of his home country – it was the first time he had done it, and was possibility the last opportunity for him to have won it. Having his hand on the Malaysia Cup and holding it high for all to see, was a feeling for Malek that he can’t describe, but one that meant a lot to him and to the thousands of proud Singapore fans in the stadium that night and watching back in Singapore on the television.





The last stand …

15 02 2011

After dominating the Kallang skyline for some 37 years, and some five months after heavy equipment was moved in and four months after demolition work started, we have seen the last of the Grand Old Lady. As of today, all that is left is a pile of twisted steel and broken concrete which supported as many as 70,000 in the days when the Kallang Roar had been in its infancy. We can now look forward to what promises to a new and exciting Sports Hub which will include new facilities such as a new 55,000 capacity National Stadium with a retractable roof, a 6,000 capacity indoor Aquatic Centre, a 3,000 capacity multi-purpose arena, and a Water Sports Centre, as well as integrate the existing Kallang Indoor Stadium into the complex.

The sun sets on the former National Stadium (8 Feb 2011).

The final trio (10 Feb 2011).

Blocks 1, 2, and 3: the last to go ...

A heap of twisted steel and broken concrete is all that is left (15 Feb 2011).

A crane stands triumphantly over the defeated mess of steel and concrete.

Two new icons of Singapore waiting to be joined by another.

The phoenix that will rise out of the ashes - the Sports Hub is scheduled to be completed in April 2014.





Thanks for the geleks, Dollah …

14 10 2010

R.I.P. Dollah Kassim (13 March 1949 to 14 Oct 2010)

Dollah in his prime and lifting the Malaysia Cup in 1977 (source: ourstory.asia1.com.sg).

It is sad indeed, coming just as we are witnessing a national sporting icon, in the form of the National Stadium, being torn down, to hear on the radio, that another icon, Dollah Kassim, who lighted the Singapore football scene for 11 years as a striker in the national team with his feints and excellent dribbling skills, has passed on this morning. Dollah or “Gelek-King” as he was popularly referred to, had burst to the national scene back in the late 1960s and had his best years during the best years of the National Stadium and the Kallang Roar – in the late 1970s, helping Singapore lift the Malaysia Cup in 1977, retiring from the Malaysia Cup and International scene in 1979. He collapsed following a match between ex-internationals from Singapore and across the Causeway due to a heart attack last October. Thanks for the memories Dollah … and for the wonderful geleks … you were an inspiration to many like me in Singapore growing up on the diet of the Malaysia Cup in the 1970s.