Updated: Feb 16
Disclaimer: The persons mentioned (apart from the writer’s friends) are entirely fictitious but definitely not a hyperbole of reality. Proceed with a grain of salt.
Something about the old-school charm in downtown Malaysian cities always gets me.
I broke free from my usual stay-in Saturday routine and took the train to downtown Kuala Lumpur with a couple of friends for a 9 am (which eventually became 11 am) breakfast. Lugging around my 5-year-old Canon DSLR, I told them I’m going to take photos of “sus” locations. They looked at me confused for a fleeting moment but eventually let me be. It’s been a while since I last properly observed the vicinity. Amidst the political debauchery, I’m glad that I still have something to lean on despite feeling an occasional sense of estrangement in the country I call home.
Same old, same old. Crowds are slowly recovering to pre-Covid numbers, the LRT is still packed during off-peak hours, and the whiff of water pollution lingers in the air.
The Central Market area was donned in artwork and murals, some of them with a touch of rebellion and the others a vomit of feelings.
Caption: Anti-government messages stenciled across the back wall of the Kuala Lumpur Traffic Police Station.
Translation: A crash course on what’s wrong in the country. Poet: Unknown
“Ulamak tebang balak (Ulamas cutting down trees)
Sultan jual hutan (Sultans selling forests)
Polis macam kimak (Police are motherf***ers)
Pemimpin macam setan (Leaders just like Satan)”
“Sistem ini memang fucked up (This system is fucked up)
Tapi itu bukan alasan untuk kita ikut korup (But this is not a reason for us to corrupt)”
“Jalurmu takkan gemilang (Your stripes will never be glorious)
Selagi ketuanan bangsa yang kau julang (As long as you uphold race supremacy)”
“Aku ini penyajak (I am a poet)
Bukan seniman yang boleh kau pajak (Not an artist for you to pawn)
Walau siapa pun pemerintah yang kau sorak (No matter which leader you support)
Aku tetap pemberontak!!! (I will continue to rebel)”
Caption: A woman drying wet laundry beside the River of Life.
Caption: People resting under the shade. Under the bridge is a prime parking spot for Malaysian drivers.
Caption: “River of Life, but what lives are we living?”
Caption: Government agents.
Looking past the hipster cafes and fast food franchises lies the very core of Kuala Lumpur: it’s people.
Caption: “#we are as you are”
A mixing pot of cultures and classes, really. Be it the Orang Asli high school graduate who came here from 3000 kilometres away in search of better opportunities, the unwed old man who abandoned worldly desires to be a wanderer, the migrant worker who misses his family in another continent, or the privileged activist who is sick of the country’s state of things, yet chooses to stay because it is home.
(In reference to recent protests)
Yang berseragam melintang tutup jalan (Those uniformed hinder the road)
Memukul menembak atas arahan (Hitting and shooting on orders)
Kau bercakap soal keamanan? (You’re talking about public safety?)
Yang duduk di rumah hanya berserah (Those at home only comply)
Percaya berita acuan pemerintah (Believing news propaganda)
Kau bercakap soal maruah? (You’re talking about dignity?)
Semalam ada yang mau menjadi tuhan (Yesternight there were those who are playing God)
Hari ini ada yang marah mau dibebaskan (Today the wrathful wants to be free)
“The dark makes everything seem better and prettier than it actually is; even the heavily polluted river appears silky under the moonlight,” an excerpt from myself 6 years ago.
Caption: The smell of roasted chestnuts, the charred scent of fried noodles, and polluted water.
With the current political landscape, it’s hard to keep sight of what makes Malaysia Malaysia.
Culture so beautiful, yet not appreciated by its people.
Blessed with lush greenery, yet we keep building tasteless attractions.
It was so easy. We had it so easy.
Easy does it. It festered.
But nothing is beyond change.
It only manifests itself in another form.