My first home in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, which we lived in when I was 6 through 9 – along with my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins – was demolished long ago. Although my mom’s generation had grown up there, the transformation of KL since the 50s made the land far more useful even as a downtown parking lot. Ironically, decades after it’s destruction, the land remained undeveloped – a fact we regularly observed while eating at the tea shop across the street from our original home. I’ve eaten more meals in this tea shop than in any other restaurant, bar none:
Indeed, we just had some roti in that shop this morning – and it’s basically open around the clock, so whether it’s lunch at 1pm or a late night snack at 1am, you’re covered. Even if you’re feeling for something like Maggie Goreng – basically, fried instant noodles – that you probably won’t find outside Malaysia:
Epitomizing the “cultural melting pot” label Malaysia sometimes gets, this mostly-Indian teashop, frequented largely by local Malays, shared their space with a Chinese vendor who has known us since childhood, and that we know only as “Fruit Juice Lady” – and who still refers to me as “Boy”. Sadly, I learned today that she’s closed up shop after a few decades to take care of her diabetic father.
The reason we ate here so frequently is that after our first home, we moved just around the corner – to a low-rise “flat” that was home from age 9 through 12 and whenever I visited over the ~25 years since I left Malaysia. Each visit, it was stunning to see the modern high rises popping up all around us, starting with the Petronas Twin Towers, and continuing at an unrelenting pace. From any angle, our 5-story flat was surrounded by towering skyscrapers:
Our building (“Flat Jalan P Ramlee”) is completely obscured in Google Maps satellite imagery – even though that imagery is a few years old and is missing a new skyscraper on the other side of the street from us:
If you came across our old building, you’d definitely think – rightfully – that it was a relic of the past. Employees at the office on the first floor punched in and out daily on this:
The back entrance was indeed a little dilapidated:
If you’ve never lived in Asia, you might be forgiven for assuming that our front door looked like a prison:
It’d be valid to wonder why a bulldozer hadn’t wiped out our anachronistic home – and indeed, after that question being asked any number of times, our home’s time was finally up. I took these photos a year ago, in December 2013; the building was demolished a few months ago. Today, I returned for the first time to see an empty lot, surrounded by metal panels, where our home used to be. This fruit tree, which I’d planted from a seed as a child – and which even the subsequent creation of some parking spaces had spared – was cleared away along with everything else:
I suppose the price of progress is that sometimes, it involves the demolition and paving over of your childhood memories. But that’s why I carry my camera, and keep this blog! Now, my mom lives out in the suburbs; the twin towers no longer cast a shadow over us, but they’re still visible from here, on a clear night like tonight:
The skyline may not look any different with our tiny little home missing, but it all depends on your vantage point.