Falling in love is always a surprise, right? This, I experienced recently. Feeling extremely restless after the Movement Control Order (MCO) period, unplanned, I decided to join a walking tour to learn and uncover hidden nuggets of Kuala Lumpur.
Many a time we have whizzed by without a glance at the grand, brick-faced Sultan Abdul Samad building with its imposing clock tower that softly chimes on the hour. Truth be told, I had never given much thought on how the city I grew in and lived, flourished. That July morning, a bunch of local tourists met at Cosmo Hotel Kuala Lumpur, all happy to be out after the lockdown. After having our coffee and biscuits, and an exchange of pleasantries, our guide Jane Rai introduced the East-West Connection tour, one of the walks under the Free Walk Kuala Lumpur Unscripted brand. She prepared us on what to see, hear, and experience and reminded us of the physical distancing requirements. My hand sanitizer, checked. My facemask, checked
She hinted that there will be a few ‘did-you-know’ moments and to ‘hear stories’ from colorful walls. She gleefully told us that crossing streets in KL are already an adventure by itself! I was eager to hear tales and spot places where the Kapitans, Bugis Chief, tea growers, and the Shoe King lived; and the locations of romantic lamp posts, opium dens, and an Englishman’s menagerie, to name a few. The prospect of winning spot quiz prizes got us all geared up to walk the streets and alleys. I was ready to absorb untold tales of my city, which I know little of. As I walked, I felt a tinge of excitement looking forward to the adventure that will soon unfold.
Soon we were walking along the embankment of the muddy Klang River. Under a light drizzle, I noticed the striking contrast of the architectural charm of the old and new. It was a sight to behold when a strange dense mist started to rise from the river and masked the area we were standing at. “The mist effect is an attraction created under the River of Life project to give the area a sensory feel, ‘’ said Jane. We were told how early settlers developed a small hamlet at the estuary to a prosperous trading outpost. Every step of the trail she showed us old photos to help us imagine the early scenes and sights of old days. We learned of the people and their livelihood, and that opium smoking was a common joyous activity! I soon realised my city, a century ago, had a diverse cultured community and it has seen many riotous and romantic occasions. As most cities would have their own stories of how and why it began, ours was a story of tin.
We were now on a bridge that connects the eastwest section of the town. Next to the bridge, a row of prewar shophouses with gigantic murals caught our eyes. I now know what it means when walls ‘talk’. Artist Yusof Mahadi gave us a visualized idea of how the once bustling riverine trading post looked like. As I walked past the mural, I cannot help but imagine the cacophony of the sound of traders, silversmiths, and livestock at this post during the mid-1800s. We were now on a bridge that connects the eastwest section of the town. Next to the bridge, a row of prewar shophouses with gigantic murals caught our eyes. I now know what it means when walls ‘talk’. Artist Yusof Mahadi gave us a visualized idea of how the once bustling riverine trading post looked like. As I walked past the mural, I cannot help but imagine the cacophony of the sound of traders, silversmiths, and livestock at this post during the mid-1800s.
During lunch, I sat with Jane and her team of guides who accompanied us. I got to understand her motivation and passion for keeping our heritage alive. As an award-winning tourist guide, she takes pride in invoking awe and appreciation among the tourists of our local heritage through her storytelling. The information I got from her were priceless. I was wowed by the amount of research, interviews, and careful planning that have gone into creating the walk. The Free Walk Kuala Lumpur Unscripted is a tipbased walking tour that I highly recommend my friends to tip the tour guides generously for making the walk memorable. At the end of the walk one can appreciate that KL’s charm comes from the melting pot of cultures of people who made KL their home such as the likes of Sutan Puasa, Yap Ah Loy, Frank Swettenham, and many others. Discovering these little nuggets of history and their significance has made me fall in love with KL all over again.