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Fwd MGG - One More Heritage Building in KL Destroyed
By web aNtu

24/8/2000 2:23 pm Thu

[sangkancil] [MGG] One More Heritage Building in Kuala Lumpur Destroyed

First, the Malaysian Chinese a#sociation and the Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia, partners in the National Front coalition, acqueisced in turning more than a hundred acres of Chinese, Japanese, Christian, Singhalese, Hindu cemetry land in the heart of Kuala Lumpur into shopping malls and office blocks. Next, the MCA oversees the destruction of one of the oldest Chinese temples, beside its headquarters in Jalan Ampang. And it raised not a beep. This time the destruction is overseen by its temple committee. I came upon it by accident this afternoon, as I walked past the demolished site this afternoon to get to my car parked in the Ming Court Vistana Hotel opposite. The site of the temple is surrounded by a twenty foot construction wall, with the old entrance still visible, but peering through the partly open side-door, I got the shock of my life: The Kun Yam Thong Buddhist temple, built more than a century ago and one which the architect, Mr Hisham Albakri, described in a guide to notable buildings in Kuala Lumpur, which he published in the late 1970s, as his prime candidate for preservation, is now rubble. The notice outside says the site is to be renovated, not rebuilt, over the old building. The Nombor Rujukan Pelan as stated in the cryptic message outside it is BP E990037. I telephoned several in the Chinese community. None had heard about it. It looks the custodians of the temple felt that an old temple should not exist amidst new skyscrapers, certainly not within sight of the Petronas Towers and the complex of new buildings surrounding it. There is a painting of the new temple as it would look, but nowhere does it say the old temple would first be destroyed.

Yet when the Development & Commercial Bank, now the RHB Bank, built its headquarters, now that of Tan Sri Tajuddin Ramli's business empire, just behind the temple, one express condition was that building must blend with the temple in front, which should not be touched. Such concern amongst officials, usually Malay, was what saved numerous nineteenth century buildings from twentieth century disfiguration. The Anglican St Mary's cathedral beside the Royal Selangor Club and Dataran Merdeka wanted to remodel its front, but was not allowed to, in the early 1980s, because the Muzium Negara objected, insisting that the national heritage would be defaced. Today, the civil servant works hand in hand with politicians and developers to destroy such heritages handed down to us. It began in the early 1980s, when rather than retain the beautiful wooden house of such distinction as the Prime Minister's official residence, it was gutted and a new monstrosity built over it, where he does live any more, not after his Istana Rakyat is built in Putra Jaya. No one shed a tear then, except those interested in the heritage of our forefathers. From then, every thing had a price, and had to be destroyed in the name of progress. When the LRT was being built, one official suggestion, quickly disabused, was to disfigure the Sri Mariamman Temple in Jalan Bandar, another religious building more than a century old. But Hindu temples also get disfigured: Look at the Sri Kandaswamy Temple in Brickfields, built in the waning years of the nineteenth century, but recently completely rebuilt.

This destruction of national heritage sites is not only in Kuala Lumpur. The Malacca government wanted to turn the five-centuries-old Bukit China, arguable the oldest Chinese cemetry outside of China, turned into shopping malls and housing estates. That could not have been possible if the MCA representatives in the state administration had objected to it. They did not, but the resultant public outcry put paid to that. As has happened to the redevelopment of the main Chinese cemetry in Kuala Lumpur. The redevelopment of Jonkers street in Malacca raises hackles, but the character of that original Dutch-buit street of Chinese merchants from the 17th century is about to disappear for ever. In Ipoh and Penang, the systematic destruction of old building, in the name of progress, is a fact of life. The government targets Chinese structures for demolition, knowing full well that the MCA and Gerakan would go along with any such proposals. It is angry that the public, whose only duty in their view is to elect them regularly into office and then shut up until the next general elections, have different ideas. They do not want their heritage buildings destroyed, whatever the economic cost. And rise in protest. The silence of the MCA and Gerakan lambs is only to be expected. The MCA has declared war on the Malaysian Indian Congress and its leader, Dato' Seri S. Samy Vellu, for his opposition to the redevelopment of the Sungei Besi cemetry. The MCA is angered that he went against a cabinet directive, at which he was present.

Nevertheless, it is important now the MCA leaders should inform Malaysians, not just the Chinese, why it allowed the Kun Yam Thong Buddhist temple, outside its own headquarters, to be destroyed. It would not, unless the Chinese community raise a hue and cry, as over the Sungei Besi and Bukit China cemetry re-development, and the MCA told to put their money where their mouth is. One cannot be selective about preserving our heritage, if some can be allowed to be destroyed, wilfully as the Kun Yam Thong temple is, and none cares a damn. A heritage is a heritage or not at all. At present, officials willingly allow heritage buildings to be destroyed. What angers me is no one, certainly none in the Chinese community, raised a hue and cry over its destruction. Or are we being told that national heritage buildings can be destroyed if the custodians want it, as in this instance? What is frightening about the destruction is that Mr Hisham did not know, neither did the society that exists to protect these heritage buildings. They know now, but it is too late.

M.G.G. Pillai