Home Development The price for progress

The price for progress



MORE than 40 pre-war shophouses in Pekan Ampang in Ampang will make way for the planned Sungai Besi-Ulu Kelang Elevated Expressway (SUKE) project.

These shops built during the British era, some over 100 years old, are the state’s last few remaining buildings with colonial architecture at one of the oldest commercial areas in Ampang.

The town had remained relatively underdeveloped as far as buildings are concerned, and now housed mom-and-pop businesses spanning generations.

While shopowners lament about their difficulties to start anew in a new place, others are worried that they are going to be displaced.

Loo Pow Thye, 78, who operates a tackle shop, was worried of losing her livelihood when the businesses are forced to move out.

“I cannot afford to set up another business elsewhere. Even with the compensation, it will be more expensive to either rent or buy a property in another part of the area.

“It won’t only be my business that will be affected. My family, including my two sons, live in this building too. It is stressful even looking for other places to move to as we still do not know how much the compensation will be,” she said.

Loo, who has lived and operated her business in the area since 1966, said the building also represented the memories of her family.

“When my husband died six months ago, it was hard. We had worked together in the shop, earning a living and raising our family. The business was going to be passed down to our children, and now there will be no legacy,” she said.

Chinese physician Yap May Fatt, 60, said leaving his two storey shop lot was akin to losing his childhood home.

“This structure was built in 1913 and was bought over by my father in 1960. Since then, I have lived here with my three children until they moved out. Now only my wife and I are running this medicine shop.

“As one of the few medicine shops in the area, we have had strong bonds with the community for the past 50 years and it will be heartbreaking to see it go.

“I am at an age where I am too old to start a new business, but still too young to retire. We are at a crossroads,” said Yap, who had planned to pass on the family business to his children.

His only hope now was for a reasonable compensation to tide the family over.

Yap’s childhood friend, Phang Sing Yin, 65, concurred, hoping that the compensation would be at least at the current market value.

“It would be almost impossible for us to get properties of similar sizes elsewhere, not considering the additional cost of moving and setting up the business,” he said.

Phang rents out two lots which houses a motorcycle repair business, and a dim sum restaurant in a third lot.

“Although the buildings and businesses here may look rundown, that is part of the neighbourhood’s charm. It is part of the diminishing old towns in the city and its loss will be missed,” he said.

Development of SUKE highway will also mark the closure of a local independent arts institution.

Passers-by of Pekan Ampang may shun the black painted walls and its dilapidated chic exterior, but few know it to be Kuala Lumpur’s underground punk scene, Rumah Api.

Founded in 2010 under it former name, Gudang Noisy, local bands, artistes of all alternative souls thrive on the goodwill of the community around them to co-exist.

Hosting a makeshift stage for punk rock bands and performers of all kinds plus vacant areas for art bazaars, relocation is not the easiest move for the loud and high spirited rock stars.

“We are an autonomous space for people to come and go. Its for us to entertain and enjoy ourselves safely and comfortably.

“But we can’t just go anywhere, its not easy for us to find a place where people will accept our music and our style.

“The community here is very kind and they do not mind us,” founder Man Beranak said, while making up his living quarters.

Snugged cosily between the row of shops, the venue also runs non-hierarchical initiatives such as Free Food Not Bombs that acts as a soup kitchen and the Really Really Free Market that gives away clothes to the urban poor and homeless.

Rumah Api collective member Navshed Navin explained that the kindness of the Pekan Ampang community is a rare gem in the rough of Kuala Lumpur.

“Whether its vegetables or noodles, the vendors at the wet market give us the surplus of their goods for free.

“We in turn cook it and distribute for anyone who comes by.

“You don’t find this kind of atmosphere in KL nowadays. It is such a shame that it won’t be around for long,” he said.

While Rumah Api awaits its impending end, the thought that runs through indie arts enthusiasts’ minds is one and the same, “where do we go now?”

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