Quick question: what comes to mind when you think about Chinatown in KL? Or, what would you picture when someone says they would like to take a visit to Chinatown?
Let’s be honest, apart from the street food and markets (filled with plenty haggling opportunities), not many Malaysians would take a trip towards that part of the city and the newer generation would prefer to skip it altogether. Soon, it may just be forgotten.
THANKFULLY, a group of five entrepreneurs realised this and together, despite having their own businesses, worked on a passion project they call ‘Project Kwai Chai Hong’.
(Kwai Chai Hong is a forgotten/hidden laneway between Lorong Panggung and Jalan Petaling.)
Check out the video below to see what it is:
So, what’s Project Kwai Chai Hong?
The five entrepreneurs we mentioned earlier – Ho Yung Wee, Coco Lew, Terence Liew, Javier Chor and Zeen Chang – set up a company called Bai Chuan Management Sdn Bhd to breathe new life into this very neglected laneway in Chinatown.
What Inspired Project Kwai Chai Hong?
“The charm of this place and the nostalgic memory of Jalan Petaling and Lorong Panggung inspired us,” said Zeen. “We can’t pinpoint exactly how we were inspired except as we began work to mend this once-neglected laneway, we fell more and more in love with it. But what we’re more inspired by is potential it can bring. We want to bring people back to Chinatown – bring back the glory days of Chee Chong Kai (茨厂街) and make the place lively once again.”
“We want to bring people here to witness our interpretation of what Chinatown was like in the 1960s – sharing the stories of these heritage buildings and the people who once lived here. We have chosen to use murals that depict daily activities among the early Chinese settlers living in the area during the 1960s as our channel of communication .”Zeen to travel360.com
What can we do at Kwai Chai Hong?
Plenty! Let’s take a look at what the founders suggest:
1.Start at the Entrance of Kwai Chai Hong
Beside the entrance arch, you will see four unique buildings built between 1884 and 1906. Although these buildings were built during British colonialism, they are believed to be built in the Guangdong Xi-Guan style with the narrow doors and windows and the lack of a five-foot walkway.
These four quaint looking buildings were famous for their blue doors and windows for many, many years. Today, they have been restored from their dilapidated state with some of the original windows still being displayed on the walls of Kwai Chai Hong.
2. Next, walk through the Arch which was built to look like it had been there with the original building but in fact, was newly erected in November 2018.
This arch serves as a welcoming structure, the signature entrance to Kwai Chai Hong and one of the many perfect photo spots.
3. Beyond the arch is the famous ‘Red Bridge’ (Hong Qiao).
Contrary to the critics’ comments about this bridge not being the part of Kwai Chai Hong’s original makeup, this bridge was built to mask the back entrance of the restaurants that open outwards to Kwai Chai Hong’s entrance walkway.
With the building of the bridge and clever placements of bamboo plants, visitors will now be welcomed by a ‘Red Bridge’ beyond the Arch Entrance without the unpleasant distractions from the restaurants’ back doors. This is to ensure that all parties can co-exist and make the laneway work for everyone.
4. On the top of the bridge, the first interactive mural is presented.
Here, you will see a couple seated on the bridge and an audio – played via scanned QR Code – plays a conversation between the couple, reminiscent of the dating scene in the 1960s.
5. At the end of the bridge are a dozen of original windows from the Lorong Panggung 4 units of shops, hung up on display.
6. 15 steps form the bridge on the right is Kuala Lumpur’s Oldest Lamp Post, dating back to 1903-1904 when electricity first arrived in Kuala Lumpur.
This is called the ‘Century Old Lamp Post’. It was restored to be in a functioning state, by the way.
7.On the left side of Kwai Chai Hong – beyond the bridge, are several other murals (‘Er Hu Uncle’, ‘Kids Playing’, ‘Calligrapher’ and ‘Prostitute’) each depicting a scene from the 1960s.
At the end of the lane is a set of staircases that lead our visitors to a stunning two-and-a-half-storey mural – the signature look of Kwai Chai Hong. This giant-sized mural depicts the 1960s era of residences and businesses sharing a small unit.
This part also introduces the character of The Landlady, a common character, who would usually divide a single unit into many tiny rooms, and then go around collecting rent.
The giant-sized mural showcases significant buildings of the Chinese Community at the top of the mural – the Chin Woo Stadium being one of them. There are many other hidden messages within the mural such as our Hari Merdeka – study it long enough and you will spot it.
One can also see the livelihood of the people in the 1960s in the mural as well – coffee shops and other businesses on the ground floor, and residences on the first floor. You can also spot other installations for an interactive photo experience, such as the Barber (and his antique chair), a basket hanging down from the first floor, and a couple of kids playing a game of skipping rope.
8. Have a meal at the Bubble Bee Café.
This is definitely the best place to end the Kwai Chai Hong visit. Why? seriously yummy desserts and great coffee, that’s why! They’re also famous for their healthy wraps and juices.
So, there you go. You’ve got options for your #ootd, #potd and healthy doses of culture and history while you’re at it! Check out the place the next time you’re free, or if you’ve got nothing on this weekend, and take a trip down memory lane.