To begin our neighborhood research visit, we began by hopping of the Monorail in our neighborhood, Chow Kit, and walking down Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman. As our research question is how has globalization affected the visibility of a more western identity in certain traditional neighborhoods, we decided to begin by looking for indicators of Western identity.
The first indicator we noticed was a restaurant with pictures of hamburgers, a Western food. We didn’t a chance to eat these hamburgers and compare them to hamburgers in the United States, but we plan to locate Western food in our two neighborhoods in Singapore (if Western food is present) and try it to compare it to what we know. We continued down Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman and came upon clothing retail stores. Inside we saw a lot of apparel with Western influences and familiar symbols. For example, we saw shirts saying “Upper East Side New York City,” Minnie Mouse shirts, and Spiderman superhero t-shirts. One of the most interesting Westernized item we saw in a clothing store were shoes that looked like Converse sneakers but were called “Conver” and sneakers of which had the Nike and Adidas symbols combined into one. On the street, one of the vendors had a boom box radio playing Adele, One Direction, and Michael Jackson. However, it was when we turned a corner that Western influences disappeared.
After visiting retail stores, we turned left onto Jalan Raja Alang. This street is where we began to see the traditional Malay community of Chow Kit and Kampug Baru. We took another left into a massive Malay Bazaar. First, we met a Malay woman selling what seemed to be traditional crackers, candies, and chips. We asked her if her goods were traditional Malay snacks and she replied yes and that everything in this market was traditional Malay. This woman appears in our video below one of her crunch, peanut snacks is in the photo below:
We then walked deeper into the market. Gordon and Abby noticed that they were the only white Westerners in the market. It became very apparent that the food being sold was not prepared in a western way; this was Chow Kit’s “grocery store” of sorts. It was Bonny who bridged the language barrier and helped Gordon and Abby feel more comfortable in a new environment. Bonny helped us purchase fruit including Jack Fruit and Lychee. After we explored the market and looked at the many fruits, vegatables, meats, snack food, and meals we noticed a medicine shop so we decided to take a look and see if there were any Western medicines inside the shop. There was not a single medicine in the store that was familiar to us; all of the medicines were Malay. This is the point where Abby began to feel unwell, so Abby turned back and Bonny and Gordon continued to research.
After dropping Abby off at the Chow Kit Monorail station, Bonny and Gordon walked down Jalan Raja Muda Abdul Aziz, which is a major through street on the northern border of the neighborhood. As we walked east, we noticed that the variety of businesses were less diverse than those on Jalan Taunku Abdul Rahman. Almost all of the shops had Islamic names and some of the signs were written in Islamic script. We noticed most of the people on the street were ethnically Malay and most of the women were dressed in traditional Islamic clothing.
We then took a left on Jalan Raja Abdullah which separates the neighborhoods of Chow Kit and Kampung Baru and headed south. The built environment was significantly different on Jalan Raja Abdullah than the dense, mid-rise buildings of Jalan Taunku Abdul Rahman. The buildings were much smaller and farther apart from one another. Each building had its own driveway interrupting the sidewalks, which made walking more difficult.
As we made our way down the street we heard chanting coming from ahead. Behind a large tree appeared a Minaret. We arrived at the Mosque at the same time as many others coming for their Friday prayers. The sidewalk was filled with motorcycles and the area around the Mosque was significantly busier than the streets around it. Men and women pray separately in Islam so we only saw men in the mosque. The men were in the middle of their prayers and we felt uncomfortable approaching and filming them. Bonny felt uncomfortable because it she was the only female. As an American, Gordon did not feel right filming Muslim men praying due to the tensions between the United States and the Islamic world that we have grown up with. After only capturing a few brief clips we left the Mosque and headed east down one of the smaller side streets to observe the more residential parts of Kampung Baru.
With the prayers still ringing above the neighborhood, we continued on throughout the neighborhood. The houses became single-story and smaller with tin roofs and wood and brick walls. The houses were modest and contained elements of Malaysian vernacular architecture, similar to a traditional house we viewed at Malaysia’s cultural trust, Badan Warisan Malaysia. The built environment became completely different from the street we began on as many of these houses doubled as small shops and restaurants. The nature of these buildings created obstructions on the sidewalks. People, seats, and overhangs blocked us from using the sidewalk efficiently. Driveways, motorcycles, and trees broke up the sidewalk. The overall poor condition of the sidewalk often made it impossible to walk, so Bonny and Gordon found themselves walking on the street most of the time. Bonny says that she made the conscious choice to walk on the road because the sidewalk was similar to hiking. At certain times the sidewalk ended due to dense plant life. One thing Gordon noticed was there were not many people walking along the street. He hypothesizes that this is because many of the men were at the local mosque praying, showing that this neighborhood is very traditional.
The final thing Bonny and Gordon noticed is the drastic divide between Kuala Lumpur City Center (KLCC) and Kampung Baru. The Petronas Towers shoot out of Kampung Baru’s foreground filled with small tin roofs, electrical wires, satellite dishes, and drying laundry lines shown in the pictures below.
This helped us determine that Kuala Lumpur is, in a way, growing faster than the city can plan for exemplified through walking on unfinished sidewalks looking at skyscrapers off in the distance. It is through our many observations that we determined that while Western influences were very visible on main streets such as Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, Chow Kit and Kampung Baru remain very ethnic and traditional Malay neighborhoods. However, as Kuala Lumpur continues to grow it will be interesting to see if these two neighborhoods change even further with increased globalization.
Below is a video that Bonny pieced together of the area!
-Abby, Gordon, and Bonny