Exploring the Brickfields Neighborhood in Kuala Lumpur

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The Brickfields neighborhood is a predominantly Malaysian Indian ethnic enclave, located just southwest of downtown Kuala Lumpur. While there, our group attempted to utilize several research approaches to conduct our evaluation, including simple observation, speaking with inhabitants and methods in digital media, such as photography and videography, which helped us better grasp the ways in which genders are expressed in the neighborhood.

We took the Monorail from the Imbi station to KL Sentral station around 11:30 am MYT and were able to notice that more men were sitting in our section than were women. This could show that the men got on at an earlier stop than the women and the men were not willing to forego their seats. At one point a seat became available on the monorail and even though a younger woman was nearby she did not choose to sit down. This could have been the result of completely non-cultural reasons such as not being tired or ready to sit but it seemed as if, throughout the train, that more men were sitting down unless it were a woman who was traveling with a man (i.e. a spouse, “boyfriend,” or family member).

When we arrived in the neighborhood our preliminary goals were to find a public place to sit down and observe the youth population from a stagnant location. On the way to the place where we began people watching, we attempted to observe how gender is expressed specifically on the sidewalks. The most observable thing on the sidewalks is how the young adult population dress and carry themselves. We saw many wearing backpacks and walking to and from buildings, presumably students of Brickfields College, which is a local university.

Two young Asian ladies walking with backpacks in the Brickfields neighborhood.

Two young Asian ladies walking with backpacks in the Brickfields neighborhood.

Once we arrived at the Grand Crescent, a large intersection of three main streets with much of foot traffic, we began people watching, roughly around 12 noon. The first thing we noticed was how people were interacting in the area. At one point a girl and guy crossed paths while the guy subtly made a comment that we assumed was flirtatious due to the girl’s reaction. After this brief but telling interaction, the girl kept looking back at the guy as he walked away and later returned to the street to talk to another guy who had been sitting there for a while, whom she had previously not notice. She began speaking to the guy so we felt as if this was a good point to interview them and ask them some brief questions about how men and women interact and about some more specific details regarding the neighborhood.

Our view of the Grand Crescent, a large fountain in the center of Brickfields, as we sat on a curb observing passersby.

Our view of the Grand Crescent, a large fountain in the center of Brickfields, as we sat on a curb observing passersby.

We briefly interviewed Visalatchy and Tnez, two residents of Brickfields and asked them basic questions such as their age, name, whether or not they lived in the neighborhood, what their occupation was and if they knew each other beforehand or had just met at that specific corner. If we could do this interview over again a couple elements could have been changed in order to make the experience smoother, which would assist us in our research. One thing that I would change is the articulation of our goal. When interviewing our selected individuals, we obtained permission to ask them questions about the neighborhood but I believe that we should have informed them more about our research question so they could give us more relevant insight. Another thing I would alter about the interview itself is to develop questions with answers that would be in line with our research of gender expression. Our questions were slightly vague and focused more on the neighborhood rather than our research in the larger framework of the neighborhood.

After this interaction we walked down to the Main Street of Brickfields, Jalan Tun Sambuthan. While walking we tried to identify whether youth in the area were wearing traditional clothing or Western brands. This was easily observable in the street and younger people in the area were wearing a noticeable amount of brands that were more indicative of Western culture. American Eagle, Levis, Nike and Nautica were seen all over the street as well as graphic tees that are typically seen in the United States such as “Keep Calm…” shirts, which are becoming popular. A couple items can be assumed from this observation; it shows that young adults are willing to forego traditional garb and wear western clothing that may express their individuality more. Inside a small store we asked several people what brand of clothes they were wearing and received mixed results regarding their specific knowledge of the brands. One girl, who was wearing a shirt with the anchor of Nautica, did not know the specific brand of her shirt, but another man in the store, when asked about his hat, knew immediately that it was a New Era hat. Knowledge of brand and the subsequent gender expression that succeeds it seem to have little correlation. Rather, it actually seems as if clothing is worn because of the status of its specific style rather than a holistic appreciation of the brand.

While in the neighborhood we were required to find artifacts that reflected the identity of the Brickfields neighborhood. Our group found two artifacts, one perishable and one that we were able to bring back to the hotel to present at the group debriefing later in the evening. The first artifacts were two, traditionally Indian snacks which are documented in the video below where two of the participants react to the taste and smell. The second artifact was found at a Buddhist Temple not far from the main street of Brickfields. We found several pamphlets, books and CD’s in multiple languages explain different beliefs within the Buddhist religion. An example that stood out amongst the items there for example, was a booklet that was in English and explained how Buddhists look at death.

The observations we made in the morning regarding the monorail differed slightly on the return trip, at about 2:45 pm MYT. When we got on the monorail there seemed to be a student group, of some sort, with matching shirts that was majority female. These students got on the monorail at the KL Sentral station, leaving Brickfields and seemed very acquainted with the train environment. Girls were communicating loudly back and forth and one girl was sitting on another guys lap. This monorail occurrence differed uniquely from our morning ride because it was during rush hour, but the outwardly expressed comfort of the students on the train was nevertheless noticeable.

A girl walking along a decorated street in Little India.

A girl walking along a decorated street in Little India.

While in the Brickfields neighborhood we were able to see ways that we should approach our research question methods to get the best results possible. Stationary observation and people watching seems like an effective method to see how people outwardly express themselves but our interviewing methods need to be approached differently. Some things that could be done differently include better expressing the point of our research as well as framing our questions in a better light. As we reminisce about our experiences in the Brickfields neighborhood and finalize our conclusions, it becomes more apparent that the urban terrain almost serves as an autonomous ethnic enclave within the larger Kuala Lumpur fabric. While the area is self-sufficient as an independent district, the greater cosmopolitan environment impacts Little India and its surrounding Brickfields neighborhood in intrinsically important ways, which was seen through our observations, videos and pictures as we traversed the landscape

-Max, Karly, and Rohan

Max, Rohan, and Karly

Max, Rohan, and Karly

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