The Streets Of The City
The Expat|August 2017

Getting out of your car and exploring a city’s streets on foot can reveal a great deal about the area. Photojournalist David Bowden puts on a comfy pair of shoes and strolls around three very different streets in Kuala Lumpur to learn their stories.

David Bowden

Faith, commerce, and budget travel. If that sounds like a rather curious trinity, consider the three streets I explored in Kuala Lumpur – each focusing to some degree on one of those subjects. (Whether by accident or design is a different story, however.)

With a camera, a trusted pair of shoes, and a vigilant spirit – it is the inner city, after all – I found each of these three streets (one more a collection of streets than a single thoroughfare) to be remarkable and enjoyable to explore, each in a different way.

JALAN GEREJA

 This is possibly one of the shortest streets in Kuala Lumpur but a special one, especially for its Roman Catholic citizens and visitors, as it leads to the Church of St. John the Evangelist, Kuala Lumpur’s Roman Catholic Cathedral, and also the seat of the its Archbishop. Interestingly, the cathedral is not actually on Church Street but set a little above it on Jalan Bukit Nanas. Jalan Gereja extends for 100 metres or so from Jalan Raja Chulan, near the Muzium Telekom and the Maybank Headquarters, to where it seemingly morphs into Jalan Ampang at the Leboh Ampang intersection. However, Church Street provides access to the cathedral and the immediate area, which is an interesting enclave of colonial buildings and Indian curry houses that becomes a hive of activity on Sunday morning as parishioners attend morning mass.

Bukit Nanas (Pineapple Hill) is a fascinating part of Kuala Lumpur, with the southeastern side of the small hill being a forest reserve called Hutan Lipur Bukit Nanas, which supports one of the last remaining patches of primary forest in or around Kuala Lumpur.

On the Chinatown side, the original wooden St. John’s Church was established here by the Reverend Father Charles Hector Letessier on Bukit Nanas in 1883. The original church was constructed with the financial assistance of a wealthy towkay and Chinese Malaysian Catholic by the name of Goh Ah Ngee who hailed from Kajang. The current cathedral was constructed in 1954, with its consecration not taking place until 1962, when it was also elevated to the status of a cathedral.

There was once another place of religious worship along the same street. The Kuala Lumpur Episcopal Tamil Church built in 1897 was located at the intersection with Jalan Malacca. The carnival-like setting outside the cathedral doesn’t appear to distract from the serious religious matters conducted inside the building. While hymns are enthusiastically sung inside, candles are lit in the grounds and blessings are sought in the cathedral’s grounds, the streets surrounding the cathedral become a colourful bazaar in the mornings.

Many Christian domestic helpers from the Philippines and other parts of the region have Sundays off, with this day of rest normally starting with a church service and then the opportunity to socialise and eat with their friends afterwards. Food and beverage stalls line the street and offer visitors an opportunity for all to enjoy some home-cooked dishes from other parts of the region at great value-for-money prices.

Education shares space with religion here, too, as two schools are situated along Jalan Bukit Nanas; SMK St. John’s Kuala Lumpur (or St. John’s Institution) and Sekolah Menangah Kebangsaan Convent (SMK Convent Bukit Nanas) at the cul-de-sac at the southern end of the road.

The architecture of the former is the one that captures the attention of passers-by for its striking red brick and contrasting white colours. St. John’s was established by the Roman Catholic Mission in 1904 as a school for young boys. It is named after Jean-Bapiste de la Salle, the founder of the De La Salle Christian Brothers Order. Historical records indicate that the original wooden building housed 18 male students with Brother Julian Francis being the Brother Director (Headmaster).

The building that now stands on the site dates back to 1907, with its architecture exhibiting GrecianSpanish influences. At the time it was erected, it was the most substantial educational institution in the country. Today, apart from a few extensions, the building remains much the same as when it was first built. One thing that has changed is that the school is now co-educational in the senior years. However, it remains, as it always has been, multi-ethnic and multi religious. A glance through past student rolls indicates that sultans, politicians (including the current Prime Minister), and leading business people are listed as ex-students.

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