I am not a person given to nostalgia. I don't always think that places are better off left as they are, or that change is necessarily bad, unless, of course, it involves the destruction of a place or object of environmental, cultural or historical interest. I have never felt the need to revisit my childhood. My childhood was so awesome, so balanced, so full of adventures and experiences that I do not miss it. It was a childhood that prepared me well for adulthood and I was ready and happy to move on.
However, the 5-day break that I had for Lunar New Year gave me ample opportunity for long bike rides and quiet contemplation, and it occurred to me that photographing and writing about some of the places in the neighbourhood that I grew up in might actually be fun. Many of the places and buildings I once knew have already been muscled out by development. With a camera phone in my pocket, I set off on my trusty bike to record images for posterity.
My bike rides were by no means quiet. The festive weekend meant that many of my friends had similarly returned to their parental homes for a few days, and I bumped into some of my childhood friends -- Devaky, Sumitra, Parames, Vimi, Jeremy and Rafiz -- on my bike rides. They left our hometown, Rawang, perhaps for the same reasons that I did.
My trusty steed, the T-Bolt that I so fortuitously acquired in a slogan-writing competition in 2002, still has her place of pride in the middle of my bedroom.
This is the bedroom of my childhood and youth. Hardly anything has changed in this room from the time I moved out at age 20 - 21. Most of my trophies and medals were for long-distance running, and I occasionally wear those baseball caps and refer to my bird migration map from time to time. I still come back to the parental home on weekends to clean the house, do yard work and spend time with my parents and our canine children.
The street scene outside the parental home is very similar to what you would find in most small towns and residential areas in Malaysia.
Just down the street, beyond the deciduous trees you see at the bottom of our road, are railroad tracks, which are still in use today. One kilometre away is a limestone quarry operated by what used to be known as Associated Pan Malayan Cement (later, British Cement and then Malayan Cement).
I grew up sleeping through the sounds of trains screeching on the tracks and blowing their horns a mere 200 metres away from my home, and of rock blasting being carried out in the quarry two afternoons a week. When I grew older and attended more camping trips, I had friends who marvelled at my ability to sleep through any noise. It took me a number of years to realise that I had my childhood to thank for it.
The railroad tracks that run through the back of my neighbourhood have since been fenced up to prevent track intrusions.
I have crossed these tracks countless times in my teenage years before the electric commuter trains were introduced in 1994 - 1995.
A forlorn-looking decommissioned KTM commuter train sits on the side of the railway tracks.
Down the street from my house, there is a cul-de-sac with what used to be a dirt path to the right of the last house in the row.
Our neighbourhood, New Green Park, was constructed within what was once a rubber plantation, and in the 70s and 80s, there were pockets of rubber estates everywhere in the neighbourhood. We had a weekly domestic help whose house was located in the rubber estate, and we would go to the well outside her house to draw water each time we had problems with our water supply. We entered the rubber estate from a path to the right of the house here.
As you can see, no-one uses the path anymore and it is now completely recolonised by Macaranga, creepers, weeds and Acacia mangium plants. It says a lot about our present generation of children that they no longer see wooded areas as a source of unstructured fun.
When we were growing up, we used to have battles and games and foot races through the rubber estate and secondary jungles, and I spent many happy hours observing animals and plants and collecting insect specimens for my 'research'. Covert Dad always made me release them where I found them at the end of each day. It was here that I learned the basics of birdwatching and I identified many lowland species using field guides borrowed from the town library.
This is where the dirt path through the rubber estate ended.
The dirt path also served as a shortcut to the next neighbourhood, Taman Rawang Jaya. This was once a cul-de-sac where the children played basketball and chilled out with our bikes. At the height of the BMX craze in the mid-80's, we constructed ramps out of plywood and practiced our bike stunts here, as it was the widest cul-de-sac in the area.
The cul-de-sac that was once such a source of recreation is now a makeshift car workshop, and the dirt path we used has been completely overgrown with weeds as well.
This is my kindergarten teacher's house.
My former teacher, Mrs. Balendran, who must be 60 if she is a day, now owns both houses and operates the kindergarten out of the house on the right. Back in 1982 - 1984, she and her husband lived in only one of the houses (I think it was the one on the left) and conducted classes out of one tiny room in the back. It was probably the first British Montessori kindergarten in the district. I still encounter Mrs. Balendran once in a while and she keeps confusing me with Covert Twin. Strange, because Covert Twin and I look nothing like each other.
As you can tell from the blue hills in the distance, Rawang is located within a valley.
The economy of Rawang in the past had depended on 3 commodities: Rubber, tin and limestone rock/cement. The mining pools and rubber estates in my neighbourhood remind me of my town's humble beginnings.
This former mining pool had served as a duck farm before it was later converted into part of an industrial infrastructure .
Rawang was a former tin mining town, and its landscape is pockmarked with mining pools such as this one. There is even a neighbourhood called Rawang Tin, as it was populated mostly by people in the mining community.
As a child, I used to walk the overgrown path down to this particular mining pool in Taman Rawang Jaya to watch people fish. Quickmud is common along the banks of mining pools, especially during the monsoon season, and once I fell into quickmud which reached waist level within seconds. I had the presence of mind to adopt the lean-and-roll technique that I learned from a National Geographic article on quicksand and went home safely that day. My parents still do not know of that incident.
The duck farm has since been relocated and there is now a limestone processing plant where the duck farm once was. Those railroad tracks on the left are connected to the tracks down the road from my parents' home.
Neighbourhood provision shops like this one used to be far more common.
There used to be at least 5 other such shops in my neighbourhood, in the days when people realised what insanity it was to drive out to town for onions or sugar or ice cream. The introduction, growth and subsequent ubiquity of hypermarkets and chain stores brought about the demise of such shops. This is the only shop left in our neighbourhood. It is commonly referred to in our mangled English as the "Up Shop", due to the fact that it is located on a hill overlooking a football field.
As you can see, the shop still has a coconut grating machine, which is covered with a tin basin to keep vermin out.
As a child, when sent on a coconut-buying errand, I would often hope that the coconut the shopkeeper chose would have a spongy coconut embryo (also known as a sprout, or locally as a 'tumbung') for me to munch on.
This is the football field which the aforementioned provision shop overlooks.
It has a playground at the lower end of the field, but it wasn't for the playground equipment that I frequented this playing field as a youngster. See the slope with the steps built into them over yonder? We used to pilfer cardboard cartons from the "Up Shop" to slide down the said slope with.
Strange. The slope had seemed steeper and more dangerous and more exhilarating when I was younger.
I had until early adulthood held on to the belief that the said slope had a gradient of at least 60 - 75 degrees. I realise now that it couldn't have been more than a gentle 45. Still, I rode my bike down the slope several times, just for old times' sake.
The road leading to our neighbourhood used to be known as 'Jalan Waterfall' or 'Old Waterfall Road'.
According to Covert Dad, when the area was opened up for housing development, it was just an economically unproductive rubber estate and there had been a small waterfall where the access road now stands. The waterfall dried up after the trees were cut because it was no longer a natural watershed area.
Looking at the gradient of the slope and the remains of the natural 'rock steps' that the roads and houses attempt to level out, it is not difficult to imagine how this road could have once been a cascade.
This is the last remaining wooden house in our neighbourhood.
Where our neighbourhood ends, Kampung Rajah begins. Wooden houses like this one used to be more common at the boundaries of the two residential areas, but many have since been torn down and brick houses have been constructed in their place.
It will probably be a matter of time before this house makes way for development as well.
And all I will be left with then is probably just my memories of these funny, familiar, forgotten places.