Monday, March 19, 2012

Old Story

So was there dancing on Gaya Street? There was dancing and there was singing late into the night! The concert was a great way to end the day that started, early that Saturday morning, with the opening ceremony of the community heritage project, dubbed ‘Bonding with Gaya Street’ and the soft launch of the coffee-table book.

I had expected a long day and so decided to camp out two nights at a hotel with a bunch of family members: daughter, cousin, sister and niece. The only female family members missing were Mother—who was of course in the kampong, and MIL who would have been appalled at such frivolity as putting up in a hotel when one’s abode is just spitting distance away. She would have said I was foolish to pay money to sleep in a strange bed.

Musical gigs in KK (in Malaysia?) are more or less always associated with the young, not retirees with grandkids. The older musicians are expected to go into hibernation and fade into the background even if they had enjoyed a fantastic following during their heyday. So it was a surprise when the musicians agreed to dust their instruments and come out of retirement. They gave such a commendable performance that what was supposed to have ended at 10 or 10.30pm was extended (by Mr. City Mayor himself!) to midnight.

It was a good show and there were appeals to stage regular concerts in town.
That sure was some excitement and magic for this old Cinderella. There was a lot to write about. But as regular readers of this blog must have noticed, there’s a big gap between this post and the previous one.

I learned a lesson working with a group of people who have had experiences a whole lot different from mine. I rediscovered my own weaknesses and how easily bruised one could get if one dwelt too much in some angry words being tossed around by people in your team especially if you looked up to, admired and had high regard for them. The best way to avoid being wounded, perhaps, is not to catch those words and slights but let them pass overhead-- like high balls—to land outside the court…or in the bushes where they’ll get lost and lie forgotten. Why should we catch something and keep it in our hearts to let it fester for a day, a week, forever? Especially when the sources of those scorching words have forgotten them as soon as they’re released from their throats.

Pre-WW2 Jesselton (Courtesy of State Museum)

Okay, enough introspection. Let’s move on.

One of the most popular sites of the community heritage exhibition was the KK Timeline. Photos and short notes based on the city's history had been stuck on the exterior walls of the corner hotel. People gathered here to read and take pictures; they started conversations with complete strangers and had discussions about the events on the timeline. Earlier a passer-by had asked if he could buy the pictures. (We’re not selling them! We’re pasting them up on the wall!) The notes? (No!) Can I take pictures? (Yes!)

I realized that people were drawn to the timeline because they don’t know the history of the city. They don’t know that KK used to be Jesselton or Api-Api and that the town was built in 1899 after the NB Chartered Company moved from Gaya Island (which was razed to the ground). They don’t know KK used to be a narrow strip of land hugging the forested hills before reclamation and development pushed the city farther and farther into the sea towards Pulau Gaya. They don’t know the train used to come right into the town bringing rubber and other goods for export to the wharf (now Jesselton Point).

Many townsfolk know little about the story of KK because it doesn’t appear in our history books but this doesn’t mean they’re not interested in their history and heritage.  I’m glad I’ve helped some people fill in some blanks.


  1. Thanks for sharing. By the way, why was it called Api-Api before?

    1. Hi Charles! I'll tell you that in my next post!