My dad used to have a shop inside Central Market, selling all sorts of bags and luggage. Actually, he used to run two shops, one in Sungai Wang and one in Dayabumi. When Central Market was re-opened in 1986, he decided to move the shop in Dayabumi to Central Market. He closed down the shop in Sungai Wang a few years later due to rising rental and decreasing business. So as far as I am concerned, the only shop that I remember hanging out in is the one in Central Market.
Interesting fact: I was born in 1986. The entire shop moving operation happened when my mom was on maternity. I never saw the shop in Dayabumi, not even as a toddler, I have only heard about this shop from my parents.
Brief history about this Central Market. It was originally built in 1888 by the British and served as the wet market for the tin miners that settled in Kuala Lumpur. Wet market meaning market that sells fresh produce such as vegetables and meats. As KL developed, this building suffered a series of threats of being demolished. Somehow it survived and in 1985, it was renovated and converted into a heritage shopping mall and opened it’s doors in 1986.
My dad ran his Central Market shop for a total of 21 years. Since the new millennium, business has been rapidly deteriorating as the newer shopping malls and departmental stores took over as the preferred shopping destination for locals, and tourists were simply not very good business potential as far as bags are concerned.
My dad has been making losses with the shop for a few years running and kept it going with the money he made from his school bag supplying business. The only reason he kept it going for that long was that he loved the idea of having a home base, so to speak. And he made many friends among other shop owners and was sad to leave.
But in 2007, the new management team of the building decided to increase the rent almost threefold. I suspected they did this only on selected targets, wanting to kick out shops that they deem not related to heritage. It is just a suspicion though, I don’t really have any proof. Anyway, my dad decided enough is enough.
When I was in Liverpool for the summer semester in 2007, Operation Tear Down commenced. I left KL with the shop still being around, I returned with the shop already gone. I remember my mom telling me over MSN voice messaging that the shop has closed down for good. It was a pretty emotional day for me. 🙁
Since our shop was no more, there was practically no reason for me to go back to visit. I think over the 7 years or so, I have only been back for 2 times. Once to visit some old friends to inform them that I am back from the UK, and once was during Chinese New Year a few years ago.
So, when I found the opportunity to visit again last Saturday, I was pretty excited. I have heard from my parents that the whole place looks very different now compared to what I remember. It is time to see with my own eyes.
First thing I immediately noticed is the side strip pedestrian only pathway, Jalan Hang Kasturi. It used to be pretty bare, with 2 rows of coconut trees on the side. Now they built a series of Wau (Malay kite) arches and named it Kasturi Walk. Used to be a free area where illegal vendors set up stall to sell really cheap snacks. Now it is jam packed with souvenir stalls, managed by Central Market’s management. I heard each stall rents for RM 1000 per month now.
When I stepped inside the building, I was really shocked. It felt familiar, but at the same time also unsettlingly unfamiliar. It is very confusing.
The air conditioning is still as cold as I remember, and the floor tiles were still the same old randomly mismatched color tiles. Back then, the air conditioning was one of Central Market’s signature draw for the locals. It was located strategically between Petaling Street and Masjid Jamek, so people who walk between these 2 places would come inside to escape the heat, if only for a while.
But… what’s with all these stalls on the main walkway? I remember when Central Market’s management rights got sold to a new company, it was 2004 or 2005-ish. When these new fellas took over, they immediately created new stall spaces to maximize rental revenue. But it was done sporadically. Now, it seems all the open spaces has been fully utilized. It is no longer relaxing to walk inside this building. Say what you want about how they transformed the building for the better, to me, the fact is just that they have been going on a rental revenue maximization rampage.
Okay, enough complaining. Let me show you where our shop used to be.
It’s a rather frustrating story. When my dad gave up his option to renew the rental contract, we were told that our shop space would be allocated to other heritage based shops. But when we came back a few months later, it was disappointing to see another luggage shop in place. And it seems that the new owner is a distant relative. Mom said that she had a chat with the new owner, the new guy said where we failed, he will succeed. His will be a highly specialized Samsonite luggage shop instead of being a jack of all trades like what we did. Back then, our shop sold luggage, handbags, schoolbags, travel backpacks, wallets, umbrellas etc.
Well, it felt awesome when I saw the shop last Saturday. Apparently, after some cock talking, this new shop has reverted to something similar like what we used to do, selling a wider range of goods.
I spent most of my weekends in the shop as a kid. All my siblings did. My parents wanted to train us to work hard instead of spending time relaxing at home. Every weekend we would have to 去Market看店 (go to Market to take care of the shop), Market being our short form for Central Market. It was all good memories..
I see that the anneh (Indian) snacks stall under the stairs has survived. I have many a sweet memories with this stall, literally. I bought countless sweets here, it was 20 cents for a packet of 5 candies. I bought countless boxes of Tora chocolates here. And Choki Choki sticks. Do you know Choki Choki? It is a very awesome thing.
Apparently, this lao kok kok (antique) lift is still alive and kicking too! I was almost in tears as I watched it ascend and then descend as it triggered another memory.
Actually the lift is pretty pointless to have. The building is for the most part only 2 floors, Ground Floor and First Floor. It would be faster to take the staircase that the lift.
But then, this lift has see through glass on one side of the wall. Us kids would get into the lift and be in awe with the view outside the lift as it went up and down. We treated the lift as a fascinating toy and used it so much that the security guards had to come and kick us away!
I walked to the back end of the building and found myself staring at Central Market Annexe. Actually I am not that fond of this name.
This new building was opened in the 1990s, I can’t remember which year. It was originally called Central Square, and it had a different company managing it. When it opened, it was intended to be a hip and trendy shopping mall for the youngsters. There was an Odeon cinema and a video game arcade. I watched Titanic and Armageddon here. I learned how to play Street Fighter here.
Sadly, it only lasted for a few years. I think this place suffered from being too small and not able to really carve out a niche for itself. Central Market soon took over this building and renamed it as Central Market Annexe. Somehow it doesn’t sound right to me. I still prefer the old name, Central Square.
I was curious to see what else survived. My thoughts went to the rooftop. So I climbed the stairs to second floor.
Back then, there were two food courts in Central Market. The one on first floor was what we dub The Tourists Food Court, where the food was less delicious and much more expensive. Then on the rooftop, there was another food court. This rooftop food court was dark and dodgy looking, but the food is cheaper and delicious. Only us insiders and a handful of old time locals knew it’s existence.
Ah, it appears that this rooftop food court has survived!
But… what the heck? It is renovated. It looks clean and nice now! I went in for a spin, saw no familiar faces, and left.
I was getting hungry by then. Since I am now technically an outsider to this place, maybe I should join the tourists and check out the first floor food court. It was renovated too and looked nothing like what I remember.
It used to be only a few stalls, now the food court has more than 10 different selections. I settled at one of the stalls called Mini Wok. What a genius move!
Fate has a strange way of working. When I was making my order with the cashier, the cook peered out from the kitchen. I recognized the cook! She was the one that I always frequented on the rooftop food court! Even more surprising, she recognized me!
Cook: Eh eh?! Sunstar boy!?
We know each other not by name, but by the shop’s name. Sunstar was the name of my dad’s shop.
We spent a few minutes catching up. Apparently, shortly after we left, the food courts were all renovated. There was a slot in the first floor food court, so she grabbed it and moved downstairs. After all, business is better downstairs.
After some small talks, she went back inside to prepare my order. I went to get myself a fresh papaya juice for RM 4.00, and when I got back, I was greeted by an overflowing plate of Cantonese noodles. Malay styled Cantonese noodles (mee goreng Kongfu) does not taste the same as conventional Chinese style wat tan hor, but they are delicious in their own way nonetheless.
How much did I pay for the noodles? RM 0. I wanted to pay her, but she wanted to belanja (treat). Since she wouldn’t take no for an answer, and I am no bloody good at insisting on saying no… well…