Monday, March 1, 2010

Malaysiana: Petaling Street

 Petaling Street in Kuala Lumpur is famous for its night market. It's always busy, there're a ton of cheap pirated goods, good food. It was so prosperous and such a draw for tourists that the government decided to refurbish it, give it a nice arch at the end of the street, and I think there's even a roof to keep the rain off the good folks who shop there. What happened? It became a Chinatown, with cheesy red pillars to match. Why the fuck do we need a Chinatown? The Chinese shop at other places too. I felt really betrayed, like the government had decided to shunt us Chinese into one area to capitalize on tourism as much as possible, when Petaling Street, despite being Chinese-dominated, really belonged to everybody.

This refurbishment happened while I was gone, and even though I don't go to Petaling Street all that much, whenever my family passes through that area now and I see those godawful pillars, I cringe inwardly, because it feels like Malaysia is aping ways to heighten differences in ways that we never had to. The US of A having Chinatowns makes sense to me, because the Chinese were very much an oppressed minority, and they would want a safe space. But they are not all that oppressed in Malaysia, nor do we have a history of Chinese sneaking into Malaysia (many of us Malaysian-Chinese have ancestors who moved here through trading vessels and the such-like, WITHOUT the implied illegal immigrant stigma, so it infuriates me that out of all the ideas we could have gotten from the West, we had to bring that nonsense in).

We Malaysian-Chinese have many cultural markers all over Malaysia, and excuse me for saying this, but we are part of the fabric that is modern Malaysia. Petaling Street was an example of how we are threads in the social fabric, but now it feels like the government has cut us out and thrown us into a corner for tourism's sake. 

It just doesn't look right to render Petaling Street as a Chinatown. Maybe I'm missing something, though. Singaporeans, how do you guys feel about your Chinatown and Little India? 

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