“Cerita kedai” (“A shop’s story”)

In Kerinchi, there is an empty corner shop lot with a glass wall that was painted over, presumably by its owner. The small passageway used to be occupied by a food stall on Jalan Pantai Murni that served satisfied guests from the neighbourhood. It didn’t have a signboard and probably didn’t have an operating license either but had many fans for its late-hour bites. Then, earlier this year, the stall owner and crew packed up and left without notice, leaving behind just a blank glass wall.

The road along Jalan Pantai Murni is colourful, chaotic, and perhaps even visually offensive: motor chop workshops by the mosque, lamp posts strangled with metal wires and matrimonial notices, a continuous stream of taxis and motorcycles, and the persistent and tacit ignorance of traffic laws. It is also a neighbourhood of many disparities: up the serene hills lie condominiums and apartments, and further down the road are the public housing flats and humble kampung houses that gave Kampung Kerinchi its name.

“Cari Ahli Politik?” (“Looking for a Politician?”)

Over the years, this glass wall has become a canvas for graffiti, outbursts of words. I guess it’s easy to romanticise a place just as a passerby, but then Kampung Kerinchi has made the news several times year for its housing evictions and hotly contested constituency, Lembah Pantai. If, as a traveler, one can discover a people’s aspirations and desires through their billboards and advertisements, perhaps it isn’t much of a stretch to say this glass wall reflects some of Kampung Kerinchi’s fears and aspirations.

While some still call it “Kampung Kerinchi”, others use the more recent, gentrified label: “Bangsar South”

In Kerinchi, it doesn’t take a statistician or a politician to point out the obvious: that the income and lifestyle values of those who live up the hill and down the hill are acutely disparate. Towering public housing flats dotted with satellite antennas are built a stone’s throw from low-density SoHo units with landscaped gardens. On Friday nights, sermons blare from mosques while clubbers hail cabs. The old food stalls and warungs compete with popular chains like Tutti Frutti and Old Town Coffee. The disparities and clashes are endless, and can even be traced to the name itself. While some still call it “Kampung Kerinchi”, others use the more recent, gentrified label: “Bangsar South”.

“Contorol” (“control”) / “Illusi cinta sama onley” (“Love is the same illusion”) / “Babi” (“pig”)

The pitch and tone of this disparity becomes extreme at the most festive of seasons in Malaysia: the Ramadhan fasting and celebrations, or at the slightest hint of elections in the news. A chaotic spell befalls Kerinchi: sermons at the mosques become politically-tinged, faithful believers horde towards the mosques, the community halls and public areas are transformed into festive carnivals, flags of political parties rain on the streets overnight.

This has occurred a few times over the last year, and it would be safe to say that the non-participating residents have accepted these inconvenient phenomena as commonplace. Like a tropical rainstorm, it will pass, and then the pace and life in Kerinchi returns to its ‘normal’ mode of chaos. If and when this civilisation ends, and if our descendants excavate this site, even the sentiments scrawled in graffiti may not survive. Cerita Kedai, is, after all, only writing on a glass wall.

Grace Chin is the curator of Hilang, a Poskod project that explores place names in Malaysia. Watch this space for the upcoming installments.