A feng shui tour of the Klang Valley #23

Back when Kuala Lumpur was still a small town, goods were transported to and from Port Klang via the Klang River by boat or on land. Travellers walked on foot or used bullock carts through jungles, staying close to the river.
Since there were no skyscrapers or tall buildings back then, the travellers would look out for markers placed along the trail. The 15th milestone at present-day Brickfields marked the “border” of Kuala Lumpur: the Chinese called it “sup mmm pei”. This marker was located behind the defunct Lido cinema, near Wisma YMCA.

This area was also previously known as Kandang Kerbau, literally buffalo shed or ranch. It was named after its function. Bullock carts – pulled by buffaloes – brought goods into Petaling Street by day. They were not allowed to be kept in town for hygiene and sanitary reasons. By night, they were fed and kept at … you guessed it, Kandang Kerbau!

It was situated at the present location of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) which itself is over 100 years old now. The first YMCA was founded in London in 1844 by Sir George Williams to create a community of young people with good Christian values regardless of denomination. Today, the movement has evolved into a world wide non-sectarian and apolitical social organisation that develops communities of young people spiritually, intellectually and physically. It is generally open to all, regardless of their faith, social class, age or gender.

Kandang Kerbau eventually gave way to a new industry that flourished here. The fifth and last Kapitan Cina, Yap Kwan Seng, anticipated the growing demand for bricks in the fast-developing Kuala Lumpur and acted accordingly to supply it. He set up a brick kiln to produce bricks. It was a natural choice as this area was a clay pit that provided ready materials for good quality bricks.

The name Brickfields remains to this very day, although the kiln is long gone. Later, Malayan Railway used Brickfields as its main depot (in present-day KL Sentral). This was still in colonial times before it became Keretapi Tanah Melayu. Back then, the British brought in Indian nationals to work in the railway and depot.

These workers lived in railway quarters – some of these are still standing today at Jalan Rozario. They chose to become Malayan citizens at independence. Due to the large number of ethnic Indians living and trading here, Brickfields is also known as Little India.

In honour of the first Malayan Indian Congress (MIC) president, Tun V.T. Sambanthan, the main road, Jalan Brickfields, was renamed Jalan Tun Sambanthan.

Brickfields is also known for blind massage services as it is very near the Malaysian Association for the Blind (MAB). Many blind people develop living skills here to become productive citizens.
The Malaysian Institute of Accountants is headquartered here and there are also numerous law firms found in Brickfields. Not surprising really as these professions, along with medicine and engineering, are popular choices among educated ethnic Indians.

Brickfields also has an unsavoury reputation as one of Kuala Lumpur’s few red light districts, but I will leave it to you, dear readers, to determine its veracity.

In stark contrast and perhaps to balance of the “sin” factor, there are also a lot of religious houses of worship here of different denominations! Some of these establishments are more than 100 years old. Not surprisingly, there is even a road that reflects this unique concentration shrines and temples: Jalan Berhala, literally, shrine road.
Jalan Berhala actually comprises three roads, shaped like a U. Here, there are the Buddhist Maha Vihara Temple, the Arulmigu Sree Veera Hanuman Temple and Sri Sakthi Karpada Vinayagar Temple. Nearby, there is the Sri Kandaswamy, a century-plus-old Sri Lankan Tamil temple.

At Jalan Thambipillay, there is the Three Teachings Chinese Temple. For Christians, there are the Holy Rosary and Our Lady of Fatima Catholic churches; Zion Lutheran Church and St Mary’s Orthodox Syrian Cathedral. The Madrasatul Gouthiyyah surau, mostly attended by Indian-Muslims, can also be found in Brickfields.
Is this a bizarre coincidence? Does Brickfields have some properties that attract houses of worship? Was there a competition to win over lost souls? Who knows? Perhaps it just happens to be a good or low cost place to set up a house of worship. Perhaps it is because ethnic Indians embrace a wide variety of religions – Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam.

In any case, it may be of interest to note that houses of worship are not affected by energy forces, such as the ones discussed as feng shui. After all, the Almighty is the creator or all and above all such things. Why would God need to collect energy anyway when He commands everything?

Perhaps the existence (survival, perhaps?) of so many houses of worship here is due to this “divine immunity”. It simply remained while those around it perished or faded into obscurity.

From a feng shui perspective, Brickfields is a very strange and difficult area. In the big picture, it would appear that it should do well. There is the dragon in Bangsar at the northwest side of Brickfields and a river runs along its southeast border. Energy flows down from the hills and is collected at the river. Therefore, a properly oriented building can tap into this pool of gentle, homogenous energy and benefit from it.

Yet, a drive through Brickfields would reveal a different story. Despite the fast booming development of Kuala Lumpur, Brickfields looks as if it has been forgotten in time. Apart from KL Sentral, there seems to be very little progress here. There were plans years ago to develop a massive promenade from Brickfields to Sentul alongside the Klang-Gombak River but that failed to materialise.

I believe this area suffers from poor planning and therefore could not tap into the beneficial energies created by the landform, plus the dampening effect of railroads and LRT tracks between Brickfields and Bangsar. The roads are not ideally aligned and thus the buildings are facing every which way but the right one. There are odd-shaped buildings – including a wedge-like one! – sprouting in what little space available.

What a waste. Brickfields has so much potential. It even has a district police headquarters (one of four in Kuala Lumpur), which oversees Bangsar, Bukit Damansara, Taman Tun Dr ismail, Taman Desa and Jalan Klang Lama, all of which have progressed far ahead of Brickfields itself!

Let us begin with the river. As discussed in various other articles previously, riverbanks are expected to be flooded during heavy monsoon rains. Therefore, they are usually left undeveloped by the authorities. There is even a National Land Code that stipulates no development to be done within 20 feet of a river’s embankment, something that seems to be conveniently forgotten.

Anyway, the colonial authorities were smart enough to leave the buffer zone alone. This “prime” property attracted migrant workers who set up squatter homes. Although they sprouted like mushrooms, the authorities did little to evict them; they figured Mother Nature would do so soon enough and wash them out. Besides, it was a convenient source of cheap labour.

This phenomenon backs up the observation of ancient feng shui texts that people are attracted to pools of homogenous, gentle energy collected at riverbanks. However, such pools also attract the dregs of society. The lowly-paid squatters get involved in gangsterism, prostitution and other unsavoury activities to supplement their income, relieve boredom or just to vent their frustration.

It is a commonly observed occurrence where rivers and riverbanks are concerned. Town planners must take note and develop riverbanks into public parks for the general public and prevent squatter homes from gaining a foothold. Squatter homes are not only unsightly; they also pollute rivers with rubbish and waste.
We will continue our tour of Brickfields in the next instalment.

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