Bangsar Park: Microcosm of multi-racial Malaysia

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Federal Territory Minister Khalid Samad, Lembah Pantai MP Fahmi Fadzil, BPRA president Nitesh Malani with committee members cutting a cake during a recent residents' association dinner

Folks of various ethnicities live here side-by-side in harmony – a shining reflection of Malaysia’s multi-ethnic mosaic, writes Benedict Lopez.

Anniversaries of residents’ associations are occasions to reflect on the past, sometimes with joy, occasionally with despondency but rarely without significance.

They frequently mark important milestones in the history of the community that is part of our immediate lives. These anniversaries remind many of us of the personal, political, economic, cultural and social milieu we live in – more so if it is a golden jubilee.

The residential area I live in, Bangsar Park, celebrates its golden jubilee this year. My family moved into Bangsar Park in August 1973, after residing in the Cochrane Road government quarters for almost two decades. I still have fond memories of my early life there.

Bangsar Park was developed in an area formerly known as Bangsar Estate, a rubber plantation. Bangsar derived its name from Bunge, a Belgian, and Grisar, a Frenchman, said to be the founders of a European company that managed the Bunge-Grisar estate. The name of this estate was soon localised to Bungsar and later Bangsar.

Bangsar Park has come a long way since its humble beginnings in 1969. Widely regarded as the first residential area to be developed within the enclave of Bangsar in Kuala Lumpur, it was then just an ordinary housing estate as many preferred to buy houses in nearby Petaling Jaya.

Today, Bangsar Park is a microcosm of multi-racial Malaysia with Malays, Chinese, Indians, East Malaysians and Eurasians living side-by-side – a shining example of Malaysia’s multi-ethnic mosaic in these challenging times, when there are attempts to divide us.

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A good number of the original house owners were civil servants like my father who bought their houses at what many would consider unbelievably low prices compared to prices today.

Some of my friends often have a false notion of my affluence just because I reside in Bangsar Park, until I tell them how much my father paid for the house in early 1971. In fact, the prices of houses in Bangsar Park dropped after the flash floods along Jalan Bangsar in 1971.

Architects employed by the developer of Bangsar Park, the now non-operational Nanyang Development Sdn Bhd, designed decent houses with wide roads. In this respect, we are more fortunate than residents of other housing areas in Damansara and Petaling Jaya, where drivers find the roads difficult to negotiate.

Only about 15 years after the first houses were built, property prices in the area began to rise. Today, these residential areas – including housing estates in the vicinity such as Bukit Bandaraya, Taman SA, Bangsar Baru and Lucky Gardens – are among the prime properties in the Klang Valley.

Over the years, changes have taken place in Bangsar Park with commercial entities replacing home owners, particularly along Jalan Maarof. Many houses have been renovated and some single-storey houses have been converted into double-storey houses. Except for these changes, the original topography of Bangsar Park has not altered much.

Traffic jams are quite common along Lorong Maarof now, especially during peak hours, with motorists coming from Damansara to Bangsar driving along this road just to avoid the traffic lights along Jalan Maarof.

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Lorong Maarof at 8.45am on a Monday

Retiree Charles Chew, who has lived in Lorong Maarof since 1972, vividly recalls, “It was a much quieter and serene neighbourhood then. Air was fresher, certainly not laden with dust and dirt as it is now.”

Charles has witnessed Bangsar Park evolve over the last five decades. “Fast track to 2019. Every morning at about 8.40 am, when I reverse my car to get out, I no longer get the friendly gesture of the oncoming traffic, but rude stares from non-Bangsar drivers,” he rues.

The other roads in Bangsar Park – namely, Jalan Limau Manis, Jalan Limau Nipis and Jalan Limau Kasturi – are relatively quieter with much less traffic. So too are the by-roads along these roads.


A serene and tranquil Jalan Limau Nipis at 8.30am on the same Monday

As I reflect on the past, I notice many of the pioneers have either left this place or, like my father, passed on.

“But we continue to enjoy our stay here with no immediate plans to vacate our home at this juncture,” says Charles. “We have made a lot of caring and sincere friends and are hesitant to start anew in a totally strange location. Guess we will be Bangsarians for a while more.”

Residents come together a few times a year to celebrate during festive seasons and at our annual residents’ association dinner. Even during these occasions, it is always the same faces present, revelling in our potluck high teas and dinners. Other residents seem to be shunning these functions, not realising we each belong to a local community and need one another in times of need.

Still, many decent, friendly and civic-minded residents here care deeply about our community. Friends and neighbours are always around to lend a helping hand and highlight issues of concern. Many still take a profound interest in the happenings of our community and exhibit the espirit de corps whenever the occasion warrants it. These are the people that make Bangsar Park a good place to reside in.

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Due credit must be given to the Bangsar Park Residents’ Association, founded in 1970, especially the past and present presidents and committee members who have provided dedicated and selfless service in fostering community solidarity.

Recalls Peter Raiappan, the first secretary of the association, “Back at that time, we formed one of the first residents’ associations in KL and we were simply motivated by the desire to serve the residents. A good number of civil servants made up the community.”

Like other residential areas, the residents have faced challenges in the past – and have overcome them. Hopefully, we will prevail against new challenges that come our way.

All photographs by Benedict Lopez

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Benedict Lopez
Benedict Lopez was director of the Malaysian Investment Development Authority in Stockholm and economics counsellor at the Malaysian embassy there in 2010-2014. During the course of his work, he covered all five Nordic countries. An eternal optimist and now an Aliran member, he believes Malaysia can provide its citizens with the same benefits and privileges found in the Nordic countries - not a far-fetched dream but one that he hopes will be realised in his lifetime.

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