KUALA LUMPUR, April 22 — Even before it made news headlines as the fourth location in the country to undergo the enhanced movement control order (EMCO), Selangor Mansion already had a bit of an unsavoury reputation.
This nondescript block of flats with its hodge podge of shops on the ground floor may be a Kuala Lumpur landmark but really, most people who don’t have any business in this part of town would rather avoid it.
Except if you are a foodie. From as far back as 2018, foodies have written about the roti banjir served at one of the stalls here. Roti canai drenched in dhal curry and topped with two telur goyang or soft boiled eggs.
Is that all there is?
For resident Baashir Mahmud, both Selangor Mansion and Malayan Mansion (the other block of flats across the road and also part of the EMCO) had their glory days back in the 1960s.
“When they built Selangor Mansion and Malayan Mansion back then, it was marketed as high-class residences. But people were reluctant to buy the property due to the reputation the surrounding areas carried — a black site.
“Later they rid the area of gangsterism and vice, and it began to transform into a vibrant business enclave,” said Baashir, referring to the Masjid India area that was once a gangster-controlled area and infamously known for cheap prostitutes.
Selangor Mansion used to be home to shoemaking and textile pioneers in the city, as well as renowned artists like the late Chia You Chian resided in Selangor Mansion for 45 years with his family.
His apartment also doubled up as his studio — a place where he taught art and painted.
The first lift
Remembering the good old days, Baashir said Selangor Mansion and Malayan Mansion were also the first flats in Malaysia to have lifts installed.
“It was also the country’s first mixed commercial-residential property (together with Malayan Mansion). My parents told me some of my relatives would drive all the way here just to take a joyride in the lift.
“Back then it was occupied by the well-to-do and affluent people. Some ambassadors lived here too. That is the heritage of this building,” he said
Sadly, Selangor Mansion and Malayan Mansion no longer project the same prestige as they did before; rather, they look like low-cost apartments, said Baashir, who has lived in Selangor Mansion for 30 years.
“One of the main reasons leading to its degradation was the lack of proper building maintenance carried out by the building management.
“If the management had implemented stricter rules, in terms of security, capped the number of people allowed per unit (non-families) and carried out proper maintenance work, like painting the building and ensured cleanliness, Selangor Mansion would not be what it is today,” he said.
Rundown, almost in tatters
Meals at any of the ground floor eateries often included sightings of cockroaches and rats.
By nightfall, the broken sidewalks became a resting place for the homeless.
“In reality, unit owners are paying close to RM5,000 maintenance fees per year. Does anyone know that we are paying this much of maintenance fees, before they pass judgement about the building?” he said of Selangor Mansion’s low-cost image.
But despite these shortcomings, flats at Selangor Mansion and Malayan Mansion are high in demand due to their strategic location.
“If you stay here, and work around here, you save a lot on petrol and time on the road. This is why many of us still prefer to stay here.
“We just wish something was done to keep this place up to standards again,” he said.
Sealed and forgotten
Over the years, Selangor Mansion and Malayan Mansion became a footnote in the country’s architectural history. Until April 7, when Covid-19 cases were detected at the property, and they were placed under the enhanced movement control order.
“All of a sudden now people are talking about Selangor Mansion and only regarding it as a dirty place occupied by illegal immigrants.
“This is not accurate at all. There are still Malaysian families living here and some inherited the property from their families, who stayed here since pre-independence days (most of whom were helping to build Malaysia),” he said.
He also clarified that the migrant worker numbers reported in the news — 97 per cent — were inaccurate as there are 20 per cent Malaysian families and 10 per cent permanent residents living there.
Because the buildings are now sealed with barbed wire and yellow police tapes while guarded by armed forces, it feels as though everyone inside had been contaminated with the coronavirus.
Beyond the yellow tapes
Also a long time resident, Maajid Kadeer told Malay Mail that beyond the barbed wire and yellow police tapes, the place is nothing like what has been described in recent news reports.
“I was shocked to find out that we would be on lockdown because they detected high numbers of Covid-19 cases here.
“As far as I knew then, there were no cases in Selangor Mansion. But I later found out that it was the workers from a shop located in Malayan Mansion who had contracted the coronavirus from the shop owner who lives in Menara City One. The workers live here,” he said.
When asked how he was coping with the EMCO, Maajid said he was quite comfortable in his home which he bought back in 1981.
“I was born in India and moved to Malaysia when I was six. I grew up here, went to school here and took over my family’s business.
“The condition inside here is nothing like what has been written in the media. I’m quite comfortable here except I cannot go out and get my own groceries and to go to work,” said Maajid.
Maajid recalled when his ancestors migrated here in 1918 and had businesses on Jalan Tun Perak, formerly known as Jalan Mountbatten (1961 to 1981), Mountbatten Road (1946 to 1961) and Java Street (1889 to 1946).
An EMCO was first enforced on Menara City One on March 31, when 17 positive cases were reported. Selangor Mansion and Malayan Mansion followed suit.
However, on April 13, the government — upon advice from the Health Ministry — decided to extend the ECMO at all three premises.
Subsequently, areas in the vicinity of Masjid India have been added into the EMCO enforced zones — Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman, Jalan Melayu, Jalan Dang Wangi, Jalan Tun Perak right up to Jalan Ampang.
During the EMCO period, no visitors are allowed into residential areas and no business activities are permitted.
* The names of residents in this story have been changed to protect their privacy.