Pekeliling flats: Memories are made of these

The main entrance of Block C (142) which has been barricaded with old doors from several other units. — Picture by Arif Kartono
The main entrance of Block C (142) which has been barricaded with old doors from several other units. — Picture by Arif Kartono

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JAN 24 — It was built in 1967, way before my time. But it was the place I grew up in the 80s.

The Tuanku Abdul Rahman flats, better known as the Pekeliling Flats or ‘sap chat lau’ (17 floors in Cantonese), was one of the earliest housing development projects in Kuala Lumpur.

There were 11 blocks, most blocks with 16 floors, but many regarded them as 17 floors as they took into account the units located on the ground.

Pekeliling flats were not for the fainthearted.

Outsiders often cringed at the ghetto-like environment.

Lifts were often faulty and smelly. Getting stuck in them for hours was a norm.

Drug addicts lingered along the corridors, wanting to get a quick fix at the garbage chutes. However, they hardly bothered us and break-ins were unheard of — at least on the floor where I was living.

It was also a famous spot where people, mostly outsiders, committed suicide.

The flats were solid, so strong that it was impossible to hammer a nail into the pre-fabricated concrete walls. Even drill bits would snap.

A similar strong bond was also embraced within.

My friends, Alif, Anthony, Ah How and Foong Choo, among others, would play football or ‘police and thieves’ along the corridors. We even cycled there and a handful of grumpy neighbours, who found us annoying, would splash water each time we rode past their houses.

My neighbours, the Sia, Tan, Cheong and Zul families, treated me like their own. I was like a son to my next door neighbour Aunty Rukumani, who made the best veet dosai I have ever tasted.

During the Mooncake festival, we would compete with those living on other floors to see who would line up the most number of candles along the corridor.

“We lived among Malays, Chinese, Indians celebrating every festival together. We lived in harmony with friendly faces everywhere, unlike these days,” recalled my mum who was fondly known as Aunty Tina.

It was a one-room flat, about 400sq ft. Some even called it pigeon holes. It did not stop us from celebrating birthdays and hosting my cousins during the year-end school break.

We even once had 13 of my relatives stay over. They slept in the room, hall, balcony and one was even forced to sleep in the kitchen.

Circular Road, which was later named Jalan Pekeliling and now called Jalan Tun Razak, was the main artery of the city. There were no handphones then. My mum would hang her old red dress on our balcony to signal to my late taxi driver dad that it was an ‘emergency’ and that he had to call home immediately.

Our ‘emergencies’ ranged from a death in the family to itching for supper.

Living in the heart of the city had other perks. Chow Kit and Batu Road were within walking distances and we used to shop at Globe Silk Store. The Kuala Lumpur Hospital was just a stone’s throw away.

We jogged and played at Titiwangsa Lake Gardens, with a dream of living in one of the bungalows nearby.

Food was never a problem — from the delicious curry mee (ironically, the stall was located next to public toilets between Blocks C and G) to the nasi lemak sold near the petrol station which no longer exists.

I still remember an elderly woman, who made her rounds, floor by floor, shouting “char siew pau, kaya pau, tau sa pau”. Her voice still rings in my ears

My childhood friend Samuel Chan, now a father-to-be, helped his parents operate a stall opposite Block B, next to the Pekeliling bus stand. We’ve known each other since we were eight and I am glad our ‘budak flat’ spirit remains intact. I am also glad my wife, whom I have known since we were 16, had a glimpse of the simple yet soulful life we had there.

It was small, no doubt, but those who lived there had big hearts.

I am often reminded how difficult it was for my dad to secure a unit. I thank him as we spent the best years of our lives there.

Pekeliling flats will finally be brought down. It leaves plenty of fond memories. It made me who I am today. 

Memories are made of these.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malay Mail Online.

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