With Dr M’s return, Putrajaya folks dream of cafes

OCT 21 — I usually dread sending my car for the usual maintenance service; not so much because it will burn a hole in my pocket, but because it means I will be without my car for almost a day.

And if you stay in Putrajaya, that is just one day too many.

The absence is felt immediately. To return home and continue working, I would have to take a Grab — ranging from RM7 to RM11 a trip, for a measly two and a half kilometre journey. And of course, another return trip to pick up the car when it is done.

Technically, I can walk home. That would take around half an hour, although it would feel way longer under the scorching sun.

I can also take a bus... if I am willing to wait for almost the same amount of time for a bus. Worth it? Hardly.

So, believe me when I say that I must have been among the many who did a spit take while reading about Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad complaining to the foreign press that Putrajaya did not turn out the way he imagined it to be.

“I wanted to build a boulevard like the Champs-Élysées in Paris, with side roads and lots of shops,” he told the Wall Street Journal, when complaining that civil servants and residents here prefer to drive instead of walk the broad avenues.

He was of course referring to Persiaran Perdana, the almost three-kilometre boulevard that stretches from the prime minister’s office straight to the Putrajaya International Convention Centre, cutting through Precincts 2 to 4.

“People would go to and fro walking and having coffee in cafes and all that. But civil servants, they want to be exclusive. They didn’t want anyone there,” he reportedly said.

And walking is the furthest on everyone’s mind when going along the boulevard.

Putrajaya... where cars rule the roads and simple things like food stalls and cafes are scarce. — Reuters pic
Putrajaya... where cars rule the roads and simple things like food stalls and cafes are scarce. — Reuters pic

For one, the boulevard itself looks like it was built for cars. It has three lanes on each side of the road, with a wide divider in between that canl fit two more lanes.

The distance between the boulevard and the offices may even fit two more lanes. Such is the width of the road, crossing it would be another chore altogether.

The humongous space between the boulevard and the offices gives one the idea that originally it may indeed have been built for pedestrians.

Trees were planted, but not shady enough to block out the Malaysian sun. And certainly nowhere near enough to make the precincts cool and pleasant.

Instead, the roadsides are filled with cars illegally parked while the drivers pop into the offices for some official errand.

Too few bother to park at the designated parking areas and trudge under the scorching sun apart from those who actually work here, and are parked when the sun has yet to climb.

In some cases, you may even find cars parked on the sidewalk. Most of the time, these are official government cars where the drivers are waiting for their bosses. Some are forced there by the demand of car parks for staff outstripping supply.

As for the shops, they are almost non-existent. Unless you count the mostly gastronomically insulting cafeterias put in each ministry. Or the too few kiosks that dot some corners. Or the pretty much dead retail spaces in malls such as Galeria and Suria Mall.

To put it simply, you cannot find good food among the government offices. Even Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng complained back in August after just a few months in office, and you can certainly trust him when it comes to food.

In his tweet, Lim was pictured enjoying a bowl of hearty mutton soup in Jalan Doraisamy in Kuala Lumpur. “Not too many food in Putrajaya, I have to come to KL,” he wrote.

You do have to wonder how Barisan Nasional ministers ever survived for decades. Must be one of the perks having a bevy of secretaries and drivers.

Tengku Adnan Mansor, who has been Putrajaya MP since forever, and miraculously was among the few Umno MPs who survived the GE14 onslaught, was clearly not bothered by the lack of good food here.

Now that Dr Mahathir has realised how different Persiaran Perdana is from the Champs-Élysées, maybe Putrajaya will put some effort into making the boulevard much more pleasant for civil servants and locals alike.

Allowing retail and F&B spaces to flourish may also do wonders for the economy, and well-being of our civil servants.

It is probably not that far off to say that productivity in Putrajaya may shoot up immensely if only there is much more decent food here.

For the most part, workers have to actually leave the office areas to get to the more palatable food in Putrajaya, and the further they go — to Cyberjaya, IOI City Mall, Sungai Merab, Bangi — the more variety and better the food.

And the more time they take out of their day.

Imagine cafes, bakeries, nasi campur places, char koay teow stalls, ice cream booths, all under shady trees, and more importantly within a stone’s throw from the office. Dr Mahathir, we are counting on you to make this happen in Putrajaya.

Right after you fix the country, of course.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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