The residents of Salak South are still living their days in a haze of ’70s nostalgia. But the small, Mandarin-speaking town was established way back in time – 1952 to be specific, when the British isolated the villagers from the Malayan Races Liberation Army during the Malayan Emergency. Jalan Besar, the main street abutting the LRT station, is populated by old-timers who live in close contact with disparate parts of the past. They have seen the war; they’re making ends meet with the trades bequeathed to them by their forefathers; they, naturally, also know where the best yum cha place in the area is.
The first generation of shopowners and merchants pumped life into this sleepy town, but they also saw their communities wither as younglings left their nest to join the big city – this is a dominant, recurring theme among languishing townships. So it’s no surprise to find old sign boards dated from the ’50s still attached to storefronts, or medicinal hall owners putting their slightly rusty but trusty weighing scales to good use. Much of the activity in the neighbourhood now hinge on family businesses and longstanding eateries.
Slowly, the outside world – drawn by Jalan Besar’s architectural jewels – starts to rediscover the battered corridors, ornamental grills and vintage roofs again, by way of independently hosted photography excursions and walks. The neighbourhood seemingly lacks a collective community spirit when you meander by. But you only need a snapshot of a group of old uncles whiling their day away with a chessboard and some peanuts on the side to know that all is still very well.