PETALING JAYA: When was the last time you explored Kuala Lumpur? As in, really explored the city to find out the answers to its many mysteries?
On World Cities Day today, FMT Lifestyle speaks with video journalist Amirul Ruslan, 32, who’s been trying to solve several urban mysteries in this culturally rich city.
“A few years ago, I was walking past here, just going from one place to another and I noticed at the intersection that there was something really odd that I couldn’t explain. I have just been obsessed with it since,” he said.
He was talking about these signs in French – “Rue de Rivoli” in Paris and “Rue Assalit” in Nice – in an intersection of a Chow Kit back alley.
“These signs have been here since at least 1989, which means they’ve been here longer than I’ve been alive. Someone planted them for some mysterious purpose that we still don’t know about, and in that time, it’s just been forgotten,” said Amirul.
In fact, this mystery caught the attention of the French embassy and the Alliance Francaise, due to its French theme – with one possible theory being that it was in reference to a cultural programme of some sort.
Looking for clues, the sleuth put on his journalistic hat and relied on archives, libraries, and local knowledge to piece together this jigsaw puzzle. Yet, he is nowhere closer to the truth.
Just a short walk away is another French-themed mystery: an art deco-style mural of Cafe La Glace – one of Denmark’s oldest patisseries – bearing a Parisian address: 32 Avenue de l’Opera.
While there is no immediate connection between the two, 32 Avenue de l’Opera is interestingly just an eight-minute walk away from the very real Rue de Rivoli in Paris!
Coincidence? Maybe not!
Amirul’s love for urbanism and photojournalism culminated in the creation of “theKULthings”, under which he highlights compelling and thoughtful stories about KL, going against the grain of typical videos on social media.
“‘theKULthings’” is a short video-content platform that I use to tell stories about KL that I feel go untold,” he said. “I’ve always been frustrated that only the stories of the main districts or the popular trendy places are told .”
The Pudu-born journalist’s first video – which covered this French peculiarity in the Chow Kit area – has drawn over 88,000 views. And he is currently researching the next big Kuala Lumpur mystery – the Residency Station.
Said to be the first railway station in KL, its railway tracks passed through the grounds of the British Residency. The train was for the private use of the British high commissioner then.
Amirul came across a 1903 Selangor state document, which declared the closure of Residency Station. Later records indicated it was being converted into quarters for railway staff. Could the station have been demolished by 1917 around the time the Kuala Lumpur railway station was completed?
Even so, a Straits Times newspaper article in 1925 referred to a meeting of the Engineering Association of Malaya at Residency Station of all places!
Go there now and all you’ll be see are KTM trains whizzing past along the curved tracks – the only remnant of its forgotten past.
With so many roadblocks in his way, what keeps Amirul going in his quest to uncover the hidden mysteries of KL?
“I am a big fan of KL as a city. I think it is criminally underrated and overlooked. I want it to be a place with the sort of cultural heft that Singapore, Bangkok and Bali have, especially to the wider English-speaking world.
“I believe KL has all the ingredients required to be a mega city that pulls in social, cultural and journalistic interest from a global audience. What appeals to me the most is working on that,” said Amirul.