Kwai Chai Hong is quickly becoming the new tourist spot in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. What used to be an old abandoned alleyway with pre-war buildings is now a thriving cultural area where communities come together to celebrate art and history.
But Kwai Chai Hong is more than a tourist attraction. It’s the Malaysian Chinese community’s love letter to both its past and future.
What does Kwai Chai Hong mean?
The name “Kwai Chai Hong” is the Cantonese translation of the Malaysian “Lorong Panggung” which means ‘Ghost Lane’ or ‘Little Demon Alley’.
But don’t worry, this doesn’t mean that Kwai Chai Hong or Lorong Panggung is haunted. Its rich history simply comes from two suspected origin stories.
The first came from the colloquial term ‘kwai chai’ which translated to ‘little demons’ or ‘ghost children’. It was the term Chinese workers (who first migrated to Malaysia for a living) used to call the naughty kids who ran around the alleyway.
The second story tells of the original Kwai Chai Hong area being occupied by a troubled gang of gamblers, drug addicts, alcoholics and other criminals. Some of these are not in itself a crime: gambling is a cultural activity in Malaysia, and many Malaysians gamble online for fun. Still, look at how far Kwai Chai Hong has come! From being the home of gangsters it is now open to creative communities.
Kwai Chai Hong and Chinatown
You can find Kwai Chai Hong in Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown. That is Petaling Street or Jalan Petaling. That’s why much of it is filled with Chinese history and homages. The name itself is a Cantonese translation, and the art reflects the history of Chinese people in Malaysia.
The very arch that will welcome you upon the entrance is written with Mandarin characters of its name and is done by a famous Chinese calligrapher.
The Art of Kwai Chai Hong
As such, the art there reflects the history of the Chinese communities who migrated and eventually settled in Malaysia.
Most of the art that you can see in the alleyway are murals or paintings on walls that also happen to be interactive. This means that people can pose within the painting and look like they are part of it.
Most of these show the daily activities of the early Chinese migrants during the 1960s. The good thing about it is that even the suspicious activities that are frowned upon today are still shown. This is to exhibit that people shouldn’t be scared of their past histories, even those that may be unsavory.
These ‘unsavory’ histories include showing Chinese people doing their vices in the alleyway itself. But all in all, it showcased the everyday lives and activities of the diverse Chinese community.
There’s a mural of the Yan Keng Benevolent Dramatic Association building, the Chin Woo stadium and even barbers who cut hair out in the open. This last practice has been a long discontinued practice, so it’s amazing to see it being documented in this way.
The five local artists who worked on it are Khek Shin Nam, Chan Kok Sing, Chok Fook Yong, Chew Weng Yeow and Wong Leck Min. They all have different art-styles that ended up complementing each other well!
The Future of Kwai Chai Hong
Before the space management company Bai Chuan Management Sdn Bhd started the Kwai Chai Hong project, they only initially planned to make it a side business.
They were to rent out its 10 shophouses to small businesses. 6 of which were along Chinatown street of Jalan Petaling, while 4 would be along the alleyway itself. This also includes restoring the whole lane seeing as the booming cultural, heritage and art market was too much of a big opportunity to pass out on.
But the founders of the Bai Chuan Management eventually fell in love with the restored alleyway, as well the community that grew because of it.
“So when we got into this project, we thought just make it simple, rent it out and make money. But we fell in love with this place, we fell in love with these 10 shoplots and we fell in love with the people around.
“You become a family and you want to do something about it, you don’t want to just make money. So from a side business project, it became a passion project, because we spent a lot of time, effort and investment making sure this becomes meaningful to people,” she told reporters at the launch.”
– Zeen Chang, managing partner of Bai Chuan Management, the space management company who restored Kwai Chai Hong to its current glory
History with Modernity
Kwai Chai Hong prides itself on bringing Chinese history to the present in an artistic way. But it’s also commendable for merging history-learning with modern QR Codes for a more interactive and immersive experience.
Zee Chang says that they hired professional voice artists to record voice clips for each of the murals. This gives the visitors a more knowledgeable glimpse into the history of each of the paintings before them.
Of the 10 shoplots, 5 have already been taken up for future business. Bai Chuan Management is carefully picking out who it will allow renting space in the alleyway as they are carefully curating its feel and vibe.
They also plan to make Kwai Chai Hong into an event venue. There will also be eateries to give space for those who want to linger in the area.
Currently, Kwai Chai Hong is open from 9 AM to 6 PM daily for free!
Recently, Kwai Chai Hong’s Facebook page has been posting photos of a free movie screening. People have happily flocked to the event.
They featured a local short film discussing Malaysian heritage.
It’s also worth noting that it was a full house!
People have also made beautiful paintings of Kwai Chai Hong, showing everyone how loved the alleyway already is.
To Sum It All Up
In conclusion: not only is Kwai Chai Hong an instagrammable secret hideout that’s now turning into a brand new KL tourist spot, but it’s also serving to give people a sense of their history and a brand new community.
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