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Book Review: Klang!

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Perhaps it is the clunky name or its long association with cargo ships, but poor Klang has never really enjoyed the attention and celebration it deserves. Most people don’t bother to go unless on a bak kut teh mission (more on that later) or to catch a boat, but this soon-to-be port city boasts not only a population 1.2 million strong and a splash of different cultures, it also possesses a rich history and a prominent place in the story of the nation.

In an effort to relight the reputation of Klang in the hearts and minds of Malaysian residents, construction company WCT Berhad have, as part of their CSR scheme, pumped money and resources into a glossy new book entitled Klang! that celebrates the “colour, the charm, the additives, and the idiosyncrasies” of this royal town.

It is clear from the opening pages that this is a book researched and created by a team of people will an unquenchable enthusiasm for Klang, and the personal style of writing and first-hand accounts of all manner of aspects and places of the town makes the unlikely location sing from the page.

Moving through five different sections over nearly 200 pages, the book ranges from history to food, architecture to islands, and the writers have spoken to Klangers from all cultures and professions, from prominent ministers to roti makers and fortune tellers. These personal stories add colour to the facts, and give the place a feeling of life and history, especially as many of the faces have called Klang their home for years and often have roots that extend back generations.

Even if the eye-catching photographs aren’t enough to make the reader head down to Klang themselves (and there is a detailed heritage trail in the book for those who are keen), the story of this town is an interesting one. Human settlers have been in this area for at least two millennia, although it was the 1400s when Klang found its place on the map thanks to the high-grade tin that was available. It rose through the ranks within the country, becoming a royal town when the Selangor royals made it their home in 1898, while the British had already seen the value of this seafront locale and made Klang their centre of administration in 1874.

Like many of the “Straits” cities and towns during this era, Klang attracted immigrants from all over the region, who brought with them their food, culture, religion, and clothing to bring layers of heritage to this burgeoning place. Even today, sarees and cheongsams, churches and mosques, chee cheong fun and biryani, can be glimpsed on the streets, and serve as a reminder that it is the eclectic mix of people that make this place so interesting.

Food is, as ever, an important aspect of the place, and no book can avoid mentioning the meat-bone herbal soup that is so synonymous with. From an article on a young man keeping his grandfather’s unnamed stall churning out traditional bah kut teh – “the discerning customer always goes for the original recipe” – we learn about Lee Boon Teh, who gave birth to the dish when he decided to add rice to the Chinese bah kut and sell it as bah kut Teh’s. But there are much more edibles celebrated in this particular section, and interesting stories of generations-old stores and stalls are accompanied by eye-watering dishes that would make any sensible reader want to jump in the car and head straight there! While history is a key aspect to this celebration of Klang, the book also makes a point of looking to the future, meeting the “new blood” moving to the town and looking at how development and improvements in infrastructure, as well as the impending “cityship,” are inching Klang back to its former glory.

Malaysia is a mysterious creature, and there is much fascination to be found among those places somewhat less shiny that the pristine beaches or lush jungles. Klang is one of these hidden gems, and there are a multitude of stories worth hearing if you give them a chance. Klang! In and Around the Royal Town is available in all good bookshops nationwide and at WCT Berhad properties such as the Premiere Hotel in Klang and Paradigm Mall in PJ. It is priced at RM99.

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Source: The Expat October 2012

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