The Merdeka Square

Abdul Samad Building with the financial district just behind

This is probably their version of Luneta. And like ours, there’s much to see and learn. In this square can be found the worlds tallest flagpole. In 1957, they hoisted the Malayan flag here signifying their independence from British rule. Inscribed in a polished brown marble stone that commemorates that event:

“It was here that the Malaysian flag was raised for the first time at 12.01 on 31st of August 1957 to replace the Union Jack, thus signifying the end of British rule over Malaya and the end of colonization…The 95 meter is among  the talles in the world. The Merdeka square, previously known as Selangor Club Padang, was built by the British in 1884 during their colonization of Malaya. The strategic site and exclusive location resembled the atmosphere and environment of their homeland. The field was a popular venue for social activities and occasionally used for the game of cricket. At the corner of the square is a fountain that was built in 1897”

The Merdeka Square that the British built is almost entirely intact today.

There was a barn like structure that I thought was a restaurant if not a lodge. Later, I found out that it actually housed club members who regularly played cricket. It became a social area where players, families, men and women would hang around to  socialize while sipping tea and playing cricket on the side – if that’s not British, I don’t know what is.

Beneath the square is Plaza Putra, it has food courts and shops but it was closed. I later found out that it was flooded recently and was undergoing renovation. It was unfortunate but the Malaysians has been fighting their seasonal floods since time immemorial.In the process they have been  coming up with some of th e most innovative ways of improving their cities capability to handle overflows. They don’t play the blame game here – they take action— something we can all learn from.

I was awed by the beauty of the Sultan Abdul Samad building’s architecture. Its Moorish and Moghul style was said to have been inspired by several Islamic buildings all over the world. What is fascinating is that it was designed by an English man named A.C. Norman. It was intended to be the administration hall (of course of the British) during its creation in 1897.  Later on, when the administrative offices were gone, the judicial courts came in– but they too left. The government is trying to find its next occupant.

The Malaysian’s national museum is also in Merdeka square. The elegant white building was once a commercial bank but has long been under government management. It was close when  we dropped by. What strikes me is how wonderfully preserved all the buildings are in the plaza. Made me wonder why they seem to respect their cultural heritage more than we do ours. Sometimes you ask yourself if we have been made blind by the very institutions that was supposed to make us realize how wonderful our history is.

Interesting is how the British adopted what was predominant in the Malayan society. They understood that the Malays had a sense of their own identity and that attempting to replace it would only undermine their hold on the state. Testament to this careful balance is the buildings that at first glance would appear to have been designed by the locals themselves.

Moving down a little further near the highway is an Anglican church, the only Christian church I visited in this country. The church of St. Mary the Virgin is a graceful building of British gothic influence built in 1894. This church is another fine example of superb restoration work. It has a little garden and its surrounding is well planted with trees.

I dream that one day that what is being accomplished by our close neighbours would be replicated in our own backyard. When and how is the question at hand.

August 2010


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