Guest Explorer in Wasteland Kuala Lumpur 3: A site visit to the larger adjacent site (2012)

23 Feb 2014 | Saubin Yap - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia


On the other side of the Monsoon drain and behind the Mosque there is a large empty site. This site is much larger than the one under observation, and I was interested in why its not included in the WTN observations. Saubin tells me that it was still in use when they decided on the site and we find that the developers have only recently cleared out of it. I’ve ventured over to the entrance before but held back because of the greetings by a small pack of feral dogs.  I was interested in seeing this site, and the shanty that is visible from the WTN. It is further around the egde of the lake that the WTN site borders, and I ask Saubin if he wants to come along.

I feel like this whole area is important to the site that is under observation. The area is undergoing pretty rapid development and the empty site we are looking at exists in a moments of this change. The towering condo developments seem to be popping up one by one, and the new shopping complex development that has created the left over parcel of land that we are looking at, is part of this rapid change in the area.

I’m interested in the shanty and who lives there. Are they immigrant workers who are out of work and don’t want to return home? Are they responsible for the sweet potato (Kep) plants that we think are being cultivated on the site we are looking at? Could we meet them? Could we think about ways to make more temporary gardens with them on the site, which could be moved if some kind of development begins.

We visit the large adjacent site first and we see an eagle over the lake as we come onto the site.  I ask Saubin about the shrine that we see and he tells me these are placed on work sites by developers for good fortune and I’m struck by this good intent and what we see on this site.

Saubin is shocked by the state of this site. It has been used to house the concrete mixing trucks and to process the concrete. There is waste concrete over a large area of the ground…. We speak about the ethics of this, the health of soil and the ethics of leaving a site like this. Saubin asks if you could do this in Australia, where I am from. We talk about whether the developers still own this land, and assume they do, in which case they can do what ever they want to it…

We look further into the site and come across three structures that are abandoned and a whole lot of rubble and rubbish. The residue and this sense of the site being just freshly left, is a little like looking at someone’s dirty laundry.

We talk about the soil further and I recall an Australian Aboriginal elder talking about soil at an Architectural conference I went to a long time ago. He spoke about the concept of soil holding certain spirits and the observation that within cities there is a whole lot of shifting and moving of soil. He spoke about this shifting of soil in terms of confusing these spirits.

We walk further round to the shanty – We smell fresh concrete as we walk in. It is mixed in with the earth on the road and still wet and we touch this to see if this is where the smell is coming from.

It turns out that shanty belongs to the workers of the current development. They are working on the apartments on top of the shopping complex. I am pretty shocked by this. The shopping complex is open, we go past it every time we visit the site and from the front it has the gloss of being new and alluring. The dwellings are out the back and they are a large conglomerate of propped plywood and pine and scrap material and are basic to say the least. We see one woman washing in what seems like a little kitchen area and we follow the line of the water draining from the kitchen down to the lake.

Inside the development people are shopping. Above them are five cranes used for building apartments. And the workers live out the back here. We move to the edge of the lake to get out of the way of trucks.

We talk about this lake area, its look quite pretty this afternoon and Saubin reminds me we are trespassing. Its council owned land, and there are signs that tell us to keep out. I’m a little confused why it’s such a hazard and not a public park (as it almost seems to be), but I guess it has something to do with the monsoonal water levels and drains. We look up at the neighbouring condos - and observe the raised ground level that has trees and a pool, and sits on top of four or five levels of car parking for the residents.

I mention the sign idea I have been thinking about– It would be an announcement for a park on the WTN site and would be kind of absurd - like a running list for a utopia…. That gets better and more unrealistic with each additional line of information. Amongst this would be an arboretum for vulnerable lowland forest trees.  A nursery for these tree seedlings and their distribution. A workshop space for locals to come and propagate tree seedlings and to learn about these trees. I had just visited the Rare Plant and Orchid Conservatory at Rimbu Ilmu and Sugu there told me that they list all lowland forest plants as vulnerable because of loss of habitat. After this I walked around the garden at Rimbun Dahan where I am doing a residency, on the outskirts of KL, and noticed how many of the trees were lowland forest species.

I have been reading Radical Gardening by George McKay and in his research on parks observes that ...“many if not most of the open spaces, commons, woods, greens — of any size that remain today in South London, or London as a whole, exist because they were preserved from development by collective action”. And in terms of their function, he gives the insight that “…These open spaces are also ‘open-minded spaces’ that bring diverse sections of society together, and breed a sense of tolernace, diversity and mutual respect’, rather than the ‘single-minded spaces’ of standard contemporary mono-functioning planning and design”. (Pg 15. Radical Gardening: Politics, Idealism and Rebellion in the Garden, George Mackay)

Saubin and I discuss further the idea of some kind of park and he talks about the lack of maintenance culture here. The parks are not maintained and so are not used, or vice versa. And that it’s just too hot…  and perhaps the people in the nearby condos have their parks on the above-ground level. He says this is one of the reasons he recorded the interview with the chickens, as one of the real users of the wasteland site. I let go of the idea for now - its two weeks before Christmas, I have been having a hard enough time negotiating small things let alone getting a large sign printed.

We visit the WTN site on the way out, there is a dump of a big concrete pole and we notice that the Indian Snow Wash guys have moved the fence in and made a little area for their business within the site. It is very surrepticious, and I feel victorious for them. It’s great to see someone using the space.

We notice that the domestic rubbish dump left by the Indian guy is gone. But the building material dump is the still there. We speculate on why the council has distinguished between these in cleaning up. We talk about the council’s position in terms of rubbish collection. Saubin tells me his understanding is that they outsource the rubbish collecting contracts, and the contracts go to their mates. They get paid and the rubbish sits.

We go look at what we think is the sweet potato crop and find a little cutting of lemongrass next to it. I water it and am excited about the confirmation that someone is propagating a little garden of sorts here.

8th December 2012

Bec Stevens







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