Saturday, February 27, 2010

Empty shells

I was scouting around for some venues to do some model shoots. After some thought, I decided to check out some old government quarters near the Simpang Tiga roundabout.

As I looked through these old houses, I could recall the times when I visited an old friend here in the years of dial up internet and played Red Alert 1. They were simple and perfectly usable houses, build using proper materials (concrete, timber floors), and advocate proper tropical architecture ,eg. lots of shaded areas and verandahs, plenty of windows for cross ventilation (who needs airconds anyway?), and efficient usage of space

Do you know what happens when a house, especially an old one becomes disused after a while? It falls prey to the elements. Rain soaks through the roof and rots the timber beams supporting the roof while strong winds and fallen branches rip its roof away. Druggies or homeless folks invade the premises, breaking open locks, defecating liberally and destroying every single piece of furniture available. Dirt accumulates, making the building appear older than it is, although other similar structures cared meticulously for during its time appear decades younger than it. It's a sorry sight indeed, a house without any occupants is like a person without a beating heart, aka. a dead one.

Its really a pity, because the whole area, although undeveloped unlike our modern housing estates, yields plenty of potential to be redeveloped as an utopian housing estate in the middle of the city. No fences or party walls to separate neighbours from each other (heck, I barely know the other dude across our party wall). Plenty of trees and vegetation to lend oxygen to our carbon monoxide choked cities, plus it lowers the ambient temperature of the surrouding area. And oh... peace and quiet. No sounds of video games or home theater systems blasting away the latest movies. No one tries to outdo each other with a 21 bedroom house with ensuites, a karaoke room and a swimming pool. Its bliss!

Reiterating my point of how houses decay rapidly...

My grandaunt had a nice bungalow along Pisang Road. We used to go there for Chinese New Year visitations 10 years ago. Although she was living alone for several decades, the house was very nicely laid out, with a TV room where we could watch local shows. (I used to watch the movie 'Critters', and other horror movies with fat maggots spilling out of people's guts). There was a large kaloi fish in a tank where she used to feed it grasshoppers and other small insects. Behind in the garden was a rambutan tree which was pretty bountiful for most of the year.

My aunt passed on 3 years back after a respiratory infection after returning from a short trip. Now the whole house has pretty much disintegrated, barely less than a third of a decade later. Its disheartening to see a skeleton of what that house was, or meant to me in the earlier part of my life. Her son, or my uncle just lives down the road in a new 'mansion', with grantite tiled floors, a huge garage, etc. I wonder does he ever think about anything when he passes by the house that he once used to live in for at least 4 decades, in a state of total mess.

I paid a visit to my grandparents house in Ong Tiang Swee today. Until 5 years ago, I used to go there for my meals as a kid when I attended both primary and secondary school. Now the house is like my grandpa's mind - frustrated, lost and silent. My grandparents rented it to a proprietor who owns a sports shop just down the road, and he pretty much treats it like a piece of crap. Disused refrigerators and building supplies strewn across the front lawn where my grandpa used to tend to his bouganvillea trees. In the back where he parked his car, is now a dirty workshop. The windows are permanently closed, and I wonder how rotten are the timber floorboards on the upper floor where I used to have my meals and tread on as a kid.

I guess a house that has managed to survive the onslaught of time is my greatgrandparent's house in Sibu near Wisma Sanyan. It is a 60 year old semi detached timber structure raised on stilts (Sibu used to, and still does flood quite a bit). The only thing I can think of that makes it still survive is the fact that their next door neighbour is too poor to move elsewhere. I guess still having "half a heart" still prolongs the life of a house that would otherwise be in tatters by now.

My great grandfather's house in Sibu, still with 'half a heart'.

Perhaps my perspective on dwellings has changed ever since I moved to a 100 year old house in Melbourne 3 years ago. Build during time before electricity arrived in Australia, it belonged to a doctor before my neighbour brought the property, lived in it and started to rent it out to international students 2 decades ago. Sure, it isn't the prettiest and cleanest house you'll ever see.But boy, its as solid as a rock. Its foundations were from fair dinkum Australian bluestone and the hardest timbers. Considering that the house is still occupied by my gracious ex-housemates, it has done very well for its age.

Admitedly, we Malaysians don't really give a damn about conservation. Anything thats old or unwanted, we bulldoze with utter depravity. Or in the case of my grandparents, rent it out to an irresponsible client for a meagre sum of money (although I can't really blame them for doing so). I guess after they pass on, and if I would ever want to renovate that relic, it would take a lot of funds to restore it to what it once was, a home, and a unique piece of Malaysian architecture which would no longer be found anywhere else.

Till the fate of these houses are decided once and for all, I shall wait in patience, and lament the destruction and defecation of these once beautiful and memorable homes, whether by the forces of nature or human hands.




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