By kind and flattering request, from various friends who say they have liked my blog – I am resuming it. It paused for several months because I have a regular column in the Borneo Daily Express, called From the Outside Looking In. It is largely along the same lines as this blog, but for local readers. I have decided for now to add some of the columns to this, and would welcome comments and feedback.
Nostalgia aint wot it used to be
There is a house on Jalan Tuaran
They call the Rising Sun…
No there isn’t. And they don’t. They call it “what house? Oh that one!” And it is not easy to find out who owns it. It sits in front of a tree-covered hillside, an anachronistic edifice, comfortable in its leafy surroundings, holding its memories close. Its walls are wooden, its rusty corrugated iron roof has different points, designed I am told to make the most of any air. Cross ventilation from windows that face each other helps too. It comes from a time without air con, and if it was anything like my childhood in the late 1950s and early 1960s, electricity wobbled and water dried up. Ours was made bright red by rust deposits, which is another story – everyone who came to visit thought they were bleeding to death…
This house is nameless, and seems to be one of the last remaining pre-war buildings in KK and I can see it from my balcony. I yearn to be able to 1) have a look around and 2)have a go at restoring it. Both unlikely, I know – it’s on very very expensive land and will alas be demolished and some dull modern block built in its place. Boo hoo. The outline of its long overgrown garden is visible, and it is set back from the road so noise is minimised. With a bit of TLC, wouldn’t it would be perfect as a home again or even an arts centre with a gallery and a restaurant and performance space?
History delights. Visitors to KK are charmed by the old photographs of how it used to be, and by the Post Office/Sabah Tourism building. Books have been produced: sketches of the old houses and shop lots, postcards and those with photographs and drawings of the architectural details of what remains. These too are not so easy to come by, except at the Art Gallery and sometimes at Borneo Books in Wisma Merdeka. Datuk Chan has just published Ross Ibbotson’s meticulously researched The building of the North Borneo Railway and the founding of Jesselton and that, for a price, is also available at Borneo Books.
The Agnes Keith House and the English Tea Rooms in Sandakan don’t have as many visitors as Sepilok, say, but when I have visited, I have rarely been alone.
Enjoying these buildings is not a celebration of colonial rule. It allows one to think about the past, and how things once were on an island the world had not discovered. In the same way, I am excited by Kadazan monoliths, Sarawak carvings, old kampong baskets, hats with tribal motifs…
I believe there is a market for the past (even though many say that nostalgia aint what it used to be – sorry). And that people looking for homes may be less keen on the condominiums of many floors that cover the ground that perhaps once had forest or a settlement. Who knows? I am by no means an authority, but I seek out examples of the buildings people used to live in, and wish that I could copy them today. They are more human, more individual, even though built to a largely similar plan. They have gardens, and verandahs and are lower, and thus nearer the earth, and nature. Adding air con and an efficient electricity system and hot water would of course be good – any fool can be uncomfortable.