Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Pudu Jail slips into Malaysia’s past

June 22, 2010

A young photographer taking a close pix of the now demolished Pudu side wall of the jail. - Picture by Choo Choy May
KUALA LUMPUR, June 22 — While the hundreds of people shouted in protest at the tearing down of Pudu Jail's mural wall last night, an ex-prisoner and two former wardens expressed mixed feelings about the building's demolition.
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“It (the demolition) is part of development and we have to pay a price for it,” prison director Narander Singh told The Malaysian Insider yesterday. He used to serve as a warden officer in Pudu Jail from 1988 till 1995.
“I have mixed feelings,” he said, adding that the Pudu Jail once housed 8,000 prisoners in 1993 or 1994.
The ex-prisoner who did not want to give his name spoke about the cramped conditions of the jail during his time there in 1980 as he and seven other inmates took turns to sleep in a cell meant to house three people.

Leong feels change is part of a developing city. - Picture by Choo Choy May
“I am not sure what to say,” he answered when asked how he felt about the wall being torn down. The 34-year-old man who had just lost his job as a security guard a week ago after his manager discovered his criminal record stayed two years in prison for trafficking heroin.
“The Chinese and Indians are hanged on Wednesday mornings while the Malays are hanged on Friday mornings,” he added.
Former Pudu Jail warden Mohamad Simin, who had worked at the historic jail for 17 years from 1979 till 1996, said his most terrifying experience was when Jimmy Chua with four other inmates took two doctors and a medical assistant hostage in 1986.
“They (the prisoners) said that they wanted to escape…and overcame the doctors using the doctors’ scissors and other sharp equipment at the prison hospital,” said Simin.
The 54-year-old man who is currently working as a warden in the Sungai Buloh prison was, however, non-committal when asked about his response towards the Pudu Jail wall being demolished.
But what do the people who work around the area feel about the "passing" of Pudu Jail? Shop owners along Jalan Pudu and Jalan Hang Tuah also had differing opinions about the demoliton of the mural wall which once entered the Guinness Book of Records as the longest mural in the world.
Teochew porridge seller Leong Wei Peng was optimistic about the future development of the prison site, expressing hopes that it would draw more people to his shop located at Jalan Pudu.
“The prison is right in the middle of the city…it will stop development,” said 60-year-old Leong.
“Business is very slow. Hopefully with new development, there will be more people,” he added.
Leong is a second-generation owner of the 51-year-old restaurant, which used to serve mixed rice to Pudu Jail wardens 20 years ago.
The prison was closed for several years following the executions of Australian nationals Kevin Barlow and Brian Chambers for trafficking heroin, and finally closed its doors in November 1996 whereupon Urban Development Authority (UDA) took over.
It was opened briefly as a museum from 1997 till 1998 for a short time, reopened again as a museum in 2004, but finally closed due to poor visitor rate.
Bamboo and wooden chicks maker Tham Kok Koon aged 73 had ventured into the prison itself when he was asked to install blinds in the prison’s administrative centre 30 years ago.
“Preferably, it should not be demolished,” said Tham while he painted some blinds with his wife.
“At least they should preserve the wall for remembrance’s sake since the inside is already destroyed,” he added.
Tham’s Thye Fah Liki shop located on Jalan Pudu used to be a furniture shop when he started working there 59 years ago at the tender age of 14.
On the other hand, 60-year-old Yong Tai Wai who repairs motorcycles in a small shop on Jalan Pudu, did not specifically support or protest the destruction of the wall, saying that his only concern was whether his shop would be forced to close down in the event of road expansions.
“I am just afraid that my shop will be pushed backwards…if the road is expanded,” said the motorcycle repairer who once did repairs for wardens back in 1978.

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