Friday, December 26, 2008


Death and degradation of Jalan Wong Ah Fook is imminent. I blame M.C.A. It is M.C.A which must stand accused for dericlition of responsibility and allow the passing of Jalan Wong Ah Fook into the sunset of Johor’s history.

Since the opening of the new Sultan Iskandar Custom, Immigration and Qurantine complex a fortnight ago, traffic has bypassed Jalan Wong Ah Fook, the once main thoroughfare of Johor Bahru. The once triving shops are now experiencing almost 40% drop in busineses. Economic and business activities in Jalan Wong Ah Fook has gone on a slide. What we see now are shops which front Jalan Wong Ah Fook selling imitation goods and pirate DVD’s. Many of the old businesses have moved out from Jalan Wong Ah Fook. Also gone are the evening rush hour and the scene of Malaysians working in Singapore returning in the evening and patronising the food stalls at the back alley of Jalan Wong Ah Fook.

Jalan Wong Ah Fook is simply not any ordinary road. The road reflects the historical relationship of the Chinese and Johor. The name has history and heritage and rightfully should be a proud reminder to all Johoreans of the man himself, Wong Fook Kee or better known as Wong Ah Fook. Sadly, ask who Wong Ah Fook is, many and particular the non Chinese would not know who Wong Ah Fook is or even how the road become named after him.

Wong Ah Fook, is the typical rags to riches immigrant from China, who should be an inspiration to all of us. Starting as a carpenter, he then moved into construction business and rose to become the chief government contractor and built many of the heritage buildings doting johor Bahru including Istana Besar. Not contended being a contractor, he even ventured into pepper and gambier planting and even had kangchu rights in Mersing. Later on he was involved in revenue farming. He is also remembered as the person also started Kwong Yik Bank, one of the earlist Chinese bank in then Malaya. For his sterling service in assisting the state to regain control of its revenues, Sultan Abu Bakar granted Wong Ah Fook a grant of land. The land was located on the east bank of Sg. Segget river and became known as Kg Wong Ah Fook village and was predomnantly occupied by the Cantonese clan. Three small roads in Kg. Wong Ah Fook village was named after his sons Siu Nam, Siu Koon and Siu Chin. From then on, Kg Wong Ah Fook village grew to became Jalan Wong Ah Fook, an important artererial road and the gateway to Johor Bahru.

Warning bells that Jalan Wong Ah Fook and more impotantly the name in time could lose its soul started in 1997. In 1997, a master plan for the redevelopment of Central Business District of Johor Bahru was unveiled by the Johor state government.The master plan envisaged restructuring of the city to a high technology financial centre.

However, what alarmed many Chinese and Chinese organisation was that the plan to replace Jalan Wong Ah Fook with gardens, pedestrian walkway and call it Sultan Abu Bakar City Walkway. The Chinese community and Chinese organisations made their disapproval known against attempts to obliterate the name. Both did not take place. The 1997 economicx crisis provided a respite. The restructuring of the city as a high technology financial centre did not take place and the name Jalan Wong Ah Fook thankfully remained safe and prominent. Of course, the stinking Sg Segget river which runs across the city centre was covered over and has become a walk way.

The state’s attempt in 1997 to make the name Jalan Wong Ah Fook insignificant ought to have made M.C.A sit up and ensure that the name and the area would never fade away or lose its lustre. M.C.A ought to have ensured that whatever development is planned elsewhere, it must not result in the death of Jalan Wong Ah Fook. M.C.A ought to have taken all necessary steps and been more pro-active in ensuring that the name Jalan Wong Ah Fook and the area would remains a prominent and premier business area. Also M.C.A could have also done much more to remember this great man. For example asking the Johor Bahru City Council to erect a statue, historical plaque or build a little square in the city as one often see in other cities. All this could have been initiated by M.C.A, as a reminder to the people of Johor of Wong Ah Fook’s contribution. It is obvious that the M.C.A State Executive Councillors or M.C.A during the regular “lawatan sambil belajar” overseas had not learned how cities and towns abroard remember and commemerate local personalities. Obviously, nothing was done.

M.C.A is well represented in the Johor State Executive Council and Johor Bahru City Council. They more than others would have known first about the C.I.Q plans. M.C.A more than others would have been first to know could have realised the fate of Jalan wong Ah Fook after the erection of the C.I.Q complex. M.C.A more than others would have been the first to know that with the erection of the C.I.Q complex, traffic and people would by-pass Jalan Wong Ah Fook. M.C.A more than others would have known the consequences arising from the C.I.Q complex to the busineses in Jalan Wong Ah Fook. So, the question then to be asked is what exactly did M.C.A do to ensure that the Jalan Wong Ah Fook continue to be a place of business activities and would not be devoid of human traffic. What were M.C.A plans, if they ever had one, to regenerate and vigorate the area with the opening of the C.I.Q. M.C.A in the state ought to have raised, presented with new plans for the area and ensured that Jalan Wong Ah Fook would not slide and become a backwater.

Judging from the present situation it is obvious that the degradation, slide and gradual obliteration and fading into history of this great street and name has started. Gradually this prominent landmark with historical significance will become a footnote in the history of Johor Bahru. That is real sad. It becomes real sad when M.C.A who calls themselves the guardians of Chinese, let Jalan Wong Ah Fook pass into history.

Norman Fernandez is the Vice Chairman of DAP Johor and is a lawyer with his own practice in the vicinity of Jalan Wong Ah Fook.

No comments:

Post a Comment