Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Istana Negara Lama, Kuala Lumpur

2011 marks a turning point in Malaysia's royal records.

On 15 November 2011, the old palace in Kuala Lumpur, Istana Negara, ceased to function as a palace.

On 12 December 2011, the 13th YDP Agong Tuanku Mizan Zainal Abidin Ibni Almarhum Sultan Mahmud Al Muktafi Billah Shah (reigned as Agong 2007-2011) returned to Terengganu.

The Sultan of Kedah, Tuanku Abdul Halim became the 14th YDP Agong, and resided at the new palace from 2011 onward. The new palace is also located in Kuala Lumpur. The new palace was expected to be ready in 2008 (dijangka siap tahun 2008). The date of CF (Certificate of Fitness) of the new palace is unknown.

Faridah Abdul Rashid. 2012. Biography of the Early Malay Doctors 1900-1957 Malaya and Singapore. Published by Xlibris Corp., Australia. page 93.


Istana Negara Lama has an interesting history. It was a Chinese family mansion and residence owned by Mr Chan Wing, who hailed from Guangdong Province, China. Mr Chan Wing arrived in Malaya as a poor teenager in 1889. He struck it rich in the tin mining business, which boomed and made Kuala Lumpur and Malaya rich. Mr Chan Wing's business was where The Mines Resort City stands today. His other ventures was the Kwong Yik Bank. Among mega players and occupants of The Mines Resort City built-up area include (I maybe wrong though) Tun Dr Mahathir, Palace of the Golden Horses and the Sapura Group.

I can't recall the story of Mr Chan Wing's wives. Mr Chan Wing had altogether 22 children, the youngest being Dr Mubarak Chan Ching Cheung (79; born 1934) - a graduate from Cambridge University. The Chan Wing children are in fact bright and talented. From 1920 to date, 15 Chan Wing family members attended Cambridge University.

The mansion was built in 1928. The mansion's architect was the Swan and McLaren of Singapore, who also built other superb structures such as the Bok House (Bangunan Kediaman Bok or Le Coq D'or restaurant) in Jalan Ampang in 1929, and the Raffles Hotel in Singapore. Atypical and dissimilar to the Chinese shophouses commonly found in Malayan cities of the time and today, this mansion had a dining hall which could fit 10 tables for diners (if 10 diners sat at a table, the hall could host up to 100 diners at a time). All the Chang Wing family members lived at the family mansion as Mr Chan Wing wanted it his way.

The mansion and grounds are sited on a hillock, on 5.26 hectares of rolling slopes dotted with trees and shrubs, typical of large tracks of hilly terrain in Kuala Lumpur. The grounds is sited near to Sungai Klang. This is most unfortunate as when it poured during the monsoon season, the entire road by the palace grounds would be flooded.
I remember my father driving us in his car through a terrible flood by the palace in KL. I could die seeing the river gushing beside us and our Opel Rekod (old German car) practically floating while trying to drive through the flooded road. - Faridah Abdul Rashid
The rain adds to making the grounds quite interesting. There was a holding pond at the bottom of the grounds but which was filled to make the old palace.

There was an orchard on the grounds, as most Malayan mansions did. Who would't want to grow fruit trees when the grounds are fertile and the rain comes almost daily? Kuala Lumpur is very fertile and fruit trees grow well. I wonder what Mr Chan Wing planted and what happened to the excess fruits harvested. Did they reach the Chow Kit market (which is a bit far, I think).

In 1941, Mr Chan Wing's family had to abandon their mansion. Mr Chan Wing and a son arrived in Perth, Australia. The rest of the family escaped to India. World War II saw the Japanese occupying the mansion from 1942 to 1945 as its officers' mess (mes pegawai tentera Jepun). It is not known if any beheading was done at this mansion during the war. The Japanese Administration added an entrance gate, now the front entrance. The actual gate was at the back of the palace, one that fulfilled the Chinese feng shui for a good life.

After the war ended, the British Military Administration returned to rule Malaya from 1946 to 1951. The British wanted British rule in Malaya for good, called the Malayan Union. The Malayans (mainly the Malays) wanted self rule and the British out. Fighting ensued and Malaya was divided. Things were terrible and Malaya suffered from the Malayan Emergency from 1946 to 1960.
My family and I also went through the intimidating Emergency period and curfew. All walkabout and travelling had to end before dark. It was scary travelling past the rubber trees during that time as an ambush was possible, even in bright daylight. There was a lot of fear when darkness approached and the next town was still far away. Old cars can't travel as fast as today's super cars. I still have butterflies in my tummy when I recall the Malayan Emergency. - Faridah Abdul Rashid
The capital of Selangor was shifted from Kelang (Klang) to Kuala Lumpur. The Sultan Selangor's palace was also shifted to Kuala Lumpur. The old Malay palace remained in Klang. From 1952 to 1956, the Selangor State Government rented the Chinese mansion and it served as Istana Sultan Selangor till Tanah Melayu gained independence on 31 August 1957. In 1957 (Merdeka year), the mansion was sold to the Malayan Government and was upgraded to a palace, suitable for Malaya's first king - YDP Agong. This was our Merdeka palace, a source of 'independence' even though it was originally a Chinese residence. There were many renovations to the old mansion. In the post-Malaysia era, The Balairong Seri Utama (main conference hall) was added in 1980, 17 years after Malaysia was formed in 1963. Humble as the palace was, 13 kings had resided in it; the 14th king was the first to reside in the new palace.

Sources and external links:
  1. Mohd Bakri Jaffar & Dr. Azmy Morsidi. 2007. Untukmu Malaysia Sempena 50 Tahun Merdeka. 25000 km Menjejaki Warisan Kita. Himpunan Gezet Monumen dan Bangunan Bersejarah. pages 1-54 (Kuala Lumpur Ibu Negara).
  3. Google Search results for Istana Negara Lama


Old location & name: Istana Clifford, Jalan Clifford (then renamed Jalan Sultan Salahuddin)
Today's location: Jalan Istana, Bukit Petaling, Kuala Lumpur

Many have not seen the palace up close nor been on its grounds or inside the palace. I have only passed by the main entrance gates twice or so but only saw the iron fence and golden gates, always wondering what's inside and what goes on inside. These photographs were taken by my eldest daughter, Nuraishah Bazilah bt Affandi.


The Malaysian Heritage Department is housed in the old palace in Kuala Lumpur. It works closely with the national archives, Arkib Negara Malaysia.

Datin Paduka Dato' Profesor Emeritus Siti Zuraina bt Abdul Majid
(Pesuruhjaya Warisan)
Bangunan Pentadbiran
Istana Negara (Lama)
Jalan Istana
50460 Kuala Lumpur

En Amir bin Md Wal
(Pegawai Warisan)
Bangunan Pentadbiran
Istana Negara (Lama)
Jalan Istana
50460 Kuala Lumpur
Tel: 03-2260 9000
Fax: 03-2272 1392
Hp: 016-286 8586


2013 marks another point in royal history.

Istana Negara Lama houses a royal museum. Muzium Diraja opened its doors to the public on Friday, 1 February 2013. The museum opens from 9 am to 5 pm daily. Entrance to the royal museum is free. Seven royal guards stand at the entrance gate to relive the atmosphere of a Malay palace.

External link:


The date of opening the royal museum coincides with two important events in Kuala Lumpur's history.   Kuala Lumpur was upgraded from Majlis Perbandaran to Dewan Bandaraya on 1 February 1972. The federal territory, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur, was born on 1 February 1974 - at this point, the federal territory ceased to be a part of Selangor and became an autonomous state (terkeluar dari jajahan taaluk Negeri Selangor). The Government's administrative offices have been relocated to Putrajaya. Kuala Lumpur now serves as a trade and commercial hub for Malaysia and the Southeast Asia (SEA) region.
Many old buildings of Kuala Lumpur are dilapidated. Some old areas of Kuala Lumpur are congested. Kuala Lumpur has lost much of its glamour and appeal. It is not the same Kuala Lumpur I used to like and looked forward to as a kid in the 1960s. Something is lacking in Kuala Lumpur today. Kuala Lumpur feels 'cold' and uninviting to the visitor. I think the 'soul' is missing even though Kuala Lumpur is more developed and looks modern. This is typical of all built-up modern cities I have visited. - Faridah Abdul Rashid

Kuala Lumpur Railway Station

The Kuala Lumpur Railway Station was built in 1910, replacing an older building on site. Above the railway station was the Station Hotel. My family and I happened to stay a few days at the Station Hotel while we were in transit and while we waited for our father to come down to Kuala Lumpur (probably from the north). We had sailed from Port Jesselton to Collyer Quay in Singapore, and taken the train from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur. It must be from the old train station in Singapore, not Woodlands but the other one, Tanjung Pagar, which is now closed down.

I remember the Station Hotel's black and white interior decor and the delicious meals. The place upstairs was spacious, clean, airy and bright, but a bit bare (luas dan kosong). I loved the place as a kid.

I was going though my grandfather's photograph collection and came across a small dirty photograph of the Kuala Lumpur Railway Station. It was probably in 1937, as most of his photographs were from that period, when he worked in Kuala Lumpur. His photograph of the Kuala Lumpur Railway Station is badly stained yellow and I had to clean both the photoprint before scanning. I will need to search for it again.

The Kuala Lumpur Railway Station building today is a bit different and doesn't look as attractive as before. It was the Kuala Lumpur Railway Station that pushed me into liking architecture for life but I never took up architecture as a major at any university. I only kept architecture as a lifetime hobby.

Only five of my relatives have had something to do with the railways:
  1. My granduncle Tan Sri Dr Abdul Majid's father worked in the repair section of the railway yard in Kuala Lumpur. He died of malaria during the war. 
  2. My uncle Pak Saleh worked as Chief Auditor at the railway office across from the Kuala Lumpur Railway Station. He is retired and has just moved to his new house in Sentul. 
  3. My aunt Esther (Jeffrey's mother) worked as an accountant in the railway office. She is retired and has recovered from heart surgery. 
  4. My mother's uncle was a 'train engine driver'; according to my mother, he had blue eyes and a pink face, he was pink. I think he was probably an albino guy. He was named Uncle Osman. 
  5. My maternal grandfather Dr Che Lah bin Md Joonos worked as a doctor at the Malayan Railway Administration after the war.

External links: