Petaling Street: Traditions in Transition (videos)

KUALA LUMPUR, 19 May 2024:

Project Future Malaysia (PFM), a not-for-profit arts and culture initiative dedicated to reimagining an equitable and sustainable future in Malaysia, introduces its latest project ‘Petaling Street: Traditions in Transition’ book and video series.

Understanding our past is crucial for shaping a meaningful future, as history offers valuable lessons and insights to guide us. The traditional trades that once defined Petaling Street are unfortunately facing a decline, but they have shown resilience in practice over decades.

In a celebration of heritage and creativity, PFM invites you to embark on a journey into the vibrant history of Petaling Street. More than a preservation effort, this project breathes new life into the historic precinct, paying homage to the trades and traditions that have shaped its identity.

Supported by PNB Merdeka Ventures and Think City through their Merdeka 118 Community Grant programme, the project is a collaborative effort with UNINESS, five local authors, Kuala Lumpur Urban Sketchers, Teaspoon Publishing and Imaginatif to honour the legacy of Petaling Street.

At its heart lies a collection of narrative video series by UNINESS that capture the essence of the street via five traditional trades: Flower Garland Maker, Sai Kee Hawker Stall, Chai Huat Hin Dried Seafood & Sundry Store, Seong Ying Chai and Kien Fatt Medicine Store.

Complementing these stories are real-life accounts gathered from interviews with these traditional traders. These digital videos bring to life the experiences of the tradespeople.

The project also features the release of a limited-edition book showcasing five new fiction stories from local writers inspired by traditional trades in Petaling Street. The writers are Aizuddin H. Anuar, Chang Yan Yee, Francis Nantha, Robert J Lesney and Sandiya Subramaniam.

Original artwork from the Kuala Lumpur Urban Sketcher group adds another dimension to the project. Eight sketch artists, Li Wei, KC Lee, Sunny Sun, Yoon, ⁠Joyce Wong, Tiu Lean Kai, ⁠Gyen Lim and ⁠Yong Kien Liew capture the essence of some traditional trades in Petaling Street.

“This project isn’t just about preserving forgotten trades; it’s a creative intervention aimed at breathing life into our historic Petaling Street precinct,” says project manager, Kevin Bathman.

“Think of this project as a celebration of expertise, a tribute to those who have weathered the tides of time and carry the wisdom of generations. Within the book and video series lies a treasure trove of creativity. In times where the cultural economy feels the strain of the pandemic, this project stands as a source of resilience.”

Project Future Malaysia (PFM) is an arts and community-focused initiative that aims to foster an expansive vision of Malaysia’s future, integrating science, technology, literature, and the arts.

PFM envisions pathways for social change through curated events and projects, working predominantly with artists and creatives to empower communities and drive positive impact.

Previous projects include Kembara Stories & Food Trail, a cultural walking tour and food-tasting programme led by migrant communities in Downtown Kuala Lumpur, showcasing the culinary heritage of four prominent migrant communities in Malaysia: Nepal, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Bangladesh.

Video summary of traditional trades

Flower Garland Maker

In the vibrant Petaling Street precinct, flower garland makers like Mr. Kartik craft intricate blooms, continuing a tradition passed down through generations. Their skillful hands string together delicate flowers, serving both religious and cultural needs. As tourism grows, so does the demand, prompting adaptations to meet modern trends. Mr. Kartik hopes to pass on his legacy to his son, ensuring the tradition continues.

Sai Kee Hawker Stall

Sai Kee hawker stall, nestled in a back alley of Petaling Street, serves comforting Cantonese dishes cooked with precision and speed. Run by Uncle Lai and his brother, it’s a family legacy spanning generations. Despite Sai Kee’s rich history, there are no successors willing to take over the business, leaving its future uncertain. The lack of interest from younger generations poses a challenge to preserving this beloved family legacy.

Chai Huat Hin Dried Seafood & Sundry Store

Chai Huat Hin, a dried seafood and sundry store established in 1972, shifted to Petaling Street in the 1980s. It evolved into a one-stop center for pantry essentials, cherished for its quality and expertise. After the founder of Chai Huat Hin passed away, his daughter and son-in-law stepped in to take over the business. They learned the intricacies of the trade from the senior staff, gaining knowledge about sourcing, selecting, and preparing the finest quality dried seafood.

Seong Ying Chai (Bakery)

Seong Ying Chai, established in 1935, preserves traditional Chinese pastries like bridal pastries and mooncakes. Led by Leonard and Jacklyn, they blend nostalgia with innovation to sustain cultural heritage for future generations. They produce mooncakes, snow skin mooncakes, mooncake biscuits, and their golden piglets. They put forth their best efforts, aiming to pass on these traditions.

Kien Fatt Medicine Store

Kien Fatt Medical Store, a fixture in Petaling Street for over 80 years, provides traditional Chinese medicine treatments and herbal remedies. Led by Ng Chee Yat, a pharmacist and TCM practitioner, it serves as a vital healthcare hub. Despite the area’s transformation into a tourist hotspot, Kien Fatt remains committed to offering affordable healthcare solutions.

Aizuddin H. Anuar

Summary of fiction stories

To care for them like heirlooms Aizuddin H. Anuar

Everyday encounters between Mr. Kuang, a homeware store owner in Petaling Street and one of his regular customers, Siti, reflect community connections formed over the beauty of ceramics and enamel ware, under the looming shadow of changing times.

Chang Yan Yee


Rewind is an introspective reminiscence and self-discovery unfolded through a mixtape, for music has the ability to reignite the quintessential emotions of life and its events, remote from its realities.

CrowsFrancis Nantha

Francis Nantha

Two cousins in 1924 Petaling Street, amidst colonial tensions, cleverly use batik and covert signals to rally against British rule. They initiate a movement symbolized by hibiscus motifs, that later becomes significant in Malaysia’s fight for independence.

Robert J Lesney

A Cobbler’s Gift

Tee, son of a poor cobbler, overcomes stigma to help flood victims with his father’s handmade clogs. A friend in need, Arvin, receives them gratefully, reshaping Tee’s view of his father’s trade.

Sandiya Supramaniam

Of Marigolds and Murder Sandiya Supramaniam

Petaling Street awakens to a corpse lying on a marigold kolam outside the temple. Eshwari begins her investigation of the murdered influencer. Little did she know, the conspiracy behind Aleesha’s death would not only shock her, but the entire nation.

Original artwork from the Kuala Lumpur Urban Sketcher group:

⁠Gyen Lim – Yan Keng Benevolent Dramatic Association
⁠Gyen Lim
Joyce Wong – Kwong Fook Wing tailor shop
Joyce Wong
KC Lee – Warung Old China
KC Lee sketching
Li Wei – Lee Wah Florist
Li Wei – Lee Wah Florist 2
Li Wei
Sunny Sun – Kien Fatt Medical Store
Sunny Sun
Tiu Lean Kai – Seong Ying Chai Mooncake
Tiu Lean Kai
Yong Kien Liew – Lee Sinsang Mole Remover Centre
Yong Kien Liew
Yoon – Starlight Hotel