Streetscapes: A different side of Jalan Tiong Nam

This article first appeared in City & Country, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on May 27, 2019 - June 02, 2019.

The morning market at Jalan Tiong Nam

The compounds of some terraced houses have been turned into business premises

Hotel Club Dolphin is one of the hotels located along the street

Ah Heng Food Corner is famous for its traditional Chinese meat dishes

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Jalan Tiong Nam in the Chow Kit area joins up with Lorong Tiong Nam 5 towards the north and Jalan Chagar to the south, and is intersected in the middle by Lorong Tiong Nam 3. The buildings in the area are a mix of residential and commercial developments, with most of the latter being built later. It may seem like an ordinary street but take a closer look and one will find interesting facets to it.

A row of 5-storey shoplots on its southern side have been converted into budget hotels including Q Hotel Kuala Lumpur, Hotel Club Dolphin and Hotel Wilayah, says PPC International Sdn Bhd managing director Datuk Siders Sittampalam.

Wisma Havela Thakardas at one end of the street — among the earliest buildings in the area — is now part of Kuala Lumpur Metropolitan University College campus.

Across from the newer buildings are old shoplots and a row of 1-storey terraced houses, which seem a little out of place. This part of the neighbourhood is rather quiet as well.

Walking along the stretch of Jalan Tiong Nam after the midway point, past Lorong Tiong Nam 3, seems like going back in time. The northern side of Jalan Tiong Nam is lively and full of pedestrians, with old and shabby buildings compared with the gleaming, more modern buildings on the southern side.

At the daily morning market, residents can get fresh produce such as fruits, vegetables and poultry, or have their breakfast at food stalls.

Opposite the 1-storey terraced houses is Tiong Nam Flat, which comprises walk-up apartments with shops on the ground floor.

The compounds of some of the landed houses have been turned into business premises, mostly selling food. Despite the shabby surroundings, the street attracts foodies and boasts a couple of well-known eateries.

Ah Heng Food Corner is famous for its traditional Chinese meat dishes — its signature items are braised pork intestines and white pepper pig stomach soup. If you have a craving for such treats, bear in mind that the restaurant is only open in the evening.

If you are a morning person and pork is not really your cup of tea, you might want to try Tao Xiang Fish Head Noodles at the junction of Lorong Tiong Nam 5 and Jalan Tiong Nam.

The corner house-turned-restaurant is always packed with customers slurping noodles out of claypots. Many online reviews give the food rather good ratings but the environment gets the thumbs down. Apparently, apart from the run-down condition of the premises, the zinc roof is one reason for the high temperatures inside. That is bound to make anyone having a meal of hot noodles perspire.

PPC International’s Siders explains that it is legal to use residential compounds for business purposes but the owners must get approval from Kuala Lumpur City Hall. The licence to convert the land use from residential to commercial must be renewed annually.

Jalan Tiong Nam is in the Chow Kit area, which had a reputation as a red light district. Over the years, however, the neighbourhood has been cleaned up, says Siders.

The street and the surrounding once-swampy land were originally owned by K Thamboosamy Pillay, according to Kuala Lumpur Street Names: A Guide to Their Meanings and Histories by Mariana Isa and Maganjeet Kaur.

In 1930, two brothers, Jagat Singh Sachdev and Havela Singh Sachdev, bought the land, filled it up and built 28 houses, which they rented out. In 1948, they sold the land to a Chinese merchant, who built 1-storey terraced houses for sale.

The Chinese residents who moved into the area called it Tiong Nam Ku (Tiong Nam Settlement), possibly after the developer. In 1955, however, the local authority ascertained that that was not the case and was reluctant to approve it as the street’s official name. But as the public was already familiar with it, approval was finally given.

A flood in 1971 caused the Gombak River to overflow its banks and affected the Tiong Nam area. That led to some of the house owners moving out. Subsequently, the government allowed the residents to upgrade their houses to two or more storeys, resulting in the inconsistent heights of the terraced houses now.

The families of the Sachdev brothers still have property holdings today in Jalan Raja Laut and Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, including the Tiong Nam area, according to a news report in The Star on Feb 22, 2011.

Klinik Kebajikan Thakardas in Lorong Tiong Nam 2 was set up to aid the poor. Built to honour the memory of the father of the two brothers, Thakardas, it is owned and run by the family under a trust.

Transaction data from Siders shows that between 2016 and this year, apartments with a built-up of 505 sq ft in Tiong Nam Flat were sold for RM135 to RM178 psf. Units measuring 562 sq ft were transacted for RM71 to RM109 psf between 2010 and 2015, while a bigger unit of 1,216 sq ft was sold for RM153 psf.

The asking rental for 1-storey terraced houses with a built-up of 2,800 sq ft is RM7,000, and and for 1,460 sq ft units, RM2,000. The ground floor of a 4-storey shophouse with a built-up of 1,500 sq ft can fetch a rent of RM6,500, and uppers floors with the same built-up, RM1,800.

In Wisma Havela Thakardas, the asking rent is RM27,000 to RM29,700 for a 11,000 sq ft space and RM26,500 to RM30,000 for 14,000 sq ft.

Siders says there were plans for high-density residential developments in Jalan Tiong Nam, Jalan Masjid and Jalan Alor in the Kuala Lumpur Structure Plan 2020. However, the proposal was not well received by the owners of residential and commercial buildings and has been deferred indefinitely.

“The River of Life beautification project might lead to the redevelopment of the area in time to come,” he says.

“We believe Jalan Tiong Nam, being on the peripheral of the central business district and city centre, has tremendous potential as it is one of the few pockets of low-density residential areas in the city. In addition, the area has been designated for mixed-use development with a plot ratio of 1:8, and this further enhances the development potential,” he says.