I wonder if many Malaysians realise that we have a beautiful waterfront right in the middle of Kuala Lumpur?
Well, at least, a waterfront in the making.
The River of Life project is a massive undertaking to transform the muddy Klang River into something we can be proud of. According to the project's official website, it aims to "transform the Klang River into a vibrant and livable water front with high economic value."
In order to create this, the Klang River will go through "river cleaning, river master-planning and beautification".
The River of Life doesn't just aim to beautify what was once an eyesore, however. There are some grand goals, according to this website:
Affordable housing for more than 35,000 residents
1mil sq m of commercial space
27,000 employment opportunities
Tour down the river
I had the chance to visit the waterfront area around Masjid Jamek recently.
In the morning, according to my friend, there will be a mist surrounding the area - produced by water spouts around the waterfront.
That evening, we watched the light show as the fountain danced to the Star Wars theme.
There are paved sidewalks on both sides of the river. There's even koi fish swimming in a narrow water lane beside the sidewalks!
You can walk down the river with a loved one while admiring the city lights and the dancing fountains nearby. And if you want a break, you can walk to the Central Market or Petaling Street to browse for souveniers or grab a bite. (While trying not to get mowed down by KL's overly aggressive, zebra-crossing-ignoring drivers.)
All in all, wonderful, though I was disappointed that the expected cafes were not there yet. Slurping Americanos by the river or sea is something I've wanted to do for a looooong time since leaving Adelaide.
Perhaps this has something to do with the smell wafting from the river?
While I was surprised at how beautiful this part of the Klang River has become, the beauty is marred by the sight of rubbish clogging the corners of the otherwise well-designed area. And the aroma. Ah, the aroma.
Ack, Malaysians! Why are you so like that?
Okay, so the River of Life waterfront still has waaaaays to go before it even kisses the standard of Singapore's waterfront. It remains, however, a budget-friendly way to spend your evening in Kuala Lumpur, even if it is less than perfect.
Back when I was a journalist in The Star, one of my favourite beats was sustainable development or environmentally-friendly urban development. Sometimes it was a depressing beat to write for because compared to many countries, Malaysia has a long, long way to go. Will my articles even leave a tiny dent in changing the way Malaysians do things, I wondered?
It's easy to compare what we have in Malaysia with more developed countries.
When I experienced Singapore's and Melbourne's riverfront, for one, I get positively green with envy.
One of the most difficult challenges to overcome are people's attitudes. Recently Star reported that the government was no where near achieving the target of cleaning up the river so that it's safe for recreational use by 2020.
People are still dumping rubbish and there's illegal sand washing and mining activities taking place along the riverbanks.
There's two ways to go about this:
We can move to another country to experience great waterfronts.
Or we build one in our country.
I find the latter option more invigorating and as they say, Rome wasn't built in a day, and recently, the River of Life was voted one of the top 10 waterfronts in the world.
I think this is a great achievement - smelly river or not.