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Monday, October 29, 2007

The Selangor Club Loudmouth

The nicest thing that can be said about the Royal Selangor Club is that unlike most of the other 'exclusive' clubs - it's not nouveau riche. The annals of the Club date back beyond a century and constitute a rich historical resource. And its present membership has acquired an urbanity that's not overly pompous, good show! This wasn't the case in the bad old Colonial days when the Selangor Club was strictly reserved for the White Tuans and their precious Mems - with the notable exception of a few select Asians and Eurasians.

Among the early non-White members of 'The Spotted Dog' was an exuberant personality named Thambusamy Pillai who rose from ordinary clerk to acting Selangor State Treasurer, and eventually ended up as a high-powered chettiar and Pillar of the Tamil community. (Some have snidely remarked that Mr Pillai was probably one of the reasons behind the Club's nickname - while others blame it on Mrs Syers, the Police Superintendent's wife, who habitually tied her pet dalmatians at the Club entrance. Yet others maintain that the Club was jokingly referred to as the Spotted Dog on account of its original emblem - a badly drawn tiger - but I find this rather implausible.)

Super towkays like Chow Ah Yeok and Loke Yew, of course, would have been welcome on the Club premises provided they refrained from indiscreet spitting. However, these towkays generally preferred to hang out at their very own place - the Gymkhana Club (which later became the Turf Club) - where the action was a lot swifter. But even at its worst the Spotted Dog was never the bastion of apartheid that the Lake Club reputedly was in the pre-Merdeka days. Why, the Sultan of Selangor visited the Lake Club at the invitation of the British Resident and this unprecedented intrusion ('Royal status be damned, he's still a Native!') raised a storm of indignation amongst the committee. The insult was deemed mutual and UMNO threatened to send a mob of angry youths over to the Lake Club and burn it down.

But all that is history - and so, I'm afraid, may be the Selangor Club Loudmouth. The more curious among you might ask: who were these Loudmouths? Well, there was a time when you'd find a whole gaggle of them gathered on the airy veranda overlooking the cricket green (or Padang), downing cold beers and gin slings. Invariably there'd be a few lawyers and journalists and off-duty members of the Judiciary - voicing aloud the grievances and contemptuous thoughts that weren't permitted in Court. Or anywhere else for that matter.

Then retribution descended on the Spotted Dog: the shrill voices of genteel dissent were muffled by the plywood hoarding of summary and irrevocable development - and drowned by the clatter of heavy machinery and construction crews hard at work converting the famous Selangor Club Padang into the infamous Merdeka Square or Dataran Merdeka (underground carpark, shopping arcade, theatre complex, world's tallest flagpole and all)*. For once the Selangor Club Loudmouth was silent. Not a peep of protest was heard from him or his wife.

Not officially anyway. Oh well... it's not cricket but we're better off just being Pillars of Society. And pillars don't talk.

chettiar - private moneylender.
towkay - Chinese for 'big boss' as in Italian capo.
Merdeka - Malayan Independence (31 August 1957).
UMNO - United Malay Nationalist Organisation, founded in May 1946. Declared illegal and defunct in January 1988 but artificially resuscitated not long afterwards. At present known as UMNO Baru (at least till public memory of the fiasco fades away).

*Let's fast-forward 14 years from the time this chapter was written: transforming the historic Padang into Dataran Merdeka turned out to be an extremely myopic idea. In June 2002 the nearby Gombak River burst its banks and muddy floodwaters swept into the basement, drowning hundreds of vehicles and completely destroying the theatre complex along with several restaurants, boutiques, and a cinema. Today Dataran Merdeka is a pathetic shadow of its former self, since nobody in their right mind would want to rent space there ever again.

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