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Tourist icon in peril: "Truly Asia" Chinatown or Bangladesh town?

Yusof Sulaiman  Nov 13, 2008

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (eTN) - The country's business capital, recently voted number four by FORBES business magazine under its list of world's ten next great cities, has claimed it is now facing a new dilemma: it is in a race to save its tourist mecca, Kuala Lumpur's Chinatown, from losing its distinct identity and flavor.

According to Kuala Lumpur City Hall, Petaling Street in the heart of Kuala Lumpur's Chinatown is undergoing an "identity crisis.” Irked at the public's many complaints of the changing faces manning the area's renowned street stalls, City Hall's director of security and enforcement, Rolan Rahman said, "If the Chinese community trading in Petaling Street wants to keep its identity, they should stop hiring foreign workers."

Urging the Chinese traders to stop hiring foreign helpers, including illegal foreigners, he said the area is slowly being taken over by foreigners. "Petaling Street now looks more like a Bangladeshi town than Chinatown."

There have also been complaints from legitimate local traders, claiming the illegal traders have taken up space, obstructing traffic flow and denying legitimate businesses from operating.

Despite raids being conducted from time to time to flush out illegal foreign workers, seizing and confiscating goods belonging to illegal foreign traders, City Hall still finds it a difficult task to undertake . "They always seem to know when we are going to conduct raids. We will carry out our enforcement as usual."

The area's changing "face" includes become a strong magnet for Myanmar refugees, using it as their "market area" to meet, socialize and do street business among themselves.

Mostly claiming to be political refugees running away from the Myanmar military regime, the community has used Kuala Lumpur as their transit point while awaiting resettlement under the protection the UN local office.

Admitting it would be illogical to issue summonses to illegal traders, City Hall is working on "new strategies" to solve the problem, including revoking licenses of traders found guilty of harboring illegal foreign workers. "The traders must play their roles if they want to keep Petaling Street from being taken over by foreigners."

Mayor Hakim Borhan said "strict enforcement" would be carried out to curb the increasing number of illegal traders operating without licenses in the area. "We need to look at it from all aspects as it is a tourism draw. We will carry out enforcement as usual, and those trading illegally will be issued summonses.”

Tourist icon in peril: "Truly Asia" Chinatown or Bangladesh town?
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