Rehman Rashid began writing Small Town in late 2015 as a personal tribute to the place he lived, but “it got out of hand” and expanded into his full length book Peninsula: A Story of Malaysia, published in March 2016. Rehman said “After that I returned to this manuscript, which I had incorporated into Peninsula as the sections ‘Small Town’ and ‘Lost Tribes’, and worked it it into this little offering for the people of Kuala Kubu Baru, my adoptive hometown. To them I dedicate this essay, with my respect, appreciation and gratitude.” Illustrations by local artists: Mansor Abdul Aziz, Thong Teng Teng, Lee Chee Kin and Zulkiﬂi Din. Most photographs taken by the author.
About 25,000 people live in Kuala Kubu Baru area code 44000. The old colonial buildings on their knoll overlooking the town remain occupied by the administrators of Hulu Selangor as they have been for more than a century, in various guises. It’s just a normal, ordinary little Malaysian town, functionally identical to every other. Sundry shops, workshops, medicine shops, furniture and cellphones, eateries, tailors, opticians, clinics, bakers, barbers, banks, utilities, a travel agent, a bicycle repair guy. Any of them could relocate anywhere similar and slot right into the economy there too. Much about this place is not about those living and working here today but those who went before. These aren’t just old and historic territories, populated for a very long time; they are borderlands: the marginal reaches of distant ﬁefdoms, kingdoms and empires. For centuries have rebels, adventurers, outcasts and fugitives sought sanctuary and alliances here, where rivers descend to seas and jungle trails traverse mountains. Their descendants remain and remember, for lives are uncommonly long here, and many generations deep. They say it’s the good air and clean running waters. So here too is a place between places, rooted in times between times. Notwithstanding graceful heritage buildings given over to mechanics’ workshops for boy racers, regardless of the idling engines of double parkers and the invasive bulk of tourist coaches, and duly cognisant of the cultural validity of noise to those for whom it is life itself in all its glory, in these loud and raucous times this place remains for me an area of silence.