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Mon, 08/18/2008 - 10:53
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KOTA KINABALU, Aug 18 (Bernama) -- Jesselton, the one-time "ghost town" which has evolved into the present-day vibrant city of Kota Kinabalu, evokes pleasant memories in the people of East Malaysia state of Sabah.

Founded by the British North Borneo Company by accident after its administration centre on Gaya Island was flattened in a fire, Jesselton became the worthy third capital of North Borneo in 1946 after Sandakan andKudat.

Located on a narrow strip of land with hills on one side and the sea on the other, the town was named Api-Api (Fire-Fire) apparently in view of the GayaIsland fire.

It was renamed Jesselton later, taking on the name of Sir Charles Jessel,the then deputy manager of the British North Borneo Company.

Historic landmarks that developed in Jesselton have survived to this day, among them the Jesselton Hotel, the Customs building, Hongkong and Shanghai Bank, Chartered Bank, the Kota Kinabalu community hall, the Capital Cinema, theSabah Tourism building and the railway service.

These landmarks had been in existence before North Borneo joined theFederation of Malaysia on Sept 16 1963 and came to be known as Sabah.

Old timer Abdullah Hussin is able to recall vividly the "great life" heenjoyed in those days.

"I still remember, in the early 1950's, we used to hang out with friends ofdifferent races - Malays, Kadazandusun, Chinese - and play snooker in Jesselton.

Sometimes, we go to 'aramati' (a party) together.

"At that time, I stayed in a wooden house in the town centre. I worked as a labourer at a rubber trading company called Sun Lee. That life was really great but all that is past and what's left are just memories," he toldBernama.

The 76-year-old grandfather said the workers were well taken care of.

"Although my salary was only RM80 per month, it was more than enough to make ends meet. I could even save money to enjoy the weekends. Everything was cheap in those days. For example, the price of sugar was just 10 sen or 20 sen a kati(600 grams)," he said.

Abdullah said he came to Jesselton in a cargo vessel from Kudat in theearly 1950's to look for a job.

"There were no roads from Kudat to Jesselton. When I arrived in Jesselton, I found only a few blocks of wooden shophouses with 'rumbia' (sago palm leaf) roof and a number of fishermen's houses on stilts. It was only after 1957 thatconcrete buildings began to sprout.

"In the heart of Jesselton was the famous Capital Cinema. Watching movies was a favorite pastime of people, even from nearby villages now known as KampungTanjung Aru, Sembulan and Likas," he said.

Fifty-five years ago, Abdullah said, Jesselton was almost a "ghost town" by7 pm.

"But we had nothing to worry about, even when we went out at night. Nobody disturbed us. It was quite safe. Hawkers could just "ampai-ampai" (leave) their bananas (in the market) overnight and they will be there the next day. At thattime, thefts and robberies were almost unheard of.

However, there was a serious lack of development in all aspects in Jesselton, he said. But things changed after Sabah joined Malaysia. The government invested millions of ringgit to support the development of Jesselton as a centre of administration. Jesselton was renamed Kota Kinabalu on Sept 301968. It was declared a city on Feb 2 2000.

Kota Kinabalu has since developed by leaps and bounds and has grown into a reputable financial, economic and tourism centre in the region, particularly within the Brunei Darussalam-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East Asean GrowthArea (BIMP-EAGA).

The city has certainly progressed with the times, and boasts numerous deluxe hotels such as Sutera Harbour Resort and Shangri-la Tanjung Aru Resort, roads stretching to the west and east coast towns, and modern structures like the imposing Sabah Foundation building, 1 Borneo hypermall, Center Pointbuilding as symbols of advancement.

Mohamad Awang, 50, of Kampung Sembulan Lama said "we can see a lot of changes in all spheres of development, including economic, educational, healthand infrastructure development.

"In Kota Kinabalu itself, we have so many primary and secondary schools and we have Universiti Malaysia Sabah, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, the new Kota Kinabalu International Airport and the soon-to-be-upgraded railway service ...,"he said.

However, he hoped that Kampung Sembulan Lama, located on the fringe of KotaKinabalu, would be turned into a traditional Malay village soon.

Mohamad said that despite all the progress and power changing hands from the British to the people of the land, the rich cultural diversity as well astraditions and customs remain intact.

The State Archives Director Datu Tiga Belas Datu Zainal Abidin said the history of Jesselton was significant not only to city dwellers but also all thepeople of Sabah.

As such, the "Jesselton Dalam Kenangan" (Jesselton in Memory) special event tomorrow in conjunction with this year's Merdeka celebration would enable the people to know and appreciate Jesselton as Sabah's "mother ofevolution".

"We will put up hundreds of records, including old pictures, of Jesselton during the event for public viewing at Wisma Pertanian (Agriculture Building,"he said.