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- 1. ESQUIRE DECEMBER 2014 9594 ESQUIRE DECEMBER 2014 The town that was that is Ipoh is on the cusp of development, but its direction isnt clear. Conversations with stakeholders reveal a sense of commitment to retaining the identity of a town that made its fortune and reputation in tin mining, but without a unified vision for the city, how will Ipoh cope with modernisation? Who benefits and who doesnt? And will the city retain its unique heritage in the face of increasing change? Words by Shermian Lim Photographs by Kevin Teh
- 2. 96 ESQUIRE DECEMBER 2014 ESQUIRE DECEMBER 2014 97 Brilliant ideas have been conceptualised over many a pint of lager, and Ian Andersons quest to pre- serve Ipohs rich historical significance began just like that. The British Royal Navy veteran from Glas- gow recalls being pictured in a local newspaper 10 years ago, grumbling about the lack of concern over Ipohs heritage, while having a mug of beer. So, peo- ple came to me and said, Why dont you do something about it? he recalls. And he did. Anderson, who is now 75 and has long called Ipoh home, began collecting items related to the citys history. They were placed under the care of Ipoh World, a non-profit organisation he founded that is currently supported by Tenby Schools, a private edu- cation institution based in Ipoh. The collection, which has grown to more than 7,300 items, includes a vast ar- ray of documents, contracts, city plans, artefacts from the citys tin mining glory days, private collections of photographs sent by individuals, and even childhood stories that have been compiled into a book. Ipoh Worlds most recent major exhibition was held in May last year at Falim Housea beautifully restored, sprawling 20s-era home that once belonged to a prominent tin-mining towkayand ended that August, just months before the Ipoh City Council re- vealed ambitious plans for the city. Under the Ipoh Special Area Draft Plan, Perak states local government pledged to carry out Entry Point Projects that target various improvements, including the conservation of heritage sites, the redevelopment of idle land, the up- grading of the citys infrastructure, and the creation of green spaces. The plan appears to be timely, encour- aged by the economic success of UNESCO heritage- stamped Penang and Malacca, and coinciding with the vision of Perak Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Zambry Abdul Kadir, to create a developed state by 2020. Any news of development plans that could benefit a town is always a welcoming and heartening thingor is it? Between a rock and a tin place The Ipoh that we have come to be familiar with in the past 30 years is quite different from the Ipoh that was once the heart of a thriving economy, driven by a very lucrative tin-mining industry in 1800s Kinta Valley. Af- ter tin resources ran out around the 70s, Ipoh transi- tioned into a state of small-town tranquillity, marked by a mass exit of residents and businesses into the sur- rounding suburbs, or out of Perak entirely; but an old- world charm remained. Locals dont hesitate to return a smile and help visitors find their way around with genuine patience. The spirit of community still exists, as evidenced by bus drivers greeting passengers on a first-name basis. The food scene here is dominated by hawkers peddling local favouritesmost notably tau foo fah, tauge ayam and Ipohs most high-profile ex- port, white coffeein traditional kopitiams, despite the emergence of modern cafs around the Old Town area. Along Yau Tet Shin Street, the only street abuzz with evening activity, rows of fat, bright green pomelosa beloved Ipoh citrus fruit that resembles a giant, unripe orangehang from raffia string or on the shelves of bis- cuit shops. Many rows of colonial shophouses, out of which businesses operate, have withstood decades of dirt and grime on their weather-beaten walls, even as others have fallen into disrepair, abandoned or ignored by disinterested owners. Any Malaysian taking a walk through the Old Town would agree that the citys vibe feels like a late-80s predominantly Chinese town. Yet, long-term Ipoh-ites will tell you that their city has changed dramatically, and not necessarily for the better. Critics have voiced frustration over the lack of action by the Ipoh City Council to address the issue of buildings that have fallen down, or fol- low through with a well-defined town develop- ment plan that nurtures a local economy. Years of wasted opportunities, critics claim, have de- prived Ipoh of an economic revival that would also resurrect the liveliness of the city. Thomas Su, the MP for Ipoh Timur, credits the government for creating a programme to turn Perak into an educa- tion hub, but says it has yet to take off in Ipoh. Perak towns like Kampar and Teronoh, according to Su, have reaped the benefits of having major universities, UTAR and Petronas respectively, in their backyards. But we could see more of this, Su says. Once you bring in an education centre, it will spur the local economy. Even immediate and viable opportunities for Ip- ohs revitalisation have not been capitalised upon. M Kulasegaran, the MP for Ipoh Barat, recalls a devel- opment plan conceived in 2004 for Sungai Kinta, the river that runs through Ipoh. The riverfront was to be developed into a commercial and entertainment centre in three stages, bringing foot traffic via rail transit to shops, a park, kayaking and other water activities. It was a very welcome idea, Kulasegaran says. In fact, I even went for briefings and all that. Since then, nothing has happened and the riverfront remains untouched, except for multi-coloured plastic tree lights lining the riverbank in front of Kinta Riverfront Hotel, paid for by the hotel management themselves. Plans to spruce up Panglima Lane, an important tourist jaunt on Ipohs heritage trail, also met the same fate. Funding had been allocated years ago, but the local council has yet to spend the money on proposed streetlights and walkway improvements. Renovation efforts are currently being carried out by individual landowners to encourage new Additional archival photographs from Ian Anderson/Ipoh World. commercial activity there; but without a collective ef- fort, unchecked decay has set into parts of the lane. Meanwhile, private developers continue to build high-rise properties on the back of a recent housing boom in Ipoh. These properties are tar- geted mainly at overseas investors and have cre- ated a demand for land, including those occupied by low-income residents. Kulasegaran represents a group of 60 Indian families living in Kampung Tai Lee, an area that was one of the first Indian settle- ments in the country. Now that its considered prime, inner-city land, rubbish has become gold. The owner wants it back, and set litigation in motion to evict the families years ago. The livelihood of these families, Kulasegaran says, is centred in and around Ipoh. Most of them walk or motorcycle to work, and they are the third or fourth generation of their respective fami- lies, living in an ancestral home that is more than 100 years old, with artefacts as proof of how people lived in that village back then. Although he admits it will be a tough sell, Kulasegaran is trying to push through a bill in Parliament to ratify Kampung Tai Lee with herit- age status, a move that will benefit a group of people caught in the crossfire of modern development. Kampung Tai Lee highlights a key issue Ipoh faces in riding these discussions on development: whom does it really benefit? Theres hardly any big investment that would be good for people that is worth talking about, Su says. But we have a lot of natural resources, caves and foodthese are the things we can use to grow. We should be concentrating more on tourism, that is our niche, and it can be promoted better. But Haji Ibrahim Seddiqi bin Talib, State Director of Tourism Malaysia Perak, believes that the board is doing what it can to promote tourism in Ipoh. Contrary to public percep- tion, Seddiqi says the state has been actively carrying Previous spread Aerial view of Ipoh in the late 60s. Top left Panglima Lane circa 1948: wealthy tin-mining towkays visited their mistresses who lived on this tiny street, earning it the nickname Concubine Lane. It was also a hub of business activity. Top right Ipohs railway station in the 70s: often nicknamed the Taj Mahal of Ipoh, it was designed by Arthur Benison Hubback, who also designed KLs old railway station. Above right Majestic Theatre in the 50s: a developer who bought the land has demolished it, despite protests and a stop-work order from the Ipoh City Council. Top left New Town Police Station in the 70s: its traditional kampung faade has been replaced with a modern design. Top right Han Chin Pet Soo clubhouse, 1959: founded in 1893, the club was exclusively for Hakka tin miners. Above Ian Anderson of Ipoh World.
- 3. 98 ESQUIRE DECEMBER 2014 ESQUIRE DECEMBER 2014 99 out promotional activities and preservation efforts, in- cluding the controversial industrialisation of natural limestone hills in Ipohs vicinity. Limestone that can be seen from the highway is for commercial purposes, and thats okay, Seddiqi says. But we do preserve. We choose specific areas such as Gua Tempurung, Gu- nung Lang and [the] Lost World [of Tambun], we take care of those. The board is also in the process of ap- plying for geopark status from UNESCO, a move that will boost services for recreational activities, homestay programmes and small vendors, creating what the state sees as real benefits to Ipohs economy. Although the limestone issue is up for debate, Su agrees on the her- itage point. It is our heritage, and people come to see it. You can be a copycat as long as youre a good one. It shouldnt be that because Penang is doing it, means we cant. I think that would be wrong, he says. Setting up shop But not everyone wants Ipoh to become like Penang. Rapid modernisation has a way of dredging