Text and photos by Lau Sook Mei
For cool tropical mountain air, habitat and nature, the Cameron Highlands are one of my favourite destinations.
Recently, Hong and I set off to the hills to see The Time Tunnel, a local museum located between Kea Farm and Brinchang. Hong had made an appointment with Mr See, who curates and manages the museum. We took the road from Simpang Pulai just south of Ipoh , through Pos Slim to Kampong Raja. Relaxed, we were unable to resist the views along the way; we ignored time constraint and made numerous unscheduled stops. It was a glorious Monday afternoon and there was little traffic on the road. With the blue skies above, layers of hills unfolded in shades of blue and green. Kinta Weeds, a flora endemic to the Kinta Valley, were swaying in the gentle breeze as if to welcome us.
Past Pos Slim, we noticed some simple Orang Asli shelters, made from bamboo and covered with palm fronds. Of the one in use, providing a traditional livelihood, it had jungle produce for sale: lengths of bamboo,edible bamboo shoots and wild honey.
We wound our windows down to feel the rush of fresh cool mountain air. But we were disappointed – the air was not so cool. Ah, over-development and deforestation uphill, that was why. Still, we were piqued by the occasional chorus of cicadas that penetrated the silence of the terrain.
Closing in on Kampung Raja, we saw drastic changes in the landscape. Vast areas were covered by an expanse of plastic canopies. These were vegetable farms, flower nurseries and strawberry farms. How much of this is legal? Unchecked agricultural development has contributed to excessive chemical infiltration into the soil and erosion has silted up the streams. A massive road-side rubbish dump fouled the air – so much for profits from farming on the hills against the demands of tourism.
We passed several farming towns. Past Kea Farm and about one kilometer from Brinchang, “TIME TUNNEL The Local Museum” loomed. The sign is so big – you won’t miss it! Adrian and Julie, our friends from Ipoh who decided to join us there, were already waiting. Our host Mr See was beaming as he greeted us. With great pride, and rightly so, he ushered us into The Time Tunnel.
Open since early 2007, this private museum houses a private collection. Mr See had us stepped down to the mysterious and dimly-lit entrance; it beckoned us on.
There are storyboards with old photographs of the Cameron dating back to the early 1930s. One section is dedicated to its ‘founder’, William Cameron, who stumbled upon the plateau at Tanah Rata in 1885. There is John Archibald Russell, who founded Cameron’s iconic BOH Tea Plantation. Then, there is Jim Thompson, the ‘Thai silk king’ who seemed to have vanished into thin air in 1967; with his mysterious disappearance unsolved, he remains an international interest today.
Once inside the main gallery, we found ourselves transported back in time. Further into the tunnel, we were awed by the astonishing collection of antiques and knick-knacks, furniture, toys, household utensils, match boxes, advertising paraphernalia – you name it, See has it.
Hong, wide-eyed and raving, couldn’t help but reminisced his younger days! Hardly able to contain herself, Julie snapped pictures at every opportunity, as did Adrian. At the sight of all the collectibles that I grew up with, my emotions swelled like a tidal wave, my recalling rushed on and on. There are cooking utensils found in “grandma’s kitchen”,
a mock-up of mum’s Sunday favourite – the hair-dressing salon,
toys like those my siblings and I fought over,
LPs (Long-Playing records) from Tom Jones to The Carpenters – dad’s favourite songs,
and so on…
There is hardly a dull moment for History buffs. Even for those not so keen in history, let your imagination run wild for images of by-gone days. You could spend hours browsing through the evocative exhibits. It is an education in social history you cannot afford to miss.
The museum is the culmination of See’s grit and dedication. See told us that when he took over the place, it was just an open-sided, elongated structure with many columns. He saw the opportunity to express his interest in the past and to provide a point of interest for tourists and locals. He walled up the structure, turning it into a tunnel, and added lights to illuminate the displays he had arranged personally.
We found the tunnel undergoing extension. See briefed us on his plan. He is acquiring more stuff to fill the new tunnel. Come August, there will be more theme displays. Apart from promoting his museum, he is also helping the Pahang state tourism promote the Cameron Highlands .
On the street-level above the Tunnel are souvenir shops and a café with a view to Kok Lim Strawberry Farm, which owns the premises. Together they make up a one-stop centre for tourists. You could take a breather from the museum and hop over to the café for some melt-in-your-mouth strawberry jam tarts (what else?) and cap it off with a cup of steaming hot tea, or an aromatic coffee.
Before we headed home, gratefully we thanked See, congratulated him for a job well-done and wished him every success.
Do check this place out. Entrance fee is very reasonable and well-worth your money. It is impossible to take in everything in one visit; you will revisit to uncover more “bits of your past” in this wonderful, growing museum.
For details of the museum, visit www.timetunnel.cameronhighlands.com.