Archive for February, 2011

Prehistoric Treasures and Old Material Culture

Text by Sundralingam Saminathan
Photos by Lau Sook Mei

The PHS field trip on Sunday, 30 January attracted seven society members and three new friends. It was a small but happy group, eager with contained excitement.

Traipsing across the field.

We began with the amazing rock paintings at Gunung Panjang, Tambun. Our guide for the day, Hong reminded the gang on the Dos and Don’ts before leading us across the open field to an unkempt ‘heritage’ pavilion at the bottom of the concrete stairs. 128 steep steps to the rockshelter, so up we went.

Mohd Taib: clean by example.

The rock paintings are found on the exposed, west-facing cliffs, some as high as 10-metres from the floor of the rocky ledge. Huffing and puffing, we gazed awe-struck. Some paintings have faded, some are damaged by water and vandals. How did the paintings survive the weathering? How and why did the prehistoric men paint so high up the cliff face? Intriguing and magical!

Surprisingly, despite its importance, no proper studies have been done since its discovery in 1959 until, in 2009, an Archaeology student at Universiti Sains Malaysia , Noel Hidalgo Tan surveyed and mapped all the paintings he could find, and studied them for his Master thesis.

Just how many paintings are there? Noel found five hundred, in ten groups. Iron oxide found at the hill is assumed the colour ‘red’. To date them, Noel analysed little bits of paint samples. Artefacts previously uncovered cannot be traced, so went the material evidence of its Neolithic age.

We recognized the figurative paintings: tapir, deer and a giant catfish once thought to be a dugong, a manatee. Drawings of men are prominent, especially a captivating one with a long phallus.

The giant catfish.

Charmed, we pierced in wonderment but the mosquitoes got to us. Before we descended, we took in the view of Ipoh against the backdrop of the Kledang Range . Yes, Gunung Panjang would have been a landmark even in Neolithic time.

Looking down to the Syed Putra Army Camp – note the Sulva Lines Cemetery.

Our next destination was Gunung Naga Mas, just past Kampung Kepayang. We hesitated at the overgrown path to the cave but some foreign workers at the foothill prodded us on.

Our brave new friend, Thomas found a stick and began ‘slashing’ his way up the hand-laid stones steps. Hong followed, clearing the track for our fellow ‘adventurers’. Progress was slow but our patience paid off; we found an old nylon rope which guided us up the hill.

As we looked down to the barren land in Tekkah, where tin was mined, the stench of guano (bat droppings) wafted out the dark end of the chamber, which used to house a Chinese temple known as Gua Naga Mas or ‘golden dragon cave’. In the cool dampness, we stayed put, imagining spirits moving freely around us.

The fossil bones.

In a small alcove to the side we came face to face with the fossils. Ever the doctor, enthusiastic Mike named the bones embedded in the ceiling about 5-metres from the floor. A renowned zoologist has identified the ‘skeleton’ as that of a leopard. The only piece of research so far dated the bones to Paleolithic, between 10,000 and one-million-years-old. For the bones to be stuck to the rocks, we reckoned that the area had gone through extreme pressure for a very, very long time. But how does one wrap one’s head around such concept of eons and prehistoric time?

The descent was light work, but the energy sapping ‘hike’ made us very hungry, and so we rushed to Gopeng for lunch.

Our lunch in the Malay café on Jalan Pasar was very good. Sated and rested, we began our Sunday stroll in historic Gopeng.

Gopeng is famous for the Eu Yang San, the Chinese medical chain started in 1879. With a road named after him, Eu Kong is the founding patriarch while his illustrious son Eu Tong Sen built it into an international conglomerate.

Founded in 1888, the Tseng Lung Hakka Association is the oldest clan association in town. The photo gallery is most impressive, with formal portraits of noted clansmen and women. Here, Sook Mei discovered the photographs of her maternal grandfather and uncles, who were prominent clansmen in the Kinta Valley.

Tseng Lung Hakka Association.

We walked up High Street to the changkat to cool off in the shade of the old angsana tree dominating a small park by the mining pool, then past the town padang to enjoy the Chinese temple theatre. We crossed the road to the sad remains of the 30-metre section of the water pipeline of Gopeng. We returned to town through Jalan Kampong Rawa, where we saw the rows of century-old coolies’ housing, and the original public toilet block, minus the ‘buckets’ for excrement.

Gopeng’s iconic pipeline – what’s left of it.

Where stories of Gopeng are told.

At the Gopeng Museum on Jalan Eu Kong, we discovered Gopeng’s material culture. Its curator, Mr Phang See Kong was hospitable, offering mineral water and snacks. More discovery; I noticed my great-great-grandfather’s photograph on the wall! He was Vellasamy Pillai, the pioneer who built Gopeng’s Amman Hindu Temple in 1885. This fact was verified by my great-grand-uncle, Dato’ Rajasingam.

My great-great-grandfather.

Snacking in the museum.

Phang arranged our visit to the Heritage House on Jalan Sungai Itek (Wayang Lane). This shophouse has adapted by its owner Mr Wong Kuan Cheong into a warren of interesting spaces on three levels, using salvaged building material.

Inside the Heritage House.

Satiated and tired out, we left Gopeng with Phang’s promise of invitations to the opening of the Heritage House on World Heritage Day.

A parting shot.

If you should want to go to the prehistoric sites on your own, never go alone, and make sure you let someone know when you are expected home. Be self-responsible at these prehistoric sites and remember the Dos and Don’ts below.

– Notice to All Visitors-
Welcome to one of the most significant pre-historic sites in Malaysia.

Pre-historical relics are rare but important because of what we can learn from them.
The locations where they are found are important as it presents to us the context for their significance within the region.
It is a rare opportunity to be able to enjoy significant relics in their natural state.
To protect and conserve this site, please observe the following:


1.   Take notes and pictures. You will be pleasantly surprised by the details captured which may have eluded your gaze.

2.   Stay on the designated path to avoid damaging the site and for your own safety. Rock-falls can seriously injure or kill.

3.   Get in touch with Perak Heritage Society if you wish to know more about this site:

4.   Report any abuse or encroachment upon the site to PHS. Pictures will be of great help.

5.   Help to conserve this site by keeping it clean & hazard free. Dispose of wastes appropriately. It is best that you take them away to the nearest waste bins.


1.   Don’t remove any relic or material from the site.

2.   Don’t touch, paint, draw or climb up the rock face; it is to preserve the relic as well as to mind your own safety.

3.   Don’t litter; wastes attract pests, contaminate the site, and pose a fire & health hazard.

4.   Don’t smoke within the vicinity of the site. It’s both a fire and health hazard.

Note: It is an offence to remove, damage or deface historical artefacts, the penalties include a hefty fine and jail time.

Proposed by Mr Cheah Soon Tatt, Penang, 2009
For more stories please click here.

Update ~ 2nd January 2016 : Ancient Cave Paintings Used to Teach New Lessons


Progressing With Heritage

Public Forums & Workshops (March – May 2011)

With George Town’s listing as a World Heritage Site, heritage now plays an important role in the future of Penang. It is timely for Penang to accelerate its learning curve in the field of heritage management and equip itself for the conservation and sustainable development of its heritage resources.

Eight Australian heritage specialists will be invited to speak on the different aspects of heritage management.

Public Forums & Workshops
The public forums are a 1-day affair (on Saturdays) consisting of public lectures in the morning and a lively forum in the afternoon. This is followed by 2 days of workshops (on Sunday and Monday)

While the public forums aim to raise the general level of interest and awareness in conservation issues, the follow-up workshops are designed as a platform for brainstorming and sharing between stakeholders and specialists.

Who should attend?
–        Property owners, trustees and stakeholders
–        Planners, architects, engineers, surveyors, developers, project managers, lawyers,   real estate professionals
–        Heritage conservationists, curators, tourism managers, cultural interpreters etc.
–        Policy makers, legislators, grant managers, government administrators,   implementors and enforcers
–        Human resource training institutions, university educators and students
–        General public

Venue for Forum : Level 5, Auditorium F, KOMTAR

Venue for Workshops: To be informed

Time: 9:00am– 5:00pm

Management of Heritage Assets
1.  Preparing Heritage Management Plans and
Conservation Management Plans for buildings, sites and living streets
Forum : Sat, 5 March 2011
Workshop: Sun & Mon, 6 & 7 March 2011

Design in the Context of Heritage
1.  Compatible adaptation / new design
2.  Heritage Cultural Impact Assessment
Forum: Sat, 26 March 2011
Workshop: Sun & Mon, 27 & 28 March 2011

Cultural Tourism and Presentation of Heritage
1.   Heritage Interpretation
2.   Cultural tourism -merits and impacts
Forum: Sat, 23 April 2011
Workshop: Sun & Mon, 24 & 25 April 2011

Capacity Building in Heritage Asset Management
1.  Managing your heritage building
2.  Skills development
Forum: Sat, 27 May 2011
Workshop: Sun & Mon, 28 & 29 May 2011

This series of forums and workshops are organized by George Town World Heritage Incorporated in collaboration with AusHeritage and Penang Heritage Trust and supported by the Penang State Government, Majlis Perbandaran Pulau Pinang, Penang Global Tourism and Pertubuhan Akitek Malaysia.

For more information, kindly log on to George Town World Heritage Incorporated


A Tale of Two Stations

Text and photos by Lau Sook Mei

Kuala Kangsar Railway Station.

The KL-Ipoh double-tracking and electric rail project began in 2000 and new electric trains came into service in 2010. For this modernization, most century-old railway stations along the way were demolished and replaced by new ones. Left stranded, the old stations in Tanjung Malim and Batu Gajah managed to survive as small eateries and for other trades.

Started in 2008, the extension from Ipoh northward to Padang Besar, Perlis is in smooth progress, with its completion scheduled for the end of this year. The initial budget of RM9-billion has climbed. The project was awarded to MMC-Gamuda in 2008 for RM12.48-billion. Currently, that has been revised to RM16.5-billion, citing increase in prices of oil and steel. One wonders about the final cost. Whatever it is, this time, no old stations will be spared, least of all those over one hundred years old.

Two of the more aesthetic ones, the stations at Chemor and Kuala Kangsar will soon be gone. I have heard station employees reminiscing with a heavy heart. They have spent most of their lives working in these old KTM stations. These railway relics are landmarks to each town and they are an important Malaysian heritage.

Chemor Railway Station.

Chemor Railway Station
Canopies of tropical foliage shade the drive to the charming Chemor Railway Station. The station was built during the rise of the humble little village when tin mining activities were abuzz. Opened on 27 Nov 1896, the Chemor station also served as a post office until a new one was built across the road in the 1920s.

Another view of the same station.

Even the cat is enjoying the breeze.

Despite its age, this single-storey timber structure has remained in excellent condition. It is the last best-kept railway station from the nineteenth century. Take a breather, sit down on the old wooden bench, and you will enjoy the natural flow of cool air even in the heat of the day. On my last visit, I noted that the elevated new tracks rose higher than the eave of the old station itself. The new station will be built 1 km north.

Note the elevated new tracks on the right.

It is incomprehensible, while the Ipoh Local Draft Plan 2020 earmarks the preservation of Chemor station, KTM decides to go ahead with demolishing it. Are the authorities working in tandem or are they competing for notoriety in asserting their power in a game of one-upmanship?

Quaint ticketing window.

It is time for the local community to show interest in its very own hometown heritage. The station can be a gift from KTM to the town. It can become the tourist visitation centre for Chemor. But the local communities need to get organized and Ipoh City Council has to make its stand, to convince KTM of its corporate responsibility to the history and heritage of the nation.

An abandoned lovely railway quarters that could be adapted into something useful...a homestay, perhaps.

Kuala Kangsar Railway Station

Kuala Kangsar Railway Station.

Interesting cast iron details below the porch. You will not see this in new stations.

Further north, the railway station in the royal town of Kuala Kangsar at Jalan Sultan Idris came into use circa 1899, during the reign of Sultan Idris, 28th Sultan of Perak (1887-1916). It is probably the only country train station in Perak with a front porch. At the height of its glory, it has seen the arrival and departure of many a Sultan. One could imagine the pomp and revelry that once accompanied the Sultan and his entourage at the Station.

An interesting idea: yellow-coloured boards with letters that make up "KUALA KANGSAR".

This indicates that you have arrived at the town.

In July 2008 it was announced that a new station would be built at Kampung Talang Simpang Tiga nearby, and the old station retained as a railway museum. Heritage die-hards breathed a sigh of relief. But the happiness was short-lived; the old station will make way for the new, after all. The decision was reverted in October, 2008 ostensibly to spare affected villagers from relocation while there arose land acquisition problems. The Malay press, Utusan Malaysia , 13 Oct 2008, quoted Sultan Azlan Shah: the station was too old to be retained as a heritage building. Can that be true?

Signboard showing the way to the station master's room.

This station even has a special waiting room for the Sultan.

The Railway Stations Are Our History
Often cited as reason for demolition is their dilapidated condition, which is due entirely to a lack of maintenance. In fact, most of these stations are structurally sound, and only minor repairs will see them safe and adequate for continued use. Why can’t they be incorporated into the new station instead of being replaced by a new type alien to the country landscape of Malaysian rail?

Single line tokens, an old British system that effectively prevents collisions on single-track lines. When the passing train collects the key it is an indication that the line is clear. This will be a thing of the past.

This is the bag where the key token is placed.

The bag with the key is sometimes slung over the arm to be collected by the driver of the passing train.

Old railway stations exemplify our industrial heritage. It is no wonder that KTM never put money into proper building maintenance. It has been operating at a loss for far too long. Railway stations over one hundred years old are antiquities, protected by law. These old stations are strategically located in town, and they can be commercially viable, adapted into visitors’ centre, local history gallery, reading room, eatery, or some other happening place for community-linked activities. It could be the place to promote 1Malaysia because anybody, regardless of colour and creed, could use the train to work, to visit their family and to holiday. In this day and age, rail travel is most environmental-friendly and has a higher safety record. Try it, if you have not traveled by train. You will enjoy it.

A mechanical lever frame housed in a signal box. These levers are used to change the positions of points and signals. Points are movable rails that guide the wheels to the straight or diverging track. This too will soon be history.

For all the effort that KTM has put into saving the paraphernalia of railway, it has missed out on the most important edifice of its services, the original, charming, well-constructed historic railway stations of the FMS Railway.

It is our fervent hope that decision makers at KTM rethink the demolition of these historic transportation buildings in Perak, which had the first railway line in Malaysia.  Let us not deprive the future generations of this heritage in the name of “upgrading” and development.

As concerned readers, do your bit. Write a letter to the newspapers about the dire situation and save these old stations before you regret.

(You may also like to read more about trains here.)


“Returning Taiping” Exhibition and Book Launch

Dear PHS Members and Friends,

The long-awaited event is finally going to happen!

We can car-pool and organize a PHS delegation. Or you may join us in Taiping.

Specials at the Book Fair:
‘Returning Taiping’, published by the UM-NUS JSP 2010;
‘Perak Postcards 1890s-1940s’, Areca Books.

See below for the day’s programme.
(Do check from time to time for any new changes.)

All are welcome. Admissions FREE.



Exhibition Opening and Book Launch

The Exhibition is presented by University of Malaya & National University of Singapore Joint Sudio Programme 2010.

The UM-NUS Joint Studio studies shophouses in their historic urban contexts, with architectural exercises and social documentation.

Date Saturday, 26 Feb 2011
Venue 81, Jalan Kota , Taiping


8.00-11.30 a.m.
Heritage Walk guided by Lee Eng Kew and Teoh Chee Keong

11.30-12.30 p.m.
‘Returning Taiping’ Book Launch and Exhibition Opening

12.30-1.30 p.m.
Media Interviews with Q & A
Refreshment: local specialty Ho Ka Sai and other food
Book Fair with publishers Areca Books, Nanyang Folk Culture, Lee Eng Kew, Bee Ah Photography – Old Taiping Photos

1.30-3.30 p.m.
Heritage Workshop: Taiping Heritage and Conservation, by Teoh Chee Keong

7.30-8.30 p.m.
Film Screening: Baba Kew

8.30-9.30 p.m.
Public Talk: Ng Boo Bee and Taiping by Lee Eng Kew

For enquiry, kindly contact Teoh Chee Keong: or +60163455710


Gong Xi Fa Cai!

Chinese New Year is here again!

May the year of the Rabbit bring you much joy, good health and


Have a great family reunion.

PHS wishes you a fabulous

Gong Xi Fa Cai!


Immortalizing Panglima Lane

Text and photos by Lau Sook Mei

We were pleased with the news that students from Politeknik Ungku Omar, Ipoh, would be making some measured drawings of shophouses in Panglima Lane. To acquaint myself with this method of documentation and to lend support to this important heritage activity, I decided to turn up there to see how they worked. After all, it is not every day that you get to see students in action. It was enlightening.

Measuring the interior of No. 16.

The process: For five consecutive days in January, seven third-year architecture students worked on the measured drawings of shophouse No.16 for their final-year project.

Girls at work.

With the cooperation of the tenant, Hafiz and his friends set up base inside. It turned out that they also wanted to measure the street and the shophouses on it. Unfortunately, they could not access the vacant buildings so they ended up documenting only one row.

Chong, perched on a ladder tracing a metal plate.

Tracing of the metal plate embossed with the logo of Commercial Union, an insurance company.

Armed with measuring tapes they climbed up and down covering every nook and corner. Measurements were taken and recorded on sketches and drawings done on drawing blocks. Accuracy is critical and they would discuss intensely to ensure details are correct before the data went into the computer.

Engrossed in discussion.

An eye-opening experience: I learned from them that the original building had an open plan and no internal partitions. Apart from identifying how spaces were utilized in the old days the students looked for distinctive features, such as the louvre-windows and the profile of the pillars. Confirming the materials used and methods of construction were of utmost importance; they were fascinated with what they found out. The mainly pedestrian “walkway” is cool and photogenic and I could not resist happy snaps while wandering up and down the lane.

Hafiz measuring a pillar.

Happy news: I was informed that more measured drawings were being done by other undergraduates. Three groups were working simultaneously on St. John’s Church; Oversea Building at Nos.12 & 14, Jalan Sultan Iskandar; and Mahendra & Co., the law firm at No.11, Jalan Tun Sambanthan. Incidentally, measured drawings of the townhouses Nos. 28-42 in Jalan Lau Ek Ching were completed in 2010.

Working on the street.

The team from Politeknik Ungku Omar.

Measured drawings: Measured drawings are architectural drawings, accurately done to scale and based on measurements taken of an existing building, site, object and structural detail. These drawings are a form of documentation that not only show the “as-built” condition (as it was found) of a building but also the effects of age and alterations. In old buildings, defects such as uneven floors and out-of-plumb walls (not vertically straight) are measured and recorded as found.

Facade of No. 16.

Just take some photographs and save all the trouble, you might say. But no, photographs cannot show floor plans and sections (vertical slice) of a building the way measured drawings can. Measured drawings are an invaluable resource for subsequent repair and restoration.

Section of No. 16.

Dilapidation survey: This is a systematic study of the building by means of photographic and digital documentation. It contains vital information on the building. It seeks to explain probable causes of the defects found, and identifies appropriate conservation methods and techniques. It usually involves different experts: historians, architects, conservators, structural engineers, mechanical and electrical and quantity surveyors. Microbiologists, chemists, archaeologists and geologists are consulted as the need arises.

Needless to say, for the proud owner of a heritage building it pays to have a dilapidation survey conducted on his property to thoroughly understand the existing conditions and the defects before any repair, restoration or other conservation work. Failure in doing so may result in an inappropriate approach during conservation work which could subsequently lead to disagreements and higher costs amongst parties involved. Improper diagnosis, too, could result in ineffective remedial measures that may pose unnecessary threats to the building structures and public safety. To avoid any undesirable incidents, it is worthwhile for the owner to invest in a dilapidation survey.

Footnote: As the students were working on their project the dilapidated shophouse No.5 was being knocked down. In an incident late last year, its eaves had clashed down to the street below. No pedestrian was injured.

Shophouse No. 5.



Perak Heritage Society

Persatuan Warisan Perak
(Reg. No. 1254) was registered with the Registrar of Societies in August, 2003.

Office and Postal Address:
85C, Jalan Sultan Abdul Jalil,
30300 IPOH, Perak, Malaysia.
(opposite the Syuen Hotel)

Fax: 05-253 5507


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