Archive for March, 2011

Mapping Taiping Heritage

Text and Photos by Law Siak Hong

Carved partition in a Taiping shophouse.

This blog begins with quotes from two leaders of the future:

“Progress cannot happen without learning from the past.” – Mohd Aminuddin, Student Representative, UM

“For all the potential Taiping has, perhaps its future is actually not in urban renewal. Conversely, it might be in this: that the soul of the town is left intact, so residents can continue to love her, and also that those who have left the town may one day return to enjoy their sunset years.” – Joel Lau Mun Fai, Student Representative, NUS.

Details of the supports of the plaque.

The long-awaited exhibition ‘Returning Taiping’ finally opened in Taiping on 26 February. It was a great day for Taiping heritage.

From the Tun Tan Cheng Lock Centre in Melaka, the exhibition travelled to Taiping. It was installed by students and academics in the Joint Programme. The show in Taiping was organised by Teoh Chee Keong and Lee Eng Kew with the co-operation and local support of members of the Ng family.

From Left: UM’s Lim Take Bane called for preservation for Taiping's old market; UM’s Associate Professor Dr. Sr. Yahya Ahmad talked about the collaboration and NUS’ Lai Chee Kien thanked the people of Taiping for a fun experience.

The result of the University Malaya-National University of Singapore (UMNUS) Joint Studio Programme 2010, the exhibition was displayed in the townhouse of Ng Boo Bee, one of the buildings in this study. For the occasion, the townhouse was given a fresh coat of paint, inside and out.

Ng Boo Bee's townhouse - A collage by Chee Keong, by courtesy of the photographer.

The opening ceremony cum book launch was held in tents erected on the side street. More than two hundred had gathered on this sunny Saturday morning to witness a significant event in the annals of Taiping heritage.

A collage by Chee Keong, by courtesy of the photographer.

The Joint Studio Programme in Taiping this year is part of the on-going learning about ‘the morphology of South-east Asian towns and the taxonomy of various Chinese shophouse typologies’. Four different types of shophouses are studied in the process, and out of this, an admirable cultural mapping of the town’s heritage.

Students in the process of taking measured drawings - A collage by Chee Keong, by courtesy of the photographer.

Hooded side windows.

The four ‘shophouses’ and ‘townhouses’ have been selected for the measurement exercise to ‘reflect the life and trials of the town’. They ‘intersect the intricate and inter-twined fabric and grain of a resilient town that, despite its tranquil demeanour and routine, is now facing particular challenges in the years to come’, wrote Lai Chee Kien in one of the prefaces. The book comprises measured drawings, interviews, summary of students’ discussions and heaps of photographs. It is available in Melaka from the Tun Tan Cheng Lock Centre for Asian Architectural and Urban Heritage.
Address: 54-56, Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock. 75200 Melaka. Enquiries to akittclc@nus.edu.sg attention Mr Philip Tay.

Students' architectural models.

After lunch, Teoh Chee Keong led an interactive talk about Taiping heritage. That evening, Lee Eng Kew hosted the screening of a documentary ‘The Pirate and the Ship’ and gave a talk on Towkay Ng Boo Bee.

Portrait of Ng Boo Bee.

A most prominent old Taiping resident and the wealthiest, Towkay Ng Boo Bee (1854-1921) was a Hokkien philanthropist. From supplying wooden sleepers and bricks for the construction of the first railway in the Malay Peninsula, which ran between Taiping and Port Weld (now Kuala Sepetang), he went on to become the contractor for the building of railways for two decades. He also prospered through revenue farming and tin-mining in Kamunting.

Quaint window display.

Because of the quality of this study, the Penang Heritage Trust will host the exhibition in Penang after its run in Taiping which ends early April.

If you want to see the exhibition in Ipoh, come forward. Let us find a venue, free of charge for a couple of weeks, and raise RM6000 to host the exhibition here. Of course, you can also be a sponsor or a donor.

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A Fine Chinese Mansion in Medan

Text and photos by Sundralingam Saminathan

Signboard outside the mansion.

During the recent Chinese New Year holidays in February I made a trip to Medan, Indonesia. What attracted me there was one rare Chinese mansion with a link to the ‘Blue Mansion’ in Penang, which refers, of course, to the rather famous Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion.

This fine Chinese mansion in Medan belongs to Tjong A Fie, a nephew of Cheong Fatt Tze. Their surname appears in different romanizations because one is in the Straits Settlement in Malaya and the other in Indonesian Sumatra. Incidentally Cheong Fatt Tze had set foot in Indonesia earlier than his nephew before settling down in Penang in the 1890s.

The facade of the mansion seen from Jalan Jendral A Yani.

Tjong A Fie Mansion is a heritage building on Jalan Jendral A Yani, a main road in Medan. Built in 1900, it was completed four years earlier than the Blue Mansion. Like his uncle’s in Penang, though relatively smaller, Tjong’s mansion was laid out in the style of a Chinese courtyard mansion. Both buildings incorporate European Art Nouveau design elements, but Tjong’s has concrete columns with ornamental capital, and gilded timber filigree doors. Both buildings are considered the finest of its kind outside of China.

Lion guarding the entrance.

Tjong A Fie was born Tjong Fung Nam in 1860 in Sungkow, a Hakka village in Meixien. At the age of twenty, he joined his elder brother in Deli (now Medan). He was a successful businessman, banker and plantation owner, and had more than 10,000 workers under his employment. He was the first Chinese to own a tobacco plantation in Bandar Baroe. An imminent personality and well-respected in the local community, Tjong was appointed Kapitan Cina by the Dutch government. Like his uncle in Penang, Tjong bore a title awarded by the Emperor of China.

The legendary Tjong A Fie died of a stroke in 1921 and was buried in Pulau Berayan, Medan.

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Construction Management Going Heritage Conservation

Text and photos by Law Siak Hong

The PHS Committee was cordially invited by Ar Tan Seong Yeow, head of Construction Management, UTAR Green Technology Faculty to its Open Day on 16 February. It was at the spacious Heritage Hall in UTAR  Kampar. Not even Tan could tell us the rationale for its name.

It was not easy taking time off work on a Wednesday afternoon. So, for company, I invited PHS member Yusuf Martin and our media ally in Heritage, Foong Thim Leng. We went for the presentation of a study on Gopeng by final-year students to learn what they have discovered, analysed, synthesized and proposed. Leaders of the four study groups took turns to present their work.

Scaled model of shophouse.

Their solution turns out to be quite a clever piece of town planning. What I appreciate most is the direct answers to the problems they have identified. How the re-development would be financed – through state allocations and private sector initiatives – has also been considered admirably.

Their study begins with a research on the history of Gopeng. To gauge local residents’ understanding of their town’s history, the students conduct a survey. It reveals a low level of knowledge but a keen sense of pride in their town, perhaps moderated by the existence of Gopeng Museum, which has raised awareness of their own background.

Their concept is quite astonishing. To solve vehicular problems, it demands the creation of a car park, and a tunnel under the main road to link the town divided by the busy main thoroughfare, Jalan Kay Loong. Usually, crossing this road involves waiting for a break in a stream of flowing traffic, when impatience means danger. To counter that, the students propose building an underpass on Jalan Eu Kong, under the main thoroughfare. Why not? Its engineering is relatively simple. A pedestrian bridge and a recreational garden, with a fountain, next to the mosque are the other wonderful ideas.

Site model; note the underpass at the top right and the park next to the mosque with the pyramidal roof.

Because of the significance of the brand Eu Yan Sang, a pharmaceutical conglomerate established here in 1879, the students also propose to construct  the twin-shophouses of Eu Yan Sang next to the goldsmith on Jalan Pasar in their original design. Well, more research must be done. I wonder if the management of Eu Yan Sang would take up this suggestion. Re-construction also includes the 1886 theatre, the first in the Kinta Valley.

The 1913 twin-shophouses.

Other than the panels of storyboards, the students showed a scaled model of the town centre to illuminate the context and content of the project, as well as a well-built scaled model of a shophouse on Jalan Panggung Wayang.

We congratulate Tan and his students. Well-done!

There are reasons for optimism. We are encouraged by the course Tan has designed, which exposes the students to architectural design and detailing, a pertinent appreciation for heritage and history and, graphic communication skills and town planning. Without a doubt, they are trained as construction managers or, well-educated ‘high-class’ contractors, to fill a desperate need in the real world.

Later, while we chatted over snacks, Tan informed that students in Year 1 will be studying the decorative elements of shophouses to learn how they were done. After all, Gopeng has the most number of the oldest brick buildings in the Kinta Valley with painted decorations and stucco panels.

Looking forward to their findings in a few months’ time? You bet.

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Cultural Landscapes

Tangible and Intangible Heritage

Dear PHS Members and Friends,

Emeritus Professor Ken Taylor AM is giving an illustrated presentation on an overview of the cultural landscape idea and its significance. Reference to challenges offered by the Kinta Valley area will be addressed.

The speaker has degrees in Geography, Town Planning and Landscape Architecture and Co-Director, Cultural Heritage Research Centre, University of Canberra. As a Board member of AusHeritage he has participated in missions to a number of countries including India, Indonesia and Myanmar. He has given guest lectures at various universities and has been a consultant to UNESCO and the World Heritage Centre, particularly in relation to cultural landscape values.

Venue : Ungku Omar Polytechnic, Jalan Raja Musa Mahadi, Ipoh
(Civil Engineering Lecture Hall – Entrance through Main Gate)

Date : Thurs, 24 March 2011

Time : 3pm (the programme may last up to 2 hours)

Admissions FREE. All are welcome.

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