Archive for October, 2011

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HAPPY DEEPAVALI !

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Advancing Panglima Lane

Text and photography by Lau Sook Mei

About a month ago, three shophouses on Panglima Lane partially collapsed, and a fourth structurally compromised. According to Mr Loh, one of the few residents of Panglima Lane, it began with a noise which was dismissed as fallen roof tiles, a common occurrence at the derelict century-old townhouses. A thunderous crash followed. He rushed out, only to find that Nos. 22, 25 and 27 had fallen. It was horrifying, and understandably so – his home is at No.23, next to No.25.

Window frame and other debris on the passageway. The yellow food stall is in front of No. 25.

Fortunately, no one was hurt. It was late at night and no one was in the passage. While No.22 and No.27 were vacant, the terrified tenants in No.25 packed up early in the morning and left.

What is left of Nos.25 and 27 (left) and No. 22.

Despite the fact that the shophouses are quite dilapidated, and some derelict, many people have found this passage beautiful, brimming with old-world charm and nostalgia. Panglima Lane, better known as Yi Lai Hong among locals, or ‘concubine lane’, is the gem of Ipoh. It attracts tourists, artists, photographers and filmmakers from far and wide. In fact, the authorities have been trying to revitalize the photogenic lane but efforts had fizzled out. This is because the owners have not surfaced to be engaged in this plan. Recently, though, ownership has changed hands. This is critical.  The new owner has new ideas, and he has the skills to involve the other owners into an influential body for the rehabilitation of the lane.

The charming ambience in the Lane, at dusk.

Taking Panglima Lane for granted and leaving it to rot is akin to killing the goose that lays the golden egg. Just before the collapse, the State Government and the City Council, MBI had earmarked Panglima Lane as one of the ten best attractions in Ipoh. However, it is baffling that there are no plans to preserve the buildings and to stop the rot. Instead, a contract has been awarded to upgrade the area by paving the street in granite and concealing the storm water drains. This is ill-advised. Now, since the incident, the plan has been rescinded.

Out of bounds.

Immediately after the incident, Local Government Committee chairman Datuk Dr Mah Hang Soon gave a fourteen-day notice to the owners of seven shophouses in Panglima Lane which are deemed life-threatening. It was a matter of dealing with the threat or risk having the offending buildings demolished by MBI. Can’t blame the government, for derelict buildings in Ipoh and their threats to public safety have been very much in the news lately.

Manual clean-up by City Council. Photo courtesy Law Siak Hong.

The owners, who are the prime stakeholders, found themselves in a quandary: to demolish or to restore? Let us look at it this way. If you have a property, is it not your responsibility to keep it well-maintained for your tenant? Why should the government channel tax-payers’ money for the maintenance of your property and increase its property value while you collect rent? It does not make sense. But, if the government were to declare your property intrinsic to tourism, let’s say, in Panglima Lane, then some form of governmental funding or incentives should be given. For benefits to the public, and income-generating tourism economy, that’s fair.

In fact, the government had funded various works on private properties for example, painting works within Little India, Ipoh; some restoration work on Rumah Besar Raja Bilah, Papan; and Sitiawan Settlement Museum, Sitiawan, to name a few. The main purpose was to spruce up the heritage sites for tourism.

Buildings rebuilt in Old Town.

However, is it not the joint-responsibility of the government and owners to ensure that derelict buildings do not pose a danger to the public? Should all such buildings be demolished? No, not until all options have been exhausted. Not when we believe that all dilapidated buildings could be rehabilitated. Resorting to indiscriminate demolitions is taking the easy way out. Demolition is not the solution. Should that be allowed to happen, there will be very little left for people’s collective memory and that sense of place. Ipoh could well end up losing at least sixty old shophouses. In their place, in all likelihood, will be new ugly buildings – there are plenty of recent examples. Just imagine, if the seven “dangerous” shophouses in Panglima Lane are demolished, what is left for the place to retain its charms and ambience?

Prominent cracks on the wall (left); an exposed column caused by the continuous pecking of pigeons.

There are problems in Yi Lai Hong. Engineers must come and assess them. One such problem is drainage. It seems that the street has sunk, probably because water has seeped through the original brick-lined drains and into the foundation rather than being carried away by the drains. The street might have been a reclaimed swamp beside the Kinta River. The drains seem unable to carry away the surface water. Wrong paint has also aggravated water problems, preventing the evaporation of ground water rising into the building fabric and causing water damage.

Cracks, too, have appeared on the buildings for some time, possibly caused by the sinking. Conservationists have suggested immediate shoring up of affected buildings to prevent further collapse or there would be no original buildings left!

Fielding questions from the press: Datuk Dr Mah, under the red lantern (above). Photo courtesy Iris Cheng; Ipoh Mayor, Dato Roshidi Hashim.

In the rehabilitation of a city’s old quarters, community involvement is critical, and this is the case with Panglima Lane. Because of the untimely depletion of its heritage buildings, an ad-hoc committee of affected owners has got together to discuss ways to ‘bring back the glory’ and put in efforts to jointly ‘re-develop the site’. They have met with the authorities: MBI, JKR (Public Works Department) and the State government. The latest is that the State may provide some financial help. Nothing concrete has been decided although the situation is optimistic.

Panglima Lane before the collapse.

Undeniably, Panglima Lane is worth saving. It is unique in Ipoh, being the only pedestrian-only street in the City. Behind every door are timeless stories which tell a social history epitomizing a past era, a time ‘when tin was king’. This must be cherished, relished and carried into the future as our shared heritage.

For related stories on Panglima Lane, please go to When Bricks Came Tumbling Down and Immortalizing Panglima Lane.

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