Archive for November, 2013

Kampong Kepayang: For the Love of Ruins

Text and photographs by Law Siak Hong

A never-ending stream of vehicles files past the shophouses in Kampong Kepayang.

Kampong Kepayang is a one-street mining town in the tin-rich Kinta Valley. 11km from Ipoh, and straddling the main highway from Ipoh to Gopeng, it used to be known as Kampong Kepayang “Bharu” (the new). The “old” Kampong Kepayang is a traditional Malay kampong in Ipoh, upstream from Gunung Cheroh, the highest navigable point of the Kinta River. We don’t know if the two are related, but this story is about the former, the small historic town.

Typically, the town began as a riverside settlement. South of the town flow the Sungei Riai, a major tributary of the Kinta River; eponymously, it was a river port from which tin produced in Gopeng was exported. Interestingly, two “penghulu” (village chiefs) were found here, indicating two disparate groups of Malay settlers, what the British administrators referred to as local and foreign Malays. On the road cut in 1882 leading south to Gopeng, there was also a Chinese village, Tekka Sungei Raia; three Chinese cave temples here had been gazetted in 1895. (Source: Khoo Salma Nasution and Abdur-Razzaq Lubis, KIINTA VALLEY, Pioneering Malaysia’s Modern Development, Perak Academy 2005.) Refer to the book and see the old map within. You will be well rewarded.

The road through Kampong Kepayang remains the thoroughfare between Ipoh and the prosperous and populous university town of Kampar, now also a district by the same name, taking a chunk out of the Kinta District. Thus, the historical boundaries of the world famous Kinta District is changed forever in the name of economic development. But that is another story.

Let’s go back to Kampong Kepayang. Sensing its impending doom, a team from Badan Warisan Malaysia came to study it and concluded that the traffic which whizzed through the town was the cause of its “death”. Sadly, the town has become a “road kill”. The old road is only wide enough for three carriage ways, and the stream of traffic is loud and incessant. For some sensitive notes on the town, read our blog, “More than an Annual General Meeting” (May 17, 2013), on the art video by Hayati Mokhtar.

Five years ago, students from the Department of Construction Management , Faculty of Engineering and Green Technology, University Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR) Kampar did a case study of the town and proposed the regeneration of Kampong Kepayang for tourism. Their solution was simple: restore the buildings for adaptive reuse,  realign the road by creating two one-way streets which go around the back of the shophouses, and turn the main street into a scenic  canal. The scheme was shown at the PHS Heritage Forum in October, 2010, but the state officials present took no notice; there was no political will to save this historic town.

Newspaper report, 2010. Customer and barber at the barber shop on the main road.

Sometime in 2010, as the fate of the town once again came into question, the local authority issued notices to occupants to vacate the “endangered” shophouses. According to the local barber, the occupants were unhappy that their requests for compensation had not been met. But already, the abandoned shophouses were being “cleaned out” by salvagers.

The corridor (five-foot-way) is threatened by passing vehicles. Old window frames of hard wood have been harvested for sale and re-use.

This old street lamp would have been “plucked” away had it been easy to reach.”Cob-web” style fan windows adorn the façade, the wooden beam dating the building to around 1900 or earlier. An interior in neglect.

Fan-shaped ventilators: though similar, each pair shows up differently in the hands of the carpenter.

In mid-2013, to harvest recyclable building materials (timber, roof tiles and bricks) salvagers “processed” the buildings in professional style. Casual on-lookers would be deceived by what appears to be authorized salvage and demolition. Anonymously, a local resident found out the true nature of the exploitation. By the time she got in touch with her friend, one of the owners, it was too late. Two groups of shophouses were eventually levelled even though they were structurally sound – salvagers don’t work in unsafe buildings.

In ruin, most of the houses remain structurely sound and can be restored with green technology.

Naturally, as time passes, wild vegetation begins to penetrate the abandoned shophouses. A lack of proper drainage further weakens the foundation. It was no surprise when a corner shophouse came crashing down during a stretch of rainy days, recently. Luckily, no one was hurt. What happens now? Legally, the responsibility lies with the property owners while the local authority has the jurisdiction to compel owners to maintain their properties in safe condition. In reality, the issues of public safety, history and heritage are all lost in matters of costs, ownership and indecisive enforcement. The tussle continues while the town languishes in neglect. A few more shophouses are expected to fall.

For public interest, when you visit the town, stay alert as you walk in its corridor of emasculated power.

Compromised by partial settlement and wild vegetation, the front portion of the shophouse fell.

Fallen bricks still bonded by lime mortar. The adjacent building remains threatened by the shear in the arch over the corridor – it is a time bomb waiting to go off.

In the shadow of the limestone outcrop, Gunung Lanno, revered by the Malays as a holy site, Kampong Kepayang awaits its fate. In the early 1900s, there was tin mining in the caves of Lanno, and later, on the creases of its crags.

For the love of ruins. Signs of occupancy and abandon. House pet or stray cats lend a soft touch to experiencing the town from the back street.

The back street is walkable and safe: A shophouse claimed by wild vegetation. A mango tree, the “ornamental” dragon fruit and flowering bouganvillaea are signs of enjoyment by the people who live here.

On the back street, a small house and a school – the students come from the villages and housing estates nearby.

Footnote: Heavy vehicles fly past the mainly abandoned town, but perhaps, Foo Yong Thong the fortune teller may have something to say about the fate of Kampong Kepayang, a town linked to Towkay Chew Boon Juan, who mined for tin ore in the hills of Gunung Lanno.


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Persatuan Warisan Perak
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