Posts Tagged 'building'

Women at Work in Ipoh Methodist Girls’ School

Text and photographs by Law Siak Hong


The main building of the Ipoh Methodist Girls’ School, built circa 1930. The principal’s office sits above the porch.

For almost half a century, the mural has lived quietly in the corridor outside the principal’s office, which was, and still is the place students and teachers do not choose to linger.
It was Wai Chun, my Sixth Form schoolmate in ACS Ipoh who told me about the mural. I was intrigued and asked to see it. A couple of years went by. When she finally took me to her old school, I was stunned by her ‘masterpiece’. What a ‘hidden’ treasure! However, I was alarmed to see that the panels had suffered some water damage and electrical conduits and fixtures had run over one of them. Assured of help from me, the intrepid Wai Chun began to mastermind the restoration of this MGS mural in which she had an indelible hand.


The mural is located outside the principal’s office, seen here in the back wall, during restoration.

Volunteers are critical. They are recruited from among old school friends, but scheduling work sessions to suit them is tough because they live either in KL, Penang or overseas. Support from the school administration for the project has to be sought. Paint and materials must be acquired. The restoration work needs direction and some conservation expertise. Problems abound, but perseverance pays off. The path is set when the school principal Datin Mungit Kaur orders the intrusive electrical fixtures removed; thus, the mural reclaims the wall. The rest, as they say, is history.


Wai Chun and Siak Hong taking note of the unwelcomed intrusions on the mural.

Back then, under the guidance of art mistress, Mrs Vivian Chong, eleven girls had pencilled their design and coloured it with wall-paint. Wai Chun has kept a black-and-white photograph of the time: girls in shorts, standing on stools stacked precariously on classroom furniture. This time, however, to repair and refresh this extraordinary artwork, a couple of steel scaffolding has been employed; no longer light and stealth, the older and heavier volunteers prefer to work on a steady platform.


Working from the scaffolding

Occupations of Women’, as it was titled, was conceived as a triptych, three panels depicting women at work: manual workers, vocational workers and professionals. Each panel measures 7-feet wide by 5-feet tall. At first sight, the images appear like mosaic. However, upon scrutiny, you would see they are composed of little ‘tiles’, painted in a full spectrum of colours, laid on a pale pink background resembling stonework.


Manual workers. The petrol brand of Caltex was new to the Malaysian market then.


Vocational workers. The year which dates the work is disguised as the car’s registration number.


Professionals. This is the panel which Wai Chun designed.

The figures are girlish, but why not? The women are Asian; they have black hair and their skin tone in shades of light brown. But why styled it like mosaic? Mosaic evokes the venerated decorative art of western antiquities. Painting the mosaic was what the young artists could manage. The result is convincing, and has fooled many casual viewers. Perhaps, the evocation of mosaic was inspired by what Mrs Chong saw during her tour of Europe.


The portrait of the Raja Permaisuri Agong lends weight to this WOMEN only scene.


Square by little square, Wai Chun painstakingly brushes on the missing ‘tiles’. Note the architect’s red dress with black and white pattern – the young artists were obviously fashion-conscious.

Wai Chun confesses that the school motto of ‘Our Utmost for the Highest’ is what sustained her through this ‘call of duty’. The process has been time consuming but the experience is both meaningful and satisfying for all concerned. It has fostered old friendships. The volunteer painters had loads of fun despite the painstaking work which none of them are unaccustomed to. Happy or sad, memories of school days live on, perchance to air at opportune time, like when old school friends gather for a worthy cause.


Wisdom runs along the corridor of the main building.

This mural has long been taken for granted. Having endured the passage of time and neglect, it is now primed and poised for glory, as the school advances towards its 120th anniversary celebration in 2017.


The triptych: Seated on these comfy padded sofas you would miss seeing the ‘women at work’.

Is this mural unique in Malaysia for its subject of women at work? Do tell us if you know of any exceptional school mural with special themes. We will be delighted to document their stories and share them in this PHS blog. ○H



Kenyon Cottage, formerly the headmistress’ residence.

We heard that the building is set to become the school ‘museum’ for the display of its movable heritage and archival material. The PHS notes similar set up in Yuk Choy High School and St Michael’s Institution in Ipoh, and St George’s in Taiping. Please share with us if you know of others.


The 1964 edition of the school magazine, ARGOSY, illustrates a new mural at the school canteen shared with the primary school. Incomprehensibly, this vibrant mural, depicting children at play, has been painted over with a far less interesting mural.

UPDATE – 29th December, 2015: A dedication ceremony was held in the school to mark this exemplary effort given to the mural’s restoration. The PHS thought it deserves something special to help fix this memorable advent. Siak Hong sought sponsorship of the commemorative plaque from Royal Selangor. It was a success!


(Above): A week before the dedication ceremony, Wai Chun deputised the PHS in receiving the plaque from Datuk Seri Chen Mun Kuen at Royal Selangor showroom in Setapak, KL.


(left): PHS President Mohd Taib Mohamed presents the pewter plaque to MGS Principal Datin Mungit Kaur. (Right): Chan Wai Chun presents a souvenir photo book to PHS. The photo book chronicles the mural restoration process, with messages from Datin Mungit Kaur, Mrs Vivian Chong and reflections from all the girls who worked on the restoration project.


Inscribed with a brief history of the mural, the pewter plaque is fixed to the wall below the mural. No more excuses for not knowing about this incredible mural that is almost half-a-century old.

Read More : The extraordinary passage of Taiping’s Central Market

Taiping’s Old House Museum

Text and photographs: Law Siak Hong

The Old House Museum in Taiping is intriguing, to say the least.

It has not been that long since the former owner passed away and the building sold. But in that short time, antiques and curios dealer, Mr Tan Kok Siew, the curator of Old House Museum, has managed to turn it into an Aladdin’s cave. The large townhouse is filled with his impressive collection, comprising furniture, kitchen utensils and wares, period paraphernalia, household items, and some rare historical prints and artifacts.

Shining silver trophies from a sporting life; a vintage lantern with decorative etched glass.

There are plenty for everyone to like and admire. In the rooms, the displays go by theme. The passages are not spared; interesting framed and flat items are judiciously grouped and arranged. It reminds me of The Time Tunnel in Kea Farm, Cameron Highlands – this is another must-see.

Portraits from the family album; old, decorated glass oil lamps with hood illuminated by a spotlight.
Colourful tiffin carriers in the kitchen; back windows of the house looking out to the stable below.
This passage way is a gallery of pop icons and movie stars as well as photographs of 1950s and 1960s.

It is commendable that Tan has left the house as found but had it cleaned from corner to corner. Pulling him aside, I suggested that he should investigate the heritage of the house and tell the story of the generations who lived there. It would be quite a riveting story, a part of the tapestry of Taiping’s social history.

Lim “Ji You” built the house, probably the first three-storey townhouse in Taiping; historical items hang in the passage way.
Out of bounds to visitors, the jaw-dropping wooden spiral staircase can only be admired.
Freshly-painted brick column and the original terracotta floor.
Wouldn’t it be better if the hall is fitted out as original as possible to tell the story of the Lim family?
A welcome speech during the briefing session.
Go admire the beautifully preserved screen behind Sharon Chan and Tan Kok Siew.

Organised by Sharon Chan for the Taiping Heritage Society, the group visit attracted over 30 members and their family, who were taking photographs with great enthusiasm, posing with the myriad of artifacts on display and sharing memories evoked by the place and its display. When all’s done, we were treated to an afternoon snack of delectable nyonya kueh, provided by the Taiping Heritage Society.

By the dining table is an ornate ancestral altar which faces the main road, Jalan Kota.

Ever the hospitable smiling host, Tan must be congratulated for a job well done.

Located at 2A, Market Square, the Old House Museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Entrance fee is RM5 per person. For further information, phone 019-5513058 or email

“The Straits Shophouse: Variations on a Theme”

111 Amoy Street, Singapore

An illustrated (and enlightening) talk by 

Julian Davison


22 November 2012 (Thursday)  8:30 p.m.-10:00 p.m.


The gallery,

Ground floor, Sekeping Kong Heng,

Jalan Bandar Timah (Leech Street), (Old Town) Ipoh.


Admission by donation:

PHS members RM10;

Non-PHS members RM15



Eddie 012-5108203 or

Hong 017-5061875 or


Seating limited – first come first served.

To avoid disappointment, book now!


This community programme is organised by Perak Heritage Society

With the co-operation of  Sekeping Kong Heng 

The synopsis

The shophouse is a characteristic feature of the town and city landscape of Malaysia and Singapore and yet for all its familiarity it is an architecture that is poorly understood in terms of its chronology and stylistic development.

‘The Straits Shophouse: Variations on a Theme’ is intended as a basic introduction and guide to the shophouse architecture of Singapore, Penang and Peninsula Malaysia, beginning with the origins of this type of building in Mainland China. It looks at the historical background that led to the introduction of this style of architecture not only to the Straits of Melaka but also to other countries in the region, and examines correspondences between the early shophouse in different parts of South East Asia — what might be termed the Nanyang style.

The talk then takes a look at the input of Sir Stamford Raffles, founder of Singapore, who is also often identified as the father of the Straits shophouse. It examines background influences that may have shaped Raffles’ thinking when he came to making plans for the development of Singapore town which were to ultimately affect the future development of shophouse not only on the island of Singapore, but throughout the Malay Peninsula. ‘Variations on a Theme’ then explores the subsequent evolution of the shophouse from the early nineteenth century through to the mid-twentieth century, taking in regional differences between the Singapore shophouse and shophouses in other parts of the Malay Peninsula. The talk concludes with a brief look at the ‘reintroduction’ of the shophouse back to Mainland China in the latter part of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a homecoming of sorts. The length of the presentation will be 50 minutes.

About Julian Davison 

Author and television presenter, Julian Davison, is the son of an architect and grew up in Singapore and Malaysia. He was educated in England and has a doctorate in social anthropology from the School of Oriental and African Studies, London. He has edited or otherwise contributed to several reference books and scholarly works relating to the region, including books on Balinese and Indonesian architecture. For the past ten years he has been studying the architectural legacy of colonial-era Singapore: Black and White: the Singapore House 1898-1941, appeared in 2005, followed by Singapore Shophouse in 2010. He has also published two critically acclaimed collections of autobiographical reminiscences relating to his early life in Singapore and Malaya — One For The Road and An Eastern Port. Between 2003 and 2005, Davison presented Singapore TV’s popular ‘Site and Sound’ local history series; more recently he has hosted programmes for the Discovery and History Channels.


Repairing MCKK

Good news, perhaps.

It has been reported in mainstream press that the long-awaited repairs to the Malay College Kuala Kangsar (MCKK) will begin mid-September.  A contractor has been identified for the RM1.8 million repair job which is funded by the Education Ministry.

The Malay College Kuala Kangsar.

For background story, read PHS blog: Termites Attack Malay College Kuala Kangsar.



Termites Attack Malay College Kuala Kangsar

Text by Lau Sook Mei
Photography by Law Siak Hong 

Heritage school MCKK.

Recently, one of the country’s premier Malay schools, the Malay College Kuala Kangsar or the MCKK has found itself in the limelight for the wrong reason: termite infestation in its landmark Greco-Roman-styled building, known as the Big School.

Main building - The Big School.

The New Sunday Times (11 April) reported that a pest control company revealed last year that the hallmark building of this sterling institution was under acute termite attack. Termite treatment has failed to arrest the problem. Then, its condition deteriorated quickly, so badly that the building was declared unsafe, and the hostel with 21 dormitories was eventually closed. Even the school’s iconic grand old raintree, fondly regarded as the Big Tree seems to be dying from the infestation. That’s when it hits the news.

The withering Big Tree.

It is truly amazing how the problem could have escalated to such an uncontrollable situation. Clearly the seriousness of the problem boils down to the inglorious trait of our culture: no-maintenance. What a shame! Who are those responsible?

Established in 1905 as a fully residential school to train Malay boys for public offices, MCKK is the pride of the royal town. Its alumni includes such national heroes as the founder of UMNO, Dato’ Onn Jaafar and former Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak Hussein, as well as a great number of prominent national leaders and corporate figures. In 2004, the building was spruced up for its centennial celebrations. Then, in 2009, it was declared a national heritage by the Department of National Heritage, or Jabatan Warisan Negara (JWN). Today this outstanding heritage may be lost to the termites.

MCKK is owned by the Education Ministry. The alarming situation has prompted the Education director-general Dato’ Abdul Ghafar Mahmud to announce immediate rectification of the problem. The Menteri Besar of the state was quick to appeal to the Education Ministry to speed up funds for repairs. The situation has also earned the wrath of the alumni who turned to Heritage of Malaysia Trust (Badan Warisan Malaysia) for advice.

A national heritage building deserves proper management: a long-term plan with specific guidelines and a yearly inspection. But who should fund such work, the owner, the state, the JWN or the alumni? Remember, it is of national and public interest.

Questions beg to be asked: was there a thorough inspection on the state of the building before its listing as national heritage? Is the JWN in the position to advise on building maintenance if it is not backed with adequate allocations to assist owners in repairs and restorations? Beyond ownership, what is the line of responsibility in managing our heritage buildings?

To quote one heritage expert: “The protection of heritage is a shared responsibility. But without a deep understanding of what is heritage, and how it is relevant to our present and future, and that it crosses boundaries and time, all heritage is vulnerable.”

It makes sense, and more economical in the long-run to spend a little money for a regular inspection and repairs than to spend a large sum for restoration. It does not make sense to gazette buildings as heritage and not follow up with a yearly budget for a long-term management plan.

After much hue and cry, the Ministry of Education and the JWN had come forward with the assurance that they would tackle the termite problem and look into restoring the Big House to its former glory. What about the other period buildings in this significant complex such as the bungalow houses for its teaching staff? What about its educational excellence and sporting prowess which marked this historic college? Who should and how would this shining institution be upheld? And what about that heritage tree?

Important decisions need to be made quickly.



Divine Restoration

Text and photography by Lau Sook Mei 

I was running late so I hurried along the 72-foot-long nave to join the group at the pulpit area. Architect-couple Carol and Ken Yeh, Mohd Taib and Hong were already there. Reverend Thomas Cherian, Rev. Tom, as he prefers to be known, was there to show us the newly restored timber ceiling of the church.

Deep in discussion.

There are three important buildings at St John’s. Here below, we share with you their history and the significance of their heritage. Our reference: St. John the Divine 75th Anniversary Souvenir Publication.

The Church of St. John the Divine

The history of the church began in 1906 when the Anglicans held their monthly services in the old wooden Court House, conducted by Rev. J. P. Parry, who, as the congregation grew, raised funds for a church.

St. John's Church.

The foundation stone for the church was laid in 1910. It would be in English-style, with a red-tiled roof and all bricks. Built at a cost of $20,000, a huge sum in those days, the Church of St. John the Divine was the largest church erected in the Malay States when it was completed and consecrated in 1912. It would have been the pride of Ipoh town. Strategically located in the civic centre of town, St. John’s Church was a stone’s throw away from the Ipoh Club, and a quick stroll from the railway station. The bell tower and the porch were struck by a locomotive wheel during World War Two (WW2); when it was rebuilt, the porch was enlarged.

The bell tower.

When the Japanese came to Ipoh in December 1941, an explosion at the railway station rocked the church.  Rev. Tom showed us the surviving stained glass window above the altar. During WW2, the Church was turned into a noodle factory. Pews were used for firewood, few dated 1920s survived. The church reopened after the war in Sept 1945. The chaplaincy system was replaced by a Parochial Church Council in 1947 with representatives from the Europeans, Tamils and Chinese.

Clockwise from left: lovely stained glass window seen from the inside; exterior of the same window; old church pew.

When the church was nearly one hundred years old, bad news knocked. Water seepage had caused wet rot and the wooden ceiling was in danger of falling because of termite infestation. When a roof truss over the porch fell in July that year, the church had to be closed.

Intricate carvings on the chancel screen.

Urgent repair was in order. Should authenticity be the main concern or should there be a more permanent metal structure for the roof and ceiling? That was when Ken, Carol and Hong came into the scene with their advice: restore to retain the heritage of the building and its superb acoustics.

At the end of 2009 a concert was held to fund-raise for the restoration work which amounted to RM250,000. Work was in progress between April and December, 2010. Some rafters and all of the roof battens were replaced with treated “nyatoh” wood. The entire ceiling of “meranti” had been replaced by a naturally golden “damar minyak” (Malaysian kauri). It was well worth the effort, but work does not end here – periodic building inspection and check for termites are vitally important.

Splendid restoration.

I was curious about the wooden panels on the wall, with names engraved and gilded in gold. Rev. Tom explained that those were memorial plaques to people or their families who had contributed to the Church. Among them were those who lost their lives during WW1, members of the King’s Royal Hussars and W.R.H. Chappel of Osborne and Chappel, the tin-mining consultants of Kinta Valley fame.

Memorial plaque.

Three personalities instrumental to the growth of the church were Rev. J. P. Parry, Rev. Graham White and Rev. Anthony Charles Dumper. One of the most outstanding clergies of the Chaplaincies of South Perak, Rev. Graham White (1925-31) established the Chinese and Tamil vernacular sections of the parish. He introduced an Anglican school in Ipoh. Rev. A. C. Dumper was the post-war vicar who built St. John’s Hall in 1955, before the 1957 Merdeka: Independence.

A man who won the hearts of his parishioners.

The Vicarage

After a tour of the Church, Rev. Tom invited us into the vicarage. It was constructed in 1921 at a cost of $18,000, much to the chargrain of the parish, who had raise funds less than a decade after the completion of the church. The main doors open to a handsome black-polished wooden staircase and a living room that exudes warmth and cosiness.

We could not stop admiring this beautiful staircase.

In its early days the building doubled up as the Kinta centre for parish activities. During WW2, Japanese government officials occupied the vicarage.  The building is well-maintained and only minor repairs were required over the years.

The vicarage.

St. John’s Hall

In the church grounds sits a single-storey building partly painted in lemon yellow. Don’t under-estimate its simplicity. St. John’s Hall was designed and built in 1955 by the Danish architect B. M. Iversen, to whom Ipoh owes her modernity.

Clockwise from top: St. John's Hall; two photos of its interior. Photos by courtesy of Law Siak Hong.

The building of St. John’s Hall was initiated by Rev. Anthony Charles Dumper (1949-1957) to service the community. It had two classrooms for the adjoining kindergarten. Later, in 1985, more classrooms and a three-storey office block were annexed.

The Hall has been closed since September 2010 when parts of the ceiling sagged. Carol and Ken Yeh diagnosed structure failure. The problem has to be thoroughly investigated. Rev. Tom is concerned about the repairs; another fund-raiser would over-tax the parish. But the building is architecturally important to Ipoh and it deserves proper restoration to preserve its integrity.

Funding for restoration

St. John’s Church is among the 25 heritage buildings in Ipoh gazetted by the Ipoh City Council or Majlis Bandaraya Ipoh (MBI). But in fact, I feel that the group together with the old trees in the well-maintained compound of the church should all be gazetted.

Two very old trees in the church compound.

Rev. Tom informed that he had sought funds from the local authority to restore the Church, but without success. This is not surprising, for we know that all costs for maintenance and repair of gazetted heritage buildings are to be borne by the owners. Surely, to encourage proper maintenance of these buildings, the state government should set aside funds to assist restoration efforts and to insist on methods which adhere to preferred practices.
The Church of St. John the Divine will be 100 years old next year. Should it go for national heritage listing? What are the advantages and disadvantages of being listed? The parish is divided on the merits of such a move.


A Minaret Struck by Lightning

Text and photographs by Lau Sook Mei

In the morning of 24 March, while Hong and I were on our way to an appointment at St John’s Church we passed the junction of Jalan Mesjid (Hume Street) and Jalan Datuk Onn Jaafar (Cockman Street). Hong noticed something amiss with the minaret of the Dato’ Panglima Kinta Mosque. We had to investigate the situation; there was time.

Worker reaching the damaged crown of the minaret - 24/3/11.

We found a worker in a ‘cherry picker’ being hoisted up to his work place: the top of the minaret. We saw new brickwork, the crown was being repaired. We were told by a workman on the ground that the minaret was struck by lightning.

From left: Work in progress - 24/3/11.

Built in 1898 before New Town was even named, the Dato’ Panglima Kinta Mosque is set back from the east bank of the Kinta River, providing a beautiful vista from the embankment. Noted as “a very substantial, handsome brick building”, it is one of the 25 heritage buildings gazetted by the Ipoh Municipality Council or Majlis Bandaraya Ipoh (MBI). It was the tenth Dato’ Panglima Kinta Muhammad Yusuff who had the mosque built in memory of his wife Saaidah. In the grounds of the mosque is the family mausoleum and the Madrasah (religious school) Kamaliah.

Madrasah Kamaliah.

The mosque is a heritage building and any repair should be carefully considered. We ran a check.

According to reliable sources, MBI was not informed of the damage by lightning. MBI’s stand on maintenance of any gazetted building is clear: the property owner is entirely responsible for the cost of maintenance and all expenses on any repair. MBI need only be consulted on major work which affects the building structure. At any rate, the repair to the minaret would be considered minor.

Currently, the legislation on gazetted buildings is weak.  What is generally considered major or minor work does not necessarily apply to heritage buildings; all repairs, even so-called minor ones, can be critically important.

PHS often gets asked by owners about the benefits for buildings which are gazetted as heritage or historical. What do owners gain for “sharing” their gazetted property with the public? There is no money in it, so far. So is it fair to expect the owners to maintain their property without any governmental assistance?

Property owners are generally un-enlightened about preferred practices in conservation, especially when they have to foot the bills for maintenance and keeping the building in good repair. To buildings deemed heritage and historical, MBI must provide assistance, and incentives, to encourage adopting preferred practices for any work on the building, major or minor.

The cement plastered minaret - 31/3/11.

The damaged brickwork and mouldings on this 113-year-old minaret were patched up with mortar mixed with portland cement, which is alien to the original structure. Clearly, this is a case when MBI should intervene and assist, to recommend proper restoration method in preserving the building’s authenticity and integrity, however minor the repair is. For the relevant MBI department and its staff, experiencing the whole process of repair work to a gazetted building would be a learning curve to their benefit. The ‘minor’ repair to the minaret provides a perfect situation for an on-site study and observation.

Note the minaret on the right.

We suggest that a lightning rod be installed on the minarets to avoid any repeat, and spare the remaining original minaret from any damage and incorrect repairs. Will MBI make this request to the management of the mosque?

The end product - 5/4/11.

A check on the minaret on 5 April revealed that the repair job was completed. That was quick. If you have never been to the mosque, do stop by; you will be rewarded with a very pretty sight. For those who have checked out the repairs, why not tell us what you think? We would love to read your comment in this blog.


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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