Posts Tagged 'heritage'

Women at Work in Ipoh Methodist Girls’ School

Text and photographs by Law Siak Hong

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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

Postscript:

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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.

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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!

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(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.

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(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.

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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

PHS GOES TO SAWAHLUNTO

By Law Siak Hong
PANSUMNET GATHERING 2015
Conference and Workshop: Industrial Heritage at Stake
22nd– 24th October 2015, Sawahlunto, West Sumatra

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City Cultural Centre: the conference venue

A confession: before the invitation to speak at the conference, I had never heard of Sawahlunto. So, google I did. I learned quickly that it is in West Sumatra, not far from Padang, and it is already tentatively listed as UNESCO world heritage for its authentic historical urban landscape and the industrial heritage of coal mining. For universal significance, they fall in with Criteria (ii) and (iv). It also boasts a contented community: it has the second lowest poverty rate among cities in Indonesia. The people are steeped in cultural history, homegrown and yet well-adjusted to contemporary sensibilities.

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The Wayang Kulit Festival Sawahlunto 2015 was on and we caught some of the action after the evening conference session.

Built not only along hairpin roads hugging the hillside, houses and other buildings also line the river banks. Bridges link the various parcels of land, which are shored up by concrete embankments, engineered to impede erosion. Workers quarters are provided by the mining company and they exist now as kampongs in the city. Most of the historical institutional and commercial buildings, relatively small in size, date from early 20th century. Then, there is the viaduct for rail and road, and the triple silos fed by a conveyor belt riding on a tall, skeletal steel structure. They are huge, yet they melt into the landscape confidently. Get up close and you will realize the power of these industrial structures.

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Kota Sawahlunto, bridge over the town’s river

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Kota Sawalunto, homes on the slopes

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Kota Sawahlunto street scene

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Kota Sawahlunto triple silos and conveyor belt structure and vip tent for Wayang Kulit Festival.

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Former mayor Pak Amran Nur addressing the conference

Started in 1887, coal mining ceased in 2000. People left and the district went into decline. Along came Mayor Bapak Amran Nur (2003-2013), now Director of Indonesian Heritage Trust. Pondering on his hometown’s fate, he began to restructure its economy and effectively eradicated poverty and improved welfare through healthcare and education. To prevent land degradation, he donated rubber and cocoa seeds, even fertilizer, to the people for cultivation and long term income. Small and exotic museums were set up, indigenous performing arts were developed, and tourist spots were generated. In a few years, he turned this beautiful verdant Minangkabau valley into a tourist destination. Already, tourism contributes one-third of the city’s income. But what is the sustainable number of tourists for this constricted valley? If the UNESCO inscription happens, more hotels and eateries will be needed. How would its cultural identity and that all-important “sense of place” survive under the pressure of tourism development?

With the theme of Industrial Heritage at Stake, Sawahlunto is a choice host for this Pansumnet Gathering. The conference attracted over 70 participants from Pansumnet and speakers from the Netherlands, Malaysia, Bandung and Jakarta (Java), and, of course, Sumatra. Led by our president, Mohd Taib Mohamed, the delegation of seven from the Perak Heritage Society arrived in thick smog, which registered an API of 1000, way above the health hazard level of 150! Despite that, clearly, each of us took home memories and knowledge beyond our expectations.

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Group caption: While sessions were held indoor, walking to and fro the hotel and the conference venue took us to the street.

Through this encounter with Sumatra, my understanding of its cultural and industrial heritage made a quantum leap. Deeply rooted in culture, Sumatrans are warm and friendly; smiles are everywhere. In Sawahlunto, even boys and young men cruising by on motorbike would greet me with a respectful “pak”.

Sawahlunto awaits a new designation as world heritage. Go visit soon.

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Gathering of heritage lovers.


Postscript: PANSUMNET is the acronym for Pan-Sumatra Network for Heritage Conservation. Our heartfelt thanks to: Sawahlunto Municipality, Pansumnet and Heritage Hands-On, joint organisers of Pansumnet Gathering 2015; the convener, Hasti Tarekat; the deputy mayor of Sawahlunto, and all the participants. A special mention: Pak Asdian of SEMEN PADANG, for his warm hospitality and the privilege of witnessing the SP Journalist Award at Basko Hotel in Padang.

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Post conference site visit: in Padang, a special treat awaited. Built by the Dutch in 1905, SEMEN PADANG is the oldest cement plant in Southeast Asia. As technology advanced and plants were built, the old one was abandoned. University groups were invited to study the site and plan adaptive re-use, to turn them into public facilities.
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PHS delegation to Sawahlunto

 

President’s Address at the AGM 2015

Mohd Taib, James Gough and Philip Pu at the AGM

With the formation of the National Heritage Department through National Heritage Act 2005 (Act 645), non-governmental organisations like us seem redundant. The same fate has fallen on Badan Warisan Malaysia, its voice becomes stifled. Yet, PHS and NGOs like us have remained relevant.

Other than the National Heritage Act 2005, there are legislations that cover heritage matters in Malaysia. The Town and Country Planning Act 1976 (Act 172) and Local Government Act 1976 (Act 171) both emphasize heritage preservation. However, along the way, in implementations, they slip up.

In Ipoh, there are 25 buildings/monuments/sites which are gazetted as “state” heritage through the Local Government Act 1976. However, to date, only a handful has been listed as national heritage under the National Heritage Act.

On 8th September 1999, through the Majlis Mesyuarat Kerajaan, that is, state exco meeting (No. 1348), the Perak state government declared Taiping a heritage town. Only a handful of its “33 firsts” have been listed as national heritage under The National Heritage Act 2005, and some of them have fallen to the ground. Recently, when Taiping launched the Taiping Heritage Trail, prominence was given to two electric buses donated by the Japanese government rather than the sites; the buses will provide transport to tourists on the route.

In Karai, the Victoria railway bridge will suffer the same fate of neglect. I have witnessed at least three events organised at the site, yet no effort has been taken to preserve it under The National Heritage Act although officers from National Heritage Department were present at the events.

Last year, PHS was consulted on Ipoh’s heritage by both MBI (Majlis Bandaraya Ipoh) and the Department of Town And Country Planning Malaysia. Sadly, we have not been informed on the outcome.

The old issue of vandalism at the pre-historic rock art at Gunung Panjang, Tambun was exposed by the Malay Mail recently. We have yet to see action by the relevant authorities.

There is a tree preservation order under the Town and Country Planning Act. The National Landscape Department has documented heritage trees under Tree Inventory System (2008-2010). Trees that are more than 30 years old would be preserved, and 1,220 heritage trees in Perak have been listed. As such, the Ipoh tree (near Ipoh Railway Station) is value at RM123,735.60; Pokok Hujan-Hujan along Jalan Seenivasagam Ipoh, 120-years-old, at RM1,301,900.98 and those at Taiping Lake Garden which are 125-years-old have been rated at RM1,068,712.84.

PHS acknowledges the initiative from the private sector, including Town House Museum in Taiping and Han Chin Pet Soo in Ipoh by Ipohworld. I hope that there will be more private initiatives and that the state authorities will give them due recognition.

Lately I have rendered help to two PhD candidates, three Master degree students and one undergraduate on their theses, all of them relate to heritage. I was appointed as “Felo Industries” by Politeknik Sultan Idris Shah in Sabak Bernam, Selangor for 2014-2016.

I would like to thank all members of the PHS community for their support in making PHS relevant to the struggle to preserve our heritage.

Thank you.

Mohd Taib Mohamed gifting tokens of appreciation to Dr Olanweraju Ashola Abdullateef

Mohd Taib Mohamed gifting tokens of appreciation to Sam Tan

Mohd Taib Mohamed gifting tokens of appreciation to Law Siak Hong

Sam Tan delivering his power point presentation

e-flyer for Perak Stamp Fair & Exhibition

Stamp Fair v2

Public Relations in Practice – UTAR Style

Text: Law Siak Hong

The Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR) public relations programme on Volunteerism Campaign for Culture and Heritage had the makings of a reality TV show. Despite early jitters, the students managed to pull it off in style. The challenges were reconciled; their course assessment, pass or fail, had depended on their execution. As I see it, while they might not have excelled in all the challenges, the students did apply themselves satisfactorily. Even though there was no crowd at the exhibition, the performances of the charity night enjoyed a tremendous response from an enthusiastic audience, 250-strong.

PHS’s participation in this university programme goes back to November last year. The UTAR tutor, Pong Kok Shiong, acquainted through his proposed survey on a visit to the UNESCO World Archaeological Heritage Site of Lenggong Valley, had asked if PHS would be one of the NGOs in his UTAR public relations student project. At the eleventh hour, Yeow Jian Hui replaced him, but that posed no problem. However, in all honesty, it was clear from the start that the students were too ambitious or perhaps too idealistic. Still, in the end, good sense prevailed to save the day.

We met the very hospitable Mr Loh of the Perak Chinese Chamber of Miners who delivered a brief history of tin mining in Perak. Each of us also received a gift of his book.

Students at the very old STAR Printing Work; they were fascinated by a tricycle, an old mode of delivery of goods and a rare sight today.

Since they chose to do the project on culture and heritage, I thought the students must know more about these topics. It was the morning of the first Friday in January when we took a walk in Ipoh Old Town. It is gratifying that the experience turned out to be the inspiration for their main exhibit – the Time Tunnel which depicts the history of Ipoh in snippets of social history, material culture and landmarks.

The weeks that followed were a little uneasy for me. In late February, we had one last meeting on campus when the photography competition had already been launched. Three weeks later, it was the official launch of the students’ programme, at which the PHS delegation, comprising President Mohd Taib, members Normiah and Jayaraj, volunteer Vera and me, were treated like real VIPs.

Group portrait after the programme launch at the Students Pavilion.

Team united: group portrait after the walkabout and a night out in Kampar New Town.

After this experience, it was necessary for me to step up my game. Our exhibition featured a total of five groups of displays. For visual impact, with the help of Sam Tan of UTAR’s Green Technology Faculty, we showed the architectural models on the Kinta Valley town of Gopeng produced by his construction management students. The exceptional feature was a large map of the Dr Sun Yat Sen Ipoh Trail, and a print of an oil painting depicting the Chinese revolutionary leader among his supporters in Kampar, reproduced with the permission of the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall, Singapore. For culture, on a table with items for sale, colourful handicrafts and soft toys supplied by Ipoh Craftsnerds found buyers. That evening, Vera and I were invited to a light dinner among the VIPs, and later to enjoy the performances at the charity night.

Vera at the sale table.

Vera and student volunteer hold fort at the sale table.

Models of Gopeng reneal project by students in construction management plus panels of information – courtesy of Faculty of Green Technology, UTAR.

The display on Perak Heritage Society and shophouse typology, and heritage maps.

The display on the industrial heritage of charcoal making heritage

The display of children art is an encouraging sign of the culture of creative development.

The display of containers and holders to echo culture and heritage: baskets of bamboo, rattan, straw and plastic, paper bags, and containers in metal, ceramic and wood.

“Revive The Forgotten” is the slogan created by the students for the charity night. The show, featuring singers, musicians and dancers from UTAR and Kampar was graced by the Vice President of UTAR, Professor Dr Teh Chee Seng.

All the way from KL, International Salon Chairman of The Photographic Society of Malaysia, Mr Harry Woo, Vice President Mr C T Goh and Head of Competition Department Mr W H Koh, gave away the prizes to the winners of the photography. On the screen to the right is the winning entry.

Here on stage with the emcees, the mascot appears in all the programmes of the campaign.

The impressive student choral singers.

The well-adorned Orang Asli flutist is a native of Kampar.

As Mohd Taib was otherwise engaged, I represented PHS at the public relations programme’s closing ceremony the following Wednesday. All four teams that took on their own NGO in the UTAR programme gathered together with a representative from their respective NGO. A sense of achievement and fun saturated the academic air. It looks to me like most of the students would all pass with flying colours.

Was it not Vice President Associate Professor Teh who told me during the show that 97 per cent of UTAR graduates find work, mainly in Singapore? The others, he intimated, had chosen to take time off to travel and perhaps, I venture to say, join the entertainment industry.

Footnote: PHS is grateful to Assistant Professor Dr Cheah Phaik Kin, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Mr Ng Eng Kiat and Ms Lee Lai Meng, Mr Pong Kok Shiong and Ms Yeow Jian Hui of the of the Department of Public Relations as well as all the students under their director Lo Vui Che who worked to raise some money for PHS. Let’s do it again next semester!

University Programmes and PHS

Over the years, as the flag bearer for Perak heritage, PHS has cultivated a network of supportive and creative individuals. While we have also assisted many researchers, both local and foreign, we tend to maintain an extended friendship with teachers from institutions of higher learning. They explore our resources in different ways, but invariably our cooperation has produced impressive results. The recent visits from teams of architects and future architects remind us it’s time we acknowledge their faith in us.

Teaching and writing are the key elements in the career of the UCSI University lecturer, Teoh Chee Keong. In the past decade or so, he has written a book and a weekly column in a national Sunday newspaper on subjects close to his heart: community, architecture and heritage. He is a tireless campaigner for building conservation. Apart from exposing his architecture students to Perak’s heritage, Chee Keong has also conducted summer projects in Taiping and Ipoh for visiting Taiwanese students. Chee Keong is Taiping born-and-bred, and there is extra satisfaction in his contribution.

UCSI students studying Waller Court

Students braved the heat of the afternoon to look at the commemorative plaque at the obelisk marking Waller Court.

This year, for the studio design programme of third-year architecture students, Chee Keong has chosen a neglected part of the green lung of Ipoh, the D R Seenivasagam Park, as a building site for a hypothetical cultural complex: a performing arts centre which includes a hostel for actors and production crew. Unfortunately, due to the scope of the study, blocks of the adjacent Waller Court could not be considered for the hostel. Nevertheless, the upshot is that PHS may host an exhibition of the best submissions in mid-year. That is surely something to look forward to.

As highlighted in a previous blog, Waller Court represents an outstanding example of the architectural heritage of historic public housing. Last year, students of construction management from the Faculty of Green Technology, Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR) in Kampar investigated its exceptional construction. Sam Tan, their supervising lecturer believes that Waller Court is an important piece of Ipoh’s architectural heritage. Not surprisingly, its strategic location has attracted redevelopment schemes. But as Sam suggested, it would do us good to learn about ‘the value of the community and its intangible contribution to the fabric of the city; the true cost of destruction must be addressed’. By the way, last month Sam had also helped us draw up the last conventional lime kilns in Bercham. 

The team who worked on the Royal English School.

The team in front of Rumah Tetamu.

In January, through the efforts of the staunch PHS supporter Casey Ng, a measured drawing tutor of Taylor’s University, Izwan Nor Azhar came to us. He and his colleagues eventually assigned two buildings in Batu Gajah to their student project. The buildings are The Royal English School, built 1916 as a residence and Rumah Tetamu, a rest house by the golf course, which has seen better days. Of the latter, we learn that demolition – rather than conservation – is in order. We wonder if the interest shown by Taylor’s University could avert its doom. The Royal English School building fares much better. As the last remaining historic residence in Batu Gajah, it will be restored, and a sympathetic new annex added to make its adaptive re-use a sustainable venture. 

The most ambitious student programme that PHS has ever worked with is the University of Malaya–National University of Singapore (UM–NUS) Joint Studio Project in 2012. The study, after a similar one on Taiping in 2010, resulted in an excellent book which was launched in Ipoh early in 2013. That was celebrated with ‘Celebrating Perak’s Built Heritage’, an exhibition which combined both studies. The book is the first thorough study of Ipoh’s urban fabric in the inner-city area for 50 years.

The book, Encounters with Ipoh: Familiar Spaces Untold Stories is now available through PHS. Returning Taiping, a study by the same UM–NUS programme, is also available. Both titles are sold at RM90 per book. For PHS members, the discount price is RM80. Place your order by emailing perakheritage36@gmail.com and siakhongstudio@gmail.com.

Model and old shophouse by Sam Tan’s students.

Industrial Heritage and Ecosystem: Charcoal from the Mangrove Trees

Text and photographs: Law Siak Hong 

It is impossible to forget that first time you set your eyes on the Kuala Sepetang charcoal kilns. They form a surreal dreamscape.

Ensconced in a voluminous shed that has been darkened by rising tree oil vapour and the smoke from wood fire, a row of smoking igloos appears to pulse relentlessly. The spectacle is entrancing. While a crisp, dry scent hangs in the open air, you inhale wisps of tart fumes of the oil expelled from the wood in the kilns. It’s atmospheric.

Unforgettable is the experience of the igloos in a darkened shed.

Raised on a base lined with firebricks, the hemispheroid bricks kilns are handmade by a travelling band of craftsmen-builders. Around the kilns, the ground is raw earth, trodden on by men and machines at work, yet powdery from the ash and bits of stray charcoal. In these fascinating kilns, bakau wood is slowly ‘cooked’ for up to 28 days to become charcoal, the best fuel for time-honoured slow cooking as well as frying in a hot wok.

The new may improve efficiency but the old has survived with traditional technology.

Filling the kiln with 10.5 tonnes of bakau billets is a day’s work for eight strong men

For retail, pieces of charcoal are packed in paper bags.

The kilns have always been easily accessible from the main road into Kuala Sepetang. It may be mere coincidence, but until metal roofing began to replace the expansive attap roof twenty years ago, the place did not even figure on the tourist radar. Since then, plenty of visitors have come to see the enthralling charcoal kilns, as photographers, curiosity seekers and tourists throng the place.

For durability, old attap roofs are being replaced by metal sheets

Perhaps surprisingly, the kilns are a legacy of prewar Japanese who introduced the technology in 1930. They gave the industrious Chinese a challenge and a new livelihood. Today, workers in the charcoal industry comprise local Chinese and Malays, both men and women, while foreign workers make up the numbers required in this labour-intensive industry.

A door becomes a convenient black board for reminders

Demonstrating industrial progress: new concrete structures are beginning to replace the traditional wooden sheds.

The Japanese have never really left. Today, they are the biggest buyers of the best charcoal produced here. Even the crumbs are not wasted; they are bagged and exported to Japan, and then moulded into briquettes for barbeques. A couple of decades ago, Japanese traders also began to tap the oil extract expelled from the wood. It’s a lucrative business, as barrels of the miracle liquid are refined to make medicines and cosmetics.

Stretching from Kuala Gula to Pantai Remis along Perak’s coastline, the 40,000-hectare Matang Mangrove Forest Reserve is the largest mangrove tract in peninsular Malaysia. It’s been managed as a sustainable production forest since 1905 and is considered to be an exemplary sustainable mangrove estuary, renowned throughout the world. The management of the mangroves is based on silviculture – allowing for a balance between production and conservation.

Here, then, is the focal point of Perak’s charcoal industry. According to the Malaysian Timber Council, there were 348 kilns in operation in the area in 2009, but today the figure is closer to 400. There are identical kilns in Kampong Dew, Kuala Trong and Kampong Sungei Kerang. Each kiln has an economic lifespan of seven to ten years.

“Shaved” of their bark, billets of bakau wood wait to be transferred to the kiln.

The preferred species for charcoal is bakau minyak (Rhizophora apiculata), which grows along the riverbanks and in more tide-submerged areas. Timber is harvested in a 30-year cycle, after which the trees are clearfelled. Then intensive planting is done two years after final felling. Yields are tightly regulated to ensure a constant supply of greenwood for the charcoal industry.

While charcoal is the primary timber product – in addition to fuel, it is further processed into items like soap, cigarette filters, shoe soles and water filters – mangrove trees also have other uses, providing timber for piling poles in housing and construction, fishing poles, pulp, tannin and firewood.

From the sea, the mangrove forests resonate serenity and harmony. (Photograph: putkuning.blogspot.com)

Matang possess an enchanting beauty and are a rich cornucopia of flora and fauna. Besides the productive timber forest, mangroves contribute substantially to commercial fisheries that operate all year round. They are also a breeding ground and habitat for wildlife such as monkeys, bats, otters, wild boars and snakes, and home to 156 species of birds.

The boardwalk meanders through the forest; bakau minyak and its aerial roots. (Photographs: myloismylife.blogspot.com; Shiangyang.org)

The Matang mangroves are therefore a natural and important coastal ecology that should be better known and understood. Mangroves are tidal, so the sensitive plant, animal and fish communities are subject to fluctuating temperatures, salinity and moisture. Thus, only a few selective species make up the mangrove community. The mangroves are also important for water storage and trapping sediments and carbon, contributing to the control of the quality and quantity of water and particles discharged into the sea.

Recently, perhaps out of zeal for tourism, the historic multi-lingual signboard was “embellished”. (Photo: Zaraab.wordpress.com)

When Kuala Sepetang was known as Port Weld, it was linked to Taiping by a 13-kilometre railway, the very first in Malaya. It began service in 1885. Port Weld was the sea jetty for Taiping and the Larut district, and the link to Penang and other parts of the peninsula.

As with early houses, a deck at the fishery co-op extends over the water. In contrast, houses built on the old railway track take on a landed-style.

It takes less than one minute to cross the channel by ferry. Locals would take the ride standing, with practiced ease. The fare: 20 sen.

Passing time with friends, children shoot the breeze bobbing in a fishing boat.

Off work, and in company, men from the village relax at the shelter by the canal.

So, when you visit the kilns for some amazing photographs, take time to walk through the mangrove forests. They are an outdoor classroom for an education on the environment, ecology and a sustainable industry. You may not see many animals during the day but, with patience and in stillness, you begin to catch their movements in and out of the water. It can be humid with little air movement but you will learn a lot from the informative storyboards. But be forewarned: mosquitoes are endemic. For this reason, staying in the holiday chalets in the reserve is not recommended unless, of course, you want to experience the mangrove forests in discomfort.

You may opt for a boat ride out to the island of Kuala Sangga for a day trip or a homestay at one of the floating chalets. To see fireflies, you have to take the boat from Kampong Dew in the evening.

I won’t be forgiven if I leave out food. Apart from curry mee with generous helpings of seafood in the shops and in the market, there are halal mee udang stalls and some pork-free restaurants by the waterfront for excellent fresh seafood. I love a cold beer with an early meal overlooking the water and the mangrove forests at sunset. Sadly, you can’t help but notice the new, incongruous tall concrete building which is a hotel by the sea. Tell us what you think of it.


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