Posts Tagged 'UNESCO'


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


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.


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.


Kota Sawahlunto, bridge over the town’s river


Kota Sawalunto, homes on the slopes


Kota Sawahlunto street scene


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


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.


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.


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.


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.

PHS delegation to Sawahlunto



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!

Lenggong Valley: A Site for the Senses

Text and photographs by Law Siak Hong 

Cool and mysterious: sunset over the Perak River at Kampong Labit.

In the nascent days of PHS, the potential of Lenggong Valley (LV) for world fame was being evaluated. It was back in March 2004, when Lau Sook Mei and I had organised the first PHS member only LV heritage trail. Then as now, the first stop must be the museum (now the Lenggong Valley Archaeological Gallery). A guide from the museum led us to the ritual burial ground of the “Perak Man”, carbon-dated to be 10,120 years old. Unearthed in Gua Bukit Runtuh in 1991, his skeleton has remained the oldest and most complete set of human bones ever found in Southeast Asia. Malaysian archaeology took a leap-frog. More digs in LV followed, and up came some mind-blowing finds. Twenty years later, in 2011, LV was tentatively listed as UNESCO world heritage. In support of the nomination, PHS had organised a visit with relevant NGOs. Hosted by the National Heritage Department (NHD), we got an education on LV. (See related story in our archive.) In June last year, the World Archaeological Heritage of LV became the fourth UNESCO site in Malaysia. Now, for more than just the tin in Larut and Kinta Valley, Perak enjoys world attention through the prehistory and archaeology of Lenggong Valley. Sadly, the enjoyable ferry of 2004 at Kampong Labit has vanished some years ago. 

Map showing the clusters of archaeological sites west of the Perak River. Source:

Citing outstanding universal values

The archaeological finds in LV fulfill two of UNESCO’s four criteria:

Criterion (iii): The series of cave and open air sites along the Perak River in the Lenggong Valley is an exceptional testimony to occupation of the area particularly during the Palaeolithic era, but also during the Neolithic and Bronze Age periods from 1.83 million years ago to 1,700 years ago (a cultural tradition).

Criterion (iv): The undisturbed in situ Palaeolithic stone tool workshops located on the shores of a paleolake and ancient river gravel beds and dated in a long chronological sequence are an outstanding ensemble of lithic technology (a landscape of significant stages of human history). 

Together, the four main sites in two clusters: Bukit Bunuh, Gua Bukit Runtuh, Gua Teluk Kelawar and Gua Kajang “represent the sequence of significant stages in human history unrivalled in the region”.

Suevite rock found in the oil palm plantation, where buffaloes roam.

AUTHENTICITY AND INTEGRITY: it was due to low visitation that LV’s archaeological deposits are intact and “relatively undisturbed”. LV holds the potential for further discoveries but its “visual integrity” is impacted by the current industries and plantations, quarries and logging. Exploitation of the natural resources in LV is an issue. We are told, “Much of the documentation has been independently peer reviewed through the academic publishing process, albeit not yet on a fully international scale.” I wonder if things might go terribly wrong under scrutiny. 

For more information, go to

Developing LV’s tourism potential

Register of visitors to the Gallery in July, 2013; and the sole archaeological dig at Bukit Jawa.

News spread, and droves descended upon the “museum/gallery” in Kota Tampan. But who are these visitors and, will they ever return? The air-conditioned Gallery houses an archaeological exhibition. Outside, in a geological park, are rock samples. LV’s archaeological digs are square holes in the ground, and of little interest to the casual visitor. While an imaginative story board at the digs can do wonders, a world-class one-stop centre with accurate information and edu-tainment (but not Disneyland) is mandatory in LV. No sweat, the NHD and PAM (the Association of Malaysian Architects) have jointly held an Architecture Ideas Competition for “Lenggong Valley Visitor Centre”. 66 entries were received. Fund is being sought by the NDH to realise the winning idea. I can hardly wait. For more information about the winning entries, go to 

Page from the web site for the LVVC; right: standard sign post marking archaeological sites.

What about the sense of place: the memories and legacies of LV’s pioneer residents, the thriving culture of the people in this charming little haven? The relaxed lifestyle and the tranquil rustic beauty of LV are a magnet to visitors. Cultural-heritage tourism is big money and LV is ripe for the picking. However, it is problematic protecting sites which are scattered and relatively isolated. Alarmingly, the NHD “is struggling to develop proper infrastructure for visitors at each site as part of a five-year plan” (New Straits Time: 15 July 2013).

A rural village by the main trunk road would come alive during festive occasions. Right: fun and creative seating in a small road side stall selling snacks and tea.

For responsible and therefore sustainable tourism, both the local authority and the community must stand to gain from this new “experiential economy”. To preserve peace and tranquillity in the kampongs, the narrow roads must be maintained for safe use by increased traffic of cars. They should be off-limits to tour buses. You may think that, being a mere 100km north of Ipoh, LV gets only “day-trippers”. Yet, since the listing, nearby kampong homestays and the Tasik Raban Resort have become popular (NST: 15th July). I am convinced, however, that for a few young graduates who shun urban madness, trades in hospitality make perfect sense. Operating a small, clean and simple B&B (Bed & Breakfast) and internet café for short-term stay may offer a charmed lifestyle. It would not be boring, as “LV country” is set to foster cultural exchange by drawing different people from around the world.

Touring LV’s territory

Like the flow of the Perak River, life in LV is unhurried. Relax. These sites for the sense must be enjoyed at leisure. A user-friendly LV guide book with accurate scientific information in English, at least, is much needed; it would be the Lenggong souvenir. For transport, as Liz Price puts it in her story (TheStar, 7 September 2013), you need a car for this “time-travel through prehistory”.

Good direction. Out the NSE toll and on the highway heading north to Gerik, signs will take you to all the prehistoric sites on the tour radar, and more.

So, what’s in the mix for your money’s worth?


The Lenggong Valley Archaeological Gallery and Geological Park at Kota Tampan is the first stop for all first-timers.

Toilet signs and “Identity Card” for the “Perak Man” in the Lenggong Valley Archaeological Gallery.

Plague, in awful English, describing the suevite sample in the Geological Park outside the Gallery.

The site of the “meteorite impact 1.83 million years ago”, Bukit Bunuh is now an oil palm plantation, where some suevite rocks lay in situ. Don’t fret – samples of suevite rock can be seen in the Geological Park. Bukit Bunuh itself can be viewed from the concrete bridge over the Perak River near Kota Tampan while you enjoy the river breeze; Kota Tampan is a small, friendly, predominantly Chinese village with a couple of tea houses for snacks and drinks. 

From the bridge over Perak River, Bukit Bunuh is the low hill in the middle of the picture.


Most of the archaeological sites are found at limestone caves. Of these caves, the most interesting and beautiful is Gua Puteri but it is not for everyone; a guide, a torch, proper shoes and a certain degree of fitness are needed. The most accessible one is Gua Kajang – you can drive right up to its entrance and there is a boardwalk for most of the trail. Gua Teluk Kelawar is a rock shelter, not a cave. You’ll get there by a nice walk through a rubber estate. Gua Harimau has a spiritual feel and a lovely shady clearing outside its entrance. Some lovely century-old rock art drawn by Orang Asli are found at Gua Badak.

Iconic “heritage” shelters at Gua Harimau and Gua Badak has “wall space” for illustrated stories.

The layer of river rocks on Bukit Jawa; right: Orang Asli’s charcoal drawings at Gua Badak.

The layer of rocks with evidence of stone tool “workshops” can be found in Bukit Jawa. Gua Bukit Runtuh of the Perak Man is out of bounds, for now. Traditional Malay houses abound, and you would have to pass some to get to the caves. Worthy of note are Kampong Gelok and Kampong Temelong, a heritage kampong with an exceptional colonial Malay house. Go and discover and share your finds. A word of caution: drive slowly. 

A map of Kampong Temelong graces the gateway right near a pre-Merdeka colonial-Malay house.

A typical reflective sign board at the various archaeological sites, and one that’s vandalised (left).

A charming Malay house on the road to Kampong Labit.


Between the two core zones is the buffer zone which includes the town of Lenggong and several villages. Within this area, Kampong Banggol Belimbing boasts a landmark mosque, dated 1939, and a wonderful Malay house right next door.

Architecture in Kampong Banggol Belimbing: mosque from 1939 and the exceptional Malay house.

Lenggong is the town for food and drinks, and the human touch. Find Mr Tan, the friendly rubber trader with an original old shop interior in a row of double-storey timber shophouses. A double-storey timber shophouse here is featured in the sumptuous publication: Landmarks of Perak. 

The shophouse featured in Landmarks of Perak stands alone next to the Shell Station in Lenggong.

FOOD: Apart from durian, the local specialty is freshwater fish. A wide range of local fruits can be found in the town’s market. Chinese restaurants on the main drag of town are commercial but they do serve tasty fish balls and steamed freshwater fish. For halal food, Dataran Lenggong is just north of town centre. The legendary kampong fare at Restoran Tasik Raban, open for lunch only, is a short distance south of the turn off to Kota Tampan. 

STAR ENCOUNTER: The Orang Asli of Lanoh and the Negrito tribes “descend” from the Perak Man. They come to Lenggong town mainly to sell their jungle produce, and their seasonal harvest of (jungle) durians.

SPECIAL TREAT: Lenggong “tea estate” Permaculture is a “sustainable farm” situated at a cool 800 metres above sea-level. Here, “local materials and renewable energy sources, composting and recycling, are used to produce food”. For information on this vegan homestay, email You can tell the lovely people there you found them through PHS. 

Most of the archaeological sites are at limestone caves. This rock formation is at Gua Badak.

Looking into the crystal ball

The responsibility of preserving the LV archaeological heritage rests squarely on the NHD, which recognise that “sustainability” requires a collective effort from all stakeholders. Clearly, site management involves shared responsibilities taken by authorities and institutions. Here is the crux of things:

The Property Management Plan for the Archaeological Heritage of the Lenggong Valley needs to be completed, approved by all parties concerned and then the Plan will set out objectives including the development of tourism and visitor management strategies, risk management strategies and provision for stakeholder participation and collaboration.

In order to manage any increases in visitors, more active conservation needs to be undertaken to manage visitor impacts on the sites, to prevent graffiti and to address pressure for the development of tourism facilities in the buffer zone.

We also need to prevent opportunistic digging for artefacts for sale to tourists as trophy and souvenir.

Responses to other potential threats, such as change of land use, housing development, and quarrying activities, need to be addressed through specific measures in the management plan and the introduction of appropriate protection measures in planning policies.

As in other tourist spots, businesses here must adapt to the weekend crowd. Locals must play their part as ambassadors of LV, welcoming tourists and visitors as they practise good ethics. In reality, mass tourism is a major threat.

This year, to celebrate the 1st anniversary of the inscription, a five-day Lenggong Carnival was held at Dataran Lenggong – eyewitness has informed that its programme lacked relevance. What is the problem, and why this wasted effort in styling the community as beneficiary of a world heritage they don’t get to understand?

Serene and picturesque, the eastern hills show off their own crowning clouds on any sunny afternoon.

Heritage tourism in Lenggong can be the new cash crop for this prehistoric territory. Good scientific and heritage guiding is a bank account. LV’s future in world heritage lies in genuine, dedicated hard work rather than an unyielding optimism that things will work out eventually. 


Melaka and George Town: five years on

There is a price to pay for the honour and glory of possessing an UNESCO World Heritage Site. The government and her agencies become responsible in managing and maintaining its outstanding universal value and other significance as prescribed, or suffer the humiliation of having its status rescinded.

The success in getting Lenggong Valley inscribed as UNESCO World Archaeological Heritage has got Jabatan Warisan Negara working hard on the management plan and its implementation. Now the whiff of Taiping and Ipoh gunning for inclusion comes with alarming alacrity. No details have been revealed, not least of all their respective “outstanding universal value”. Without a doubt, the euphoria of such an endowment is alluring and therefore worthy of supreme efforts in preparing a persuasive dossier for the application.

Five years ago, the Straits Settlements of Melaka and George Town were listed as the Historic Cities of the Strait of Malacca. The third of the Straits Settlement, Singapore is now another country and too much of its historic core has been transformed, perhaps too soon to save a wealth of heritage sites for the world. Meanwhile, Singapore has applied for its Botanical Gardens for World Heritage listing. By the way, it is noteworthy that the fourth Straits Settlement of Dindings did not get developed – the British had too much on their plate – and Dindings was returned to the state of Perak in 1934.

Now, what has happened in Melaka and George Town? Through our, Jo Chua of Melaka informed Law Siak Hong of the stories written by prominent journalist, Himanshu Bhatt. We wish to share them with you. See links below. Read them.

Photo of Himanshu Bhatt by Beng Siang, 2007. Source:


George Town’s Unesco status: A review – Part 1

George Town’s Unesco status: A review – Part 2


Heritage, the forgotten victim of Jonker Walk

Melaka: Historic city under siege

Dilemma of Melaka’s vanishing living culture

We hope you will learn much from Himanshu’s stories. The picture he’s painted is not all rosy. It is not premature to consider the issues as both Taiping and Ipoh are working towards the listing.

Why don’t you tell us what you think? All relevant comments are welcome.

PHS had published our own assessment in the Heritage News five years ago. Read it in this blog site, under “Heri-news”: Volume 5: issues 4 & 5, July-October 2008, page 4 & 5

Perak Heritage Society

Persatuan Warisan Perak
(Reg. No. 1254) was registered with the Registrar of Societies in August, 2003.

Office and Postal Address:
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