Monday, February 27, 2006

a century of TCM

This building in Ipoh Old Town built in 1907 is the Eu Yan Sang (余仁生) Chinese medical hall. It has been dispensing TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) to the folks in Ipoh for the past century. It is located in the old town sector of Ipoh which used to a very busy area and the premier shopping district in town. It is the hall mark of EYS to have it’s shops set up in shopping center of the town.

Eu Yan Sang first started business in 1879 by Eu Kong (余广) who migrated from China, in the mining town of Gopeng which is located about 20km south of Ipoh. The medicine brought cure and relief to the early migrants, the miners and coolies. Since then it has established itself a standard of quality in TCM that is the evny of other Chinese medicine pharmaceutical chain.

When the business was passed on to his only son Eu Tong Sen (余东旋)it expanded quickly. Eu Yan Sang medical halls sprang up in the major towns and cities in the Peninsula, in Ipoh, Penang, Kuala Lumpur, & Singapore.

Eu Tong Sen generously donated to support the cause of education in the region. His name is still remembered in ACS Ipoh, as one of the five competing sports team is named after him. (my first primer)

The EYS Medical Hall in Singapore opened in 1910. It is located along South Bridge Road, and was renovated a few yesars back. It is possibly the only building along that stretch of road that is still engaging in the original trade it was set up for. TCM is back in business and still going strong.

This statue of Eu Tong Sen (1877-1941) is standing inside the South Bridge Road building.


Sunday, February 26, 2006

the mining outpost - tin

Ipoh is often referred to at the town that tin built and naturally you would find a street named Jalan Bijeh Timah. (Bijeh Timah – means tin ore in Malay). This street is located in the older section of Ipoh – the Ipoh Old Town, on the southern bank of the Kinta River. This was the center for collection and transportation of tin to the Straits Tin Smelters in Butterworth. There used to be a congregation of shops for tin collecting agents in this area.

Ipoh started off as an outpost for tin ore collection, and it was probably the furthest point upstream where the bigger boat could navigate up the Kinta River. The Kinta River is a tributary of the Perak River meanders in the south-westerly direction to join the sea & the Straits of Malacca. Since the 1500s when the Portuguese and Dutch seafarers first appeared in the Straits, tin ore has probably traveled along this route to the sea.

In the old maps, Ipoh was spelt Epoh, which is the name of a tree. (Similarly Tampines is the name of a tree). The Epoh tree produces poisonous sap which was used by the orang asli (natives) to lace the dart of their blowpipes for hunting. A sample of the Epoh tree is planted in front of the Ipoh Railway Station.

Prior to it being called Epoh, the place was known as Paloh. There exist to this day a Kampong Paloh situated at the confluence of the Kinta River and Sungei Pari. The local Chinese still refer to Ipoh proper as 'Ba-Loh'.

Dotting the Kinta Valley were rich tin mines. The migrants came from afar to seek their fortune. At the turn of the 20th century, the tin industry boomed when tin found its use in plating metal can. The tin can stores food safely and over long period. It was a modern technology and a novelty then. That was when tin and tin got connected.

Tin is also used extensively in the electronics industry as solder for soldering the integrated-circuit chips onto printed circuit assembly boards. The latest foray of tin is into the fashion industry. The Royal Selangor Pewter has been promoting male ornaments made from pewter – an alloy which composed of more than 98% tin, and the rest lead and copper – for the hip and metrosexual.

Since the collapse of the tin industry nearly twenty five years ago, when the industrialized countries released their stockpile of tin cos of an attempt to corner the tin market, Ipoh stagnated. It was no longer the bustling and busy town it used to be. The town center has hollowed out. The center of activities moved to the northern sector of the city closer to the North-south highway and to the population to the townships that fringe the city.

The downturn has also been a blessing in disguise for the town of Ipoh – rows and rows of shop houses are in their original environment, and architecturally the town center has been left much intact. Many of the shop houses in the old and new town sectors are close to a hundred years old. They are still standing firm & solid, though looking weather beaten, worn and forlorn. They exude and old charm that that had seem better days.

Because the town has kept it’s original state when one is back there, one has a deep sense of connection to the place. Folks who had left Ipoh half a century ago and return for a visit today would still be able to recognize the city and its buildings well. The old cinemas are still standing, though no longer in business. The stall that sells the famous Ipoh hor fun is still in the same coffee shop selling the food.

Epoh beckons....

old charm that never fades - one of the side lanes in old town sector


Wednesday, February 22, 2006

the wedding photo

Found this old wedding photograph of mum and dad among the old alums in the study. As with the wedding custom of the era, the bride was in the all white wedding gown and the groom in a Western suit. On the surface this wedding photograph was no different from those that were taken from that era - in the 1930’s and 40’s.

However, on turning over the photograph and examining what was written behind, it threw more clue and light. The two rows of words in Chinese stated that it was taken for remembrance on - the 34th year of the Republic, 27th day of the 12th lunar month, and Showa 20, February 9th.

The picture was taken 61 years ago to the month, during the Japanese occpuation of Malaya and Singapore in World War II.

The tradition of counting years among the folks then was the same as that in China, namely with 1911, the begining of the Republic as Year 1. And as for Showa, it followed the Japanese tradition of counting the years using the reign title of the emperor. 1926 was the start of the reign of the Showa Emperor and considered as Year 1.

The faded words in the chop, read: SHOWA 20.2.16, and the line below it was printed: IPOO KEMPEITAI. Heaven! This wedding photograh had been inspected and approved by the Kempetai, the Japanese Imperial Army.

The likely scenario on how the chop came about: It could have been, that after the photograph was developed, it was taken to the Ipoh Headquarter of the Japanese Imperial Army, The Kempeitai, (宪宾队) , to have it approved. Thus to be politically correct, the Showa reign year had to be on it. Or the photograph could have been taken at a Kempeitai approved photo studio on the wedding day of 9Feb, and after it was developed a week later, it was stamped with the chop of approval and released to the couple.

Six months after the Ipoh Kempeitai had chopped and approved this wedding photograph, Japan declared unconditional surrender to the Allied Forces of the Far East. This brought an end to three years and eight months of suffering and terror.

Each February Singapore marks the anniversary of the fall of the city to the Japanese Imperial Army, on Chinese New Year's day - 15Feb 64 years ago, as Self-Defence Day. The motto - 居安思威 (in peace, ponder danger) .


Monday, February 20, 2006

where it all began

The lingo of ‘returning to one’s village to celebrate the New Year’ (回乡过年) will not ring a bell to the average folks in this country, unless he or she works or studies abroad and return to celebrate the lunar festival with the family or is married to someone out of this country.

Since leaving the hometown close to thirty years ago to study, work and subsequently to make this city my home, returning to the hometown to celebrate the New Year has almost been an annual ritual.

Returning to the home & the hometown for the CNY is an opportunity to rediscover childhood memories, research on my roots, to renew bond with my siblings and families, and with the place that I nurtured my formative years.

The family history is for one to discover and each CNY is a time to dig thro the old albums, the corners and crevices in the study, and hunting for new finds in the antique safe. In the foner of the top shelf in the study, there is this box of genealogical records (古氏族谱) which is nearly 80 years old. It has been a ritual to open it when I'm back home, and to browse thro the pages to rediscover ones root. Mine is the 38th generation from the line of Ge-Gong(革公派)。

Away from the hustle and bustle of city life, the occassion would give me a chance to reaffirm my existence, pondering fwhere the ancestors were from, why they migrated to this part of the world, what their bonds were with the ancestral village then, and reflect on the immediate and extended family. The past is so much linked to the present, and the present will be the past of the future.

The ‘archeological dig’ thro the pile of old records and photographs, was rewarded with this find of a document that is nearly 60 years old. The Chinese word Singapore was written on it.

What has this 60 year old document to do with Singapore? It was found among the pile of old records and photographs kept in an antique safe,

This was the disembarkation document issued to Overseas Chinese returning to China - 侨民回国登记 – by the Chief of the Overseas Chinese Bureau in Swatow –( 汕头侨务局局长). The port of embarkation was Singapore (由何地回国 : 星加坡)

The traveler was dad when he was 25years old, and on his last trip to his ancestral home before Mao declared a new China six months later. It will be more than 45years later before he made his next trip again back to the village.

His trip was the last of the continuation of trips which started way much earlier passing thro Singapore as the port of embarkation and disembarkation, thro and from Ipoh 怡保 & the village in China, Songkou / Meixian (松口/梅县 -using the std pinyin). The trips started probably sometime around the later part of 1800s or the beginning of 1900/s when his dad first came to the South Seas (南洋) .

The photograph below was taken during that era. It was a family portrait of the 35th generation, probably taken in China. Singapore would have been their port of embarkation and disembarkation to and from Epoh. During their stay in Selatpore, (石叻坡 – old Chinese name for Singapore ) while waiting for the next ship to leave port, they would have visited Yin Fo Association along Telok Ayer Street, to catch up with their fellow Hakkas.
(country club by telok ayer street)


Saturday, February 18, 2006

my first primer

My Alma Mater , as it was just next to the bus terminal, I dropped in for a visit on arriving in Ipoh. There is a side entrance to the school from Kidd Road, while the main entrance faces Lahat Road. This main building build in Edwardian style of the era, was ‘ erected to the Glory of God and for the advancement in knowledge of the youth of Perak’. The foundation stone was laid by Oliver Marks Esq. acting British Resident Perak on August 1st 1912, and opened on March 30th, 1914 by Sir Arthur Young. The builder and architect was CH La Brooy.

The school celebrated its 110 anniversary last year, 2005. It was founded by the Rev. Horley as a Methodist Institution in the new mining township upcountry of Epoh. During school Sports Day the students are divided into five competing teams, namely Horley, Oldham, Aziz, Tagore, Eu Tong Sen. Horley is in memory of the founder of the school in Ipoh, while Oldham was in memory of Rev William F Oldham, the founder of the Anglo-Chinese School, Singapore in 1886, where it was first located at 70 Amoy Street.

Behind the school is the railway track . The railway runs thro the Peninsula, south to KL-Singapore, and North to Penang-Bangkok, and in future possibly to Hanoi and then to China as part of the trans-Asean-China track. The railway line is under construction to a double carriage track. The work has been going on for some years. We used to see the train passing by in the moring and evening having our PE classes in the field. The building in the background is the school hostel.

These Tembusu tress that lined the side of the field facing the road leading to the primary building, must be as old as the school. These trees were considered old when I first entered the school. I could remember the trees well because when I was in Standard Three, we used to play police and thieves there among the trees while waiting for the afternoon class to start.

The buildings in the school have not changed much over the years and since I left 30 years ago. They looked a little worn & weather beaten though, and now with a heavy fence around the school perimeter, the buildings and fields seem caged in, and it did not seem to be the open and spacious school compound that I used to remember.

This wooden building is the original site of the school where it first began. It is now possibly the oldest wooden school building in Ipoh. My Standard One class room was on the upper floor towards the left of the building. The photograph below was the class of Std IC taken in 1964. (I found it among the old albums in the study). The class teacher was Mrs Cheah Chan Yew, and the Senior Assistant, Mr Foo Choy Wan, was also a very strict, fierce but kind-at-heart discipline master. It was a big class of 50 pupils.

The class of pupils had a good ethic mix and the boys study, play and 'f'ight' together amongst themselves. The Malay boys came from Kampong Paloh nearby, the Indian and Sikh pupuils from Buntong, and the Chinese from the town and township nearby.

This is the model for the Vision School that the Malaysian government is promoting. I certainly have learnt cultural diversity and ethic harmony in my formative years, thanks to my fellow pupils. I recall that the first Prime Minister of Malaysia, the Tengku used to mention that he was the proudest and happiest PM in the world cos his countrymen lived in ethnic harmony and peace.


Friday, February 17, 2006

the journey home up north

Homeward bound for the Lunar Never Year and arrived at the Kidd Road Ipoh Bus Terminal at 5:00pm on 26Feb006/Thursday. Left Tampines in the early hours at 5:30am , on the first bus out to Sungei Road terminal to take the Singapore-JB Express. From JB Tampoi, hopped onto a KL bound bus leaving at 8am & reached KL Pudu Raya Bus Terminal at 12:30pm. As the next bus leaving for Ipoh was at 2:00pm, had lunch at KL Chinatown, which was about 10 minutes walk away from the bus terminal.

All in the journey from home in Tampines to home up noth took 12 hours. On the return trip to the Singapore, the flight from Ipoh to Senai/JB took only 45mins! It’s a yearly ritual to take this mode of transport back to my kampong up north. Why the hassle of a 12 hour journey when you could cover it in 3? Well, its all for the sentiment.

The Century Ominbus Co Sdn Bhd is one of the main tenants of the bus terminal. Its buses that ply the town route have a red stripe painted horizontally across the middle. The town folks affectionately call it the ‘red bus’. Then, it was the most popular mode of public transport to and from and within the old and new town. The number of commuters has dwindled drastically over the years with increased car ownership. The buses that are plying the city now may have a long while more to reach a century of service. However they easily qualify for a half century of loyal & long service award.

The Kacang Putih man at the bus terminal is still there, and these are some of the many scenes that you can still find in Ipoh that has remained unchanged for the past 50 years! The century old shop houses are still intact, and the hawkers are still plying their trade in the same way as their fore farthers have been doing it. I remember seeing the Kacang Putih (peanut) man in one of the Singapore History Museum open house events - down memory lane. Well folks, if you want to see the real one and in the true environment, travel up North. It’s worth the 12 hour bus ride. Better still, fly and you can be there for lunch and back for dinner.


Wednesday, February 15, 2006

in all its natural splendor

It’s dawn over the Kinta Valley on the 2nd day of the Year of the Dog, 30 Jan 2006. The picture was taken from the Kledang Hill at an elevation of about 350m. The distant peak is Mt Korbu, and at 2183m is the highest peak in the state of Perak, and the second highest in the Peninsula Malaya. It is on the Main Range which forms the backbone of the peninsula land mass. Cameron Highlands, the hill resort is located yonder in the distant behind this range.

This range stretches all the way down south to the state of Johor, with Gunong Leadang @ 1276m, its highest point. Gunong Ledang is more popular known as Mt Ophir to the folks from the City State.

Kledang Hill has become a very popular spot for morning and evening walks for the folks living in the valley, specifically from the Ipoh Municipality.

Menglembu, my childhood home town is located at the foot of the hill.

As if it is an annual ritual, each year when I went back for the Lunar New Year I would venture deep into the woods, in the mountain - to enjoy the cool and refreshing streams and waterfalls, and be one with nature.

The track up the hill is steep and winding. It used to be hard mud path, but in recent years concrete steps have been laid to help the climbers walk safely. The are also pavilions doting the road side up the hill and for one to rest.


Sunday, February 12, 2006

to walk and to feel

That’s the only day where one can walk barefoot in the heart of the city and nobody will look at you twice and thinks you crazy and absurd.

The occasion was the Thaipusam festival, and having to remove one’s shoes to enter the temple in Serangoon Road, I continued to join the believers on their path of penance and faith all the way to the Chettiar’s Temple at Tank Road.

It was my little penance of sort, and my poor tender feet has to bear the occasional pain of stepping on little stones along the way. However, the tarred road also provides a reflexlogical effect and I find it could be therapeutical walking without shoes on.

Thaipusam day should also be promoted as a day to walk in nature (gosh, heaven forbid!) – that is leave behind your branded footwear and walk with your natural bare feet. The believers do it I believe as a sign of respect for the gods. Feel the ground that you walk daily, touch it and have a bond with it directly. The city streets are clean and safe enough for that.

If the Singapore tourism promotion board has run out of ideas to promote a uniquely Singapore, this is one to consider. Fellow citizens and tourist alike could partake in the cultural fest and take time to feel and bond with the road that they walk.

Thaipusam - it's also a unique occassion for father and child bonding.