Friday, July 30, 2010

IPOH – Cinderella who lost her glass slipper

Well, that is the the analogy of her current state - the Cinderella who has lost her glass slipper.

Perhaps for the baby boomers who are into their middle age, they would have many a story to share with their grandchildren on the – Golden Age of Ipoh.

Well, this was what Ipoh then enjoyed, as the book puts it – when tin was king. Ipoh was the center of the Kinta Valley – and as with the surrounding townships, she came into being because of tin.

Towards the close of the 19th century & into the early 20th century she was practically transformed from an up-river outpost located in thick equatorial jungle into a modern and well planned town. She was the commercial capital, educational & entertainment hub.

However, in her early boom years & and in the many cycles of high tin prices that brought to her town folks prosperity and economic comfort, she had been treated as the step-child by her colonial master. She was portrayed as the Cinderella of the FMS (Federated Malay States) and naturally the step mum was the colonial ruler.

She was denied a port linked directly to Lumut, though her early councilors had strongly petition for it. Among others she was also denied a smelting plant – and all the tin that she produced had to be sent to Penang to be smelted into ingot for export.

She was denied being given the state capital-ship despite having grown to be the premier township in the state, and the leading contributor to the FMS.

That Ipoh became the state capital was by the grace of her Japanese conqueror. The state capital was moved from Taiping to Ipoh, during the war years by the Japanese army.

Most Ipohites would not have known these facts, unless one is a history buff and keen enough to dig thro old records. Well, that was what the author of the book is and did -a medical doctor cum historian - he spent close to five years researching and writing the book.

Sources quoted were from the the early day newsletters, gazette, such as the Perak Pioneer, Times of Malaya & Perak Government Gazette, as well as from the Internet - IpohWorld, for many of the old photographs of yesteryear Ipoh.

Whatever it was, the Ipoh that we grew up in - was the pride of all. We used to boast that we were the cleanest town in the country -and I wonder if they still do such ranking now. We would bask in the glory of her millionaires, and often quote that Ipoh had the greatest number per area. Needless to say Ipoh has all these years maintainted her rank in the number one position when it come to - beauties.

Well, during the book launch at ISEAS, the professor rightly commented - that we Ipohites thought that we were the center of the world then. How true.

The clock struck midnight close to twenty five odd years ago when the price of tin collapsed.

Economically the town, no the city has dwindled into a state of stagnancy, since. Perhaps, Cinderella had it too easy then, for fortunes were literally made overnight when one struck tin.

Cinderella, has yet to find her new pair of glass slippers.

The present mood and state of Ipoh is perhaps well depicted in a photograph – captioned Today – (page 690) - togehter with a series of town scenes taken thro the decades. The photograph was most likely taken in the old town area – with the shop houses shut and one is a dilapidated empty shell.

Despite its quiet emptiness, and the lack of economic development leading to many a building falling into disrepair, Ipohites should all the more reflect on their proud history – and the contributions their forefathers did for Ipoh - be they the Yau Tat Shin/s who built Ipoh New Town or the Uncle Ah Ngau/s – who manned the gravel pump in the open cast mine eking a living to feed a brood.

Well, I always remember those big Chinese characters on the wall of the school located in the bungalow complex at the junction of Jalan Datoh and Chamberlain Road –

Coming from an English medium school, I had a limited knowledge of Chinese then, and did not know its meaning till much later.

Cinderella would not have deciphered them either , but her sworn-sister Maiden Hui - 灰姑娘 – Hui-guniang - should have no problem reading and internalizing the phrase -

自力更生 艰苦奋斗

-zhili geng sheng, jianku fendou -

Perhaps it had a socialist slant when it was first written, but the message is every green. Well, learning Chinese could be meaningful & fun ...


1. IPOH - When Tin was King

by Ho Tak Ming,
Perak Academy, 2009

2. Ipoh World

2. 怡保深斋学校 - Ipoh Shenzai School

One of the Chinese medium private instituitions started in IPOH, with Chinese as the medium of instruction. In early years of her inception and thro to the 1970/s, and as with many of the Chinese-based medium schools, they were a hot-bed of commuist ideology.

Often times - there was a thin grey line between what was cultural and what was ideology. And many a students could perhaps enticed into it cos of the cultural identity.

It was sort of a thing to be dreaded then if a family had a a left leaner or sympathiser. But in hind sight it could be the cultural draw more than the ideological chants that attracted them.

I remember out of curiostiy - one afternoon attended a meet the peoplel session of a reformed communist at the Wan Hwa Primary School hall, in Menglembu - in the early 1970's, organised by the specail branch. It was a female 'comrade' from Menglembu or from the surrounding area. Could not recall exactly what she said - but something to the effect on how she had fallen into the spell of the communist ideology.

3. 自力更生 艰苦奋斗

自力更生 - regeneration through one's own effort

艰苦 - difficult / hard / arduous

A catch phrase commonly used by the socialist/communist camp in their struggle for self-what ever. Though outwardly the phrase connotes a socialist slant, but the the gist of it is to struggle against odds and adversity, and a renewal of one-self in times of trail and strive. For it celebrates - industriousness, honesty, scholarship, amongst others.