By Fathol Zaman Bukhari
We have been in publication for over five years and have heard nothing but stony silence from the authorities on issues raised by this paper. So it is yet another milestone that we are celebrating because for the first time a serving mayor of Ipoh responded personally to an article in Ipoh Echo. Our lead piece entitled, “Are We Ashamed of Ipoh’s Glorious Past” by Jerry Francis (IE 97) has struck a chord with Mayor Roshidi and he has taken the time to write an unsolicited letter giving his or rather MBI’s side of the story vis-à-vis the crumbling old buildings which Jerry had highlighted.
Concerned readers have given their two cents worth by commenting on the piece in Ipoh Echo’s website (see www.ipohecho.com.my). We received 25 comments, the highest for a single piece of news thus far. However, out of the lot, Roshidi’s response is the most poignant as it provides a glimpse of our mayor’s thinking and feelings.
Roshidi refers to Jerry’s piece as misleading, believing “it will give a negative perception of Ipoh, per se.” We all agree that looks have plenty to do with perception. “The eyes see only what the mind is prepared to comprehend”, says Robertson Davies, the famous Canadian novelist.
Art, Heritage or Eyesore
Perceptive power of the mind transcends the reality we see right in front of us.
So a derelict building with windows hanging on hinges, roof almost non-existent and walls crumbling is art in its purest form for some, heritage for a few and an eyesore for the rest. Whatever the mind wants to think, the mere presence of this dilapidated building, standing perilously, at the convergence of two arterial streets is definitely not the best sight. Therefore, the only sensible thing to do is to have it demolished. Levelling the building is less hazardous to the eyes and minds than to allow it to decay in full view of residents.
The mayor has alluded to a special committee formed from among the councillors to oversee the decaying buildings. Tracing the errant property owners is a priority he has justifiably imposed as a precondition. The committee’s functionality is, however, in doubt as the tenure of councillors came to an end last June. While waiting for fresh appointees, the said committee is being mothballed for good measure. Will it be revived? If past experience is anything to go by, a revival seems almost unlikely; unless the need is too overpowering and the reasons too damning.
While the committee drifts into obscurity and the property owners remain faceless and untraceable, Ipohites continue to suffer in silence. Do we have an option? Yes, we do but at what cost?
Roshidi comes with good credentials. He served Tajol Rosli as his private secretary and then assumed the post of MBI Secretary before taking over as mayor in 2008. The uncertainty of his re-appointment for a second term as mayor was put to rest when the Menteri Besar retained him in his post for a subsequent two-year term, effective June.
In his acceptance speech, Roshidi had pledged to assist the MB in realising the much-touted Governmental Transformational Programme and would initiate an action plan to convert the city into a pedestrian and vehicle-friendly haven similar in stature to Wenzhou in China. The fact that our MB has looked towards a Chinese city as a fitting model to emulate is totally unexpected, mindful of the impression we have about China.
The Chinese have, since the 2008 Olympics, made tremendous strides in developing their cities and towns. Today Beijing and Shanghai no longer look like what they were, say five years ago. The cities’ broad and tree-lined streets remind one of the West rather than the East. The transformation is monumental. Awesome is the word. Chinese haute culture is here to stay.
Sipping coffee at Starbucks at the entrance to the famous Silk Street bargain mall in downtown Beijing recently, I was dumbstruck by the modernity surrounding me. It looked as though I was on Orchard Road, Singapore. The streets were clean while the road shoulders were spotless. Although there are 5 million motor vehicles, of all makes and models in Beijing, traffic jams are no where near those in Kuala Lumpur. Surprisingly, there are no feral cats and stray dogs running wild like we see here in Ipoh.
How could the Chinese do so? Some attribute it to Communism. But to me, it is all a mind game. We simply don’t have the resolve and wherewithal to be and remain clean. Just look at Polo Ground. “It’s in your blood,” said Venera, my Uzbek sister-in-law, teasingly. She is damn right.
Way to go, Ipohites! Way to go! There is much to learn from the Chinese experience, warts and all.