Will it ever stand Proud Again?
In the last issue of the Ipoh Echo, I was introduced as the man behind IpohWorld and its website www.ipohworld.org. Indeed, today, that is true, but the idea was not mine, but brought to me, in 2004, by a lady from a well-respected and longstanding Ipoh family. She felt that someone who cared about Ipoh should record the heritage and history before it was too late. I succumbed to her idea! Since then we have established a significant Internet-based archive on Ipoh and the Kinta Valley, an active blog, more than 6,000 individual readers a month and an ever increasing set of Facebook fans. But what has been happening to Ipoh City, its history and heritage, while we have been tied to our computers?
The story is sad as our city’s material state continues its deterioration unabated; mysterious fires, broken pavements, abandoned and collapsing buildings and what appears to be rampant demolition of the old structures, leading to more ugly buildings and untidy tracts of land being turned into car parks, or rubbish dumps.
Lonely Planet’s ‘Indictment’
If you think my description is extreme then take a look at how, “TheLonely Planet”, the worldwide tourist publication, des-cribes Ipoh:
“… mainly a transit town, a place where you change buses; … chaotic traffic; … crumbling Chinese shophouses and ugly modern blocks”; and, specifically for New Town “…. generally dingy part of town, with a notorious prostitution problem and no real attractions.”
The complete description may be found at http://www.lonelyplanet.com. Does that make you feel proud of your home town, the capital city of Perak?
Now why do you, the people of Ipoh and Perak, allow this deterioration and destruction of our city and its built heritage to continue? You are not afraid to speak out when things affect your livelihood or income; an increase in petrol prices or taxation causes a storm of protest, but when it comes to the city and its multitude of problems, very little is said. Could it be lethargy – as long as you are living comfortably and making money you just don’t care about your surroundings? Surely not! That would be a damning indictment of the Malaysian mindset!
Lack of Understanding?
So what is the problem? I wish I could be certain, but perhaps you simply do not understand the importance of heritage in education, tourism and the enhancement of property values, that heritage conservation brings. In one way or another, these three increase the value of our surroundings and the quality of our life. If this was not the case there would be no UNESCO to support heri-tage across the world.
Outrage over Recent Demolition
Having said all that, the recent demolition of the complete row of houses in Jalan Chung On Siew, did cause a number of local people to register their disgust. This was surprising in a way, as these buildings did not genuinely stand as heritage, being comparatively young by world standards. However, there were reasons for this outburst: this was probably the only unspoilt row of such houses in the city; they had been used in the shooting of the Shanghai movie, “Lust, Caution”; and the Director, Ang Lee, had been quoted as saying that this was probably the only place left where he could make the movie. And now they are gone!
It is not possible to show all the blog comments here as space is limited but they may be seen on the above link. Some extracts include:
“Heritage vandalism; … hell bent on destroying buildings … money and greed rule supreme; … taxpayers, you own the place so make some noises please; … others are busy preserving heritage, we are tearing ours down; … Ipoh will become another hollow town with nothing to be proud of; … a loss to Ipoh’s past; … magnificent old trees chopped down; … hills blasted; … natural beauty robbed from us; Ipoh is losing its history and identity; former glory and rich heritage obliterated…”
Pleas from the Heart
There is much more in the same vein across the 28 comments to date, but the most heartfelt ones are the ones that appeal to the Ipoh people, past and present that are far too long to reproduce here. Using phrases like “… please stand up and be counted, be a voice that can sound out to whom it may concern”, “… wherever you are now, I beseech you – stand up, take action and make your ancestors proud,” these are words from the heart, from people who really care about Ipoh and its future. They deserve your support – all of you. But will they get it? If recent history is anything to go by, I very much doubt it.
For as long as I have lived in Ipoh there has been dialogue at all levels about heritage tourism and the need to do something about it. Regular statements have been made about plans and policies being put in hand, these to bring about change for the better – but in parallel, more uncontrolled devastation takes place and the plans just fade away. I am sure that you don’t need me to remind you of these, but the destruction of Jalan Chung On Siew, presumably approved by the Town Planning Department, at almost the exactly the same time as YB Dato’ Hamidah Osman, Perak State Exco, announced that Ipoh City was to be proposed for UNESCO status, is a case in point.
Rightly or wrongly, this passed the message that the two hands of government were not working together. Add to this the current demolition and development of Theatre Street, the infamous new toilet in Little India, and the projected replacement of “The Dramatists’ Hostel” and surrounding buildings by a 7-storey glass and stainless steel hotel, in the middle of Old Town, and you can see why, apart from a few stalwarts, the people of Ipoh have given up believing in the government’s claim of safeguarding heritage for tourism.
Ipohites: Stand Up and be Counted
I am absolutely positive that Dato’ Hamidah is doing her best to overcome the lack of planning and control over the past 30 years or so, which has driven Ipoh to its knees. However unless she is backed up by government and the people at all levels she has no chance of success. So now it is your turn, Perakeans, to follow those who have appealed for your support on our blog. Stand up and be counted. Voice your disapproval of the condition of your city, the rubbish dumps, decaying buildings, the stealing of our heritage and the consistent deterioration of our way of life. This may be your last chance to help Ipoh to stand proud again, leaving something worthwhile behind for your descendants. If you do nothing they will have to suffer the consequences of your inaction.