It was with great interest that I read “Perak Heritage in Limbo” in the last Echo (108) as I also attended the Forum as a guest of the Perak Heritage Society. YB Dato’ Hamidah Osman’s remarks were certainly to the point, berating the audience for their lack of knowledge of our local heritage and suggesting that we take a leaf out of other’s books and learn. I thought that was a bit hard considering the make-up of the audience from both public and private sectors, but maybe the overstatement was delibe-rate to spur us on to greater things.
Two Key Sentences
As I understood it, the way ahead for Ipoh’s heritage tourism was summed up by two key sentences that emerged during the forum:
“We must all love and respect our heritage, before showcasing it to the tourists;” and
“Heritage conservation should be approached both bottom-up and top-down.”
Later that day I pondered on these sentences and wondered just how many examples I could find where Ipoh was already following these key points on their way to restoring Ipoh’s heritage for tourism and so the following morning I drove around town.
The Bottom-Up Approach
From the point of view of “bottom up” there was not much to be seen, Jalan Ong Siew has gone, although I shall never understand why they could not have kept the facade and built the hotel behind. That has worked well elsewhere. Lam Looking Building has been completed and a pretty good job has been made considering the terrible state it was in, although the orange stripes don’t align at all with the original colour and isn’t it a pity they didn’t paint back the original name! Then a visit to the late Dato’ Seri Lau Pak Khuan’s old home in Jalan Datoh was thoroughly depressing, as the original roof has been removed and modernised and the inside gutted. It is also a horrendous shade of orange. Do these portray our citizens’ love and respect for our heritage? I think not.
Then it was time to consider the “top down” aspects. This was easier because there are three government/city council projects under way on heritage structures/areas; the Old Post Office, Hugh Low Bridge and Little India. Currently the Old Post Office remains fenced off, but at least from the outside it is starting to look good with the majority of scaffolding already removed. Only time will tell what has been done to the inside with regard to genuine restoration. Then it was time to visit the Hugh Low Bridge where much of it has been rebuilt close to the original style, but why has it sprouted four concrete towers? That does not demonstrate heritage conservation at all, but rather shows absolutely no understanding of the meaning of the words by those at the top.
Finally Little India came into view complete with its brand new toilet and archway. What a terrible sight! Now I am well aware that this area has had a lot written and spoken about it already, but please bear with me for I believe that this is an important issue for the future of Ipoh, for heritage was one of the two key areas for Perak tourism identified by the recent State Government study – the other being nature.
Memorial Fountains Come and Go
Once there was a beautiful Italian marble fountain on this site. It was put there not by government, but by the businessmen of Ipoh in memory of the 8th British Adviser, E. W. Birch, who unlike his father had been good to Ipoh and Perak during his tenure. Indeed without his assistance, New Town would not have been built. However in the 1980s the memorial was removed by the City Council in the name of development. Then, funnily enough they managed to find room to build a modern (some would say ugly) concrete fountain, which they laughingly called the Memorial Fountain. But then that fountain also had to go for development – of a toilet (a memorial toilet?) – an eyesore that, as you can see from the photograph, takes away all the aesthetic view of the old buildings.
Ipoh’s Future Depends on You
Now my point is that a State Government Exco member is desperately trying to spur us all on to work for heritage tourism, but at the same time there is no evidence that this “top down, bottom up” approach, requiring love and respect for our heritage, exists anywhere in our city. If Dato’ Hamidah cannot inspire us all to start considering heritage in our daily toil then there will be no heritage tourism, no UNESCO listing and frankly, no future for Ipoh as a city of tourism. Not just Ipoh on its knees, but flat on its face, allowing others nearby to trample all over us. Is that what you really want? Remember it is you who has the future of Ipoh in your hands.