Category Archives: Kampong Tales

Conserving Culture


In the autumn of 2011, Kampar, Perak, Malaysia, will finally receive its own splendidly unique museum dedicated to the preservation of its tin mining inheritance.

Following heritage initiatives of the tin museum in Selangor (Klang Tin Museum) and the Sungai Lembing Museum in Pahang (dedicated to the memory of tin mining in that area), the Kampar Tin Museum (Gravel Pump Mining) situated in the brand new town of Bandar Baru Kampar, is being created by an ex-Kampar MP – Tan Sri Hew See Tong – benefactor and patron to the new township – in line with Perak state’s long reaching ‘From Tin Mines to Mind Industries’ initiative.

The long awaited tin museum, when completed, will seek to house reams of revealing and original photographs, illustrative paintings, vital tin mining artefacts and a host of information pertaining to the century and a half of tin mining in and around the Kampar area. The museum’s main focus will be on gravel pump mining – one form of ‘open-cast’ tin mining, using pumped water to separate tin ore from the earth housing it in conjunction with a scaffold mounted sluice box.

To demonstrate the gravel pump process to visitors of the museum, there will be intriguing life-size working models of the operation. These models, already under construction, will be complete with running water as well as life-like models carefully crafted of concrete, assembled to represent both the workings and the tin miners engaged in the process of gravel pump mining, making the process abundantly clear for novice museum visitors.

The aim is to be informative to the museum’s visitors and to assist in preserving the memory and heritage of tin mining. The museum intends to be a repository of knowledge about gravel pump tin mining and therefore an educational resource for schools, colleges and the nearby UTAR University, situated amidst the burgeoning new township of Bandar Baru Kampar.

The museum and municipality of Bandar Baru are set against Malaysia’s undulating Titiwangsa mountain range. The town surroundings are graced by a host of lakes which are the result of that area’s later-day tin mining industry. Kampar and Bandar Baru are preserved, thanks to the North/South Highway bypassing towns like Kampar.

In Kampar, antique buildings, dating back to the founding of that town, still adorn small streets with many local arts and crafts still found along the main thoroughfare or scattered along intriguing backstreets.

The small town was originally named Mambang Di Awan (fairy in the clouds), after the mountain dominating the town’s skyline, in whose shadow Kampar rests. Colonial District Officer J.B.M. Leech renamed the town Kampar, after the nearby Kampar River (Sungai Kampar) for, in true colonial style, Leech felt that Mambang Di Awan was too much of a mouthful to say.

“It’s now or never, if we don’t do it now we will be unable to do it” said Tan Sri Hew See Tong, when I asked him why start building a tin mining museum now. “Not ten years later, not five years….nobody can do it. Before we had over one hundred members, now when we get together we are only ten.” The ‘interested parties’, those people concerned with tin and its heritage are now elderly. The decision to construct a museum needed to be made before it was too late. Tan Sri (see cover story), feared that younger generations may not have the same interest in the preservation of their cultural heritage as the people who have been directly involved with tin and its production.

The tin mining museum is planned to open at the end of 2011. There is little doubt that the opening of the museum will be a major event, even in Kampar’s remarkable history – it will be Kampar’s first museum and the area’s first museum dedicated solely to gravel pump tin mining.

By Yusuf Martin

Taman Herba


Kampong Tales

By Yusuf Martin

We trawled over the last remaining dredge, stepped out and up at Kellie’s Castle and climbed once more into our aging jeep heading down the road to an area rapidly becoming renowned for its tranquil lakes and lush parklands – Taman Herba.

The serene sanctuary of Perak’s Taman Herba (herb garden) washed over us as we stepped out of our aging 4X4, welcoming us to its floral paradise. Lakes and green vistas uninterrupted by calming trees led us to a secluded office building, where we were welcomed by enthusiastic and knowledgeable staff eager to greet its imposing visitors.

The 22 hectares of the Taman Herba (herb garden) was re-launched in June 2009, by the Sultan of Perak, and is nestled along the road to Batu Gajah for those coming from Gopeng, in Perak. Alternatively the gardens are easily accessible for people wanting to visit Kellie’s Castle, or perhaps meandering their way along the back road from Ipoh to Kampar. The turn off to the herb gardens is practically equidistant from the Simpang Pulai and Gopeng exits from the North/South Highway.

The radiantly beautiful (state run) herb garden is exactly what it says it is – a garden full of useful herbs but, more than that, it is also a plant research centre and a repository for Malaysian herb knowledge. Malaysian herbs, traditionally used in treating any number of complaints, including diabetes and high blood pressure, are investigated at the centre to determine the accuracy of ancient claims, which inevitably tend to be proven to be true.

We arrived at the herb garden in my aging Rocsta, about lunchtime. We thought that we may have to go elsewhere and return at a more appropriate time but, having disturbed the staff at their lunch, we were still met with smiles and gracious hospitality as the manager offered to take us on a guided tour of the magnificently delightful gardens. It was to be a veritable eye-opener for the three of us, as Puan Azizah explained the names and uses of some of the more exotic plants.

In those charmingly peaceful gardens there were plants to rub away the painful evils of the mosquito, plants for the specific ailments of women, and some – Tongkat Ali, also for men. There were plants with the sweetest of smells and others with the bitterest of tastes, plants which perfumed the air and stayed with us throughout the tour and one in particular which, indelicately, is called the ‘fart plant’ – how it got its name becomes clear the nearer you step towards the plant.

As bewitched and bewildered as we were by the sheer variety of the plants on display, the greatest surprise came when Puan Azizah asked us to taste a small, practically insignificant, yellow flower about the size of a small caper.  She called it the flower of the Grandma’s earring plant because, I suppose, that is what the flower resembled – a small golden stud for a grandmother’s earlobe.

At first the tiny flower tasted as many small flowers would – green, a bit planty, nothing out of the ordinary – then the flavour burst onto our tongues and across our mouths in much the same way as Japanese Wasabi might. The taste was hot, a little sour, salty, peppery and astringent all at once and not at all unpleasant. It was a shock and none of us were expecting it except, of course, Puan Azizah – who laughed. All at once I was imagining pizza topped with grandmother’s earring, spaghetti fried with grandmother’s earring or grandmother’s earring sandwiches with sandwich spread. Good grief, I thought, this might just be the next hottest taste next to chilli and black pepper. There may be a thousand and one marketing opportunities for this extraordinary flower, awaiting the right culinary entrepreneur.

In one of the garden’s planted ‘greenhouses’, some green plant stems were called ‘bones’ because they resembled, well, err – bones I guess. Outside there were banana flowers which grew upward, for ornamental reasons, instead of hanging down and plants whose leaves you heat then wrap around aching joints – specifically knees. There were efficacious plants, relieving all kinds of ailments which I had considered weeds and, for the past five years, have been merrily pulling and discarding from our garden. And then there were rapturously fragrant trees, which I would dearly love to dig into our more than sun blessed garden.

Each of us was given a token gift – a small plastic bag containing seeds from the mahogany tree, known for reducing blood sugar and lowering cholesterol, and then it was time to depart. We left, driving slowly through an avenue of trees and looking at the lakes, vowing that we would return soon. Our Australian friend was intent upon capturing as much as he could, on his compact digital camera.

Art for AIDS


By Yusuf Martin

The severity of the AIDS pandemic remains a prime concern across the world. Although statistics from major monitoring organisations, including UNICEF, UNAIDS and the World Health Organisation report some significant major changes in the virulence of the pandemic in Malaysia, there still remains a great need for awareness of HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) and AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), particularly among the young.

In Malaysia, where there are more than 80,000 reported cases of HIV infection, and nearly 14,000 reported cases of AIDS, official international and national organisations – like the Malaysian AIDS Council (MAC) spearhead the fight against AIDS. MAC is seen to be in the vanguard of authorities spreading awareness and education concerning the pandemic, within Malaysia, but there also local, non-profit organisations, engaging in the devastating war against HIV/AIDS.

In between film making and music making, last year local artist/musician/academic Kamal Sabran teamed up with a project worker – Dr Ismail bin Lasa, president of Prostar Malaysia (programme for healthy adolescents) – a club raising awareness of HIV/AIDS among youth, to engage in the spreading of awareness about HIV/AIDS.  Together, doctor and artist initiated Art for AIDS (Seni untuk AIDS), and successfully engaged in bringing the anti-HIV/AIDS message home to younger people.

The concept of Art for AIDS may have begun in San Francisco (USA) some fourteen years ago, when a few local artists got together and decided to sell art to help their friends suffering from HIV and AIDS, but it continues worldwide with Malaysia also making its mark.

In 2009, Seni untuk AIDS started in Malaysia as a network of artists, scholars and social activists pooling together ideas and resources to bring AIDS awareness to the general public’s view. Their intent was to raise consciousness, as well as funds, to continue the fight against one of the world’s most crippling virulent diseases – the HIV/AIDS virus.

Known as Fighting AIDS with Art – an online visual art competition and exhibition, the Malaysian Art for AIDS initiative (Seni untuk AIDS) founded a web based art competition which evolved into an exhibition with over two hundred stunning entries. A website poll enabled visitors to vote for their favourite image, or the most effect/striking image and closed with 1,693 votes being registered on the website meter. Prizes were awarded for the top three artworks at a ceremony including the national poet A. Samad Said in Shah Alam, February this year.

Nur Suria Mansor won RM1,000 for her evocative expressionistic work ‘Fading Away’ – a powerful piece full of emotive command, and obviously popular with the website voters. M. Syazwan gained RM500 for the nostalgically resonant image ‘Mangsa’ and Ammin received third, but not least, prize of RM250 for demonstrating, pictorially,  ‘How HIV cannot be Spread’. All the artists and collaborators involved, as well as those who voted, deserve praise for just being involved in this initial project.

However, all art is in a way subjective, and the one work that caught my eye is – Jerit (scream), by Abdullah Hamdan (number 116 on the website). This is a poignant digital artwork, for me saying all there needs to be said about the fight against AIDS, the pain and suffering this disease brings not only to the individual whose body has been invaded by the virus, but for those connected to that individual, friends and family. The top 30 artworks can still be seen online, at

That was merely a beginning. On March 28, Perak witnessed the launching of a second initiative concerning art against AIDS. At the Prostar convention, in Bukit Merah, Perak, YB Datuk Rosnah Shirlin bt Hj Abdul Rashid Shirlin helped launch ‘Drop the Hate’, the fresh Seni untuk AIDS project initiative for this new year, concentrating specifically on photography.

Seni untuk AIDS, in this fresh venture, asks everyone, beginner, amateur and professional to send in their best photographic shots for the photography exhibition which closes 12 noon May 31. As last year, there will be cash prizes and certificates available to the winners, and there will be an online exhibition of the received photographs. Entrants are asked to send their photographic images to by May 31.

As well as a second website – http://seniuntukaids2.blogspot, Seni untuk AIDS can be reached through a Facebook page. Links to Facebook and to the web pages of Kamal Sabran and Dr Ismail Lasa can be found on the aforementioned website if further information is sought regarding both the Seni untuk AIDS project itself, or this year’s initiative.

These initiatives are most important to draw attention to the AIDS pandemic, to facilitate spreading awareness of the disease, promoting ways in which sufferers may be assisted, and helping prevent fresh people from becoming infected in the future.

Wake of the Flood


Kampong Tales

By Yusuf Martin

White bleached skulls of deceased water buffalo mocking call ‘You’ll be sorry’ to the morning anglers who, dragging their Japanese slippered feet through the sandy Malim Nawar desert, in search of easily caught tilapia, ignore the warnings in their quest for sustenance.

In that half-light, in the faint glow of the kampong morning, as the kingfisher eerily eyes his breakfast, my dear wife returns from her father’s increasingly busy kopi shop.  She brings back green, banana leaf-wrapped cones of nasi lemak, and clear plastic bags of muddied teh tarik.  With the spring in her step of one who has just partaken of news as well as her morning meal, she comes a-telling tales of deluges, utmost woes and infinite disasters. 

Gently, unhurriedly, her tale she did tell.  It was a tale of nature and man, bound in perpetual conflict, jousting and jostling, each trying to outdo the other until one would tire, and submit – three falls or a knockout.

Amidst the very same portentous cracks of thunder and flashes of severe lightning that left our area drier than the proverbial desiccated coconut, a landslide, so we were informed, had hit our new Tesco superstore, at Taman Kampar Perdana (that is Kampar to you and I). 

Kampong busy body tattle tellers, and those who repeat the already repeated pretending to know just what it is they are repeating had told my dear wife that the previous evening, at our new Tesco, in Kampar, there had been the aforementioned disaster. 

On hearing this news, shivers immediately went down my perspiring spine.  I considered the full impact of the reports – the unfortunate loss of jars of breakfast marmalade and the floating away of pats of slightly salted butter, dampened ginger nut biscuits and bags of Earl Grey Tea bobbing up and down to the rhythm of waves caused by scrabbling evacuees.  Enraged, and more than a little saddened, I vowed to investigate, kicked life into the old jeep and sped off- slowly.

Having driven the few sun drenched miles to Tesco, I discovered, in the harsh reality of a heat-stroking day, that there had been no landslide.  Nevertheless, it did seem that, after heavy rains in that hilly area, galleons of teh tarik coloured water had invaded the Tesco store aisles, leaving them, customers and assorted small furry vermin, swimming in the murky water.  It seems that produce was a-spoiling as shoppers, a foot deep in water, hurried to evacuate to the muddying surrounding car parks, and leave while they still had national cars to leave in. 

My brother in law, reporter Raju to the kampong, had been in the store at the very moment when heavy rains struck.  Luckily, he had the presence of mind to hightail it out of there, start his car and escape just as the floodwaters deepened enough to cause disaster, while others, no doubt thinking themselves budding Spielbergs, tarried to take video footage of the flooding, with their hand phones, posting it to Youtube.

Tesco was indeed flooded, as one mamak shop worker informed me. ‘Hujan’  he said, “it was the heavy rains coming off the nearby mountain range”, that deluged Tesco, sweeping water down from the nearby shop-lot houses, situated just above Tesco further along the main road to Kampar, and nearly opposite the historical Green Ridge area.

There was a unique irony in the fact that while Tesco, Kampar and its surrounds were evidently hammered by torrents of rain, our quite inconsequential kampong, nestling amidst the water buffalo mining pools, had nary one drop of sky squeezed water. Rain, in its infinite wisdom, tends to follow the Titiwangsa range of mountains, and appears a little timid to disturb the tranquillity of our lands of cloven-hoofed lumberers and makeshift rural lakes, so while my garden continued to thirst, Tesco drank deeply.

After the flood, it was as if rampant rurality was re-staking its lapsed claim on threatening urbanity, perhaps thinking that Kellogg’s cornflakes and pre-packaged, frozen, roti- canai paratha had no place north of Rawang, or indeed South of Butterworth.

Brash mankind, ever thrusting into fresh territories, shovelled the mud, swept and pumped the improvised teh tarik and once more proved himself master of all he surveys.  In reality, it was but a skirmish in the battle concerning the war over global warming.  Man will inevitably be the loser, even if, in his own mind, he is the champion over naked nature in this continual war.  Man forgets that he and the planet are one, if the planet loses, so does he.

So, as the earnest sounding gentleman spoke of rains and waters, I sadly watched as two enterprising and energetic workers swept misplaced mud and dreadful debris out of the store, adding more dirt to the already mud covered vehicular waiting area.

Talented Perak

Kamal Sabran

If you look very, very carefully there is a long list of very talented people associated with the enigmatic Silver State of Perak. From the ubiquitous literary talents of Tash Aw (writer) to the eminently delectable actress Datuk Michelle Yeoh, their stars forever shine in the heavens of the international firmament.

Aside – In my haste to impart this, I am not, of course, forgetting either my old mate, the silver-tongued Patrick Teoh (broadcaster, acerbic writer and thespian), or fellow writer, and thoroughly nice individual, Preeta Samarasan.

However, what you may, or may not know is that there are still many mega-talented people, who actually prefer to live in the Silver State, rather than write about it from afar. They are brave, hearty souls who shun the bright lights and big cities to live in the comparative quiet of a rural setting, wherein they may listen to their hearts and comprehend their muse – not read the SMS screen and facebook themselves out of existence.

It was recently, having well girded my loins, I stepped out from my misnamed studio, kick-started my monolithic jeep and reached out to the cowering world at large, to meet with some (hopefully) fellow humans.

In my questing I was hugely fortunate enough to meet with two charmingly gifted sons of Perak – Raja Shahriman b Raja Aziddin (aka Raja Shahriman), sculptor, painter and all round nice guy, and, equally as nice, contemporary artist, musician and academic Kamal Sabran.

To be fair, I only met Raja Shahriman en passant as it were – while he was accompanying my buddy, the artist Rafiee Ghani, in Kuala Lumpur, but shortly excused himself to return to his beloved state and family. I sincerely hope to meet more fully with Raja Shahriman at a later date, perhaps in his residence at Kuala Kangsar, where he creates the sculptures he is known for. Kamal Sabran I met, in Ipoh, at a mamak restaurant to talk about his forthcoming music CD entitled ‘The Space Gambus Experiment’ – more of that later.

Raja Shahriman currently has an exhibition of his profound sculptures, paintings and sketches at the Galeri Petronas, KLCC, Kuala Lumpur; profound, in the sense that within the painted, twisted metal forms lies a greater depth of meaning, and significance too.

While it is the three dimensionality of Raja Shahriman’s sculpted forms which greets the visitor at first glance, on second spine tingling glimpse, one notices the intricate play of light on the works, and, obviously, the vividness of the shadows. For it is within the forms of those pronounced shadows, spread from the sculptures that give them life, which the artist’s greatness comes into play.  Through Raja Shahriman’s mastery of his medium, he deftly reveals the vicious shadow creatures, which inhabit the rabid consciousness of the brutal warrior – his martial spine a bandolier of bullets.

People of a nervous disposition might stand in the corner of one of the galleries, staring at Raja Shahriman’s sculptures, waiting for the blatant shadows to come to life, so eerily real are they, in an abstract way. These same visitors, out of the corner of one eye, may see shadows, as if in a wayang kulit play, engage in their incipient warfare, rising out from curved metal flames and doing battle with tendril-like hands and protuberances, which may in our imaginations, be fashioned as swords.

While the shadows of Raja Shahriman’s sculptures eerily poise for battle, Kamal Sabran’s music CD soothes those parts that other music CDs cannot soothe, with its unique blend of sounds from space and music from the traditional Malay gambus (a lute-like instrument).

Just back from Kuala Lumpur, promoting his short film – LUMPUR, for 15 Malaysia, Kamal Sabran spoke with me about his collaboration with Mohd Zulkifi Ramli, and the unique music they have created for the CD ‘The Space Gambus Experiment’.

An observant reader will have noticed the word – Space in the title of this CD, as in The Space Gambus Experiment, and maybe scratched an itchy follicle or two on its significance. To put your inquisitive minds at rest, I am not referring to some post-hippy, pseudo-psychedelia, but in this case – real Space, as in “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”, the National Space Agency and the planet Jupiter.

Kamal Sabran developed ‘Sonic Cosmic Music from Outer Space’, while he was ‘artist in residence’ at the National Space Agency and some of that celestial material, along with the more traditional gambus music, graces this present album. It is therefore a credit to both Kamal Sabran and to Mohd Zulkifi Ramli, that together they have been able to create such a distinctive and richly melodic sound.


Dripping from the Keg of Time


Kampong Tales

By Yusuf Martin

 It has been an odd year, a back and forth year, an uncertain but wonderful year.

In this past inequitable year, I shook warm hands with the local newspaper the Ipoh Echo, beginning an exciting new quest into the various New Years and beyond – with thanks to a certain generous woman, who has a penchant for antiquities and food.

2009 was also the year when Perak Academy, Perak Heritage Society and the oral history project all welcomed this mining pool wanderer, battered jeep and all, and entered my aging father-in-law’s voice into posterity.

This was the exceptional year when Gopeng got its very first museum – with grateful thanks to some very determined people – it was also the year when Gopeng nearly lost some of its old water pipe, amidst all kinds of wrangling and stubborn materialisms. It was in this fragile, unsettling year, that the last remaining tin dredge began to tilt on its base, threatening its previous stability, and stared into a distinctly unknowable future. It was a year in which rogues, bent on mischief elsewhere in Perak, sought to profit from collected historical artefacts.

As the last few dregs of the year were dripping from the keg of time, I was to recall that this was the year of my introduction to the still, quiet, tranquil wonders of Papan, and its fading beauty. Dodging Batu Gajah and its seller of the most remarkable mee rebus, I travelled, in my jeep, through lanes and roads to discover an altogether different type of feast, in the sumptuous museum at Papan. Although off the normal beaten track, the Papan museum is firmly wedged in Perak history as an historical site, with dedication to the war hero Sybil Kathigasu.

Ultimately, for me, it was a bookish year. It has been a year when several Perakian authors became published nationwide, and one book retracted. A year when I attended launches of books galore, yet encountering no book as illuminating, as a chunky, silver coloured tome explaining Ipoh and its shining history, from the age of tin.  This welcome launch came prefaced with a fascinating, evocative lecture, and a thought-provoking stroll down memory lane, amidst friends.

In many ways, it has been a glorious year. These twelve months have been the time in which I have listened to celestial music, produced by a cerebral local artist, and have vibrated to the stringed beat of Malaysian culture and her musical traditions. This has been the most extraordinary year, when I have met with artists, musicians, actors, directors and a whole host of very talented people – discovering, meanwhile, a distinct lack of acting ability within myself.

Ultimately, it has been another year of challenges. It has been a dizzy year, of ladders and cats on hot roofs. A time when I finally conquered my longstanding fear of heights, by extracting said cats from said roofs, and briefly considered a fresh career dressed in red and white, slipping down chimneys.

It was a most remarkably wet year, of floods, and children fishing in streets, hoisting immature black tilapia into convenient containers, running, or rather wading, back to their doting mothers, full of glee and, of course, fish.

Trailing towards the year’s nadir, it has been, literally, a rubbish year. That is to say a year’s end concerned with rubbish, trash, garbage, waste. There, sitting on my galvanised wire fence, above roaming predator height, one full week after my wife had placed it there before leaving for her job in Kuala Lumpur, was our rubbish.

Each increasingly fragrant day that dawned I thought, “Well, they’ll pick it up today, surely, just to clear it up before Christmas, they will, won’t they, yes of course, says I, they’ll never leave it over Christmas”, but, how wrong can one man be? It was approaching Christmas morning, when I realised that yes, the rubbish collectors would, indeed, leave our rotting discards stinking, fly ridden over Christmas, because, well, they had.

Normally my sympathies would have gone out to the loaders of rubbish, the heavers of waste and potential fathers of Lonnie Donegan, but the stench was getting beyond bearable and the feral dogs braver and braver by the day.

The kampong gossip factory slipped into gear to deliver a myriad, and one, reasons why the rubbish collection had ceased. Arguments with bomohs, striking private labourers, dismantled waste truck – stories abounded.

Next door Pakcik, oracle and news vendor to the kampong, informed my wife, upon her return after one week of working in Kuala Lumpur, that the rubbish truck, was just that – a rubbish truck, and had been towed away to be fixed.

A fitting climax to another remarkable year, some might say, and they would be right – let us see what a fresh year holds.

Cinema in Paradiso?


by Yusuf Martin

Perak once again rings to the unique, and some might say quite mystifying, sounds of camera tracks being laid, spotlights being erected, dollies being pushed, best boys, props masters, carpenters, costume designers, an earnest producer wrangling and an eminent director directing. Yes, the illustrious and industrious film people are back in town.

For more than a delicious decade Perak has been a favoured spot for enterprising film crews, be they TV or cinematic. Malaysia’s lushly green and mountainous state draws eagle-eyed location hunters like bees to nectar, mainly due to its immense natural beauty, and because it still has enough antique buildings left standing to represent any number of bygone ages. Though, at the present rate of ‘renovation’ and upgrading, one wonders if Ipoh and its surrounds will have any aged buildings left the next time a film company comes to call.

Back in the early 1990s, a Gitane smoking, baguette munching French film crew descended upon Perak, bringing the illustrious, and, I for one, might also say quite delectable, Catherine Deneuve with them. There they made that masterpiece of French cinema – Indochine (1992).  It is rumoured that a certain Robert Raymer, Malaysian writer- par excellence, also had a cameo role in that film. Time moves inextricably on and a little later the English film Director John Boorman brought Patricia Arquette to Perak, to shoot Beyond Rangoon (1995).

Anna and the King with Chinese actor Chow Yun Fat followed in 1999. Local film maker Amir Mohammad made his, subsequently banned, The Last Communist, here, released unseen in 2006, while another local boy, local to Ipoh that is – Patrick Teoh, TV/movie star, writer and former radio personality, starred in Kinta 1881 (2007), also made around Perak. In the very same year Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon man, Ang Lee, got us all hot and bothered by filming Lust, Caution (2007) in and around Ipoh’s old town. Maybe the kopi drew him.

Now it is the turn of local film and TV director Bernard Chauly, Red Communications and Astro TV, who are making an eight-part series concerning the Second World War heroine, mid-wife and resistance fighter Sybil Kathigasu. 

Filming started recently in Papan, utilising local traditional houses as well as the actual building where Sybil had set up her dispensary and, later, free clinic. Bernard Chauly, known for his recent film Pisau Cukur (Gold Digger, 2009), and Goodbye Boys (2006) has brought Elaine Daly, former Miss Malaysia (2004), known for her numerous film and TV roles, to play the role of the brave Sybil Kathigasu. This is entirely fortuitous, as Ms Daly is a dim distant relative of Sybil’s.

The Astro Citra eight piece series, of one-hour episodes, which incidentally forms part of the Suatu Ketika (a Time in the Past) sequence, has a working title of Apa Dosa Ku (What is my Sin).  This new TV series follows Sybil from the Japanese occupation of Ipoh, to its eventual liberation, by the British.  The TV series comes after the enormously successful theatre production – Sybil, which was a two-act play directed by Dato Faridah Merican (2008) based upon Sybil’s collective memoirs – No Dram of Mercy (1954).

In October of 2009 a resounding call went out for local participants to appear at auditions in November. Actors, extras, Eurasians, Chindians, Malays, Indians and an assortment of other races were needed to appear in this new production of the Sybil story. Many came but few were chosen. One local enthusiast, Audrey Poh, Ipoh book club member, part founder of Perak Heritage Society, former committee member and secretary of the Perak Society of Performing Arts answered that call. In the Red Communications production for Astro Citra, Audrey girds her loins to play Sybil’s best friend, and the godmother to Olga, Sybil’s older daughter.

Law Siak Hong, esteemed current president of Perak Heritage Society, creator and curator of the Papan museum for everything Sybil, has been working closely with producer Angela Rodrigues, director Bernard Chauly and their hard working film crew, to make everything run as smoothly as possible during the shooting for the production.

Contrary to what I have written above, the Red Communications film crew have been diligently subtle in their approach to film making, perhaps adhering to Star Trek’s Prime Directive (Starfleet’s General Order #1) of non-interference.  Despite the film crew working in the town, Papan is barely disturbed. It is only the interior ‘shots’ which require some minute disruption to daily lives, with puzzled house residents looking on, perhaps somewhat bemused by the coming and goings.

‘Apa Dosa Ku’ (What is my sin) airs on Astro Citra channel in March 2010. It is an eight-part series, of one-hour episodes, under the Suatu Ketika banner.

Who knows, maybe, someday, someone might make a film of Tash Aw’s The Harmony Silk Factory, set in and around the Kinta Valley.