Ipoh Boleh!

Despite the searing heat I decided it was better to get out and about than to mope around the house and steam in my grouses about all that’s wrong with Ipoh…Now don’t start me on that!

I have been to all the nurseries twice over, the sales people in car showrooms know my face and they now ignore me. “Window shoppers not welcome” I can see the thought bubble above their heads. So I set off in my jalopy for Old Town. I have not been there for a while.

Parked my car outside where Whiteaways Laidlaw and later The Tin Mine pub used to be and walked past the old George Town Dispensary or what was once upon a time the George Town Dispensary. Now it’s empty and in a state of disrepair despite having been renovated not too long ago. Crossed Belfield Street to what used to be Star Barber, that whole row is now occupied by chic eateries. Just across the lane the corner shop is occupied by several stalls selling handicrafts, collectibles and magazines. At the entrance to the lane itself someone had snakes, gerbils and scorpions for patting and for taking photos with for a small charge. I turned towards Plan B where there were more stalls. There were some new items for sale but otherwise it’s the same old same old, except…

What broke the ice for me was Linni. She looked familiar, not the “I know her from somewhere” familiar, but the “I know where she is from” familiar. I was right she is Batak. Batak Simalem it turned out. We had a good natter. She works in the stall three days a week and the rest as a home help for her boss Ng Sook Peng.

Ng Sook Peng runs a craft stall which sells ceramics (figurines, bowls, etc.) which she makes herself. She also sells for other potters. The bowls and plates by her Japanese friend (who I am told lives locally), stood out. It’s only my financial strait that stopped me from buying.

Sook Peng also runs pottery classes. Apparently there are a handful of talented potters around.

Amelly runs the stall next to Sook Peng’s. The painting on the wall was what drew me. It’s by her friend who now works in Singapore but aspire to be a full time artist. Anyway she was so busy we had no time to chat but she made me promise to go back.

Round the bend I went, I mean literally, although my friends would say metaphorically, and right in front of me was the Yasmin Ahmad Museum. Three ringgit for going in which includes a Yasmin Ahmad film. I bought a book of Yasmin’s wisdom and witticisms. Our Yasmin batted every brickbat thrown at Ipoh, chastising those who look but do not see Ipoh’s worth – it’s people, earthy – unsophisticated if you like – but honest and shorn of the flim-flam of bigger cities like KL. She’s Ipoh’s adopted daughter. The two persons in charge of the tickets and books – Steven and Safia – were not just fans of Yasmin but also fans of Ipoh. Steven comes all the way from KL weekly.

Rachel runs performance arts classes for kiddies in the stall next to the museum. She has come to live in Ipoh – yes you guessed it – from KL. She can spot a gem when she sees one and has no thought of returning to sitting in traffic jams for half her working day.

To kill more time I went to Panglima Lane aka Second Concubine Lane across the road. They are almost finishing a structure there, which to put it mildly is incongruous with the street scape of the lane. This says something about the City Hall’s stand on heritage and conservation. In short, they seem to not have a stand. Someone has started a shop selling bling. The shop next to it sells coffee and homemade jam. Homemade with imported fruits. Why not local fruits? I asked. And why coffee all the way from Columbia while Sumatra produces great coffee, I couldn’t resist giving the place a plug.

Finally, I made my way back to Amelly’s. She left her friend to deal with the customers to speak with me. Amelly went to Yuk Choy (private) School in Ipoh. She was an Assistant Film Director. Against the persuasions of her friends to stay on she decided to return to Ipoh. Life is better here she reckons. She wants to do something for Ipoh she said. “Penang is established and a little sombong, KL she was dismissive of, Malacca is too commercialised. Ipoh is between Penang and KL and is unspoilt. “We can promote Ipoh!” she was convinced. That’s confidence for you! If only our Perak Tourism Board had such conviction.

Ipoh has many talented sons and daughters. There’s our Lat the cartoonist, Alexandra Wong the lifestyle columnist, Mariam Mokhtar the activist and columnist, Mano Maniam the actor, James Lee the film director best known for his film “My Beautiful Washing Machine” which won an award, and many more. All of them want “to make Ipoh better”.

And here I am griping, whingeing and ranting against the powers-that-be. I make no apologies for the latter, but at the end of the day what Ipoh becomes depends on us. If we want change we have to do it ourselves. Amelly and Rachel are young and passionate about what they want to do. Steven, Sook Peng, Safia are young at heart and are equally passionate. I have no doubt they will succeed; their success is also Ipoh’s success.

Yin Ee Kiong

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