Ruth’s Regrets

In her interview with the Sunday Mail (March 29) Ruth Iversen Rollit said, “When I go back to Ipoh now I weep.”

Ruth is the daughter of Berthel Iversen, arguably Ipoh’s most famous architect. “They don’t maintain it. It’s dirty. It’s so beautiful previously because there was discipline. The buildings in Ipoh are left to crumble. My father built many cinemas in Ipoh….most of them have been turned into furniture depositories.”

Ouch! For an Ipoh born and bred, it hurts to have such things said about your town. But then Ipoh is also Ruth’s town, at least in her heart it is.  Untypical of a diplomat’s wife she has said what she felt in her heart without the usual diplomatic niceties. That’s what happens when you speak of something that is dear to you.

Unfortunately, not many of us do so. We who still live here are either blind, too apathetic, or fearful of authority that we clam up. And then there are those who should speak up because they represent us (even when we did not vote for them) and are paid by the people of Ipoh to do a job, refuse to do so because they fear offending the powers-that-be. Or maybe, they are just inept.

Those of us who are of Ruth’s vintage or even younger, remember a cleaner and better maintained Ipoh. Ipoh was known as the ‘cleanest town in Malaya’. Today we have potholed roads, rubbish is everywhere and many of our buildings are crumbling. And from my house I see smoke-stack industries billowing black clouds of smoke, polluting the town, yet are allowed to get away with it.

But it’s not just about crumbling buildings and dirty roads. The authorities don’t seem to have a sense of history. Buildings that reflect our past are allowed to be demolished or are left to crumble. Imagine while the Metropolitan Museum archives in London has records of Iversen’s plans, we have none. Yet I gather most of the plans are for buildings in Ipoh – it’s our legacy for heaven’s sake. It’s not just about records of the past. Even now we do not have a comprehensive plan to protect our heritage buildings – if we have a plan at all – for the future.

Having said so, at least the private sector has taken a recent interest in preserving some of the buildings in Old Town. Although it must be said that not all the attempts at ‘preservation’ have architectural integrity; most are driven by commercial considerations. But this is because City Hall has no ‘by-laws’ to protect heritage buildings.

It is not the only reason; but surely the fact that our City Councillors and Mayor are unelected has something to do with the unsatisfactory way Ipoh is being managed. The ‘discipline’ that was once there is totally absent. When you do not front up and are inaccessible, it’s easy to not have discipline. As a matter of fact a straw poll showed that most Ipohites don’t know who their mayor is, much less know what he looks like. And I challenge anyone to name our councillors.

I am sure many of us weep along with Ruth Iversen Rollit. At least she gets to go away but we live here. We should be bawling not silently weeping.

Yin Ee Kiong

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