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Revival of Market Lane via Arts and Culture

Cover Story

Story and pics by Tan Mei Kuan

Market Lane, also known as Third Concubine Lane, has its roots in the early days of tin mining. It was said to be brimming with brothels, gambling houses and opium dens in addition to family homes and small tradesmen’s workshops. Retained for commercial purposes, the historical lane was not as vibrant as the Second Concubine Lane (Panglima Lane) which has become a major tourist magnet. Until recently, when a spark of genius from a trio of passionate Ipohites turned the tide and Market Lane is experiencing a blossoming of activity that have locals and tourists alike flocking to this hub in the centre of Old Town.

Market Lane: The New Arts and Culture Hub

How it All Began

Here’s a little history on Market Lane. The 20-foot wide thoroughfare was touted as Third Concubine Lane in Chinese because word had it that the wealthy Towkay, Yau Tet Shin had kept his third ‘wife’ in one of the houses which lined the lane on both sides. Less narrow than its counterpart, the Second Concubine Lane, the Third Concubine Lane had a bustling yet harmonious setting. One anecdote from the 1920s mentioned the existence of a clog manufacturer, an aerated water factory, godowns, a grocery shop, a coffee shop, a wonton mee maker and hawkers galore, day and night. Since that time, Market Lane has settled into relative obscurity, outshone by Panglima Lane, the Second Concubine Lane.

The idea of having a culture and art corridor at Market Lane was conceived by Ipoh-born trio, Tan Kai Lek, Ewe Hock Seng and Chin Choon Yau, who are art enthusiasts or talented artists themselves. “We obtained permission and utmost support from the shop owners of the lane to hold such events there as they are not open for business on Sundays,” 50-year-old Tan explained to Ipoh Echo. All expenses were borne by the trio as they do not collect fees from anyone, a true reflection of their passion in the field.

“Being the organisers, seeing the participants and visitors having a great time gives us satisfaction. Even the shop owners are glad too. The whole ambience is joyful and inviting for every occasion. Our objective is to create a platform to showcase the talents and knowledge of Ipoh local artists so that it is appreciated,” he shared.

Culture and Art Corridor

After months of preparation, the first-of-its-kind corridor was held on Sunday, July 24 followed by another on Sunday, September 25 from 10am to 4pm. The attention to details by the committee is admirable as slabs of paving were brought in specifically to cover up the water drains for public safety. Plus, you would be amazed at the width and breadth of the display that made each event a great family day out. Ipoh Echo caught up with some of the exhibitors.

A lion and dragon-head maker, Teh Wing Liang is a master of the endangered art. “I have been crafting these for over 24 years. I picked up the skills all on my own when I joined the lion dance club back in Shen Jai School. It takes a lot of patience and creativity. For instance, for the lion head, it takes me around four days to complete while the dragon head needs a week,” the owner of Zhong Shen Trading told Ipoh Echo. Hence, it is no wonder that his clients hail from in and out of the country.

“There is a lot of interest but very few who are willing to learn,” he added. Teh can be contacted at 012 452 3287.

Another highlight was Urban Sketchers Ipoh, a non-profit hobby society running on the slogan, “Sketching Ipoh for Future Generations”. “Every week, we go around Ipoh to draw its building, people and lifestyle using charcoal, pen, watercolour, pencil and others. We get lots of response during the corridor all the way till 4pm,” Tony Chin, one of the members said. Masters and amateurs in art of all age groups are welcomed to join the club via their Facebook page: Urban Sketchers Ipoh. There is no fee.

At one corner, there was one particular booth always seen brimming with visitors. It was manned by the equally talented yet humble Wee Ong Chin, a 62-year-old retired headmaster from Pangkor Island who makes a wide array of traditional toys by hand, not for sale but to be given away, yes, you’ve heard it right – given away! Retired since 2014, he has done research on traditional toys for over 20 years. Looking at the toys, curiosity was piqued among the younger attendees while nostalgia was evoked among the older ones. “To introduce and promote traditional toys is valuable as it promotes systematic thinking in children,” he replied when asked about the purpose of his admirable effort and generosity.

Meanwhile, Tan Kai Lek carves old-world shops of Nanyang heritage found around Ipoh out of discarded wood. One could literally superimpose his carvings of shop houses which include Ho Yan Hor Herbal Tea, Ban Guan Lee Hardware and Electric, Bee Heng Cloth Dealer and Sun Yeong Wai Roasted Duck Restaurant to the real-life buildings as it looks identical! Priced at RM99 each, it is on display at Happy 8 in Old Town.

With the aroma of Yee Kong Coffee (established in 1974) roasting from one end and the music from the live traditional orchestra permeating from the opposite end of Market Lane, walking through the stretch of ancient buildings while basking in arts and culture is truly a blessing!

Mooncake Festival Parade

Another anecdote from the old days is that back in the 1920s, Market Lane acted like a playground for the children living in the neighbourhood. For instance, during the lantern festival, kids would gather with their respective lanterns and walk round the houses in the dark for thrills and excitement.

With the beauty of Malaysia’s ethnic diversity, people from all walks of life relived the fun by lighting up the night of Saturday, September 24 at Market Lane with many-hued lanterns distributed freely. M Bike, an Ipoh heritage rickshaw service, also made an appearance during the mooncake festival celebration.

Ernest Zacharevic’s wall mural entitled “Trishaw” at Market Lane became a favourite for lantern bearers, especially international tourists, for Instagram-worthy shots.

Tan and the committee also included the moon worship, dragon and lion dances as part of the lively affair. The night concluded with jazz numbers from the 50s and 60s.

The Response

Featured on national television, 8TV, the culture and art corridors as well as the parade have united people of multi ethnicities to promote arts and culture collectively. Each ended with plenty of cheers and precious memories.

“The response has been immense as the number of exhibitors has doubled up for the second corridor. We will continue to organise events in conjunction with festivals at Market Lane. There will definitely be more culture and art corridors, coming up!” Tan Kai Lek concluded.

Interested readers and artists can swing by their Facebook page at Culture & Art Corridor Market Lane Ipoh or contact Chin ChoonYau at 016 523 7771 for further details and the latest updates.


Creativity takes courage and it is inspiring how a brainchild of this energetic trio has revived our beloved Market Lane. Do come to experience it yourself at the next event.

Read the Ipoh Echo or go online to our Facebook page to keep updated on future events.

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