Ipoh’s Iconic Tree Uprooted

By Fathol Zaman Bukhari

Inclement weather during this inter-monsoonal period is wreaking havoc in Ipoh. The city is constantly hit by storms punctuated by strong gales and heavy downpours. The phenomenon, according to experts, is caused by climate change, a popular phrase to describe the change in weather patterns attributed to the increase in carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. Whether this is the cause or not, it has yet to be proven insofar as Ipoh is concerned.

Notwithstanding that, it is a cause for concern, as of today a life was lost and some properties were damaged.

An old rain tree along Jalan Raja Nazrin Shah (Jalan Gopeng) and fronting Symphony Suites Hotel was uprooted during an unusually heavy thunderstorm on Friday, April 22. The tree fell on a car which was on the Ipoh-Simpang Pulai side of the road. A lady passenger was mortally wounded. It took personnel from the fire department awhile to remove the mangled body from the wrecked Proton Wira. The car’s two other occupants, the lady’s husband and a child were unharmed but were badly shaken.

On Friday, April 28 at around noontime, strong winds claimed another victim. This time it was the lone-standing Ipoh Tree, one of the city’s many landmarks located at the edge of the open space in front of the railway station. The tree, a tribute to Ipoh’s namesake, was planted on January 18, 1980 by the former Menteri Besar of Perak, the late Dato’ Seri Hj Wan Mohamed Hj Wan Teh on the occasion of Rotary Club of Ipoh’s 50th anniversary.

The iconic tree was uprooted with its unsightly roots exposed for all to see. It was an inglorious end to a grand old tree that had stood its ground for over 37 years. Makes one wonder why an important landmark, a piece of living history, was not accorded the care it truly deserved? Why was it allowed to stand on its own without any buttress and reinforcement? Why no attempt was made to ensure its well-being and its continued existence? There are many questions but, as always, answers are not forthcoming. Ipoh City Council has plenty to answer for but don’t raise your hopes too much.

The best one Council officer could muster was a feeble, “It’s God’s will” – the classic Samy Velu’s response to the many landslides that occurred along Karak Highway and Genting Highlands during his tenure as the works minister. He blamed God for the unpredictable weather that caused the mishaps. That is the easiest way out.

There is another Ipoh Tree in Taman DR Seenivasagam. I don’t know its exact age but it is old, perhaps older than the one at the railway station. Is this piece of history kept in its original condition? I have no way of telling.

The absence of a qualified horticulturalist on Ipoh Council’s payroll compounded the problem. That explains the current state of mind at the Council. When less-developed cities like Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Vientiane have established a system to keep tabs on their trees, Ipoh has none. This is in spite of an attempt at registering trees at Ipoh’s popular public park, Polo Ground, a few years back when a furor over some missing and damaged trees made the headlines.

The Council’s overstretched and understaffed Landscape Department is responsible for overseeing tree-planting and tree-maintenance in the city. How effective this department has been is debatable. I don’t wish to delve further, as its effectiveness is an open-ended question. When it comes to trees, it’s an ad hoc arrangement; one that has neither a beginning nor an ending. One time bougainvillea was the rage and then the Tecoma trees, picked for its colourful and fragrant flowers like the cherry blossoms. Wonder what comes next?

There is no viable landscape blueprint for the Council to fall back on when in doubt. It’s simply a do-as-I-tell-you dictate, much similar to what is happening in Putrajaya today. This rather awkward and amateurish method of keeping a tally on trees in the city is a non-starter as commitment, let alone accountability, is non-existent.

As for the fate of the fallen Ipoh Tree, I am told a new sapling will be planted in the vacant spot. Let’s hope the Council will give the plant its due diligence.

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