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Cover Story: What’s Trending in Ipoh

By Nabilah Hamudin, Tan Mei Kuan, Ili Aqilah and Khaleeja Suhaimi

Just as we always enter the New Year with new resolutions, the same goes for our beloved city and its people. Every year, the preferences of Ipohites grow, change and evolve with the trends – from lifestyle to food and fashion.

Another year, another time to bring inspiration into fruition! Let’s see what trends will most likely take over Ipoh this year!

Current and Upcoming Trends

Food…Home Restaurants

As more homes are being turned into restaurants and cafes, we figured that this trend is going to continue evolving in the long run. Therefore, we interviewed a few of these restaurant owners to find out what made them choose a house instead. Is it the vibe, or the affordable rent, or even the space? Let’s see!

Laksa Leaf

“Laksa Leaf is Nyonya style. When you think of the Nyonya culture, you’d imagine coming home to your grandmother’s cooking. That’s what happened to me when I was a kid, I came home to eat her homemade preparations. So that’s what Laksa Leaf is all about. It’s meant to make you feel at home,” explained Head Chef, Ooi Yan Sheng.

In this case, we (customers) are the kids coming home to Laksa Leaf for comfort food. Ooi believes that this trend started off in Ipoh and Penang before picking up in a lot of other places. He mentions that the wide variety of historical landmarks play a role in shaping this trend. When a tourist visits these home-based restaurants, the familiarity and nostalgia evoked makes them feel warm and welcome.

“The only challenge is getting noticed. And the limited parking. As we were previously operating in a shopping mall, we feel the vast difference. Operating in a house lets us focus more on the freshness of food. The lighting is good too. Now who doesn’t fancy natural lighting in cafes?” Ooi remarked.

De Bois Cafe

Owner of De Bois Cafe, Ashraf Hissan believes turning a home into a restaurant set customers at their comfort zone and makes them feel as if they are dining at their own homes. Their goal at De Bois is to treat their customers as guests, the same way we get invited over by a friend for tea.

“We emphasise a lot on the team’s relationship with our guests. We treat them with respect, love and passion in order to make them feel closer to us and the cafe itself. Our concept focuses more on the peaceful environment and the space,” Ashraf explained.

Ashraf’s biggest challenge at De Bois is to coordinate the team’s various skills and bring it to a satisfactory level. He constantly keeps up with the trends of other cafes to shape a good management and ensure that De Bois has their own identity. For him, home restaurants and cafes are only just beginning to bloom in Ipoh. Therefore, he puts himself at the start of a racing line.

For well-known Italian restaurant owner, Dato’ Dr Wenddi Anne Chong, having Marianis@7 as a home restaurant was a blessing in disguise. The property came unexpectedly through a business deal. When they decided to move out of De Garden, the property was being commercialised by the government so they took the chance and moved Marianis@7 there.

“We never really gave much thought to a home restaurant but after moving, we figured that the layout of the bungalow was really convenient. It enables us to have private rooms and corners that we didn’t have before,” she said.

The cosy and warm setup are sure to give customers a true ‘trattoria’ vibe. Wenddi feels that home restaurants are definitely the in thing at the moment and people prefer the ambience and environment of a home restaurant rather than the usual one.

Apart from restaurant and cafe owners, we also probed public opinion on this trend. Ipohite Arravin Asokan who is currently working in Penang says that it saves a lot of space and rent. Also, people like the idea of dining in a vintage kind of environment, full of atmosphere.

For student Amira Hanis, the concept itself is an attraction for locals and tourists. It would interest people more if the interior had more antique elements to it.

“The feeling of walking into a grand restaurant and a home restaurant are two whole different emotions. When you step foot into a fancy restaurant, it feels more upmarket or grand. You even have to dress accordingly sometimes. However, when you walk into a home restaurant, it’s like coming back home after a long day no matter where you’re from,” Amira continued.

“I think it’s a good way of saving cost. A lot of people like this concept because it gives a very cosy ambience. People also enjoy it because the space is limited and you don’t have to eat at a place too crowded. It leaves you feeling laid back too,” shared Yew Pei Qi.

Other home restaurants and cafes in Ipoh include Opëam (upmarket), Purple Moon LoverPetit Mary PatisserieMomofuguThumbs CafeKaratOlijascaSTG Tea HouseIndulgence (grand), The Secret Garden and more.

Thumbs CafeSTG Tea House

Sports…SUKMA and Sultan Azlan Shah Cup

This year will see Perak, Ipoh in particular, hosting two major sports events; the 27th Sultan Azlan Shah Cup: Men’s International Hockey Tournament (SAS 2018) and the 19th Sukan Malaysia (SUKMA).

The 19th (XIX) SUKMA is scheduled from September 12 to 22. Sports categories in the tournament will include Weight-Lifting, Aquatic, Badminton, Cycling, Football, Gymnastic, Hockey, Karate, Lawn Bowls, Archery, Sailing, Squash, Silat, Taekwondo, Tenpin Bowling, Wushu and more.

This will be the second time for Perak to host SUKMA, the first was in 1994. For SUKMA XIX the venues will be located all around the 10 districts: Hulu Perak, Kuala Kangsar, Kinta, Kampar, Batang Padang, Muallim, Hilir Perak, Perak Tengah, Manjung, Larut, Matang, Selama and Kerian.

In Ipoh alone, there will be fourteen different sports categories such as athletics, aquatic, badminton, gymnastics (and gymrama), cycling, field hockey, sepak takraw, squash, lawn bowls, tenpin bowling, rugby, shooting, basketball and cricket.

With an almost RM1.7 billion budget allocated for the new and re-constructions of venues, this has got to be an event not to be missed by anyone especially when it becomes a mission of Menteri Besar Dato’ Seri DiRaja Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir to popularise sports among Perakeans.

In conjunction with SUKMA XIX, Ministry of Sports has also budgeted a total of RM11 Milion to repair the damage to the timber track at Velodrome Rakyat that will be the venue for track cycling during SUKMA XIX.

As for SAS 2018, this year we will be seeing seven countries including host, Malaysia,  competing against one another. The other six participating countries include last year’s runner up Australia, Argentina England, India, Pakistan and Ireland. The tournament is scheduled to be held from March 2 to 10. Last tournament saw Malaysia placed fifth out of six after beating Japan.

The Speedy Tigers team have had its up and downs since the last SAS Cup in 2017, however, the boys have done well with several tournaments especially when they won the fourth spot in the semi-final in the World Hockey League (WHL) in London where they have automatically secured a place to compete in the 2018’s Men Hockey World Cup held from November 28 till December 16 at Bhubaneswar India.

However, will the Speedy Tigers be able to give their best with one star player missing? Last month saw the shocking news that broke the hearts of many Malaysian hockey fans when goalkeeper S. Kumar failed his doping test. Kumar, who has been representing the country for 295 times in the last 18 years will provisionally be suspended for two years. He was found with traces of Sibutramine, an appetite suppressant that is used as an adjunct of treatment of obesity along with diet and exercise. The substance has been banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency.

While the case is still in hearing, hopefully this will not affect the Malaysia Men Hockey team to perform their best in the SAS 2018 Cup.

Heritage Conservation… Private Museums

Today we are witnessing the popping up of private museums as a form of heritage preservation, each with its own unique collections to stir the interest of the present generations. Here is the rundown of the private museum boom, from the latest galleries to the earlier ones.

Miniature Wonders Art Gallery

The latest arrival to the scene is the Miniature Wonders Art Gallery which houses dough figurine sculptures depicting Chinese history, folklore and legend. Operational since  November 2017, everything is handmade by Ipohite Phoon Lek Kuin, the curator of the space, and his father-in-law. It took them five years to complete and prior to that another two years of research. The Ipoh boy believes that his gallery is the first of its kind in the country.

Miniature Wonders Art Gallery

One of the astounding masterpieces is inspired by the well-known painting of Zhang Zeduan, an artist of the Song Dynasty titled ‘Along the River during the Qingming Festival’ which vividly captures the thriving lives of the people in the said dynasty in the capital city of Bianjing. It is brought to life in a three-dimensional, 17-metre display encompassing 547 dough figurines, 64 houses, 82 trees, 23 boats, 18 trolleys, 57 animals and over 3000 props.

Another must-see is ‘The Monkey King Caused Havoc in Heavenly Palace’ in which 100 tiny figurines were painstakingly crafted within only half a walnut shell. Equally detailed are the pieces telling the story of making ‘Terracotta Warriors and Horses’ and ‘Tang Dynasty Royal Banquet’ showcasing the golden age of cosmopolitan culture.

When asked on the objectives of his gallery, he shared, “First of all, handmade arts and crafts are dying. Secondly, we hope that visitors will learn about history via art.” According to Phoon, more miniatures will be made to reflect the Middle East, Western and Malaysian history.

At RM5 for admission per person, it is open from 8.30am to 6pm daily. More elaboration on this art gallery and Phoon’s passion in the next issue, stay tuned!

Address: 49 Jalan Market, 30000 Ipoh.
Facebook: Miniature Wonders Art Gallery

Koo Kee Gallery

Ipoh Echo also spoke to Ipoh-born See Kok Shan, the curator of Koo Kee Gallery which displays lifestyle-related relics that he has collected over 10 years.

Open since May, the response has been great with many outstation visitors of all ages swinging by. With artefacts hailing all the way from the 50s to 80s, there are sections showcasing the history of Old Town, Ipoh and tin mining. Upcoming ones will feature history of World War 2, Japanese Occupation and Merdeka (independence).

Koo Kee Gallery

Musical oldies playing in the background evoke nostalgic memories as you browse through the collection of cassettes, vinyl records, film cameras, transport tickets, black-and-white photographs, calendars, kitchenware, toys, trinkets, money boxes, banknotes and coins.

See gave Ipoh Echo a sneak peek at a tailor corner which was part of the living room concept in the 60s and 70s. “My vision is to make every space look as real as possible with plenty of photo opportunities,” he explained, citing the print advertisements from the different eras as his favourite.

The private gallery is 80% completed, thus entrance is currently free. It opens from 9am to 4.30pm (closed on Tuesdays). Looking forward to its official launch!

Address: 23 Jalan Panglima, 30000 Ipoh (at the second floor plus a half storey)
Facebook: Koo Kee Old Town

22 Hale Street

In our previous cover story (IE272), we wrote on 22 Hale Street, two adjoining buildings located in the heart of Ipoh’s Old Town. The buildings reflect two different designs of two different decades, one formerly the townhouse of Ali Pitchay, the Chief Sanitary Inspector of Kinta in the 1940s and the other used to be Kam Kong Hotel, the last surviving hotel on this street.

22 Hale Street

It was officially launched on August 31. Retaining the spirit of place via meticulous conservation, it has quickly become a favourite community space thanks to a cafe offering delectable local specialties on the ground floor and a hall upstairs which is hired out for exclusive events. It is also in the process of setting up a heritage gallery to tell the story of Ipoh Old Town. Check out issue 272 for more details! Or visit: https://www.ipohecho.com.my/v4/article/2017/12/16/bringing-back-soul-to-old-town

Address: 22 Jalan Tun Sambanthan, 30000 Ipoh.
Facebook: 22 Hale Street

Han Chin Pet Soo

Han Chin Pet Soo, the Hakka Miners’ Club Museum has been voted as being in the top 1% of world attractions alongside Malaysia’s heavies, the Islamic Museum and Melaka’s Peranakan House. Managed by Ipoh World Sdn Bhd (ipohWorld) and opened in February 2015, after extensive restoration, the museum tells the story of the miners’ club, founded by philanthropic tin miner Leong Fee in 1893.

Han Chin Pet Soo

The new museum quickly gained international fame, appearing on an Australian travel website after only two months of operation and becoming Ipoh’s number one ‘Things to do’ on TripAdvisor just three months later.

Commander Ian Anderson has put his heart and soul into the conservation and refurbishment of the museum, leaving no stone unturned in his search in every nook and cranny all over Perak for just the right artifact and the perfect accoutrement for setting a scene or finding skilled craftsmen to restore period pieces.

The museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday with up to eight sessions per day which can be conducted in Mandarin, Cantonese, Malay or English. Book your preferred time slot at www.ipohworld.org/reservation.

Address: 3 Jalan Bijeh Timah (Treacher Street), 30100 Ipoh.
Facebook: ipohWorld

Tourism… Airbnb

The phenomena of offering a property for short-term stay has caught on like wildfire in the past few years, in Ipoh. Back in the day, Ipoh used to have only hotels and homestay owners renting out their homes to vacationers and travellers just so they could appreciate some good sun and food in the town that tin built.

This time however, property owners and holidaymakers have technology on their side! Advertising your homes has been made so much easier as home-sharing services like Airbnb has become a hit among Malaysians and even Ipohites. People can now simply advertise their homes so strangers too can find as much comfort as we do in our own homes.

In 2016, the hotel industry had claimed that five to 15 percent of their business is being diverted to their home sharing rivals – Airbnb.

Let’s see what Ipohites and the Airbnb owners in Ipoh have to say about this:

For Nurul Amirah Razak, 29, who prefers to stay in Airbnb while travelling, found that with Airbnb, she can get cheaper rates from the owners, as compared to hotels.

“It’s true as their operating costs are smaller, compared to hotels. And for Airbnb, they have fixed rates whether its peak season like school holidays or not.”

Another Ipohite, Ahmad Fikiri, 26, said he will definitely opt for Airbnb for travelling. “My family is big and Airbnb has eased our problems when travelling. My mother can cook too to save costs,” he said.

However, according to Sam Cheah, President of Malaysian Association of Hotels, the growing popularity of such home-sharing platforms like Airbnb are a threat to the hotel industry.

An Airbnb owner in Ipoh, who only wanted to be named as Amelia told Ipoh Echo that the response from the locals and foreigners are encouraging.

Started the business in 2015, she said that she had customers who rented apartments worldwide. “It feels so multicultural and while they are enjoying their stay here, they also share with me some insights of their home lives,” she said.

Most of her customers said that her apartment is clean and the location is convenient to famous eateries in Ipoh.

The reason that led to her exploring this less conventional income source was due to purchasing an apartment of her own whilst still living with her parents. Instead of leaving it idle, Amelia decided to earn extra income out of it.

“This was actually a temporary situation as I was more interested in long-term rentals. Unfortunately, property rental hasn’t been doing too well in Ipoh, so this was an amazing alternative.

It would be normal for homeowners to worry as to whether the guests staying over would leave their homes in a bad condition; fortunately for Amelia, her experience so far has been great. She shared how most times, her place is left nearly spotless as she believes her guests treat her apartment as they would their own.

As new trends pop up and Ipoh finds itself flowing and following, it is wise to pay heed to the following quote:

“Popularity is no boast. From politics to fashion, history has shown popularity is, too often, just a loud celebration of a common ignorance.” Kerry Cue, Forgotten Wisdom

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Tan Mei Kuan

Tan Mei Kuan graduated with first-class honours and book prize from University of Malaya majoring in languages and linguistics (English). She is proficient in both written and spoken English and Malay. She is also conversant in Mandarin and has knowledge of Japanese and Korean languages. Mei Kuan has been on the Dean’s List for three years running. Having written for the campus newspaper and residential college magazine, joining Ipoh Echo has helped utilise her writing and language skills. In her spare time she enjoys running (races).

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