By Joachim Ng
Perak is caught in an old-versus-new dilemma: to preserve our past, or protect our posterity. Planters and contractors want to reduce the jungle foliage so that estates can expand, and blast the limestone hills so that the supply of building materials keeps flowing. But naturalists and culturalists want to defend our prehistoric inheritance and cultural artefacts embedded in the forests and caves.
As you approach from the south, you will pass by Simpang Pulai, a crossroads town rich in Kinta history. Towering over some bright new clay roofs is the old majestic Gunung Lanno where a tussle is going on between quarry operators and cave explorers. Lanno is a source of wealth for the construction and housing industry, but it is also rich in biological fossils and historical artefacts.
Large wild cattle and fleet-footed deer once took shelter in the caves, leaving their bone fragments for today’s explorers to discover; in more recent times but some 120 years ago, pioneering youngster Chew Boon Juan got off to an early start at tin mining in Gunung Lanno. Explorers have found artefacts that speak of that era when Lanno was called the golden mountain.
Jalan Chew Boon Juan, near the centre of Ipoh city, is named after this intrepid miner who began his work life as a kitchen assistant. A good part of Ipoh’s cultural history has been well preserved at Chew Museum run by Ignatius Chew, the grandson of Boon Juan.
Perak seems unable to work out a fruitful relationship between modernity and history, muddling through both and excelling in neither. Even when a bright idea came along to marry the new and old, the honeymoon didn’t last long. Concubine Lane was a brilliant creation, but now on weekdays it is just another pasar malam street displaying so-ordinary fashion accessories.
The State Government needs to promote creative industries and ride on the global interest in heritage living. This concept is a spin-off from the agrarian lifestyle traditionally anchored on a fusion of old and young, a past-present-future amalgamation in a harmonious blend. Heritage living is a grand fusion of modernity with arts, culture, history, and primevalness expressed in a dozen ingenious ways. It has vast tourist appeal but requires sustained development, maintenance, and marketing effort for it to be successful.