Connexion: How Concubine Lane can become a world tourist spot

By Joachim Ng 

Billed as Ipoh old town’s most famous tourist attraction, Concubine Lane to any local person resembles a daytime pasar malam with the mundane display of clothing, hats, ladies’ accessories, handbags, toys, and of course, food.

The welcome Heritage Trail stone plaque at the entrance beckons you with a recalling of the lane’s history since 1908. But when you stroll down the lane, you find very few historical displays.

The word “heritage” is synonymous with culture. So where are the cultural displays? Europe is a world tourist destination because every country there has found that culture brings in the money.

A 116-year lane ought to be a nostalgic showcase of the tapestry of changing lifestyles and fashions in Malaysia from decade to decade since the 1900s, attracting international tourists. As we get deeper into Visit Perak Year 2024, it is high time to consider ways to turn Concubine Lane into a world destination spot.

One way to do it is perhaps to weave the past, present, and future together into a seamless pattern by creating a story.

The storyboard can feature life in the past and how it has shaped our lives now. It may conclude by showing how the past and present experiences can be used to shape a better future for Malaysia and the world.

Artifacts of the 20th century are readily available and many can be copied so smartly that they become attractive display items for homes, offices, galleries, shops, hotels, and restaurants. Concubine Lane can be a hot spot to buy such items. All the existing traders can be retained on condition that they switch their products to align with the story theme.

What should be the story theme? It is the story of Ipoh, a story centered on inclusive human diversity and biodiversity. Ipoh was formerly known as Paloh, and its history began as an Orang Asli settlement that later became a Malay tin mining area.

Chinese immigrants sailing up the Kinta River found the settlement attractive because of its numerous surrounding limestone hills and started thriving businesses. When dredges were introduced, the Chinese expanded into tin mining. Indian immigrants also flocked to Paloh to conduct trading in carpets, silk fabrics, bedspreads, and other household goods. They also worked in the rubber plantations.

The story of Ipoh then, now, and in the future must come alive with dramatic multicultural presentations staged by dancers, singers, and musicians. A promotion fee can be levied on the stalls and restaurants to pay for these shows, with government subsidy.

As tourists can enter Concubine Lane from either end, the first stalls they see ought to feature Orang Asli handicraft and drawings of their ancient forest lifestyle (with price tags, of course).

Walk further on and tourists should encounter displays of Malay traditional crafts, dress styles, and cuisine delicacies from all the peninsular states.

At the next stop, tourists may now catch a glimpse of the Chinese and Indian lifestyles of the early 20th century. Imitation 1920s-1960s products and dishes cooked according to old recipes can be sold.

The two sides heading towards the centre should parallel each other in their heritage features but must not duplicate each other in regard to items on display and sale. They must be different so that tourists will be thrilled to enjoy a double exposure to Malaysia’s inclusive diversity as they walk from one end of Concubine Lane to the other.

What ought to be the centerpiece display? It should be a biodiversity zone with focus on the now and the future. What’s happening now? Sunny days are getting hotter and hotter. What’s coming around the bend? The crystal ball is getting hazy.

Yes, the final page of our storyboard should expand on the theme of inclusive diversity to emphasise that preservation of biodiversity is an integral part of inclusivity. Biodiversity is shrinking at a rate that many scientists fear will trigger a mass extinction that will also imperil the future of humanity.

At last count, human destruction of natural habitats has already caused the extinction of 73 genera of vertebrate creatures. Each genus (singular of genera) is a large grouping of species. Zoom in and the data shows that the wild populations of monitored animal species have fallen by more than 70%, particularly in tropical regions.

The New York Times has declared that the average global rate of extinction is up to 1,000 times that of the natural extinction rate of one species per every million species per year. The total number of species is estimated to be more than 100 million, and Knowledge magazine has reported that the current rate of loss is up to 140,000 species per year.

And how are we doing in Malaysia? That great emblem of our wildlife, the Malayan tiger, is growling as it slinks into the sunset to join the Sumatran rhinoceros. Less than 150 tigers are left, whereas there were 3,000 in the 1950s. The sole surviving rhino in Malaysia died four years ago. With the rhino gone, 22 plant species will likely go extinct as they depend on the rhinos to disperse their seeds.

The orang utan? There are only 11,000 individuals left in Sabah, whereas in the past their population exceeded 100,000. If they are completely wiped out, some 500 plant species will be endangered.

In severe decline is the sun bear, with its numbers falling by more than 30% over just three decades. The sun bear plays an important ecosystem role as they find termites to eat by scraping off their nests around tree barks and hence saving the trees from dying because termites feed on the wood fibre inside.

Traders in the biodiversity zone of Concubine Lane can sell household items made in the likeness of or with images of the tiger, rhino, the orang utan, and sun bear.

An emerging global insect apocalypse will drastically reduce the ability of humankind to build a sustainable future. Insects of all types provide services including pollination, pest control, fruit seed dispersal, and nutrient recycling, in addition to serving as food for birds, fishes, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, sun bears, and orang utans. Birds are also pollinators enabling the production of fruits as food for animals and humans.

Insects pollinate almost 90% of wild plants and more than 75% of global crops. But threats from natural habitat loss, global warming induced by greenhouse gas emissions, all forms of pollution especially heavy metal pollution, concrete sprawl, industrial farming, and pesticide use have exterminated between 250,000 and 500,000 insect species.

The drop in insect biomass has reached a shocking 76%, and the biomass is declining annually by 2.5%. Only pest insects such as the Aedes mosquito are thriving because they have evolved to depend on humans for breeding and food. However, these pests increase the frequency of microbial attacks on us, and killer diseases such as dengue fever may become uncontrollable. The natural predators of these pests are vanishing.

The chemicals we use in artificial pest control and farming are destroying butterflies that play an essential role in the continuing propagation of flowering plants. Bees pollinate crop plants, but their numbers are also falling sharply. As butterflies and bees possess appeal, the biodiversity zone can sell butterfly-shaped and bee-shaped accessories and arty display items.

Graphic exhibits conveying vital biodiversity information will make the visit to Concubine Lane truly memorable. Right at the centre spot should be a “Call for Action” sign. Species extermination at current rate has only one cause — human activity. Each one of the 8 billion humans is responsible and accountable, not just the rich but also the poor.

Human population growth necessitates destruction of wildlife habitats, as we need land for additional housing, agriculture, industry, transportation links, and commerce. The global human population is expected to reach 9 billion before 2050 and 10 billion by 2070. At that number, the heavenly hosts will play a funeral march for the planet.

Scientists in the know insist that births in all nations and all communities within nations must not exceed the replacement rate. That’s to say, all families must not exceed a quota of three children only: two to replace the parents who will eventually die, and a third child to balance off against deaths of non-parents from sicknesses and accidents.

These scientists have discovered through laborious site investigations that the primary cause of species extermination is not climate change but human encroachment. As humans keep pushing their boundaries, other species keep withdrawing and eventually die off. Climate change is just an effect of resource overuse by continuously expanding human populations.

At the “Call for Action” spot, every young couple should be asked to pledge a commitment to bear at most three children. To spur action, a signboard should display the ecological footprint of the world and all nations. The ecological footprint is a formula that measures whether a population is overusing the natural resources available to it.

The measurement divides the biocapacity or the capacity of ecosystems to sustain life by the number of people using natural resources. The figure is expressed in global hectares. Malaysia’s biocapacity is 2.29 global hectares (gha) per capita. But Malaysia’s ecological footprint is 3.91 gha.

This means we have a biocapacity deficit. We are overusing natural resources by 1.7 times because of non-stop population expansion, and the Call for Action must reach out to all young Malaysian couples. Unless there is firm global resolve, Malaysia and the human world are very unlikely to witness the dawn of the 22nd century.



Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Ipoh Echo

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