By Fathol Zaman Bukhari
“You’re being short-changed. Get KL to pump in money into Perak and not somewhere else”, said renowned writer and regional analyst, Karim Raslan, to the Who’s Who of Perak at a dinner recently. Karim was delivering a talk entitled, “Ipoh, the Soul of Malaysia” at Syuen Hotel, Ipoh on January 15. It was Karim’s second appearance as a guest speaker at the Perak Academy forum. The first was in March 2003, a rare honour indeed for someone who is an Ipohite by definition but a KL-ite by default.
“They like to dismiss my views as something incoherent coming from a Mat Salleh celup”, Karim remarked in jest. His reference to his mixed Malay-English parentage helped bring down the invisible barrier separating speaker from listeners. And once rapport was established there was no stopping this very charming and articulate English-speaking gentleman from connecting with his audience.
The subject, in all honesty, was a misnomer as Ipoh is definitely not the soul of Malaysia. Based on what transpired that evening a more appropriate title would have been, “How to bring back the shine to Ipoh”. Karim acknowledged that the title was a little off the mark. Having steered the audience back on to the right track, he chided them for failing to make demands from the new BN-led state government. “Make your politicians work, otherwise it’ll be business as usual.”
He recalled candidly his youthful days watching horses racing on the turf club track across his house in Thompson Road. “The ground would shake as horses and riders passed by.” It speaks volumes of his attachment to Ipoh.
Karim felt that the history and rich heritage the city possessed had not been fully optimised to bring in tourist dollars. “There’s Old Town, tasteful colonial buildings and limestone hills. Pretty sights to soothe the eyes and fill the coffers”, he enjoined. He blamed the business community for not doing enough to harness these opportunities. When told that privateers were not entirely blameworthy, he responded by imploring them to get the authorities over to their side. A little cajoling would do the trick, he insisted.
The introduction of air flights from Singapore and Medan, Karim reasoned, provided the connectivity required in bringing moneyed foreigners into Ipoh. Health tourism was another sector to be explored as medical facilities available here are at par and much cheaper compared to KL and Penang. “Although many may not want Ipoh to be a haven for retirees and the sickly, Ipohites have to accept the fact that these people have money to dispose.” And with disposable income comes economic activities which the city is so deprived. “Try to find ways to bring the people back to the City”, Karim exhorted. He was right Ipohites are overtly concerned for their personal well being rather than the economic wealth of their city. A paradigm shift is necessary to change habits and perceptions. And time is of the essence.
The “Allah” issue inadvertently drifted into the discussion. It was to be expected as the eager listeners were keen on hearing Karim’s take on UMNO’s handling of the situation. “There’s a sense of paranoia”, said Karim believing that the ruling party has lost all sense of direction. “UMNO is making PAS look so sensible.”
Karim was in his element and the audience was thrilled to bits. It was one eventful evening for all those who came to listen and for the movers and shakers who were there that evening, it might be wise to take heed of Karim’s admonition in his blog in Malaysian Insider imploring Ipohites that:
‘There are so many opportunities for Ipoh to reinvent itself, and it needs to choose one, focus on it in order to reclaim its original vitality.
The state’s leaders must be put on notice. They must turnaround the city and state or they will be ejected. There can be no compromise: being a nice guy just ain’t good enough. Dynamism and energy are required if Ipoh is to regain its “groove”.
Finally, Ipoh is yet another example of a multi-racial city (not unlike Kota Kinabalu and Kuching) that’s achieved a serene and harmonious balance. KL-ites tend to sniff rather contemptuously at the provincial capitals and yet the brilliance of multi-racial Malaysia is locked in these sleepy towns. We need to remember this before it’s too late’ Malaysian Insider Jan 23.