Tag Archives: Perak Academy

Mark Soo’s Book Launched


A book launch, jointly hosted by Perak Academy and Areca Books in honour of Mark Yoi Sun Soo’s debut book, was held at Symphony Suites, Ipoh recently.

Entitled “My Days in the Sun”, the book is a memoir detailing Mark’s first 40 years of his life where he spent alternating between Hong Kong and Kampar, Malaya where his father’s family herbal medicine business was located. Mark witnessed firsthand the devastation of the Japanese Occupation (1942-1945) and the Malayan Emergency (1948-1960) that followed.

Mark Soo’s Book Launched

The author was born in Hong Kong in 1933. He studied medicine at the University of Hong Kong and earned his degree in 1957. He worked as a general practitioner in Ipoh amidst the carnage of the Emergency. Mark then decided on a career change by attending a specialist training in radiology at the Royal Free Hospital in London.

Upon completion of the training in 1967 he returned to Malaysia to work at Kuala Lumpur’s newly established University Hospital. Following the May 13 racial riots in 1969, Mark and his family migrated to Sydney, Australia where they remain till today.

Abdur Razzaq Lubis, the Director of Areca Books, who stood in for Tan Sri Khoo Kay Kim, in his opening remarks noted that Mark’s ability to recall vivid details of his life was largely due to him being a radiologist who had an eye for details.

The author commented on his book and his publisher. “This may be the first memoir written by a radiologist”, he quipped. Mark took a pot shot at his book’s editors by alluding to Stephen King.

“The editor is always right” he said, a quote attributed to the famous writer. This was in obvious reference to the many corrections made to his draft by the publisher’s over-zealous editorial team.

The ceremony was well attended. Over a hundred took time off to witness the hour-long event. Tan Sri Dr M. Mahadevan was given the honour to launch Mark’s book.


A Lesson in History


Dr Cheah Boon Kheng - A Lesson in HistoryDr Cheah Boon Kheng (pic right) presented a talk recently entitled, “Fact and Fiction in Contemporary Malaysian History: Some Dominant Themes” at the Ipoh Swimming Club. It was a dinner talk organised by Perak Academy, under its “Perak Lectures” series.

The speaker was formerly professor of history at University Sains Malaysia (USM) in Penang until retirement. He has since taken up visiting fellowships at the Australian National University, the University of Singapore, the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore and USM. Cheah is the author of several popular books, the latest being “New Perspectives and Research on Malaysian History” (2007).

In his talk, Cheah addressed three questions that have been raised by the Malaysian public lately. Was Malaya ever colonised? What was the role of the Malayan Communist Party in Malaysia’s independence? Should Malaysian school textbooks be revised?

Cheah gave his views on the topics debated. He concluded by saying that history is partial and no one has the last word on the subject.


Writing Novels and Short Stories


Popular local writer, Dr. Chuah Guat Eng, gave a talk on “How to Read and Write Short Stories and Novels” at the Ipoh Swimming Club recently. It was organised by Perak Academy under its Perak Lectures series. The audience consisted mainly of the young and not so young and most were there for a reason. They wanted to learn the basics of writing short stories. Some of the writer’s notable books are “Echoes of Silence”, “Days of Change” and “The Old House” – titles which were familiar to the eager listeners. Chuah’s presentation was packed with details on how to get started and useful pointers, especially for beginners and those who have an aversion to writing. It was laced with jokes and innuendos, which kept the 120-odd listeners glued to their seats. She paid tribute to great novelists such as E.M. Foster, Stendhal and Vladimir Nabokov while alluding to their writing styles and techniques. This inspired the crowd and judging from their mood, they had definitely benefited from the expose. The session ended with Chuah signing her books, which were on sale.


An Eventful Evening with The Indomitable Karim Raslan….


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.

Dripping from the Keg of Time


Kampong Tales

By Yusuf Martin

 It has been an odd year, a back and forth year, an uncertain but wonderful year.

In this past inequitable year, I shook warm hands with the local newspaper the Ipoh Echo, beginning an exciting new quest into the various New Years and beyond – with thanks to a certain generous woman, who has a penchant for antiquities and food.

2009 was also the year when Perak Academy, Perak Heritage Society and the oral history project all welcomed this mining pool wanderer, battered jeep and all, and entered my aging father-in-law’s voice into posterity.

This was the exceptional year when Gopeng got its very first museum – with grateful thanks to some very determined people – it was also the year when Gopeng nearly lost some of its old water pipe, amidst all kinds of wrangling and stubborn materialisms. It was in this fragile, unsettling year, that the last remaining tin dredge began to tilt on its base, threatening its previous stability, and stared into a distinctly unknowable future. It was a year in which rogues, bent on mischief elsewhere in Perak, sought to profit from collected historical artefacts.

As the last few dregs of the year were dripping from the keg of time, I was to recall that this was the year of my introduction to the still, quiet, tranquil wonders of Papan, and its fading beauty. Dodging Batu Gajah and its seller of the most remarkable mee rebus, I travelled, in my jeep, through lanes and roads to discover an altogether different type of feast, in the sumptuous museum at Papan. Although off the normal beaten track, the Papan museum is firmly wedged in Perak history as an historical site, with dedication to the war hero Sybil Kathigasu.

Ultimately, for me, it was a bookish year. It has been a year when several Perakian authors became published nationwide, and one book retracted. A year when I attended launches of books galore, yet encountering no book as illuminating, as a chunky, silver coloured tome explaining Ipoh and its shining history, from the age of tin.  This welcome launch came prefaced with a fascinating, evocative lecture, and a thought-provoking stroll down memory lane, amidst friends.

In many ways, it has been a glorious year. These twelve months have been the time in which I have listened to celestial music, produced by a cerebral local artist, and have vibrated to the stringed beat of Malaysian culture and her musical traditions. This has been the most extraordinary year, when I have met with artists, musicians, actors, directors and a whole host of very talented people – discovering, meanwhile, a distinct lack of acting ability within myself.

Ultimately, it has been another year of challenges. It has been a dizzy year, of ladders and cats on hot roofs. A time when I finally conquered my longstanding fear of heights, by extracting said cats from said roofs, and briefly considered a fresh career dressed in red and white, slipping down chimneys.

It was a most remarkably wet year, of floods, and children fishing in streets, hoisting immature black tilapia into convenient containers, running, or rather wading, back to their doting mothers, full of glee and, of course, fish.

Trailing towards the year’s nadir, it has been, literally, a rubbish year. That is to say a year’s end concerned with rubbish, trash, garbage, waste. There, sitting on my galvanised wire fence, above roaming predator height, one full week after my wife had placed it there before leaving for her job in Kuala Lumpur, was our rubbish.

Each increasingly fragrant day that dawned I thought, “Well, they’ll pick it up today, surely, just to clear it up before Christmas, they will, won’t they, yes of course, says I, they’ll never leave it over Christmas”, but, how wrong can one man be? It was approaching Christmas morning, when I realised that yes, the rubbish collectors would, indeed, leave our rotting discards stinking, fly ridden over Christmas, because, well, they had.

Normally my sympathies would have gone out to the loaders of rubbish, the heavers of waste and potential fathers of Lonnie Donegan, but the stench was getting beyond bearable and the feral dogs braver and braver by the day.

The kampong gossip factory slipped into gear to deliver a myriad, and one, reasons why the rubbish collection had ceased. Arguments with bomohs, striking private labourers, dismantled waste truck – stories abounded.

Next door Pakcik, oracle and news vendor to the kampong, informed my wife, upon her return after one week of working in Kuala Lumpur, that the rubbish truck, was just that – a rubbish truck, and had been towed away to be fixed.

A fitting climax to another remarkable year, some might say, and they would be right – let us see what a fresh year holds.

Musings On Poets And Poetry


SeeFoon talks to Cecil Rajendra, Iconoclast Extraordinaire…..


Long before blogs, Malaysiakini, Malaysian Insider, Raja Petra, there was Cecil Rajendra, an iconoclast extraordinaire, a passionate activist who firmly believes in the pen being mightier than the sword.

Rajendra who recently gave a reading of his poems organised by the Perak Academy at the Royal Perak Golf Club, is one of the few Malaysian poets writing in the English language today.

His poetry gives voice to the socially marginalised and acts as a conscience for the environment. Not as widely read in Malaysia, Cecil Rajendra’s poetry has travelled far and wide, cited by WWF, UNICEF, UNESCO, National Geographic and Amnesty International.

When I asked to verify if he was in fact a Nobel Literature nominee, he modestly brushed the question aside and said that the nomination came from Philippines and U.S.A. The fact that there is little local media interest on him is curious – which is possibly due to the controversial content of his writings, but snubbing a Nobel nominee who’s touted as Malaysia’s unsung poet laureate deserves research and this is what I did, albeit briefly.

Rajendra devotes his writing in awakening people to the burning social issues that afflict Malaysia and the Third World generally – oppression, injustice and exploitation, corruption and greed, want, hunger and poverty and ecological ruin.

But it is with Malaysia that he is focused and about Malaysia for Malaysians that he writes.

“Faults in another / that would not matter /
in our loved ones / assume / cataclysmic proportions /
and if i did not care / i would not dare /
chart / your many imperfections” 

excerptTo My Country’ from ‘Refugees and Other Despairs’

In a speech he made at the Asian PEN Conference held in Manila in the early 1980s, Rajendra’s address, “The Higher Duty of a Writer in a Developing Society”, sparked off a storm which was to envelope him in controversy for the rest of his life: “It becomes no longer a matter of choice, but the moral obligation and bounden duty of every responsible writer to bear witness to the times he lives in and to put his life and his work at the service of humanity.”

His speech, brief and to the point, was widely reported in the Philippines press and elsewhere in the region, but virtually ignored in Malaysia. His poetry is part of a total commitment and controversy would continue to plague him back at home where in 1993 his passport was retained for ‘anti-logging activities, which it was felt could damage the country’s image overseas’. 

His passport has since been returned to him and Rajendra continues writing his passionate pleas, his technique more Japanese haiku than Keats or Shelley whose poetry coloured  his undergraduate years,  his thinking influenced by such men as Amilcar Cabral, Pablo Neruda, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X.

Cecil Rajendra is a practising lawyer and on returning to Malaysia after 13 years in the UK, initiated the country’s first free legal advice centre in a depressed rural area in Penang, serving needy people who would normally have no access to legal representation; as well as a mobile legal aid clinic (MOBLAC) to take legal aid to far flung villages in North Malaysia. He is a senior member of the Malaysian Bar Council and has chaired both its National Legal Aid and Human Rights Committees. He is also a past president of the National Human Rights Society of Malaysia (HAKAM).

His first collection of poems was published in England in 1965 when he was still a law student as Lincoln’s Inn, London. Since then his poems have travelled to over 50 countries and been translated into several languages including Chinese, German, Japanese, Malay, Tamil, Swahili, French, Thai, Tagalong, Urdu, Croat and Esquimaux.  In 2005, Cecil Rajendra was the first ever recipient of the Malaysian Lifetime Humanitarian Award for his pioneering legal work and inspirational poetry,   recognition which is long overdue in his homeland, Malaysia, where he is its most vociferous critic and staunch patriot.

His latest work ‘Tankas from a Tsunami’ marks his 19th collection of poetry. A new book is nearing completion. To be titled, ‘Parables, Prophets and Pillocks’ (pillock: an almost extinct word from the 16th century, meaning a stupid or annoying person, numbskull or blockhead) is guaranteed to raise a few eyebrows if not heckles. The new book which is a culmination of Rajendra’s writings in the past five years, which is centred on the theme of religious extremism and political chicanery, should have people sitting on the edge of their chairs at future poetry readings.

His poetry reading that evening in Ipoh was as he promised, “to entertain and not to bore”. He read from a selection of his extensive collection including some from his soon-to-be-published book. On whether he writes on a computer, he confessed to being a ‘dinosaur’ and still writes with pen and paper- pulp from destruction of trees notwithstanding. “But I don’t whip out pen and pad to record notes and thoughts at every opportunity. That’ll be like stopping in the middle of wonderful lovemaking and saying, ‘Excuse me darling, I’ve got to jot these feelings down!’ When I sit down to write, it all comes.” He continued to confess that he has a large collection of love poems that will most likely be published posthumously as they were too bawdy for publication while he’s still alive!

Ipoh Echo is fortunate to have permission to be the first to publish the following poem which should strike a chord in fellow Perakeans after the political upheaval of the past year.


With oversize head  / myopic pop-out /  foraging eyes /

And versatile flippers…../  these shrimp-like /

Slippery, slimy creatures / skip nonchalant /

from this bank / to that, then back…./

prompted only by / an appetite & the tide….

Anthropologists / far and wide  /

Come see them / perform their / self-serving antics /

Not in mangrove swamp / but in the mud and murky /

Waters of our politics!

Cecil Rajendra’s books may be purchased from the Perak Academy: 28, Jalan Sultan Azlan Shah Tel: 05-5478949 email: contact@perakacademy.com

Other sources: Scoob Books and Silver Fish Books.