By SeeFoon Chan-Koppen
It has an impressive facade, standing tall, standing proud and standing out from the rest of the dilapidated shop houses on Jalan Bijeh Timah (Treacher Street). It has withstood the ravages of time, remaining pristine, imposing and mysterious, long having intrigued local residents who have never, hitherto, been privy to set foot inside the front door.
All that will change as Han Chin Pet Soo gets ready to allow visitors into its inner sanctum, albeit on a ‘book-a-visit-online’ basis. This scribe had the pleasure of attending its first unveiling recently when Chairman of Kinta Properties, sponsors of the restoration project, Dato’ Lim Si Boon, hosted a buffet dinner there.
Hakka tin miners knew how to ‘live it up’ in the giddy, heady days when Tin was King
Scheduled for opening on February 5, just before Chinese New Year, this three-storey building has been the home of the Hakka Miners’ Club since 1929 when their 1893 traditional shop house (on the same site) was tastefully rebuilt into today’s architectural gem. To the local people, the building has always been a place of mystery, for unless you were both Hakka and a Miner there was no way to get past the caretaker at the main door.
But very soon visitors and locals alike will be able to visit (by appointment) as the restoration is complete and for the first time, be able to witness the eye-opening lifestyle of the Hakka tin miners who really knew how to ‘live it up’ in those giddy, heady days when tin was king.
The restoration work has been a complete success. For ipohWorld, under the passionate leadership of ex Royal Naval Commander, Ian Anderson, supported by a communications graduate and an accountant (Felicia Alexis and Leong Meng Fai), this has been a challenging task. However, from the outset it was tackled as a community project bringing together talented Ipoh people, like specialist local contractor Y Cheng Thymes, to add their skills, showing visibly that “Ipoh has talent”!
This is no staid, stuffy museum filled with display cabinets and dusty placards. The gambling room, “dancing” girls and more are all here, life-size mannequins dressed in exquisite period costumes of the era, ‘playing’ mahjong on original antique mahjong tables. Visit the opium den where two denizens of yore lying on the opium beds, puff away on antique opium pipes, with fire from simulated candles flickering on and off. Tip toe to the top floor and peek at the mosquito netted antique beds in this cosy hideaway where many a tryst with ladies of the night were clandestinely conducted away from prying eyes and blabber mouths and listen to oohs and ahhs from first-time visitors as they conjure up the scenes from long ago in their imagination.
The food storage cabinets with its netting sides and doors are still here. The kitchen with its charcoal stoves still work, as I’m sure, do the opium pipes, except that its now illegal to check if they do!
Many a story can be told about the whole restoration process, which was a collaborative effort, between many local talents. When Ian Anderson and his team took over the building, the second floor was only home to rats, pigeons and white ants, having been abandoned by the club years before.
Painstakingly and meticulously, Ian and his team have recreated the look, feel and ambience of the Hakka Club in its heyday. All furniture and artefacts are original items, many of them very rare pieces. Antiques and collectables were almost all bought locally although some very nice pieces have been donated by people living locally.
In order to mount the life-like exhibition and recreate scenes from the old days, the team had to find creative ways around various dilemmas which they faced. As one cannot buy Chinese stature mannequins which are all 6ft plus with European faces, the restoration team had them cut down to size, modified their stance and added new heads with Oriental faces, formed by hand from a local ceramic artist.
Hunting for Costumes
Clothes came from anywhere they could find them; Salvation Army shop, recycling shops, antique dealers, local markets and friends who still have their grandfather’s or grandmother’s clothes even though they had long left this earth.
The Japanese girl is wearing a 1930s Meissen Kimono from a flea market in Japan. One of the gamblers is wearing a 1930s Chinese (horse) riding suit bought from a Penang dealer and all the white jackets, shirts and more had been stored in a house locally for more than 25 years after the owner’s demise while the straw boater was Ian’s from his naval days in the 1970s.
Stories, Artefacts and Murals
Informational notice boards educate as well as inform visitors and tell the stories of the Hakka people and their origins. There is even a huge notice board with pictures of typical Hakka dishes which are still popular today albeit difficult to obtain.
But this museum is not just about the re-creation of the decadent lifestyle of the Hakka miners. Students of PIA Perak Institute of Art have painted almost 1000 square feet of murals inside the building depicting scenes from the tin mining days. Artefacts and equipment collected over a long period since the inception of Ipoh World in 2004 and from Ian’s own personal collection, adorn the colourful landscape of Han Chin Pet Soo.
Ipoh World’s Impressive Database
Ipoh World was formed as a small group intent on recording as much as they could about Kinta Valley and its history. Spearheaded by Ian who lives in Ipoh with his wife Meng Wai, a true-blue Ipohite, Ipoh World Sdn Bhd a not-for-profit organisation, is sponsored by Kinta Properties and Tenby Schools and has grown by leaps and bounds, although the group remains small with only three members of staff.
The first objective was to create a database of photographs and documents that reflected the history of the Kinta Valley that would be available worldwide for students, researchers, authors, documentary makers, and would-be tourists to Perak. Today, that database at www.ipohworld.org contains more than 7000 entries showcasing over 14,000 photographs, plus postcards, historical documents and personal stories. Next came the interactive blog and naturally social media such as Facebook.
However, there was also a long-term desire to set up a permanent heritage centre for both education and tourists alike. Although this is still in the pipeline, as an interim, a number of short-term heritage exhibitions have been staged and these have become progressively more sophisticated and longer as the project gained experience.
First Permanent Exhibition
Han Chin Pet Soo is the first of these permanent exhibitions. Guests may visit the club and exhibition by appointment only via the ipohWorld website below and there are up to four appointments available per day from Tuesday to Sunday with a maximum number of 50 guests per appointment. Admission is free, but donations are welcome to help in the upkeep of this historic building.
This is a one-off chance to step back in time, visit the opium den, meet the gamblers and their dancing girls and experience a Kinta Valley tin mine. So, book now at: http://www.ipohworld.org/reservation/ (or scan the QR code in the print paper) to avoid disappointment.
Private Function: Unique Opportunity
There is also the unique opportunity to book the building as a movie set or for private functions like themed dinners, corporate events or wedding photography, etc. The size of the building forces a limitation on numbers for such events and the guidelines are a maximum of 20 pax for a buffet dinner and 8 to 14 pax for a sit-down dinner. The programme can include a guided tour of the exhibition, cocktails on the balcony (weather permitting) and dinner in the all-original club dining room. Enquiries for such events should be made directly to the Events Manager by telephone +60 (0)5 529 3306 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Having successfully completed their first restoration project and flushed with success, the ipohWorld team has moved next door (to No. 1) for a second, more challenging restoration, sponsored by Hovid Berhad. This will lead to another new exhibition, the amazing story of how one man, Dr Ho Kai Cheong rented a single room at No.1 and formulated, packaged and sold, from his bicycle, a herbal tea, with the noble intention of helping people to good health. Today, that tea, Ho Yan Hor, is famous around the world. So do keep an eye on www.ipohworld.org for the details of how to visit this exhibition when complete. Details will also be published in the Ipoh Echo as soon as they are available.