The inspirational story of the late Dr Ho Kai Cheong unfolds like a good book at the pre-war heritage building along Jalan Bijeh Timah (Treacher Street), where it all began.
Now named the Ho Yan Hor Museum, the two-storey building where the Ho Yan Hor herbal tea, which has helped Malaysians overcome heatiness and the common cold, was first invented by Dr Ho in 1945.
Born in a all-Malay village named Kati, Ho Kai Cheong was a graduate of Canton Wah Lam National Physician’s School in Hong Kong and served the people upon his return to Malaya in 1941, as a Chinese medical sensei.
In 1945, with only four Straits dollars in his pocket as capital, he brewed a pot of herbal tea from his rented room at Treacher Street and sold it at 5 cents a glass at a little stall outside the shophouse. It was after the war and those who bought from him were mostly tin miners on their way home from work. On the very first day, it was all sold-out in an hour.
In 1947, he invented powdered tea in packets so that others could brew it too. He bought himself a bicycle and sold his tea to as far as the Thai border and Johor. Away for weeks at a stretch, the cycling entrepreneur would sleep wherever he could to rest his blistered feet.
“This man was a real entrepreneur. He believed in doing good for the people and keeping them healthy,” Commander Ian Anderson, Director of ipohWorld said. The restoration of the building began in March 2015 by ipohWorld and was funded by Hovid Berhad.
In 1948, Ho bought his first car and by 1951 he could afford his first commercial van. In 1953, he bought a piece of land at Kuala Kangsar Road where the Hovid headquarters now stands.
He built a larger factory and became more successful. He then became a philanthropist by supporting charities, art exhibitions and the first person ever to run an essay competition to improve education using a bicycle as the first prize.
“He was an artist. All his advertising was his own calligraphy,” Ian added.
At age 87, this determined sensei, not content with just retiring, went on to pursue his doctorate in Hong Kong. He passed away in 2007 at the age of 97.
Regarding the purpose of the museum, Ian had this to say: “Firstly, it’s been restored in honour of the man by his son, David, who now runs Hovid. Secondly, it’s to relate the story of the progression of the Ho Yan Hor tea.”
The museum offers guided tours, a lot of photographic opportunities, tea samples and gift packs of the Hor Yan Hor tea for sale.
Inside the museum, one can simply admire the attention to detail that went into the restoration. The kitchen, for instance, is fitted as it used to be in the 1940s with a lot of original packets and tins of all kinds that were available in then Malaya. The two antique staircases from the 18th century and 19th century respectively are well-worth the climb as it unveils further old artefacts. Also, notice the functional old-world GEC switches!
Hence, it is no wonder when Ng Chern Yuan, the museum manager told Ipoh Echo, “We have a very good response. During the soft launch in January, over 300 visitors attended. During the Chinese New Year week, we had over 250 daily.”
When asked on future highlights, Ian disclosed, “It’s about Dr Ho’s commercial van purchased in 1951. We’ve bought an identical van from the UK. It’s going to be repainted in the original colour and displayed outside the museum. This Fordson E494C is a classic and rare vehicle with only 50 left in the whole world. We’re also looking for a vehicle identical to his first car bought in 1948 and the Volkswagen that he used when he moved to Kuala Kangsar Road. So there’ll be a fleet of old vehicles outside the museum.”
The key take-home message: “Nothing has stopped Dr Ho from achieving his dreams and helping others. Hopefully, it will inspire visitors to do the same.”
The museum is run by Hovid Berhad. Entrance is free. It also hosts educational visits from schools.
Operating hours: 10am - 4pm, every Tuesday till Sunday
(For larger groups, it is advisable to call in advance prior to visit)