Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Taiping - Perak

My landlord has a dream of returning to Taiping, retiring to the town he grew up in, where its rich tapestry of historical milestones are stitched into the fabric of his childhood memories.

Don't blame him for wanting to leave the city, really. It has become so impersonal and sprawling. Neighbours are names to faceless shadows. Back in Taiping, old neighbours become steadfast friends, the butcher at the old market place becomes a reliable golf buddy, a daily walk in the evenings around the lake with other retired comrades or a lifelong partner is an addiction, A pint before dinner at the old club in the evening is not a must but a social event eagerly awaited. Life goes on at a pace where the finer things in life are not only found on money. Unfortunately, fast growing economies like Asia and the U.S. tend to forget, that life is not about fast cars, large mansions and lots of admirers. This is not reality TV, this is life and not everyone needs 15mins of fame in his or her lifetime.

Taiping's History

But ironically, Taiping was built on money, greed, power and was embalmed in civil wars, spilt blood and sufferings. In the late 1800's , Malaya was a treasure island dripping with riches off leaves of the trees with timber, tin and other natural resources aplenty and many Chinese were brought in from China to mine for tin. Majority of the mines in peninsula Malaysia were alluvial mines. Areas especially in the state of Perak were so rich, many were just panning the river for tin. One day, while bathing in a stream, Long Ja'afar found himself sitting in a pool laden with tin. He had come to the Larut District on an exploratory trip and with this find; he immediately re-tracked to Penang for supplies and to recruit Chinese miners to mine the area known later as Klian Pauh. News spread fast and another group of Chinese miners arrived. Whilst working on clearing parts of land, folklore has it that a working elephant broke loose and stampeded into the jungle. After a long search, the workers managed to locate the bewildered pachyderm and brought him safely out of the wooded area. They noticed that the elephant's feet were caked in mud rich with tin ore and hence a new mine was opened and the area named Klian Baru.

Isabella Bird, a British adventurer and the first woman to be elected as a fellow of the Royal Geographic Society, came to the Malay Archipelago in the late1870's in which she documented her travels and stories during her stay in a book called 'The Golden Chersonese and The Way Thither'. British government officials graciously extended their invitation for her to stay with them as she travelled her way to various destinations in Malaya . She had first hand reports and information on the situation in through the eyes of officials such as Sir Hugh Low, Mr W.E. Maxwell etc. (if not a little heavily opinionated on the side of the British).

She wrote that in 1871, an estimated 30,000 chinese miners were stationed in the Larut mines. More Chinese miners came over to work and each time a new group of miners set up their camps in the area, scuffles between gangs became more frequent. These groups usually each from different dialects, brought along their secret societies. Ngah Ibrahim, the son of Long Ja'afar eventually had to seek help from a soldier and a soldier-of-fortune by the name of Captain Speedy. Speedy and his troop of Indian soldiers were promised a salary plus share of the tin revenue if they were to succeed in quelling the "Larut Wars". But with only a handful of soldiers and four Krupp guns in possession, their efforts to restore law & order were futile. Moreover, several factions of the Chinese miners were supplied with guns, ammunition, military stores, and food from their financial backers in Penang in hope that their faction would have a fighting chance to claim the mining territory and its wealth. Isabella Bird wrote that it was believed about 3,000 miners were killed in one day during the early days of the war.

The situation was so degraded until Sir A. Clarke, the Governor of the Straits Settlements decided to intervene before the bloodshed became infectious. A Chinese businessman residing in Singapore by name of Kim Cheng had persuaded a Malay Chief called Abdullah, to approach the British with a proposition that he had desire to place Perak under British protection, and "to have a man of sufficient abilities to show him a good system of government"(Isabella Bird) in which he would make good his desires if he were officially appointed Sultan.

During the time of disturbances in Larut, the Malays were living relatively peaceably under the rule of Ismail, the Malays' elected Sultan and Abdullah's rival.

Sir A. Clarke, called for a meeting between the British Officials, the Malay Chiefs and the Chinese Triad headmen at Pulau Pangkor and a treaty was signed on 20 th January 1974 , with the appointment of Abdullah as sultan. The Malay Chiefs were unhappy with decisions made and although they seemingly did not oppose to Abdullah's usurpation during the meet at Pulau Pangkor..by way of miscommunication some people say. After the signing of treaty, peace came to Larut. It is reported that in 1876, the export of tin had was 144,000lbs which rose to 436,000 lbs in 1881 and Chinese immigration increased the population of Chinese miners, shopkeepers, vendors from twenty thousand in 1879 to forty thousand in 1881.

The Pangkor Treaty of 1974 also stated that Sultan Abdullah should receive an English Resident and Assistant Resident, whose salaries and expenses should be the first charge on the revenue of the country, whose counsel must be asked and "acted upon" on all questions other than those of religion and custom, and under whose advice the collection and control of all revenues and the general administration should be regulated. The first Resident appointed was J.W.W. Birch, a rather pompous officer who was in poor standing with the Malay chiefs. Since Captain Speedy had a lot of experience and influence with the Malays and the Chinese, he was appointed as the Assistant Resident at Larut. He set aside 2 towns one named the Taiping or 'everlasting peace' for the Hakka Chinese and Kamunting for the rival group.

A year went on, and the storms of discontentment were brewing among the Malay Chiefs. The newly appointed Sultan was of no help to the situation either, which greater fuelled the feelings of the people. Sir Frank Swettenham wrote on his visits to Perak at the time, that Sultan Abdullah was not living up to expectations as a ruler. He spent much of his time and new-found situation just indulging in opium-smoking, cock-fighting, and other vices. Eventually, he lost all respect from his supporters as well as his advisors. In 1875, several of these disgruntled chiefs plotted to return Upper Perak into the hands of the Malays by murdering J.W.W Birch whilst Frank Swettenham narrowly missed death by jumping into the river and escaping downriver during the confusion.

The British eventually rounded up the participating Malay Chiefs and banished Ismail to Johore; and Sultan Abdullah , Ngah Ibrahim and others to Seychelles .

Isabella Bird and Taiping

Isabella Bird stayed in Taiping at the Residents House. An excerpt from her book paints a classical landscape of Taiping in 1870s, 'From this point we drove along an excellent road toward the mountains, over whose cool summits cloud mists now and then drifted; and near noon entered this important Chinese town, with a street about a mile long, with large bazaars and shops making a fine appearance, being much decorated in Chinese style; halls of meeting for the different tribes, gambling houses, workshops, the Treasury (a substantial dark wood building), large detached barracks for the Sikh police, a hospital, a powder magazine, a parade ground, a Government store-house, a large, new jail, neat bungalows for the minor English officials, and on the top of a steep, isolated terraced hill, the British Residency. This hill is really too steep for a vehicle to ascend, but the plucky pony and the Kling driver together pulled the gharrie up the zigzags in a series of spasms, and I was glad to get out of the sunshine into a cool, airy house, where there was a hope of breakfast, or rather tiffin.' For an e-text of Isabella Bird's 'Golden Chersonese and The Way Thither' at http://etext.library.adelaide.edu.au/

Taiping's Old Architecture

British Residency ~ Isabella Bird's Taiping has come a long way since her sojourn in 1800's. Gone is Sir Hugh Low's residency or the British Residency. What's left are the columns that held the timber house. This is as she described the house to be,' The Residency is large and lofty, and thoroughly draughty, a high commendation so near the equator. It consists of a room about thirty feet wide by sixty long, and about twenty feet high at its highest part, open at both ends, the front end a great bow window without glass opening on an immense veranda. This room and its veranda are like the fore cabin of a great Clyde steamer. It has a red screen standing partly across it, the back part being used for eating, and the front for sitting and occupation. My bedroom and sitting-room, and the room in which Sultan Abdullah's boys sleep are on one side, and Mr. Maxwell's room and office on the other. Underneath are bath-rooms, and guard-rooms for the Sikh sentries. There are no ornaments or superfluities.' And added,' The steep little hill on which the Residency stands is planted with miserable coffee, with scanty yellow foliage. The house on my side has a magnificent view of the beautiful Hijan hills, down which a waterfall tumbles in a broad sheet of foam only half a mile off, and which breed a rampageous fresh breeze for a great part of the day.

Bukit Larut (Maxwell Hill)

The front veranda looks down on Taipeng and other Chinese villages, on neat and prolific Chinese vegetable gardens, on pits, formerly tin mines, now full of muddy, stagnant water, on narrow, muddy rivulets bearing the wash of the tin mines to the Larut river, on all the weediness and forlornness of a superficially exhausted mining region, and beyond upon an expanse of jungle, the limit of which is beyond the limit of vision, miles of tree tops as level as the ocean, over which the cloud shadows sail in purple all day long. In the early morning the parade ground is gay with "thin red" lines of soldiers, and all day long with a glass I can see the occupations and bustle of Taipeng. Taipeng is a thriving, increasing place, of over six thousand inhabitants, solely Chinese, with the exception of a small Kling population, which keeps small shops, lends money, drives gharries and bullock-carts, and washes clothes. This place was the focus of the disturbances in 1873, and the Chinese seem still to need to be held in check, for they are not allowed to go out at night without passes and lanterns. They are miners, except those who keep the innumerable shops which supply the miners, and some of them are rich. Taipeng is tolerably empty during the day, but at dusk, when the miners return , the streets and gambling dens are crowded, and the usual Babel of Chinese tongues begins. There are scarcely any Malays in the town.' Taiping Prison Isabella Bird's mention of a large, new jail was probably the Taiping prison which was opened in 1879 and was the first purpose-built prison in Malaya . It remains in operation today. The Lake Gardens She mentioned that the view from the residency of 'pits, formerly tin mines, now full of muddy, stagnant water, on narrow, muddy rivulets bearing the wash of the tin mines to the Larut river, on all the weediness and forlornness of a superficially exhausted mining region' which was in 1884, landscaped into the lake gardens which now stands lined with beautiful angsana trees or raintrees introduced by the British landscapers, originating from India. The lake garden now spans over 64hectares and hosts a recreational park, a Japanese garden, a pagoda bridge, a defunct golf course and a zoo.

Zoo Taiping

Taiping Zoo ~ The first zoo in Malaya , Taiping zoo has introduced night zoo in recent years. For more log into: www.zootaiping.gov.my Visiting hours: 8.30am to 6.30pm , open everyday including Sundays & public holidays. Entrance fee - RM 4.00 adults, RM 2.00 children, RM 1.00 camera, RM 5.00 video camera, RM 2.00 Zoo Mini Train (Adult), RM 1.00 Zoo Mini Train (children)

Taman Tasek Taiping (Lake Garden)
Administrative Buildings ~ In 1880, a massive fire burnt the entire town safe for a few lone structures. This gave the British an opportunity to set up better town planning. The roads were widened and Chinese shophouses were laid out in a grid. The British officer's detached dwellings, military cantonment and jail was laid at one end and the Indian Settlement were placed at the opposite end, Kota . Brick buildings were constructed. Frank Swettenham who took up the position as Acting Resident from 1884 till 1886 was instrumental in developing the town's architecture where many of the buildings remain today such as the market, the rebuilding of the gaol, the post and the telegraph office, the assistant resident's house, the audit and treasury offices and the police station. Of course with the gaol being nearby, convicts were used to labour these ambitious projects which also included landscaping namely for the lake gardens.

Old Clock Tower of Taiping
Police Station, Kota Road (Old Clock Tower of Taiping) ~ In 1881, a police station was built strategically within view of the Chinese theatre, the market and other popularly visited places. It was initially built of timber but was rebuilt 9 years later and fortified with gun slits were added so that in any emergency, that could come in handy.

Today it has been converted into the Taiping Visitor Information Centre. This is where visitors can pick up the very informative heritage trail map to guide on the walks round the town.

Taiping's future

Taiping and Kamunting has changed as has Malaysia in the past decade. Unfortunately, not all for the better. The unmonitored expansion to the town will undoubtedly effect its position as a heritage town. There is so much to conserve in this old town and not much attention has been given to it. Defacing old shop house fa ç ades with gaudy, neon signboards, cheap renovation materials, tearing down old to be replaced by garish non-descript buildings - that's what is done best in Malaysia . What's also worrying is that when façades are intact, the beauty of the interior are gutted to be replaced by grotesque cheap paneling and shoddy interior refurbishment.

Malaysia has so much beauty but in the past 20years, this race for recognition and development has weighlaid crucial points. in that we have a past, we have a history and all that has happened in our country, to our people - it still is history and we cannot erase that nor should we forget. It is not your history and my history.it's ours and lest we forget, we have less future as a nation. We have moved on 50years and will we see another 50 blessed years. We should as citizens, not leave Malaysia a wasteland for our future generations.devoid of history, architecture, nature, literature, art. In short, devoid of an identity. That's what we will become..if we don't take steps to retard the situation at hand. How much is enough?

Source: http://www.journeymalaysia.com/

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