Exhibition: History of Malaysia-Sino Interactions

by Eric Lim

Recently, an exhibition with the theme “A History of Malaysia – Sino Interactions” was held at The Mines 2, Sri Kembangan, Selangor. It was organized by The Federation of Hokkien Associations of Malaysia and supported by the Embassy of The People’s Republic of China in Malaysia.

The exhibition highlighted the good ties between The People’s Republic of China and Malaysia. Diplomatic relations between the two countries started in 1974 when the then Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak visited China and met Chairman Mao Zedong and Premier Chou Enlai. Today, China is one of our major trading partners and our export to China has increased to record highs. Local Musang King durians and white coffee are sought-after items in China.

The exhibition covered four sections as listed below. Exhibits were mostly in pictures with information written in Chinese and English, plus a few records and publications.

  1. 2000 years of Malaysian-Sino interactions before 1974,
  2. Ethnic Hokkien Chinese and their roles in Malaysian-Sino cultural exchanges,
  3. A historical review of the 45 years of Malaysian-Sino diplomatic relations, and last but not least
  4. Sheer endeavour to reform the Divine Land of the People’s Republic of China and the formation of Malaysia.

Section 1

In this section, we learn about the historical and cultural interactions between the two countries that took place nearly 2000 years ago. The Chinese record, Di Li Zhi Hanshu, mentions a kingdom named Duyuan, which some researchers believed to be at Kuala Dungun. However, some researchers also believe that it could be located in Kra Isthmus. This was the earliest Chinese record of contact with the Malay Peninsula and it was during the reign of the Western Han Dynasty. In the Songshu record during the Yuanjia Period in the 5th Century CE, there were mentioned of two ancient kingdoms, Pohuang and Gantuoli. Other records include a book written by Zhu Fan Zhi in the Song Dynasty and Dao Yi Zhi Lue written by Wang Da Yuan during the Yuan Dynasty.

When Malacca grew in stature from a little fishing village to an international entrepôt during the 15th Century CE, China played an important part in its transformation. It was during the time of the Ming Dynasty that the Chinese fleet under Admiral Zheng He made visits to over 30 countries spanning the west Pacific to the Indian Ocean; Malacca was a major stopover for the Chinese. It was also during the Ming Dynasty that saw the earliest Chinese immigration to our country. Contributions of early Chinese immigrants were mentioned and one of the notables was Cheong Fatt Tze (1840-1910). He was initially based in Penang but later shifted to Singapore when it became established as a well-known trading port. Later, he was summoned by the Emperor of China and was promoted to be the Minister of Agriculture, Industries, Roads and Mines for the provinces of Fujian and Guangdong.

Moving forward to the era of The Republic of China, the exhibition showed pictures of local support for the Chinese Revolution led by Dr. Sun Yat Sen in overthrowing the Qing Dynasty in 1912 and in the fight with the Japanese in the Second Sino-Japanese War from 1937-1945. Tan Kah Kee responded positively by setting up funds for the Chinese to fight in the war. Besides parting with their money and valuables, Malayan Chinese were even willing to fight in the battlefields. One picture showed an advertisement in a Chinese newspaper of the recruitment of volunteer drivers and mechanics to serve in China. They were tasked to transport ammunition and supplies travelling the treacherous road linking Burma (Myanmar) and Yunnan with a section consisting of twenty-four bends.

Section 2

This section talks about the formation and role of the Federation of Hokkien Associations Malaysia (FHAM) and the contributions made by its members. The FHAM was formed in 1957 and today it comprises 211 member associations. Some of the well-known members include:

  1. Tan Kah Kee (1874-1961). He was born in Xiamen, Fujian Province and became a successful businessman, leader and philanthropist. He contributed financially to the building of Chinese schools in British Malaya, Singapore and China. Xiamen University is one of them. He returned to China in 1950 and passed away in Beijing.
  2. Robert Kuok. He was born in Johor Bharu in 1923 and he is of Fuzhou origin. In his autobiography, he mentioned his love for China. He helped China overcome its sugar crisis and he became one of the overseas capitalists who invested in China and helped its economic growth since the reform in 1978.
  3. YB Tan Sri Dato Michelle Yeoh. Born in Ipoh in 1962, she is of Hokkien descent from Tong An county. Michelle is an international actress who made her name first in Hong Kong acting with Jackie Chan in the “Police Story” movie series. She struck stardom in the “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” movie in 2000. Then on to Hollywood where she starred in a James Bond movie and the recent “Crazy Rich Asians” (2018).
  4. Datuk Lee Chong Wei. Born in Perak in 1992, his ancestral hometown is Nan’an. He is considered a legend in badminton having being ranked No.1 for a consecutive of 349 weeks. He won three silver medals in the Olympics. His rivalry with Lin Dan of China has always been heated topics for badminton fans all over the world.

The above is a highlight of just four of its members. The exhibition also included an expanded list of successful business people, educators, entrepreneurs and many more.

Section 3

Section 3 tells us of the relationship between both countries for over 45 years. In 1971, The People’s Republic of China or commonly known as China today, was admitted to the United Nations after the 21st time of voting on its application. Malaysia was one of the 76 countries who voted in favour of China. In May of 1971, Tan Sri Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah who was then the chairperson of PERNAS led a team of delegates to the Canton Fair and they were received by the Premier of the State Council of China, Chou Enlai and the Vice Premier Li Xianian. This meeting marked the establishment of bilateral trade relations between the two countries. This was followed by a visit by Chinese officials to our country in the same year.

The historical visit to China by Tun Abdul Razak was held from 28 May to 2 June 1974. Malaysia was the first nation in Southeast Asia to take steps to normalise ties with China. Since then, every Prime Minister of Malaysia had paid official visits to China. For the record, Tun Dr Mahathir had made nine visits to China, the last time was in April 2019. Five of our Yang Di Pertuan Agongs also paid official visits to China. They include the late Sultan Azlan Shah of Perak, Tuanku Ja’afar of Negri Sembilan, the late Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah of Selangor, Tuanku Syed Sirajuddin of Perlis and Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin of Trengganu.

Chinese leaders also made official visits to our country. They include Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao, Xi Jinping, Li Peng, Zu Rongji, Wen Jiabao, Li Keqiang and the then Vice Premier of the State Council of China Deng Xiaoping who came in 1978. During his stay in our country, Deng paid respect to Almarhum Tun Abdul Razak at the National Mosque.

Section 4

The last section, starts by focussing on Modern China. In 1979, the setting up of Shenzhen Special Economic Zone marked an important step forward in China’s opening up to the outside world. On October 10, 1987 saw the opening of the first KFC outlet in Beijing. Then on 16 October 2003, Yang Liwei became the first Chinese “taikonaut” who completed China’s first space trip. At 8.00 pm on 8/8/2008, the opening ceremony of the 29th Summer Olympic Games was held at the Beijing National Stadium a.k.a Bird’s Nest. In 2022, Beijing will host the Winter Olympic and Paralympic for the first time. The last row of pictures at Section 4 put the spotlight on the Formation of Malaysia. It revealed some interesting information that may not be available in mainstream media. Some of these are highlighted below.

  1. It was said that just before our independence, over 2 million Chinese in Malaya felt neglected due to many restrictions when applying for citizenship. This prompted Lim Lian Geok to set up the National Congress of Chinese Societies at a gathering held at the Chin Woo Stadium; it generated support from Chinese all over Malaya. A memorandum was signed by 1,094 Chinese associations. In it was a demand for constitutional reform with three main suggestions – Chinese language as an official language, adoption of the principle of Jus Soli and equal rights and obligations. It further stressed that it was “reflecting the views of Chinese opinion generally in the country”. Chinese Malayans were defined as Chinese who treated this country as their permanent homeland. This was a significant event of Chinese awakening in the history of Malaya. 
  2. Did you know that the first Alliance rally was held on 20 January 1955 in Kajang, a town where the Chinese were the majority?
  3. The first general election in our country was held on 27 July 1955 and the Alliance Party won 51 out of 52 seats. However, only 20% of the population were eligible voters, and out of this number, Chinese voters were a mere 11% as compared to 84% of Malay voters. With that in mind, UMNO demanded to contest in 90% of the seats. The move was opposed by Tunku who had threatened to resign, and after negotiations, it was decided that UMNO would contest in 35 seats, MCA in 15 and MIC in 2.
  4. The first day cover to commemorate the Independence of Federation of Malaya on 31 August 1957 shows a picture of three men – Malay, Chinese and Indian, representing the three main races in our country. A closer look shows Chinese characters written on the left side of the envelope.
  5. The Declaration of Independence was made available in three different languages, namely English, Chinese and Jawi and it was signed by Tunku Abdul Rahman. The Chinese version is believed to be the only one available in the world apart from similar ones in China. It ends with the following “….with God’s blessing shall be forever a sovereign democratic and independent State founded upon the principles of liberty and justice”.
  6. A patriotic song entitled “Song of a New Born Malaya”. The lyrics tell about the deep feeling of love for the Motherland and the earnest hopes for the new-born nation. This song was discovered in Broga New Village.

The exhibition provided a good understanding of the relationship enjoyed by both countries. It also highlighted the contributions of local Chinese to Malaysia and their fostering of greater relationships with The People’s Republic of China.

Malaya at War (part 2)

by V. Jegatheesan

For Part 1, which covers days 1 and 2 of the tour, please visit https://museumvolunteersjmm.com/2019/09/02/malaya-at-war-part-1/

Tour – Day 3

This was a long day. The first stop was the Army Museum Port Dickson. It is a small museum but filled with interesting displays and exhibitions. For airplane buffs, there is an armed Canadair CL-41G, locally renamed Tebuan, the first fighter jet of the Royal Malaysian Air Force. There is also a de Havilland Canada DHC-4 Caribou transporter and an A4 Skyhawk. For artillery gun buffs, there is a good display of artillery guns.

Among the many displays, there were exhibition halls portraying the Melaka Sultanate, the British era and some others. However, the main attraction is a full replica of a communist tunnel system. As you walk along inside, you can see the medical supplies they had, the various arms used, a diorama of a surgery and a meeting room. This is very impressive but you must be cautious if you have a problem in closed spaces.

The tunnel

We then had a long drive to Kampar and a lunch pack to nourish us on the way. Kampar is along the old trunk road south of Ipoh and it is the first real location where the British forces put up a reasonable defence against the Japanese advance. The British plan was to stop or delay the advance and the Japanese plan was to seize it for the Emperor as a New Year’s gift. However, the Emperor only got his gift on 2nd January 1942.

The town has hills opposite overlooking the town and this provided a good place for an attack on the Japanese from high ground. Here we had the assistance of Encik Shaharom Ahmad, a Malaysian Military Historian and Researcher and his colleague, Hisham, dressed in period uniform. Also assisting was Mr. Santokh Singh, a retired teacher and another enthusiast in present day casuals. Shaharom, Hisham and Rizal are members of the Malaysian Historical Group. Though members are not academics, their keen interest and knowledge is a credit to them all. With metal detectors, they have found artefacts and have also spent money to buy the period uniforms.

The ridges are not very high, about 120m as we were told. There are three ridges i.e. Thomson Ridge, which is now a housing estate; Cemetery Ridge, which remains as such; and the Green Ridge, which has been left alone, so far. On 30th December 1941, the Japanese arrived and the battle started. Ultimately, the Japanese suffered heavy losses of about 500 or an unknown number. At one point, they even had to withdraw but the British pulled back because of Japanese reinforcements coming in from Teluk Anson (now Teluk Intan). This was considered a success for the British as the advance was delayed but the British still had to retreat to Slim River.

We climbed the Green Ridge and saw the trenches that remain, though overgrown. There the remnants of the artillery gun positions and trenches leading higher up to a larger area where the headquarters was set up. From here supplies were sent down to the positions. Now looking so serene and quiet, it must have been hell on those four days in the past.

A trench, now shallow

Shaharom explaining the gun pit together with Santokh

Take away the vegetation and that is how it was

A section of Kampar, now such a peaceful place

After Kampar we made another ‘Quantum Leap’ and proceeded to the Sungai Siput Estate, formerly known as the Phin Soon Estate, now well known as the spot where two of three British Planters were shot sparking the Emergency. The bungalow is no more but a monument and a gallery have been erected. The gallery had many posters and pictures. We were assisted by Mr. Harchand Singh Bedi, a Military Historian Researcher, with his immense knowledge. The monument was placed by the Malaysian Palm Oil Association. The estate is owned by the National Land Finance Cooperative Society, which is maintaining the gallery.

The gallery at Sungai Siput Estate

It was already late evening and on the way we stopped at the entrance of Elphil Estate now owned by Sime Darby. This was the scene of the first shooting of the British Planter and now there is only a board at the entrance marking the area. Unfortunately, the name on the board is Walter instead of Walker. This board was put up by the Army Museum Port Dickson and I am making attempts to contact them to correct this error.

It was a long day and we checked into the Weil Hotel just after 9pm. At Kampar we had been joined by 4 officials from Tourism Malaysia and the Director of the Northern Region Tourism Malaysia. They accompanied us for the same earlier reason to get to know the various sites so that they can create memorials or plaques to permanently recognise and remember these historical sites.

Tour – Day 4

The next day saw us at the nearby Ipoh Railway Station, which the older locals will remember for the lamb chops in its first class ‘dress for dinner type’ restaurant and later on, in ‘casuals allowed’.

In front of the station, there is the Cenotaph erected in 1927 commemorating Remembrance Day in honour of the fallen in World War 1, but now including those fallen in the World War 2, the Malayan Emergency and the Confrontation. We then moved nearby, Ipoh being a small city, to the Saint John’s Anglican Church. This place suffered some damage in Japanese aerial bombing meant for the railway station, intending to destroy the trains carrying ammunition of the retreating British forces. The church also has a small air raid shelter.

The Cenotaph

The St. Michael’s Institution in Ipoh also has a place in the war. Retreating from Jitra downwards, the British 11th Indian Infantry division suffered heavy losses. Within this this division the 2nd East Surrey and the 1st Leicestershire Regiment were so badly reduced that they had to be amalgamated to form the British Battalion. This unit remained till the end in Singapore. This amalgamation was done at St. Michael’s and later the school became a Japanese Prisoner of War camp.

We then travelled to Batu Gajah where the famous cemetery known as God’s Little Acre is situated. Here are graves of the three planters who were killed during the Emergency, as well as graves of many civilians, military and police who fell during the Emergency. This is a very old cemetery and there are also many graves of very early residents of Batu Gajah; the oldest that I saw was dated 1886.

At the entrance of God’s Little Acre
The Roll of Honour

Next stop was a town called Papan where the Malayan heroine, Sybil Karthigasu, lived during World War 2. She helped the communist soldiers of the Malayan Peoples Anti-Japanese Army and was tortured for it by the Japanese. After the war she was sent to England for medical treatment where she died after some years. Later she was reburied in the cemetery next to the St. Michael’s Church. She was awarded the George Medal for Bravery. The house is sadly in total disrepair and Mr. Law Siak Hong, President of the Ipoh Heritage Society, has taken a great interest to restore the house to a decent form. Nothing belonging to the family remains and the only reminder is the hole under the staircase where they hid the radio set, radios being banned then with serious consequences if found. Later on Sybil’s daughter donated a cabinet.

Sybil’s house in Papan
Hole under the staircase in which the radio set was hidden
Mr. Law Siak Hong giving a tour

After lunch in a nearby Pusing, we left for Taiping. Passing the well-known beautiful Lake Gardens, still peaceful despite very large crowds of people, we arrived at the Taiping War Cemetery. Here are the graves of those killed in action during the war, the Japanese Occupation and those posted here after the war but before the Emergency. Among some 800 graves, about 500 are unidentified. The Christian and non-Christian graves are in two separate sections; they are maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

Some members of the Taiping Heritage Society were at hand to meet us, led by their President Mr. Yeap.

A formal ceremony was held at the Cross of Freedom with a prayer and a short sermon by Reverend Dr. Philip Mathius. This was followed by the Oath by Lt. Col. John Morrison accompanied by the Last Post by three buglers of a local Scout Troup. A wreath was laid by Commodore (Rtd.)  Arasaratnam of the Royal Malaysian Navy accompanied by Colonel Dr. Robert Likeman.

The Taiping Heritage Society then hosted us to tea at the New Club, which had been founded in 1892 by members of the Perak Club (founded in 1885) in protest of the Perak Club’s rule of restrictive membership to high-ranking officials. We returned at night for our dinner here.

Tour – Day 5

The next morning was a mix of history and places of general interest. We started at the Spritzer Plant, in case you did not realise, a Malaysian company producing natural mineral water. Water is pumped from an aquifer 400 feet below, purified and bottled. The Plant is situated just below the hills, which are behind it.

We stopped at the Matang Museum, a historical building built by Orang Kaya Menteri Ngah Ibrahim, the son of Cek Long Jaffar who is credited for opening up the Larut district for tin mining. The building has variously been a Teachers College, Japanese Army headquarters, a Malay school and now a museum.

The Matang Museum

This museum is off the beaten track and is well worth a visit. One side of the perimeter wall was damaged when a Japanese fighter plane crashed into it. There are many displays and artefacts including about tin. But at the back are stone pillars, or stele, which is a Japanese memorial to their soldiers killed in the invasion at the Thai Malayan border.

We stopped at a charcoal factory in Kuala Sepetang, or once known as Port Weld. Mr. Chuah from the factory gave us a tour. This factory produces high quality charcoal from bakau, a swamp wood. Much of it is exported to Japan. The bakau is cut from the surrounding swamps. But it is well controlled with replanting and is monitored by the forestry department. Incidentally, making charcoal is not just burning the bakau. It’s a much longer and involved process. Another blog another day.

Mr. Chuah explaining how charcoal is made
Inside the empty oven

We then travelled on to Penang and checked into the Royale Chulan Georgetown. This is in the old Boustead building, which were once offices and warehouses by the quay.

Tour – Day 6

On this day, we went to the Convent Light Street. Here we observed in a classroom the names of Prisoners of War from the American submarine USS Grenadier. This submarine was sunk near Phuket and some of the prisoners were interned for 108 days in this school, which was then the Japanese Naval Headquarters. The names were etched using their belt buckles on the door and walls of a classroom. The school has preserved these by putting a glass casing over them. A plaque has also been installed.

This school was not always a school. It was built around the bungalow of Sir Francis Light, the Founder of modern Penang. It was later the Government House and the offices of the early Penang Government. There is even a well in the compound used for Francis Light and another for the public.

Francis Light’s personal well in the school compound

The next stop was the Cenotaph at the Penang Esplanade. This is placed by the Penang Veterans Association in honour of the fallen in the wars from the First World War to the Communist Re-Insurgency.

The Cenotaph at the Esplanade Penang

Fort Cornwallis was not to be missed. Exhibits are sparse and only a part of the wall exists. But it is well maintained and conservation works promise new discoveries.

The final stop was the Penang War Museum in Batu Maung. Having lived in Penang in the early sixties, this place was for me and I am sure many other Penangites, a total surprise, not having known of its existence all this time. Located in the south east corner of Penang, it was built in the early 1930’s and was equipped with anti-aircraft guns, cannons, barracks, pillboxes, tunnels and facilities for the occupants. It was evacuated by the British in their retreat in December 1941. It was taken over and used by the Japanese to protect shipping, as well as a prison. After the war, it was abandoned and disappeared in the overgrowth.

However, in the 1990s, an entrepreneur, Johari Shafie, started a company and with the Penang State Government restored the fort and created a war museum. It was opened in 2002. I personally found it to be an interesting place and spent quite some time such that I was the last back on the bus.

Lunch was at the Queensbay Mall where we separately wandered in the food court for a variety of not just Penang fare. We returned to the hotel and gathered again for dinner. This was at the TOP View Restaurant Lounge on the top (of course), 59th floor of the KOMTAR Penang. Participants were given a Certificate of Participation. One of the group, Colonel Dr. Robert Likeman, was inducted as a member of the Council of Fellows of the War History Institute. There was Malaysian Cultural dance by four dancers organised by the Tourism Malaysia.

We boarded the bus back to the hotel with farewells to mark the end of a very well planned and enjoyable tour of the Malayan battle sites. An eye opener even to me as a Malaysian with a keen interest in our history.

For Part 1 of this report, please follow the link below. https://museumvolunteersjmm.com/2019/09/02/malaya-at-war-part-1/

Malaya at War (part 1)

by V. Jegatheesan

‘Malaya at War’ was the title of a conference held in Kuala Lumpur on 10th and 11th August 2019. It was organised by the War History Institute, Holiday Tours & Travel Sdn. Bhd. and the Malaysian British Society. As the Research Director of the War History Institute, Mr. Seumas Tan, mentioned, there should be more stories about local war heroes as this would lead to more interest in Malaysia’s war history and consequently more visits to places associated with it. This will, in turn, generate military history tourism.

The Conference

The Keynote Address was by our first Royal Malaysian Navy Chief, Rear Admiral Tan Sri Dato’ Seri (Dr) K. Thanabalasingam. This was followed by Professor Brian P. Farrell of the National University of Singapore on the Defence of Malaya 1941-1942. An interesting first person account of the sinking of the Repulse was given by a survivor – Rear Admiral Guy Richmond Griffiths AO DSO DSC RAN (Rtd.). He is currently the Patron of the HMS Repulse Survivors Association. Kuala Lumpur at War 1939-1945 was covered by Andrew Barber, a Military History Researcher.

Most distinguished (looks belie their age):                                                      
L- R: Tan Sri J. J. Raj Jr,
Rear Admiral Tan Sri Dato’ Seri (Dr) K. Thanabalasingam
Rear Admiral Guy Richmond Griffiths AO DSO DSC RAN (Rtd.
The participants

Malaysian speakers were next starting with Mr. Harchand Singh Bedi, a Military History Researcher, who spoke on the Battle of Kampar 1941-1942. The story of Sybil Karthigasu was presented by Mr. Law Siak Hong, President Ipoh Heritage Society. War leaves behind a trail of wreckages and relics and Encik Shaharom Ahmad, a Malaysian Military Historian and Researcher, gave an illustrated description of airplane wreckages, bridges and pillboxes. A panel of speakers then gave their viewpoints on battlefield tourism and their involvement in promoting this. The panel comprised of Seumas Tan, Research Director War History Institute Sydney Australia, who acted as the moderator; George Yong and Zafrani Arifin, Malaysian Battlefield Guides; Henry Ong, Head Business Development Holiday Tours & Travel Sdn. Bhd.; and Dennis Weatherall, Australian Military Historian and Accredited Battlefield Guide.

The next day began with the topic on the Malayan Emergency (1948-1960) which was very much a war but for various reasons called an emergency. This was covered by Mr. Christopher Hale who is a documentary producer and non-fiction writer. The famous Bukit Kepong Incident was described by Tan Sri J. J. Raj Jr., a Retired Commissioner of Royal Malaysian Police. He was the Officer in Charge of the Police District and was involved in the incident. From the Nanyang Technological University Singapore, Associated Professor Dr. Kumar Ramakrishna spoke on the Role of British Propaganda during the Emergency. The Conference was closed with a skit describing how a couple of Communists pressured a local couple for food. However, they were ambushed and killed. This skit was by the Malaya Historical Group all in period dress and uniform.

Tan Sri J. J. Raj Jr

The Tour

The Conference was followed immediately by a 6-day tour of the battle sites and memorials as well as a few other places of interest. The group comprised organisers Seumas Tan and Henry Ong, guide Zafrani Arifin and 2 officers from Tourism Malaysia. There were fourteen other participants, of which five were Malaysians. The remainder nine participants were Australians including one who had been here during the Emergency and another during the Confrontation.

The following is a description of the tour and a brief explanation of the battlefields, the battles and memorials. It is not meant to be a detailed description of the various battles as this will be too lengthy. The description also follows the tour route and not the specific battle routes as this involved a lot of criss-crossing and backtracking; it was not a straightforward fall back. These intricate details can be read from numerous books and the internet.

The route for the first day follows the start of the Australian forces’ involvement against the advancing Japanese army. As Australian Lieutenant General Gordon Bennet wrote in his book Why Singapore Fell, “Australians go in to bat”, a cricketing term. Their objective was to stop this advance and even drive the Japanese back, if not to delay the onslaught. The Japanese had been rapidly advancing down south largely on the west coast road with forces spread out on the fringes of the road, in the rubber estates and in the jungle, in fact everywhere in a broad sweep. They also had air cover in many places operating from occupied airports. Surprisingly, they also seized boats in Penang and Muar to get ahead and behind the British lines. The Forces, i.e. British Army, may have delayed the Japanese slightly and caused some losses, inflicted heavy damage, but they ultimately had to retreat into Singapore.

While this is where the Australian forces joined the war, the entire army here comprised of Australian, Indian and British units. Many units have been retreating from up north and were exhausted. Units had to be regrouped as each suffered losses.

Tour – Day 1

On the first day, we set off for Sungai Kelamah War Memorial in Gemencheh. This is along the old road south and close to Gemas. The Japanese, who had rumbled down at speed, arrived here on 14 January 1942. An Australian ambush party had already laid explosives under the bridge and awaited the Japanese. Bridges were routinely destroyed in war to stop or delay the advancing enemy forces.

The memorial at Gemencheh

At 4.10 pm, after some 300 Japanese troops had crossed, the Australians blew up the bridge killing about 30 Japanese on the bridge. Australians were also ranged along hillsides further back and fired on Japanese who had crossed. It is estimated that nearly 500 to 700 were killed with minimal losses for the allied troops. As far as they were concerned, the ambush was a success.

Remnants of the bridge. A new bridge can be seen in the background.

Nevertheless, in due course, the Japanese had gotten ahead behind them as the Australian ambush party withdrew towards Gemas, continuously avoiding Japanese advance parties who got behind Australian lines. Generally, withdrawal was not a simple matter in war as they were constantly harassed and fought with by the Japanese behind the lines and by heavy aerial bombings. Many units or soldiers become lost or trapped and had to find their way to their units or other units. The bridge was quickly rebuilt by the Japanese using timber from a local sawmill. Retreating forces destroyed the machinery but did not think the timber would be useful. In war, fuel, machinery, vehicles even street signs or anything that will give an advantage to the enemy is removed or destroyed.

Today we see a memorial site and the remnants of the bridge. Further away we also saw anti-tank cylindrical concrete blocks intended to halt advancing tanks.

Anti-tank blocks and us

A local enthusiast, Rizal, showed us around dressed in the Commonwealth Forces uniform. This uniform was worn by Australian soldiers on the way to the Middle East and when they were diverted to Malaya, they fought in this uniform. Over time Rizal has collected many artefacts, all rusted with time.

Today, the road has been realigned and a new bridge built.

We proceeded to the Gemas Railway Station. We were shown a photo of Japanese troops crawling along the lines anticipating enemy attacks.

The Gemas Railway Station – then and now

The next stop was the Gemas Broken Bridge. Today you can still see the remnants as seen in the photo below while a new bridge has been built nearby.

Gemas Broken Bridge

Next was the Buloh Kasap Bridge, which shared the same fate as the other bridges. A then and now photo shows how the bridge was rebuilt at speed by the Japanese. The ends of the bridge are still intact today. On one side damage from artillery shells can be seen. Markings on the concrete pillars below show that the bridge was built in March 1926.

Photo of the Japanese rebuilding Buloh Kasap Bridge

Both these unusable bridges seem to be painted and maintained by the local Council, but attempts to contact the Council to confirm this is still ongoing. Before the next bridge, we stopped for lunch at the VIP Hotel, a small yet beautiful hotel.

The Segamat Railway Bridge was also blasted and quickly rebuilt. Any advancing army will expect bridges to be blown up and are therefore prepared to rebuild them. It is a matter of speed to get it up and let the forces cross onward. Materials are usually sourced locally as in Gemencheh.

The photo shows the Japanese rebuilding the Segamat Railway Bridge

It is fortunate to have the then and now photos as it helps in imagining the various happenings. Unlike other bridges that have been replaced with realigned roads and new bridges, the Segamat Railway Bridge was repaired after the war and it is still in use. Our night stop was at the Ramada in Melaka.

Tour – Day 2

The second day saw us in Muar town. The local Tourism Officer boarded the bus and gave us a tour of the town. Of interest was the remains of the bombed out building behind the present Streetview Hotel.

We then got on the road, headed southeast and after 5kms arrived outside of Bakri. This is the location of the famous photo of 2 gunners with the anti-tank gun. They managed to do damage to the advancing tanks. Below I quote the caption to the photo from the Australian War Memorial website. (https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/040367/). This caption and the photo say it all.

BAKRI, MALAYA, 1942-01-15 (actually 1942-01-18). GUNNERS OF 13TH AUSTRALIAN ANTI-TANK BATTERY USING A 2 PDR (pounder) ANTI-TANK GUN ACTION AGAINST JAPANESE TYPE 94 LIGHT TANKS AT A ROAD BLOCK. THE FORWARD TANK HAS BEEN SET ON FIRE WHILST OTHER TANKS ON THE OTHER SIDE OF ROAD BLOCK, WHICH IS A FELLED RUBBER TREE, HAVE BEEN DISABLED.

The caption to this photo in Wikipedia reads “Australian 2 pounder gun of 13th Battery, 4th Anti-Tank Regiment, firing on Japanese Type 95 Ha-Go light tanks of the 14th Tank Regiment on the Muar-Parit Sulong road on 18 January 1942. [1] Sergeant Charles Parsons and his crew were credited with destroying six of the nine tanks in this engagement.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Muar).

The hillock on the right is all that remains of the original as in the photo. A huge swath of land has been cleared behind this for a large industrial estate. We hope this location will at least be marked. This was the purpose of having the two officers from the Tourism Malaysia so they will appreciate the locations and provide feedback on the importance of this and other locations and place a memorial or a plaque.

Interestingly, the gunner, Sergeant Charlie Parsons, mentioned is connected to the family of the daughter-in-law of one of our participants on tour. He found this out when he posted pictures of the tour in his Facebook and she informed him!!

Further south at Parit Sulong, which was taken by the Japanese on the 21st January 1942, we stopped at the Parit Sulong Memorial. A memorial ceremony was held and the following oath recited by Colonel Dr. Robert Likeman, who was one of our group. This is always recited at Australian memorial services.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. 
At the going down of the sun and in the morning 
We will remember them.

Lest we forget.

(A Verse from For the Fallen by Laurence Binyon)

Small Australian flags were placed on the memorial. We then crossed the road to an area that contained abandoned JKR quarters. It was in this area that some 150 prisoners and wounded Australian and Indian soldiers were held captive and then massacred. The Japanese General Takuma Nishimura was later sentenced to death for this.

The Oath by Colonel Dr. Robert Likeman
Placing of flags

After Parit Sulong and many other small battles, the British forces had to withdraw to Singapore.

The plaque on the bridge at Parit Sulong

It is a simple to read about battle sites. It can be another matter to visit them and see the actual spots where it all happened. War is a terrible thing in itself. Being at the sites can evoke emotions though it all happened in the past. We see and we move away.

Parit Sulong – how many know the past of this town

Then we made a “Quantum Leap” (refer old TV series) from the War to the Emergency – to Bukit Kepong, the scene of the annihilation of the wooden riverside police station by the communists on 23rd February 1950. Bukit Kepong is about 60km from Muar town. From the hillside across the station about 180 communists led by Muhammad Indera, looked down on the police station. In the police station were 25 policemen led by Sergeant Jamil Mohd. Shah. At 4.15am, the firing started. The police stood their ground, refusing surrender despite their families being killed as well. The station was set on fire and through all this the police defended the station. After 5 hours, it was over and the communists left leaving only four policemen and nine family members as survivors. This story as with the others is overwhelming.

Today, unfortunately the station has not been rebuilt. However, a gallery has been set up – Galeri Darurat Bukit Kepong or Emergency Gallery Bukit Kepong. On display are pictures and videos not just about the incident but also a lot more about the emergency, the independence, guns etc. There are also personal artefacts of the policemen and their families on display such as the household items of cups and saucers etc. etc.

The police at Bukit Kepong before the attack. Sergeant Jamil Mohd. Shah is seated third from left.

The day finished with our travel back to the Ramada and a good night’s rest before the next day’s events.

This report continues to Part 2 covering days 3-6. It can be viewed at https://museumvolunteersjmm.com/2019/09/02/malaya-at-war-part-2/

Visiting Sapporo Beer Museum

by Eric Lim

Tourists visiting Japan have been increasing on a yearly basis. Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) in an earlier posting mentioned that approximately 2.7 million foreigners visited Japan in January 2019, an increase of 7.5% year on year. Come 2020, one can expect a record number of tourists to Japan as Tokyo will play host to the summer Olympics.

July is the start of summer time in Japan and they have a full line up of events around the country like the Kyoto Gion Festival held at the Gion area in Kyoto; the Shonan Hiratsuka Tanabata Festival a.k.a Star Festival at Kanagawa Prefecture, outside Tokyo and Tenjin Festival in Osaka. There are also numerous Music Festivals, Fireworks Festivals and beer gardens. It is also time to hit the beaches and to go hiking.

Over in Hokkaido, the second largest island in Japan, tourists congregate at Furano City, situated in the central part of the island, to enjoy the scenic rolling hills of colourful flowers, especially the lavender flowers. Then off to Hokuryu, to see the Sunflower field before reaching the capital city of Sapporo. I have mentioned earlier of the coming summer Olympics in Tokyo, so it is fair for me to inform that Sapporo was the venue for the winter Olympics in 1972. My family of four visited these popular destinations plus a few more, during our recent holiday here in Hokkaido.

The popular attractions in Sapporo include Nijo Market (a seafood market), Tanukikoji Shopping Street (walk from Street 1 to Street 7; full of game arcades, F&B outlets, hotels, drug stores that open for 24 hours); Sapporo TV Tower (height of 147.2 metres / 483 ft) and Odori Park, which is right in the heart of the city and when we arrived here, it was the first day of Sapporo Odori Beer Garden Festival. It is dubbed as the nation’s largest beer garden as it stretches for a distance of 1 km and has a capacity to provide 13,000 seats! And talking about beer, I looked forward to visiting the Sapporo Beer Museum on day two of our stay in the city.

Sapporo Beer Museum (SBM) or Sapporo Biru Hakubutsukan is located at Sapporo Garden Park. Besides the museum, the park also encompasses several dining halls and restaurants, a shopping complex and an indoor practice field for the city’s baseball team. SBM was officially opened in July 1987 and was registered as one of the Hokkaido Heritage sites on October 22, 2004.

The history of brewing of beer in Japan began at a time when Japan was embarking on its modernisation journey. It was at the start of the Meiji Empire and Edo was renamed as Tokyo, which became Japan’s new capital. Japan opened its doors to Western cultures and customs. The Hokkaido Development Commission, Kaitakushi, initially wanted to build a new brewery facility in Tokyo in 1875 but the plan was shelved and instead moved to Sapporo. Two key personnel were given the credits for the move to Sapporo – 1) Seibei Nakagawa who was appointed as the Chief Engineer. He left Japan at a tender age of 17 and studied the brewing of beer in Germany. Upon his return to Japan and through a recommendation from a high ranking Government officer whom he met in Germany, he was appointed to the post. He made it known that ice was required for the fermentation and aging of beer. 2) Hisanari Murahashi was employed as the manager and he petitioned for the move to Sapporo where ice and snow were readily available. The petition was approved.

At the inauguration of Kaitakushi Beer Brewery. Beer barrels stacked up on the right.

A two-storey wooden brewery was completed within three months and it was to be the first brewery in Hokkaido. It was named Kaitakushi Beer Brewery and the year was 1876. At its inauguration, piles of beer barrels were stacked up in front of the brewery and the following words were written in white text “Ceremony : combining barley and hops yields a spirit called beer”. The replica beer barrels are now stacked next to SBM. This marked the start of Sapporo Beer and it went on sale in September 1877 in Tokyo. The Kaitakushi logo of the North Star was featured in the label and it became the logo of Sapporo Beer until today. The North Star symbol was also used on the Clock Tower and the former Hokkaido Government office building which the local called Akarenga which mean “red brick”, two landmarks in Sapporo. Today, the Sapporo Museum is housed in Akarenga.

In 1886, the brewery turned from state-owned to private enterprise when Kihachiro Okura took over and called it Okuragumi Sapporo Beer Brewery. Shortly after, it was transferred to two entrepreneurs namely Eiichi Shibuzawa and Soichiro Asano – Sapporo Beer Company (Sapporo Bakushu Kaisha) was established and later, it became known as Sapporo Breweries. From then on, the company started modernizing beer brewing and further boosted manufacturing capacity to deal with intense price wars between the major players: Nippon Beer, Japan Brewery Company (Kirin Beer) and Osaka Beer (Asahi Beer). In 1903, Sapporo Breweries made its foray into Tokyo and became the biggest brewery in Japan. In the month of May the same year, it acquired the Sapporo Sugar Company (Sapporo Seito Kaisha), a sugar mill and converted it into a plant for the malting of barley used in beer; it used the building until 1965. The current SBM is housed in this building.

Today, SBM is the one and only beer museum in Japan. Upon entry into the red brick building, visitors are greeted by a sign on how to approach the facility. For the Premium Tour, a Brand Communicator will guide your through in Japanese and the duration is about 50 minutes. The fee is Yen 500, inclusive of premium theater and special beer tasting at the end of the tour. We had no choice but to explore the museum on our own, on our own pace and of course, it’s free-of-charge but we have to buy our own beer at the end of the tour.

Both tour starts at the third floor. As we were walking down the slope, we could see a huge copper kettle for boiling beer wort which was still in use until 2003. The gallery is on the second floor. There are altogether 12 panels displaying the history of the beer industry in Japan. Information is in Japanese but they do provide translation sheets in Chinese, English and Korean, placed at the side of the panel. The panels are well placed and allows for plenty of walking space. As we approached the centre of the gallery, we could see an additional long panel on the left side, and this highlights the collection of advertisements and original posters of Sapporo Beer, used over the years. This panel also provides an opportunity for visitors to learn about the fashion and design that was popular in Japan during those days. A collection of advertisements and original posters are shown below.

We are then led to a staircase to the first floor, to the Star Hall. And there is no better way to end the tour than by tasting freshly brewed beer shipped directly from the brewery. For me, this part of the tour was definitely the highlight. Back home, l would call it “Happy Hour” but since we are in The Land of the Rising Sun, it’s “Kanpai time”. For a fee of Yen 800, we could get a 3-variety Beer Flight, consisting of Sapporo Draft Beer Black Label, Sapporo Classic and Sapporo Kaitakushi Brewery Pilsner. Meantime, for the Premium Tour, participant is given Sapporo Beer, brewed by strictly following the original recipe used way back in 1881. As in any good museums, there is a Museum Shop. Here, one could buy unique and original merchandise, also Kaitakushi Beer which is only available in Sapporo.

The Star Hall

It was a wonderful family trip and more so for yours truly as it was my first time visiting a beer museum and also my first time tasting fresh Japanese beer. It was a wonderful experience. How I wish to be drinking Sapporo Beer now, on a hot and hazy afternoon in Kajang.

Penang Botanic Gardens

by Eric Lim

photo source: Penang Botanic Gardens website

The definition of the idiom “old habits die hard” is that it is hard to stop doing things that one has been doing for a long time. This is actually what happens every time I visit Penang, The Pearl of The Orient. I will go to the Penang Botanic Gardens, “come rain, come shine” and always between 7.00 and 9.00 in the morning, the best time of the day to achieve that daily 10,000 step goal. I was in Penang last month with friends and, of course, we visited Penang Botanic Gardens.

An information board located outside the garden’s office building mentions that the Penang Botanic Gardens were established in 1884. It may come as a surprise even to Penangites that the Botanical Gardens on the island goes back earlier than that, in fact, to the 18th century when the island was under the control of British East India Company. Francis Light declared British rule in the island and named it Prince of Wales Island in the year 1786; eight years later, in 1794, saw the setting up of the first Botanical Gardens in Penang. A Kew Gardens-trained botanist by the name of Christopher Smith was given the task to establish the gardens. The first Botanical Gardens was essentially a spice garden as Smith brought in specimens of nutmeg, clove, canary nuts and sugar palm from the Moluccas Island (Maluku Islands) in Indonesia, which were known as the Spice Islands. These grew very well. However, Smith did not enjoy the fruits of his labour as he died unexpectedly in 1805. The Company decided to close the Gardens and it sold off the Gardens’ contents.

Alstonia sp. (Pulai), photo source: Penang Botanic Gardens website

After a lapse of 17 years, the second Botanical Gardens took shape in 1822, due to the urging of Sir Stamford Raffles who had a keen interest in Botany and was at that time the superintendent of the Singapore Botanical Gardens. Sir Stamford Raffles is best known for the founding of modern Singapore in 1819 and this year, the Republic is celebrating its 200th Anniversary. George Porter who was working as the headmaster at Penang Free School was recommended to manage the Gardens. He managed the Gardens for 12 years and once again, it suffered the same fate as the earlier Gardens, as in 1834 the then Governor Kenneth Murchison decided to sell it off for a sum of 1,250 rupees. With the closure, Porter returned to his job as headmaster.

These two earlier Gardens are believed to have been sited at Air Hitam valley and at Sungai Keluang in Bayan Lepas; however the actual locations cannot be identified. It would take another 54 years, i.e in the year 1884, as stated in the information board, for the creation of the third Botanical Gardens. This time, the running of the Gardens came under the Strait Settlements Department of Gardens and Forests with its parent establishment, the Singapore Botanic Gardens. One of its responsibilities was to conduct research on tropical plants for their economic use. One of the success stories was the promotion of rubber trees (Hevea Brasiliensis) to be planted in the Malay Peninsular by British botanist Henry Nicholas Ridley who was at that time working for Singapore Botanical Gardens.

Schima Wallichii, photo source: Penang Botanic Gardens website

The third Botanical Gardens were established at the site of an abandoned granite quarry that lies deep in a tropical valley, at the foot of a big waterfall. Additionally, a river meanders through the valley. Due to a cascading waterfall, the Penang Botanic Gardens were also popularly known as the Waterfall Gardens. Charles Curtis, an avid botanist and a devoted plant collector, was appointed as the first superintendent of the Botanical Gardens. Under his supervision, the Gardens transformed from an old quarry into a magnificent garden – due his great vision in landscaping and his ability to blend into a tropical rain-forest settings. Curtis also focused his research in native plants as well as introduced non-native exotic plants to Penang and Singapore. He continued his good work for the Garden until December of 1903 when he formally retired due to health issues.

All was well until 1910 when there was a proposal to turn the valley into a massive reservoir that would serve the needs of the majority of households on the island. Fortunately, the plan was abandoned and instead, a small reservoir was constructed at the foot of the waterfall. This reservoir is still in operations today and it is supplying water to about 10-15% of the population of the state. During the Second War World, the Japanese army took over and immediately went into excavating tunnels, which were turned into assembling and storage facilities. After the war, Penang Botanic Gardens was separated from its parent establishment in Singapore. The year 1956 saw the appointment of the first local, Cheang Kok Choy as the curator of the Penang Botanic Gardens. Earlier on, Cheang was trained by the British and he continued on the good works of his predecessors until he retired in 1976.

Canon Ball Tree, photo source: Penang Botanic Gardens website

Today, the operations of the Penang Botanic Gardens come under Jabatan Taman Botani Pulau Pinang (Penang Botanical Gardens Department), an arm of the Penang State Government. It is divided into 11 sections namely Aquatic Garden, Economic Garden, Quarry Garden, Secret Garden, Herbs Garden, Aroid Trail, Lily Pond, Curtis Trail, Formal Garden, Sunken Garden and Japanese Garden. There are also four plant houses – Fern House, Cactus & Succulent House, Orchidarium and Bromeliad House. And among the flora that visitors can see includes Cannon Ball tree (botanical name: couroupita guianensis / origin: Guyana), Argus Pheasant tree or commonly called Sengkuang tree (dracontomelon dao / Indo-Malesia), Pinang palm (areca catechu, from which Penang got its name), black lily (tacca integrifolia), Ipoh tree (antiaris toxicaria, from which Ipoh got its name), angsana (Burmese rosewood), Rain tree (samanea saman / South Africa) and many more. The fauna includes the dusky leaf monkeys, long tailed macaques, squirrels and many insects and butterflies.

Apart from the department’s involvement in conservation efforts, research developments and educating the public on nature and gardening, the department is also targeting on the tourism aspects by adding new attractions and organizing events to make the park a popular destination for locals and tourists. Dataran Teratai is one of the attractions; it opened in June 2011 and it features the giant water lilies of the Amazon River basin. It is the venue for the annual International Flora Festival (in May) and Penang Orchid Show (this year, it is scheduled for 11 – 18 August). It is the starting point for the many Penang Hill trails and a non-governmental organization called The Friends of the Penang Botanical Gardens organizes monthly visits to the waterfall which is now privately owned. On a daily basis, visitors can join in the practice of Tai Chi, Qigong and aerobics or go jogging and strolling around the park.

With so much to do and with activities scheduled throughout the year, it is my hope that the next time you visit Penang you will visit the Penang Botanic Gardens/Waterfall Gardens, just like I do. It is open every day, from 5.00 am to 8.00 pm and is just about 8 km from Georgetown city. If you are driving, there are plenty of parking bays. Penang Botanic Gardens, here I come, again.

The large rain tree (Pukul lima) at the Gardens’ entrance (at the centre of the photo) was planted in 1887 to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria. It stood tall for 130 years. Unfortunately, it had to be chopped down in 2017 as the dying tree posed a danger. This photo was taken circa 1910. Photo source: Cheah Jin Seng (2012) Penang: 500 Early Postcards, Singapore: EDM.

Malay Architecture in Terengganu

by Ong Li Ling

I attended a talk on Malay Architecture at Petronas Gallery recently. I was so impressed by the slides shown by Mr Alex Lee that I decided to visit his resort – Terrapuri (The Land of Palaces) at Pantai Penarik, Terengganu.

Mr Alex is a Peranakan who grew up in Marang. He has been collecting old Malay houses since he was 20 years old. In order to build Terrapuri Heritage Village, he secured an 8-acres piece of freehold land in Setiu in 2005. Alex took 4.5 years to build this resort. The resort has 22 villas but only 15 are open at present. The resort usually has full occupancy in the months of July and August. Alan Hoh was employed as the conceptual artist and Oon Soon designed the logo of the resort based on the ancient Istana arch.

Kampung Kuala Baru is part of the Setiu wetlands, which is why the climate is so hot. There are nine ecosystems present including mangrove forest, beach, lagoon and BRIS forest.

The local ulama chooses the suitable location for the house. Old Malay houses are constructed using traditional Malay Geomancy principles. The house is based on the length of the matriarch’s outstretched arms, which is called a depa (wingspan). For example, a house can be 10 depa wide. The owner needs to take accurate measurements; “crow measurements” may result in the owner falling sick. On the other hand, prosperity will ensue if the ular cinta mani measurement is followed, i.e. the height of the main pillar (tiang seri) is an exact round number.

I flew to Kuala Terengganu airport and my Grabcar took around 45 minutes to get to Setiu. After ringing the bell, the resort staff opened the gate to let us in.

The first thing I noticed was the Double Gater layout, a typical architecture during the Langkasuka period. The Langkasuka Kingdom is believed to have been established in the 2nd century CE. It lasted till the 15th century when it was replaced by the Pattani Kingdom.

I admired the sobek (filigree-like woodcarving with old floral carving), which was popular back then. In the old days Kala was used to ward off evil. I also saw several stupa influenced by Buddhism.

I checked into my villa, known as Rumah Binjai Rendah. The typical Terengganu house is known as the Rumah Bujang. It has a gable roof and the outline of a makara. The makara is a mythical half terrestrial, half aquatic animal and it is the vehicle of Ganga, the River Goddess. It is also a symbol of fertility. The Singgora roofs represent the scales of the Makara. Grooved windows are usually reserved for royalty.

The number of steps of the staircase is always an odd number. You step with your right foot first and want to end up on your right foot. This is also the belief in Hinduism.

There are 6 units of Malay houses in the central courtyard. The resort can organise makyong, wayang kulit, main puteri (trance) and gamelan performances upon request.

The Rumah Berang (from Kuala Berang) houses a table used by Tunku Abdul Rahman. The 8-seater hardwood table was the very same one used by our first prime minister when he chaired a meeting with folks from Kampung Atas Tol in Kuala Terengganu.

The Resort Gallery is housed in Rumah Teluk Pasu which is a Rumah Tiang Enam (6 pillars). All houses in this resort are more than 100 years old.

It is customary for the owner to place a needle or coin made of iron under the main pillar (tiang seri) of the house as it is a symbol of semangat waja (courage, strength). This is an old practice. The bangau or egret carving has two faces. In the Mahabharata, the bangau is a makara and it is a symbol of money. The Perahu Bangau is carved with images of characters from the Mahabharata epic. The sanga can be found at the back of boat and it is carved in the shape of a bangau.

The kotak kelaut is where fishermen place their cigarettes and other personal items. This box can be used as a flotation device or safety tool should the boat capsize.

A laksa maker. In addition, brass-ware can be seen at the bottom of the stand.

This mould was used to make Singgora roof tiles.

This cloth is called the bunga halang or bendera pendekar (warrior flag). It protects the house from evil spirits. Every pillar has this cloth tied at its top. Later, due to Islamic influence, Arabic words were inscribed on top of the white cloth.

The carving on the left is geometrical. It has the bunga cina motif. The unduk unduk (seahorse) motif at the bottom protects the house from bad spirits. The carving on the right resembles two eyes and a mouth. It is a kala motif.

A few other design elements can be seen below.

The Baris Laksamana originates from the Ramayana epic in which it protects Sita from dangers. It is now used as a pagar rumah and has the lam alif Islamic wording (there is only one God).
This is a Pagar Musang. It looks like a door but we cannot walk out.
This beautiful wall is known as Dinding Janda Berhias.
Some houses have bamboo walls or dinding pelupuh.

Rumah Tanjung is an 8-pillar house. It was used for the shooting of the movie Merung Mahawangsa and Legenda Budak Setan. The kerecut grass installation in front of the house was designed by famous water colour artist Chang Fee Ming. He called this artwork Standing Proud. Kerecut grass can be used to make mats.

The Kisaran Semangat installation looks like a grinder or mill wheel.

I admired the orange pandan fruit (right). It is called Pandan Laut as it grows by the sea. The white Bunga Keledang or Bunga Kerak Nasi can be found on the resort. In Terengganu it is called Bunga Tikam Seladang.

The Rumah Jeram has a Chinese Peranakan interior design. It is believed that Cheng Ho on his 4th journey to Malaya instructed his men to go into Kampung Jeram to get water.

Boats, the main form of transportation in the past, were stored below the house.

This is a Baloh rice barn to store paddy.

An arch from the Istana at Jalan Kota in Kuala Terengganu.

A spa house where guests can enjoy mandi bunga and massage. Notice the stupa at the top; it indicates Buddhist origins.

Jawi inscription related to the Wali Tujuh.

Salted fish and preserved mangoes were stored in urns. There were no freezers back then and salt was expensive.

The tiang seri is usually the middle pillar underneath the rumah ibu. Minyak Canuar Kampung or Minyak Seri is placed at this pillar. It is made from coconut oil. It serves to bring radiance (berseri) to the people in the house.

The houses are constructed with bendul beams. Nails are not used in the construction of the houses.

Terrapuri in the evening. A big thank-you to Mr Alex Lee for showing me around his lovely resort.

The Batek People

by Ong Li Ling

I recently attended a curatorial tour of Mahen Bala’s Ceb Bah Heb Elders of Our Forest exhibition at the Taman Tugu Nursery Trail. This exhibition is part of a documentary looking at the life of Batek people. The exhibition is on until the 21st of July; do go check it out. The documentary itself looks at the relationship between the forest and its people. You can find more details on the documentary here.

Below is an aerial photograph of Sungai Tembeling. At present, the left hand side of the river is still properly preserved. Unfortunately, the right side has been exploited. If you only live in the jungle, you will never see land this way. The Batek do not see land the way Google Maps, Waze and city folk see land. The Batek use trees and mountains as markers. The coloured structures in the photograph are Batek settlements.

Traditionally the Batek are nomadic and hence they had no proper settlements. Due to pressures from outside and their inability to continue living off the forest, they are changing their lifestyles. Our government is telling them to stay put in order to participate in the lucrative eco-tourism business. This is against their ancestral practice as they are used to travelling and foraging. This photograph shows what the typical Batek person does all day. They are waiting for tourists to pop over so that the curious tourist can take photos with them. Reminds me of the Long Neck women I saw in Myanmar. The tour guides will give them a token amount to “add to the authenticity” of the jungle tour. This shows how hard it is for the Batek people to live off the forest today.

The Batek only take what they need from the forest. Whatever they hunt or forage will be brought back to the village to be shared. They have respect for the animals they kill. They believe bad luck will befall them if they break the taboos.

This photograph shows a typical Batek family and the structures they build. This structure is called a Hayak, Lintus or Lean To. Once they decide where to spend the night, the whole family is involved in setting up their home for the night. When they are ready to move, the shelter is returned to the forest and so their impact on the jungle is minimized. The Batek view the seasons differently than we do. During the fruiting season, they live entirely on fruits. During the flower season, they survive by harvesting honey.

The children are involved with the running of the community from a young age. As soon as they are able, they learn survival skills such as how to use the parang and how to weave batik. This period is also an important time for bonding, as the elders will tell the children folk tales. The children are taught that every member of the family is important.

This is a photograph of Mr Di. He is holding a blowpipe and he carries a canister of darts around his neck. The blowpipe is an important asset to the Batek and they keep their blowpipe from cradle to grave. It is the most important of their material possessions. Batek people are egalitarian in that they consider both genders as equals. Women can also hunt and forage food and men can take care of children. This equal partnership relationship is now changing as they are forced to stay in one place and men are forced to do work requiring hard labour. Hence, the women stay at home to look after their kids. We can see the damage that this has done to their community. Modern civilisation is forcing our ideas and our “modern” ways of life on them and they have no other choice but to follow.

This is a photograph of Mr Di’s son. In general, the Orang Asli are depicted negatively in the media. We often see them when there is negative news e.g. protest against deforestation. The way these articles are written are so negative towards the Orang Asli that many think that “they have not caught up with our modern world”. Mahen made sure that his photographs show that the Batek as dignified and empowered. Some Orang Asli groups have traditional costumes and they wear these with pride. However, they have been directed to wear the costumes for the sake of tourism and that is not a good practice. Just in case you are wondering, the Batek do not have a traditional costume.

This is an important photograph as it shows the burial site of a deceased Batek. They will choose the highest tree that they can climb and they will build a simple structure. They will then start a fire to keep animals away. The Batek believe that the soul will fly to heaven. This location is kept a secret, as they do not want outside disturbance. It was reported in the news recently that the Kelantan government exhumed the body of a Batek, did a post mortem and then buried the body according to Islamic rites!

The Batek gather and share stories whilst hunting e.g., “I saw a herd of elephants next to the river”. This allows them to form a shared mental map of the area. They have a ground view of the land and whenever people share stories, they can imagine what else is happening on their land. The Batek use trees that really stand out as waypoints to navigate the terrain.

This photograph shows some Orang Asli children going to school. Most of them have trouble getting to school due to transportation. Some Orang Asli kids travel 12 hours per day to receive an education and so it takes amazing determination and grit. The cost is another challenge, as their parents cannot afford shoes and uniforms. They are sometimes discriminated against by teachers and hence they do not find school enjoyable. After a while, they feel so discouraged they prefer to stay at home and help their parents. Mahen met many bright Batek kids. Some quit school before the age of 14 due to these challenges. The statistics show that out of 100 who attend primary school, only six are expected to finish Form 5.

This photograph shows the Orang Asli children happily bathing in the river. Most of us will find it difficult to swim in these rivers due to the currents.

This final photograph depicts Mr Di against the backdrop of construction and development. It encourages us to reflect on the Batek way of life versus our way of life. We can still live as Malaysians and go back home and practise our traditional way of life. So why is it that we force Batek people to change and adapt to our way of life? According to the statistics, there are only 1500 Batek people left. It is only fair that we acknowledge their customary rights to their land. The Batek are well versed in the medicinal values of forest plants but if you are a researcher, it may not be in the Batek people’s best interest to publish these secrets in journals. We can assume that greedy pharmaceutical companies will come and grab the knowledge and then patent this knowledge for their commercial benefit. When that happens, there is little else left for the Batek to survive on.