Visit to Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia – 16 May 2019

by Lam Lai Meng

The MV Focus Team organised a visit to the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia (IAMM) on Thursday 16 May 2019 for around 20 MVs. For many MVs, it was their first time at the IAM. What a fascinating visit it turned out to be. A tour of two hours was definitely not long enough to fully appreciate and absorb the beauty of the artefacts on display. IAM curator En Zulkifli and his team (Hariz, Dalia and Amin) showed us around the special exhibition on Qajar Ceramics and the main galleries.

At the end of the tour, organiser Mona Tan presented the book “The Chitties of Melaka” authored by Karen Loh and Jega (our very own MVs) to En Zulkifli.

Arabesque Design

En Zulkifli explained to us what arabesque design is all about. Arabesque is a style of decoration characterised by intertwining plants and abstract curvilinear motifs. The ‘circular’ intertwining arrangement of the motifs signifies something that has no beginning and has no end. According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, arabesque was originally derived from Hellenistic craftsmen working in Asia Minor, and originally included birds in their natural setting. This style of decoration became highly formalised when Muslim artisans adapted this form around 1000 CE. The arabesque became a very essential part of the decorative tradition in Islamic cultures. While there is widespread understanding that for religious reasons, no birds, beasts nor human figurines are allowed, representations of Islamic religious figures are found in some manuscripts from cultures such as Ottoman Turkey and Mughal India. These pictures were meant to illustrate the story and not to infringe on the Islamic prohibition of idolatry, but many Muslims regard such images as forbidden. In secular art of the Muslim world, representations of human and animal forms historically flourished in nearly all Islamic cultures, although, partly because of opposing religious sentiments, figures in paintings were often stylized, giving rise to a variety of decorative figural designs.

Qajar Ceramics : Bridging Tradition and Modernity

This special exhibition is on from 21 March 2019 – 31 December 2019. The exhibition features Qadari ceramics from Iran, from the 19th to early 20th century. The Qadari dynasty saw seven Shahs ruling in the northern part of Iran (then Persia). The Qajari era saw a lot of contact with European countries, and Qajari paintings of this period exhibit some European influences. The colour blue features prominently in Qajari ceramics. Qajari ceramics are very densely decorated with figurative images of humans, fauna and flora.

The IAM – Southeast Asia’s largest museum of Islamic Art

It has 12 spacious, well lit, comfortable main galleries:

  • Architecture
  • Qur’an and Manuscript
  • India
  • China
  • Malay World
  • Jewellery
  • Textile
  • Living With Wood
  • Arms & Armour
  • Coin & Seal
  • Metalwork
  • Ceramics

Architecture Gallery

This gallery features the diverse architecture of famous mosques and mausoleums from the Islamic world. Visitors are able to see scale models of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, the mud mosque in Timbuktu, the Alhambra in Granada, the Taj Mahal in Agra, the Kampung Laut Mosque in Kelantan (wooden mosque built without using nails), and many more. From these designs, it was obvious that domes are not an essential part of the architecture of mosques. En Zulkifli explained that domes were introduced more for acoustic effects in the ages before the advent of sound systems.

Whilst touring the Architecture Gallery, Lai Meng informed En Zukiflee about a unique little mosque found in Padang Rengas, Perak.  It was built in 1936 and is the only mosque in the country made of wood and woven bamboo.The colours of the woven panels were in black, yellow and white, reflecting the colours of the Perak flag. It was in use until 1976 when it fell into disrepair. The National Heritage Department restored it in 2008 and in 2017 it was turned into a gallery called Galeri Masjid Ihsaniah Iskandariah. A picture of this mosque is below.

Qur’an & Manuscript Gallery

This gallery highlights the development and emergence of different Arabic script styles.

India Gallery

The Mughal era (1526 – 1828) is considered as the most brilliant period of Islamic art in India. Many features of Mughal art diverged from mainstream Islamic art with figural representations and production of detailed miniature paintings.  The Mughal era saw the Islamic tradition of metalworking taken to extreme levels of opulence. Gilded silver, brass, enamels and jewel-inlaid gold were commonly used for objects used in the royal court.

China Gallery

This gallery displays many ceramic artefacts, which reveal Muslim influence. Traditionally, calligraphy did not play an important part in Chinese ceramics. However, Arabic Islamic calligraphy made a significant appearance in blue and white ceramics during the Ming dynasty (1368 – 1644) inscribed on ceramic ware and scroll paintings.

Malay World Gallery

Subjects of Islamic expression were found in stylised plants, fruits and clouds and in a variety of media such as textiles, paintings and objects.

Textile Gallery

Textiles in the Islamic world were objects that portrayed status, wealth and religious allegiance. The richness of these textiles were much sought after beyond the borders of the Islamic empires.  Expertise in the production of textiles shifted from Arabia to the eastern end of Islam, to countries like India where the Mughals were responsible for some of the greatest advances in textile production. Textiles were used for decorative and sartorial purposes.

Arms & Armour Gallery

This gallery displays many types of weapons used in Islamic countries, mainly swords and daggers with beautifully carved or etched hilts and scabbards. The swords usually bore the name of its maker as a brand. These beautifully decorated weapons were usually used for ceremonial occasions by Islamic leaders of the era.

Jewellery Gallery

The Islamic lands produced some of the most magnificent and finest jewellery  in the world. Islamic jewellery falls into two broad groupings – the exclusive and the ethnic (among tribal groups). Lavish and opulent use was made of gold and gem stones. The Mughal period in India was an era of opulent jewellery designs.

Coin & Seal Gallery

Islamic coins were highly calligraphic with religious inscriptions. Portraiture was eventually removed in most parts of the Islamic world in keeping with religious teachings. The IAM has a wide-ranging collection of seals that date back several centuries. These seals were used for official or personal purposes.

Metalwork Gallery

Craftsmen of the Islamic world were experts in metalwork, creating beautiful a vessels in base alloys like brass and bronze. Vessels of gold are almost non-existent due to religious disapproval and destruction due to political upheavals and economic crisis. The craftsmen were exceptionally skilled in metalwork with exquisite inlays of precious metals like gold, silver and copper. Iran from the 9th and 10th century onwards became the leader in metalwork with intricate inlays. The art of metalwork with inlays spread to countries like Syria, Egypt and China. In China, copper alloys were supplemented by cloisonne.

Living with Wood Gallery

Islamic craftsmen also excelled in woodworking. Crafts of wood exhibited intricate carvings and were often inlaid with precious materials like mother-of-pearl, tortoiseshell and ivory.

Ceramics Gallery

Ceramics were an outstanding component of Islamic art. Influences came from many directions, particularly China, but each Muslim region stamped its own identity on the wares produced. Islamic ceramics have in turn influenced ceramics produced in Europe.

Batu Caves’ Hindu Temples Visit

by Tan Chuan Leng

On 9 April 2019, the MV Focus Team organised a tour to the Batu Caves complex, one of the most revered Hindu pilgrimage locations outside of India and also one of the most cherished Hindu shrines for the Thaipusam festival in Malaysia.

By 9am, 18 MVs had gathered in front of the staircase (ground level) leading to the main cave right behind the tallest Lord Murugan statue. Our guide for this visit was the knowledgeable Mr Rasianthiran Menayah (Mr Rajan) who took the group through the temples and imparted his knowledge on Hinduism. The sketch below summaries the order of places we visited.

Mr Rajan informed us that the Hindu deities take on myriad forms; they are sometimes attended by their Shakti (spouse in common parlance). They are usually identified by their specific animal mount (referred to as vahana). They can also be identified by physical characteristics and symbolic implements or weapons they hold or wear.

1. Vishnu Temple (next to KTM Komuter side exit)
2. Hanuman Statue
3. Ganesh, Siva, Shakti Temples
4. Main Temple, Lord Murugan Temple
5. Navagraha Sannathi (Temple of Nine Planets)

In Hinduism, the worship of the different gods is not mutually exclusive but in fact is complementary though often devotees would identify with one as their supreme God. The common sects are Vaishnavism (Vishnu), Saivism (Siva), and Shaktism. The most popularly worshipped by Hindus in Malaysia are Vishnu, Shiva, and the Goddess Shakti in her various aspects, and Shiva’s two sons, Ganesha and Murugan.

Mr Rajan told the MVs that one can tell exactly which school of theology a devotee is coming from by the colour and shape of the tilaka marks that is placed on their foreheads. Shaktas, followers of Shakti wear a large red dot on their foreheads.

Left: A Vaishnav Hindu with a long vertical tilaka intercepted by an elongated ‘U’.
Right: A Shaiva Hindu with a tilaka of 3 horizontal bands and one vertical band in the centre
Photo credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tilaka

The temples visited are described below in the order visited:

1. Vishnu Temple

This temple is known as Sri Venkatachalapathy Swamy Sannadhi. It is dedicated to Lord Vishnu, who is distinguished by a discus (chakra) and a conch-shell trumpet (shankha). In the picture below, we see the chakra and conch at the top of the shrine. Vishnu’s vahana (vehicle) is the eagle-like Garuda, placed in a separate niche in front of the main sanctum.

Vishnu is the deity that preserves and protects the universe and he has appeared on the earth many times through his avatars (incarnations) to save humankind from natural disasters or from tyranny. Some of Vishnu’s well-known avatars are Rama (as in the Ramayana epic)’ Krishna, who destroyed the wicked and established a new order; and Buddha, the founder of Buddhism.

Vishnu’s consort is Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and good fortune, who is offered special worship during Deepavali. She is also represented as the wife of each of Vishnu’s incarnations, including Sita, wife of Prince Rama, and Rukmini, wife of Krishna. Vishnu is also represented in sculpture and paintings in human form, often painted blue. According to Mr Rajan, Lord Vishnu, the preserver, is considered by his worshippers to be the greatest among the gods.

At this temple, the MVs experienced their first pooja where the priest:

  • offered a lighted flame and worshippers wave the flame towards their face,
  • next he put some scented water on our palms for us to sip and
  • he then placed a silver cap on our heads before putting pottu onto the forehead. Mr Rajan informed that the silver cap is called a shasthari and that is represents God’s feet; it is symbolically touched to the head of worshippers as a blessing. Although a red pottu is commonly worn and associated with a married woman, it can also be used to ward off bad luck.
The priest placing the shasthari on one of the volunteers’ head.

Located perpendicular to the Vishnu temple is a temple dedicated to Gajah Lakshmi, know as Sri Alarmelmanga Thayar Sannathi. In this aspect of Lakshmi, she is flanked by elephants.

2. Hanuman Statue

The second place we visited was where a large towering statue of Hanuman stood. Hanuman is a semi-god, he is regarded as the perfect symbol of selflessness and loyalty for his bravery, strength, perseverance, and devoted service to Lord Rama. During our visit, the place was undergoing major upgrading and plastic sheets were placed over the temple area.

An individual worships Hanuman to ward off /counter bad karma brought about by selfish actions and the believer seeks Hanuman to grant him/her with fortitude and strength in one’s journey through life.

3. Ganesh/Ganapathi, Sivan and Shakti Temples

We next made our way to this colourful building. In it, we find Lord Ganesha or Ganapathi, who is also popularly accepted as the first son of Siva and Parvati.


Mr Rajan informed us that the elephant-headed Lord Ganesha is worshipped at the start of any undertaking; and his vahana is the mouse.  The reason Lord Ganesha is the first deity worshipped is to help ward off obstacles that might get in our paths while worshipping other deities.

Mr Rajan highlighted that a daily ritual to Lord Ganesha should include the thoppu karanam. This requires the person to first cross their arms and holding the ear lobes between the tips of the fore and middle finger, then they bend their knees and get-up doing this three times before he/she sits down to meditate. This is now accepted as “super brain yoga” as the activity improves one’s focus and brain’s development.

Photo credit: https://padmum.wordpress.com/2011/04/30/exercise-for-memory-call-it-yoga-if-you-will/

Next, the group moved upstairs to the Sri Sivan Temple where Lord Siva shrine is located and  MV group were invited to another pooja by the priest. Here in this shrine, we see Siva’s vahana the bull.

As we circumbulate Lord Siva’s shrine clockwise, the first niche held an image of Ganesha and as we complete the circumbulation, we saw a deity that was garlanded with lime in the last niche. This Goddess Durga; she is worshipped to ward off evil spirits by her devotees. Lime is believed to help remove evil spirits, and thus the lime garland is associated to Durga and offered to her during worship. Durga is said to be able to slay demons that the other gods are unable to control. One of her most celebrated feats is the destruction of the buffalo demon Mahishasura. Her vahana is a lion and in the picture below, she is seen subduing the buffalo demon.

Next, Mr Rajan directed our attention to a Lord Nataraja (Lord of the Dance) image located in another corner of the upper floor. This particular statue shows Lord of the Dance lifting his right foot. Who is this Lord of the Dance? It is another representation of Siva and as Lord of the Dance he controls the movement of the universe. He is also associated with fertility. Sculptures of Lord Nataraja typically show him dancing in an aureole of flames, lifting his left leg and balancing on his right foot over a demon or dwarf who symbolises ignorance.

Nataraja is commonly depicted with his left leg raised; he dances while balancing on his right leg. This rare image showing his right leg raised comes from an incident when the Pandya King Rajasekhara requested him to raise his right leg as the King was afraid that Nataraja, balancing only on his right leg, may damage the said leg.

Earlier, one of the priest  had reminded us that the Batu Caves temples would be closed for lunch break at 1 pm and as such, by 11.45 am, we quickly made our way to the base of the 43 metre Lord Murugan statue to ascent the steps.

4. Sri Velayuthar Temple (Main Temple) and Lord Murugan Temple

My initial thought of the 272 steps climb up was it would be challenging. In actuality, it was not very difficult and I was delighted to achieve the journey to the top in less than 5 minutes. Visitors are reminded to be mindful of the monkeys on the journey up as the monkeys are reported to snatch items and dangling plastic bags from visitors.

As I walked into the cave at the top, I found myself standing below a massive open area with a ceiling that is said to be over 100 meters in height. After descending some steps and just on the left of the cave before entering the Main Temple (Sri Velayuthar Temples) is the Temple Cave. It was in 1890 that K Thamboosamy Pillai installed the murti (consecrated statue) of Sri Murugan Swami in this cave.

After spending some time here observing the priests performed poojas for some devotees, we ascended the next short flight of steps, and arrived at the most sacred Lord Murugan Temple.

Lord Murugan Temple

This simple  yet colourful Lord Murugan temple is illuminated with natural light from a big hole at the top.  For a token fee, visitors can seek for a personalised pooja from the priest.

There were several other shrines in this temple including one of Lord Nataraja in the usual left foot raised in dance pose together with his consort, Parvati on his left.

By 12.45pm,  we made our way down the 272 steps and rewarded ourselves with a sumptuous vegetarian set lunch at one of the many vegetarian restaurants in the complex.

5. Temple of the Nine Planets (Navagraha Sannathi)

After lunch, we made our final stop at the Temple of the Nine Planets, located towards the left of the 43-metre Lord Murugan statue. Here we find nine colourfully clothed deities or Navagrahas.  The Navagrahas comprise of five true planets that are visible to the naked eye (Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn), the Sun, the Moon, Rahu (north lunar node) and Ketu (south lunar node). In this temple, Surya (Sun) is in the centre facing east; around him are the rest of the planets facing in different directions, but not towards each other.

Positions of the Navagraha and the directions they are facing

Astronomically, Rahu and Ketu denote the points of intersection of the Sun and the Moon as the Sun and Moon move on the celestial space. Eclipses occur when the Sun and the Moon are at one of these points, thus giving rise to the myth of the swallowing of the Sun by the Moon.

We were told Hindu astrology is based upon the configuration of the Navagrahas (nine planets) and their collective influence on the world in general and on each individual in particular during our birth. They are worshipped in Hinduism either to bring good luck or to overcome adversity, bad luck or misfortune arising from past karmas.

By 2.15 pm, we had come to the end of the tour. After a group photo, we thanked Mr Rajan for his enlightening tour providing us with finer-grained details about the oldest religion in the world. Bravo too to the MV Focus team, Mona Tan and Alwin Woon, for organising this hands-on educational tour.

A rainy wet morning to Sekinchan (8th November 2017)

by Elena Shim & Mona Tan

It was a rainy morning. Armed with raincoats and umbrellas, we gathered at the national museum around 7.45 am. All twenty who had registered for the trip, turned up despite the wet morning.

Sekinchan is a small town located in the state of Selangor in Malaysia, about 102km north of Kuala Lumpur and 28km from Kuala Selangor. In fact, Sekinchan is in the middle of the main rice-bowl area of Selangor, in Sabak Bernam district. It is one of the major rice producing areas in Malaysia.

The bus left around 8.30am. I was excited to see the much talked about paddy fields at Sekinchan. I had looked forward to going out of the city, soaking in the fresh air, and feasting my eyes on the acres of paddy fields. On the bus, Mona and Alvin, who put this trip together, told us what we could expect. We would be visiting the paddy gallery with a guided tour, then a mango orchard where we could purchase sweet juicy mangoes, have lunch, and then visit the Sekinchan Wishing Tree and a beach called Pantai Redang.

Highland Rice Fields of Ifugao (Philippines) – a UNESCO World Heritage Site

We were fortunate to learn more about our staple food as Steven Lim, a UNESCO qualified guide, shared his knowledge with us in the bus.

For more than 2,000 years, the highland rice fields of Ifugao have been planted on the contours of the mountains. The knowledge handed down from one generation to the next, the expression of sacred traditions, and a delicate social balance, have helped to create a landscape of great beauty that expresses the harmony between humankind and the environment.

The Ifugao Rice Terraces are the priceless contribution of Philippine ancestors to humanity, representing an enduring illustration of an ancient civilization that surmounted various challenges and setbacks posed by modernization.

Closer to home, is the unique adan rice or pade dari, popularly known as Bario Rice, found in the highlands of Ba’Kelalan, Long Semadoh, and Bario. It is one of the finest and best rice produced in the highlands of Sarawak. The rice has a soft texture with fine and elongated grains and produces a mild aroma and fantastic taste.

Ifugao (Philippines) rice terraces

Commentary on Sekinchan by Mona Tan

Sekinchan in Chinese mean “village suitable for plantation” as the land and weather are suitable for farming of rice, fruits, and oil palm trees.

The birthplace of Sekinchan was actually at the main fishing area called Bagan back in the 1920s. The early inhabitants were almost all Teow Chew who were also fishermen. Sekinchan gradually grew in size due to population migration into this fertile land and it eventually developed into today’s scale.

In the year of 1953, in order to segregate the villagers from the Malayan Communist Party insurgents, villages were isolated, and hence formed the Site A, B, C, and Bagan. Sekinchan has a unique geographical environment; it is not only famous as a coastal rice planting area, it is also blessed with plenty of fishes. Hence, people named it “Land of Plenty”.

During the British colonial era, the Teow Chew villagers of coastal area called Sekinchan “Ang Mo Gang” as many British stayed there. The total population today is about 20,000 with 60% Chinese, 30% Malay, and 10% made up of other races. The main economic activities are agriculture and fishing. The total farming land for paddy and fruits is about 4,700 acres and this popular fishing village has more than 300 fishing trawlers!

Sekinchan rice fields

Interesting research by Alvin Woon

All of us have been using USB flash drive or pendrive to store data or transfer information not realising that Pua Khein-Seng, who is from Sekinchan, is regarded locally as the “father of pendrive”, arguably one of the inventors of this USB flash drive. The multi-chip pendrive was first invented by M-Systems, an Israeli company, with a patent lodged in 1999. Pua’s claim rests on his being the first to incorporate the single-chip flash controller onto the USB.

Born and bred in Sekinchan, Pua received his undergraduate education in electrical control engineering at the National Chiao Tung University, Taiwan and has since then resided in Taiwan.

Sekinchan Today

Sekinchan’s economy today is based on agriculture, where mechanised farming methods have been introduced to enable high yield of rice; tropical fruits especially mangoes; swiftlet farming; and manufacturing. A number of trendy hotels dot the town offering thematic experience with a touch of ‘zen’ or simply living in a comfort of a ‘container’ and B&B for the budget conscious!

We saw an endless horizon of green paddy fields; truly a sight to behold and no words could describe the breath-taking scenery! There are many inter-connecting roads even from the heart of the paddy fields, connecting small villages to the town. Along the way, you may stumble upon a water path or aqueduct, little bridges, and of course the paddy fields themselves. Sekinchan is also famed for migratory birds watching. Just to name a few, Peaceful Dove, Shorebirds, and the White-breasted Wood Swallow can be spotted here.

This place is also famous for its many fruit orchards with mangoes being one of the favourites. Sekinchan also upholds its reputation as a town with swiftlets nests or more commonly known in the food industry as birds’ nests. Chinese believe that birds’ nests are luxurious food that contains many health benefits. Many customised building structures, home of the swiftlets, sprouted up in the middle of paddy fields as this is a new thriving industry.

Paddy Gallery updates by Elena Shim

We arrived at the paddy gallery around 10am and started the gallery tour around 10.30am. We bought our entry tickets for Rm5.00 and it came with a complimentary packet of rice from the factory. We were brought into a presentation room where our guide, Miss Moon explained how Sekinchan paddy came about. There are four types of rice: glutinous, long grain, short grain, and fragrant rice. Their paddy seeds came from FELCRA and MARDI, both Government agriculture agencies.

There are two plantings in a year, namely February and August. Transplanting is done by machine and this takes 2.5 hours. Water is drained out 3 weeks before harvesting. It takes 110 days before the paddy is ready for harvest. This means harvest time is May-June and November-December when the paddy fields turn honey gold.

In the olden days, it took 7 to 8 people to harvest 1.2 hectares of land within 2-3 days. With machine in the 1.2 hectares of land, transplanting takes only 2.5 hours to complete. Each 1.2 hectares of land produces 10 tons of rice before husking. Currently, their company, PLS Marketing (M) Sdn Bhd, only supplies to 99 Speedmart due to supply constraints. There are nine processes before the rice is sold to the market/public.

Step 1: The paddy husk is collected for reuse as the fuel for firing the boiler, to dry the paddy in the drier.

Step 2: Pressure from the heated boiler intensifies the drying process of the paddy.

Step 3: The dried paddy is then stored in the storage for cooling.

Step 4: The rice huller machine then removes the husk from the paddy through wind force to get the grain rice.

Step 5: The shelled paddy is then directed to the paddy separator, which will separate the unshelled paddy and the rice. The unshelled paddy will roll back into the rice huller machine again.

Step 6: The grain rice will be polished by the rice polisher machine where the rice kernel is also removed from the rice.

Step 7: With the application of the inconsistency principle, the rice-grading machine separates the whole and the broken rice.

Step 8: With the application of wind force, the destones machine then vibrate the rice where stones and broken rice are completely removed from the product.

Step 9: Once that is done, photo electronic technology is used to detect and then remove the black and immature rice completely to make it superior in quality.

IMG_20171108_111509
Ready to plant saplings

After the paddy gallery, we visited a mango orchard called Mango King where huge sweet and juicy mangoes are sold. Almost everyone bought at least a bag home. They also sell prawn crackers & banana chips and we went back into the bus not empty handed. We stopped by a souvenir shop called ‘Ah Ma House’. It was a wooden house next to the paddy fields. Ah Ma House is a specialty cake and biscuit store in Sekinchan. The main product is Ah Ma Cake which sells traditional biscuit such as pineapple tarts, ‘kuih bangkit’, and ‘kuih kapit’ (Chinese love letters). This establishment received royal patronage on 22nd May 2017.

 

Bagan Fishing Village

Later, we went to have a hearty seafood lunch at Guan Seng Long Restaurant. It was around noon and everyone was famished as we had an early start to the day. After lunch, we headed over to visit the Sekinchan Wishing Tree next to the Datuk Kong Temple.

As we ventured further towards the shoreline at Pantai Redang, we saw many fishing boats berthing by the river near Bagan, a small seaport towards the south-west of the town. It was an interesting sight as many fishing boats still vividly flashes in our mind.

As an aid to fisheries management and safety at sea, fishing vessels are appropriately marked for identification such as nationality of the vessels, irrespective of size and tonnage, to facilitate search and rescue operations if the need arises.

Julie Chang narrated to us the various licenses on the boat. Each vessel is marked according to its appropriate fishing zone usually in white lettering on black round background. Zone A is less than 10km; Zone B less than 25km; Zones C1 & C2 more than 25km and conducts overnight fishing, usually fully equipped with refrigeration facilities and polystyrene boxes.

The fishermen will venture into the seas in the wee hours around 4.00am returning back around 5.00pm with lots of fresh fishes, prawns, squids, crabs, and etc. In the evening, the whole Bagan springs back into a bustle of activities! Fishermen will be busy unloading their catch for the day to be categorized into types and sizes of fish before being sold to the middlemen or nearby seafood restaurants.

Datuk Kong Temple and the Wishing Tree

Pantai Redang Datuk Kong Temple Chinese temple has become popular among Chinese who come to worship the earth spirit, Datuk Kong, and to toss their wish up the adjacent Wishing Tree. This wooden shed temple is said to be over a hundred years old.

In the past few years, it has become a popular tourist destination particularly within the local Chinese community, after it appeared in the Hong Kong TVB drama ‘Outbound Love.’

The Wishing Tree next to the Datuk Kong temple attracts not only local Chinese but tourists from Hong Kong, China, and Taiwan as well. The beach area of Pantai Redang looks like a fiesta going on full swing, with people flying kites and enjoying food in various makeshift stalls.

Similar to the Pont des Arts Bridge in Paris, we have our very own Sekinchan Wishing Tree. It is said when you throw your ribbon high up into the air and it entangles with the tree, it will bring you good luck and your wishes come true. I watch in awe as some of our friends threw their red ribbons up into the air. It brought laughter and giggles. Some went up really high while some missed and caught a lower part of the trees.

Sekinchan Wishing Tree

We crossed over to the opposite side to walk on the beach. It was hot and we took a group photo near an abandoned fishing boat. We headed back to Kuala Lumpur around 2.30pm and reached the National Museum around 4.00pm.

It was another fun, enjoyable and informative trip to Sekinchan. I was really thankful to the organisers who recce the place prior to the trip and made this a wonderful day trip out of the city.

A Visit to the National Education Museum (18 September 2017)

by Mona Tan Gin Bee

It was a pleasant day to look forward to as fellow Museum Volunteers (MV) had come together for this trip to the National Education Museum, located within the Sultan Idris Education University or UPSI in Tanjong Malim. We arrived an hour before schedule with the JMM bus from Muzium Negara. There were 25 eager participants in this MV Focus visit including 2 teachers who trained at Kirby College in the 1950-1960s – MV Cze Yan’s mother, Choo Thye, and MV Lily Lim. I could feel how happy Madam Choo Thye was when she was at the gallery on Kirby and Brinsford teachers. Truly brought back fond memories of her younger days as a pioneer in the teaching profession!

Kirby Teachers Training College was established in January 1952

Since all of us are history buffs, let me narrate a little bit about this historical town.

History of Tanjong Malim

Tanjong Malim is an interesting gateway town located at the south of Perak Darul Ridzuan, bordering Selangor Darul Ehsan as well by having the Titiwangsa Range as its background and the Bernam River to its side. Fellow MVs were punctual as usual and our journey of 84 km up north from the National Museum was an hour-plus smooth drive on the JMM bus.

Tanjong Malim town started from a large cape or a high land formed by river erosion and sticking out into the sea; an early settler was an ‘ulamak’ (a religious man), Tuan Haji Mustafa bin Raja Kemala. Sir List, the representative of the Straits Government, and Raja Itam named the town ‘Tanjong’ in conjunction with the location of its large cape, whereas the word ‘Malim’ (mu’alim) was used to indicate the religious commitment of the people in the area at the time.

Initially, the District and Land Office was in Tanjong Malim. However, the Municipal Office was moved to Slim River after the incident on 25 March 1952 in which communist guerrillas killed Sir Michael Codner (the District Officer) and eleven other men in an ambush while they were repairing a sabotaged water pipeline.

Today, Tanjong Malim is known as ‘Education Town’ as it is the location of Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris (Sultan Idris Education University) or just UPSI. In fact, this town is also known as Proton City with the construction of Proton’s assembly plant.

Education Museum

Education Museum in its early days

The Suluh Budiman Building, which houses the current Education Museum, was built in August 1919 and its construction was completed in June 1922. This majestic building was designed by Kesteven, a famous architect in the Federated Malay States. It functioned as the famous Sultan Idris Teaching College (SITC) in its early days and had since generated renowned nationalist and intellectuals such as Za’aba, Aminuddin Baki, Ungku Omar, Ungku Abdul Aziz and Tok Kemali; all of them have rendered numerous contributions towards independence and the national education pedagogy.

Renowned nationalists and intellectuals. From left to right: Za’aba, Aminuddin Baki, Ungku Omar, Ungku Abdul Aziz and Tok Kemali

The design of the building has elements of medieval Dutch-Gothic architecture style and it is obvious that the design of the building resembled the Notre-Dame Church in France and Salisbury in England. As we walked into this magnificent building, we observed that the main hall looks like a church. The knowledgeable in-house guide, Mr. Devan, confirmed this as a chapel that it did not materialise. He said the craftsmen who constructed the building were brought in from Java by the British. Skilled Chinese labourers were also used for its construction.

Our guide, Devan, next to the original King Edward VII School emblem established July 1883. ‘Magni Nominis Unbra’ in Latin means ‘Under the shadow of a Great Name’

The upper floor of this building was SITC’s main administration centre, which includes the principal’s office, staff room, meeting room, general office, composing office and library. The ground floor consists of classrooms and a main hall used for the monthly assembly or for official college functions.

The Suluh Budiman Building was gazetted under the National Heritage Act 2005 as a National Heritage Building on February 14, 2009. On August 24 2009, the work of building conservation, gallery construction, and infrastructure installation meeting the requirements of museum practices were performed.

Finally, this floor area of 3,239 square meters was converted into a museum in March 2011. The opening ceremony was held on July 19, 2011, inaugurated by His Majesty the Raja Permaisuri Perak Tuanku Bainun.

Commemorative porcelain set for Sultan Idris Teachers College graduates

Mission, Vision and Objectives

Their mission is to preserve the heritage of national education in the form of tangible and intangible assets through exhibitions, academic activities, research, publications and community service to achieve the country’s vision. This is achieved by maintaining and preserving its history and glory of global changes in the past, present and future through a central source of information, restoring effort through R & D, proliferation of education knowledge through events, seminars, workshops and lectures at home and abroad. Documenting the services of prominent educational figures are commendable and the ability to bring history to live in the form of  a time tunnel is poised to create its own unique form of tourist attraction that would ultimately contribute to the country’s tourism industry.

Teaching aids of the Language Institute

Teaching aids for the blind using Braille

Tour to the Galleries

We really had a good time learning and recalling how our national education had progressed until today. “The museum contains one thematic exhibition space just right at the entrance, now featuring on UPSI’s milestone and another 21 galleries or permanent exhibition spaces within this building,” said Devan. We could not believe our ears as we have only four galleries at the National Museum. Actually, classrooms and training rooms used in the early days were converted into well-curated galleries in both Malay and English language. A number of old artefacts were displayed, some dating to the early 1900s. We saw interesting dioramas of early classrooms, uniforms, teaching aids & materials used those days, science & technology, prominent local figures and many more. Below were the Galleries we visited and it took us more than two hours to complete the tour in this elegant building.

  1. Early education in Malaysia
  2. Fundamental and Curriculum
  3. More on Fundamental and Curriculum
  4. Early schools in Malaysia
  5. Teachers Training – Kirby and Brinsford Teachers
  6. Higher Education
  7. Renowned National Education Personalities
  8. Sultan Idris Training College (SITC)
  9. Zainal Abidin Ahmad (Zaaba)
  10. Education and Research
  11. Malaysia Education Ministers
  12. Development of Early Years Children Education
  13. Special Education Development
  14. Education for all
  15. Adult Education
  16. Development of Education Technology
  17. Education Technic and Vocational
  18. Neuron Science Cognitive
  19. E-Learning
  20. Virtual Learning
  21. Science and Technology Education

Musical instruments, used in Penang in the 1980s, and some trophies

Old vinyl records

Research, Conservation and Procurement

We were also told that the ‘Research division’ is one of the core areas of this Museum. Research conducted in the museum consists of history, culture, nature, exhibitions and collections research.

In fact, there are 3 types of research conducted here:
i   – Research conducted by the National Education Museum staff
ii  – Research carried out in collaboration with other parties
iii – Research conducted by outsiders

Furthermore, the Research division serves to strengthen and develop the field of research, documentation and publication to uphold the museum’s function as a disseminator of knowledge in the field of exhibitions, collections, history, culture and education.

Collection of trophies during the MPSI era

Eminent Teachers

The Conservation division performs work on analysis, research, treatment and preservation of museum collections for the purposes of exhibition, storage, education and documentation. This department also carries out damage prevention, restoration of artefacts, monitoring temperature control system, humidity, lighting and pests found in repository and museum galleries.

Finally, the main objective of the Procurement division is to retrieve the national education heritage in the form of artefacts, ecofacts, specimens, and related documents in order to ensure that the collections are saved and available for exhibition.

After a complete walkthrough of the numerous interesting and knowledge enhancing galleries, we had a group photo taken just at the entrance of this magnificent building before we bid farewell and proceeded to lunch, located just in the vicinity, outside this huge Campus.

Group photo of fellow MVs in front of the Education Museum

YIK MUN PAU (Steamed Bread) RESTAURANT

We had a hearty lunch in the ‘Yik Mun Pau Restaurant’, which has been in operations since 1926. The restaurant and some of the food served here retains a nostalgic feel of the Colonial era. Acclaimed as the most famous pau outlet in Tanjong Malim, it is ‘halal’. The restaurant serves soft pau, toast, Hainan noodles; the Hainanese chicken chop, especially, was worth trying. Food served was in large portions and many said to me that it was good. That is why this corner restaurant, painted in red, attracts many patrons from all over Malaysia.

After lunch, we went back to Kuala Lumpur by the JMM bus and reached Muzium Negara at about 2.30pm. It was indeed a memorable Education Museum tour as through its exhibits, we learned to appreciate the importance of education, and how it shapes the Nation!

Cannon was used by Raja Mahadi during the Selangor Civil War against Tengku Kudin in the 19th century

Visit to Selangor Royal Gallery and Istana Alam Shah (6 Apr 2017)

by Chen Poh Leng

It was music to my ears when I was informed that the planned visit to Istana Alam Shah was finally confirmed with approval given by the palace. This once in a lifetime golden privilege was well worth the hassle for me rearranging my schedule and shopping for a baju kurung just for the occasion. We were advised and reminded to adhere strictly to the dress code.

In order to ensure punctual arrival, we left early in the morning for the Selangor Royal Gallery, also known as Sultan Abdul Aziz Royal Gallery. We were warmly welcomed by Encik Munasar, general manager of the gallery, and his staff. This gallery was commissioned in 2002 by the current Selangor Sultan in honour of his late father, Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah, the eighth Sultan of Selangor and the eleventh King. The gallery displays collections of many photographs and items such as the crown jewels and royal regalia including the state sword. We were brought back in time as En. Munasar told us many fascinating stories as he guided us through the gallery. The collection in the gallery also includes royal state medals, gifts to the Sultan and royal family, the Sultan’s collection of personal items such as beautiful clocks and  watches, plus a scaled down model of Istana Mahkota Puri, the old Istana that was torn down to give way to the current Istana Alam Shah.

Old family pictures at the Royal Gallery

After taking a group photo at the gallery, we proceeded to the second phase and the highlight of our visit, i.e. Istana Alam Shah. Once again, we were warmly welcomed, this time by the palace staff. After taking our first group photo at the palace, we were ushered into a brightly lit hall where we were served refreshments. This was followed by more group photos and a visit to the royal banquet hall. Along the way, a prominent display of nobat (an ensemble of royal musical instruments) caught my eye. We were briefed on the seating positions of the Sultan and the royal family and their guests. We were also shown how crockery and cutlery were placed on the dining tables. Explanation was given on dining protocols as well.

The luxurious guests’ waiting room

Our next stop was the guests’ waiting room.  This room is furnished with beautiful sofa sets which are extremely comfortable. Of course, certain sofas were designated strictly for the royals but we were allowed to sit in those which are not. High ceilings with lovely patterns and adorned with glistening chandeliers along with the sofas gave a luxurious feel to the room. As we moved through the corridors from one room to another, we saw many photographs and paintings adorning the palace walls. Our attention was drawn to a painting of a famous photograph of the official declaration of independence. The original photograph had the Sultan of Perlis almost totally hidden behind Tunku Abdul Rahman (Malaysia’s Father of Independence) while this painting clearly depicted the Sultan of Perlis.

We were next led into the meeting room of the royal council. In this room, the royal council of advisers would deliberate and advise the Sultan on state matters. Next to this was the pardons room where the pardons board would meet and deliberate. In both of these rooms, banners listing the designations of the members were displayed. Next to the pardons room is where the Sultan’s personal office is located.

Royal Council Meeting Room

After a short walk away, we were ushered into a familiar looking room. Here, we were advised that photos were strictly not allowed to be taken. This is where the official royal installation of important positions including that of the Sultan, the crown prince, etc. takes place. This is also where state titles are officially conferred. The ceremonies include oath taking. The palace staff demonstrated protocols when one’s name is announced to receive recognition and award from the Sultan. We were told of a dedicated area specifically for traditional Malay musicians. It was fascinating to learn that these traditional music instruments have mystical powers and apparently, only selected people can play these instruments.

Following this, we were led upstairs where we discovered many more family photographs and personal possessions and collections displayed. Among these were included beautiful hand crafted pottery, sculptures, figurines, clocks, cabinets, and etc. There was also a collection of rifles, shotguns and pistols.

The mosque in the palace grounds became our next stop. It was not huge but not small either. Apart from the royals, palace staff and their families were allowed to use it. There was a room dedicated for cleaning and preparation of the remains of the deceased near the main prayer hall. This hall was airy and bright with lots of natural light pouring in.

From here, we hopped back on to our bus for a very short drive to our next stop; the Selangor Football museum. It is a small building in which memorabilia including photographs and newspaper articles relating to Selangor Football, past and present, are displayed. This brought me down memory lane as I recollected watching some of the football matches with my dad in my younger days.

Model of Bukit Timah Station

We then proceeded to life size models of the old Bukit Timah railway station. An actual old train coach with properly maintained interior was also available for us ‘explore’. This was another nostalgic ‘journey’ back to the early railway days. Nearby, we saw a life size model of the Tanjung Pagar (Singapore) railway station main entrance and right beside this, our eyes  feasted on the beautifully landscaped Islam inspired garden, Taman Mahkota.

Taman Mahkota

Our final stop was none other than the Royal Automobile Gallery. This houses the Sultan’s famously vast automobile collection, both vintage and modern, covering brands such as Rolls Royce, Jaguar, Mercedes, Aston Martin, Harley Davidson, and etc. We were shown vehicles used for both official and private functions. Some were personally driven by the Sultan himself. There was even, amongst others, a US army truck and an old British Royal Mail van on display. On the upper floor, we could even see vintage petrol pumps and air pumps. Indeed impressive and a well maintained collection.

Royal Automobile Gallery

What a day! What a privilege! This visit has been most memorable for all of us. We all went away happy, though tired, to have had this wonderful opportunity to see and feel what it is like living as a royal in Selangor – all with the warmth and hospitality of the wonderful palace staff.

Tea – History, Culture, and Trade by the Potful

by Chen Poh Leng

A healthy lunch with tea as an ingredient in all its dishes was indeed a perfect way to start my journey of knowledge into tea culture and history. As we savoured our lunch, we were informed by Katharine Yip, our fellow MV and event organiser, that Purple Cane, the organisation that was hosting this afternoon’s presentation, was a home grown tea merchant (since 1987) which also incorporated the promotion of tea culture into its marketing strategy.

We were introduced to Ms Hooi, our teacher, and her team of tea art instructors (incidentally all ladies; I wonder why…) who collectively have decades of experience in the world of tea. Ms Hooi proceeded with her story in Mandarin and Katharine acted as our translator.

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Ms. Hooi and her team of trainers with Katherine (right most) who acted as our translator

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Lu Yu with his ‘Classic of Tea’. Image taken from http://origins-of-tea.blogspot.my/2012/10/lu-yu-and-classic-of-tea.html

The recorded history of tea goes all the way back to the 9th century CE during the Tang Dynasty in China. The earliest record was by Lu Yu, writer of the ‘Classic of Tea’. He was attributed as the first person to advocate consuming tea on its own. Before that, tea was taken as a blended infusion with other ingredients, such as ginger, spring onion and peppers used in everyday cooking. Special tea brewing utensils were documented.

In the early days, harvested tea leaves were made into compressed tea cakes for easy storage. During the Tang dynasty, these tea leaves were first crushed then boiled with water before it was drunk. Later, during the Sung dynasty, crushed and ground tea leaf powder were added to boiling water using a whisk; hence, the foamy infusion.

Back then, tea drinking was a pastime for nobles. It was purely for high society. Tea drinking was introduced to the commoners only during the Ming dynasty. Tea preparation was simplified in that the crushing and whisking processes were eliminated. Tea leaves were simply infused as whole leaves in boiling water; a much simpler and practical process.

As the story of tea continued, a process known as fixation was introduced to stop harvest leaves from oxidation that would change their colour, texture and aroma. This could be done by first steaming the leaves then applying heat to stop oxidation; or ‘pan-frying’ the leaves in a big iron wok by stirring them quickly with the hands to prevent the leaves from being burnt.

Tea leaves were commonly used as a trading commodity. Among the earliest tea trading during the Tang dynasty was a unique way of trading known as the Tea-Horse Barter Trade, whereby tea leaves grown in the Southwestern China was barter traded across the Mongolian borders for horses.

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The ancient Tea-Horse Barter Trade route. Photo taken from http://confuciusmag.com/ancient-tea-horse-road-linking-civilizations

Tea spread to Japan as early as the Tang Dynasty, but it was the Zen Buddhist monk Eisai who first introduced the healthy benefits of drinking tea to the Japanese. He brought tea seeds as well as the Chinese tea culture from China back to Japan during the Sung dynasty; over time, this culture subsequently developed into the very unique Cha-no-yu, the Japanese Tea Ceremony.

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During the Ming dynasty, another Japanese Zen Buddhist monk, Rikyu, made great strides in Japanese tea culture from which little has changed to this day. He is revered as the greatest master of Japanese tea culture. From here, there was a split into three schools of practices, one of which has been passed down 16 generations to present day.

In Korea, the tea culture was introduced by a Zen Buddhist monk named Cho Ui, who is also the author of the famous tea book, ‘Ode to Eastern Tea’.

Tea reached the West in the 17th Century. Based on written journals, the Portuguese have been identified as the first Westerners who introduced tea to the western world. They brought it home for their own consumption. Later, the Dutch made tea a trading commodity and they were the ones who first distributed tea leaves in Europe. The English soon developed their love for tea. A lady-in-waiting of Queen Victoria by the name of Anna Maria Russell was credited for starting the afternoon tea tradition in the 19th century. It was specifically for the nobles when it was first started, because of the long gap between lunch and late evening meals normally served after 8pm.

purple-cane-house-brand-purple-clay-gourd-teapotFrom the early 1900s to 1970s, development of the tea culture came to a halt in China for various reasons. This interest was however revived in Taiwan in the 1980s. Publications on tea culture and tea art masters emerged. The use of small tea pots became popular.

In Malaysia, tea consumed by Malaysians fall into 2 main categories, i.e. black tea and Chinese tea. Sources of black tea include those harvested and produced by the 4 tea plantations in Malaysia, the notable ones being Boh tea in Cameron Highlands and Sabah tea. Black tea is used very commonly as teh tarik served at the Mamak food stalls and Malay eateries, as well as in Chinese Kopitiams largely started by the Hainanese in the early days.

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Serving tea

The habit of drinking Chinese tea traces its origin to Chinese migrants to Malaya. They brought tea along for making their daily beverage. Decades on, Chinese tea is still being brought in. Consumption of Chinese tea is popular among different communities, and typically, the choice of teas has a lot to do with their clans, villages or towns of origin.

In the past, Chinese tea consumed in Malaysia used to be sourced through Singapore.  The Tea Merchant’s Association, Federation of Malaya (now Tea Trade Association of Malaysia) was established in 1955.  Nowadays, up to 88% percent of tea leaves are directly imported into Malaysia from China. Much of the import is conducted through tea associations.  We were told, globally, black tea is the highest in demand now.

Modern tea culture is characterised by modern day tea houses and new trends such as bubble tea, etc. This was spearheaded by Taiwan back in the 1980’s. Purple Cane, established in 1987, continues to ride on this, actively promoting modern day tea culture as proven with this specially organised activity for the MVs, for which the MVs are truly grateful.

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Image taken from http://esgreen.com/info/history-of-tea-in-china/