Royal Selangor Visit (16 May 2016)

by Chen Poh Leng

As I approached the Royal Selangor Visitor Centre located in the light industrial suburb of Setapak, KL, I thought to myself how nice it would to be in a location with so much greenery all around. The building gave me a good first impression in that it had a pleasant look, had high ceilings, and was very airy and spacious. As I walked in, an elderly lady dressed elegantly in a bright red cheongsam wearing pretty beaded shoes caught my eye from a distance. Katherine, our event organiser, warmly greeted me and immediately introduced me to this lady, Datin Chen, who gave me the sweetest smile. It turns out that she is the director of the fine establishment and the granddaughter of the founder of this establishment. She was to be our gracious host.

Datin Chen recounting highlights of the Royal Selangor history. Above her is an image of founder Yong Koon

The roots of the business goes way back to 1885 when a young man by the name of Yong Koon came all the way from Shantou, China to seek better fortunes.  It was tin that attracted him here. He brought with him pewter smith skills which he applied and improvised making beautiful high quality handcrafted items admired by many. Over the years, these skills were taught and passed down to both family and employees. The variety of items also grew exponentially over the years. The history of the country impacted the growth of the business. When the colonial masters were here, their demand for new items was introduced.  Over time, customer preferences changed and the business changed accordingly enabling it to thrive despite two world wars and four generations. As with many other family businesses, there were indeed family feuds but the strong and sensible ones pulled through and persevered to make it the fine establishment it is today. The colonial masters and foreign visitors were very impressed with the quality of the beautifully handcrafted items. Their purchases and good testimonials became a major factor in making it a global brand. It was precisely this that earned the business the right to use the word ‘Royal’ for its brand.

Some original hand tools used by early pewtersmiths
….and the moulds!

The true story has it that during a visit to Perth Australia, the Sultan of Selangor then, the late father of the current Sultan of Selangor, was asked by a sales assistant from where he came. When he said Selangor, the sales assistant in turn asked ‘Selangor’ as in the brand ‘Selangor Pewter’? Yes, the Sultan replied. Of course, the Sultan was impressed that the brand was able to bring fame to his state and, so, he decreed that the business should include word ‘Royal’ in its brand name. With that, the brand value moved up higher.

Royal Selangor is world famous now with retail outlets all over the world. It has built a very strong brand and has contributed much in making Malaysia known globally as well. Every single one of their products is handcrafted and one hundred percent made in Malaysia and this brings us back to our visit.

Hand imprints of employees

Datin Chen started our tour by taking us up a ‘walkalator’ that led us up to the first floor of the building where a small museum is housed. She first showed a wall displaying hand imprints of all the staff that had worked there for at least 5 years. New imprints are added to the wall every five years. I thought what a pleasantly creative way to symbolize one’s loyalty. We could see on the walls also, enlarged old photographs of the founder, his family including his descendants, and his employees going about their business in the earlier days. Viewing these photos conjured up nostalgic emotions in me. They reminded me of my own family’s collection of old photos. Both my parents were born and bred in KL. There were also photographs that showed famous visitors including that of American actor, William Holden and Bill Clinton. Other notable visitors included Martha Stewart, Christin Lagarde and of course, the late Sultan of Selangor.

Model of Petronas Twin Towers

Next, we were introduced to exhibits of the old tools used in the early days. We also got to view items that were made in the earlier days such as incense burners, joss stick and candle holders plus other prayer items on Chinese altars plus everyday items such as teapots. There is also a model of the Petronas Twin Towers constructed entirely with pewter beer mugs about one fiftieth of the actual height of the twin towers.

We were privileged to enter into a glass enclosed area at the museum which is not opened to the public. Datin Chen said only special guests were allowed in. This area exhibits some of the finest silver sterling made under the brand Comyns. Royal Selangor acquired the London silver company Comyns in 1993. Along with this, came thousands of beautiful designs dating back to the 17th century. We were all awed by these lovely European designs.

Inside the ‘silver room’ where precious moulds, tools, patterns and drawings representing the Comyns’ legacy are kept

Just before we entered the place where all the action was, i.e. the factory, we were served cold refreshing isotonic drinks in small pewter mugs. Datin Chen explained pewter properties did a good job keeping cold drinks cold. And for hot drinks, pewter ware is very good at retaining the heat. Having been refreshed, we were then able to witness how some of the work was carried out in the factory. Processes in the factory included casting, filling, scotching, hammering, polishing, buffing, soldering etc, most of which had to be done by hand. Each worker specialised in a specific process. Datin Chen explained that many of the senior workers had been working with the establishment from their teenage years right up to retirement where many had become grandparents.

Trying our hands at hammering, a traditional way of pewter decoration

Following this was the most exciting part of our tour. We entered an enclosed area called the School of Hard Knocks where we all got into action. We were each given an apron, a pewter disc (much like a CD), a hammer and a wooden block which is actually the mould for the pewter bowls which we were to make ourselves. All the noise from the hammering then started. It was fun and exciting making our own bowls engraved with our initials. What a lovely souvenir to bring home. We got to keep the aprons with the words ‘School of Hard Knocks’ too! There is no way I can forget this exceptional experience. As we left, we were informed that visitors could also make their own hand accessories at the Foundry for a fee.

Creating personalised pewter bowls at The School of Hard Knocks

Having used much of our energy knocking hard, we were then brought to the in-house café where we were served delicious refreshments with hot coffee and tea. This café is clean and comfortable. It has a lovely ambience surrounded by lots of greenery. Datin Chen continued to entertain us with interesting stories relating to the business as we ate and drank. I noted that by the time we finished, the coffee and tea which was served with pewter pots, was still very hot. This is  proof of what Datin Chen claimed earlier about pewter’s property on heat retention.

Sharing a great time at the Cafe over tea and refreshments

With contented tummies, we were then led to our final stage of the visit – retail therapy. There was a huge variety of items on display, all of them of good quality and beautifully crafted. Apart from pewter ware, there was silver sterling (under Comryns brand) plus fine jewellery (under Selberan brand). In 1972, Royal Selangor diversified into the manufacture of European jewellery when they started a joint venture business with a Swiss jeweller Eberhard and an Austrian gem setter, Angelmahr. The diversification into fine jewellery and silver sterling, Datin Chen explained, was the reason why the word pewter was dropped, making it just Royal Selangor today. Personally, I think pewter ware from here makes a perfect gift for foreigners as it is not only 100 percent handcrafted in Malaysia, but of good quality too.

We ended our visit with a group photo with Datin Chen taken with the biggest pewter tankard on earth just outside the visitor centre. Just before we left, we conveyed our deep gratitude to Datin Chen for her courteousness, warmth and generosity (her time, souvenirs from School of Hard Knocks and the refreshments at the café). Now I know we have this gem in my very own backyard, a must visit for any foreign visitor.

MVs with Datin Chen and the record-breaking pewter tankard

(With thanks to Katherine Yip for photos and captions.)

A Visit to Jugra – 22 October 2015

by Maharani Halid and Shirley Yee

Jugra…..was once the center of the Selangor State Kingdom….it was her 2nd capital…Sultan Abdul Samad resided here till his death in 1898 with his palace, Jugra Palace, built on top of Jugra Hill.  It was also where the 5th Sultan, Sultan Sulaiman, had his coronation.

Our journey to Jugra started at 8 am with our coach captain, Pak Man, accompanying 27 museum volunteers and 1 JMM representative. The journey took about an hour’s drive. Since our coach captain was not familiar with the route…our rescuer, Mr Edmund, gave a hand and we managed to reach the first destination in our itinerary, Muzium Insitu Jugra. Insitu is translated as “terletak” in Malay which means to “stay foot” or “on site” or rather “where it begins”.

Upon reaching our destination, we were amazed to see the museum deep in a remote area. We were greeted by Encik Aidy, Puan Farahani and Puan Zita; Encik Aidy became our official guide for the whole tour.

Listening attentively to Encik Aidy at the start of the tour

Museum Insitu Jugra was formerly the Balai Polis (Police Station) built in 1876 by Captain Syers, during the British era. Its construction is said to have been initiated by Tunku Kudin, Sultan Abdul Samad’s son-in-law. During WW2, the building incurred some damages due to bombings but it managed to survive. It was consider the first police station in Selangor before the police station moved to Bukit Aman.

Muzium Insitu Jugra

The museum’s ruins were found during the excavation by the Selangor archaeology team in 2001 and it was opened to the public in 2013, costing more than 1 million RM wholly funded by the State Government. The museum was built using granite said to be found around the area.  Glasses were installed on the upper level to reduce the humid conditions in the building and to maintain the conservation works. Original parts of the building can still be seen especially the granite walls, the flooring, 2 pillars left unsealed and the jail house previously used to accommodate 4 to 6 prisoners at any one time during the era. The museum has 3 galleries with Gallery A being the main gallery showcasing Kuala Langat’s history.

Before moving on to our next destination, we were entertained with the “huuu haa” story by Encik Aidy. This relates the story of a mystical iron chest that once belonged to Sultan Abdul Samad. It is better known as the Iron Chest of Istana Jugra. The chest was used to keep Sultan Abdul Samad’s coins and other valuable items.  It was said that Sultan Abdul Samad would toss a handful coins daily from his favorite window to the ground for the children to pick these up in the hope of encouraging them to study harder. After his death, the chest was left in the ruins of the Istana Jugra which now sits on privately owned land. In the 1960s, Museum Negara wanted to move the iron chest to Muzium Negara for safe keeping. Despite warnings from the locals, Muzium Negara managed to move the iron chest and this was the start of the nightmare.  At nights, strange creepy sounds could be heard coming from the chest and when it was finally opened, it was found to be empty. After many strange happenings, the mystical iron chest was returned to Jugra and is now under the care of one of Sultan Abdul Samad’s descendants, Raja Kassim, but the mystery continues……

The group was then taken to see the ruins of the district office which was at one time used as the court house. The district office’s importance as a court ended when the police station was moved to Bukit Aman, Kuala Lumpur. Over the years, the importance of the district office declined.

Masjid Sultan Sulaiman or Masjid Bandar, a mosque straight out of a fairy tale

Next in the list was Masjid Sultan Sulaiman or Masjid Bandar, known for its yellow or rather mustard colour. But unfortunately for us, the Masjid is currently closed for restoration. This Masjid was built in 1905 by Sultan Sulaiman, the fifth Sultan of Selangor.

The mosque is within a 5 min drive from his Istana, Istana Bandar, built in 1905 with new wings added in 1914. The building was designed by the Sultan and he lived here till his death in 1938. The design of this Istana is said to be inspired by the Sultan Abdul Samad building in Kuala Lumpur. The construction cost was wholly funded by the Sultan. The architecture/layout of the building has Chinese, European and Mughal influences. The Balairong, the court house, the kitchen, and the rooms are still intact.

At Istana Bandar

The 8th Sultan of Selangor, Sultan Salahuddin Hishamuddin, was born at this istana and grew up here. In those days, the royal ladies and children were not allowed out of the compound. They were limited within the garden known as “Taman Larangan” guarded by the panglima or Istana guards.


Sultan Sulaiman was known to his subjects as being a pious Sultan. A penalty of 50 cents (the value was big back in the 1900s) was imposed on those who failed to attend the Friday prayer. The Sultan also read the sermon and became the Imam during the prayers. Istana Bandar is currently being restored by Jabatan Warisan under the supervision of Puan Zita.

Known as Jalan Kecelakaan, this walkway was the route taken by prisoners on the way to be executed.

Before the tour of the Istana, the Museum volunteers were served an excellent lunch in the Istana’s compound enjoying the air (forgetting the haze at that moment!) and the quiet surrounding. Just imagine back then during the era of Sultan Sulaiman, this area was heavily guarded to ensure the safety of the royal family members.

Before heading back to Kuala Lumpur, we stopped over at Ros Kerepek to buy ourselves some goodies. The group safely reached Museum Negara 4.15pm and it was a successful and fruitful tour, another discovery…..

A gift and farewells

Visit to the Royal Malaysian Police Museum

by Chen Poh Leng

IMG-20150131-WA0009Our very first focus event for 2015 (on 29 January) was a visit to the Royal Malaysian Police Museum which is located near the National Mosque (Masjid Negara) and many other interesting tourist spots in KL city. We were very warmly welcomed by police officers who served us a hearty breakfast of local delights consisting of rice cooked in coconut milk (nasi lemak), curry puffs and local Malay cakes (kuih) with coffee/tea.

With filled tummies we started the museum tour by listening to a short briefing about the museum. We were informed that visits were free and they open everyday during normal working hours except on Mondays. On Fridays, it is closed from 12:30pm to 2:30 pm for Friday prayers. The museum consists of 3 galleries. Gallery A focused on the early history of the police force that spanned from the Malacca Sultanate period right up to the time of the Dutch colonisation. Gallery B exhibits were based on the period of the British rule. This covered the Straits Settlement, the Federated Malay States, the Unfederated Malay States plus Sarawak and Sabah. Gallery C’s exhibits were of the Malayan Emergency era and thereafter. We were then treated to a 7 minute video on the history of the Royal Malaysian Police Force.

Enjoying our breakfast
Enjoying our breakfast

Gallery A’s tour started with exhibits of the uniforms (females inclusive) that changed over time. Arms in the early days such as the keris, the Portugese helmet and sword, the Dutch pistols and guns and even a canon ball were on display. As we entered Gallery B our attention was brought to a lockup door that was curved which was how the lockup doors were those days. Items such as handcuffs, a very old typewriter, a gong (functioned as a siren) and an old Berkefeld water filter could be seen as we moved along. There were also exhibits of the different modes of transport used by the police such as the water buffalo, bicycles and motorbikes.

IMG-20150131-WA0046Various weaponry on display included those used by the police plus those used by captured criminals. These included those that were handmade. Uniforms used specifically for pomp and splendour, ceremonial events, and by the police band were also on display. We also discovered that the wives of the police force were entitled to become a member of a special police wives association but there isn’t any association for husbands of female police.

Due recognition was awarded to the heroes of the force. The highest of which is the Supreme Gallantry Award while the second highest is the Star of the Commander of Valour. Awardees of these awards were proudly displayed. Policemen who excelled in the field of sports were also included in the exhibits.

IMG-20150131-WA0044Gallery C started off with exhibits of the paraphernalia and contrabands of the Malayan Communist Party during the emergency. These included medical tools, some used for abortion, tools to make counterfeit money as well as tools to manufacture drugs. An item of interest included handkerchiefs with pornographic paintings that could be folded tiny enough to be easily hidden and passed on without being caught. In this gallery, there were also photographs of the police tattoo shows, performance/stunts accompanied with music that engage the public, a display of the identity cards used by members of the force plus all the ranks in the force. Finally, our tour ended with a 7 minute video on the emergency period between 1940s and 1960s.

Before we said our goodbyes, we extended our gratitude to our gracious police hosts who presented us a goody bag each consisting of the museum flyer and little museum souvenirs. It was indeed a morning well spent for all of us.

Tun Abdul Razak Memorial – A trip down memory lane

by Kavitha Subaramaniam

10641206_836872183010241_6034203107118408668_nThe Museum Volunteers (MV) focus group organised a trip to the Tun Abdul Razak Memorial on Thursday, 25th September 2014 as members were curious and keen to enrich their understanding of the second Prime Minister of Malaysia, the late Tun Abdul Razak bin Hussein Al-Haj. We gathered at the main entrance of the memorial at 10 o’clock in the morning and were led by an experienced guide, Encik Saladdin Merican, from the memorial itself.

The late Tun Abdul Razak has the sobriquet ‘Father of Development’ although he only held the tenure of Prime Minister for six years, from 1970 to 1976, before he lost a battle to leukaemia. This building, which was originally his official residence when he was in office and converted to a memorial on 6th May 1982, is situated at Lake Garden, Kuala Lumpur. This iconic structure commemorates Tun Abdul Razak’s significant contribution in developing the country coupled with uniting its unique pluralistic society.

TAR 009When we stepped into his ‘house’, it was simple and yet had the atmosphere of serenity despite its location at the hub of the city. Encik Merican guided us around the house (living room, dining hall, kitchen, lounge area, bedrooms, private office, reading room, courtyard) and gave elaborate explanations on the various possessions and souvenirs that belonged to Tun Abdul Razak. The placement of the furniture, carpets, books and personal collections was preserved as when the late Tun Abdul Razak’s lived there, so that visitors could better appreciate the icon’s life. The visit not only gave us a glimpse of his personal life with his wife Tun Rahah Mohammad Noah and his five sons but it also showed us the early days of the present Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib, who is his eldest son. No doubt this tour has made us realise and appreciate the sacrifices made by the former Prime Minister for this country.


Visit to Sri Kandaswamy Kovil

by Maganjeet Kaur

Last Sunday (20th April 2014), a bunch of Museum Volunteers visited the Sri Kandaswamy Kovil at Scotts Road, Brickfields. We were hosted by Dr. Thilaga from the temple committee and Dato’ Jega who had helped arrange the trip.

DSC_4813The word ‘Kovil’ means temple and it is composed of two syllables: ‘ko’ meaning god or king and ‘vil’ meaning abode or residence. The Sri Kandaswamy Kovil is a 110 year old Sri Lankan Tamil temple. In Hinduism, Brahman is the Supreme Being; the formless god who takes three forms: Brahma as the creator, Vishnu as the preserver and Siva as the destroyer. So, Brahma, Vishnu and Siva are manifestations of Brahman in its different roles. In Saivism, Lord Shiva is revered as the Supreme Being and in a Saivite temple, Lord Shiva would be the principal deity. In Sri Kandaswamy, a Saivite temple, the residing deity is Sri Shakthi Vel Peruman, the divine spear of Lord Murugan, the second son of Lord Siva.

MuruganDr. Thilaga’s stressed that images of Hindu deities and the rituals performed in Hinduism should be taken as symbols and not at face value. For example, Lord Murugan (the son of Lord Siva and the goddess Parvati) is pictured with six heads which represent the six attributes of wisdom, strength, (and I did not catch the rest). The six heads also represent the six directions: north, south, east, west, top, bottom indicating the all-pervading nature of god. His vehicle is the peacock indicating mastery over pride and vanity. One of his hands points downwards and another one points upwards representing fear and fearlessness respectively. Duality, such as this, can be seen represented in all Hindu deities. The exterior of a Hindu temple is very ornate. This reminds the devotee that there are many distractions in the material world and to leave these behind as he/she enters the temple. The ritual of bathing the deity is actually a symbolic process for the devotee to ‘wash away’ his/her emotions of jealousy, anger, greed, etc.

DSC_4833Sri Kandaswamy Kovil is a very orthodox temple and adheres rigidly to the ancient Saiva Agama scriptures which lay out the correct procedures to erect a temple, the form and placement of deities in the temple as well as how rituals in the temple are to be performed. Dr. Thilaga explained that the temple is shaped like the human body. The Sanctum sanctorum (that houses Sri Shakthi Vel Peruman) represents the head and the Gopuram (the main gateway of the temple) represents the feet. In the central portion, which represents the body, a representation of an enlightened soul, a representation of bondage and a huge golden flagpole have been placed. The flagpole is at the end of the ‘body’, i.e where the legs start. Saiva Siddhanta philosophy recognises three eternal entities: god, soul and bondage. Bondage of the soul in pursuit of materialism prevents it from knowing god.

The image of Sri Shakthi Vel Peruman in the temple is that of a ‘Vel’ which is loosely translated as spear.

Mythology behind the Vel: The goddess Parvati embodied her power in the Vel and presented it to Lord Murugan to assist in his fight against the asura Soorapadman. To escape Lord Murugan, Soorapadman turned himself into a mango tree but the Vel split the tree into half; one becoming a peacock and the other a rooster. The peacock became Lord Murugan’s vehicle and the rooster, the emblem on his flag. The Vel would, after battle, cleanse itself in the Ganges River before returning to its owner.

Symbology behind the Vel: it show the power of wisdom and that one must not only have in-depth knowledge of a subject but also that the knowledge must be broad (multi-disciplined). Sri Shakthi Vel Peruman is thus ‘one whose knowledge is deep, broad, and sharp’.


MV Pot Luck – 2014

by Lena Koh Maltesen

After Ian Burnet’s presentation on the spice routes, what better way to savour the tang of turmeric, the kick of cloves and sniff the aroma of cinnamon than through the dishes that the museum volunteers brought to the Annual Potluck. More than 40 trainee and graduated guides attended the lunch held on the grounds of the National Museum on 25 January 2014.

049Representative of the different races of the museum community, we were treated to French quiches, Danish rolls, Portuguese egg tarts, idaly (Indian bread made from rice flour) served with traditional Indian lentil curry and coconut, pulut panggang (glutinous rice with coconut wrapped with bananas leaf and fragrantly grilled), fish cutlets, soya chicken wings, almond cookies, sushi rolls and much more. In keeping with the forthcoming Chinese New Year, we also had a big box of Mandarin oranges. Jabatan Muzium not only generously sponsored the roti jala (a Malay pancake made of flour that has been artistically interwoven to form a lacy pattern) eaten with chicken curry, the Malay seri kaya dessert and refreshments but added a platter of delicious fried noodles.  The trainees of Batch 20 and 21 were happily exchanging notes of their experience whilst learning more from each other on the origin of the dish each had brought.

Forging new friendships

All helped to set the table and lay the dishes in true spirit of camaraderie. Starting as strangers and after going through the trials and tribulations of 16  weeks of rehearsals and presentations, a kind of kindred spirit prevailed with some even volunteering to practise guiding with each other. Definitely, I felt that the Annual Potluck is the last of the icebreakers that undoubtedly forge new friendships.

This reminded me of the International Day that schools host to celebrate the diversity and the unity of the multi-racial community. If only we had the ronggeng dance and the national costumes. Perhaps next year, we shall come with our traditional costumes with background music to match …

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Find more photos on Facebook of both Ian Burnet’s talk and the Pot-Luck.