The Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia (IAMM) 20th Anniversary Curators’ Sharing Sessions enhanced my appreciation of the Islamic artefacts on display at Muzium Negara. Here is an opportunity to highlight the artefacts in Gallery B based on information gleaned from the IAMM curators and publications.
The Malay world began to accept Islam from the 13th century onwards, with evidence first found in northern Sumatra. This early phase was characterized by a superficial understanding of the faith. From the 1400s, the Malays increased their understanding on living as Muslims. Eventually, from the 18th century onwards, there was an even deeper understanding of Islam, through the emergence of Islamic scholars such as Syeikh Daud al-Fatani and Raja Ali Haji.
Intellectual centres in the Malay archipelago included Palembang, Aceh, Batavia, Riau-Lingga, and Patani. These centres became Malay scriptoria where scribes and illuminators copied religious and literature manuscripts.
The Holy Quran on display at Gallery B originates from Terengganu, on the East Coast of the Peninsula. It is a sample manuscript from an area distinguished for its Islamic scholarship and calligraphic expertise. This Quran is a 19th century specimen in Naskh script – a calligraphy style valued for its clarity in assisting non-Arabic speakers recite the Quran accurately. Its arabesque design with floral motifs and vegetal scrolls reflect the natural Malay world. Red and green, colours also seen in woodcarving, echo the decorative traditions of this region. The use of gold suggests that this Quran was made for a royal patron.
Nakula (1980) wrote about the relationship between Islam and the Malay arts. One’s faith in the oneness of Allah can be manifested in the creation of artworks. In modern Malaysia, apprentices of master carver Adiguru Norhaiza Nordin are required to sit in nature so that they may realise the cosmic dimension and have the vision of multiplicity in oneness and oneness in multiplicity. With this understanding, the woodcarvers may then integrate all elements of their being into its proper centre, thus attaining purity and wholeness when executing their art.
The soul of Malay woodcarving is influenced by the moral ethical values connected with Malay worldviews. The poem below illustrates the Malay philosophy on woodcarving:
Tumbuh berpuncaPunca penuh rahsiaTajam tidak menikam lawanLilit tidak memaut kawan
Growth from a source
A source full of secrets
Sharp does not stab foe
Twines do not tie friend
The first two lines allude to Divinity – the starting point of life (God) is not seen. The other two lines indicate Community – the bowing leaves signify respect for one another and that there is harmony even in conflict.
The motifs carved contain underlying messages and sometimes act as a reminder. The door panel on display combines calligraphy and floral motifs, which reminds one of the Creator. Some motifs remain from pre-Islamic days, for example the lotus but these are given a new interpretation to fit the teachings of Islam. Woodcarvings are only displayed in clean or sacred places.
Calligraphy is also used for protection as shown by our red vest with verses. This talismanic vest would have been worn as an undershirt to safeguard its wearer in battle. A similar-looking 19th century silk vest from the Malay Peninsula with Quranic verses displayed at IAMM is made from the underside of the Kiswah – the cloth that covers the Kaaba in Mecca.
A distinctive sample of calligraphy from the Malay world is found on the tombstone of Sultan Mansur Shah. Batu Aceh tombstones are usually found in pairs – one for the head and the other for the foot of the grave. This tombstone has been moved from its original site, which probably explains why only one remains. In true Batu Aceh style, it has a Sufi couplet inscription referring to the transience of life. The calligraphy on this tombstone is challenging to read due to its overlapping nature. Recently, the IAMM curators have deciphered and translated the inscriptions for Muzium Negara. Look out for the new description on display.
A noteworthy artefact in Gallery B is the 16th century ceramic plate from the Ming Dynasty inscribed with Quranic verses. The Aceh-style Swatow dish was a more affordable plate for the middle-class Acehnese who aspired to own Chinese ceramics. Its calligraphy may not be fine or accurate as it was mass-produced for the export market. The back of a similar plate at IAMM shows the crude finish with sandy grits on its base. It is likely that the piece at Muzium Negara has a similar base, albeit hidden from sight.
Islamic metalwork was once highly sought after in Europe. Such metal items made for the European market were known as Veneto Saracenic. Iran was renowned for fine metalwork as exemplified by the 17th century Isfahan copper bowl in Gallery B. Safavid Iran metalwork emphasized steel and copper, usually finished with tin. Isfahan was then its capital city. The use of figural motifs was allowed in the arts, with the understanding that such items were not displayed in sacred places. The copper bowl has calligraphic inscriptions and scenes of daily life – characteristic of Shia Islam.
Abdullah Mohamed @Nakula (1980) Falsafah dan pemikiran orang-orang Melayu: hubungan dengan Islam dan Kesenian, Kuala Lumpur: Kementerian Kebudayaan Belia dan Sukan.
Introduction to Islamic Arts – Calligraphy: The collection of the IAMM (2016)
The solitary bronze drum standing exposed at the Lost Kingdoms exhibition (ongoing until April 2020) at Muzium Negara is an intriguing representation of an ancient drum-casting tradition from Vietnam. Its shape identifies it as a Type III in the Heger I-IV bronze drum classification system. This classification was developed by Franz Heger, an Austrian ethnographer, in an attempt to categorise the diversity of bronze drums derived from the Dong Son culture in northern Vietnam.
‘Dong Son’ is the name given to the bronze-age culture extending across the Red, Ca, and Ma river valleys in northern Vietnam from around 500 BCE to the third century CE. The intricate mushroom-shaped drums produced by this culture have been found distributed widely in Southeast Asia and in southern China. They were regalia of power, gifted to local chieftains to seal trade agreements. All the drums manufactured at Dong Son fall into the Heger Type I category; they are simply known as Dong Son drums. Both the bronze drums on display in Gallery A, National Museum of Malaysia, are of Heger Type 1.
Drums in the Types II to IV categories were local adaptations of Dong Son drums. Their distributions were therefore limited; the Heger Type III drums were found only in Myanmar, Laos and Thailand. In terms of shape, the Heger Type III drums are smaller and less bulbous. Unlike Dong Son drums, their tympanums (beating surface) extend over the top, resembling a lid.
The Karen and their Drums
The majority of Heger Type III drums were found in Myanmar, the prized processions of the Karen, a Sino-Tibetan ethnic group inhabiting the highlands between Myanmar and Thailand. According to Karen legends, their homeland was in the upper reaches of the Yellow River in China; they migrated southwards via Yunnan, China, and reached Myanmar around 600-700 CE. In Yunnan, they became acquainted with the bronze drum and its associated culture. Dong Son drums imported into Yunnan gave rise to a local tradition known as the Dian drum. Compared to the Dong Son drum, the upper segment of the Dian drum is cup shaped. The Karen prototype drum probably developed in Yunnan, its shape adopted from the Dian drum.
The Karens have continued to use their drums into the historical period and they may have thus preserved the ancient cultural practices of Dong Son and, especially, Yunnan. The drums served many functions, not least in instilling fear in an enemy and during celebrations after a victory in war. Reverberating in the hills, the pleasing tones emanating from the drums placated Nat spirits residing in trees, streams, rocks and other objects in the natural environment, thus ensuring these spirits would look kindly on the Karens and help them in times of need. The drums were also beaten to invite ancestor spirits to partake in feasts as well as to witness important ceremonies such as weddings and funerals. It was important to conciliate ancestor spirits as they could intercede with Nat spirits on behalf of the Karen.
The Karens practised dry-rice farming and the drums were beaten in agricultural rituals during the planting and harvesting seasons. Their basic slash-and-burn farming methods made them dependent on heavy rainfall and the drums accompanied a ritual dance to summon rain. It is thought that the low-frequency pitch produced by the beaten drum induces frogs to crock and croaking frogs are a harbinger of rain. Thus, Heger Type III drums are also known as rain drums or frog drums. All Karen drums have three-dimensional frogs embedded on their tympanum, an indication of the usage of these drums.
By the 19th century, the Karens had lost the knowledge to manufacture bronze drums and the drums were cast for them by Shan craftsmen, who were noted for their metalsmithing work. These craftsmen were based at Ngwe Taung, a small town located about 14 kilometres south of Loikaw. By this time, Karen culture had influenced other tribal groups such as the Lamets and Khmu in Laos and they too adopted the frog drum into their rituals. Annually, in October-November, at the end of the rainy season, all the various tribal groups would converge at Ngwe Taung to purchase these drums. On estimate, a hundred drums were produced and sold at Ngwe Taung annually.
Designs on the Drum
The rain drum displayed at the Lost Kingdoms exhibition has a 12-ray star at the centre of its tympanum. A star in this space is common to all Heger drums with the only difference being in the number of rays. Generally, for Heger Type III drums, the older drums have eight rays while the newer ones twelve. The symbology behind the star is unknown although many theories abound. The star is the location where most of the drumming takes place and hence it is raised to strengthen the area. Heger Type III drums commonly have a butterfly motif between the rays of the star. This appears to be missing on the drum exhibited, another indication this drum is of later manufacture.
There are 21 decorative panels of varying broadness around the central star; each panel is separated by a pair of concentric rings. Majority of the designs on the panels are common geometrical motifs – dots, ‘S’ shapes and circles with a dot. The design on the fourth panel from the star is however unique. It looks like a stubby tree and it has few parallels on other drums. Another unique design is the motif on the 2nd, 10th and 16th panels, which also resemble trees; the repeating motif faces clockwise in the second panel and anti-clockwise in the other two. This drum is lacking the typical motifs that decorated older drums – ducks, fishes and rice grains.
Four pairs of three-dimensional frogs have been placed in an anti-clockwise direction around the edge of the tympanum, straddling four decorative panels. In each pair, a smaller frog sits atop a larger one. Such superimposed frogs are a distinctive feature of Karen drums; some drums even have three superimposed frogs.
The body of the drum can be divided into two segments – a bulging upper segment and a conical lower. The decorations on the upper segment are made up of the same geometric patterns as on the tympanum. This segment also contains two pairs of handles, decorated by vertical lines. Unusually, each pair of handles is placed directly under a pair of frogs; their usual position is between the frogs.
The conical lower segment is divided into three sections. The top and bottom sections have the geometrical patterns seen on the tympanum while the middle section is plain. An interesting depiction on the bottom-most section is a procession of three elephants and two snails walking towards the base of the drum. This is common on Karen drums but not present on Dong Son drums. However, unlike on the exhibited drum, the animals are usually placed under a pair of handles. Elephants were a symbol of wealth while snails are another iconography of rain – snails come out into the open when it is raining.
The middle section is seemingly plain but it does have some enigmatic symbols. Art historian Richard Cooler has likened the Karen frog drum to a ‘magic pond’; the middle section does have symbols that could indicate a pond-like environment. Straight vertical lines separate the ‘pond’ from the lower section and the chevron-like pattern above the lines can be seen as representing eddies in the pond. Notice that the snails are in the pond section of the drum. Additionally, there are two taro leaves (daun keladi in Malay) in the pond section; the taro is a tropical plant that thrives in a wet environment and hence is common around ponds and lakes.
In summary, the Heger Type III drum on display at the Lost Kingdoms exhibition is believed to be a later drum based on features such as 12 rays of the central star, missing motifs between the rays of the star and elephants/snails walking on a plant (the plant is not present on older drums). Although originating from the Karen tradition, this drum has a number of unique features. Designs on the tympanum does not include the conventional aquatic animals and rice grain motifs but instead includes tree-like motifs. Other atypical features are its placement of handles and inclusion of taro leaves. The drum may have been cast for a different tribal group.
Three other bronze drums at the exhibition, displayed in glass cabinets, are also from the Karen tradition. Two of these drums are much smaller compared to the one discussed in this article but their shapes are typical of Karen drums. The third drum has an atypical cylindrical shape. However, this third drum has the designs, especially the fish and duck motifs, typical of Karen drums. It also has some enigmatic inscriptions and is deserving of an article of its own. All four drums belong to the collection of the Department of Museums, Malaysia.
Adnan Jusoh and Yunus Sauman Sabin (2019) ‘Motif hiasan tiga (3) buah Gendang Gangsa di Muzium Matang, Perak’, ResearchGate.
Calo, Ambra (2014) Trails of Bronze Drums Across Early Southeast Asia: Exchange Routes and Connected Cultural Spheres, Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.
Cooler, Richard M (1995 ) The Magical Bronze Pond: The Classification, Authentication and Significance of a Late Karen Bronze Drum
Cooler, Richard M (1995 ) The Karen Bronze Drums of Burma: Types, Iconography, Manufacture, and Use. Leiden: Brill.
Fraser-Lu, Sylvia (1983) ‘Frog Drums and their Importance in Karen Culture’, Arts of Asia.
Siti Munirah Kasim and Nasrul Azam (2020), email communications.
“Social Unity through Culture, Art and History: The Museum Challenge“
This gripping theme prompted me to sign up for the first
conference of its kind in Malaysia. I was excited to hear and learn from the
experiences of National Museums across Asia. Luckily, Jega said he would hold
up the fort for training the new volunteers so thanks to my fellow Tuesday
trainers for releasing me.
Premiera Hotel was a bustling place on the morning of October
29th. Around 10MVs were dotted around the conference hall. I met
some Korean representatives from ICHCAP, UNESCO whom I quickly introduced to
Angela Oh, our Korean MV trainer.
The opening ceremony was grand with a spectacular cultural
performance by our tourism dancers. The Deputy Minister of Tourism graced the
occasion and delivered the keynote address. He acknowledged the challenges to
the role of museums in promoting social unity considering the competition from
other forms of entertainment available.
Subsequently, session one began. The representative from
Mongolia shared a list of overseas exhibitions they had run since 1989, mainly
with the Genghis Khan tagline. The most notable development he mentioned was
the barcode inventory project they undertook between 2017-18, which has greatly
eased storage and retrieval of their massive artefact collection.
The Japanese rep focused on the Asian Gallery at the Tokyo National Museum which houses 20% of their total collection. They connect viewers with artworks through exhibitions and related events. The goal is to provide the experience of different cultures towards a greater understanding of cultures. They hold multi-faceted events on unique themes eg. special tours by curators and Indonesian wayang kulit performance on the theme of love. Also, yoga sessions were held at the museum for better appreciation of Buddhist artefacts.
Our Penang State Museum rep shared her cross-cultural
project, ‘Silang Budaya’ which redefines the museum perspectives through the
interpretation of artefacts by young people. For example, students had used a
tiffin box as inspiration for creating a multi-level phone accessories carrier.
The project has instilled a love of history amongst polytechnic students, whose
core subjects would be more technical. Museum staff supported the students to
set up and curate their exhibition. She welcomed collaborations with other
museums for future projects.
Next, the Philippines rep shared the experience of heritage
building restoration at their National Museum. Even though there were many
challenges, the restoration has brought recognition and appreciation of museums
by the public through partnerships and donations. She also shared how they
disseminated their national hero stories via a tour for school teachers, who
could then translate their passion for the hero on to their students. So many
ideas shared in just one morning!
Lunch time was networking time again. We sat with a
gentleman from UiTM who has initiated the survey on Muzium Negara; and also,
with some police officers who are now administering the Police Museum in KL.
Session 2 was moderated by a well-spoken Malaysian lady. In
fact, we were impressed by all 3 moderators who were of retirement age. Next, China
astounded us with its exponential growth of museum visitors. Customer service
is at the top of their agenda. We were treated to a video on their Joint Asian
The Indonesian reps showed how their culturally diverse 700
ethnic groups considered themselves “different but still one”. Museums feature
traditional games, batik workshops and theatre stories to engage their
audience. There are dance performances every Sunday and university students
play traditional musical instruments. Their outreach programme allows the blind
to touch artefacts with gloves.
Social inclusion through multi-disciplinary aspects are
echoed at the National Museum of Nepal. Homestays are offered to enhance their
The Malaysian Ministry of Tourism held a “keretapi sarong”
movement, which encouraged millenials to wear their sarongs on the train to a
secret destination– a nod to traditional wear in a fun environment.
The annual Sabah Craft Exotica programme has been running
since 2005. It features local handicraft by Sabah’s 35 ethnic groups. The
Korean rep was impressed by the bottom-up approach to culture-sharing in Sabah.
With 115 sub-ethnic groups, Sabahans are eager to demonstrate their particular
crafts, enabled by Craft Exotica. This programme also helps to preserve ethnic
Vietnam has 54 ethnic groups, unified in diversity. Their
museum connects communities in order to build a cultural identity and to
preserve national cultural values. However, they face difficulties in
approaching the public in terms of budget for IT since young people would
connect better with ancient objects through technology. Also, their staff needs
training to obtain professional skills and to overcome language barriers. They
are keen to cooperate with foreign museums and to combine museum with other
social and cultural activities.
In session 3, the rep from Thailand introduced us to the ancient city of U Thong, located in central Thailand. With 20 sites found along with many Dvaravati (Indian-influenced) artefacts, U Thong museum is now a cultural hub. The museum serves as a learning centre, which develops critical thinking skills, encourages innovation and instils a love for history amongst the public, especially children. They organise family activities on Sundays and integrate efforts with the local government in experiential learning. Also, their museum places importance on social media presence.
Personally, I found the final presentation by South Korea
most impressive. In an increasingly multi-cultural Korea, museums have
increased their role in diversity education. They have embraced these changes
by offering targeted activities for immigrant workers, marriage immigrants and
members of the international community. Also, to encourage mutual understanding
and respect, their folk museum has culture discovery boxes for children, which
can be loaned to schools, libraries and kindergartens. The National Museum of
Korea has many exhibition exchanges with numerous countries around the world,
bringing a myriad of cultural diversity experience to its people.
We left the conference with plenty of food for thought. There is no doubt that the ANMA executive closed-door meeting can build on the conference proceedings. Hearty congratulations to Department of Museums, Malaysia (JMM) for a successful conference!
This was a long day. The first stop was theArmy 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.
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.
Shaharom explaining the gun pit together with Santokh
Take away the vegetation and that is how it was
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
‘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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.  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.
After Parit Sulong and many other small battles, the British forces had to withdraw to Singapore.
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.
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 day finished with our travel back to the Ramada and a good night’s rest before the next day’s events.
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.
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.
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
Established by the Federation of Chinese Associations of Malaysia (Hua Zong), the Malaysian Chinese Museum at Wisma Huazong in Seri Kembangan, Kuala Lumpur opened its doors to the public in 2018. The museum tells the story of the Chinese in Malaysia through a delightful mix of text, graphics and historical reconstruction.
In the 15th century and possibly earlier, there were diplomatic relations between China and Malacca. During the Ming Dynasty, Admiral Zheng He made no less than five grand voyages to Malacca. The Malaccan rulers also travelled to China to pay tribute in the Imperial Court.
During the late Qing Dynasty, unrest and famine in China and the promise of greener pastures abroad led the Chinese to make their way to South East Asia. However, life here after a tempestuous journey was almost always harsh (especially for those in bondage), and often migrants resorted to opium and alcohol to block out their pitiful existence.
The Chinese migrants were grouped based on their place of origin in China, and many formed triads to protect their interests. The triads fought over control of resources such as the mines, and this sometimes led to wars eg. Perang Larut, fought between the Hai San Society and Ghee Hin Society.
There were also migrants who became successful businessmen, such as Tan Kah Kee. In 1860, Tan Kah Kee travelled from Xiamen, Fujian to Singapore (then part of the Straits Settlements) to help his father with the family business (rice trading). Eventually, he built a business empire stretching across sectors such as rubber, manufacturing, canneries, real estate and rice trading. The museum has statues of Tan Kah Kee and his son-in-law, Lee Kong Chian, also a prominent businessman.
Besides that, along with the people came their culture and naturally the industries to support that culture. In the museum, there are reconstructions of several shopfronts.
During the Japanese Occupation (1942-1945), the Chinese here suffered grave casualties and cruel treatment. Some joined the Malayan Peoples’ Anti-Japanese Army (MPAJA), which fought hard against the Japanese invaders. After the war, eight MPAJA members received awards for their anti-Japanese efforts.
After World War II, many of the MPAJA members joined the Malayan Communist Party (MCP), which became embroiled in armed conflict against the British colonial government. This eventually led to the declaration of the Malayan Emergency, during which measures such as the introduction of identity cards and creation of New Villages were implemented. A diorama at the museum reconstructs the situation during the Emergency, which officially ended in 1960 with the victory of the Malayan forces.
After independence in 1957, the Chinese have gradually integrated into Malaysian society without sacrificing their cultural identity, as can be seen from the reconstructions of Chinese markers of culture such as the religion, cuisine and forms of entertainment.
Furthermore, Chinese education continues to be upheld. The museum traces the development of the Chinese education system in Malaysia. It is to be noted that outside China and Taiwan, Malaysia is the only country that provides Chinese education from primary to tertiary level. The groups of Chinese educationalists responsible for this achievement, amongst them Jiao Zong and Dong Zong, are acknowledged in the museum.
Last but not least, the museum has a breathtaking miniature display of a bustling marketplace where the different races in Malaysia can be seen working together for the betterment of the nation, in a depiction of the present and hopefully, the future as well.
All in all, while the museum occupies a mere 10,550 square feet, the space has been very cleverly used and the museum is well worth a visit.
At the conclusion of the guided tour, the museum presented our library with a book entitled “A Journey Through History: The Chinese and Nation-Building in Malaysia”. We would like to express our heartfelt gratitude for the hospitality and the special gift. We would also like to thank Mona Tan for organising this trip.
The first quarter of 2019 was very eventful for me. I made two overseas trips, the first to Guangzhou, China, in January followed by an 18-day sojourn to the North Island of New Zealand, between February and March. Taking these excellent opportunities, I visited the local museums and I would like to share my experiences with you.
1. Archaeological Site Museum of Nanyue Palace in Guangzhou
The history of Guangzhou started more than 2,000 years ago. Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of the Qin Empire succeeded in unifying the Lingnan Region, which comprised 3 prefectures namely Nanhai, Guilin and Xiang.
The Qin dynasty ended when military captains staged
revolts causing great upheavals in the Central Plains of China. Zhao Tuo took
over and established the Nanyue Kingdom with Panyu (original name of Guangzhou)
as its capital. The Nanyue Kingdom was ruled successively by 5 kings and
endured 93 years until it was obliterated by Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty in 111
BC. Since then, Guangzhou was further developed by another 10 cultural strata,
right up to the Republic of China.
The museum sits between shops fronting the Beijing Road and dwellings on the other side, with the main entrance located at Zhongshan 4th Road. As the name suggests, the focus is on the historic site of the palace and garden of the Nanyue Kingdom. The royal garden consists of a large stone pond and a crooked stone brook. The latter was discovered in 1997 and it meanders from the north to south, a distance of 160 metres. It is the earliest and the best-preserved royal garden discovered so far in China.
During the excavation of the
pond, a large quantity of the remains of turtles was found at the bottom,
implying the animals might have been kept as pets in the royal garden. Chinese
authorities also found that stone structures used in the construction of the
royal garden were built with materials similar to those of Western stone
structures, thus testifying to the meeting of East and West in Guangzhou in
Besides the site of the palace
and garden of the Nanyue Kingdom, there is also the palace site of the Nanhan
Kingdom, which includes the Nanhan courtyard paved with fabulous butterfly
peony square bricks. At the exhibition building for Guangzhou’s ancient wells,
visitors can see over 500 wells built during the different dynasties. During
excavations at this site, many valuable artefacts were found. Over 100 pottery
jars were unearthed from the wells constructed by the Eastern Han Dynasty
Towards the end of 2004, hundreds
of inscribed wooden slips were excavated from the wells built during the Nanyue
Kingdom. These are the very first of such artefacts ever discovered in the
region that provide great value for academic research.
There is no admission fee to visit the museum but visitors must get tickets at the main entrance by showing personal ID cards or, in the case of foreigners, by showing passports.
2. Auckland War Memorial Museum in Auckland
The Auckland Domain is Auckland’s oldest park and it is located just
outside Auckland’s CBD. This spacious 75 hectares park is also one of the
largest parks in the city and it has been developed around the cone of the
extinct Pukekawa volcano. Sitting proudly atop it is the Auckland War Memorial
museum is housed in a large neo-classical styled building and is considered as
one of the finest heritage buildings. It was opened in 1929 to commemorate the
loss of 18,166 New Zealanders who died in the First World War. Today, AWMM
is one of the top tourist attractions. The museum is divided into 3 levels:
Ground Level – This level examines the diversity of Maori and Pacific Island cultures. It also talks about the movement of people from South East Asia to the islands in “Near Oceania” 5,000 years ago, then progressing further to the distant island groups in “Remote Oceania” such as New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Fiji, Tonga and Samoa between 3,500 – 3,000 years ago. By then, these people were known as the Lapita people, the immediate ancestors of the Polynesians. Then after “The Long Pause”, a period of over 1,000 years, they started sailing again after the development of larger ocean-going canoes reaching as far North as the Hawaiian islands and as far South as Aotearoa New Zealand 800 years ago. It was believed that the Polynesians have sailed as far as South America and brought back kumara and gourd.
Level One – Talks about the Natural History of New Zealand, from geological origins to its ancient flora and fauna. The Moa was the tallest bird known and the female grew as tall as 3 metres, measured in an upright standing position. This level also highlights the uniqueness of many New Zealand birds, which are flightless, large, dull or dark in colour and slow breeders. Of course, there is mention of the Kiwi, national pride of New Zealand.
Level Two – This gallery is named Scars on the Heart. It is a war memorial centered mainly on the First and Second World Wars. There is also a section that talks about Kiwis being called into action in Asia, namely in Malaya, Borneo and Vietnam.
New Zealanders that fought in Asia were based at the Changi Air Base in
Singapore from 1949 to 1951, during the time of the Malayan Emergency, and they
remained in the country until 1989. Their engagement grew larger during the
time of the Confrontation over Borneo in 1964. In the 1960’s, pressured by the
American government, New Zealand committed resources to the Vietnam War.
We were again given the
spotlight, this time on the stained glass ceiling above the main foyer, which depicts
the Coat of Arms of all British Dominions and Colonies during the First World
War. The Coat of Arms of Malaya and Straits Settlements are proudly displayed
on this glass ceiling.
A portrait of Sir Edmund Hillary, who was born in Auckland, is also on display. On 29 May 1953, Sir Edmund and his Sherpa guide, Tenzing Norgay, became the first climbers to reach the peak of Mount Everest.
The general admission fee to this museum is NZ $25.00 and the highlights guided tour is an additional NZ $15.00.
3. Navy Museum in Devonport
Still in Auckland, I also visited the Navy Museum in the village of Devonport. Here, visitors can learn about New Zealand’s contribution at sea in the major conflicts of the 20th century and as well as during peace-time. Again, the Malayan Emergency and Confrontation are highlighted. The museum is open seven days a week, 10.00 am to 5.00 pm and admission is free.
The exhibition at the Islamic Arts Museum, Malaysia (IAMM) titled ‘Al-Tibb: Healing Traditions in Islamic Medical Manuscripts’ has been extended until end of January this year. If you were planning a visit to IAMM, this month would be a good time to go.
‘Tibb’ is the Arabic word for medicine and this exhibition displays IAMM’s collections of manuscripts and objects related to the science of medicine in the Islamic world. The collections are from across the Islamic world and cover a number of areas including prophetic medicine, pharmacy and dietetics, bimaristan (hospital), anatomy, Malay medicine, and traditional medicine.
Knowledge of healing from around the Malay Archipelago is encapsulated in a number Kitab Tibb Melayu, the first of which was written in 1638 CE by Sheik Nuruddin al-Raniri, an ulama in the Aceh Sultanate. IAMM has a number of Kitab Tibb in its collection; samples from a few pieces are shown below.
Harun Mat Piah (2018) ‘The Malay Knowledge of Healing’, in Lucien de Guise (editor) Al-Tibb: Healing Traditions in Islamic Medical Manuscripts, Kuala Lumpur: IAMM.
After a lovely tour of the permanent galleries by volunteer docent Marjon de Winter and visiting the various other parts of the museum, I just had enough time for a whirlwind walk through the Amek Gambar exhibition. According to the write up, it “presents over a century of photographs, tracing the emergence, adoption and evolution of photography in Southeast Asia.”
I was fortunate enough to catch the tail end of a private, informal tour and this experience truly drove home the point that museum docents play an important role in helping visitors on their journey of discovery. For me, having the dots connected, deepened my appreciation of the images on display and the insight they afforded into the world of the Peranakans. More so, when the guide has first-hand knowledge on the subjects of the photographs and shares a bit a local gossip here and there!
The photographs range from the earliest photo of Singapore to crowd sourced digital images – capturing people, places and events to tell a story of the scene captured. A majority of photographs were donated by Mr and Mrs Lee Kip Lee. The tools of the trade – cameras, negatives, photo albums – are also given prominence. Visitors are given the opportunity to see the photographs as they would have been kept, used or displayed in their time – framed for hanging or displayed on table tops, in albums, within official documents as well as with their negatives, transparencies or slides.
Walking through the exhibition, you can also see the evolution from sepia to black and white; from colour prints to colour painted photographs. The change in photography techniques is paralleled by the variety of ways the Peranakans were captured by Western and Asian photographers as well as how they chose to depict/capture themselves.
With the portraits, you get to see the poses evolve from the formal pose to the more casual; locations shift from the studio to a formal setting in the subject’s home and later to a more casual outdoor setting. In some of the early photos, the costumes range from formal Peranakan wear to western costume to fashion of the day.
The use of camera “tricks” or creative development of the print from more than one negative appeared to be popular innovations. I rather enjoyed these photos that were in the exhibition. The gentleman in the photograph below, taken in Java in the 1930s, decided to portray himself in 3 poses.
The following photo that was taken in Ipoh in the 1920s features a woman in both traditional women’s wear as well as in the male colonial costume complete with cane and pith helmet! What were they trying to portray of themselves?
It appears cross dressing does not seem to be an issue with the Peranakans. The guide mentioned that these pictures were mainly for the promotion of a theatre show but who knows if they also are a manifestion of the baba’s interest in cross dressing! The photo of the baba in a kebaya shows him in impeccable form – reminding me of my grandmother who always said that it is important to ensure that one must always be properly turned out and present one’s best angle in pictures.
Given a chance, I would revisit Amek Gambar and spend more time going through the photos. They presented a people and culture that were familiar to me yet offered a refreshing at look the Peranakans.
Amek Gambar – Taking Pictures: Peranakans and Photography runs until 3 February 2019.