Exploring Kuching – The Chinese History Museum

by Kon Cze Yan

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis charming little museum is located on the Kuching Waterfront.  It was built in 1912 as a court by Chinese traders to enact their laws and customs. Thereafter it was taken over by the Chinese Chamber of Commerce and in 1993, it became the Chinese History Museum.

James Brooke, the first White Rajah of Sarawak, disliked the Chinese, but regarded them as a necessary evil. The Rajah detested people who had anything to do with money. ‘The Chinaman’, wrote Ludwig Verner Helms, the managing director of the Borneo Company, ‘must have his tea, tobacco, opium and samsu, and when he has ready money he must gamble. He is, therefore, an excellent subject to tax, and from the opium, arrack and gambling farms the Sarawak Treasury was largely replenished”.

And so the Chinese in Sarawak occupied a special place during the period of the White Rajahs. They formed a state within a state. They had their own temples and their own code of laws.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Chinese now make up about a quarter of the population of Sarawak and are Sarawak’s second largest ethnic group after the Ibans. The museum describes the 3 waves of migration of Chinese into Sarawak. The origin, destination and occupation of each major dialect group are detailed. It also highlights the early prominent pioneers and the current leaders of the community.

The 1st wave of immigration took place in the early 19th century.  These were mainly Hakka gold and antimony miners from Kalimantan. The 2nd wave of Chinese immigrants arrived by sea and consisted mainly of Hokkien, Teochew and Cantonese. These traders arrived before the 1st Rajah, James Brooke.  The 3rd and biggest wave of immigrants arrived mainly at the invitation of Rajah Charles Brooke to open up land for cultivation and provide labour for the mines.

An information panel on each of the Chinese immigrant groups who helped build Sarawak – Hakka, Cantonese, Hokkien, Teochew, Chao Ann, Henghua, Hainanese, Foochow, Luichew and Sankiang – forms the bulk of the displays in this little museum.

Two large sections of the museum are devoted to prominent Chinese leaders both past and present. Sadly there is no mention of the ‘Uncrowned King of Sarawak’, Wee Kheng Chiang. So influential and wealthy was he that Lady Sylvia Brooke, wife of Rajah Vyner Brooke, bestowed that title on him. When she often told him he was a rascal and rogue, it delighted him so much he would send for a bottle of champagne and drink to it!


Trip to Melaka – in Pictures (15 Jan 2014)

by Magan

The MV organises a trip to Melaka every year as part of the training curriculum for new volunteers. This year’s trip was spiced up with a visit to the Hang Tuah Centre and to the Malaysia Architecture Museum. Interesting titbits of information from our knowledgeable guides, Shaukani and Eddy, made the trip even more memorable.

Read all about it in Janet’s write-up which will be published in February’s newsletter. In the meantime, enjoy the photos below remembering that you can view the full size image of a picture by clicking on it. Anybody else who wants to share their memories of the trips (either Wed or Sat), feel free to send the article to me.

001The tour started with a cruise on the Melaka River. Lined with historic buildings and villages, this is a river steeped in history and which saw the battle for Melaka being fought.

The Melaka government spent Rm320 million cleaning up and beautifying the river and, I think, tourists will agree that it was money well spent.

Paintings on the buildings alongside the river certainly gives the street art of Penang a run for its money.



008Kampung Morten is a Malay village dating back to the 1920s. It was named after a British Land Commissioner who is credited with providing houses for at least 85 locals. This village, having houses built using traditional Malay design with long roof and tiled stairs, can be glimpsed from the river.

Eight bridges cross the Melaka River – some simple and some elaborate.



Monitor lizards, being a protected species, abound in the river and are easily spotted.


061As we know the Fortaleza de Malaca, or more commonly known as A Formosa, was destroyed leaving only the Porta de Santiago standing. However, a few years ago, the ruins of Bastion Victoria were discovered at Padang Nyiru. Bastion Victoria, which was originally named St. Domingo by the Portuguese, was the place where the Dutch entered and conquered the fort. Although the bastion was damaged in the attack, the Dutch later repaired and even enlarged it as it was important to the fort’s defence.

The Stadthuys is under restoration but the clock tower and the fountain are intact.



087After a couple of hours listening attentively to our tour leaders, Shaukani and Eddy, it was time for a durian cendol. At the stalls, we discovered an interesting potato skewer thingy that comes coated with flavours of our choice including cheese and black pepper. Delicious but I forgot what it is called. Anybody remembers?

The Architecture Museum (Muzium Seni Bina) showcases the architectural heritage of Malaysia and houses models of significant historical buildings as well as models of traditional houses. The picture below shows a wall taken from a traditional Kelantanese Malay house which was located near Istana Jahar in Kota Bahru.


Traditional Malay houses from the various states.
Traditional Malay houses from the various states.
Door in a longhouse in Sarawak.
Door in a longhouse in Sarawak.

This door, taken from a longhouse in the Bukun district of Sarawak, was used by the Orang Ulu Chief.

It is made from ironwood and is engraved with dragon and leaf motifs which are said to provide protection and bring good luck.

Walking towards the Melaka Sultanate Palace. This is a replica of what is believed the palace of the Sultanate of Melaka looked like. It houses the Cultural Museum.
Walking towards the Melaka Sultanate Palace. This is a replica of what is believed the palace of the Sultanate of Melaka looked like. It houses the Cultural Museum.

As the pictures below show, seating at the Balairung Seri (Audience Hall) was by no means arbitrary.


Walking up the hill to view the ruins of St Paul’s Church was a must. The metal cage in the picture below currently houses a wishing well of sorts. However this was originally the temporary tomb of St. Francis Xavier, a Jesuit missionary, and the tomb was here for nine months before his body was sent to Goa, India.162

164171174 170It was a very hot day but this did not bother the volunteers who listened attentively as Eddy recounted St. Xavier’s journey. As the day was clear, Pulau Upeh was clearly visible from up the hill. This was an important island as the fort was built using sandstone from this island and the island was also important for turtle nesting.

146The much photographed Porta de Santiago and the lesser photographed Proclaimation of Independence Memorial which is a colonial building that housed the Malacca Club.


181Our last stop was the Hang Tuah Centre. The centre includes five houses, one for each of the five famous Malay warriors – Hang Tuah, Hang Jebat, Hang Kasturi, Hang Lekir and Hang Lekiu.

Volunteers browsing through the exhibits at the centre
Volunteers browsing through the exhibits at the centre

Exhibits at the centre includes spices, keris from different locations and clothing worn by different segments of Malay society. Perhaps the area that attracted the most attention was the silat training hall where volunteers followed the steps performed in a video. We had a number of silat aspirants who took to the art very quickly.



Hanging out outside one of the houses (I forgot which one)
Hanging out outside one of the houses (I forgot which one)
A typical fully-tiled entrance to a traditional Malay house
A typical fully-tiled entrance to a traditional Malay house
Recognize "Hang Li Po"?
Recognize “Hang Li Po”?

Field Trip to Ipoh (part 2)

by Zahara Shahriman

On a recent field Trip to Ipoh, Perak, 23 museum volunteers (including myself), 9 Malaysian Culture Group members and 5 Jabatan Muzium Malaysia (JMM) staff had the opportunity to visit 3 historical sights that gave us a comprehensive snap shot of life during the heyday of the tin industry.

Falim House

Falim House 3The temporary museum within Falim House was my favourite of the day. Not everyone in our group agreed with me as a property developer had recently acquired the gorgeous 1920’s mansion and its surrounding land with the view of developing it into a commercial hub. So our first sight of Falim House was of a white colonial mansion surrounded by

Falim House 1

hectares of muddy, bare land which have had all its trees chopped off ready for development. The developers plan to eventually transform Falim House, which had once been the home of mining tycoon Foo Nyit Tse, into a hotel.  In the meantime, the newly renovated structure served as sales office cum pop-up museum and this closed last month.

Falim House 2

For me, once we passed the sales office, the museum themed “A Tin Mining Family” was a real joy. I thought it showcased the lives of Ipoh’s fabulously wealthy tin mining towkays in a really fun and authentic way.  With old photographs, some dating from before 1900, and a very wide range of artifacts (around 500 pieces in all) we got close to old mining equipment, kitchen equipment, furniture, toys, vehicles, sewing kits, clothes and much more. The exhibition also showed the four evils that faced the mining coolies – Opium, Gambling, Prostitution and the Triads. I especially enjoyed the depiction of hawkers who called at Falim House many years ago. At the end section of the exhibition a vintage film featuring tin mining in the Kinta Valley, both pre and post-war, ran continuously.

Kinta Tin Mining Museum

Tin Ming Museum 2Our next stop was the Kinta Tin Mining Museum in Kampar.  Kampar (about 36km from Ipoh) was once a thriving tin mining town but when the price of tin slumped in the 1980s, its glory days ended abruptly. As this museum is dedicated to the history of tin mining, we had a wonderful opportunity to not only learn the way tin was mined many years ago but, more interestingly for me, it gave a glimpse of how people who used to work in tin mines lived. I really got a feel of how grueling, mind-numbing and dangerous the work in tin mines was.  Personally, I thought this private museum is interesting and informative and definitely worth a visit.

Tanjung Tualang Tin Dredge

Tin DredgeOur last stop was the Tanjung Tualang Dredge No 5, a behemoth industrial relic from our tin mining glory days. Even from a distance the decommissioned tin dredge looked impressively large – it weighs 4,500 tons and is supported by a pontoon of 75 meters in length, 35 meters in width and 3 meters in depth – but when you step on it you get a real feel of how powerful it must have been when it was hard at work years ago.  Essentially, it worked by scooping up bucket loads of tin-bearing soil at the front end, which then passed through an oscillating drum and a system of jigs and screens to extract the tin, before spewing out the waste material at the rear end through a number of chutes. By walking around Tanjung Tualang tin dredge, which was built in England in 1938, you get to see how this floating factory used to work up close. This is one of the last tin dredges in Malaysia and is really a sight to behold.

Part 1 of this write-up can be viewed here.

MV Road Show at Taiping

by Maganjeet Kaur

Last Saturday (6 July 2013) the Museum Volunteers were invited by Jabatan Muzium Malaysia to participate in their ‘Museums and Community’ roadshow at the Perak museum.  So five of us packed our bags and made our way to Taiping for a day of culture, history and the opportunity to blow the MV horn.

206As the MV logo is the tepak sirih, we had decided to showcase this at our booth and give the museum goers of Taiping a chance to try out the ancient fare of the Nusantara.  With it being the dry season, sireh leaves were scarce and Sudha frantically scoured the markets of Ipoh and Taiping for the elusive leaves.  Thanks to her and Harith, we managed to procure all the ingredients needed to wrap up a sireh quid – sireh leaves, areca nuts, lime paste, gambier, tobacco and cloves which we proudly displayed on a mat placed at the side of our table.

Dato' Nazri rolling up a sireh quid with Dato' Ibrahim looking on
Dato’ Nazri rolling up a sireh quid with Dato’ Ibrahim looking on

A pantun (poem) on sireh composed by Riduwan made our display complete and all we needed now was for someone to try our offering.

Our first ‘victim’ was none other than Dato’ Seri Nazri, Minister of Tourism and Culture who gamely sat down on the mat and followed Harith’s instructions on rolling up a sireh quid which he then proceeded to chew.

Sireh tasting was only the start of the fun.  The enthusiastic crowd took up our challenge on answering a 15 question quiz and we very quickly reached the conclusion that Taiping folks know their museum and history well.  The kids were especially engaged and wanted to try out all the games we had in store.  This is where the sling bags we use at Muzium Negara came in handy and the jigsaw puzzles on Hang Tuah and Han Li Po were a crowd puller.  The enthusiasm of the crowd and especially the kids made it a memorable day for us.


On the left: Our first quiz participant belting out the answers.

Below: the jigsaw puzzles were a crowd puller.



We gave away Mariana’s postcards as prizes.  She has done an artistic rendition of four local buildings and has created postcards of her paintings.  The kids were enthused to collect all four postcards and eagerly participated in the various activities in an attempt to get all four cards.

We played the Gallery C picture puzzle ala Happy Family style with 4 participants in each group.
We played the Gallery C picture puzzle ala Happy Family style with 4 participants in each group.
The five of us at the MV booth
The five of us at the MV booth
Kids learn to tie the tengkolok
Kids learn to tie the tengkolok
Identifying landmarks in Malaysia was easy peasy
Identifying landmarks in Malaysia was easy peasy

Field Trip to Ipoh (part 1)

by Zahara Shahriman

Although I was born in Batu Gajah, about a half hour’s drive from Ipoh, the capital city of modern Perak, my knowledge of the State has mainly been gleaned from The Malayan Trilogy, written by the renowned English novelist Anthony Burgess (who once taught at the Malay College in Kuala Kangsar, a boarding school in Perak for the Malay elites – dubbed the Eton of the East) and more recently through Tash Aw’s award winning book Harmony Silk Factory, a novel set in Perak during the tin rush. So I was very excited to join the Museum Volunteer Field trip to Ipoh on May 30th Thursday to discover if its way of life is still intact.

Coming along on my balik kampong trip, were 22 other museum volunteers, 9 Malaysian Culture Group members and 5 Jabatan Muzium Malaysia (JMM) staff.  We left the museum car park at around 6am in JMM’s spanking new bus which made the four hour trip passing through the beautiful limestone hills in the Kinta Valley extremely comfortable.

According to history, Ipoh came into existence in the 1820s as a small Malay village of Palau along the banks of Kinta River. The tin rush of the 1880’s resulted in a boom and increased Ipoh’s population to about 4,000 people. A devastating fire in 1892 damaged the town but gave the British, who ruled Perak, the opportunity to rebuild the streets in a more orderly way.  Broad, straight roads were built in the town, flanked by rows of shops and majestic buildings.

Ipoh_train stationThis was certainly evident in the first building we visited – the glorious white neoclassical Ipoh Railway Station, often referred to as the ‘Taj Mahal’ of Ipoh because of its beautiful domes and high arches. Built between 1914 and 19187 by the famed British architect A.B. Hubback who also designed the Kuala Lumpur Railway station, it replaced the original railway station which was an attap roofed shack.

Our next stop was the newly renovated Station Square in front of the Railway Station where our guide, Mr Raja, explained to us the significance of the War memorial which rather touchingly commemorates Perak’s war dead and bears the words: “Sacred to the memory of the men from the state of Perak who fell in the Great War 1914 -1918 and to those who died in 1939-1945 War.”

Across the road we found ourselves at the regal Town Hall and old Post Office. Completed in 1916, these buildings served as a post and telegraph office as well as the police headquarters. In 1945 the Malay Nationalist Party, the first political party formed in Malaya, held its inaugural congress here. It is still in use for weddings and other events.

Ipoh_monumentA few streets behind the Town Hall and Post office we viewed the four-sided Birch Memorial clock tower which was built in 1909 to honour J.W.W. Birch, the first resident of Perak in 1875. For a small structure it has many details: the tower bells that used to strike the chimes of Big Ben in London, four terracotta figures perched at the top of the tower which represented the four virtues of British administration namely loyalty, justice, patience and fortitude and a panel portraying 44 famous figures from world history across the tower. Interestingly the form of Prophet Mohammad was painted out of the panel in the 1990s in keeping with the Muslims objection to the depiction of the prophet. The bust of Birch was also missing. Stolen perhaps?

Ipoh_windowsOn the way to lunch at a delicious mamak restaurant, we passed many other striking buildings in old Ipoh, particularly the beautifully maintained Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank building which look as impressive now as it did in the 1930s.  In contrast, many of the buildings in Ipoh are near decay although their classical architectural design still imbue them with a sense of quiet elegance and dignity.  Ipoh_birdcageThankfully, we could see evidence of an initiative to revive old Ipoh especially along Panglima Lane (Concubine Lane) which dates back to the turn of the century. At that time, this area was known for opium, gambling and brothels. Now, new boutique hotels such as the Sekeping Kong Heng as well as eclectic restaurants such as Burps and Giggles are giving visitors a slice of history within an old town which is still alive and working.

We also visited two museums and the tin dredge at Tanjung Tualang.  Stay tuned to part 2 for a description of our memorable visit to these places.

Part 2 can be viewed here.


Day trip to Ipoh

Day trip to Ipoh by Marie Tseng

Right before Hayley Holle’s departure for England in August, a small group of MV members set off on a day trip to Ipoh –  Seeting, Diane, Hayley and myself.

Our trip started in Kelly’s Castle where we were warmly welcomed by the curator/guard of the castle.  The unfinished castle has been recently restored to enable visitors to visit safely almost every accessible part of the building.From the roof, you have a great view of the surrounding plantations. We continued on with a visit to the last tin dredge in Malyasia.   Having seen the real dredge will definitely enhance our guided tours at the Muzium Negara. Next stop was Batu Gajah, a colonial town that has kept most of its original buildings and a has a very interesting cemetery.  After a quick lunch of  fresh river prawns, we ended the day by a 3 hour walk in Ipoh.

I would highly recommend this easy trip to all guides.  Vera recommended us a great heritage Guide in Ipoh, Mr  Law Siak Hong  (siakhongstudio@yahoo.com) who met us in Kelly’s castle and took us on a very informative tour of Batu Gajah and Ipoh.

Visit to Yogyakarta, Borobodur and Prambanan

Visit to Indonesia

In March, seven intrepid MVMers flew off on AirAsia to Yogyakarta in Central Java. We spent two nights in Yogyakarta and visited two major UNESCO sites – the Prambanan complex of Hindu Temples and the Buddhist stupa and temple complex of Borobudur. We also visited the Kraton or royal palace of the Hamengkubuwono Sultanate, in the centre of Yogyakarta. This is the last remaining Sultanate in Indonesia.

Wow! What a cultural feast we had. The two UNESCO sites are quite different in style with the Hindu Prambanan temple complex being a collection of sharp, jaggedly sculpted towers in contrast to the vast horizontal bulk of Buddhist Borobudur. However, they both date from approximately the same period, around the middle of the Ninth Century AD. Both were also forgotten and swallowed up by the jungle until colonial explorers relocated them in the Nineteenth Century. And both are a reasonably short drive from Yogyakarta.

We climbed up Borobudur for sunrise, which was totally magical.  Even though Borobodour is the biggest tourist destination in Indonesia, there were only a dozen other people watching the sun come up.

Please enjoy the pictures, courtesy of MVMer Karen Loh.

Lorien Holland

Early morning at Borobodur
Zahara and See Ting watching sun rise at Borobudur

Prambanan Temple Complex

MVM on the Road

Last year, 7 MVM members set off for Penang in convoy.  We stopped on the way in Kuala Kangsar, the old Royal Capital, taking in the oldest rubber tree in Malaysia, The Perak Royal Museum, Malay College, Istana Kenangan and of course not forgetting our tummies we had to go to a traditional coffee shop for Steak and fried Potatoes!  We arrived in Penang in the afternoon and after quickly dropping off our bags at the hotel went straight out to explore our surroundings before heading to Bagan Restaurant for a delicious dinner. The next day we were up bright and early for a coffee shop breakfast before joining  The Historic Enclave walking tour of Georgetown with a very knowledgeable guide from Penang Tourist Guides Association.  After a quick lunch it was off to the Clan jetties before another tour of the Pinang Peranakan Museum with our very enthusiastic guide.   At this point many of us were flagging considerable and we decided to drop in at Clove Hall, a beautifully renovated old home, now expertly converted into a boutique hotel, where the owner very kindly laid on high tea and then offered to take us to many of his shopping contacts in Georgetown for a rummage around some very interesting antique shops.  After purchasing a few treasures we finally stopped for dinner at a traditional Peranakan Restaurant before making our way back to the hotel through a torrential rain storm.  Enthusiasm at a high the girls all managed to stay up for a pyjama party way into the night for a good gossip before bed!!On our final day we decided to head over to Balik Pulau For a driving tour of the beautiful agricultural side of the island before heading back to KL after lunch. It was a wonderful trip, we managed to cram so much into just two days and had a lot of fun along the way. With many thanks to Zahara for her brilliant organisational skills.  Roll on the next trip! Angela Naylor

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