IPOH town in the Malaysian state of Perak was a bustling hub of activity at the turn of the 20th century. Being rich in tin mine, many British companies set up mining corporations here and brought in a large influx of Chinese workers from the Guangdong provinces in China – which explains why most of the population today are Cantonese-speaking descendants. (My parents among them. My maternal grandmother was a dulang washer – a person who ‘washes’ the tin using a traditional method of filtering water from the precious ore through a large steel plate.)
Much like other British-centered capitals in Peninsular Malaysia (namely KL and Penang), Ipoh is riddled with colonial structures, old English schools and Western road names (which have all been Malaysian-ised in a bid to boost nationalism).
We come back here once or twice a year for family gatherings. I like Ipoh’s old world charm, and how laid back it feels. It’s not uncommon to come across some family businesses housed in wooden double-storey shoplots that have been run since before Malaysia (then Malaya) gained independence from the British.
There has been a revival of arts and culture in the last couple of years, especially in places like Penang where the state government has put in a lot of effort into promoting the place as a tourist destination. So we get to see beautiful murals all over town, and historical buildings turned into proper heritage sites. I’m happy to say that Ipoh has also jumped onto the bandwagon! On a recent trip back, we went mural hunting in the Old Town section, where loads of nice drawings and chic little hole-in-the-wall cafes have sprung up.
In a hidden nook along Jalan Sultan Yussuf, there is Monroe’s Place, set to be the next popular hipster hangout. Here you will find an artsy space of refurbished old buildings, chic cafes and small shops selling vintage items and souvenirs. Just look out for the entrance next to Burps & Giggles, a cafe located inside a prewar wooden shoplot. There is a large red Coffee to Go sign next to one of the grilled windows, and a Marilyn Monroe mural riding a pop-up bicycle prop.
I really like how they didn’t uproot the old trees and buildings here for some swanky development, but instead worked around them to turn this into a viable commercial and historical hub. Wish I could see more of these in other places. It would definitely be a great hangout for the locals and draw tourists in.
My favourite spot in the area is the brick and stone bookshelf. The only drawback is that the toilet is right behind the shelf I think they converted this from an old shop lot because there are sinks below the rows of yellowing books. There is also a flat cement counter in front of the shelf.
It’s nice to see that the books have been well kept and none have been stolen… yet. Sometimes tourists can be so uncivilised.
Shops selling souvenirs. There were lots of vintage paintings, handmade crafts and items, pottery, old bicycles, drawings, etc. Creative and lovely art pieces abound!
I really love this blue and white window overhung with tendrils of wall ivy. It reminded me of the beautiful little nooks and crannies I used to explore in the UK.
We left Monroe’s Place and walked over to Jalan Sheikh Adam to look at Lithuanian artist, Ernest Zacharevic’s ‘Paper plane’ piece. If you’ve followed my earlier blog posts about Penang, Zacharevic is known for his beautiful paintings on the island, and he has also done it in other parts of Malaysia and the world. I think why so many people love his work is because it is translated into the simplicity of the local culture, almost as if Zacharevic was a Malaysian himself. Although it’s kind of sad that street art only gained exposure here after a foreign artist came to display his works, I guess any sort of improvement in the art scene is better than none.
Another one of Zacharevic’s works (totalling seven pieces in Ipoh) is located next to the Old Town kopitiam facing the Ipoh town field on Jalan Dato Maharajalela. In this piece, an old uncle is seen drinking a cup of coffee. Ipoh is famous for it’s white coffee, a household brand made from roasting coffee beans with margarine.
Just nearby is the Birch Memorial Clocktower, built in 1909 in memory of J.W.W Birch, Perak’s first British governer. The paintings around the clocktower are supposed to represent important people in culture and civilisation throughout the ages, including Moses, Buddha, Shakespeare and Charles Darwin. If you notice, there’s a missing figure there – which used to be the Prophet Muhammad. Since idolatry and depiction of holy people are discouraged in Islam, the figure has since been removed.
Ironically, the clocktower is situated next to the Jalan Dato Maharajalela road. Maharajalela was one of the local lords to order an assassination on Birch (which succeeded). Today, he is seen as a nationalist who fought against British oppression in olden day Malaya.
Aunt’s house! Snowskin mooncakes :3
Auntie Yee has beautiful flowers, couldn’t resist taking some shots.
That wraps up my trip to Ipoh over the weekend