Growing up in Puchong – a bustling city of 400,000 – I’m a city girl through and through. I never knew the hardships (nor the simple joys) that my parents experienced growing up in small towns in the 60s and 70s; when Malaysia was young and life wasn’t easy.
The fam and I recently visited the Gopeng Heritage House Museum in Gopeng, Perak – which houses antiquities, old furniture and other paraphernalia from a bygone era. It was a great experience for all of us – a walk down memory lane for Mi and Pi, and an interesting insight into the old way of life for the bro and I. Bonus: Parents acted as tour guides, since they knew all the stuff we modern kids have never seen before lol.
The old part of Gopeng (which was a tin mining town in the 1870s) has super wide roads and three or four rows of colonial British/Chinese shophouses. The museum is housed in a red building and looks well-preserved on the outside. The family house was donated by a Mr Wong and converted into a full-fledged museum in 2009. Today, it is managed by the local community, and it’s great to see that they’re maintaining it well :)
Entrance is free but do make a contribution so that they can keep on running the place ! :)
The house is stuffed to the brim with antiques and old furniture, recreating life for a typical middle-class Chinese family in many Malaysian towns at the turn of the 20th century, up til my parent’s era (1960s-70s). My mum used to live in a small town shophouse similar to this one until she married my dad.
(Recreation) Before plastic umbrellas, there were wooden ones made from bamboo. Apart from providing shade, they were also used during wedding ceremonies as symbolic items.
Calligraphy paintings depicting natural sceneries such as flowers and birds.
An old kapcai bike. Mi relates that she once stole my uncle’s bike to ride and crashed it into a tree. *and she says I was a naughty kid.. wonder where I got that from.
Super old phone. For each ‘number’ to dial, you had to rotate the mechanism and wait until it clicked back into place before dialing the next number. *gasp!* for the smartphone generation, this seems like an awfully ancient way to make a call. But back then you could rattle off long phone numbers by heart; now I can’t even remember what my house’s number is.
Am I the only one who finds grandfather clocks creepy? The way they chime in the middle of the night (watched too many horror films lol).
I do like the elephant detailing at the bottom though. :)
A bust of Chairman Mao (left). Many Chinese who came to Malaya before independence still had immense love for the Motherland. On the right is an oil lamp. We enjoy electricity at the flick of a switch now, but during my mom’s time, they had to read at night by the flickering light.
My aunt has one of these, passed down from my grandmother. Irons were heavy and super clunky, with a space at the bottom for putting hot charcoal.
Radio. I’m not that young, so I still remember these, but ask anyone below 20 and they’ll probably think it’s some alien contraption. We had one in our house and I liked playing with the antenna thing by pulling it up and down (always got scolded by parents) and messing up the tune. You couldn’t just press it like how you do with radios these days; you have to dial it to exactly the right frequency.
There were no gas or electric stoves, so people had to use firewood for cooking.
Ais kacang was (and still is!) a popular icy cool treat. Like the Filipino halo-halo, ais kacang is a shaved ice topped with various condiments such as syrup, red beans, cendol, fruits and jelly. Now we have modern machines, but the old ones were made from heavy steel and vendors had to manually grind huge ice blocks using a round mechanism at the side.
Fancy cutlery with engravings, matchboxes, cards.
The black and gold wooden basket was used to carry food to workers out on the field or in the tin mines. Reminds me of Chinese periodical dramas.
A gramophone. I bet if you showed this to a kid now they wouldn’t be able to identify what in the holy hell it is.
An even older radio. Might seem basic for us today, but these were only for well-to-do families back then. My mom lived in a very small town and while radios were more common, only one family had a TV set (black and white). All the neighbourhood kids would go over to watch shows, especially during festivals – so the kid with the TV would have been a big shot in town.
Did you know that in Malaysia pre-independence, you had to apply for a license in order to own a TV?
Up on the second floor, rooms have been converted to resemble proper living spaces, complete with beds, dressing tables and cupboards. Four poster beds like these were popular among middle-class families back then. My dad, who came from a not-so-well-to-do family and had many siblings, used to sleep on wooden planks fashioned like a bed, with just a piece of cloth as a ‘bedsheet’. :'(
(From left to right)
- 1 -A red baby-wrap carrier with embroidered detailing. There were no such things as ‘safety straps’ back then, so the only straps were four pieces of thick string.
- 2&3 – Wash basin stands were elaborately carved.
- 4 – Wooden Trunks containing personal belongings.
More paintings, these depicting deities and scenes from ancient China.
Hallway. Building is made from wood, of course. I imagine it gets quite dark in the evening, since there aren’t many lights.
Another four poster bed with quilt covering and embroidered pillows.
Before the advent of computers and printing, there were typewriters…
The attic, which the museum has fashioned into a more ‘European’ theme, has plush leather chairs, a coffee table and a coat/hat stand.
Ceiling lights with pretty flower motifs on them.
Jade hanging, surrounded by thick carved wood. Don’t ask me what the Chinese character means, I’m a twinkie.
Whether you’re someone who loves history and culture, or just a curious cat visiting Gopeng, a visit to the Heritage Museum is a definite must while in town. For myself, it was awesome hearing the stories my parents told of their childhood and seeing how they grew up with all these items and contraptions that we youngsters no longer know or recognise. It also gives us a new found appreciation for their struggles and to always treasure all the things we take for granted today. Coz they sure didn’t come easy.
GOPENG HERITAGE HOUSE MUSEUM
No. 6, Jalan Sungai Itek, 31600 Gopeng, Perak.
Open on Sat-Sun: 9am-3pm
Tel: +60 12-598 7857