Sunday May 6, 2012
By PEIN LEE
Life at the turn of the 20th century in Malaya is depicted in an ancestral home that has been lovingly restored and thrown open to the public.
THE normally sleepy former tin mining town of Gopeng, Perak (20 minutes drive south of Ipoh), burst into a hive of activity on April 15. More than 250 people gathered to take part in the 2012 Gopeng Heritage Walk, organised by the local Muzium Gopeng and Tourism Perak in conjunction with World Heritage Day 2012.
The walkers were treated to a drum and dance performance by students of the SM (P) Perak, Ipoh before being flagged off by Phang Sek Hong, one of the founders of the Muzium Gopeng.
With a history spanning more than 150 years, Gopeng is older than both Ipoh and Kuala Lumpur. Tin mining and rubber plantations were the two activities that led to its founding, anchored by the British company Osbourne & Chappell. Eu Yan Sang, the Asian leader in traditional Chinese medicine products was founded in Gopeng to offer health care services to the hoards of migrant workers then settling in the town. Even Dr Sun Yat Sen, revolutionary leader of the anti-communist movement in China visited Gopeng regularly between 1909 and 1911. It was a prosperous community based around rich natural resources.
However, in the 1980s, the decline in tin-mining led to an exodus, resulting in a sort of stasis in terms of development, both cultural and economic. The opening of the North-South Expressway in 1994 further eroded through-traffic, as commuters began bypassing Gopeng on their journeys up and down the peninsula. This led to Gopeng being left in a type of time capsule.
On April 18, 2009, the Muzium Gopeng opened in conjunction with World Heritage Day and remains functioning as a focal point for visitors to the town now. Bernard Yaw, a Gopeng native, returned from working overseas and, following his motherís deathbed request, bought his ancestral home from the Eu family and began renovation works to restore the shophouse to a habitable state.
Following discussions with friends and classmates, it was decided to make the ground floor into the Muzium Gopeng, while leaving the first floor as private accommodation for the Yaw family. Exhibits were donated by the local community and others from the region.
Initial impressions may be of bric-a-brac from your local antiques store, but closer inspection reveals a wonderfully eclectic collection of items such as radios, clocks, posters and photographs, household items that trace the history of Gopeng, the state, and indeed, the nation as a whole. Furthermore, information on the orang asli of the region is available and presented clearly. Yaw serves as the museumís current chairman.
Last year, also in conjunction with World Heritage Day, the Heritage House was opened after a year of planning and construction.
Intended as an annexe to the Muzium Gopeng, the Heritage House was restored using traditional construction techniques, especially where masonry and carpentry were concerned. The result is a living snapshot into the past.
On the ground floor, there is a barber shop, kopitiam and a feng shui air well filled with bonsai trees and relics from the near past. Up above, living areas have been decorated and filled with priceless decorations and furnishings that accurately reflect what life would have been like for a middle-class family at the turn of the 20th century in Gopeng, and indeed the surrounding areas.
These projects and their success in Gopeng reflects the potential for furthering heritage preservation efforts in this country. It is with the participation and initiative of sympathetic individuals that such realisations are possible. Charity, they say, begins at home, and in this case, someone has opened up his home to the public so that we may share and learn, and keep memories of our collective past alive.
Muzium Gopeng is located at No. 28, Jalan Eu Kong, Gopeng, Perak. Admission is free but a donation would be appreciated. For further details and opening times, call Chew Wan at 017-597 1363 or Phang Sek Hong at 016-542 1287.