Ipohworld's World

Saving Yesterday For Tomorrow

Here’s a rare picture of the former Post Office (behind the Ipoh Town Hall). Notice the stalls beneath the shady tree – and the crowd of patrons too!

We thank Ruth Rollitt for this gem :)

Charlie reminds us (#13 below) about Savings Stamps and immediately Hasbi sent us these scans. Thank you both so much.

I never cease to be amazed and fascinated by how well our readers support us. We are so glad to have you all with us. Thank you.

  1. rosebud says:

    This photo could be from the early 60s. Those stalls with desks under waxed paper type umbrellas pictured on the right do not sell anything. They belonged to petition writers. They helped those uneducated folks like that crowd of patrons to fill up forms,write letters to Govt depts etc for a fee. The entire place was ringed by many petition writers working under very shady big trees & on the extreme right of the photo, behind the petition writers were many Indian Muslim stalls that served imho the best nasi kandar, rojak & mee goreng in God’s green Earth. Among them were a few Chinese drink stall holders. I remembered as a child in the mid 60s, I used to buy packet nasi lemak wrapped in green banana leaves for only 20 cents (not sen) a packet displayed on top of the Chinese drink sellers tables. It was very basic stuff containing rice, anchovies with sambal & a pc of cucumber. The fragance & taste were so good that I still salivate describing it now.

  2. AARON ONG says:

    Rosebud is right. Long before the advent of computers and word processors, petition writers make a brisk business catering to the not so well educated. They wield portable typewriters as their main tools. The noise of probably dozens of typewriters in action simultaneously must have been considerable.

    For a few ringgit (& dollars before ringgit), the petition writers fill up forms and advise customers on official and legal matters. Rarely do the fees reach tens of ringgit, unless documentation were very very complicated. A typical form requiring the signature of a Commissioners for Oaths would cost probably a ringgit or two.

    The petition writers were generally retired civil servants or ex-employees of legal firms. Their knowledge in matters official and legal were invaluable to the general populace.

  3. Brewster63 says:

    Looking at the photo one would realize how Clean was Ipoh then in the 50/early 60s . Even with the amount of people traffic around the post office and other government offices the area is kept clean. Streets were swept every morning. Since the Pendatangs were taken over by the current powers that be managing Ipoh it was only one way ….South in term of cleaniness . The post office building itself looked well maintained. I miss the mamak nasi kandar stores within this quadrangle. The food was good and cheap. It was a treat for me as a child to visit my fathers office in the vicinity and have lunch with him here. Why can’t the current government keep up the Clean image of Ipoh? How did we loose the maintenance mentality?

  4. ika says:

    I think that when looking at the problems of Ipoh, we should be fair to all in our criticism. It seems to me that the people are just as much to blame as the authgorities for it is the people who throw the rubbish and then the authorities fail to clear it.

    Last year the Datuk Bandar made it clear that he was winning the battle of rubbish as he only had 600 illegal dumps left. Yes 600! Now surely those who left the garbage there in the first place should take some blame.

    Then there is the deteriorating buildings. Most are in private hands and for many reasons (some historical) the owners don’t wish to maintain them, but prefer to let them rot. However, as I understand it, there are laws that allow the Council to force owners to paint their buildings and maintain them in a safe state, but these powers are rarely used.

    So it seems to me that the people here are just as much at fault as the government. Of course this is a sweeping statement that will draw the ire of many people who do have civic pride, but I fear they are the minority.

    When you read this please do not respond as others have – by telling me to get out if I don’t like it here. That won’t solve the problem will it?

  5. NCK says:

    Well said, Ian. Our civic-mindedness needs much to be improved. Our selfishness and irresponsibility need to be kept in check. (“Our” means Malaysians in general, not just Ipoh people.)

  6. Brewster63 says:

    Ika,you are Right, the people are as much to blame. But are the authorities spending enough money from the assessment rates and other revenue to keep Ipof clean? Currently the authorities are not accountable to the Ipohites, they are appointed by the Perak State Govt. previously our Local govt councillors were Elected by the citizens of Ipoh ,thus they were held Accountable . Now they won’t care they have their own agenda. Durning those good old days when the Seenivasagam brothers were elected as councillors they really looked after Ipoh not their own pockets and their own agenda. Really it takes 2 hands to clap. The Electorate and those Elected have to play their Respective Roles. Here there is one hand missing. The Appointed do as they please as they are not held Accountable. This has contributed to the Messy state of affair in most local govt.

  7. AHLAI says:

    Yes, there are many Ipohites who are not civic-minded. Garbage are discarded indiscriminately by locals as well as foreign workers. The council can only do so much. If people continue to have this bad habit of throwing rubbish into drains, roads, bushes on a daily basis, how much can the council do.

  8. NCK says:

    We should be fair to all, including the council. Firstly, the residents should be civic-minded. Secondly, the council is duty-bound to maintain effective solid waste management. Given that not all people are angels, when illegal dumpings are witnessed, it will be helpful if the residents are pro-active by reporting to the council of such cases with useful information, such as vehicle numbers, so that the culprits may be nabbed. The worst-case scenario is the city turning into police-state style of governance that government officers prowl the streets to catch anybody littering anything, even a piece of paper.

  9. Charlie says:

    I do not think this photo is from the 60s or even 50s, as there were already quite a lot of cars on Ipoh Streets then. I would guess that this looks more like the twenties or thirties!

  10. Lam Lai Meng says:

    Yes, a big proportion of Malaysians think that just because they pay assessment rates, it’s City Hall’s duty to pick up the mess. They have the attitude that it’s ok to dispose rubbish anywhere outside their compound and leave it to city Hall to do the dirty job.

    It does not help either that department stores insist on putting our purchases in more than one plastic bag. Also, in order to close a sale (and therefore get commission), sales personnel are prepared to dish out plastic bags although the customer is supposed to pay a token for them on ‘no plastic bags’ days. So we end up with more plastic bags than we can recycle! The public is encouraged to use recyclable cloth bags when shopping. But have people realised that MANY plastic bags go inside only ONE cloth bag? In effect, this reduction in plastic bags is minimal, unless we also start bringing used plastic bags together with the cloth bags.

  11. Allan says:

    Towards the right of the pic (not in the photo) towards the clock tower were some excellent nasi kandar stalls in the late 50s/60s

  12. Charlie says:

    In front of all the windows (counters) of the Post Office were railings constructed of 2 inch pipes, as a control for queing customers. I remember them to be also useful for climbing on, as the counters were well above my height, when I was in primary school! I used to visit the Post Office about once a month, to update my PO Savings Book, with the stamps I had collected or earned as a Cub doing chores around the house.

  13. Ruth Iversen Rollitt says:

    Looking at the stamps – does anyone collect them still? I have a fairly good collection – going back to the 40s. Is anyone interested in them?

  14. Brewster63 says:

    In 1953 when I was in Primary 1 at ACS Primary, the Post Office van came to the School and we children were encouraged by the teachers to open a saving account with the Post Office. This was to teach us how to save. Now the govt is teaching people how to Spend their future earnings (if any) . Ha ha what a change? For those of us who didn’t have a dollar we can buy those stamps .when the card was filled then the full amount on the card was credited in our saving account . That was thrift that was taught, to save for a rainy day.Fast forward so many spend their future income today,some and even the govt spend the children’s future income.

  15. val says:

    I will not forget the food served by the Indian Muslims at the old post office under those magnificent trees. Absolutely yummy!!

  16. Ipoh Remembered says:

    I do not think this photo is from the 60s or even 50s, as there were already quite a lot of cars on Ipoh Streets then. I would guess that this looks more like the twenties or thirties!

    But the signage above the “entrance” reads “Pejabat Besar Pos” — and this would have been inconceivable in the ’20s and ’30s.

    Anyhow, thanks again to Ruth Rollitt for the old photograph of the Post Office and to Hasbi for the scans. They may have inspired this long and belated comment that follows but are not to be blamed for it.


    Above, both rosebud and AARON ONG wrote evocatively about Ipoh’s petition-writers. These made their first appearance in British Perak in the 1880s. Most often they were retired civil servants, although some were or had been minor court officials, paralegals, or mercantile clerks. Most of them were locals — although one rather infamous one, having been convicted for embezzlement and forgery in his native Ceylon, was sentenced to live in Malacca, where he turned over a new leaf and, having already had some experience with the law, became a petition-writer. (He was a Sinhalese aristocrat; Malacca at the time served the British in part as a penal colony.)

    In the old days, the petition-writers’ assigned task was to help petitioners unable to hire a lawyer to navigate what was literally a foreign and intimidating officialdom; and to translate their need into the rather flowery official language of the time — but because their own command of English was painstakingly acquired and far from perfect, the results were sometimes easy to deride. In the ’30s, noting that a petition-writer had been fined for being inebriated and incapable, one wag remarked that many petition-writers managed to be perfectly incapable without resorting to alcohol. Others derided the petition-writers’ very existence, preferring never to be bothered by the squealings of such riff-raff as their clients. But even among supporters of the public’s right to petition, some felt that petition-writers were making a profit off the poor and called for the appointment of salaried government clerks who would perform the same service at no (or minimal) charge to the petitioner. Other well-meaning suggestions included the official licensing of only those who could pass a basic test.

    On the other side, it was often tempting for clients to blame their petition-writers when something went wrong, and in those instances where petition-writers had truly misbehaved against (or with!) their clients — well, official punishment was swift if not always effective: one Ipoh petition-writer whose impoverished clients generally spoke only Chinese (and could not read even that) was convicted more than a dozen times of cheating them (perhaps a licensing requirement could have stopped him earlier).

    Affronted again and again by criticism, an Ipoh petition-writer — a different one! — pointed out that the work was not easy and did not pay well; he went so far as to invite his critics into the profession, which, as he pointed out, was still open to all comers who felt they could do better. As far as we know, not one critic took up the challenge.

    By the 1950s, according to one estimate there were more than 400 petition-writers in Malaya, the inspiring scent of merdeka and the concomitant rise in citizenship paperwork having caused a small surge in their numbers. In some states they were licensed, in others their activities were still largely unregulated. In Ipoh alone there were about 35. In those days of social ferment and opportunity, a gentleman named Muthu, one of their leaders in Ipoh — or at least, he saw himself as a leader — tried to get his colleagues to form a national union but, mostly because labour activists at the time were cheaply accused of being traitors, i. e., “communists,” only a few brave souls were willing to stick their necks out and his effort failed before it began. Petitioning the government to recognize your rights is all very well but the powers-that-be often have every reason not to hear you properly.

    Anyhow, the ’50s came and went. In 1960 Perak required that petition-writers be registered with the state government. By 1970, in Ipoh alone there were nearly 70 practitioners. To control the number as well as to weed out applicants with criminal records, a system of interviews was included in the application process. Petition-writers now had to display for public view not only their names and licenses but also the schedule of fees that they were to charge all clients equally. And the flowery English that had been the stock in trade of the craft soon became irrelevant: the government now began to require that those who spoke to it do so primarily in Malay. Meanwhile, some of those petition-writers who had involved themselves in the labour movement now began to move into electoral politics, particularly on the Opposition side — but that’s another story …

  17. Ipoh Remembered says:

    Item 4754 of the database is a newspaper article about Perak stamps. The date of the article is estimated as 1905, whereas it is actually more recent than that.

    To understand how old it is, we need some background.

    Initially, of course, Perak issued no postage stamps whatsoever. When the British arrived and took over in 1874, ordinary Straits Settlements stamps were used for a few years — until 1879, when each so-called Malay state had to add its own overprint (or “surcharge”) to those stamps. Then in 1892 each state began issuing its own stamps outright.

    In 1895, the FMS — literally a federation — came into being, taking power away from individual states. Bills came down from on high and they were to be passed by each state council without alteration. In Perak one recalls the Dato Sri Adika Raja asking that the State Council, just to demonstrate its own existence, change “one little, little sentence.” (It didn’t happen.) In this climate, by 1900, individual state stamps were no longer issued; there were to be only FMS stamps.

    But by 1935 — this was in the time of Cecil Clementi, Governor and High Commissioner — British administrators had developed a finer sense of what the Sultans (and their Malay subjects) had to be allowed. In this context, but also for other reasons, it seemed more useful — more “pro-Malay,” it was said — not to be seen as channeling power through a single FMS government. So after several years of debate, there began a period of so-called “decentralization.” Among other things, each state was now going to be issuing its own postage stamps again.

    The newspaper article is from the end of this period of debate. Having read it closely, I’d say it was published in the mid-1930s and no later than October 1935. As for what newspaper it is from, I’d have to look at it much more closely than I have.


    About the “decentralization” initiative, it should surprise no one to hear that strong views were expressed in Ipoh. Jack Jennings at the Times of Malaya, for example, supported it; as did his friend and some-time attorney Perak State Councillor S. Seenivasagam, who complained that some administrators (he was referring to the British Resident in Perak) seemed not to understand it or take it seriously — but that’s another story.


    Thanks to Philip Labrooy for donating the newspaper clipping.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>