On a slow boat to Malaya but not for its tin! 飘到他乡去找新生活
China, in the late 19th and early 20th century, was stifled with social upheavals. The Qing Dynasty 清朝时代 was on the verge of collapse. Many rebellions were mounted but were ruthlessly suppressed and brutally put down. It was very dangerous to live in that country during such a turbulent period.
Guangdong广东, a southern province, was a hotbed of anarchy. The people living there used to say “Mountains were high and the emperor was far away山高皇帝远.” Therefore, many young men in that province do not hesitate to rise up and revolt. They just wanted a more peaceful life for themselves and their families.
Against such a volatile backdrop, my paternal grandpa, Yip Kwee Kee叶巨基, was born, circa 1890 in Nam Hoi 南海district in Guangdong. Although diminutive in size, a man of few words and illiterate, like many of his contemporaries, he was drawn to the idea of a Republic.
He was a very skillful bean curd maker and very proud of his trade. Business was good and every cent he earned was donated to this cause. He was a very generous man.
The government arrested many of its opponents and their sponsors. They were executed publicly as a deterrent to others.
He learnt, to his horror, that his name was blacklisted by the government. So, to save his head from being chopped off, literally speaking, he decided to run away to Malaya 马来亚or Nanyang南洋 as it was called then. He also changed his name to Yip Soo 叶苏to avoid being hunted down as he knew the government was hot on his heels.
But something unexpected happened. The village headmaster, who was also a staunch supporter of the same cause and a well to do man, came with his only child, a young girl called Yim Mun严曼, to see him as he was packing to leave.
“I’m too old to run away but please take my daughter with you to Nanyang. You can have her as a wife since I knew you are a hard working man” he told Yip Soo.
Of course Yip Soo felt humbled by this sudden offer and could not turn down the respectable headmaster and the young girl standing in front of him. He gladly accepted this “gift” and promised to take her along to the new land. That was how an illiterate bean curd maker suddenly got himself a wife. A wife that was dropped from the sky, my Dad joked to me.
After a tearful farewell, they boarded a steamer and set sail to a far away foreign land, determined to start life anew.
Grandpa has heard about the tin mines in Perak. Back in his village, many young and able bodied men went to various places such as Gopeng, Kampar, Batu Gajah or Tanjung Tualang to work in the tin mines as coolies. Most of them went to escape poverty but later got themselves even poorer and indebted to some “middle men” or “agents” who had arranged for them to go there. Many spend years to redeem their freedom. This wave of illegal human trafficking was called “Mai Chu Chai卖猪仔 (人口贩卖).”
No, Yip Soo did not intend to work as a mine coolie. He only wanted to sell his bean curds to them. He knew there was a ready market for his products. So, together with his new bride and a few of his brothers who also followed along, they settled down in Gopeng on arrival, circa 1915. They rented a little wooden hut and started making bean curds to sell for a living.
Grandpa and his brothers quickly cut their long braids and threw them away. You could not be able to do that in China. A long braid is a symbol of subordination to the Qing Dynasty and any man found not having one will have his head chopped off at once!
Later, his brothers branched out and started their own families. Not long after this, grandma gave birth to my dad and his two sisters. They made Gopeng their home.
His business grew and he began to prosper. Having a little extra cash in hand, he began to indulge in gambling, his favorite pastime. He could always spend long hours gambling while his wife and children were left at home waiting for his return.
Grandpa always brings home meats and vegetables from the market after he had finished selling the bean curds there. On the way home, he would often dropped by the gambling dens and once he was engrossed with his games, he would totally forgot about the food which became stale at the end of the day when he finally goes home. Many quarrels broke out between him and grandma because of his callousness.
Once, he was caught in an illegal gambling den and together with the rest of the gamblers was taken to the police station. There, they were made to parade around the town with hands cuffed and placards hanging from their necks with the word “Illegal Gambler非法赌徒”. They were booed and jeered at by the locals. To shame you publicly was the way the British authorities punished illegal gamblers.
Grandpa soon earned the nickname “Tofu Soo 豆腐苏” among the miners who were mainly Hakkas 客家人. They simply loved his smooth bean curds which were cheap, nutritious and delicious. He soon became a popular figure in the market and the gambling dens!
Many years later, he decided to have another wife to help out in his growing business. You will need as many pair of hands as possible in this trade. It was almost impossible to do things alone. What with the grinding, cooking and also chopping fire woods!
Unlike her husband who could neither read nor write, not even his own name, grandma was an educated woman. She grew up reading classical literatures and doing embroideries. As a “siew cheh 小姐” or “rich missy”, she was used to being waited upon by maids in her childhood home.
As a “siew cheh” worth her salt, she hardly touches any house work, let alone roll up her sleeves and helps in chopping fire woods! That would be a tall order. Anyway, Grandpa did not expect her to do anything other than sitting down and minding the children. All hard work was beyond her. To him, she was just a “gift” from a rich man.
You can’t really fault her. You see, she has a pair of bound feet. Even though her feet was “released” after just a few years and they eventually grew back, but they were already deformed and she has difficulties walking. It took her many years to learn to walk properly again and it was excruciatingly painful for her to do so.
In those days, you do not have Indonesian maids or helpers. Driven by sheer necessity, she sat down and wrote a letter to her relatives in Guangdong asking them to look out for another wife for grandpa. The candidate must be someone hardworking, willing to slog without a whimper and preferably from a poor family. In a short time, one was found and put on the boat bound for Malaya.
Her name was Ng Mooi吴妹. She was accompanied on the long journey by her male relative. But it turned out to be a nightmare for her. She was sexually violated by him on the boat the entire journey. Once she reached Gopeng, he quickly took the return trip on the same boat back to Guangdong.
When Grandpa found out, he was very furious indeed. There was nothing he could do but to accept her. However, he was unsympathetic to her ordeal and instead gave her the cold treatment. Before long, she began to fall into a deep depression and shut herself in a room all day.
One day, Grandpa was out at the market and Grandma was asleep with the children. Poor Ng Mooi put together a heap of dried coconut shells which were use for cooking and started a fire. Soon the whole house was burnt down. Luckily nobody was killed.
When Grandpa got home and saw the flatten house, he blew his top. It was a rented house, not his own. In a fit of anger, he took her to Tanjung Rambutan and had her committed into the mental hospital. At that time it was ran by the British administration.
Fault was, Grandpa did not visit her at all. A few years later, the hospital sent Grandpa a letter written in English, but Grandma could not read it. So the letter was just put aside and Ng Mooi was forgotten.
By then, Grandpa insisted for another wife and this time he personally went to Guangdong to fetch her here. It was around this time that the family moved from Gopeng to Batu Gajah. There, Grandpa bought a plot of land to build his own house, ready to welcome the new bride, Chan Kwan陈裙, who later bore him another seven children.
At last, with ten children and a hardworking third wife, Grandpa Yip Soo finally got all the help he needed in his bean curd business!
And Grandma Yim Mun can sit down comfortably again!
Note: Yip Soo was seated in the middle. On the right was Yim Mun and on the left was Chan Kwan. There was no photo of Ng Mooi because she was send off to Tanjung Rambutan by grandpa shortly after arriving in Gopeng.
‘Drawn’ to Ipoh…..
Remember this shop? Here’s a clue: it’s at Market Street…..
If I’m not mistaken, I think the shop is still there – going strong after all these years! They specialized in Kain Pulikat, (the locals might know it as sarong) which was said to be made in India. They also sold Kain Batek (Batik).
Here’s another landmark – our local Indian barber, which still does business at Belfield Street. My late grandfather used to visit him every month or so; I don’t think grandpa went to any other hairdresser in his lifetime!
These two sketches are part of Amiruddin Mohd Daud’s collection – titled ‘Ipoh Old Town’. Amiruddin is a self-taught artist from Ipoh, and also a former student of ACS. Together with his wife, they are quite involved with charity and fund raising activities; 10% of the sale of his drawings will go to MAKNA (Malaysian Cancer Council).
For more information on Amiruddin and his works, you can contact him via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Oh No! Not Just the Roof ……….
We featured this building in http://www.ipohworld.org/?p=1712 where we showed the original mansion that belonged to Dato Seri Lau Pak Kuan OBE JP and what the owners of the Coliseum Club had done to deface this beautiful building.
In the comments on that blog mashi74 reported that the stylistic roof had been removed and, as you can see from this photo it has been replaced with something far less easy on the eye. But worse! Look what they have done to the stonework! Garish is not a strong enough word for this abomination.
And finally, it appears that have torn the whole inside out and are to renovate with modern (Ugh!) materials.
Have these people no eye for beauty, history and heritage. Maybe they just have no soul!
Hugh Low Street (Jalan Sultan Iskandar) in the 80s
Hugh Low Street was once a 2-way street, and a very busy one too…even today! This picture was taken from a postcard, dated 1985. At the far end, just before the bridge, there used to be an arch – it’s not there now, wonder when it was taken down?
Also notice that there were many shops (on either side of the street), selling everything; from jewelry, to groceries, to Chinese herbs – there’s even a Bata shoe store! Anyone remember other famous stores? Have any new ones come up lately?
We look forward to hearing from you, so DO tell us more about this part of Hugh Low Street!
The weaver girl from Shun Tuck.她来自顺德.
Chan Tai 陈黛, the charming girl in this photo, used to live in a small village in the district of Shun Tuck 顺德 in the province of Guangdong, China in the 1920s. This district was renowned for producing silk. Her family owned a small silk worm farm. She helped them to cultivate silk worms and weave the silk thread into cloth.
One day, a professional matchmaker called “mui yan poh 红线人” approached the family with a marriage proposal. A guy in Ipoh, Perak, Malaya, needed a wife and was looking for a girl from a decent family.
In those days, many families in small villages in China dreamed of having their daughters marrying off to faraway lands and lead a better life. At that time, Perak was famous for tin and it was very fashionable to come to this land of plenty.
The prospective groom was a guy called Chow Yee Phooi 周毅錇, from the district of Phun Yee番禺. He has already migrated to Malaya together with his brothers many years before. He was the youngest among the brothers and the only one still single and eligible.
They opened a shop selling fruits in Ipoh. This shop, called Chow Hang Kee 周亨记 , distributed fruits to other fruit sellers in the market nearby. The shop was located between Yik Foong Complex and Lam Looking Bazaar, facing the back portion of the present Pasar Besar Ipoh.
Life was good to him. Flamboyant and carefree, he always frequented gambling dens in his spare time. He was particularly fond of mahjong and “pai kao”, a game of black tiles.
In the past, a girl has no say in her marriage. Everything was decided by her parents. The Chinese called it “Mang Fun Nga Kar 盲婚哑嫁” meaning a “blind and mute marriage”. She has neither meet the groom nor can she voice out her opinion about the match. As a daughter, she just has to follow everything planned for her.
Her parents gave their approval at once and a simple wedding ceremony was conducted in her village, minus the groom. In his place, a cockerel was used in the ceremony although I don’t know why they chose this animal to represent the groom!
After the wedding ceremony, she left her village and boarded a steamer, stopping at Singapore first and then later, Malaya. Next, it was to Ipoh.
Upon her arrival, this photo was taken. The purpose of taking this photo was to send it back to her family in China to show them that she has arrived safely to her new home. There were only two such photos. One she sent back to her family and the other appeared in this blog, which she kept as a keepsake. Later, it was handed down to my mom who was her eldest child. Mom gave this photo to me. Today, this is the most prized item in my collection because it is the oldest and the only photo of my maternal grandmother.
From this photo taken circa 1920s, you can see that she was a very stylish lady, an epitome of an Oriental beauty of her time. She sewn the white samfoo and black knee length skirt herself, using the silk cloth which she had weaved. It was part of her wedding wardrobe, looking prim and proper to face her new husband and his family. Her hair was combed neatly into a bun. She was also wearing a pair of white leather high heeled shoes and carrying a white fur handbag. Such a graceful blend of East and West.
The family stayed in Kampung Kuchai, Ipoh. Needle work was her main forte. She sew baby’s clothes and accessories like gloves, booties, caps and carriers for some extra pocket money although her husband’s income was sufficient to support her. She was a very quiet and gentle person, yet fiercely independent, earning her own keeps.
But alas, her life was tragic! In 1930, she gave birth to my mom. Soon, another daughter followed and the next was also another girl! Three girls in a row and soon her mother –in law began to show her displeasure. No son was produced and that was a bane for the family. Under mental pressure, she conceived again although her health has deteriorated. But by now neither her husband nor her mother-in law show any concern. In their mind, it will be yet another girl. Girls were so unwelcomed in a Chinese family at that time. They preferred boys to carry on their surname and attend to the family altar. This was a typical Chinese mindset at that time. Luckily, it was not like this anymore.
Her parents came from China to Ipoh to visit their daughter. After a brief stay, they went back to China, bringing my mom together with them to lessen their daughter’s burden of looking after the children in her fragile condition. It was 1938 and my mom was only 8years old then. She spent the next four years in Shun Tuck together with her grandparents, helping them to feed the silk worms with mulberry leaves.
Not long after her parents left Ipoh to go back to China, one day, my maternal grandmother experienced a terrible stomach pain at home. She was already in her seventh month of pregnancy. She sent her two young daughters out to search for their father and asked him to come home at once. That day, he was not at the shop. Instead, he was at the mahjong parlor near home. He was an addicted mahjong player and was too engrossed in his game to bother about his pregnant wife at home.
“Go home and don’t bother me! Ask her to apply some medicated oil and get a rest!” he barked at his young daughters as they pestered him to go home quickly to attend to their mother. The mother –in law was nowhere to be found. The two young girls were at a lost as to what to do seeing their pregnant mother in pain. Finally they called their neighbor for help.
It was late at night when my maternal grandfather finally came home. His face was as dark as “Kuan Kung 关公”from losing money at the mahjong parlor. A midwife had just left the house. On the bed were a stillborn baby boy and his dead wife, paled and cold from losing too much blood. His two young daughters were sobbing at a corner, traumatized at seeing their dead mother and baby brother. My maternal grandmother was about 28 then. What a young age to die and in such a tragic way.
To a Chinaman at that time, losing a wife is akin to losing a shirt. I really don’t know how he must have felt at that time but according to my aunts, he looked very cool and calm. After burying his dead wife and stillborn baby, he approached a matchmaker to look for another wife and in a few months time, a new one was found and life was back to normal again, at least for him. My poor mom and her little sisters found themselves with a stepmom but luckily she was not exactly the type from hell. But nevertheless, life was not the same anymore without your own mother.
According to my mom, one night, while she was sleeping in a dimly lit room in her grandparents home in Shun Tuck, she was awoke by an apparition of a lady beside her bed. She opened her eyes and saw that it was her mom. The apparition was sobbing softly and was trying to pull a blanket to cover her young daughter. It was gone in a blink of an eye. At that time, my mom has not learnt about her mom’s death yet because she was far away in China. A month later, a letter from her father in Ipoh reached her, informing her of her mom’s death.
Many years later, my maternal grandfather was blinded by firecrackers being carelessly thrown out from the window of a shop near Foh San Restaurant at Osborne Street. He was just coming out from a mahjong parlor at that time. That incident stopped him from playing mahjong ever again.
In 1980, on his death bed, while breathing his very last, in a very weak voice, he asked his daughters for their forgiveness for neglecting his first wife and depriving them of their mother’s love. His last words were, “I deeply regretted my folly. I still loved her very much. She was a good wife. She is beside me now, waiting for me. Please forgive me and goodbye. I am going to be with her again.”
My mom and her sisters have finally forgiven their father and came to terms with their profound loss.
Who is he? What was his name? Where did he come from? Where did he live?
Well, we don’t even know what’s become of him. This poor beggar used to come by Tom Turnbull’s quarters, when Tom was in Batu Gajah. Sometimes, this old man tried to sell Tom a thing or two. Here is a picture of the old man (donated by Tom); he is seen here holding some cloth, in one hand, and an enamel mug in the other hand.
yes, the citizens of Perak come from all walks of life – Mining Towkays, hawkers, rubber tappers, coolies, etc.
‘King of Fruits’ at Osborne Street
It’s that season again; where all Malaysians young and old, some foreigners too, join in the fun.
To the die-hard fans out there, yes…we’re talking about DURIANS! Here we have a picture of durians being sold along Osborne Street, Ipoh (in the early 1970s). Were there many stalls selling durians in those days? We’d like to hear from you – of your fond memories with the King of Fruits!
One journey has ended. Another is about to begin…… 今世毕. 来世始…..(Final Part)
All the last rites performed for the dead in the funeral parlors along Hume Street were a fusion of Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism beliefs.
The core belief is that death is universal. When a person dies, the soul will leave its body. But it will not realize immediately that death has occurred upon itself. This detached soul will hover above the body, become very distress to find itself in a new dimension. It will take a week for the deceased to finally realize its departure. And it took about 49 days for the next rebirth to occur.
Therefore, it is paramount to offer guidance in the form of prayers to comfort this disorientated soul and steer it to the path of another rebirth. Hence, a wake will be conducted to chant prayers to pacify the soul and lead it to a safe realm.
After the family had purchased all the necessities, an undertaker washed the corpse with scented water and dusted it with talcum powder. It was then dressed in the silk longevity suit and for a female, “make up” will be applied to its face. All these tasks were done on a hay mat. Once complete, the deceased will be placed into the coffin, with feet facing out towards the door. The coffin will be put on a stand about a feet from the ground.
A small piece of ancient coin is placed between the lips. The face will be covered with a small piece of yellow silk cloth. Another bigger piece of blue silk cloth printed with mantras or Buddhist scriptures will be used to cover the corpse. A paper umbrella is opened up and placed on the coffin. To prevent the body from decaying, dried ice will be pumped into the coffin.
An altar will be set up at the foot of the deceased. Foods were placed in front of the deceased’s large portrait. A large urn to hold joss sticks will be placed in the middle. A pair of big white candles will be placed on either side. The pair of male and female servants made from papers were placed on either side of the coffin. All around the coffin were blue and black cloth banners with words of condolences. Floral wreaths were also displayed around the altar.
Two large white paper lanterns with the deceased’s surname and age written onto it were placed outside at the doorstep of the funeral parlor. For a married woman, both the surname of her husband and herself will be written. The husband’s surname will be written first follow by her own. It is interesting to note that three additional years were added to the actual age of the deceased. One year each for Heaven, Hell and Earth.
Nearby, a separate table will be set up against the wall for the “nam moh lou” to conduct prayers. On the wall, you can see a large scroll with the paintings of three very important figures in Buddhism. They were the Sakyamuni Buddha in the middle representing enlightenment. On one side is the Avalokestivara Boddhisattva (Guanshiyin Pusa) who had vowed to release all sentient beings from sufferings. And on the other side is the Ksitigarbha Boddhisattva (Dizang Pusa) who is in charge of karmic retributions. The prayers to evoke the blessings from the above three for the deceased were chanted accompanied by the clanking of cymbals, blowing of trumpets and beating of gongs.
It is proper for all the children to be at the bedside when a person dies. Sometimes many could not make it in time. For those who could not, they were required to kneel down and crawl towards the coffin. It is a form of asking for forgiveness for not making it. Later, the children and grandchildren would sit on straw mats beside the coffin, burning paper money in a large urn throughout the night.
Those attending the wake are required to light incense and bow to the deceased as a form of respect. They will also place some money called “pak kam” or “white gold” into a donation box to help defray the cost of the wake and funeral. The bereaved family will give two pieces of sweets tied to a red string or a red packet with the words “toh cheh, yau sum” meaning “thank you for your sympathy” to the donor.
Other relatives and friends would help fold some gold and silver paper ingots for the deceased. Some would indulge in a game of cards or mahjong to stay awake during the wake. Normally, a wake lasted for 2 nights from 7pm to 11pm.
All the paper offerings were burned on the second night. This was done after the “nam moh lou”, using an ink brush with some red ink at the tip, activate the paper offerings and chant some prayers. These offerings became valid and they will serve their new master or mistress diligently. Doesn’t this sound like a fairy godmother using a magic wand to turn all things into real?
When the ceremony was finished for that night, everyone will leave. All the lights at the parlors went off and doors slammed shut. The two large white paper lanterns with candles inside still remained at the door, leaving the lights of the candles flickering in the dark. In the dead of the night, stray dogs loitered around and began howling. The ambience is so spooky and eerie, enough to make your hair stand on ends. In moments like this, I will quickly shut my bedroom window and jump into bed, pulling the blanket over my head!!
At the funeral, everyone present got a last glimpse of the deceased and according to their ranks, made a final bow. The deceased favorite possessions and more hell bank notes will be piled into the coffin. Amidst the crying and wailing of the family, all looked away as the coffin were sealed with yellow papers and then carried out onto the hearse by pallbearers. The spouse of the deceased will stay behind and not allowed to follow the procession. The deceased and the spouse are in the same rank. In olden days, a spouse is called “half way spouse”.
It is customary for all the son-in laws, who were the closest “outsiders”, to hoist up together, a long piece of red cloth held by a pole. This act is called “hei chew”. This auspicious act will bring them good luck. Next, they were also given the honor to lead the procession with two friends carrying the two white giant lanterns. The hearse will follow from behind.
The eldest son of the deceased will sit next to the coffin in the hearse. He will hold a large lighted joss stick and a paper tablet bearing the deceased’s name.
With their hands holding to a long piece of white cloth and their heads pressing firmly against the hearse, the rest of the grieving family followed closely from behind, weeping and wailing.
Friends and relatives will follow from behind, many holding umbrellas under the basking sun.
A few meters in front, the bereaved family will stop and turn around to face these friends and relatives. They will have to kneel down and make a deep bow to these “guests” as a gesture of thanks and appreciation for turning up for the wake and funeral. After this, the procession will continue on….
The “nam moh lou” will lead them, chanting prayers and sprinkling small white rectangular papers into the air, bribing the malign spirits along the path to “move aside and make way”. The funeral band played some solemn music as the cortege winds its way slowly along Hume Street…….what a sorrowful last journey on earth!
Perhaps the only consolation for the bereaved family is the belief that this death is not the end of it all. Death and rebirth is a continuous cycle, without a break, until Nirvana is attained. Nirvana means the cessation of birth and suffering. It is Enlightenment.
Part 2 ~ The most extravagant journey in life…..人生最昂贵之旅程
Part 1 ~ Unfolding a Panorama Called Hume Street….伸展“谦街”的一幕
A Ballet in Ipoh
While we’re still on the topic of schools, here’s a picture from 1963 – showing the cast of *Les Sylphides (a ‘white ballet’ or ballet blanc).
Our donor, Sybil de Roquigny, says this ballet was performed in Ipoh. We think the cast could be from Main Convent – but we could be wrong. Does anyone remember where the ballet was performed? Any familiar faces in this picture?
We hope someone out there can shed some light on this. We also wonder what became of the dancers!Here is the back of the photograph – with autographs by the cast of the ballet.
*Les Sylphides is a short, non-narrative ballet which was choreographed by Michel Fokine, with the music of Polish composer Frederic Chopin. The ballet is often described as a ‘romantic reverie’ – with no plot, but instead having the dancers clad in white (depicting a sylph or forest sprite) dancing in the moonlight. Accompanying these sylphs is a poet or a young man, usually dressed in white tights and a black top.
Fun Fair at ACS, Ipoh – The ACS Boys “On Topic” Blog
In one of our previous blogs, Katherine Wong shared with us about fund-raising at her alma mater – Main Convent, Ipoh. Today we thought we’d put up a little something about an ACS fun fair.
On the 3rd of August 1957, Anglo Chinese School (ACS), Ipoh, had its first Food and Fun Fair. The event was in aid of school funds, and it was a great success too!
Among the highlights of the day were this ‘happy couple’ (see picture below)
I wonder where Mr Low Kum Whye (the groom) and Mr Choy Yoon Choon (the bride) went on their ‘honeymoon’! Strict as they were, some teachers really knew how to have fun!
To our fans out there (alumni from ACS), do tell us MORE about your FUN-tastic teachers and life as it used to be!
The Street Hawker …. “Chee Cheong Farn” ….
Here’s a picture of a street hawker, taken from an old postcard – as some of our fans out there recall, there were such hawkers….who came around with their ‘treasures’ in coolie baskets. This hawker is said to be selling “chee cheong farn” (as how the postcard spells it).
Besides food and snacks, I do wonder what else these ‘travelling salesmen’ sold. Maybe some of you out there might have bought a thing or two from them. Don’t know if they’re still around – I for sure have yet to see one, especially around Hugh Low or Belfield Street.
The most extravagant journey in life…..人生最昂贵之旅程 (Part 2)
Hume Street is also known as “Koon Choy Kai” in Cantonese, meaning “Coffin Street”. Do you know why?
Phun Yue Wui Kun 潘禺会馆 , the tall building at the far right, is one of the busiest funeral parlors along Hume Street. It caters to those who died away from home and also one who died young and unmarried. It is “fully occupied” the whole year. Sometimes two families even “shared” the premise at the same time. So, can you imagine how many people died in a single day?
Above this funeral parlor is a convalescent home, which is a dreadful place to stay. It is a place for the aged and sick to wait for the Grim Reaper. Many families send their old and sick relatives here to live out their last days after which the deceased is carried down stairs for the last rites.
It is very expensive for a Chinese “to die”. Unlike other cultures, this “once in a life time” event called for spending on many expensive items which are “unavoidable”.
On the extreme right are some casket shops. The owners of these casket shops are very aggressive and competitive. With a walkie-talkie in hand in those days, and a mobile phone in modern times, they waited at hospital mortuaries, clamoring for business when they spotted a bereaved family. Some even “combed” the ICU wards to search for potential customers! Each will try to offer their best “deal” or “package”.
Most of them doubled up as priests or “nam moh lou” who will conduct wakes and funerals. It is a skill that took many years to master and is usually handed down from one generation to the next. In those days, a “nam moh lou” is usually a middle aged man but now you can find young and handsome guys, their sons, perhaps. Ever heard of overseas university graduates with degrees in accounting or business management coming back home to take over their father’s trade as “nam moh lou”? I have. It is that lucrative!
Do you know how a casket is chosen? According to the casket shop owner whom my family knew, when somebody dies, the “nam moh lou” together with the kin, will light up a joss stick, chant some prayers and “lead” the dead soul to the casket shop where they will wait for a signal, normally a faint knocking sound coming from the casket which the deceased “fancies”! Throwing 2 small pieces of wood on the floor will confirmed the choice.
In those days, the casket was made in the traditional style, a long rectangular box with 3 humps. It was big and heavy, normally made from teak or pine wood. It is very frightening just to look at them. But today, they are very modern and westernized. Just a rectangular box with gold flower handles and came with a small glass window where one can see the deceased’s face as he or she laid inside. A casket is normally expensive, costing several thousand dollars each.
A bereaved family will always try to indulge on the deceased. A suit made from expensive silk cloth with dragon and flowers motifs were usually bought to dress the deceased. They came in silver, gold or blue color. A cap and a pair of sandals of similar material and color were normally chosen to complete the look for a “grand exit.” The richer and older the deceased, the grander his or her suit will be.
The casket shops also offer to bathe and dress the corpse for a fee. Another spin off trade is to provide “make up” for female corpse. Arch eyebrows, blue eye shadow, pink cheeks, red lipsticks and hair neatly combed into place. Yes, all women like to look beautiful, even in death! After the bathing and make up session was done, a special ancient Chinese coin is placed between the lips of the deceased for him or her to bribe the guards in the hereafter! Yes, they even practice corruption in hell!!
An umbrella made from oiled paper in light brown color is purchased from these shops. It is opened up and placed on top of the coffin to provide “shelter” for the deceased on the way to the hereafter.
For those who chose cremation, rows of marble and porcelain urns were available in these shops to choose from. They came in white for marble while the porcelain ones are normally in maroon, green or yellow. There were intricate designs of dragons, unicorns and flowers on the urns and Chinese characters “sau 寿” meaning “longevity” were crafted on them. For those who chooses burial, they will have to buy a plot of land and it is even more expensive, especially those with good “feng-shui 风水”. Expect to pay between RM50,000 to RM80,000 especially in memorial parks with beautiful landscapes. Normally the owners of these casket shops will act as middle man between the family and the developer of these memorial parks.
These shops also sell mourning clothes. Normally black clothes, sack vests, white hoods over the heads and white waist bands were reserved for the children and daughters –in laws to show that they are the closest and grieved the most. It is blue clothes and white waist band for grandchildren and great grandchildren. The son-in laws wears light color clothes and white waist bands because they are considered “outsiders” since they have no blood relation and did not shared the family surname with the deceased.
There were a few shops specializing in making paper offerings for the deceased. Among the things a dead person needed in the afterlife was a big double storey mansion completed with a pair of male and female servants, a big limousine with a driver and of course everyday items like TV set, fan, mahjong table and chairs, suitcase with clothes, shoes, accessories like watch and jewelries and not forgetting hell bank notes, lots of them! They said if one cannot have luxury on earth, at least one can after death.
In those days, a lorry is often used as a hearse. A large portrait of the deceased is put in front of the vehicle at the center and surrounded by a flower garland. Nowadays, modern vehicles like MPV were used. Two white lanterns with the deceased’s surname and age written were hang on each side of the hearse, ready for the last journey on earth. And in this case, that journey starts from Hume Street!
Don’t you agree it is a rather long and expensive shopping list, one that will surely burn a hole in the pocket?
Final part ~ One journey has ended. Another is about to begin…… 今世毕. 来世始…
Part 1 ~ Unfolding a Panorama Called Hume Street….伸展“谦街”的一幕
The Chew Family of Boon Pharmacy
Here we have the Chew Family, who used to live at No.5, Dulcieville Lane, Ipoh. This picture was probably taken between 1958-1960.
Back then, Dulcieville Lane used to be a housing area. In the 90s, the area was cleared and is now occupied by Parkson Ipoh Parade.
From what we were told, this family ran the famous Boon Pharmacy – we think Boon Pharmacy was at the Chung Thye Phin building at Belfield Street, but we may be wrong.
Anyone out there who could tell us more, do send us your comments.
Ipoh’s ‘leong char’…..
In the 1950s, a newly married herbalist rented a room in a shophouse – No.1, Treacher Street, Ipoh – where he sold his ‘cooling tea’ or leong char as the locals knew it.
This man was none other than Ho Kai Cheong; and till today his tea is still popular – “Ho Yan Hor”, as it is called! The picture above shows an advertisement of “Ho Yan Hor”; the van (owned by Ho Kai Cheong himself) was fixed with loud speakers, which promoted the ‘cooling tea’.
Anyone remember the van or the advertisement? I’m sure some of you out there have tried this ‘cooling tea’….
Incidentally, Ho Kai Cheong’s son David Ho went on to major in Pharmacy – this same David Ho founded Hovid Berhad, which now manufactures and markets more than 300 different types of pharmaceutical products.
A Gateway to ……….
There is no doubt that some of the 3,631 individuals that visited ipoWorld during the month of June would remember gates such as these with mixed feelings for this was the gateway to a New Village in 1952. Closest to Ipoh there were three of these villages, or concentration camps as some of the old timers used to call them (and maybe still do!). These were at Kampung Simee, Bercham and Simpang Pulai. You may know of more.
As you can see, the village was ringed by two circles of barbed wire to prevent anything being thrown to the communists outside and the gates were manned by regular police (this was before the Home Guard took over these duties). Communal eating was the order of the day and curfews were in force.
Now the point of posting this particular image is to try andd get some first-hand information about growing up in a New Village for our book, “Ipoh My Home Town”.
Can anyone out there help us please? If your memories get published you will get a free copy of the book.
Unfolding a Panorama Called Hume Street….伸展“谦街” 的一幕(Part 1)
A stone’s throw away from #188 is Hume Street, now known as Jalan Mesjid. Along this short but interesting street, one can find many traditional trades co- existing harmoniously with modern ones.
Let’s start with this building at the junction of Hume Street “ 谦街 ” and Jalan Yang Kalsom. This building once housed the Century Omnibus Station (百年车站). It was there for many decades. Their red coloured rickety buses plied from town to Taman Chempaka, Ampang, Chemor, Tanjung Rambutan and the Race Course along Tambun Road. Back in the 60s and 70s, this was a bustling place, along with some taxis in front.
There were rows of long wooden benches outside. A jukebox in the coffee shop next to the bus station always blasted out English songs which my mom loved although she did not understand a word of English. The most memorable ones were those favorite songs sung by Elvis, Beatles, Bee Gees, Osmond Brothers, Jackson Five, etc.
One night in the early 80s, a big fire gutted the station and a few buses were destroyed. Many people came out to watch the fire and even the FRU were called in to control the swelling crowd. Those staying in the vicinity were worried that the fire might spread because of the electrical wires linking the bus station to the row of shops opposite. Luckily that did not happen and the fire was eventually brought down. A few years later, the bus station closed down and today, this place is taken over by travel agencies and a locksmith.
A few steps away, one can see many shops dealing in various traditional trades like making paper offerings, lorry tarpaulins, sofa covers, curtains, car upholsteries, tailoring, hair dressing and motor workshops.
Just opposite were some funeral parlours with convalescent homes on the upper floors and of course, a few shops selling coffins.
Further down is the iconic Rex Cinema which faces Brewster Road. In its heyday, this cinema was filled to the brim with patrons watching mainly Cantonese movies. You could find stalls selling sugar cane juice, yellow steamed peanuts, kacang putih and even plastic toys outside. Inside the cinema, there were stalls selling light snacks like sweets, chewing gum, sour plums, salted groundnuts, dried red ginger and prawn crackers.
Today, this place is occupied by a furniture shop and a car park. The stone benches in front are not there anymore. Dad and I would sit there to eat “kuaci” or melon seeds, yellow steamed peanuts and “lin toong” or seeds of the lotus plants after a movie.
Across from the cinema you will find some coffee shops, clan associations, mahjong parlors, a pet shop, an optical shop and one that makes car plates and rubber stamps. You will also find the Kinta Small Traders Association here. At the isolated end of this street is the Panglima Kinta Mosque near the Kinta River bank, the oldest in Ipoh.
Unfolding the panoramic Hume Street brought back some fond memories. When I was about 5 or 6, some nights after my eldest siblings were asleep, the owl in me would pester my dad to take me out for walks around the neighborhood. Dad called it “jalan jalan” or “sau kai” in Cantonese.
First, he took me to Jubilee Park for a ride on the musical carousel and the breathtaking giant wheel. After that, we will head straight to Hume Street for a light supper at the “luk luk” stall in front of the shop next to the coffee shop in brown paint. I usually chose a few sticks of fish balls and squid and dipped them into the boiling water. Next, I would apply some red colored sweet sauce or “tim cheong” on them before eating. Hmm, yummy, yummy!
After that, it was time to go home when we had had enough.
Many shops along Hume Street were already closed by then, so was the bus station. We quickened our steps as the place was dark and quiet. If we were out too late, Mom would scold us because she believed some malicious spirits were lurking at the corners along this street and these would make children fall sick!
Ah, if only I could turn back the clock and walk down this path again with dad holding my hands, just one more time……
Part 2 ~ The most extravagant journey in life…..人生最昂贵之旅程
Note : Special thanks to Aaron Ong who kindly took these photos and shared them with us here.
Old Town Heritage Walk Every Saturday
This blog is published at the request of Kinta Heritage Group
PLEASE NOTE THAT ALL ENQUIRIES SHOULD BE PASSED TO
MR RAJA, +6012 524 2357
Ipoh Heritage Walk (Old Town)
Come and experience the grandeur of this beautiful city and learn why the town that tin built became known as the City of Millionaires.
Departing every Saturday from the main entrance of Ipoh Railway station at 8:00 AM.
Conducted by Mr. Rajasegaran, a licensed Tour guide and member of Kinta Heritage Group.
Fee is RM 20 per person – All are welcome!
JEJAK WARISAN IPOH (PEKAN LAMA)
MARI MENGALAMI KECANTIKAN BANDAR IPOH DAN SAMBIL BELAJAR BAGAIMANA IPOH MENJADI BANDAR YANG DIKENALI RAMAI SEBAGAI PEKAN JUTAWAN HASIL DARI PERKEMBANGAN BIJIH TIMAH.
PERJALANAN AKAN BERMULA DARI PINTU UTAMA STESYEN KERETA API
SETIAP HARI SABTU PADA PUKUL 8:00 PAGI.
ROMBONGAN ADALAH DIBIMBINGI OLEH ENCIK RAJASEGARAN, PEMANDU PELANCONG BERLESEN DAN JUGA AHLI DARI KINTA HERITAGE GROUP
PENYERTAAN RM 20 DAN SEMUA DIJEMPUT.
PLEASE NOTE THAT ALL ENQUIRIES SHOULD BE PASSED TO
MR RAJA, +6012 524 2357