Ipohworld's World

Saving Yesterday For Tomorrow

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Here we have the living room of Charles Alma Baker’s residence (once upon a time) in Batu Gajah. This large space included a 12-seater dining table, several sofas and easy chairs, and Chinese antiques. The Master of this house and his guests were kept cool by a punkah. If you look closely, you’ll also notice a billiard table in the far end. How’s THIS for interior decoration ideas!

  1. Ipoh Remembered says:

    This large space included a 12-seater dining table, several sofas and easy chairs, and Chinese antiques. The Master of this house and his guests were kept cool by a punkah. If you look closely, you’ll also notice a billiard table in the far end. How’s THIS for interior decoration ideas!

    Impressive, no doubt, but let’s spare a thought for the poor people who paid for it all with their sun-baked labour and sometimes their lives.

    In Malaya, Alma Baker made most of his money from two sources: mining and planting.

    When the Perak Chamber of Mines was re-established in 1907 “to watch over the interests of the miners,” the British Resident Ernest Birch, a friend of Alma Baker, said: “A considerable reduction is wages and contracts was agreed to. … The cooly is put back into his proper place and can earn an ample but not excessive wage.”

    Here’s what the ipohWorld database says about this “ample but not excessive” wage: Most of the [labourers] were planning to return to China after working in the mines for a few years, hoping to save enough money to set themselves up in luxury in their home villages, but those that succeeded in this dream were rare cases. In the main they either died from hard work, disease or opium or stayed on in Malaya to beome [ancestors] of today’s young people.

    And as for rubber tappers, here’s Ernest Birch again in 1913: “I should like to say that I hope it will be possible for local agents of the various rubber companies … to reduce the cost of [labour], and to combine for this purpose.”

    So there’s Ernest Birch, advising planters to combine to keep wages down, and lauding miners for already having done so.

    But when labour unions were formed “to watch over the interests” of the coolies, and when they “combined” to ask for higher wages, what happened? Well, their organizations were banned, their protest was made illegal, and when some of them dared to resist, an “Emergency” was declared and they were hunted like rats.

    Sprawled across his several sofas and easy chairs, surrounded by antiques, and fanned by his punkah-puller, Alma Baker would have approved.

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