Han Chin Pet Soo is open! Book now at www.ipohworld.org/reservation
Han Chin Pet Soo is open! Book now at www.ipohworld.org/reservation

March 2009


By |2009-03-13T02:52:25+08:00March 13th, 2009|Categories: Memories|Tags: , , , , |

In 1920, Wong Jee Seong (Wong), an immigrant from China, was employed as a bank clerk in Ipoh, earning the princely sum of $28 per month.  In those days this was a handsome wage as a full bag of rice only cost 12 cents.  A regular attendee at St Michael’s Church in Brewster Road, Ipoh, Wong, his mother, wife (Choong Kee Chin)and family lived happily at 241 Brewster Road in a nice house, rented from the Church.  A stable family, well thought of in the community, the house was often full of friends, one of whom was the then Menteri Besar (Chief Minister) of Perak, Dato’ Panglima Bukit Gantang, a frequent visitor.  It was a risk free, stable and comfortable life. 

But the tranquility was soon shattered by a friend’s proposal that Wong should enter a partnership with Lee Ah Weng and others to engage in tin mining rather than continuing with his humdrum life with the bank.  The proposer ‘guaranteed’ a certain fortune from an unworked hill mine in Selibin, adjacent to the River Parit, near Ipoh.  The mine was later named Beatrice after the daughter of the British mining engineer they employed.  Wong took the bait and immediately left the secure employment of the bank and invested his meagre savings in the partnership known as the Tong Ying Kongsi.  It was a great gamble for a family man. 

Initially the profits failed to meet the expectations of the group, but nonetheless there was enough tin to make mining worthwhile and so they persevered.  In July 1923 however the gamble paid off in a very big way, for the mine, bored into a limestone hill, had hit what was known as a pipe – a tubular vein of ore running into the hill and close to the surface.  This pipe was around 20 feet in diameter and around 850 feet long, producing almost 100% pure tin ore worth a veritable fortune as was the by-product of white arsenic they sold to Australia.  It was the jealous European miners who it is said coined the expression, “As rich as the Beatrice Mine” which thereafter, in Ipoh, indicated nothing less than fabulous wealth. 

The workers extracted the ore in as large a chunks as they could manage.  It was then transported, unwashed, to the Wong home in Brewster Road where Wong’s brother and family lived in a hut in the grounds.  Here it was broken up into smaller, manageable, pieces and loaded into canvas bags, which were then sewn up.  Again, no washing was required as the ore was so pure.  Once a load of bags were ready, they were sold to the Eastern Smelters Company in Belfield Street, where, next door,  there was a tin buyers shop who bought the small yields of tin that the part-time ‘dulang washers’ the wives and daughters of Ipoh men, managed to wrench from the Kinta River. 

With such a vast quantity of almost pure ore, the partnership became extremely rich and soon Wong joined the band of prosperous ‘Tin Towkays’ of Ipoh.  Of course, in the style of the day, such prosperity had to be demonstrated by material wealth and so one of Wong’s first purchases was a Cadillac motor car, believed to be the first Cadillac in Ipoh.  Racehorses followed and soon Wong was a member of the newly formed Perak Turf Club (19261) and the proud owner of four racehorses.  Of these four, only one name has been recorded for posterity – ‘Soldier Boy’ – which won four consecutive races, quite a feat all those years ago. 

Legend has it that the Sultan of Perak, also a racehorse owner wanted to buy ‘Soldier Boy’, but the horse was not for sale.  At that time Wong was a leading member of the Club as an original guarantor for setting it up, one of the first members and a successful owner.  Our former bank clerk had arrived in style.  At the time, the first Chairman of the Club was F Douglas Osbourne, also a prominent name in tin mining circles. 

Other demonstrations of wealth soon followed with Wong and wife departing on long holidays to England and Europe in the late 1920’s and early 30’s.  Trips to the Chinese homeland followed and life continued to be good for the Wongs and their growing offspring.  However, despite their ever increasing wealth, the family never moved from 241 Brewster Road to their own house while Wong was alive.  It is true that he tried to buy the old property from the church many times but the house (like ‘Soldier Boy’) was not for sale.  A stones throw from the Church, the family were just ‘too comfortable’ in the old house and as regular church-goers it was all too convenient to pop along to the church ‘almost next door’. 

But, as they say, ‘all good things come to an end’, for one day in the late 1930’s the mining manger reported a disaster – the lode had petered out.  The partnership could not believe such a thing and insisted that the mine should continue.  Money started to be lost, but they would not give in, instructing their manager to continue to search the hill in which the original lode had been, but still there was no tin and losses started to build up to a level where racehorses had to be sold and other economies made.  But Wong was convinced that tin was there if only it could be located and judging the line on which the lode had run he ordered the River Parit to be dammed and diverted so that they might mine the river bed.  No tine was found and the fortune continued to diminish.  A second diversion of the river followed with more losses and Wong and family were back to where they had started in 1920 with no car or trappings of wealth.  In some ways fortunate for them the Japanese invasion of Malaya in 1941 brought this saga to an end and the family continued to live in their home in Belfield Street until Wong passed on.  At that time they moved to a new, smaller home and the story of the Beatrice Lode Mine was complete. 

1          Horse racing in Perak actually first started in Taiping in 1886. Taiping being the oldest town in the country, It was then known as the Taiping Turf Club.  In 1926, the Perak Turf Club was formed in Ipoh at the site on which it still stands.


Postscript.  The details of this tale were kindly provided by the grandson of Wong Jee Seong, Antony Teh, a retired school teacher from St Michael’s Institution. 


By |2009-03-13T02:46:14+08:00March 13th, 2009|Categories: Memories|Tags: , , , |

A good storyteller never lets the facts get in the way.” Dave Allen, Comedian. 

Before the Japanese invasion in 1941, there was plenty of entertainment for Ipoh people although many could not afford it as the world recession had hit the price of tin and rubber badly and Ipoh, relying on these products for survival had suffered more than many other places. 

Then, during the Japanese occupation, entertainment was severely curtailed and what was available only consisted of Japanese propaganda films.  Consequently in 1945 after the Japanese had been defeated and left these shores, Ipoh’s ability to provide evening entertainment was almost non-existent for all but the privileged few who still had money to spend. 

Two local men however saw this vacuum as a space to be filled and although their names are not known they have gone down in history as the men from Storyteller’s Street, not a street in itself, but a piece of open land between Panglima Street and the river, directly across from Han Chin Pet Soo building at 3 Treacher Street in Old Town. 

These two entertainers worked every evening and are well remembered by several of today’s residents of Ipoh as being the only place to go for entertainment after a hard day’s work   Their equipment was basic but effective and consisted of a table holding a small oil lamp, a packet of Joss sticks and a Joss stick holder.  One of them also managed to provide some benches as public seating but for the other the order of the day was bring your own stools or squat on the ground. 

From the public’s point of view, the first decision was which of the two entertainers to support, for they were quite different in their approach, one telling stories and legends of old China or reading from fictional novels while the other would read from the daily newspaper (Nanyang Siang Pau) as most people could not afford or did not wish to buy one.  Many of these of course could not read anyway. 

Finally, decision made, a position close to the chosen orator was taken up by the prospective audience and when he judged there were enough people to make it worth his while he would collect a fee from all adults present (children were free if they squatted on the ground and kept quiet) and light a Joss stick from the oil lamp.  Once the stick was burning brightly he would begin his tale, story or newspaper report, which would continue until the Joss stick burnt out.  Then it was time to pay again or leave and make room for others. 

Started in 1945, this practice continued into the early 1950’s (some say as late as 1955), but as life improved in Ipoh, tin and rubber production picked up again and movie distributors and cinema owners like Shaw Brothers got their businesses going again after the war, the storytellers audiences dwindled to a level where it was no longer a worthwhile venture.  At that stage one of the two men, famous for his clear voice and pronunciation, was employed as a broadcaster on the advertising loudspeaker vans that became so popular in Ipoh in the 1950’s.


Do you have any Ipoh stories to share please?

Seven Packets of White Rice in Bukit Merah – a True(?) Story

By |2009-03-09T10:40:14+08:00March 9th, 2009|Categories: Heritage Books|Tags: , , |

This Story is translated from the book by Mr. Choo Choong Yin’s Book on Ipoh and its stories, written in Chinese.


The year was 1986. There was a coffeeshop in the village of Bukit Merah where there was a popular stall that was selling ‘economy’ rice (a common meal for lunch in Ipoh). The stall was manned by the proprietor himself with aid of a helper.

One hot afternoon, just after the busy lunch hour, most of the customers in the shop had left and it was rather quiet.  A shabbily-dressed, middle-aged man arrived on an old bicycle. He parked his bicycle in front, walked into the shop and softly told the proprietor, “I’d like to have 7 packets of plain rice for take-away.”

The proprietor then asked him, “Would you like to have other dishes to go with the rice?”
The middle-aged men answered, “No, just put some gravy and soy sauce on the rice and will do.”

The stall proprietor studied the scruffy-looking men for a while, felt a bit strange and thought to himself, “Just plain rice for lunch? This guy must be really poor to be unable to afford anything more.” He wrapped up all the 7 packets of rice, put them neatly into a large plastic bag, gave it to the man and said, “ That’s RM3.50, please.” But upon receiving the bag, the man quickly rushed off. He got on his bicycle and sped off without a word.

The proprietor told his helper, “I’ll be out for while, you please look after the stall for me”.

He quickly hopped on his motorbike, which was parked beside the shop and tailed the man who fled on the bicycle. The middle-aged man did not realize that he was being followed. A short while later, after a few turnings, the man, arrived at his house, a dilapidated wooden shack. He parked his bicycle, went into the house and shut the door and windows.

The stall proprietor arrived shortly afterwards and looked around outside the house. At the back portion, he was able to peek through some gaps in the wooden wall and saw what was inside. The middle-aged man opened up all the 7 packets of rice surrounded by six hungry-looking children. They must have been starving as the meal was quickly devoured in a short while.

The proprietor then went to knock on the front door. Not suspecting anything amiss and thinking that it was his neighbour calling, the middle aged man went to open the door. He was shocked on seeing the stall proprietor standing in front of him and looked terribly guilty.

The proprietor gave him a pat on his shoulders and said, “Don’t worry, I am not here to ask you for the money for the food which has not been paid. I could have caught up with you earlier on my motorbike and confronted you but I didn’t. I don’t understand why, if you had wanted to cheat me, why didn’t you ask for other dishes to go with the rice?”

The middle aged man sighed, tears welled up on his eyes. He said,” I worked in the tin mine for more than 20 years. The tin prices slumped, the tin mine had to close down and I’ve been retrenched recently. My employer only paid me half a month in compensation. After paying for the house rent, electricity and water, I had no money left. And my wife has left me with the kids. The kids have been without food for the whole day. Out of desperation, I did what I had done to you. I am truly sorry.” The stall proprietor was moved by the circumstances the middle-aged man was in and offered to help. “I’ll give you a month to go elsewhere to look for a job. I will provide your children with two meals a day. You can get your eldest daughter to pick up the meals from my stall everyday. When you get your salary later, you can come back to repay me. What do you think? The middle-aged man was overjoyed and was very thankful to the restaurant owner indeed.

The above was said to be a true story which happened in Bukit Merah. Words spread around, all the residents came to know about it and it became the talk of the village.

Remember: The year 1986 was the pits of the recession the 80’s . The tin mining industry in Kinta Valley slumped in the early 80’s causing a lot of people to be out of job. The economy was very bad. Paycuts and retrenchments were the norm. That was also the period where there was massive exodus of young people who went overseas to seek employment, not only from Bukit Merah but also from several smaller towns around Ipoh.

Today we are in recession again. Will you be prepared to help your neighbour, of whatever race, creed or religion if he needs it? 

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