The International Steam Pages
Kinta Heritage Trail 2017 Part 4
We stayed in the Reintree Lodge (Budget) Hotel, cheap and cheerful, with good sized rooms which were clean and well maintained and with excellent Wifi. It's a bit out of the way opposite the Methodist Girls School, but the nearby Curry Mee coffee shop provided an excellent breakfast. There's not much else in the immediate vicinity but plenty of choice if you walk some way north. We would particularly recommend the Ipoh Restaurant at 33, Jalan Masjid where we had three excellent Cantonese meals at a very reasonable price. The place was packed with families every evening so you can safely ignore the Tripadvisor reviews. If we were to return we might consider staying at the Abby Hotel by the River which is also competitively priced and more central.
The story of the building known as Han Chin Pet Soo goes back to 1876 when a young Hakka man called Leong Fee arrived at what is now known as Ipoh. Over the years he prospered and became a successful tin miner helping found the Tua Pek Kong temple near the Kinta River which we visited a few days later. In 1893 he founded the Han Chin Tin Miners Club which was restricted to Hakka miners, the idea being that it was a place they could relax, connect with colleagues and friends and have a meal. Leong Fee personally ran it at his own expense until he died in 1912 after which his son, Leong Eng Khean and others sponsored it. In 1927, the property passed to the members and in 1929 it was extensively renovated. After the hiatus of the Japanese occupation, the club continued but with the demise of tin mining by 2012, things were looking bleak. The few residual members voted to lease the building to an organisation known as Ipoh World (www.ipohworld.org), a not-for-profit body dedicated to preserving Ipoh's heritage which was able to raise the money to fully restore the building and turn it into the magnificent museum it is today. Be warned, I found navigating within the Ipoh World website extremely difficult, some of its pages (eg the leaflets, even the museum visit booking page http://www.ipohworld.org/reservation/) are best found by using a Google search.
There are four tours daily (except Mondays) for a maximum of 20 people which can be booked through their website. Each lasts an hour and a half, there is no formal charge but a minimum donation of MYR 10 is suggested. Some rooms contain appropriate period furniture, others dioramas showing tin mining and related activities.
The first exhibit shows exploratory drilling, the second the hydraulic jet used to break up the ore bearing strata. Eventually huge dredges were used, floating in a large pond and separating the ore from the waste (tailings). In every case, the principle was to use the high density of the ore which caused it to sink and separate from other lighter material when suspended in water. Even into the 1970s, there were still manual workers (dulung washers) doing this on a small scale for which they needed a licence. The dark sandy substance is the ore (tin oxide, which is about 80% tin). Tin mining in Malaysia peaked in the late 1960s and early 1970s but then a combination of low prices and worked out deposits saw the industry contract and become insignificant by the turn of the century. Ipoh has never really recovered from the shock and places like Gopeng are a shadow of their former selves.
There were once tin dealers who would buy up small scale production although in practice almost half of all tin was traded through the company Straits Trading. The cupboard is a reminder of one of the main uses of tin, namely to coat steel cans, a method of food preservation which is of much less importance now.
Upstairs is a reminder of the 'Four Evils' of opium smoking, gambling, prostitution and secret societies. Just how much of each was associated with the club is left to the imagination although mah jong was permitted here and it should be remembered that for a long time that the proportion of females in the Chinese population was well under 50%. Of course, those who frequented the club would often have had the luxury of more than one wife, not to mention a string of concubines.
Perhaps for us among the most interesting exhibits were those detailing the origins of the Hakka people, often known as the 'Jews of Asia' as they migrated in stages across China and then on to what is now Malaysia. Penang has a significant Hakka population but these are hill farmers rather than miners.
As I have tried to show, this is a very worthy project and deserving of even more support.
Rob and Yuehong Dickinson