Ipoh – the lost glory

Call me biased but I think the British built the most attractive architecture among all colonists. Most of their buildings were also public administration buildings and not religious monuments, which are still in use today.

Ipoh Railway Station – the grand entrance to the grand British invention, the steam locomotive

Given their vast empire, the architects assigned by the Crown spent their time in India, which was then an intermix of Mughal, Maratha, Dravidian and Moorish styles while combining it with the Victorian style of Gothic architecture, Baroque and Neo-classical. The resulting style became a trademark of the. British East India Company.

Ipoh Town Hall was completed in 1916 – right in the middle of WWI when the East India Company faced an acute shortage of materials during the early part of the First World War. The building was originally used as the main administrative offices in Ipoh, as well as it Post Office and for a time also the District Police Office. It is now used a function hall for weddings and public events.
Town Hall back view

Some of these examples can be seen in Ipoh, Malaysia. Once the tin capital of the world, Ipoh’s tin mines supplying a little more than half of the world’s total tin output. This included tinned food for soldiers during the wars as well as for household use, for construction purposes, pipe work and plumbing, as well as making bullets which were used in the 2 world wars.

Tinned food, bullets and other manufacturing purposes tin served during Britain’s Industrial Revolution
Food was stored in porcelain jars until the discovery of tin and all of a sudden we had biscuit tins, canned food, baby formula and even oil for our cars stored inside large tin canisters

With tin came other activity such as banking and commerce, railway and transportation, judiciary, clubbing and entertainment and given the wealth, this once sleepy town sprung into action.

HSBC building was designed in Renaissance style architecture by the Singapore-based Denis Santry of Swan & McLaren- the very same architectural firm that also designed the famed Raffles Hotel. It was opened by the Sultan of Perak on 31 October 1931.
Another Renaissance style architecture – the Straits Trading Company – was erected in 1907 and housed one of the largest smelters in the world. The building now houses the Oversea Chinese Banking Corporation (OCBC).
The old OCBC building with Greek architecture was completed in 1932. I couldn’t help but notice a jewellery shop is situated right next to the bank which would be such a sensible thing to do then.
Arlene House, built in Kapitan Chung Thye Phin, was the Tin HQ and Trading House
The Birch Memorial Clock Tower which served the purpose of standardising mechanical time, as opposed to basing it on sunrise and sunset. The four statues that surround the centrepiece represent the four pillars of British administration: patience, justice, loyalty and fortitude.

Hakka miners came in the hope of making fortunes from tin – it was also the Hakka who went to California during the Gold Rush and also to Australia. Some miners did strike gold and became owners of these tin mines. They are called Towkays and they built exclusive clubs for other Towkays.

Didn’t realise, the origins of the word coolie, a term for indentured labourers of South Asian descent, is actually Chinese: 苦力 (Khu li).
Hakka miners called coolies then, flocked to Ipoh in quest of finding riches. During the tin boom, Ipoh was a valuable jewel in the British crown.
Hakka people, because of their migrant nature, are called the Jews of Asia. Known to be extremely industrious and skilled at their work, they are successful in everything they do.

There were also the Hokkien who went into financial industry, Foochow who went into rubber and rice business, Teochew who went into plantation; Hainanese who made Hainanese chicken rice popular; and then there were the Cantonese whose economic xxx went into coffee shop business,

The Indians, primarily professionals were in the legal services while the Sikhs were in the police force or fire brigade.

These various businesses were managed by the British East India Company administrators who built some of the most captivating architectural monuments, most of which lie in a state of disrepair. Once the town was mined out, there is little that remains now. The buildings stand as a testament to the glory days of the past while the townspeople thank you for visiting Ipoh, an unlikely tourist destination that is now known for its food.

Funny Mountain Tau Fu Fa has been known for its recipe dating back to 1952 it’s also famously known for causing traffic jams by cars waiting to grab n go.
The curious case of caramel custard – flummoxed by its popularity in Ipoh which never came under Portuguese control. There are caramel pudding circuits for tourists with even local coffee shops laying claim to their creations being the best. Best paired with Ipoh’s famed White Town Coffee.
Yam, sesame, pandan and red bean buns add colour to Ipoh’s rich history though only new additions to the food trail
The Kopi uncle
Once the British commissioned grand architectural projects in Ipoh; now Ipoh Mural Arts project, commissions wall art – this one portrays old uncle drinking coffee. Coffee culture is big in Malaysia, especially in Ipoh.

The Hakka people have a unique way of cooking their food that is rarely known outside their homes. You can find Cantonese restaurants but never ever Hakka. Text irises food is the hallmark of Hakka way of cooking meals.

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