Thursday, May 29, 2008

Making Museums Research Centres, too

Making museums research centres, too - The Star May 25, 08

KUALA LUMPUR: The Unity, Culture, Arts and Heritage Ministry will request several museums in other countries to temporarily exhibit their artefacts and treasures in Malaysian museums.

Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal said these museums were in England, France, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia and Vietnam.

“This is one aspect we are looking into, to make museums not only venues for exhibitions but also research centres for youths and students.”

Mohd Shafie said this after flagging off participants at a Muziumthon held in conjunction with International Museums Day at the National Museum yesterday. – Bernama

Uproar Over Looming Demolition of Historic WWII Jail

Uproar over looming demolition of historic WWII jail
47 minutes ago

KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) — Plans to demolish Malaysia's historic Pudu jail, where allied prisoners were imprisoned and executed during the brutal Japanese occupation, have Second World War veterans up in arms. The site of prisoner-of-war tortures, interrogations and modern-day infamous hangings is set to be torn down later this year, to be replaced by a commercial centre and condominium complex on the prime downtown location.

"Pudu jail should be preserved," said Charles Edwards, 89, who was a private in the Australian 8th Division, part of Commonwealth forces that defended Malaya, as it was then known, at the outset of the 1939-1945 war. "So many Australians and allied soldiers died in places like Pudu, defending democracy and the lives of the people of Malaya," Edwards said from his home outside Melbourne. "They made the ultimate sacrifice and Pudu is a reminder of that sacrifice which led to the freedom we enjoy now," he told AFP.

Japanese forces swept down the peninsula within days of the December 8, 1941 landings on the beaches of Singora and Pattani in southern Thailand and in Kota Bharu in Malaysia's northern Kelantan state.

By January 11, they had taken Kuala Lumpur which had been abandoned by the retreating British and pushed further south, capturing Singapore on February 15, 1942 and bringing the Malayan Campaign to an end in just 70 days. With just 30,000 soldiers, the Japanese captured 150,000 British and Commonwealth troops in what wartime British prime minister Winston Churchill called "the worst disaster and greatest capitulation of British history."

"I was one of the first 30 Australians taken prisoner by the Japanese in World War II," said Edwards, who was captured in Johor state which lies next to Singapore. Along with 1,000 other men, Edwards spent nine months in Pudu, which had been built to house just 600 prisoners.
The cells were horrific, he said, each with a window the size of a shoebox. "The conditions were shocking with wounded men, the cookhouse and the hastily dug benjos (latrine pits) all within metres of each other," he said. "Men were milling around with no leadership, filthy dirty, lice-filled and surviving on a half a cup of water per day. "More men were brought in as the days went by until there were about 600 men in this small area of about 20 by 20 metres."

At great danger to himself, Edwards helped six men escape but they were caught and brought back to the jail where they were executed. Edwards was one of many POWs who were sent on to Changi jail in Singapore and then to Thailand to build the the infamous Siam-Burma death railway, from which most never returned. After the end of the war, Pudu continued to be used as a prison. In July 1986, Briton Kevin Barlow and Australian Brian Chambers were hanged there, the first Westerners to lose their lives under Malaysia's tough anti-narcotics laws.
The two were convicted of drug trafficking in an internationally publicised trial, and an appeal for clemency by the Australian prime minister was turned down.

A decade later, Pudu was closed to make way for a prison museum but poor visitor numbers spelt a quick end to the venture and since 2005 it has been used as a holding centre for prisoners undergoing trial. The Urban Development Authority is now preparing to tear down the jail. Its chairman Baharum Mohamad says the site was handed over in exchange for the construction of a new prison on the outskirts of the capital.

But the decision to demolish Pudu has upset many.

"It is a historic building and there should be some trace of it," said Ahmad Sarji, chairman of the Malaysian Heritage Board. "Even if you could keep the facade, about 20 feet (6 metres) to the left and right of the main gate which shows the date of its founding, that would be good," he said.
Historians say Pudu's fate reflects a lack of interest in heritage in Malaysia, where significant buildings continue to be torn down, including the charming century-old Bok House in downtown Kuala Lumpur.

An early example of the fusion between European and local architecture, it was nevertheless demolished in 2007 after only a brief outcry. Military historian Brian Farrell, who has written extensively on the Malayan Campaign, said the authorities should consider preserving part of the building, one of the few intact 19th century prisons in the region. "The real significance of Pudu is that it is right in the heart of the city and yet it has survived intact and undamaged," he said. "If nothing else, at least preserve some of the walls, the gate and have a small museum."

In contrast, plans to tear down the infamous Changi Prison in neighbouring Singapore were met with stiff opposition in 2001.

"When news leaked that Changi was to be demolished, there was a chorus of protests not only from locals but also from many overseas," says Jeyathurai Ayadurai, Director of the Changi Prison Museum. "Five Australian ministers wrote to the Singapore government asking for a reversion of the decision," he said. "It was partly due to this protest and outcry that a section of the Changi Prison wall and its iconic gates were preserved."
Pudu is unlikely to benefit from such a campaign as each year sees the number of veterans decline. "Unfortunately, I do not think there are enough voices left here in Australia or in the UK to launch a protest in the same way Changi supporters managed," said Australian historian Lynette Silver.

Secret Weapon to Keep Our Borders

The fight for Pulau Batu Putih (PBP), or Pedra Branca as Singapore prefers it, was over even before the lawyers could face it off in The Hague. Malaysians had apparently embarked on a ‘war path’ without the one vital ammunition which could have inflicted the knockout punch on their opponents from across the causeway.

Chief negotiator and Ambassador-at-large Tan Sri Abdul Kadir Mohamad had revealed how the search for the correspondence from a British Governor in Butterworth to the Johore Temenggong seeking approval to build the Horsburgh Lighthouse was met with dead end. This futile effort was revealed in the Malaysian Parliament (The Star, May 26, 08) when lawyer cum opposition politician Karpal Singh put the government to task for the loss of PBP. He claimed it was ‘foolhardly to have the case before ICJ” without this solid piece of material.

The missing piece of the 19th. Century document proved to be the coup de grace in our argument that the rocky islet was indeed historically ours. It was the vital material to further support the claim that the British crown colony’s presence there was the outcome of Johorean courtesy.

Other parliamentarians too joined in the fray and some of their favourite punching bags were the Attorney-General’s Chambers and the National Archives (Arkib Negara). A backbencher not wanting to be outdone during the heated debate, even go so far to attribute the PBP loss to the lackadaisical attitude from the Unity, Cultural, Arts and Heritage Ministry in living up to its reputation as the guardians of Malaysia’s heritage.

The ministry’s costly oversight in securing and preserving historical documents has manifested into permanently deleting part of our southern border off from the map. While there are now frantic calls to preserve documents, maps and relics pertaining to our littoral heritage before more islands are lost, they have come too late for PBP.

At hindsight, these developments could have taught us the valuable lesson to consider another perspective on how best we can safeguard our sovereign integrity.

Policymakers no longer can justify protecting our shores by going on shopping spree and spending our hard earned ringgit on military hardware. Similarly, they must adopt fresh approach to meet our defensive needs and look at threats from a whole different angle. When we finally arrive at this juncture, the future solution to prevent encroachment to our territory lies not in the billions we spent on the Sukhoi or Scorpene, but the fight is waged closer to our hearts and minds, by protecting our heritage.

Therefore, it is not too far stretched to argue that our vibrant and rich history could well be the preferred armament to avoid more geopolitical skirmish.

Perhaps it is not too late yet for Malaysians to come with terms that our fight to settle future disputes and defend our territorial rights begins with the first step to Arkib Negara and the quality and volume of its heritage collections. In this new playing field, conservationists, museum curators and historians would join ranks with army generals and panglima in assuming the role of safeguarding our national sovereignty.

Heritage will be the weapon of choice to keep Malaysian borders intact.

May 27,08

Sunday, May 25, 2008

New Look For Malaysian Heritage?

New Look for Malaysian Historical and Cultural Heritage?

The purported guardians of the Malaysian heritage will soon find themselves tasked with redefining the appropriate context for a country with the new political awakening.

This scenario may be the direct result from the recent 12th General Poll which saw the country’s minorities voicing their discontent through the ballot boxes. Key amongst their woes is the feelings that the minorities are systematically sidelined from the mainstream of Malaysia’s political, economical, and educational sectors.

Nevertheless, it is perhaps timely too that calls made by those who won in the elections championing the fight for justice and equality in the political arenas should entails similar voice calling for greater but more importantly equal representation in matters constituting minority cultural heritage and their historical contribution to this nation.

Only through an earnest and strong effort brought forth by this new political reality can the fate of minorities in Malaysia see light at the end of the tunnel. This noble quest will offer deserving minorities and their forefathers whose forgotten sacrifices made through the generations be recognized and accorded the rightful place in Malaysian History.

Visit Muzium Negara and the State Museums in this country (with the exception of a handful like in Penang), and you are bound to be confronted with a dire situation where exhibit highlights on minorities’ history, culture and social economical involvement is almost non existence and if they are, the exhibits are mere patronizing and left you with a foul aftertaste. Nothing is more infuriating when you come face-to-face with minority related exhibitions that sorely lack research and depths, and insult our intelligence.

State Museum Boards in Melaka, Selangor and Negeri Sembilan, are in my view the top culprits in marginalizing minority communities in their choice of exhibits. PERZIM of Melaka for example, has over the years founded and built more than ten separately themed museums. A few were runaway success with tourists flocking for ample photography opportunity yet none focus any significant feature on the state’s rich and diverse communities like the Peranakan and the Portuguese.

Recent development in Singapore is another great concern to Malaysians who love our heritage. While Malaysia profusely claims to be the cradle of Baba and Nyonya heritage, the recently launched Peranakan Museum in downtown Singapore opened its door to a few surprises. Featured prominently in its main collection and a pride of its curator is the jaw dropping ancestral Baba Nyonya wares and artefacts from Penang!

This event is tantamount to a Cultural coup and should serve as an alarm to our heritage amnesia guardians. Malaysians can ill afford to have its priceless heritage sold to the highest bidder and let it fell into foreigner’s hands. All of us bear some of the blame too and we must seek answers on why and what happened to the much hyped Jabatan Muzium dan Ankuiti initiative in the 90s to have the Malaysian version of a similar Peranakan Museum in the Malacca historical enclave.

This dreadful situation is also compounded by a band of cultural chauvinists who has for too long guilty of ignoring the historical development in this country. Instead, these self appointed cultural and heritage gatekeepers perpetrated historical interpretation that borders cleansing of the country multi ethnic composition.

Perhaps it is appropriate that we demand a different breed of dedicated historians and conservationists who value and ready to embrace the multi racial and multi religious components of our Malaysian Heritage. They will boldly tackle new role as the heritage and history vanguards to take diversity and historical accuracy in Malaysia to greater heights.

In turn, Malaysian museums will gradually showcase these revolutionized interpretations of our diversity and history. They will be the undisputable establishment and the perfect platform to unify and to usher in a new era of mutual understanding and learning from one and other for all Malaysians.

Friday, May 23, 2008

War Graves for British War Ships

The Malaysian power-to-be have appeared to adopt a giant shift in recognition of World War II events in this country.

The DPM made the bold call to the ministry in concern to give our former colonial masters a place in our history and their roles to defend Malaya against Imperial Japanese Forces during World War II. (NST , May 23, 08)

Personally, I welcome the stance taken by Najib and it is a big wake-up call for historical and cultural guardians in this country from their overdue cultural amnesia.

In an Aljazeera talk show- 101 East, one of the panelist from Malaysia remarks that Malaysian government lacks the political will to 'punish' the Japanese after the war as compared to other countries like South Korea and China because we had agreed to the compensation money offered by the Japanese and the war basically affected the minority Chinese more and little on the Malays.

Hence the sufferings inflicted on the people in this country is 'proportioned' and not the entire population as we all made to believe.

However, my experience of talking to family members and Malaysians who experienced the horrors of World War II from 1941 to 1945, it is easily to conclude the adverse impact it had on us, yet the authorities especially at the federal level have shied away from this topic.

The Japanese Army cruelty and brutality during this period are all too well recorded and the mental scars affected on its victims still refuse to go away although 60 years have gone by.

Their compelling and heart touching tales of grieves and nighmares would soon die one day with them if the government continues to detach itself from the need to capture their oral history. Something must urgently be done.

Like many Malaysians I too have my share of stories we heard from our loved ones. Like how bomb from a Zero fighter almost killed my grandfather who was out looking for food to feed his young family.

How a relative in Batu Pahat survived being bayoneted but later died from infection. How mother and terrified Malaccans woke up to see human skulls paraded around the Victoria fountain at the Stadhuys to warn people to behave. How my mother-in-law and all the village's damsels took to the jungle to evade the Japanese troops hungry for what else.

Needlessly to say, the lack of action from the Heritage authority is mind bothering. No official monument to showcase what is one of the bleakest years in our nation.

No museums to tell the ferocity of General Yamashita aka The Tiger of Malaya and his bicycle brigade. No memorials to mark the thousands of war deaths and the innocent lives committed to the building of the Death Railway on the Thai-Burma Border.

Even the annual ANZAC ceremonies in Labuan and Perak to honor the soldiers sacrified in the futile battles to stop the advancing Japanese were lowkey event worthy of brief mention in local English newspaper while nothing in the mass Malay print house.

What we have on this subject in this country is pathetic.

An unworthy museum in Kota Bahru covered in non descriptive photos. In Malacca, a lone monument next to Hang Li Poh Well stands dedicated to the local population who died in the hands of occupiers.

In Kepala Batas, Penang, British built defensive fortress is the villagers favorite dumpsite. While in Kelantan. they lie in ruins and on the brink of collapse from the continuous pounding of the sea waves.

Article from NST Friday, May 23, 2008

Najib: Register WW2 warships as war graves.

The Ministry of Unity, Culture, Arts and Heritage should consider registering the sunken warships HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales as war graves and protected from illegal encroachment.

Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said the ministry should include the two ships in the Malaysia Government Protected Heritage list.HMS Repulse and the Prince of Wales were sunk on Dec 10, 1941, off the coast of Kuantan during World War Two. More than 800 people died.

Najib yesterday handed over the bell from the Prince of Wales to the commanding officer of HMS Edinburgh for safe passage to the United Kingdom. It will be returned to its permanent home at the Merseyside Maritime Museum in Liverpool. The bell has been in Malaysia since October as the main showpiece of the "Relationships" project, an initiative by Malaysia to honour those who died in the sinking of HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales.

The ceremony was witnessed by British High Commissioner to Malaysia Boyd McCleary, Royal Malaysian Navy chief Admiral Datuk Abdul Aziz Jaafar and Admiral (R) Mohd Tan Sri Anwar Mohd Nor, former RMN chief and chief of defence. McCleary said: "Malaysia has paid great tribute to the fallen heroes of both ships. " The bell has played a part in this historical project, an indication of the strength and depth of UK-Malaysia relations."

Najib said in memory of the 50 year of Malaysia-British formal relationship and in conjunction with 50 years of independence, the government appreciated the efforts of the Relationships project team (RPT) and the British High Commission." I was quite impressed when I visited the RPT booth at the maritime exhibition at the last Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace."

HMS Edinburgh is a Type 42 destroyer which is in Port Klang on a routine visit from May 21 to 26. Commanding officer Commander Gavin Young will take the bell back to Liverpool. It had conducted sea exercises with the navies of Singapore, Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand as part of the annual exercise schedule under the Five-Power Defence Arrangement.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

More.... Fun Museums For School Holidays.

Continuing with the series on Fun and… mainly FREE Malaysian museums to bring kids to especially with the coming of new school break.

The RMAF Museum (3 out of 5 Stars) in the Sungai Besi Air Base (the first international airport in Malaysia, before Subang and definitely way before Sepang) has a thing or two to attract the most devout lot of museum aficionados. The main draw is the fascinating array of aircraft in display. These flying machines were once the pride of the nation and Malaysia’s primary air defense arsenal.

Visitors who want a glimpse of the air force humble past may kick off their tour with the memorabilia in the modest museum housed in an ex-officer barrack. While the exhibits lack in creativity to capture visitors’ imagination, they compensate the fact with the historical importance of a struggling nation’s flying unit. The first gallery is adorned with many wooden plaques listing the names of previous Air Marshall and black and white photos of colonial officers in their rather awkward pose in their songkok and their official Malay military gears.

The museum has a treasure or two to boast if you look hard enough for it. Located in the corner of this same gallery is the uncelebrated ejected pilot seat of F-5E jet. Not much is told about the incident but a little notice nearby discloses the uneventful fate of the fighter jet which crashed off the coasts of Terengganu in the 80s.

However, kids and their dads will have a field day discovering more about the aircraft parked next to the derelict hangar located close to the runway. Kids would love to explore the interiors of the large wing Caribou. These hard working Canadian transporters were the backbones of air force logistic need, and when standing in the narrow cabin one can still feel the adrenalin rush of a paratrooper waiting his turn to jump off the plane.

With luck, visitors can catch the air force’s Nuri (transport helicopter) or Police Pilatus in operation from the nearby runway.

More surprises inside the hangar. There, the A-4 Skyhawk - the supersonic jet fighter that once ruled our skies in the 80s before the arrivals of the Hornets, Sukhoi and MiGs, now greets visitors amid silently. Retired helicopters are also valuable exhibits to allow visitors hand-on experience on the working of a rotor blade aircraft.

The historical biplane that served in the formation years of RMAF is another attraction not to be missed. Nevertheless it is heart breaking that parts of the aircraft body which is covered with flimsy cloth-like material, are tears everywhere due to lack of care and poor maintenance.

That is probably the main contention of visitors to this museum.

Muzium TUDM has in their procession some of the priceless artifacts showcasing our country’s momentous start in aerial military yet all the exhibits are covered with a thick layer of dust or worst condemned under the unforgiving tropical sun. Many outdoor exhibits including Ferrer Scout Car, Grumman Seaplane and others are left to rust. Information or the lack of it on the displays is another thing that the curator should be dismayed with. Questions should be asked now if another more committed conservation entity should assume the role as the repository of Malaysian Air Force heritage.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Fun Museums for School Holidays

May 26, 08 marks the beginning of the Malaysian school break and most parents with kids would crank their heads over their holiday plans. I think holidaying in Malaysia is a rewarding break for the kids if parents make a point to include visits to museums.

I believe that there is at least one museum worth visiting in each of the Malaysian states. Some states boost more but the important thing is to identify one which the kids can enjoy and for an hour or two, let their inquisitive minds probe for answers, and a warning for the parents - be prepared.

Many of the exhibits housed air-conditioned museums are a perfect substitute for the regular outings to shopping malls. It is the prefect opportunity to share with the kids a wider perspective of the people, events and places that Malaysians have all lived through.

Furthermore, for a brief moment we are training them to discard the buy and consume mentality we parents indulge them with whenever we visit shopping centers.

We are lucky alot in a sense. Malaysian museums are also affordable compared to our nearest neighbor – Singapore. Most museums except Muzium Negara operated by Jabatan Muzium have no admission charges whereas Singapore’s MICA run public museums do with charges varies from S$1 -5 pax.

For a starter, go to a favorite outing spot for many in Kuala Lumpur particularly in areas like Lake Garden (3 museums, 1 memorial and 1 planetarium). To help parents plan their museums outings I have listed the list below for reference according to the location, admission charges and exhibits. Allocate about 1 hour to 1 and half hour for each visit to the museums.

The Royal Malaysian Police Museum - 4 out of 5 Stars
Admission - Free

Why Kids Like It?

Daddies can be Boys again and together they could check out armored vehicles, aeroplane and a patrol boat.

The Gun Gallery housed in a fortified chamber has a fascinating array of submachine-guns used by the security forces and terrorists, bow pipes used by hunters not to hunt but kill and weapons of choice by feuding gangsters. Kids may love the guns but parents must warn them of the damage they may caused.

The Darurat Gallery is a decent jungle setting with a Ferret scout car and tools of trade ( including condoms) used by terrorists in the jungle warfare. Be Warned – some very graphic photos of defeated terrorists. Check out also some pornograhic material on display aka the handkerchiefs.

The First Gallery showcasing the Malacca Sultanate days is a perfect spot to let a child plays the imaginery role of traders bartering spices or a Sultan warrior guarding the seafaring port.

Just compare the low tech weapons used by the Melaka defenders against the muskets and cannons used by the Portuguese invaders and it is easy to understand why 500 plus Portuguese and their sepoy can triumphed easily over.

The Tun Razak Memorial -'Malaysia Former White House' - 2 half of 5 Stars
Admission -Free

Why Kids Like It?

Tough to expect your kids to like this place because a substantial portion of the memorial is dedicated to Tun Razak's political contributions. Never mind the kids, adults too might not take it too well here.

But give it a chance and step into the former residence of 2nd. Malaysian Prime Minister. Go to the 1st floor and you and the kids would be zapped back in time. Catch a glimpse of the Malaysian first family and what it is like to live with the technology of the 70s. Look out for the enormous black colored Jabatan Telekom telephones. Check out too the then trendy boxy television sets to gauge how far we have come from that to the flat screen LCD etc.

Muzium Negara -'The Granddaddy of Malaysian Museum' - 3 out of 5 stars
Admission - Yes (Adult – RM 2/ kids under age of 12 or wearing school uniform - free)

Why Kids Like It?

Renovation which began in 2006 is still on-going (May 2008). Gallery A and B (on ground floor) are closed. Visitors now have access only to Gallery C and D (on the first floor) and make you wonder why they still charge you for full RM2 admission.

Kids will love the new Gallery C. It now has delightful exhibitions and children can ‘board’ a Portuguese galleon attacking Melaka, pretends to be a British soldier guarding Fort Cornwallis.
There are also excellent exhibits on how rubber trees were tapped. Look out for the tapper mannequin and the container for mosquito coils at her sides.

The tin dredge model the size of Volvo is also a fun place for the kids to discover how the floating factory works.

Gallery D is rather disappointing. The vast hall is used to garnish the momentous leap this country supposedly have had made since Aug 31, 1957. But after visiting Galeri C, you are forgiven if think that the museum designer had suddenly lost its creativity in this final galeri. The displays despite the colorful variants and themes make you wonder if we were back to the Georgian style of museology.

Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia - 3 out 5 of stars
Admission - Yes

Why Kids Like It?

The museum boost world class collections with fascinating exhibits but it can be daunting for kids whose grasp for details last no longer than 5 seconds. For the true afficiendos, some of the collections were purportedly on loan from Sultan of Brunei and they are worth millions!

Kids however would love IAMM for its many interactive kiosks and try-on gadgetry which are important part of the learning process.

Parents may opt for the delicious Mediterranean restaurant housed in the same museum after the hefty tour.

Planetarium - 3 out of 5 stars
Admission - Yes

Why Kids Like It?

Take your kids to space and beyond! Despite its relatively small size (about the size of one and half basketball court) and a pricier ticket, the planetarium offer enough rocket and planetary exhibits. Just don’t expect Houston Control Central and you won’t be disappointed.

There are few interactive kiosks where children will have fun time experimenting. The ‘Space Walk’ tunnel and slide is a must for the kids.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Wickhams - Malayan Communist's Worst Nightmare

Railway services in Peninsula Malaysia were the preferred mode of transportation back in the days when the country was largely covered in jungle and lacked good road networks.

Trains were the lifeline to move people and produce around the country.

When the Malayan communist insurgency peaked, railway services particularly the railroads became favorite targets of guerilla saboteurs. As the conflict escalated, the terrorists became bolder at blowing up rail tracks and inflicted heavy human cost.

The devastation soon overwhelmed the authority and a quick fix to the problem was urgently needed.

Before too long, the security forces found their answer in the British made armored Wickham Trolley – a tank look-alike except it ran on train tracks. The trolleys were originally manufactured by D Wickham & Co of Ware, Hertfordshire and to brought to Malaya by the colonial administration.

Each of the 2-ton Wickham Trolleys or AWT, was armed with search light and machine guns on the turret. They were immediately deployed in key roles as front guard and to provide cover for interstate train services.

Subsequent insurgent attempts to disrupt railway services were met fiercely by government soldiers in these self-powered Wickhams on steel wheels. AWT quickly proved itself to be a deterrent force and provided all-weather and round-the-clock protection for all trains.

However, when the Emergency ended in 1960, AWT triumphing records were cut short and many of the AWTs were left idle at KTM sheds in Klang. Their formidable fighting tales began to fade with time too.

Recently, the railway authority has embarked on giving the AWT a new lease of life as war relics in various museums and establishments.

For the best view of the Wickham and to get a glimpse of how AWT was effective in its role, then check out the Armored Trolley No. 60 at the Malaysian Army Museum in Port Dickson.

The Army’s AWT No. 60 spots a grey body and it is parked along a steam locomotive and train coach. The museum has undoubtedly the best display on Wickham and with a bit of imagination, visitors can see for themselves how the armored trolley protected trains in those turbulent times.

The Royal Police Museum in Lake Garden, KL is the next best bet to see a Wickham. AWT No. 63 is painted in police blue indicating a different ownership but the logo on its side shows KTM with its roaring tiger. No much is revealed in the Police Museum about the success made by the Malaysian Police on the Wickham but fighting Communist in those days was a concentrated effort involving different parties and strategies.

One can also head to the less conspicuous Tunku Abdul Rahman Memorial in KL to see -AWT No. 56.

However, like all rest of the AWT on display, No. 56 is exhibited outdoor and left to the mercy of the weather. Furthermore, all the museums lack sufficient reading materials about the Wickhams deployment during the Malayan Emergency.

One need to go to the KTM Mini Museum at the Old KL Train Station to find Wickham related materials. In its small gallery, there is brief information on the three Wickham Trolleys and their whereabouts. There are old photographs showing men on the Wickham preparing guns and search-light, but unfortunately this railway museum does not have static display of the armored trolley.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Freakiest Museum OUT there

How unique to find that a blog that wants your vote on the freakiest Museum in the world. Go to and some of the comments are amazing. Fancy touring exhibits on condoms or visit an exhibit on the evolution of bras.

The freakiest exhibition I experienced is at the Sarawak Museum in Kuching. On the 1st level, there are real human skulls hanging on the pillars in what is a replica of Ibanese longhouse. There are few skrunk heads. You want to keep you head low as you take the tour inside the bamboo structure or else you might come in contact with the wandering spirits.

Muzium Negara too won several accolades many years ago with a Ghost exhibition. Over 1 million visitors paid to see vampires, ghouls , and what have you. The Negeri Sembilan Museum Board tried to follow suit in their museum in Seremban but backfired when the muftis feared such exhibition would make public lean more to superstition.

Check out also http://www.ratethis for more good/ bad museum reviews.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Urban Golf To Promote Heritage in Malaysia

Golf Courses seldom get credit for heritage conservation but there is this golf course in Switzerland that has successfully accommodated both. The entire course was designed around the historic city of Fribourg and when you've completed the 18th hole, you basically complete a tour of the city too.

In Malaysia, golf courses are popping up everywhere swallowing precious virgin jungles and poisoning our rivers. When the Old Subang Airport was handling international flights, it was not uncommon to have pilots cursing out loud the bright lights from the golf courses adjacent to the runway. Apparently the lights made the pilots confused and fortunately there was no untoward incident.

An urban golf course makes an excellent choice to strike a balance between heritage, tourism and sports. Imagine teeing off from Merdeka Square to Bukit Nenas Reserve Forest and finally landing on the green at KLCC park.

For a game of golf, players will discover the historical square where Independence was declared, then make a nature visit at one of the two urban rainforests in the world. Finally the golfer can putt in the final hole in the manicured garden besides the world's tallest twin towers.

A win-win situation for all. Golf tourists from all over the world will pay top dollar to enjoy a game of lifetime and the tourism folks can claim that they have helped to promote Malaysian history and its many tourist attractions. It is also a great way to promote golf and make it a truly people's game.

Related Readings - The Star Friday May 2, 2008

A Swiss city gets urban golf down to a tee. By WILLIAM FRENCH

FUNICULAR railways, bridges and cobbled streets are not typical features on a golf course but they form the backdrop to a new course in a Swiss city hoping to attract fresh tourists.

“Urban golf” is the brainchild of Celine Curty, a former business studies student who hit upon the idea while working as an intern in the tourist office of Fribourg, a pretty university town that marks the frontier between French- and German-speaking Switzerland.

Each ‘hole’ consists of one small patch of astroturf from where you tee off, aiming for a separate piece of turf no more than a few metres away.

The plan formed the basis of her final year degree project, and impressed her bosses at Fribourg so much that they decided to turn it into a reality.
“I’m very pleased with how it turned out,” said Curty, though she admitted she hasn’t played the whole course yet.

The 18 “holes” are dotted around the medieval Old Town, many offering fantastic views of the Gothic cathedral, the old city walls and the Sarine river.
It’s more than just a stroll. Doing the full round involves crossing the town for a good four hours, even if you do take advantage of Fribourg’s funicular railway to get down from the first hole to the riverbank.

And if there’s no clubhouse for the traditional “19th hole” relaxation over a gin and tonic, there are plenty of cafes and bars dotted around the city for thirsty players to take a break.
The hole is not marked by a traditional flag but a fixed red marker.

“It’s the perfect way to discover the town,” said Nicolas Zapf, Fribourg’s tourism director.
Urban golf exists in many forms, proving particularly popular in the late 1990s in London’s trendy Shoreditch district, where golfers tired of the sport’s conservative image literally took their clubs to the streets and set up impromptu contests, improvising the holes as they went.

The Fribourg approach is slightly different as the location of the holes is fixed, with the aim of giving players the best possible views across the town. But any budding Tiger Woods or Nick Faldo hoping to perfect their swing will be disappointed, as “urban golf” differs greatly from the traditional variant.
For a start, you have only one club for both swinging and putting – a relief no doubt to any potential caddies who would otherwise have to scale Fribourg’s cobbled, winding and hilly streets.

The ball is also much lighter and made of squeezable rubber, which is probably just as well given the number of pedestrians passing by seemingly unaware of the course in their midst. Each “hole” consists of one small patch of astroturf from where you tee off, aiming for a separate piece of turf no more than a few metres away. The hole is not marked by a traditional flag (too tempting for light-fingered passers-by) but a fixed red marker.

The aim is to sink the ball within seven shots, though of course there are no fixed rules and indeed you’re not forced to play every hole. “We’re not aiming it at golfers, just ordinary tourists,” Zapf said.
Urban golf has been up and running since April 1 and has already attracted a lot of interest in Switzerland as well as neighbouring France and Germany, but is not yet targeting golf-mad Asian tourists.
The holes are surprisingly discreet and not heavily signed – so you need to keep your map with you at all times.

Hurrying after two eager young boys with clubs in hand, one local grandmother said she was all in favour.
“I’m from Fribourg but the kids are from France – it’s a great way for them to get to know the place,” she said. – AFP

Rubber Smokehouse Museum in Lunas

History of rubber industry in Malaysia now has a home to call its own or sort of. A private initiative by award winning architect Laurence Loh has given birth to a museum in Lunas, Kedah which showcases the latex industry in the country. Fortunately, Loh has pursued the museum idea by incorporating and maintaining the original allure found inside an old rubber smokehouse.

Today, the museum has the distinction of allowing visitors the opportunity to see and experience the making of smoked rubber sheets. It is the only museum of its kind in Malaysia.

More importantly the museum has allowed a glimpse to an industrious past where the rubber industry was the main livelihood for millions and responsible for the making of many rubber moguls.

But rubber industry has been sidelined in our quest to be developed.

In a short span of just two decades, many traditional economy activities in Malaysia died a slow death. Traditionally agriculturally based, Malaysia began to embrace industrialization like a testorone charged man with a new mistress in tow and government officials brandished earful 'F' words like FDI, FTZ to all and sundry.

Rubber trees were among the first to go and they were uprooted in a frenzy to feed the massive needs for industrial and residential lands. Sons and daughters of rubber tappers left their homes in droves for more 'glamorous' jobs in air-conditioned factories and supermarkets.

In its wake, small towns like Lunas in the northern state of Kedah, found itself without a reason to sustain itself and slowly disappeared from the map.

Urban migration is particularly acute in this country and a great Malaysian phenomenon which is not fully studied, or perhaps understood by the authority about its implication. The swift in the population data was overwhelming. From a 80:20 ration between rural and urban population right after Merdeka; to a reversal of 3 urbanites to every two persons in the rural area by the time we celebrated our 50th Independence. Unbalanced development priority is the other culprit.

Rubber trees even in the villages are now far and between and the sight of rubber tappers rarer.
After the first rubber seet was planted in Kuala Kangsar about 150 years ago, the once lucrative Rubber industry is now a distance memory and fast disappearing from our mindset.

In 2006, Laurence Loh took over the family owned smokehouse in Lunas and converted it into a museum. He also spearheaded a conservation campaign involving the town's children to promote heritage awareness in Lunas. Walking inside the museum allows visitors experience the authencity of a working smokehouse as Loh explained in a talk given at the Asia Cultural Co-operation Forum 2007, Hong Kong:-

"In the rubber story, the actual patina and crust of history was retained. Actual rubber sheets were hung up on the original bamboo poles to simulate the environment of the internal space of a smoke house - black walls full of soot and dust, accumulated over 40 years, complete with teh rich pungent smell of raw rubber, totally unforgettable and distinct."

Smokehouses were main structure in many Malaysian towns and they served as the processing center to treat rubber sheets brought by the tappers before the treated sheets are sent to ports to be exported. Lunas Smokehouse is made of wood structure but in bigger town like Malacca, the smokehouse there (Bachang besides the Onn Yah Kong temple) was a massive building about 5 stories high and occupied an area of considerable size. Passers by often have to cover their noses because of the pungent smell from the site.

For a comprehensive insight on the rubber industry, start the journey in the revamped Gallery C of Muzium Negara. There is an interesting exhibit of the paraphernalia used by rubber tappers in the olden days. Center to the exhibit is a female tapper 'milkling' on a rubber tree. Take a closer look and you will see that there is a mosquito coil attached to the side of the mannequin to repel the insects.

In Kuala Kangsar the oldest surviving rubber tree from the original seet brought in from London's kew Garden is found near the Malay College.

Related Reading:

Lunas - by Elizabeth Cardosa January 2007

Badan Warisan Malaysia is currently involved in an exciting cultural mapping project in Lunas, Kedah.

LUNAS: The Rubber Story is one of DiGi’s Amazing Malaysians 2006 projects. Two heritage education programmes involving Laurence Loh, ‘The Heritage Architect of Kedah’, were held in Lunas, Kedah, between June and August 2006. It involved 80 students, aged between 10 and 14 years, from three local schools, SRJK (Cina) Hwa Min, SMK Kulim and SMK Jalan Paya Besar.

Laurence Loh chose Lunas as the project site because his grandfather, Loh Boon Ghee, came to Lunas from China by way of Sumatra. Starting out as a labourer, he worked hard and became the owner of several rubber plantations. In the process, with two others, he built and owned a large portion of Lunas town in its early days, a legacy which remains till today. Laurence believes that in the process of collecting the stories and photographs of Lunas, the unique character of the town, its special buildings, places and stories can be recorded and kept intact as a heritage to pass on to the next generation. This way, the effort, joys, sorrows, triumphs, disappointments and achievements of the pioneers will be embedded in the memory of every child and person who experiences Lunas. This is the story of just one of the many little towns in Malaysia, and by collecting the stories, it makes our history and communities richer.

The project also featured the restoration of an old Smokehouse in Lunas, by Laurence Loh, DiGi’s Amazing Malaysian. The documentation, images, videographic materials and data from the two education programmes are used within the main exhibition which has been installed at the Smokehouse.

DiGi's Amazing Malaysians is a corporate social responsibility (CSR) programme which identifies passionate individuals who, quietly but with dedication, work towards preserving Malaysia's natural, social, art, cultural or built heritage. DiGi provides resources for these ordinary people doing extraordinary things to share their knowledge and skills with groups of 50-100 children or youth. Most of the projects are centred in rural locations, and the children involved come from the surrounding areas. This way, DiGi is able both to support commendable heritage work, and to introduce children to the rich tapestry of culture and tradition that makes up Malaysia's unique heritage.