Monday, June 16, 2008

Museum Director Victim of Political Tug-of-War.

The new political landscape following the 12th. General Elections in Selangor may have a hand in the latest change in Perbadanan Muzium Selangor (PMS) - The Star Jun 15, 08. PMS is the museum authority overseeing the Shah Alam Museum and the Bukit Melawati Museum in Kuala Selangor and several Royal Burial sites in the state.

While the new Mentri Besar was quick to refute any claim of political victimization, many would view this development with trepilation. Such a move is likely to signal how the Pakatan led state government want a new approach in museum establishments under the auspice of PMS.

Political observers may interpret the removal of the state museum director is akin to the tug-of- war between UMNO and PKR, but museum afficinados in this country would regard it as another worrisome trend in this country to position public funded state museums as vehicles to propagate their myopic interpretations of history.

Public funded museums supported by our hard earned money will continue to be feted with vested interests groups who have no qualms about distorting historical events and cultural practices. Some are even guilty of 'ethnic cleansing' in their overzealous endeavors to champion the course of a particular race or a political party, and completely sideline the role other communities play in this same land we all call home.

Changing of the top guard in Malaysian State Museums according to the whims and fancies of the political masters is nothing new. Nevertheless Malaysians should view such interference with concern and urge restraint if we aim to have Malaysian museums to be the rightful institution that embodies the richness of our multi-racial and multi-religious heritage.

Malaysians museums as political fall guys are not completely a strange phenomenon. The latest development in Selangor is a political boomerang which come back to haunt the once perpetrators from UMNO. What goes around comes around.

In 2006, Penang Museum Curator and conservationist, Khoo Boo Chia - The Sun, March 24, 06 - was removed from his post prematurely by the state executive in charge of culture and arts, a rising UMNO political stalwart himself. The museum under Khoo's tenure was besieged by calls to showcase more the communities from Penang's mainland side, previously an UMNO fertile ground. There were few but loud disgrunts from the party members about the State Museum 'over-emphasizing' communities from the Penang Island.

Further south, in Barisan stronghold state of Malacca, PERZIM, the state museum authority went a step further in galvanizing this prominent political establishment when it opened a dedicated UMNO Museum in the tourist belt in Banda Hilir. Visit the Historical Museum in Stadhuys and discerning visitors will be disappointed to find to find loopsided interpretations of the main political players and their contributions, in the historic state and also the country. Prominent role played by non- Malay communities in their collective fight for Malaya's Independence were overshadowed by the 'heroic' political mastery from their UMNO brethens. Exhibitions on the state colorful and vibrant minorities are best patronizing and worst misleading in their lackadaisical attempts.

Hopefully the change we are witnessing in Selangor marks a departure from the old ways which museums are merely a propaganda tool and set our sight to elevate museums into a reputable heritage cum historical establishment that all Malaysians can proud of.

Jun 16, 08

Monday, June 9, 2008

Bukit China Now A Heritage Zone?

In an unprecedented turnabout by Malacca authority, Bukit China and the 10,000 or more graves are now considered worthy of being accorded heritage site. This latest announcement must be music to the souls from the largest Chinese Cemetery outside of China and now they can rest in peace.

This latest twist of event is a remarkable departure from an earlier hostile policy to ‘redevelop’ Bukit China in the mid 80s initiated by the then rising UMNO stalwart and former CM, Abdul Rahim Thamby Chik. This controversial and elaborate scheme calls for the remains of the graves to be exhumed and the entire hill leveled to spur Malacca property markets. Centuries old cemeteries will be replaced with hotels and shop lots. A multilevel pagoda will also be built to house the urns of the deceased and served to remind Malaccans of the sanctity of this burial site.

There were huge uproars among the Chinese communities and the many living descendents who feared such a move has devastating impact on family fengshui and their future well being.
Opposition politicians from DAP won rousing support and its leader Lim Kit Siang was hailed as hero when he confronted the masterminds on this massive plan.

History would showed that locals eventually voiced their displeasure by voting out the Chinese representatives from the ruling component parties on the election day. Following this thrashing at the ballot box, wisdom won the day and the political masters were quick to heed the clear message from the Chinese community.

Owner of the Bukit China, the Chen Hoon Teng Temple and monks then spearheaded a clean up project to make the cemeteries more accessible to the Malaccans. Soon, Bukit China became the favorite jogging site for health enthusiasts. Some well concerned individuals contributed time, sweats and money to green up the entrance leading to the climb to the hill top.

Soon, Bukit China too became Malacca’s scout troopers’ favorite venue. After night fall, countless young scouts were ‘ordained’ here especially after they have successfully ’subjected’ themselves to a test of faith within a stone throw away from the cemetery.

While the latest call from current CM Ali Rustam goes a long way to safeguard Bukit China from wanton development, at least for the time being, one can’t help wondering if these are part of a shrewd political maneuver to win back the hearts of the minority in the country following the 12th General Election. Malaysians are too familiar with too many instances when promises were broken even before the inks dry.

The on-off development curse that lingers around Bukit China is an example of the complexity that brews out of political necessity but if it is allowed to go ahead will surely have far reaching consequence on the community and Malacca’s unique position as the Malaysia’s foremost cultural melting pot.

The real fear is that Bukit China may again become the pawn of flicked politicians whose agenda is not revealed till the damages have come irreversible.

June 5, 2008

Related Reading

The Star -Thursday June 5, 2008

Bukit China now in Malacca heritage zone

MALACCA: The state’s well-known historical landmark, Bukit China, has been included in Malacca and Penang’s joint bid for listing as a World Heritage Site next month.
The decision to bring the 256ha hill within the state’s conservation buffer zone comes into immediate effect following a recommendation by the United Nations International Council on Monuments and Sites to include it as part of the listing effort.
Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam said the hill was deemed to have historical value and significance dating back to the 15th century Malacca Sultanate.

“Besides being recognised as the largest Chinese cemetery outside of China, the hill is also the site of the ruins of a 16th century Portuguese monastery,” he said after chairing the state exco meeting yesterday.

With this, Mohd Ali said, the buffer zone to protect the state’s 235ha core heritage zone in the heart of the old city would be enlarged to 1,049ha from the previous 793ha.

“This will mean that the hill will now be preserved. Any proposed development must now obtain approval from the relevant conservation agencies,” he said, adding that the World Heritage Council would sit in Quebec, Canada, next month to decide on the joint bid.

“It has taken eight years for us to prepare the dossier for submission to the World Heritage Council in Paris and there’s a good chance that we can succeed,” Mohd Ali said.

He said the state would receive recognition as “Malacca and George Town Historic Cities of the Straits of Malacca” if successful.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Bring Back The Trams To Penang

By Diana Chin
The Sun, June 4, 2008

GEORGE TOWN: Citizens groups in Penang have initiated a lobby to have the billion-ringgit monorail project replaced with a tram system in the state.

The movement stems from an increasingly popular notion that the monorail is far too costly and would bring about adverse effects to the heritage streets and green landscape of Penang.
'Penangites for Tram' campaign coordinator Anil Netto explained that investment required for developing a tram network would be much lower than for constructing the monorail.

"The tram is a more substantial choice as we can revive the system based on already existing old tram lines that Penang used to have, thereby eliminating excessive additional costs," he said.
Netto said trams would blend in with George Town’s heritage and greenery, while the monorail would obstruct views of buildings and mar the attractiveness of the island.

He said a good tram system would also encourage people not to drive private vehicles within the town area, allowing them to save following the increase in fuel charges.
"If we give the people a better alternative in public transport, there will be less traffic congestion and more parking spaces in town," he said.

As the roads of Penang are narrow, they suited the concept of the trams, he added. The campaign is currently being supported by 25 bloggers and websites. Heritage writer Khoo Salma Nasution noted that the Penang Island Municipal Council was the first local government to introduce electric trams in the inner city in the early part of the last century.

"People think the tram is a thing of the past, but they are wrong because it is actually the thing of the future," she said. "It is clean, energy saving and user-friendly not to mention fast, efficient and also cheap." She said the tram could provide an iconic identity for Penang and help revitalise the heritage of the inner city.

Khoo, who published a book titled ‘Penang Trams, Trolleybuses & Railways: Municipal Transport History 1880s-1963’,said trams could also help traffic calming in Penang’s roads.
Aliran and Penang Heritage Trust activist Ahmad Chik said the campaign is calling for a traffic master plan for Penang that would include feasibility studies for trams as compared to monorails and underground transit systems.