Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Gopeng Welcomes New Museum.

(Photos courtesy of The Star)

The recently opened Muzium Gopeng ushers a fresh new air for museums in Malaysia.

The birth of the thematic museum came from a group of friends who decided to start a permanent exhibition about the former tin mining town of Gopeng.

Although it lacks in size, this privately-run museum has become a favorite for museum aficionados because of the wealth of information in its collections. Many of the artifacts housed in the former shop lot are personal collections passed down the generations.

Furthermore, Gopeng like many home grown museums are a labor of love and the bold founders who value heritage over anything else, are also the main drive of the venue. When put these factors together, the museum easily outshine many state-run muzium in the country.

While Gopeng Museum is still at its infancy, it could be a hit with visitors if it is promoted jointly with the Tin Dredge museum (T.T No. 5 - another privately run museum in Tanjung Tualang) as the country’s foremost repository of tin mining history.

Together, both museums could offer visitors and history bluffs a glimpse of the Kinta Valley’s industrious past and a startling introduction to the world’s most successful tin mining story.
Old mining town honoured (The Star, May 16, 09 - FOONG THIM LENG)

Inspired by the 2006 American animated feature film Cars, successful businessman Bernard Yaw has set up a museum in his hometown, Gopeng, in Perak.

Muzium Gopeng, opened on April 18 to coincide with World Heritage Day, is located in his ancestral home at 28, Jalan Eu Kong.

Cars, the animated film, is a story about an old sleepy town, Radiator Springs, which was once a popular stopover along the infamous US Route 66.

Successful entrepreneur Bernard Yaw who founded the Muzium Gopeng.

However, with the construction of an interstate freeway US-15, cars and trucks no longer need to patronise the small town’s businesses and services and simply bypass the town to rush to Los Angeles or Las Vegas, thus causing a major economic and financial slowdown for Radiator Springs. As the story goes, one Sally Carrera, a beautiful 2002 Porsche 911 from California, grows tired of life in the fast lane and wants a new start in the small town, so she makes Radiator Springs her home. She runs the only auto motel there and is the one most dedicated to preserving and reviving the town with the hope that one day, it will get ‘back on the map’, and it succeeds.

The story reminded Yaw, the director of Dubai Ventures Group Sdn Bhd, of the reality faced by Gopeng and other similar towns along the North-South Expressway.

Yaw recalled the time when the tin mining industry collapsed in the 1980s, residents from Gopeng and nearby towns were forced to venture elsewhere in search of greener pastures. He himself left in 1980 for tertiary education in the United States and after graduation, he used to travel to New York city as part of the demands of his job and he would visit Chinatown’s famous Canal Street.

“I could hear the Manglish and the Jen Shen Hakka spoken there,” he said. “The local Chinese residents there even regarded Canal Street as Kopisan Street. Many Gopeng folk made their living in restaurants there to send money home,” he said.

During his 20-year stay in the US, Yaw said his heart and thoughts were always with Gopeng.
The idea for the museum cropped up during a few rounds of lai fun (rice noodle) and local coffee sessions in the town by Yaw and a group of friends a few months ago. “Like many of us who were born and raised in Gopeng, we loved the former hustle and bustle of this town.

“We savoured the simplicity of life in Gopeng, without the Internet, Gameboys and iPods.

“We were all just simple, honest, frugal and conservative Gopeng folk,” he said.
He loves the simplicity of little towns where everyone is kind and generous and where the food is freshly made and the air clean.
“We decided to form Muzium Gopeng as we have a strong common desire to share the rich legacies of Gopeng and to bring about its revival,” he said.

Yaw restored the ancestral home that was built in 1882 by Eu Kong, the founder of the famous Chinese medicine company Eu Yan Sang. It was leased for 99 years to Yaw’s great-grandfather Yaw Mun Chong who came from the Hakka Dapu County in Guangdong Province in the early 1900s to set up a sundry shop in Gopeng. Yaw bought over the house in 1999. Five generations of Yaws had grown up in the house.

Muzium Gopeng is now under the care of the Gopeng Museum Management Society’s ad hoc committee headed by Yaw. The society’s secretary Phang See Kong said there were over 300 artefacts on display including clocks, radios, typewriters, tools, weighing scales, household items, kitchen utensils, decorative platters, glass jars and ceramic urns, coins and currency notes, pens, lighters, torchlights, watches, ceremonial items and silver belts.

Another interesting display is a gallery of photographs on important people and incidents in Gopeng over the years, said Phang, a retired teacher. Phang said Gopeng was a pioneer town in the Kinta Valley dating back to the early 1850s. He said the museum had attracted over 2,000 visitors from all over the country and also tourists over the past few weeks.

Perak Heritage Society president Law Siak Hong said there were opportunities in heritage waiting to be tapped. Already, eco-tourism in the jungle nearby has made Gopeng a popular destination.

“This history centre will attract more visitors to town,” he said.

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