Sunday, July 15, 2007
A Trip Down Memory Lane in Papan, Perak
Members of the Perak Heritage Society visiting Rumah Besar Raja Bilah in Papan
Anggota Persatuan Warisan Perak mengunjungi Rumah Besar Raja Bilah di Papan
A trip down memory lane
By CHAN LI LEEN
Photos by SAIFUL BAHRI and CHAN LI LEEN
Saturday September 13, 2003
THE hosts of Papan, one of the oldest towns in the Kinta Valley, were revisited during the Papan Open Day organised by the Perak Heritage Society recently.
Hundreds of visitors travelled from near and far to this almost forgotten pioneer town to relive the times of the early Chinese and Mandailing settlers and to retrace events of the Japanese Occupation during World War II.
The open day was also organised to introduce the God of the Earth, the second book by former resident Ho Thean Fook, 83.
Since early morning, the main road of the town, which is located off the Lumut Highway, 16km from Ipoh, was packed with history buffs who had also come to visit Papan and the sites mentioned in Ho's book.
Visitors for Papan looking at articles and old pictures of the town at Sybil Kathigasu's old house.
Ho's book is a fictional and partly biographical novel set in Papan during the rise of the affluent tin and rubber industries in Perak at the beginning of the 20th century.
It was launched on Aug 22 by lawyer Pamela Ong during a dinner talk organised by the Perak Academy at the Syuen Hotel in Ipoh.
Former principal of SMK St Michael's Institution Ipoh Brother Vincent Corkery said: It's a wonder how much a story can do to bring a town back to life. Papan is no longer neglected or forgotten because of the beautiful stories Ho has brought to life in his book.
Kicking off the memorable open day in Papan on Aug 24 was a lion dance by a troupe from nearby Batu Gajah.
This was followed by a talk about the novel by retired teacher Ong Su-Ming and state librarian Mohd Taib Mohamed at the Hakka Tsen Lung Fui Kuon Association, where hordes of people clamoured around Ho to get their books autographed.
A foreign visitor, J. Vanderbilt-Sloane, was so impressed by the town's historical essence and ambience that he donated 62 copies of Ho's book to the teachers and students of Papan, hoping that they would learn their history and roots.
French tourist Jennifer Gay, 36, who was first introduced to Papan two years ago, said the open day was a good way of getting people to be aware of the town and hopefully to preserve it.
A former teacher, Ho taught at the Khai Meng Chinese School in 1940 and, a year later, at the Kinta School of Commerce when war broke out.
He was 21 when he was roped in to fight the Japanese by the Malayan People's Anti-Japanese Army agents who used nationalism and patriotism as their selling points.
During one of the meetings, he was asked to approach Sybil Kathigasu, a brave Eurasian woman reputedly known to be anti-Japanese, for medical aid for the resistance fighters.
She was caught and tortured by the Japanese and died from the injuries she sustained at the hands of her captors.
"She was a divine lady and until today, I have not met any other woman like her,"Ho recounted.
"People have commented that I am a brave man because of the experiences I have gone through but, given a chance, I would prefer to lead a quiet and uneventful life. I still get nightmares from the past," said Ho.
His exploits with the resistance fighters were recorded in his first book, Tainted Glory, published in 2001.
For those who turned up at Papan, an open day would not be complete without a heritage walk of the town.
Society members Chye Kooi Loong, Law Siak Hong, Chong Fong Loon and Cheah Chee Ming, guided visitors on the Ho Thean Fook Trail mapped out by Law, Chong and Ho.
Visitors were also taken to the backroom of Kathigasu's house where she risked her life to provide medical aid for the resistance fighters.
Kathigasu would let the injured fighters in through the back door of the house when Ho knocked three times.
"There are also two secret compartments in the house, one under the staircase and another in the backroom, where Kathigasu hid her transistor radios that were codenamed Josephine 1 and 2," said Chong.
The entourage also stopped by at Rumah Besar Raja Bilah, a century-old Mandailing double-storey mansion made of bricks and cengal timber with eight-sided columns to symbolise that the building was erected with the support of people from the eight directions of the compass.
The house was mostly used for ceremonies such as weddings, feasts and other receptions, rather than as a residence for the late local chieftain, Raja Bilah.
A few metres away, some young children tried to peep into the old 1888 Papan Mosque, believed to be the last remaining large-scale 19th century mosque of traditional Mandailing architecture found in the country and Sumatra, Indonesia.
Among those taking the trail was a group of 37 pupils from SMJK Ave Maria Convent in Ipoh.
Papan has not been mentioned in our history textbooks and I felt it would be beneficial for my pupils to expose themselves to the town, not just by reading but by experiencing the place first hand,?said teacher Tai Mei Kim.
By noon, many had retired from the walk while the more adventurous ones went on to view the former mansions of the rich in the town like Yap See, Hew Ng, Chang Sin Sang, Loke Wan Toh and Cheah Kooi Chun, who had lent a hand in giving Papan its illustrious background.