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Wednesday August 4, 2010

Yap Kwan Seng did more than just lend his name to a road, says granddaughter

PHILANTROPHIST Kapitan Yap Kwan Seng may have died over a century ago but the legacy of the last Chinese Kapitan of Kuala Lumpur lives on.

The closest that Malaysians know about this man is the road that was named after him — the busy Jalan Yap Kwan Seng that today houses high-profile tenants like the Australian High Commission, Menara Public Bank, Menara AmBank Finance and a slew of high-end restaurants.

But more than just Jalan Yap Kwan Seng, there are various other landmarks in Kuala Lumpur that were founded or contributed by the Kapitan himself.

Granddaughter Lin Chua a.k.a Yap Swee Lin, feels proud and impressed by the good deeds of her grandfather.

A noble Kapitan: Yap was not only an entrepreneur with diversified interests, but a philantrophist, too.

“In all honesty, I didn’t know my grandfather as he passed away long before I was born,” said Lin, who took us on a day tour of the city to show the various locations which Yap Kwan Seng had made his impact.

“Until recently, being Yap Kwan’s Seng’s grandaughter meant nothing to me.”

But when she chanced upon a portrait of Yap Kwan Seng hanging on the wall at the Tung Shin Hospital in Kuala Lumpur, it altered her perception she had about him.

“I wondered what the photo was doing there and how it was related to the hospital. Then, the hospital’s management passed me a book — a compilation of the works of my grandfather. Only then I knew he was the founder of the hospital,” said the 66-year-old Lin.

The Tung Shin Hospital was originally known as Pooi Shin Thong, in Jalan Sultan, which Yap founded in 1881, when he was just 35. It was built to give free medical care and service to the poor, dispensing Chinese traditional medicine, while funeral arrangements were also arranged for the needy.

Yap financed the administration of the hospital for 13 years, before donations started pouring in. It was later converted into a non-profit organisation.

The Victoria Institution: Yap was one of the founders and original trustees in 1893.

Later the hospital was renamed to Tung Shin and moved to its current location in Jalan Pudu.

“His dedication to healthcare continues through the Tai Wah Ward that he co-founded at the Pauper Hospital, before it became known today as the Kuala Lumpur General Hospital and now Hospital Kuala Lumpur.

“In the early days, the hospital was a wooden structure. The wards were specially dedicated to rehabilitating opium addicts,” said Lin.

Moving over to High Street which is now named Jalan Tun H. S. Lee, Yap Kwan Seng donated a few shoplots to form a hospice centre called Chik Seng Tong, which housed the terminally-ill migrants who had no place to go to.

“It’s like the olden day hospice to provide care and accommodation for the sick and dying, and it also served as a morgue,” added Lin.

However, this centre in Jalan Tun H. S. Lee has since been demolished with the site now serving as an open carpark. Lin said its trustees had moved the centre to another location.

And the stretch where Hotel Malaya stands today is the former residence of Yap, said Lin.

The story of Yap Kwan Seng is not complete without the mention of the Chak Kai Koong Kon Association in Jalan Sultan, Petaling Street.

Yap, a Hakka who hailed from the province of Chak Kai (Red Stream) in Guangzhou, China, had established the association in 1885 with the help of others who came from the same province.

Helping the poor: The Tung Shin Hospital was originally known as Pooi Shin Thong and it offered free medical care and service to the poor, dispensing Chinese traditional medicine, while funeral arrangements were also arranged for the needy.

Lin said the association building had since been rebuilt a year ago through fund-raising efforts.

“I also learnt that my grandfather was one of the founders and original trustees of the Victoria Institution in 1893.

“Like many schools, VI had different colour houses for its sports activities — blue, yellow and green. But what was different is that it had a Yap Kwan Seng house too!” she said.

Records showed that Yap had established the school with other prominent leaders like Loke Yew and K. Thamboosamy Pillay with the help of British resident W.H. Treacher, and donations from the Sultan of Selangor and the Queen Victoria’s Jubilee Fund.

What the Royal Selangor Club near Dataran Merdeka has to do with Yap Kwan Seng?

Yap was one of the club’s early founders.

During his term as Kapitan, he was said to have hosted a banquet in honour of Sir Frank Swettenham.

In honour of my grandfather: Lin Chua showing the present-day Chak Kai Koong Kon Association in Jalan Sultan, Petaling Street.

Then there is Brickfields of course, which was initially developed by Yap who saw the potential and demand for quality bricks and built the first brick factory in the country.

The kiln was established in a district that was later known as Brickfields.

Lin said the deeds of her grandfather had touched the hearts of the descendents of the Chinese migrants whom he had helped when they arrived in Malaysia.

“During the 112th anniversary of the Chak Kai Association, the children of the migrants who had passed on, spoke of their parents’ gratitude towards my grandfather and in turn thanked us — his descendants.

“Just last year, the Guangzhou authorities had constructed a new road and named it after him. I was invited to do the ribbon-cutting but was tied down with my Autorr Foundation project then,” said Lin.

Yap’s tin mine company was one of the largest in Selangor then, which employed more than 7,000 workers. He even had his own small police force to look into his business interests!

Lin said Yap died in his mid-50s, when her father was barely seven years old then.

“He was originally buried at Maxwell Hill but when the government wanted the land for development, his bones were exhumed and are now placed at a pagoda at the Lin Lum land near the Kwong Tung Yee San cemetery.”

A stone plaque has been erected in memory of Yap who served as a Kapitan for 13 years till his passing in 1902.

Related Story:
Like grandfather, like granddaughter

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