HE DREW laughter from his classmates on the first day of school in Ipoh when he told the class that his hometown was Tanjung Rambutan.
Kok Beng had expected the reaction because the country’s biggest mental hospital — Hospital Bahagia Ulu Kinta — is in Tanjung Rambutan, about 16km from Ipoh city centre.
“Tanjung Rambutan was synonymous with mental illness in the old days and people used to joke about it,” recalled Kok Beng, who is now in his late 60s.
The hospital was known as Federal Lunatic Asylum when it opened in 1911.
It was renamed twice – Central Mental Hospital in 1928 and Hospital Bahagia Ulu Kinta in the 1970s.
“It is more than a hospital for many of the patients,” said Kampung Baru Tanjung Rambutan village chief Keok Mun Choong.
“Some of those who recovered chose to stay on and found jobs near the hospital.
“They have integrated well in the local community over time,” added the 60-year-old Keok, who is a retired civil servant.
Showing StarMetro around the village, he said there were about 500 households and three Chinese coffeeshops at the small commercial square.
Keok said the village was set up during the Emergency (1948-1960) and was a predominantly agricultural community until the 1980s.
Most of the residents were vegetable and pig farmers, rubber tappers and mine workers.
These jobs have almost vanished nowadays, he said, adding that many young people moved to big cities such as Kuala Lumpur and Singapore for jobs.
Those who stayed on are mostly petty traders, small businessmen and odd-job workers.
The Tanjung Rambutan Railway Station, which began operations in the late 1890s, was closed a few years ago.
Keok said it used to be a very important stop in the old days.
Even though highways have brought better connectivity and provided alternatives, he said it would be good if the railway station could continue to operate.
Keok believes that Tanjung Rambutan has tourism potential.
He cited the 145-year-old Tung Wah Tong or Tung Wah Caves as a major attraction.
“Perched on high ground and visible from the main road, one has to climb 145 steps to reach the temple,” said Keok, who is also temple committee chairman.
In fact, he said there were many temples in or near Tanjung Rambutan that were over 100 years old.
Another famous place of worship is the Kwan Yin or Goddess of Mercy Temple.
Like most new villages, Kampung Baru Tanjung Rambutan is a greying community.
Enrolment at the village’s 106-year-old Chinese primary school, SJKC Tat Choi, used to be a few hundred before it started to drop in the 1990s.
The school’s senior assistant Cheah Hon Choong said its current enrolment was 107 and 54 of the pupils were non-Chinese.
Keok was proud to note that the more than a century old school has a new block with 10 classrooms and the building was launched by Tambun MP Datuk Seri Ahmad Husni Hanadzlah last month.
Keok hopes there would be more and better job and business opportunities to help locals in an increasingly challenging economy.
Some have been badly hit by the rising cost of living.