IT WAS a quiet afternoon in Papan New Village. The main road was empty except for a few dogs loitering around.
The new village, within a once prosperous tin mining area called Papan and about 12km from Ipoh city centre, is no ordinary village though.
Its dilapidated colonial-style shophouses provide a glimpse of the past.
And the history of Japanese Occupation in Malaya during World War II will not be complete without Papan.
“Did you see the No. 74 shophouse along the main road when you entered our village?” village chief Kwan Yoke Kheong asked StarMetro during a visit to the village recently.
The significance of the shophouse centred on a nurse, Sybil Kathigasu.
It was the base where she and her husband Dr Abdon Clement Kathigasu provided medical treatment and supplies to the locals during World War II, especially the Malayan Peoples’ Anti-Japanese Army guerillas dubbed “hilltop men” in Cantonese.
She was captured by the Japanese army in 1943 and was tortured and held captive until the war ended in 1945.
Rescued from a cell by the British shortly after the surrender of the Japanese army in 1945 and subsequently sent for treatment in London, the war heroine succumbed to her injuries in 1948 at the age of 48.
She received the George Medal from King George Vl of England for her bravery and sacrifices.
Surrounded by hills, the secluded Papan in general and the new village in particular made a good hideout during war time.
Its serene surroundings, meanwhile, also made it an ideal location for movie shoots.
It was one of the locations for the shooting of the 1999 movie, Anna and the King.
Kwan said the more than 100-year-old village did get visitors occasionally, most of whom drop by to see the No. 74 shophouse.
The hustle and bustle of the village came to an abrupt halt in the 1980s following the collapse of the tin industry.
Many young people left to look for jobs in big cities like Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.
There are 135 houses with some 650 residents in the fast-greying community now.
Kwan said the village’s Chinese primary school SJKC Papan’s enrolment was 68 last year.
The two coffeeshops and two Chinese associations in the village – Chang Loong and Tung Onn – are meeting points for the villagers.
Back in the day, Kwan said, the two associations helped immigrants from China settle down in the village.
According to him, many of the immigrants headed for Papan because of the many jobs available in the tin mines then.
Born and bred in the village, Kwan reckoned that outsiders might not be able to adjust to life in the village.
“I like this place because I grew up here,” said Kwan who is single and lives in a rented shophouse along the main road with his brother and family.
He said villagers usually watch television, play mahjong and chit-chat to keep themselves occupied.
Listening to his narration of the village with the sound of clicking mahjong tiles in the background is like stepping back in time.