IPOH city in Perak will soon introduce its “Cantonese Heritage Trail”.
Expected to be launched in two months, the 8km foot trail has 32 stops at both the old and new parts of town, with information posts containing details about historical buildings, its founders and the purpose of its establishment.
Among the landmark buildings are Paloh Ku Miu, Kapitan Chung Thye Phin, Guest House Lane, Perak Mining Association, Ho Yan Hor, Han Chin Pet Soo, Concubine Street, Ipoh Bazaar, Lam Looking, Foong Seong, Kong Heng and Hume Street funeral parlour.
Ipoh city councillor Richard Ng conducted the research to develop the trail.
After presenting the project paper to Ipoh mayor Datuk Rumaizi Baharin, Ng talked about the migration history of the Chinese from Canton in China to Ipoh, and the creation of the trail.
Ng, who is also president of non-governmental organisation Ipoh City Watch, said the trail would highlight landmarks of historical significance associated with Hakka immigrants, which was then made famous by the Cantonese.
“This trail will form part of four heritage trails to revive the tourism industry and economy of Perak, and Ipoh specifically.
“The Ipoh Heritage Trail already exists, while the Malay and Indian heritage trails are still being researched.
“Tourists usually stop in Ipoh for food before heading to other states such as Penang.
“We need new attractions and this new product will definitely be of interest to many people,” he said after his presentation at the Perak Nam Hoi Association.
Nam Hoi and two other Cantonese associations, Perak Pun Yue and Perak Shun Tak, are assisting Ng in developing this trail.
Rumaizi said Ipoh, like the rest of the world, had been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.
He explained that during the tin mining era in the 1880s, Ipoh was one of the richest cities in Malaya, but things had since changed and there was a need for new products to draw people to the city.
“Tourism can play a major role in boosting the city’s economy and besides food, there must be other attractions.
“With the Kinta Valley accorded national geopark status, the city is no doubt rich in heritage and cultural background, which should be tapped into.
“Thus, when this trail is launched, we will be able to attract international tourists, especially those from China, who want to learn about the achievements of those who migrated here,” he added.
Ng said the mayor’s concerns for Ipoh’s economy and people’s livelihoods during the Covid-19 pandemic, inspired him to carry out research on the trail.
He noted that Ipoh’s tourism had been relying solely on the Ipoh Heritage Trail, which highlighted landmarks of colonial influence.
The new trail, he said, was designed to showcase Cantonese influence and culture, and would definitely attract more tourists.
The Cantonese culture was chosen as it had more influence on Ipoh than any other part of Malaysia, he added.
“It is something very unique, similar to the way the Baba and Nyonya culture is synonymous with Melaka.
“The Hakka people may have been the ones who opened up Ipoh back in the day, but it became vibrant and prosperous through the skills and economic activities of the Cantonese,” he said.
Ng said the trail would focus less on architecture and more on the activities conducted at those buildings from the 1880s onwards, when the Cantonese immigrants started coming to Ipoh.
“The idea is to attract more tourists from China, especially those who would like to learn about their ancestors and what they did for a living here,” he highlighted.
He added that tourists could view all records to get an understanding on how Cantonese immigrants lived in Ipoh and what they achieved.
Explaining how the Cantonese arrived in Ipoh specifically, Ng said when tin was discovered in the 1880s, it was first mined by the Malays before the British took over.
He said the British brought in coolies, mostly from China, to help in the industry. The immigrants brought in were Hakkas as they had expertise in tin mining.
Over time, some of the Hakkas eventually saved enough money to start their own tin mines, he added.
“The rich tin miners then brought in Cantonese from Guangzhou in China because of their abilities and skills in many other sectors.
“The sectors, among others, include entertainment (including lion-head makers), carpentry, culinary, construction and Chinese traditional medicine,” he said, adding that until today, the culinary skills of the Cantonese had turned Ipoh into a gourmet hotspot.
Ng said since Ipoh had the largest Cantonese-speaking population in the country, the trail, once officially launched, could attract more tourists from Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Macau as well as Singapore.
An urban tourism training programme, he said, had also been launched for those who were interested to engage in the tourism sector.
As part of their training, groups of students were required to make videos of the trail with a brief commentary.
Offering some trivia from his research, Ng said the Kong Heng building was used as a hostel for theatre performers who performed at the Chinese Opera Theatre next door before it was burnt down in the 1950s.
The hostel is now more popularly known as Kong Heng coffeeshop.
Similarly, the Lam Looking building was built with a cabaret hall by a Cantonese businessman, but it was later transformed into a theatre specialising in Cantonese opera.
In the early 1970s, the Perak Emporium took over the premises but it is now owned by a medical supplies company.
Ng said according to the locals, mining tycoon Yau Tet Shin built Concubine Lane for his three wives, while another account claims that it was a place where rich men hid their mistresses.
Today, the lane is popular for its variety of stalls selling delicious food and drinks.
Ng said Guest House Lane (or Hale Street) built in 1880s was a popular place for visitors to find accommodation.
Besides housing Chinese coolies who worked in nearby shops, these buildings also provided accommodation for weekend visitors in the olden days.