LOOKING at Taiping now, it is surprising to know that the quiet town was once the administrative capital of Perak.
In fact, it was also the capital of the Federated Malay States of Perak, Selangor, Negri Sembilan and Pahang, before Kuala Lumpur took the honour.
The great importance of the historical town can be traced back to the early days of the tin industry, where droves of Chinese settlers arrived to make their fortunes at the mines there.
As one of the first tin mining towns in the country, Taiping also experienced many other firsts, such as having the first railway, telegraph office and prison in the country.
Alas, the town was overshadowed by Kuala Lumpur in the selection process for a federal capital due to the latter’s strategic location between Penang and Singapore.
And because Taiping had an early head start in tin mining, its tin supplies also dwindled much earlier, causing the state administrative capital to be moved to Ipoh in 1937.
Now, the Taiping parliamentary constituency, made up of the Pokok Assam, Kamunting and Aulong state seats, consists of small towns and villages with residents enjoying a peaceful lifestyle and an economy that focuses on tourism.
Taiping Heritage Society president Yeap Thean Eng, 52, said development in the Taiping town centre famous for the iconic Taiping Lake Gardens, Bukit Larut and Taiping Zoo, had been mostly stagnant for the past 20 years.
“There has not been much growth in Taiping ever since a period of flourishing in the 1960s and 1970s after we gained Independence.
“This has resulted in a migration of young adults to bigger cities in search of work as there is practically no work opportunities for young professionals here,” he said.
Instead, Yeap pointed out that development was more prevalent in Kamunting.
“Kamunting used to be a major industrial area with many factories producing electronic and electrical goods, and textile, though many of these factories have since closed down or relocated to other countries.
“Now, the area is home to an express bus station, the Giant and Tesco hypermarkets, the Taiping Sentral mall and the upcoming AEON Taiping mall,” he said.
For clothing store manager Tan You Sin, 25, these developments in Kamunting had started to infuse a sense of vibrancy into the sleepy town and its surrounding areas.
“Previously, Taiping folks had to travel to cities like Ipoh and Penang to shop.
“However, things are starting to turn around with the sprouting of shopping malls here, encouraging Taiping consumers to spend and to boost the local economy,” he said.
Tan added that he had also observed a steady increase of foreign tourists to the town in recent years.
Kamunting also houses the Kamunting Detention Centre, where those arrested under the Internal Security Act were formerly detained.
Meanwhile, the development in Kamunting is spilling over to the surrounding state constituencies of Aulong and Pokok Assam.
Aulong and Pokok Assam are new villages created by the British to resettle those living at the jungles’ fringes during the Emergency to prevent them from aiding the communists.
Over the years, the wooden houses have been rebuilt as brick homes by second and third generation settlers, transforming the new villages into semi-urban residential areas.
Aulong resident Teh Mook Hen, 26, who is self-employed, said the area was attractive to house buyers due to its proximity to Taiping town centre.
“Aulong is merely a 10-minute drive away from Taiping town and Kamunting is only a bit further.
“Thus, any development in Taiping town and Kamunting are mostly likely to benefit Aulong.
“Aulong is also right next to the Tekkah Industrial Area, making it an ideal place for those working at the factories there, to reside in,” he said.
The incumbent Taiping MP is Nga Kor Ming whereas Pokok Assam assemblyman is Yee Seu Kai and Aulong assemblyman is Yew Tian Hoe. All are from DAP.
Kamunting assemblyman is Datuk Mohd Zahir Abd Khalid from Umno.