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Art and a sense of equality

November 13th, 2012

JULY 8 — Muar town in Johor and Malacca town in Malacca share a very similar geography and historical background. These two towns are an hour’s drive from each other. Both towns started as early seafarers’ settlements at the mouth of the river. However the Muar River is by far the more prominent in both size and length compared to the Malacca River even though both rivers flow into the Straits of Malacca.


But Malacca’s history outshone that of Muar’s even though both places had been, in the past, at various times, invaded and conquered by Indians, Javanese, Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch, British and Japanese. Even though Muar had a better natural geography than Malacca as a port, why and how did Malacca became the preferred port of call in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries? That is a historical question for historians.

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Jalan Sultan, (detail) watercolour by Victor Chin

Jalan Sultan is one of the early streets of Kuala Lumpur. In the 1900s most of the buildings were mainly shophouses, whether single- or double-story. This confluence of the Klang and Gombak Rivers which we now know as Kuala Lumpur soon became the commercial centre of the then-Malaya which was under British rule.

The largest group of residents were the Chinese from China followed by the Indians from India. These groups of workers worked in the tin mines and later, the rubber estates. Many of these migrant workers later set up homes here.

The local Malays were mainly happy in their kampongs but soon many of them became civil servants in the colonial government offices in the towns.  Lumpur is like many of the other Malaysian towns, built mainly on the wealth of the tin and rubber industries which were mostly owned by the European companies, the Sultans and a few local Chinese at one time. Most of the streets in the old business district were built between the two World Wars (1915 and 1945) when Malaya was the world’s largest producer of tin and rubber.

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The fishing village along the Sasaran River.

Sasaran is one of the many small Chinese fishing villages by the river in the northern tip of Selangor. It’s about 10 km south from the biggest fishing village, Kuala Selangor.

Many of these traditional fishing communities are hardworking and frugal. Their lives are often limited to their surrounding villages. Most of these families are self-sufficient and their homes well-equipped with modern fittings.

Often, in many of these rural areas, there is air of the place being frozen in time, with no progressive social, political and industrial developments for a long time.

The exception is in Sasaran. This is the only fishing village in the whole country that has created an international arts festival.

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Tan Choon Ghee was one of the few Malaysian painters who had an eye and empathy for the common people (especially Penangites) and their multi- cultural daily street life. His highly-developed aesthetic sense could turn ordinary life at a street corner in his hometown of George Town into an exquisite watercolour, sketch, ink or oil painting.

Sadly, Choon Ghee, one of the true artistic sons of Malaysia, died at 80, on December 28, 2010 in Penang. However, many remember him and some of us would like to thank him for the inspiration from all the artworks he left behind (in private or public collections).

He painted for well over 30 years and during that time, he made frequent painting trips to European cities like Venice, London and Amsterdam.  His artworks will continue to attract those who value the skill of draftsmanship, composition, shapes, lines and colours in an artist’s personal touch.

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Hua Hin, Pattaya and Phuket are three major seaside towns in Thailand. Pattaya and Phuket are by far more popular with visitors who enjoy more than just the beaches and sun but also can’t do without the nightlife of the go-go bars, which the Thais do so well.

However, there are a growing number of both Thais and foreigners who prefer a quieter tropical seaside atmosphere, especially the elite and those of retirement age, and they choose to be in Hua Hin.

This fishing village was abandoned about 250 years ago during the fall of the Ayutthaya period and in 1845 it gradually came back to life. This may be because it’s near to Bangkok, just 281 kilometres south. The scenic location and its climate are ideal for Bangkokians to get away for the summer from heat in the city.

By the 1920s, the elites descended into this province. A specially built gingerbread style railway station was built to welcome the Thai royalties. The Thai King, Rama VI, in 1923, was the first King to build what is now known as “the longest golden teak palace in the world” the Maruekhathaiyawan Palace, on stilts, by the sea not far from Hua Hin.

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