Felt In Blood, Felt In The Heart

Antoine Loncle

Taiping is at a crossroads in its history. Physically and culturally, the town is slowly shifting into a new era. Known for being a former British town, any remaining traces of the occupation have either been co-opted into tourist attractions or lay unattended, only to be reclaimed by the land itself. One way or another, as time passes, the town is moving onwards and away from its colonial past. While there are many documents and narratives chronicling the history of the British that will endure long past their time in Taiping, there are few records detailing local stories and history during this same time.

One of the biggest crossroads Taiping stands at are in regard to the hill station and bungalows of Maxwell hill. Over the years they have gradually decayed and now exist in a state of disrepair. A once-central attraction to many has now become a faded memory. The direction Taiping’s future will take depends largely on the future of the hills. Whether they are to be restored as a heritage site, developed to increase the number of visitors, or remain as they are is still unknown. With only a promise to
re-open the hill in 2026, as of now there are no concrete plans on the table as to which direction authorities will take.

The project turns focus onto the connection many residents feel towards Taiping’s historical hills by investigating the local narratives, both past and present, to understand the town and its culture as it shifts into its own unique identity. Through interviews and in immersing myself in the town’s heritage, I hope to uncover and showcase what individuals of Taiping value and hold dear when they look to the line of blue hills which embrace their town.

Thoraraisa Thoraipandy, locally known as Guna, belongs to an increasingly rare group of individuals who can claim a direct connection to the former British hill stations and community once situated at the top of Maxwell hill. Born and raised a thousand meters above sea level, he is intimately familiar with the hill’s history and ecology. At his core, Guna is a storyteller, passing on tales of anything, from of British daily life to rare tiger sightings – if it has happened on the hill, Guna likely knows about it. He reflected on a recent visit up to Maxwell Hill:

“I met my wife there, brought my kids up here. There are many fond memories of the place, sometimes it’s a shame to see everything falling apart. Hopefully we are able to find a solution soon. I don’t like to see it like this. I think a simple restoration of the bungalows would be enough to attract visitors again. If everything is simply in working condition, enough to stay a few nights, I think people will appreciate the nature and beauty that surrounds them. There’s really nothing like it.”

Antique dealer — Tan Kok Siew, affectionately known as kapiTan turned his passion for collecting vintage and rare items into a business, establishing Kapitan Antiques House in central Taiping. His love of antiques started from a simple old bicycle he purchased and restored for personal use. At a gathering of vintage bicycle enthusiasts and collectors, kapiTan was made a handsome offer on his renewed bike. This transaction sparked a fire in him that drove him to grow his collection to its current size and scope. He shared his thoughts on the importance of his work and the history that these artefacts can carry:

“I’m very happy to have people interested in antiques. It is important that we keep these things to remember our heritage and history. Some of my clients are collectors. Maybe they really like plates or oil lamps. They will have a hundred oil lamps and they keep asking me if I have found more oil lamps. Then you have the other kind of customer, my favorite kind, where they walk in and see something, then with a big smile say “Oh! My grandmother had one just like this”, or something like that.
That is what brings me the most pleasure; to know that these objects can bring joy in such a simple way by sparking a memory that might have been otherwise lost.”

Barber — Chandrasekaran is a 2nd generation barber and is the current owner of Ruby barbershop. Started by his father, the shop and trade was passed on to him and his brother. Now, Chandrasekaran is the last of his family carrying on the craft. The barbershop has remained virtually unchanged in its numerous years of business. Walking through its doors feels like walking through a time machine – so much so that the store has been used as a film set. Chandrasekaran explains that he’s always wanted to keep it the way his father did:

“I want it to be like I’ve always known it. The shop is simple and classic, we do simple and classic styles. And because it is so classic, in a way it becomes timeless and does not go out of style. We have old customers from years and years ago. We have new ones, who come to experience a classic barber. I’ve seen many of my clients when they were children, and now they are bringing their own children to me – It’s a nice feeling. They have their busy lives and a lot of things going on, but I’m here for them as a constant. Something to maybe anchor them in a changing world.”

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