Friday, November 14, 2008

'Tale of Two Cities' - The Perfect Guide for Malaysian Museums

Foo Yee Ping -, the columnist of ‘Tale of Two Cities’ (The MetroStar, Fridays) writes regularly about museums with updates on events and exhibitions in the museums.

Unfortunately, the writer is New York based, thus her domain is mainly American museums.

Yet, Yee Ping’s ‘Tale of Two Cities’ makes a good reading and her weekly contributions offer Malaysian readers some fascinating ideas and concepts introduced in megastar museums i.e Guggenheim Museum, Whitney Museum of American Art etc.

These award winning institutions are an integrated part of the American social fabric and the exhibitions are the best in their league. It is not uncommon to find visitors from all ages making a beeline to see awe-inspired collections. Statistically, the US has some of the highest museums per capital in the world yet more Americans are visiting museums from the years before.

However, now that its economy is in near shambles, American museum operators must up the ante to entice new visitors and keep the regular ones.

Some innovative promotions include ‘Pay-What-You-Wish’ Day to help boost museum traffic. On these selected days, visitors have the option to tour the museums by making donations instead of paying the average US$15 (RM40) admission.

The Holocaust Museum in Washington DC for example chose instead to have free admission for its main exhibition hall and charged admission only for specially tailored exhibitions.

Getting Malaysians to visit museums was never an economical issue. Most are public funded and admission is next to nothing. The pertinent issue confronting Malaysian museum operators is more of the negative perception Malaysians have about our museums. If they are serious about their roles, they may well learn a few tricks from Yee Ping’s 'Tale of Two Cities’.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Dennis Fire Trucks - Macau Fire Fighting Legacy

Two Dennis fire trucks with license plates- M-01-25 & M-01-27 - greet visitors at the main hall of the Macau Fire Services Museum. (Address - Estrada de Celho do Amaral, Free Admission)

The museum which still goes by its colonial namesake - Museu Dos Bombeiros - is a must for fire truck aficionados and is a mere 15 minutes walk from the Ruins of St. Paul’s.

Getting acquainted with these early 30s British-made Dennis and the fire fighting paraphernalia in the adjacent hall goes a long way to help one appreciates the early history of fire fighting in the ex-Portuguese colony.

The museum formerly Macau’s Central Fire Station served diligently from its strategic location in the heart of the Inner Harbor.

When a modern centre command facility was mooted, this fabulous European structure was saved by Macau’s pro-conservation policy. Compromise was made.

Walk pass the glass doors at the back of the museum and you enter the new Fire Brigade Headquarter with its fleet of Scania and Mercedes.

The 350 square meter museum, about the size of two basketball courts is not on Macau’s must-see list but my visit there in November 2008 was pleasantly rewarding.

Visitors can view rare footages of fire fighting and rescue missions. One section is devoted to a particular Macau social ill and how firemen rescued suicidal desperadoes from Macau’s skyscrapers.

Others may not be so lucky but my guess is gruesome photos don’t go too well in a museum dedicated to Macau’s rescue elite.

A check on the cyber provides interesting information on Macau’s Dennis.

Unless I’m wrong, I believe Dennis M-01-27 is the same Low Load 60/70HP model or popularly known as Dennis Big 6.

According to the information provided by Peter Williams, these vehicles were manufactured in Dennis Guildford factory in the 30s.
The writer adds that Dennis Big 6 fire trucks were powered by the White and Poppe 6 cylinder petrol engine and was rated at 45hp with a bore and stroke of 110 x 140mm. A Dennis No. 3, 900gpm pump is mounted at its center.

A thorough inspection will reveal that the M-01-27 has transportable aerial ladder as its choice for rear mounting to cope with Macau rising skyline. M-01-25 however spots only a wooden version.

The Museum is manned by full time members of Macau Fire Services but they lack good grasp of English. Hence, communicating with them is a challenge and a real barrier if we need information beyond the captions.

Fire fighting enthusiasts flying in and out of the Macau Airport should also look out for Rosenbauer Panther 6X6 (unit #11) - at the main runway.

The opportunity to view one of the world’s most advanced Airport Fire Fighting Vehicle is perhaps the perfect eye-opener to discover the fire fighting heritage in Macau.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Pulau Besar Exhibition- Another Letdown by PERZIM

The Malacca Museum Board (PERZIM) is organizing an event titled “Pameran Menyingkap Sejarah and Misteri Pulau Besar” or Appreciating Pulau Besar History and Mystery Exhibition. It was launched by the Chief Minister of Malacca on Sunday, Nov 9, 08 (Berita Harian).

Pulau Besar, located off the coast of Malacca has for generations exude a mysterious shroud among locals and visitors that the island is the realm of an omnipotent ‘dato’.

Taboos were many if you’re holidaying in Pulau Besar. Non-Muslim visitors are well advised to abstain from their favorite ‘non-halal’ meals preferably a day earlier or else the 20 minutes boat journey from Umbai could be a catastrophic one.

A few individual cemeteries with extra large parameters dot the landscape at the southern tip of the island. They are believed to be the final resting place of renowned warriors or even royalties from the Malacca Sultanate, hence their magical prowess.

In the 80s, several large scale tourism plans were in the pipeline to transform the rustic island into a mega tourism draw. Spearheading the transformation is the state religious body with an ambitious task to clear the island from these kurafah elements. Sacred tombs and shrines or keramat were demolished but if you ask the villagers, the taboos and superstitions remain strong.

However, modern day Pulau Besar now boasts a 18-hole golf course. Visitors armed with glossy colorful brochures have turned blind eyes to these taboos. Villagers expressed shock and disbelief about this turnabout event and puzzled how tourists have no qualms about frolicking with their loved ones in this island.

Historically, Pulau Besar, the largest of the five Malacca islets was conspicuously missing in all known annals or maps compare to nearby islands i.e Pulau Upeh and Pulau Panjang (now Pulau Melaka after being reclaimed).

Pulau Upeh was instrumental to the Portuguese in the construction of a newly fortified Malacca and together with Pulau Panjang played crucial roles in resisting naval attacks on Malacca in the subsequent centuries.

During the closing hours of World War II, Pulau Besar was the site of horrid mass executions carried out by the defeated Japanese Imperial Army. Countless bayoneted bodies of locals (mainly of Chinese descend) charged or otherwise with collaborating with the Allied Forces were believed to have being dumped inside a large well.

Unfortunately, the details on this historical well and its vicinity have being whitewashed and they too have fallen victim to the state government’s mid-80s wonton rush to turn the island into a holiday paradise. Despite its dark chapter in the state’s history, there is no mention of the tumultuous event in the island.

There is vague information on what is the focus of this PERZIM event. My best guess is that the central theme would feature the tombs, keramat and the island’s role during and the aftermath following the fall of the Malacca Sultanate Empire.

Few have doubts about PERZIM ability to organize a thorough and well researched exhibition. Numerous past PERZIM activities have critically fell short of achieving the objective of presenting events relevant and concurrent to Malacca’s development as the nation’s premier historical state and for the betterment of the local population.

Pameran Menyingkap Sejarah and Misteri Pulau Besar” only reaffirms the cynics lack of enthusiasm with the state museum boards and its peculiarity towards mysticism and the unknown realms.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Macau Firecracker History

Miniscule Macau with no natural resources to call its own has always bellied on the skills and the cheap wages of its industrious people. It was the only mean of survival.

Hard to imagine but the economic landscape of the former Portuguese enclave after the Second World War was vastly in contrast to the current soaring casinos adorning its futuristic skyline.

Before the likes of Venetian, Wynn and Sands made their presence felt in Macau, the backbone industry of the 50s and 60s was the laborious firecrackers making trade.

Wages from making firecrackers, matches and incense fed mouths and offered hope to the destitute, some having just escaped from the brutal uncertainty of a newly installed Communist regime across its border.
The period was known as the Golden Years of Traditional Working Industries in Macau and it ushered a rapid growth of firecrackers factories.
At its height, Macau boasted seven such factories and top in terms of local employment. ‘Fabrico en Macao’ miniature explosives soon became the must-have ingredients for all Chinese festivals world-over.

Unfortunately, not much of this proud Macau heritage remains today.
But for the historical buffs, a visit to the grayish two storey building that once housed the Kwong Hing Tai Firecracker Manufacturer is a good start.
Located along the busy Rua das Lorchas next to the Macau Masters Hotel, the disused building offers a rare glimpse into Macau’s past and a firecraker making facility.
Interestingly, the building stands on concrete stilts above the muddy waters of the Inner harbor, perhaps as a safety feature.

However, the industry began to take a backseat in the 80s when laborers were drawn to better paid jobs and the safer working environment in the textile and toy making industries.
The advent of China as the new firecracker manufacturing powerhouse further compounded the situation.

The Museum of Macau (Admission – M$15/Adult) does a decent job of bringing back to life the sights of a bygone firecracker industry.
Visitors will find exhibits on the tools of trade used in the making of firecrackers. Rare old photos also reveal how firecrackers are manually prepared by mixing the explosive cocktail and the bare essential environment workers must work with in the factories.

Needless to say, the artifacts salvaged by the Museum have allowed an appreciation for an important historical chapter in Macau’s history.

No quest for the firecracker heritage in Macau will be complete without the opportunity to catch the awesome International Fireworks Display Contest.
According to Macau Tourist Guide, the annual event takes place in late September and early October, and the perfect spot to watch the firework displays is at the waterfront near the Macau Tower.