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March 27, 2011

Building stories - House of Ng Boo Bee

WHEN Ng Boo Bee died, his funeral procession reportedly took four hours to get to the cemetery due to the massive crowd, and Taiping shut down for the day because most of the people who attended the funeral had been his tenants in town.

A migrant from Fujian, China, Ng arrived in Taiping in the late 19th century and started a business manufacturing bricks and supplying timber. He was the contractor appointed to build Malaya’s first railway line, between Taiping and Port Weld (now Kuala Sepetang). His tin mines in another Perak town, Kamunting, employed 3,000 Chinese miners. But his greatest contribution was in rebuilding half the town after a massive fire engulfed Taiping in 1880.

Ng may have been Taiping’s richest man but his house is a perplexing study in simplicity and modesty. Perfectly adapted to hot and rainy climates, the front half reveals the cross section of the jack roof (a smaller roof that sits on the main roof to allow heat to escape), with a large space above the windows for ventilation. Adjustable jalousies (louvred windows) allow ventilation while keeping the rain out.

Ng Boo Bee's house, Taiping
Just one unit of the formerly three-unit Ng Boo Bee house can be seen here.
– Photo from Returning Taiping

Due to the frequent floods in Taiping, the house has begun to sink; experts believe it has sunk two inches at an angle leaning backwards, towards the building’s rear end.

House of Cheah Png Sou

While the Ng Boo Bee house has been vacant for years, the Cheah Png Sou town house is still a thriving family residence owned by an elderly couple whose son works in Kuala Lumpur.

Sited near the Central Market to allow Cheah’s father, a pork seller, to get to work easily, the house today allows the couple to enjoy their daily morning walk at the nearby lake followed by breakfast at the market, also conveniently close by.

Its resemblance to Ng’s house suggests it had been built by the tin tycoon. The main door is kept open all day for ventilation and lighting while a metal folding concertina gate provides security. Space usage remains unchanged from the time it was build in the late 19th century although a part of the rear was demolished in 1985 to create an annexe to meet expanded needs.

Like most of the Taiping town houses, this house also sports a jack roof and two air wells that have now been covered by plastic sheets. A certain charm remains in the antique wooden furniture and a little roof garden.

Shop and workshop

Ferns peeping out from the roofs, broken louvred windows and fading paint create a dilapidated image for the old building at No. 193, Jalan Taming Sari. The owner is a Chettiar who now resides in India. For three generations, the shophouse has been divided into two separate spaces for two sets of tenants.

Its latest use was as a photocopy service centre with an adjoining grocery store. The back portion houses a lorry repair workshop. But behind these simple uses is a story about the development of Taiping’s transportation system.

In the late 1880s, this space was a horse stable that evolved into a carriage repair workshop that finally became a lorry repair workshop. It is currently the oldest among three similar workshops in Taiping. Its name, Fook Nam, meaning “southern prosperity”, is written in Chinese calligraphy on a wooden signboard alongside the word, “wood”, which speaks of its trade in wood.

Two interesting features are a peephole in floor of the photocopy shop on the first floor, obviously intended to monitor the grocery store below; the other is the night soil bucket toilet that was common in the past, when waste was collected weekly by the “night soil man” through the opening at the back of the toilet.

The Peace Hotel, Taiping
The Peace Hotel has a distinct hybrid style that
mixes Western architectural elements with Chinese motifs and decorations.

Peace Hotel

The ornate detailing on this 1928 double-storey hotel and coffee shop shows the hybrid influence of Western architectural elements and Chinese motifs and decorations, reflecting Taiping’s cosmopolitan nature.

Categorised as a Straits-eclectic shop house, it is defined by its combination of Eastern and Western elements that can be seen in its ceramic artwork and elaborate plaster renderings. The facade is characterised as Italianate (also termed Neo Renaissance), illustrated by characteristics such as a balustraded balcony, cornice structures, pedimented windows and doors, and glazed windows.

Columns and walls throughout the hotel’s interior were decorated with beautiful Art Nouveau tiles produced in Europe (as shown on StarMag’s cover) and featuring themes of birds and flowers such as peacocks, parrots, quails, roses, water lilies and sunflowers. – Information from Returning Taiping

Source: The Star