Political tone at Penang heritage do

Politics was the name of the game at George Town heritage event involving a wealthy Chinese community leader and the current and former Chief ministers of Penang.

IT is rare to see the current and former chief ministers of Penang together but there they were, sharing the same stage at a heritage event at one of the most historical sites in George Town.

But going by the expressions on their faces, they seemed less than thrilled unlike the host of the occasion, Zhang Wei Lu, who was seated between them.

Zhang, a wealthy and good-looking businessman and currently chairman of the Penang Chinese Clans Association, looked buoyant and confident even though he is embroiled in a brewing dispute with the state government. His composure was all the more remarkable given the news reports in the Chinese vernacular press about his personal life just days earlier.

At the heart of Zhang’s dispute with the state government is a heritage property in George Town known as “50, Love Lane” which is historically connected to the Ghee Hin secret society in the 1800s.

The trustees who oversaw the property have died, leaving behind a backlog of unpaid property charges that resulted in the property being forfeited by the state.

The association has been trying for years to redeem the property but things took on an accelerated tone after Zhang came into the picture and discussions with the state government became strained along the way. The ties were also marred by disputes over state allocations for the association’s cultural events.

Things came to a head last week at the association’s annual heritage festival.

The Chinese clans and guilds have long been a part of local politics in Penang and politicians tend to dance around them because of their perceived clout over the community.

Over the years, it has been the practice for the chief minister of the day to attend but relations with the state government had grown so awkward this year that Zhang’s invitations to the state exco drew a blank. Only one state exco said he would be there.

As a result, the association turned to former chief minister Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon to launch its event.

Dr Koh was said to be quite reluctant because he had made a clinical cut with all things political after retiring from politics. His status on Facebook is listed as “Writer” and he has been working on his memoirs.

It is understood that Dr Koh only agreed to attend after Zhang told him that Lim Guan Eng would not be able to make it. Dr Koh is not the confrontational type and he was not interested in getting into a conflict.

But according to Zhang, a day before the event, he was informed that Lim would be attending. It was too late to change the arrangements and that was how Zhang found himself sandwiched between the sitting and former chief ministers.

That was when things took a rather political turn. Zhang made what some thought was a rather political speech. He praised Dr Koh for his contributions to the state and thanked him and the former state government for laying the foundation for George Town’s Heritage City status.

There is a Chinese saying, jie dao sha ren (borrow a knife to slay someone), and those watching on could see that Zhang was using Dr Koh to hit out at the state government.

It was a significant moment because members of the former state government had been treated like the proverbial black sheep since 2008 and Dr Koh had been like some kind of invisible man in Penang where he lives.

“It was the first time a big Chinese association had openly acknow­ledged and thanked Dr Koh for his contributions,” said Gerakan politician Dr Thor Teong Ghee.

Zhang also used the occasion to hit out at politicians for their “dirty politics” and for attacking him on personal matters.

He was referring to Chinese press reports quoting some DAP politicians who had dug into Zhang’s academic background.

The Chinese media often refers to him as “Dr Zhang” but checks by the DAP side showed that he did not complete his medical studies in Taiwan and they also questioned reports that he had furthered his studies in the Philippines.

There was also an awkward protocol moment which some thought was disrespectful to the Chief Minister. Normally, the highest ranking guest speaks last but Dr Koh was the final speaker.

The former and current chief ministers are as different as night and day and it was reflected in their respective speeches.

Lim was his usual combative self. He elaborated on his achievements for Penang and at one point, he sort of challenged Dr Koh to contest the general election and let the people decide on who they wanted.

But he did indicate that the state government would abide by the law on the “50, Love Lane” issue and he urged the association to consult their lawyers to find a solution.

Dr Koh played the gentleman po­li­tician. He said Penang’s Heritage City status was a long and challenging effort that would not have been possible without the input of his state exco members and the backing of the federal authorities.

“It is also the success of the people, of the different races, so we have to preserve it for the future generations,” he said.

The issue of “50, Love Lane” has become more complicated now that it has strayed into political waters.

Jelutong MP Jeff Ooi, who has a weekly column in the Penang-based Kwong Wah Yit Poh newspaper, had written on the issue: “Politicians and office-bearers come and go but the assets of the community are forever. We have to think of the long-term interests of the community. We have our expiry date and his (Zhang) expiry date is May next year.”

It was a signal to Zhang that his term as association chairman will end in May and he should not delay the legal process if he wants to be part of the solution.

Is the “50, Love Lane” issue a sign of the shifting tides in Penang Chinese politics?

Source: The Star by Joceline Tan

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The allure of Penang heritage properties

Prized property: The Chimes Heritage building at Jalan Bawasah, Penang. The value of heritage properties has increased by 37 to 157 per sq ft since 2008 due to the investments made by Penangites staying overseas and by Singaporeans.


Value of such assets has jumped by as much as 157% psf

THE heritage property segment is still attracting strong interest from investors despite the softening of the overall property market in Penang.

The value of heritage properties has increased by about 37% to 157% per sq ft (psf) since 2008 due to investments made by Penangites staying overseas and by Singaporeans.

Depending on the location, size, and condition of the heritage properties, the present pricing on a psf basis ranges from RM550 per sq ft (psf) to RM1,800 psf, compared to between RM400 psf and RM700 psf in 2008.

According to the National Property Information Centre (Napic), a locally registered company, World Class Land Sdn Bhd, snapped up over 60 pre-war houses in George Town’s heritage areas for about RM122mil.

Raine & Horne Malaysia senior partner Michael Geh says the properties were sold between late 2013 and August 2015.

“The most expensive pre-war property, with a 1,363q ft land area and located in Chulia Street, was sold for over RM2,000 psf,” he says.

It is learnt that about RM30mil would be spent for restoring the properties, as the cost of restoration is about RM500,000 per unit.

The company also acquired a 30,000 sq ft of land in Magazine Road for about RM36.9mil. “This was the highest transaction for a vacant land in 2015, as the sale was transacted at RM1,250 psf,” Geh adds.

Geh says locals tend not to pay attention to the capital appreciation of heritage properties, although the value had risen substantially since 2008.

“They should invest because the supply of heritage properties is limited.

“There only some 3,853 units of such properties in George Town’s heritage core and buffer areas, according to George Town World Heritage Inc.

“Because the supply is limited, it is safe to invest, as the value would tend to rise than fall.

“I urged Penangites to acquire heritage properties for own use and enjoy the capital appreciation that would occur incrementally,” he says.

Because of the strong appreciation in the value of pre-war houses, the rental yield of such properties has remained unattractive.

In 2008, the rental of heritage properties, depending on the location, size, and condition of the heritage properties, ranged between RM1,000 and RM3,000, compared to the rental today which is between RM3,000 and RM8,000.

“Calculated on a yearly basis, the rental yield is not attractive.

“Today the yield is about 4.8%, compared to about 4.5% in 2008

“This shows that the value has appreciated faster than the rentals, as there is very little demand to rent properties in the state,” he says.

According to Geh, local investors should pay attention in particular to the heritage properties in the Prangin Market or Sia Boey area, as it has been earmarked for the location of the central LRT station on the island, which would boost the value of the properties in the area.

Meanwhile, the Malaysian Institute of Architects (PAM, Northern Chapter) chairman Datuk Lawrence Lim says the cost of restoring heritage properties has increased by about 40% since 2008.

“Today the cost to restore such houses ranged between RM150,000 and RM500,000 per unit.

“A simple restoration for a heritage property with a 2,000 sq ft built-up area can cost about RM150,000.

“It cost just RM50,000 to restore the roof of a heritage house,” he says.

Despite the increased in the cost of restoration, there are local investors who are still investing in heritage properties.

Lim, who is also East Design managing director, says the company was now undertaking restoration projects for heritage houses in Hong Kong Street and Magazine Road.

“We will be restoring the Koon Kee office building at Hong Kong Street, the manufacturer of Penang’s famous white coffee.

“The other project involves the restoration of 10 pre-war units in Magazine Road for commercial usage,” Lim says.

Datuk Ooi Sian Hian, who is also Ghee Hiang group executive chairman, says he will be restoring the heritage property of his family’s maternal grandparents at 123 Macalister Road.

The property, measuring 3,600 sq ft in built-up area, sitting on a 30,000 sq ft site, was built in the 19th century, and came under the ownership of Ooi’s maternal grandparents in the 1950s.

“We are getting local architects and architectural students through the assistance of PAM to come up with a suitable design concept to restore the property.

“It will be up to the architectural fraternity to decide on the appropriate design concept for the property.

“Whether it will be restored for commercial or residential usage will depend on their design.

“We plan to kick off the project in two year’s time,” Ooi says.

Ooi’s family has 10 properties at Prangin Lane, nine of which he will restore at a later date for commercial re-use.

“The properties have been passed down from the maternal grandparents.

“We want to wait and see what the market for restored heritage properties is like first, as there are already in the market many such restored heritage projects.

“We also want to wait for the state government’s Sia Boey project to be completed first, as the site has been earmarked for a LRT project hub,” he adds.

Ooi says he is submitting a plan to restore the tenth heritage terraced property located in Prangin Lane, which has a built-up area of 1,620q ft.

“We are naming it Jumpa@41PranginLane, which will be restored as a event centre for pop-up markets, seminars, stage plays, and culinary events,” he says.

Under Ghee Hiang, the group is now restoring its heritage property at 61 Beach Street, which has over 3,000q ft in built-up area.

“It is the Ghee Hiang Group’s Concept Lifestyle In-Store, which will be designed to accommodate a living heritage museum showcasing the history of the group’s history and tau sar pneah products and a lifestyle themed cafe,” he says.

Khoo Kongsi trustee Datuk Khoo Kay Hock says the clan association has restored 16 pre-war properties and had leased them to a hotel operator.

“The properties are undergoing interior refurbishment now, and scheduled for opening in the second half of 2016.

“About RM4mil was invested to restore the properties, which were completely restored two years,” he says.

According to George Town World Heritage Inc general manager Dr Ang Ming Chee, there are 3771 heritage properties in George Town belonging to category II.

“Category II properties are those residences and business premises that have existed for generations.

“They were built to support the traditional beliefs of the inhabitants and users.

“In the George Town’s World Heritage Site (WHS), there are 82 buildings, gateways, cemeteries, and sites categorised as Category 1.

“Category 1 buildings and monuments are important because they reflect the authenticity of the cultural landscape and therefore the outstanding universal values of the world heritage site (WHS),” she adds.

By David Tan The Star


Penang Heritage Property – Residences Heritage Property Penang Malaysia




Penang Heritage Buildings / World Heritage Sites


A true blue Malay Umno man is Chow Shui

Umno man_Chow Shui

The Star’s regular stories on history and national development have prompted a retired wet marker trader to share his stories on former Umno leaders, including past prime ministers.

Chow Shui, also known as Choo Ying Choy, has the distinction of personally knowing many of the country’s past leaders from the late Tunku Abdul Rahman’s time.

“I was quite close to Tun Ghafar Baba, Tun Ghazali Shafie and Tan Sri Aishah Ghani,” said Chow, 75, who used to ply his trade at Kuala Lumpur’s Pudu wet market.

As an unofficial representative of the Chinese living in the city, Chow was regularly spotted at Umno as well as Alliance (precursor of Barisan Nasional) gatherings.

“I was often asked to round up some key Chinese gatekeepers and community leaders so that the Barisan leadership could meet them,” he said in an interview.

He was particularly close to Aishah, the former Social Welfare Minister and Wanita Umno chief who passed away aged 90 in April last year, and whom he affectionately called “elder sister”.

Down memory lane: Then Minister for Information and Broadcasting Tan Sri Senu Abdul Rahman (right) and Aishah (second from right) attending a function, one of the many Chow (fifth from right) helped organise.

Down memory lane: Then Minister for Information and Broadcasting Tan Sri Senu Abdul Rahman (right) and Aishah (second from right)
Down memory lane: Then Minister for Information and Broadcasting Tan Sri Senu Abdul Rahman (right) and Aishah (second from right) attending a function, one of the many Chow (fifth from right) helped organise.

“I was invited to her home every Hari Raya. In fact, I helped organise several of the Umno gatherings in town, including some attended by Tunku,” he said as he produced his Umno membership card to show that he is a life associate member.

He has amassed a small collection of monochrome photos over several decades of rubbing shoulders with politicians, and keeps a file of all the correspondence with Umno and the Federal Government.

Of particular significance is one image of Tun Razak Hussein, taken on the second prime minister’s historic visit to China in 1974.

Chow is particularly proud that he was able to hand over the reproduction of the 40-year-old photo to his son, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, when the Prime Minister visited the redevelopment of 1Razak Mansion public housing scheme in Kuala Lumpur in April.

The photo was given to Chow by Razak’s driver shortly after the statesman’s return from China. Najib was only 21 then.

“I was rather close to Razak’s driver, and we used to go out for meals when he was off duty.

“I enlarged the photo before framing it up. I then waited for Najib before handing it to him when he came over to 1Razak Mansion,” said Chow, adding that Najib later posted the event on his Facebook page.

“I could tell you more about the politicians back then, at least up to Razak’s time, as I had the chance to interact with them rather often,” said the sprightly father-of-four.

On Aishah, Chow said she was a no-nonsense politician who abhorred the rabble-rousing style of politics.

“She detested those who intentionally stirred up emotions to create chaos,” he added.

Contributed by Meng Yew Choong The Star/Asia News Network

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