Please click here to see the May edition of MVM Voices. Lots going on!
Wednesday May 19, 2010
In search of heritage Sarawak seeks Unesco status for Kuching, Sibu
SARAWAK is planning to seek Unesco heritage status for Kuching and Miri.
Assistant Tourism Minister Mong Dagang told the State Legislative Assembly that a team would be sent to Malacca and Penang soon to meet the relevant authorities to get a better understanding of the criteria for the final assessment as required under the Unesco Heritage Convention.
“The ministry has also met and discussed with the National Heritage Commission early this year to assist in the technicalities,” he said in Kuching yesterday in reply to Aidan Wing (BN-Lambir) during question time.
Mong said that in general, Kuching and Miri had the ingredients to be listed as heritage cities but the process was very tedious and lengthy.
He said several initiatives had been held since last year, including a public forum jointly organised by the Sarawak Tourism Federation and Sarawak Heritage Society, to raise public awareness on heritage matters. – Bernama
The Star Saturday April 3, 2010
Up Close and Personal with Elizabeth Cardosa
By SOO EWE JIN
THE Indian restaurant in Section 11, Petaling Jaya, was probably not the best place to conduct an interview. It was a hot Sunday afternoon and the place was packed, and noisy.
This has always been a favourite meeting place for a motley crew of politicians, social activists and academics who can mingle freely with the ordinary people here, unlike their counterparts who hang out at air-conditioned coffee houses in five-star hotels.
It provided the perfect backdrop for heritage crusader Elizabeth Cardosa as she spoke passionately about how we tend to glorify beauty over the ordinary, of how we treat history only as a record of things past, but not of lessons to be learnt.
Having spent much of her life in cultural and heritage work, the executive director of Badan Warisan Malaysia has a naturally exuberant personality and is determined to put heritage firmly on the agenda of the masses.
She is constantly on the move, which is why it took us some months to finally meet up face-to-face. Because of her current assignment at the restored Suffolk House in Penang, we arranged for the photo shoot to be taken there instead.
Heritage work is not easy, says Elizabeth, because it is still seen as a niche cause.
There is also a tendency to equate heritage work with the grand old buildings, especially those that have been legally granted heritage status, when ordinary homes and little kampungs throughout the country have equally powerful heritage value.
According to Elizabeth, the real heritage value is not just in the physical structure, but in the stories that are part of that building and its surroundings. It is when the stories are known that people begin to understand what it is that they are seeking to conserve.
The problem, as she puts it, is that the people currently in the vicinity are often not the ones who have the real ties to the building.
“As a people, we don’t map our culture. We never map our heritage. We look for what is beautiful, but we never look at what is ordinary,” says Elizabeth. “We have to learn to appreciate little stories, but many people don’t have the means to tell their stories, So the physical manifestation in the buildings cannot come alive.”
Elizabeth uses two examples to make her point – the Bukit Bintang Girls School (BBGS) and Bok House.
“In the case of BBGS, because it was a school, it affected a lot of people, not so much as a physical building but as a place where many lives were touched,” she explains.
“As a physical structure, not many are aware that when the US embassy was being built, the architecture blended with BBGS. The eaves, the varendahs and the columns were done up in a similar style. But without the school there, that relationship is lost. The land was valuable, no doubt, but the constituents had moved out.
“For Bok House, the people who were concerned were the older ones who remembered it as the first fine dining restaurant in Kuala Lumpur.”
So people will react differently even though the core issue of heritage conservation is still the same, depending on their own experiences.
She illustrates the point further with another two examples – Pudu Jail and Carcosa Seri Negara.
“We were surprised that the plan to demolish Pudu Jail excited a lot of young people. It was discussed in their blogs. We felt that even the young people were interested in heritage. To them, this was a very real issue because Pudu Jail was a place they passed by every day so they could relate to it.
“On the other hand, very few people talked about Carcosa. In the press, Carcosa got greater coverage, especially in the business newspapers, while Pudu Jail was ignored.”
Conservationists, says Elizabeth, still has a lot to learn about how to make things relevant to people in a language that they can undertand.
She wonders if the time will come when people will get excited about heritage like they do about environmental conservation.
“People can now identify with the environment cause because it affects everyone,” says Elizabeth. “If there is a drought or the haze comes back, everyone feels it. So for the people involved in environmental issues, they can now talk about the carbon footprint or climate change and these are translated into everyday issues that the ordinary citizen can identify with.”
The key to a greater understanding of heritage, she says, must begin at an early age.
“We are not taught values in school. I love history and had good history teachers in my schooldays. But nowadays, history is simply recording things of the past but not about lessons to be learnt.”
She laments that although Malaysia is very rich culturally, we often come across as bland.
“Why can’t we be a rainbow? Why must we always be a melting pot, when everything mixes together and the outcome is a dull grey?”
By her argument, an understanding of our diversity will invariably lead to an appreciation of our heritage, in both the grand and the ordinary.
And what about the role of government and Corporate Malaysia?
Elizabeth is optimistic.
She sees an increasing awareness and commitment on the part of governments, especially at the local council levels, where organisations like Badan Warisan are able to work together.
“The government is supportive in many ways,” she says. “But we also understand that as long as heritage conservation is seen as a niche thing, it will always rank behind bigger issues like education, poverty eradication. Our job is to collaborate with them and share our research.”
As for Corporate Malaysia, she notes that some companies already see heritage conservation as a social responsibility that transcends economic opportunities. This is a form of CSR, she says, and the challenge is to let them realise that they can own property that may not be on the heritage list but are heritage property, nevertheless.
Elizabeth believes strongly that society is what you build, and if you, as a corporate entity, do not contribute to helping build it, you won’t have much to speak of at the end of the day, “You will have money, but no soul,” she declares.
She cites the example of Stadium Merdeka and how it was thankfully saved from being taken down to make way for a massive commercial development.
“We have to give Tun Ahmad Sarji Abdul Hamid (former Chief Secretary to the Government, and now president of Badan Warisan) credit for saving the two stadiums and restoring them to their former glory,” she says.
“Can you imagine preserving such a heritage site only on a video clip? You tell your children about our independence being declared at Stadium Merdeka, and you can’t show them the stadium.”
To Elizabeth, if even such an important monument can be at risk, what more the ordinary but meaningful heritage sites that dot the length and breadth of the country.
Away from work, spending time with her lawyer husband and their two children, a son, 21, and a daughter, 17, is a wonderful way to relax.
“I read and also go walking with friends… the usual things,” she laughs.
“I am glad that my children understand and appreciate the work I am doing. My son used to complain that everywhere he goes, people ask about his famous mother.
“My husband gives me valuable insights into weighing the needs of conservation with the property rights of the individual.”
I could not resist asking her, at the end of the interview, about her equally famous sisters, Jane and Mary.
She laughs out loud. “They tell me that when they meet people, they are always asked about Elizabeth. Of course, the reverse is true, and I am often asked about them.”
Jane is a professor of virology at University Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas) while Mary is an anaesthesiologist at Selayang Hospital. Which is why, for the purpose of this story, we are using Elizabeth instead of Cardosa.
Monday 24 May 10 am Dataran Muzium (outdoor shaded area between Muzium Negara and National Museums Department)
Come and meet Director-General Datuk Ibrahim Ismail, National Museums Department, Ministry of Information, Communication and Culture. This is your opportunity to ask questions and learn about future plans the National Museums Department has for working with the MVM.
Please do come. Chrissy needs numbers for catering purposes so email her if you are attending.
Visit to Indonesia
In March, seven intrepid MVMers flew off on AirAsia to Yogyakarta in Central Java. We spent two nights in Yogyakarta and visited two major UNESCO sites – the Prambanan complex of Hindu Temples and the Buddhist stupa and temple complex of Borobudur. We also visited the Kraton or royal palace of the Hamengkubuwono Sultanate, in the centre of Yogyakarta. This is the last remaining Sultanate in Indonesia.
Wow! What a cultural feast we had. The two UNESCO sites are quite different in style with the Hindu Prambanan temple complex being a collection of sharp, jaggedly sculpted towers in contrast to the vast horizontal bulk of Buddhist Borobudur. However, they both date from approximately the same period, around the middle of the Ninth Century AD. Both were also forgotten and swallowed up by the jungle until colonial explorers relocated them in the Nineteenth Century. And both are a reasonably short drive from Yogyakarta.
We climbed up Borobudur for sunrise, which was totally magical. Even though Borobodour is the biggest tourist destination in Indonesia, there were only a dozen other people watching the sun come up.
Please enjoy the pictures, courtesy of MVMer Karen Loh.
New photos please
Now that the MVM is now part of the National Museums Department, we are going to get some new ID passes. Can you please submit a new photo of yourselves? The best format is a soft copy emailed direct to Fiza in the MVM Secretariat on email@example.com. Alternatively you can drop off a photo at the new MVM room. Deadline is the end of May.
Coffee Morning Wednesday 16 June 10am MVM Room, National Museums Department
The 2010-2011 Docent Training Programme is now open for applications and will be starting in September, with weekday and weekend sessions both running. If you know anyone who is interested in joining, please tell them about the coffee morning on 16 June when MVM volunteers will be on hand to explain the training programme and what it entails.
Effective June 1, all tours of the museum will be at 10am not 11am. That means all tours, on all days and in all languages will be at 10am. Following feedback from the museum, it appears that there are many more visitors around 10am than 11am. So please take note and remember 10am!