The morning hum begins to lull as the city drowsily yields to a rising heat. Shopkeepers come to rest in the shade of the “five foot way” (covered shophouse walkways found across Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia). Bamboo blinds roll down.
Ipoh, the capital of Malaysia’s northwestern Perak state, has seen its fortunes rise and fall. At one time the centre of a great tin mining boom, it drew migrant labourers from across southern China – predominantly the Hakka people – until eventually the mines ran empty and this flourishing era ground to a halt.
The city was left to quietly fade.
This period of neglect is perhaps what forestalled an architectural overhaul in the late 20th century, one that ultimately would have robbed Ipoh of the distinctive visual character that draws people back today. Rows of shophouses, alternately restored and crumbling, are punctuated by the art deco-inspired facades of the colonial era.
The population’s Chinese heritage continues to bear a significant influence on the local culture. Well-preserved hawker favourites and the famous “Ipoh white coffee”, roasted in margarine and served with sweet condensed milk, gather morning crowds for the start of a new day.
All photos: Pentax 67 medium format, Kodak Portra 400.