Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Where is Metropole Hotel & Asdang House ?

When I read the article in http://www.malaysiakini.com/news/2898, I feel very angry, a heritage building was demolished by the authority and RM2 company, using legal loophole on classification of heritage building. I do not know has the former Asdang House rebuilt by the RM2 company? or is it another of heritage building in front of high rising hotel? The rape of heritage building in daylight?????....... But this article is a must read for the current environment, the time where there is accusation of state government, the time when there is political hopping due to minor dispute, the time when the heritage city has been awarded.

It is good to re-look at history......a recent history. A story of money and politic.

The monitoring unit is the local council who fined the owner, with the sinking fund built up, I do not know it is sufficient to built the heritage building to its former glory? it seems that it is a politically linked company.It all happen under the former state government.

This is the building linked to Penang famous son, Khaw Sim Bee and Na Ranong family. The descendant not able to protect it; the people not able to protect it and the state did not protect it.....

The fall of Metropole Hotel

Kim Gooi, May 11, 01
(KIM GOOI is a freelance journalist based in Bangkok)

They came like thieves to steal and rob with lightning speed in a well-planned move laced with political intrigue and cunning. Metropole Hotel, formerly Asdang House, was one of Penang's most prominent historical-heritage buildings.

It was knocked down and reduced to rubble on early Christmas 1993, while the city slept after a night of good cheers and celebration.

Within minutes, one of Malaysia's finest heritage buildings with historical ties to Thailand was destroyed and with it a part of history of the region. The New Straits Times reported:

"Many people are finding out that the building (after its demolition) has an interesting history and that the list of recent owners is also very interesting. Built at the turn of the century, it belonged to the Khaw (Na Ranong) clan. Here receptions were held for the King and Queen of Thailand. Members of the Thai Royal family also stayed at Asdang House".

Asdang House

The building which stood on 6,581 square meters of land was symbolic of the Sino-Thai relationship during the early part of the century, the paper said. Asdang House was more than a Thai embassy to British-held Malaya.

Together with Chakrabongse house, it was an extension of the Thai Royal Palace to its southern-most zone of control at a time when the British colonialists were making inroads into the region, and eyeing Phuket's rich mineral deposits. It was the symbol of Siam's successful resistance against colonialism when the rest of the region had fallen victim.
In 1897, when King Chulalongkorn visited Europe, he stopped over at Chakrabongse House where he was received by the household of the Sultan of Kedah, at that time a vassal state of Siam. When King Prajadhipok visited Penang in 1929, he stayed at Asdang House.

Asdang House was built over a hundred years ago, together with Chakrabongse House, by Phya Rasada Nupradit of Ranong, also known as Khaw Sim Bee, the legendary Sino-Thai appointed by King Chulalongkorn as governor of the southern west-coast provinces of Siam, stretching from Ranong to Trang.

Rasadanupradit was instrumental in developing the region and successfully thwarted British advances in the south. He outwitted the British by bringing the first rubber seed from British Malaya and planting it in Trang. Today the rubber association of Trang is not above throwing a dinner to members of the Penang-branch of the Na Ranong clan when they come a calling.

The achievements of the clan were indeed outstanding and remarkable. The founding father Phya Damrong Sucharit Mahasomphakdi (Khaw Soo Chiang) was a headman and leader of the "Small Knife Society", an anti-Manchu revolutionary group from Fujian province.

He came to Ranong via Penang during the time of King Rama IV. The area was under constant Burmese threat. Phya Damrong drove off the Burmese pirates and built a wall to protect Ranong, said his great, great grandson, Khaw Cheng Poon in Penang. He became the first Rajah of Ranong by appointment of the King of Siam.

On a subsequent visit to Ranong, King Chulalongkorn commented favorably on the development and praised the comfort and quality of the family mansion. Running a fleet of ships, he was able to bring in goods and coolies from British Penang and opened up the area for development.

In addition to being lord of the southern west-coast provinces of old Siam, the Khaw clan controlled a big chunk of mercantile, mining and shipping activities of the region from Penang. "They were the richest in the region, holding wealth and power," said Khaw Cheng Poon, the great-grandson.

To enhance the prestige of Siam at a time when the British were treating everyone as second class citizens, Phya Rasada donated a piece of prime real estate at the esplanade to the public. Called Ranong Ground, the football-size field was meant for public recreation, added Khaw. Alas, Ranong Ground has completely disappeared. Few people now know it ever existed. Today it is the site of Dewan Sri Pinang (State Conference Hall).

As many prosperous Chinese immigrant families were to do, the Khaw family built large, European style houses and entertained lavishly. Clustered along the exclusive shoreline of Northam Road, with names reminiscent of baronial villas like Brooklodge, Nova Scotia (later renamed Asdang House), and the Exeter, the Khaw houses were a reflection of the family success and its place in the world.

Chakrabongse and Asdang house were the setting of numerous parties and receptions especially for visiting dignitaries from Bangkok. Named after sons of King Chulalongkorn, the two houses were built back to back, with Chakrabongse house facing the sea and Asdang House facing the road.

Chakrabongse House was described in glowing terms by Penang Gazette at its house warming by the Prince Chakrabongse in 1904:

"Mr Khaw Sim Bee has taste and very thorough notions of comfort. Standing on the brink of the sea, with its verandahs opening on lovely view of the harbour and purple heights of Kedah beyond, the position of the new house could scarcely be surpassed in Penang.

"Its snowy whiteness backed by the dark green of palms and flanked with tennis courts will render it the home beautiful indeed. The floors have marble in the halls and on the verandahs. The dinning and drawing rooms are large enough for huge gatherings, and the latter might easily accommodate four or five sets of Lancers."

During World War II, the houses were appropriated by the Japanese military forces. After the war they were returned. Phya Rasada's only son in Penang, Khaw Joo Chye, inherited Chakrabongse House.

It was said that the widow of Joo Chye was tired of the sea, and sold the house for RM150,000 in 1960. She built another bungalow across the road so that she could watch the traffic in her old age, said the grandson. Soon, Chakrabongse House was demolished to make way for luxurious family flats.

The fate of Asdang House

Asdang House was inherited by Phya Rasada's nephew, Khaw Joo Tok. After World War II Joo Tok sold it to a car dealer who resold it to a Hainanese restaurant owner who turned it into the Metropole Hotel. It was later sold to a group of politicians of the Gerakan Party controlling Penang.

In 1993 it was designated a heritage building by the Penang Municipal Council. Among the listed owners of the Metropole was the president of the Council who was also the chairman of the Penang Gerakan.

A series of shady deals unfolded: Metropole was allegedly declassified from category I to II, meaning it could be torn down as long as the facade was kept. It was then sold to a RM2 or 20-Baht (paid-up capital) company called Dolphin Square Private Limited for RM9.5 million.

On Christmas day it was obliterated in a lightning operation and the debris carted away. People smelled something fishy and a storm ensued. The hue and cry and the wrath of the people filled the papers, and provided live ammunition to the political opposition.

"How can a RM2 (20 baht) company buy a RM9.5 million house in a designated heritage area, if it is not assured that it could be knocked down for development?" asked opposition leader Lim Kit Siang. "Which bank is going to finance the deal if it is not assured of a quick return?"

The state government's damage control went into full swing. On Jan 3, 1993, the city council ordered the owner to rebuild the house to its original form in six months. Failing to comply would result in a maximum fine of RM10,000 and an additional fine of RM500 for each day's delay. The Chief Minister lauded the council for it's swift action.

On Feb 14, the company was charged in court for demolishing a heritage house without permission and subsequently fined RM50,000. Today, seven years later, the storm has abated but nothing has been done to restore the house. What has happened to the fine accumulated - RM500 a day for each day of non compliance?

At the site where Asdang House once proudly stood, lies a half finished high-rise hotel, a pile of ugly grey concrete and rusty steel in a wasteland along Penang's famous Millionaires' Row. Ironically it was the economic crisis in 1997 that stopped the construction, not the law of the land nor the wishes of the people.

From the above article, the current CAT government should understand the urgency of forming 24 hrs monitoring unit, or heritage police; the enforcement units including police, and local council should be make aware of any re-construction and demolish of heritage buildings in their areas, an alert system should be emplaced. Education on the value of heritage buildings for the staff of state authority and police. The people representatives of Penang state, ruling party or opposition, should hold responsible for heritage sites/buildings in their constituency. Penang is now UNESCO Heritage City, a heritage state. The awareness of heritage conservation is expected to be high for each state representatives(MP or state assemblyman). Any silence or ignorance of state representatives/MP on heritage conservation matter, has no excuse. If there is any demolish or disappearance of the heritage at the constituency, the people will consider the failure of the said State assemblyman and MP. The heritage conservation will be a factor for people to assess performance or KPI of the state assemblyman or MP in the next election, any failure in heritage conservation is the failure to the Heritage City and to the people of Penang.He has no place in Penang state decision body.

The approving system should be tiered, and not all things can be approved by local council or MPPP, there must not be absolute authority for a local council. There must be a limit for them, a higher authority is required for re-classification and and demolish of heritage buildings of highest category and critical or prime heritage. Rules for declassification or re-classification must be review, that any matter of prime important to state and nation cannot be decided at local council level, they are only authority for the local council; not the state matter. All policies must be transparent and disclosure is critical for heritage conservation, and feedback from the people is also desired.

The CAT government need to prevent the recurring of the Hotel Metropole incident; and where is our Asdang House now?...."The charming 'metropole' heritage facade that no other building in Penang will have. And a lobby with the splendour and warmth of a grande dame hotel". Asdang House has gone, what left is the facade of a hotel......

This article is interesting in view of recent political event, where the RM2 company is involved for bidding of government project/shops. A careful study will review further link.
The RM2 company......connected or related party transaction... not arm length transaction; all these types of transaction should be carefully assessed, full disclosure requirement, and connected parties abstain from making decision. Legally and morally even the past sellers should be consider as connected person/related person. For government contract or tender or transaction, a period for public feedback on the company should be obtained, preferably prior to bidding.

The rape of Asdang House. Penang must not allow to repeat. Look at our former Asdang House, it is only a facade for a hotel. We have the best town planner in Penang, a town with a combination of heritage and modern buildings, a mixed or hybrid of illegitimate heritage conservation. There are plenty of the illegitimate hybrid in Penang; some are federal government office, some are private buildings, even SOCSO office in Burma Road do the same. The best heritage conservation in the world?????......the world will laugh at the ostrich style of heritage conservation by Penang..... and ugly architecture in our land.

The use of public fund to built new MPSP building at the new township, until the council technically become insolvent; yet a local council was not able to have fund to protect the Khaw Boo Aun residence in Bukit Tambun.....where is the MP and state assemblyman?...you have failed KPI to protect a heritage building in heritage city state.... MP's job is to address on policy and injustice, and raise national issue that affect that citizen, heritage conservation is a national issue, where is the voice in the Parliament?... Historically, Khaw Boo Aun Residence should be a national heritage.

I pray that the CAT is alert; the new MPPP President is more appreciate on the heritage conversation. The protection of the heritage buildings still remained .....

May God save Penang.....ho eh lai, bei eh gi.....

Other related articles:

1. When will MPPP invoke Section 26 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1976 impose a RM 50,000 fine against Dolphin Square Sdn . Bhd for the Christmas Day ‘lighting demolition’ of Hotel Metropole on Christmas Day?(1994) by Parliament Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary –General and MP for Tanjung , Lim Kit Siang; http://bibliotheca.limkitsiang.com/1994/01/15/when-will-mppp-invoke-section-26-of-the-town-and-country-planning-act-1976-impose-a-rm-50000-fine-against-dolphin-square-sdn-bhd-for-the-christmas-day-%E2%80%98lighting-demolition%E2%80%99-of-hotel/
2. DAP calls on Penang Chief Minister , Dr.Koh Tsu Koon to establish a Public Inquiry into the scandalous demolition of Hotel Metropole and the MPPP’s role – whether of omission or commission(1994), by by Parliament Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary –General and MP for Tanjung , Lim Kit Siang; http://bibliotheca.limkitsiang.com/1994/01/06/dap-calls-on-penang-chief-minister-dr-koh-tsu-koon-to-establish-a-public-inquiry-into-the-scandalous-demolition-of-hotel-metropole-and-the-mppp%E2%80%99s-role-%E2%80%93-whether-of-omission-or-commis/
3. Heritage act toothless(2010), by Jacqueline Ann Surin, http://www.sun2surf.com/article.cfm?id=17093
4. http://www.mayfairpenang.com/leaflets.pdf(To look at the new building)

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