If Singaporean Lim Hua Choon has his way, Ipoh should just maintain her current pace and not develop any further yet.
For the 63-year-old ceramic art teacher who runs a private studio named Studio-in-Connection in Toa Payoh, Singapore, Lim enjoys life in Ipoh more than Singapore.
The first time Lim arrived in Ipoh was in 2008 to visit pottery factories that Ipoh is well known for the world over. Since then, he has made annual pilgrimages to the city, clocking more than ten trips to date. However, so far, every trip had been related to pottery and ceramic art.
Remembered Lim, “Those days, I had to take an overnight express bus from Singapore to Ipoh. The journey was long and tedious. These past few years had been easier as there are direct flights between Singapore and Ipoh which makes travelling so convenient, and cut down on time spent commuting. On the other hand, these direct flights have stimulated the economy and development of Ipoh. Over the past few years, I have noted the rapid construction of hotels and other high-rise buildings. And there are more cars on the road, too. I wish I could stop time for a bit.”
To Lim, Ipoh reminds him of Singapore in the 1950s and 60s. He said, “Life was great back then but Singapore developed so swiftly that the relaxed lifestyle that I enjoyed and cherished is just a memory now. Ipoh, on the other hand, is a city and yet doesn’t feel like one. It offers a comfortable environment, generally.”
Lim knows to avoid the peak traffic hours in Singapore. However, life could still be stressful even for someone born and bred in the metropolitan city-state. Therefore, Ipoh gives Lim an escape from the hustle and bustle of city life.
Besides, the ceramic art scene is a lot more vibrant in Ipoh than in Singapore, surprisingly. As an award-winning master potter, Lim conducts talks or holds charity exhibitions not only in Ipoh, which already hosted two of his exhibitions thus far, but also Penang and Kuala Lumpur, when he is not engaged in exhibitions around the world for his ceramic and sculptural works.
Each time Lim is in town, his local friends would take him on a seafood hunting expedition to nearby Kuala Sepetang for Perak’s popular fresh seafood.
Food aside, Lim has plans to make more frequent trips to Ipoh due to the fact that a purpose-built cave kiln named Ipohgama has been erected at the compound of Xin Fa Pottery along Jalan Kuala Kangsar. The mini kiln now supports ceramic hobbyists and artisans such as Lim in preserving the legacy of wood-fired ceramic art.
“Land is scarce in Singapore so we will never enjoy the traditional art of ceramic making from a wood-fired kiln in my country. Therefore, ceramic artists like myself have to come to Ipoh to complete our ceramic artwork. But I don’t mind making the trip, actually. Besides ceramic art, I enjoy checking out old buildings, which is a rarity in modern Singapore. The only thing I miss about Singapore would be its seamless public transport,” shared the former architect assistant.
Note: An edited version of this article [Master Potter’s Love Affair with Ipoh] was published on 9th April, 2016 in the now-defunct The Malay Mail.