Ensconced amongst towering white cliffs on Malaysia’s western peninsula, Ipoh is a town characterised by its colonial past and former standing as a mining hotspot of some repute. It is a handsome, rugged place made distinct by jagged limestone karsts that jut out of the earth as though jabbed by some subterranean elemental force; and pocketed within these peaks are intricate temples and traditional centres that seem to intensify the magnificence of their surroundings.
One such site is Qing Xin Ling Leisure and Cultural Village, which enjoys the kind of setting, evidenced by its intrusion in and around a group of these karsts, that engenders a certain preternatural stillness: an apt link, given that Qing Xin Ling translates as ‘serene hills’ from the original Mandarin.
The village enshrines a lake which acts as an emerald-hued, peaceful centrepiece announced by a series of pandok summerhouses; but the most striking view, at least initially, is the banyan wish tree, with innumerable pledges and yearnings recorded on red ribbons draped across its branches, set companionably beside a statue of Caishen, the Chinese god of fortune. And from there, the centre opens up. A fine filament of dust follows in the wake of bicycles and traditional Chinese rickshaws as they trundle past a facsimile village mimicking the homes and shops of yore, replete with nostalgic memorabilia: black and white photos, radios, TV sets, a jukebox, an ice shaver and so on.
A turn around the lake casts further glimpses into the past: the shell of an antique car resides within eyeshot of a boat installation and both, despite their seeming incongruity, sit in perfect stillness amongst the surrounding jungle. Here in Qing Xin Ling, nature and culture blend seamlessly together in a way that brings to mind the dreamlike gardens of El Explorador in Boquete, Panama.
And thus does the trawl through history continue. A winding narrow passageway, Memory Lane, stabs into the limestone cliffs: the attendant windmills and reenactments of street stalls, completed by authentic props including Malay vinyl, barbershop gear and a coffee grinder, render an indelible image of life as it once was.