Heritage Exploration Trail: Connecting Our Past, Present, and Future

 

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, George Town’s cultural assets are embodied in both tangible and intangible forms, from Masjid Kapitan Keling and the kaki lima to fortune-telling and the different burial practices across religions.

Arts-ED’s Heritage Exploration Trail (HET) is part of the Cultural Heritage Education Programme (CHEP) where primary and secondary school students interact with their surrounding environment through various engaging activities and are encouraged to draw connections between the past and their present identities and lives. Also looking into the future, they explore their own answers to the question: what does it mean to live sustainably as a community? 

There are two trails under the HET programme; Trail A examines communal living in the early settlements of George Town using maps, while Trail B focuses on cultural practices. Both trails can be adapted to the participants’ age group, from 10 up to 17 years old. 

Trail A: SMK Air Itam, 10 August 2019

The students first learned about George Town’s early status as a strategic port and the settlement patterns of the different ethnic groups. Before going out to visit the historical settlements to understand how people used to live, students first had to plan their own ideal neighbourhood. This activity encouraged them to think about what a community needs in their neighbourhood to keep them happy and healthy. 

Trail A town planning.jpg

Their first stop was Khoo Kongsi. Acting as new members to the Khoo clan, the students were instructed to explore the compound and complete their Mission Book. Examples of tasks were locating the kaki lima, and learning about its function as a shared place for people shelter and socialising. They then worked together to sketch a map of the compound.

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Next, the students went to the Lebuh Acheh Mosque, where they learned about its history and the different buildings within the community and their functions. Again, they worked in groups to complete the Mission Book and drew and labelled a map of the site with the facilitator’s guidance.

Back at the base, the students analysed the similarities and differences between the maps, comparing the way residents of Khoo Kongsi and Lebuh Acheh Mosque lived. They reflected on how despite sharing the same needs, different communities chose different ways of fulfilling the need for shelter, education, or entertainment. They then redrew their own town plans by incorporating useful elements they observed and shared them with other groups. Throughout this process, the students were encouraged to think: what are some common needs among the early settlers and present-day dwellers? How have the requirements to live a happy and healthy life changed between then and now?

Trail A final map.jpg
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Trail B: SJK(C) Pei Shin, 24 August 2019

For a start, the students paired up to create a Cultural ID. They made a simple sketch of their partner and then got off to a lively conversation as they took turns interviewing each other about their ethnicity, religion, cultural practices, etc.. There was lots of excitement as they learned something new about their classmates or were surprised to find similarities as well as differences. 

Trail B Cultural ID.jpg

The students then learned about why the various ethnic groups came to George Town, and how their interaction with and influence of each other over the years shaped cultural practices that are integral to our lives today. The students were now ready and curious to check out the sites and practices for themselves.

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The Lebuh Acheh Mosque and the Kapitan Keling Mosque were their first destinations. Led by the guide, the students explored the various parts of both sites and jotted down their observations in small groups. 


After that, the students visited the Sri Mahamariamman temple and other parts of Little India. From interviewing a snack vendor to buying a drink at an ottukedai, they were up for the challenges despite some difficulty with communicating initially.

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Trail B ottukedai.jpg

The Goddess of Mercy (Kuan Yin) Temple was their next stop. They asked lots of questions and learned about traditional occupations around the temple and the practice of setting birds free, among other things.

Trail B kuanyin.jpg

At the end of the trail, the students compiled all their findings from the day on a huge map. As they went through the various cultural objects, customs or food, they noted down which ones they’ve incorporated into their lives with colour-coded stickers. All of them noticed that they had multiple coloured stickers on their Cultural ID after that activity, realising that living in Malaysia meant that different ethnicities shared many similarities and have even adopted cultural elements from each other.

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Hear from some of SJK(C) Pei Shin students and teachers about their experience with the HET programme:

A Chinese student expressing excitement after interviewing an Indian vendor for the first time during the trail.

A Chinese student expressing excitement after interviewing an Indian vendor for the first time during the trail.

“Today was my first time visiting a mosque, a Hindu temple, and a church. It was my first time seeing the tombstones of Malay people and they are very different. I liked learning about the different cultures.” - Standard 5 student

“Learning history is so fun… It is much more fun when I get to experience it myself by walking around rather than just listening to the teacher.” - Standard 5 student

“The programme allows students to see and understand the practices of different cultures. It is a good opportunity, especially because the majority of the students live near the school and don’t have as much exposure. Even with day trips planned by the school, the itinerary is often so packed that students are not able to explore like they do today.” - Teacher