A tiny woman sits at the end of our table, she has a unique presence which commands attention from everyone. She has this cheeky smile which lights up her face as she looks everyone directly in the eye, then settles back into her seat with and an odd-shaped teapot in her hand as she clears her throat….
“I am going to tell you a story about my lucky melon teapot”
I would soon come to realise that my most cherished experience from Kula Lumpur wouldn’t be the hotel room with skyline views, the spectacular Petronas Towers, or even the sense overloading Sentral Markets, but a tiny woman in a pewter factory educating me on the ancient art of pewter smithing and a touching story which dates back many years.
She has our undivided attention and raises her voice ever so slightly “Imagine it is 1941 and the Japanese are in the muddy fields, bombs are falling and there is terror in the faces on the people running on the ground”
Instantly I feel like I am there in war torn Kuala Lumpur. Running through the muddy outcrops, gun fire blasting all around. A shiver goes down my spine which snaps me back into reality. I look back at the tiny woman. Engulfed by her story.
“A man named Ah Ham runs across a field as bombs are falling from the sky and as he runs he sees a shiny glimmer on the ground which looks like a teapot covered in mud. For some reason he pauses and bends down to pick up the teapot. At that very moment, shrapnel flies past him, exactly where his head would have been if he was standing.”
As she speaks, I have forgotten to breathe and take in a gulp of air.
“The teapot saves his life and he lives to tell the story to every person who visits his home for the next 30 years over a pot of tea”
She explains the intricate workings of the teapot and the many man hours it takes to hammer the specially designed petals into shape. This teapot is of unique design and only someone with great skill could pull off a such a feat. She continues her story…
“My husband hears of this lucky teapot and decided to pay Ah Ham a visit to inspect this beautiful work of art and to hear the story I am telling you today. My husband mentions that he owns a pewter factory and Ah Ham decides to send his lucky teapot to be cleaned and polished”
Early in the day I have had my hand at creating my own pewter crafts and I had been hammering my very own bowl in the school of hard knocks, using the same techniques as the ones needed to create the lucky teapot. We were given a royal blue apron and a sheet of thin pewter in which we were to create a very simple bowl. Before us lay a well-worn wooden mould which we used to beat the pewter with a mallet. No as easy as it sounds, but I was successful all the same.
We then progressed to another room and see the pewter in its liquid form and it reminds me of a scene from Terminator 2. We pour the liquid into many shapes and sizes, where it instantly solidifies to what we try to convince ourselves is art. We take these keepsakes as souvenirs and I feel a great sense of satisfaction in my creations and learning how pewter carved the way for Kulua Lumpur.
In 1857 Chines miners arrived in KL who were invited to work in the mines at Selangor’s Klang Valley. By, 1885 this Valley was known as the boom town, when a man named Yong Koon came to the city to start the largest pewter company in the world.
Pewter is created by combining tin with portions of copper and antimony, Koon went on to create small items and then progressed into larger objects.
“When the teapot was getting polished, one of my staff noticed there was the makers stamp on the bottom of the piece and realised it was actually the hallmark inscription of my Grandfather.”
I can’t believe that this local art form has remained and is stronger than ever in this modern-day of machinery. These are the techniques I am employing today to make my less than circular bowl.
I am sure she has told this story thousands of times and still her face lights up with joy, as though she has found out about the maker of the teapot for the first time. This lady is so passionate about pewter and her factory. It is like a beacon of light from within her soul.
“When we take the teapot back to Ah Ham, we plead to purchase the pot from him, but he refuses as this is the lucky melon teapot which has saved his life. Many years later when Ah Ham is approaching the end of his life he has a change of heart and donates the pot to the Royal Selangor Pewter Factory”
The pot sits in a glass cabinet in the factory which can be seen by thousands of tourists each year. Datin Paduka Chen Mun Kuen take great pride in telling this story and replicas of the lucky teapot are now made for tourists to take home as a souvenirs.
This story will be told for many years to come.
What I love about travel is the unexpected experiences like this one which always surprise me. I have travelled to many handicraft factories all over the world, yet there is warmth and compassion at the very root of the Royal Selangor Pewter Factory. If you every visit the factory, make sure you ask to hear the story of the lucky melon teapot.
Royal Selangor Quick Info
Open between 9am-5pm daily including Sundays and Public Holidays
A free shuttle service is available from most hotels in KL, just call 03 4145 6122.
Enrol in the School of Hard Knocks, which offers a 30 minute workshop in pewter smithing, to create a bowl like I did during my tour.
In the visitor centre at the end of the tour which houses a full range of pewter products for you to take home.
If you would like to find out more information about my Malaysia trip. Travel.com.au have put together a special package for Positive World Travel readers. Get out there and Discover Malaysia.