Sunday, August 24, 2014

Visit KL 3.0 - Royal Selangor Visitor Centre

The third installation of our annual self-enlightenment on our city Kuala Lumpur took place over the long weekend right before Hari Raya (yes, that was quite a while back). This year our numbers had increased from a two-men show to five! We had planned to visit 3 places, but in the end we managed to visit only one. Seems like the museums decided to close early for Raya, although their websites had stated otherwise. Silly me for not calling to re-confirm before going ahead with the plans.

Nonetheless, our itinerary numero uno was thoroughly satisfying for all of us - the Royal Selangor Visitor Centre. I was surprised that a Malaysian company (set up by a Chinese pewtersmith, Yong Koon) would invest a considerable amount of capital on creating a mini museum with complimentary guided tour, short workshops (for a fee) and a chic cafe within their factory premises. Of course, given that the objective is probably to preserve the company's heritage and also to associate this strong heritage with its branding.

Entrance to the Royal Selangor Visitor Centre

At the reception counter, a young guide approached us and led us through the museum explaining the displays, which consist of multimedia presentations via screens mounted on the wall interspersed with reproduction of old photos and antique pewter pieces as well as a scaled down model of a bucket wheel dredger (tin mining) and actual size replicas of the huge bucket wheel. Antique pewter and tin items were displayed, among them was the pokok pitis and that alligator thingy that we saw in our Sejarah textbook.

One of the more famous designs of the coffee and tea set. The wavy patterns are hand-hammered, one indentation at a time. 
antique pewter
The iconic melon teapot
There were some dummy tin ingots and comparison of its weight with other precious metals. Our young guide managed to con us into lifting up the ingots thinking they were real - yea, we old folks are a gullible bunch! And then there was a model of the Petronas Twin Towers made out of pewter tankards which was around two storeys tall.

Twin Towers in pewter tankards
There were a couple of walls filled with pewter hand print cutouts and each was of their employees who have worked with Royal Selangor for 5 years of more. Being a sucker for hand prints, I loved this idea. Honouring their employees in the form of an art installation and at the same time giving them a sense of ownership. It was pretty curious scanning through the names and size/shape of the hands.

Wall of fame
The tour then progressed into the production area, with a short stop at the refreshment area - a complimentary cup of ice cold 100Plus served in a pewter mug. I suspect this part of the tour was to demonstrate how refreshing it is to sip from a chilled pewter mug (!?!).

It was a weekend and a public holiday too - production area was mostly vacant
Although it was a Sunday (and a long weekend too), the demonstration workstations were still in operation. We were walked through the steps of moulding molten pewter (which is over 90% tin, copper, antimony), grinding, polishing and staining, and hammering. All of us tried our hand at hammering and boy, was that tough. The goal was to hit twice on the same spot and then move on to the spot next to that spot and hit twice again (I'm making this hard for you to read and understand because aiming for the same spot was that hard!). So none of us did get the thumbs up from the guide for our effort! Haha

Live demonstration for casting, grinding, polishing/finishing and hammering
The guided tour ended in the visitor shop where their products were on display - both pewter and jewellery (Selberan). Replicas of trophies which were commissioned to Royal Selangor were displayed as well. I really loved the mini version of the melon teapot, tankard and jug (but they weren't functional items)!

Pretty peacocks - shiny and colourful
And that was when I fell in love with the tea caddy. I want it. I don't really drink tea. But I just want it. To sit and watch the cap compress the air and sink into its 'closed' position all by itself due to its weight and the precision of the casting/grinding of the tea caddy's mouth. Ah, I may cultivate a tea-drinking habit just to watch this! *big blinky eyes - pretty please* Hahaha

Super love this design of the tea caddy - wishlist!
We had made reservation for The Foundry workshop, instead of the School of Hard Knocks. We had an hour to make our own pewter jewellery or anything. A brief introduction on how to handle pewter and safety tips were explained to us by one of the Royal Selangor staff. It was fun working with our hands. I took the safer option of casting a pendant and engraving my name behind it. Some of the others made their own sculpture. But be warned, if your work of art is too big an extra charge is applicable and each person is allowed to take home only one item. So some of us had to melt their abstract sculptures with a heavy heart! Basically the steps we went through were as follows:

  1. Clearing off the oxidised metal at the surface of the molten pewter before scooping it up and pouring it into a polymer mould or pouring it straight onto the metal table to form shapes.
  2. Opening the mould to see if the pewter had travelled to all ends of the pattern and then letting it cool down before polishing and buffing it with the polishing machine. Apparently the scouring pads are like those we use to wash dishes but of industrial grade.
  3. Staining (optional) in some chemical dips - for an antique look.
  4. We can polish it again to have the above effect (like in the tea caddy photo) or for those without the staining step, we can rub alcohol on the item to bring out the shine. 
  5. Engraving (optional) the item by hammering the letters etching thingy tool (don't know what it's called). And it's done!

pewter making workshop
Fun with pewter at The Foundry

My work of art - pendant with engraved name on the back
I liked that they gave us freedom to create whatever we wanted to. And having such workshops makes the visitor centre more interesting, although it was a bit pricey at RM150 per pax for one hour. However, the staff were all friendly and it was a pleasant experience overall. I would recommend it highly, especially if you have foreign guests over.

All the pewter making made us hungry. Although we were told that modern day pewter no longer contained lead, we all made it a point to have a good scrub down of our hands in the loo before having our lunch. The cafe was really pretty and their menu was quite good.

I love wood paneling
burger haagen dazs ice cream
The Cafe - lunch set of beef burger, soft drink and Haagen Dazs ice cream (I chose strawberry cheesecake). K ordered a chocolate cake. Looking at this makes me hungry again!
The whole Royal Selangor itinerary took longer than we had planned, with more camwhoring around. By the time we headed for our next destination it was afternoon already. And surprise surprise, the National Planetarium wasn't open after we labourously climbed up a zigzag-ing flight of steps to the hilltop (and there were parking lots up there too! argh!). So we went back down and drove around the lake gardens area, nothing to be found. And then we decided to try Escape Room in Berjaya Times Square, but unfortunately they were fully booked for the timing that we wanted. After having some waffles and sausages, we headed back home to call it quits for the day vowing that a Visit KL 3.1 will be in store soon enough.

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