The School of Hard Knocks

In Malaysia, the School of Hard Knocks is not a precursor of the University of Life and an essential component of any I-dragged-meself-up-by-me-bootstraps success story.  It’s actually a workshop where you can go and learn how to make things out of pewter.

I already knew that Kuala Lumpur’s fortune was founded on tin.  KL was just a small unimportant town, playing second fiddle to Malacca and Penang (or maybe that should be third fiddle?), until the late 19th Century, when Chinese prospectors found tin in the river.  Despite the fact that 69 of the 87 original prospectors died of horrible diseases in the swampy jungle, they pressed on and established tin mines and the town began to grow.

Today I learnt that tin is used to make pewter –

hence the very famous Royal Selangor Pewter factory and its workshop.

The factory museum shows the earliest Malaysian currency – tin money in the shape of animals –

– cute, but not very practical for a trip to the supermarket:

“That’ll be a crocodile, an elephant and four tortoises, please.”

“I’ve only got two crocodiles – do you have change?”

“Hang on a minute – I’ll just go to the other tills and see if anyone can change one crocodile for ten elephants.”

So they switched to the money tree, on the right in the picture.  As it’s made of tin, they could just twist off as many little Polo mints as they needed.

Then it was time for the fun –

learning to make our own funky designs out of molten pewter.

Anthony made a lovely bracelet … for me –

While Sam made himself a hipster man-band –

And despite being blessed with the manual dexterity of an earthworm, I even managed to make a few things myself –

But we didn’t have time to create replica Petronas Towers –

made of 7,062 pewter tankards

or the largest tankard in the world

which holds 4,920 pints of beer and the Guinness World Record … and is yet another example of the identity crisis which seems to be a permanent, rather than temporary, stage of development in this Islamic country.

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