IPOH, Aug 9 — It all started with a Ming Dynasty vase that socialite See Foon Chan-Koppen bought in the late 1960s as a University of Singapore undergraduate.
Since then, she has gone on to collect jewellery, embroidery, boxes, chests, old gowns and tribal dresses as she travels for work.
Today, as she enters the fourth stage of her life, Chan decided to donate her collection to non-governmental organisation Perak Women for Women (PWW), which strives to improve the lives of women and children in the community.
Aptly called Tales of Collecting, the 250 pieces are currently on display at PWW's Jalan Market shop.
Socialite See Foon Chan-Koppen said Karachi in Pakistan provided the best purchases where the lanes offered tribal dresses from Afghanistan, jewellery of necklaces, bangles and rings. — Picture by Sylvia Looi
Speaking during its launching ceremony, Chan said the pieces she donated are part of an eclectic collection that began half a century ago.
According to her, the passion for antiquities was developed during her university days studying in Art History.
“My mentor, Professor Willy Willard, who wrote and published a huge tome on the Art of Asia and was curator of the Art Museum at the University, used to take me to seedy hotels where dealers with baskets of Chinese export ware salvaged from sunken ships around Indonesia, hung out.” “It was a dazzling sight, the dealers lolling around in different rooms scattered throughout the hotel, their wares wrapped in newspaper.
“The moment you walked into a room, they would immediately come to attention and start unwrapping pieces, each one more beautiful than the other,” she said, describing it as an Aladdin’s cave of delights with all the sunken treasure in plain sight, waiting to be bought for a song.
Chan said while Prof Willard was buying on behalf of the Museum, she paid S$30 (RM97) for the early Ming vase which she still treasures today.
When she started working, Chan would splurge on more expensive pieces.
Starting with porcelain and ceramics, Chan later moved on to other collectibles.
“My work in the hotel industry would take me to many countries where we were looking for development opportunities. What fun and excitement I had wandering down narrow lanes laden with shops bearing treasures,” she said, adding that Karachi in Pakistan provided the best purchases.
Socialite See Foon-Chan Koppen (left) with Perak Women for Women president Kimberley Tan during the launching of Tales of Collecting exhibition at Jalan Market, Ipoh. — Picture by Sylvia Looi
The lanes, she noted, offered up tribal dresses from Afghanistan, jewellery such as necklaces, bangles and rings, and things she would snap up in bundles, bringing them home and after a quick polish, wear them with pride.
“At a time when I could not afford gold, the silver jewellery which I wore certainly drew many favourable comments,” she said with a twinkle in her eye.
While she had stopped acquiring, Chan treasured her acquisitions but now ready to let go of them for others to enjoy.
On why she chose PWW to donate, Chan said it's because of their mission of empowering women and children.
“There are so many single mothers and B40 women who need our help. The plight of some of these women brings tears to my eyes,” she said, citing Kanagi, an abused orphan staying in an estate in Gopeng as an example.
According to Chan, Kanagi ran away from her guardians and started selling flowers along a roadside in Menglembu.
“She has a 12-year-old son who also used to wheel her round to run errands and sell flowers.
Recently she had a fall, injured her hips and now cannot sit up to work. Her son now helps to sell flowers after school to earn extra income," she said.
It all started with a Ming Dynasty vase that socialite See Foon Chan-Koppen bought in the late 1960s as a University of Singapore undergraduate. Since then, she went on to collect jewellery, embroidery, boxes, chests, old gowns and tribal dresses as she travels for work. — Picture by Sylvia Looi
PWW, added Chan, supports her with basic food aid, medical expenses and other essentials like diapers.
“It gives me great satisfaction to support cases like these and this is precisely what PWW does, in addition to teaching new skills to women to enable them to earn a living.”
Chan said everyone could help in their own way.
“Donating money is not the only thing people can do. We can donate our time, our energy, our volunteerism towards good causes,” she said, adding that if life has been good to us, being generous is one way of giving back.
PWW is open daily from 10am to 3pm. For details, contact them at 011-65569715.