The Collapse of the ITC: Why 10,000 Ipohites had to “jump aeroplane” (work illegally) in America


This blogger went through the horrendous years of 1984-87, when Ipoh and the whole of the Kinta Valley were going through the throes of the tin industry collapse. Having wanted to write about this terrible period for some time, he has finally posted on it, thanks to his cousin, S H Chen, whose forwarded email was the trigger.

Thanks, Chen!


Please comment on this post with your experiences and thoughts, or the experiences of others you know.


The Collapse of the International Tin Council and the Aftermath

When the International Tin Council collapsed due to its debt of £900,000,000, it led to the suspension of trading on the London Metal Exchange on Oct 24, 1985.

That, in turn, caused the collapse of the tin industry in the Kinta Valley, Perak. The repercussions on the whole of the Kinta Valley were horrendous. Men and women lost their jobs. They stood to lose everything else. Those who kept their jobs did not get paid. Tin mines had nothing to pay them with. Those who supplied the mines could not get any payment. Others who supplied the suppliers were, in turn, not paid. The ripple effect multiplied hardships and suffering. The school where I taught cut pay all around, from the Principal to the lowest office boy. At least we got paid.

Being Chinese, whose grandparents and parents had come from China to seek work, these people of Ipoh, Kampar, Tapah and all over the Kinta Valley, knew what to do: GO WHERE THERE WERE JOBS! Like those before them, if they had to go where there was work, they would do so.

The first 500 men and women from Bercham in Ipoh left home and family to work overseas. ILLEGALLY. They went to wherever there were jobs: Japan, Hong Kong, Germany, the UK and America. In America, New York was the favorite.

They got off the plane, holding multiple re-entry visas, never to get on the return flight. Thus was coined the term for them: they were said to have “jumped aeroplane”.

These illegal workers sent money home. This supported their family, paid off housing loans, and financed their children’s education. Many of my students had parents who had “jumped aeroplane”.

This Post will tell something of the background and circumstances that caused the collapse of the International Tin Council and with it, the almost complete destruction of the tin industry in Malaysia. It will post on the emigration of breadwinners from Ipoh and other towns in Perak to other parts of the world.

There will even be a story or two of people who were there in New York, when the Twin Towers were destroyed. They were there on NINE ELEVEN (9/11).



(1) The story of Yin
Here’s the story of a young girl. I shall call her Yin.
She was waiting for her SPM result and her family had plans for her to “jump aeroplane”  and work in the United States. Both her parents were already in the US, working illegally.

Yin needed an American visa. Her family had thought of a plan. Yin’s grandmother, who was old but strong and healthy, would apply for a visa to visit the United States. She explained to the US Embassy that she wanted her granddaughter, Yin, to accompany her. Yin was her favourite grandchild. Could the US Embassy please grant an old woman her life-long wish, to see the US, before she was too old and weak to travel?

When both grandmother and grandddaughter got their visas, only Yin went to the US, which was the plan all along. She went to the South, “jumped aeroplane”, and worked at a restaurant. Later, she married the owner, an immigrant from another Southeast Asian country.

Several years later, I got a surprise visit from her when she returned to Ipoh to visit her grandmother, siblings and parents (who had returned for good). Yin was holding a baby in her arms, her first child.

Yin is still in the US.

(2) A comment by a friend,Kenny Toong, Calgary, Alberta

I met 23 of them all from Ipoh. Most of them return home with 500,00.00Ringgit; hard earned 6 day working week. I admire them for their resilience and coping with loneliness away from their families. BN MCA will not help them hence they have to look after themselves and their families. BN gave 250 million to a minister’s husband and what did they did with the taxpayers dollars – condos, trips abroad, Mercedes Benz.

(3)Another friend, P H Teoh, commented

Not only to America, to Japan, to UK; even Australia. Some even went to the extent of going for 6 months, then out, and in again. In many restaurants in London, if you meet a Malaysian worker and you ask where they are from, its Ipoh /Perak. There are also those who work as babysitters/ home help, and they do not return till they have saved up enough money, because as illegals; their passports would be stamped and they would never be able to enter UK again. They suffer the loneliness of being on their own, living in a tiny rented room. Now it is very difficult to come to UK because Immigration has cottoned on and are very strict. Remember they threatened to impose pre approved visa requirements?
(4) Lim could see the smoke coming from the Twin Towers faraway. Later on, he found out about the terrorist attacks. The following days were full of fear and uncertainty. He said that almost daily, the train he took to work would stop, maybe because there was a package on the railway track, in which case the bomb disposal unit and police had to be informed. Everyone would sit in the train and wait…more than an hour each time. Finally, when the package turned out to hold old clothes, the train would continue. The fear of more terrorist attacks was unending. Eventually, he came back. He had “jumped aeroplane” in January 2000 but by January 2002, he was back in Ipoh. “The money isn’t worth losing your life for,” he explained.


What kinds of work do illegal immigrants get in New York?

From Wikipedia

Illegal immigrants can be found working in almost every industry in New York City performing a wide variety of tasks. More than half of all dishwashers in the city are illegal immigrants, as are a third of all sewing machine operators, painters, cooks, construction laborers, and food preparation workers. Illegal immigrants also make up close to 30 percent of the city’s automotive service technicians & mechanics, waiters & waitresses, maids & housekeeping cleaners, and carpenters. The five occupations with the most illegal immigrant workers in New York City are cooks (21,000), janitors & building cleaners (19,000), construction laborers (17,000), maids & housekeeping cleaners (16,000), and waiters & waitresses (15,000).

Search results

The five occupations with the most illegal immigrant workers in New York City are cooks (21,000), janitors & building cleaners (19,000), construction laborers (17,000 …


My cousin, who died recently in Ipoh, and his wife went twice to New York to work. He worked as a tailor, and his wife as a childminder for the same boss. They were provided with a room, and at least a meal a day.

An ex-teacher, 58, “jumped aeroplane” in New York in 2000, and worked in a warehouse. His job? Lugging cartons of books from truck to warehouse, or from warehouse to truck. It was physical work, very hard on a man his age. But it paid well. His wife was legally employed as a nurse, having gone there several years before. They saved a lot of US$, and converted it to ringgit at the pegged rate of US$1 = Rm3.80.


The International Tin Council

The International Tin Council was an organisation which acted on behalf of the principal tin producers in Cornwall and Malaysia to buy up surplus tin stocks to …
More results from

The International Tin Council was an organization which acted on behalf of the principal tin producers in Cornwall and Malaysia to buy up surplus tin stocks to maintain the price at a steady level.

The organization was established in 1956, following on from the work of the International Tin Study Group, which was established in 1947 to survey the world supply and demand of tin.

However, with the advent of aluminium containers, the use of protective polymer lacquers inside cans, and increased recycling by industry, the demand for tin had decreased considerably by the early 1980s, and in October 1985 the ITC could no longer maintain the price. It eventually ran out of money buying up tin on the metals markets. Attempts to refinance the ITC were eventually abandoned, and since then, as with many other raw materials, the price has generally declined as alternatives become more attractive.


You could purchase the following book and learn more about the legal developments.

Copyright (c) 1989 Northwestern University School of Law

Northwestern Journal of International Law & Business

COMMENT: Cartel in a Can: The Financial Collapse of the International Tin Council

Fall, 1989

10 NW. J. INT’L L. & BUS. 309


Sandhya Chandrasekhar



In 1985, the International Tin Council (the “ITC”), the operative arm of the Sixth International Tin Agreement 1 (the “ITA 6”), collapsed due to debt. 2 Under the ITA 6 and earlier tin agreements, several sovereign states had joined together to form a tin cartel. This cartel, known as the ITC, incurred this debt over time to fund its efforts to control the supply and market price of tin. On October 24, 1985, however, the ITC announced that it was unable to repay those debts or to fulfill its contractual obligations to purchase tin. When the creditors turned to the member states of the cartel for payment, the member states refused to pay any of the ITC’s debts, which are estimated at £ 900,000,000. 3 In England, two of the ITC’s creditors, Maclaine Watson & Co. and J.H. Rayner, sued the ITC members for payment of the ITC’s debts…


The following was forwarded by S N Chen.

Subject: FW: BN turned Ipoh into “Ngah Choy Kai”
Date: Tue, 6 Dec 2011 07:51:57 +1100

This issue is fully explained in a book  titled “Marc Rich and the Billion Dollars Scam”. It is a black cover book, banned in M’sia but is available off the shelf in S’pore.

The last time I met a friend who was born after the Tin-bust, I asked him in jest, “Do you know what Ipoh’s famous for?”

He gave me a blank look. Anyway, not wasting any time, I told him, “Tin-lah.” “If there is no tin, Ipoh wouldn’t be here. It would be just another Orang Asli settlement. He squinted his eyes and responded, “Are you sure? I thought it was Ngar-Choy-Kai.”

Thanks to Barisan Nasional for single-handedly transforming Ipoh from a rich and bustling Tin-City to a Ngar-Choy-Kai (Bean-Sprout with Chicken) industry. Ipoh never recovered from this fatal stroke of incompetence and greed to corner the World Tin Market. As a result of this, the once vibrant Tin Industry was totally wiped out.

For more, read the links below:

  1. A Billion Ringgit Tin Mining Industry to Nga-Choy-Kai Industry – By Choo Sing Chye.Researched from Steven Schlossstein’s book, Asia’s New Little Dragons… – Cached

  2. A Billion Ringgit Tin Mining Industry to Nga-Choy-Kai Industry – By Choo Sing Chye. Researched from Steven Schlossstein’s book, Asia’s New Little Dragons.… – Cache


Time Magazine

The Crushed Tin Cartel

By William J. Mitchell Monday, Apr. 18, 2005

Trading was halted after the International Tin Council, a cartel made up of 22 leading tin-producing and-consuming nations, found itself short of cash to finance its operation.

Read more:,9171,1050637,00.html#ixzz1g99zcF0


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3 Responses to The Collapse of the ITC: Why 10,000 Ipohites had to “jump aeroplane” (work illegally) in America

  1. weehingthong says:

    Francis Lai, old schoolmate and friend:
    thanks Simon Thong for refreshing my memories. indeed the tin industry came to an early death. many of my grandfather’s friends who were in the tin trade suffered heavily. otherwise we wont have to get away from Ipoh to earn a living. IPOH IS MY HOMETOWN. i really miss all my dear friends n Ipoh’s wonderful school days.

  2. Pingback: Poi Lam High School, Ipoh | weehingthong

  3. Pingback: Falim House Exhibition: A Tin Mining Family @ Tin City Ipoh | weehingthong

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