Maria Hertogh & the Singapore Riots of 1950

Recently I was chatting with my Taiping friend Syed Bakar how we spent our days during the Covid-19 lockdown. He wrote:

I’m reading about the Dutch girl whose parents left her with their maid and took off when the Japs attacked Central Java. She was 13 after the war and married to a Malay school teacher. Her real parents found her and wanted her back. The trial took place in Singapore and the British judge decided in favour of the Dutch parents. This started an anti European riot.

A Dutch girl! The story was new to me. Syed told me that it was world wide news in 1950 and that the name of the girl was Bertha Hertogh. I got interested and decided to write a blog about it. But before starting to search for information, I asked several Malaysian and Dutch friends if they were familiar with the case. None of my Dutch friends, and only some of my ( senior) Malaysian friends knew about her, maybe not surprising as it happened 70 years ago.

A huge lot of information is available. There is a Wikipedia article Maria Hertogh. And in 2014 Channel NewsAsia has broadcast a (dramatised) documentary Nadra (the Malay name of Maria Hertogh). Worth watching. It is now available online. Also several books have been published about her.

Here is Maria/Nadra in 1950 (a screenshot from the CNA documentary)

She was born in 1937 in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) as the third child of Adrianus Hertogh , a Dutch soldier, and Adeline Hunter, of Eurasian descent. A Roman Catholic family, she was baptised as Maria Huberdina (Bertha).

On 8 December 1941 Japan attacked Pearl Harbour and invaded Malaya and the Dutch East Indies. Singapore surrendered on 15 February and Batavia on 9 March. Sergeant Hertogh was taken prisoner of war and transported to a POW camp in Japan. Adeline, 24 year old, was pregnant and expecting her sixth child in December. She and her children moved in with her mother Nor Louise, who had a good family friend, Che Aminah, a Malay-Indonesian lady, well educated and wealthy, without children of her own.

For what happened next, there are two versions.

Adeline’s version: During her confinement, Nor Louise suggested that Che Aminah should take care of Maria for a while. Reluctantly Adeline accepted, but soon after her child was born, she went on a bicycle to take Maria back. Unfortunately she had no travel permit, was caught by the Japanese police and, being an Eurasian, was taken to an internment camp where she had to stay until the end of the war. She asked Nor Louise to bring her children to the camp, but Maria could not be found.

Che Aminah’s version: Adeline had agreed to give Maria to her for adoption. She renamed the girl Nadra and gave her a Malay education. In 1943 she was circumcised, according to Muslim tradition. First they had been living in Java, but after the war, because of the military conflicts in the Dutch East Indies, they moved to Kemaman in Malaya, where she was born herself.

From left to right Adeline, Maria/Nadra and Che Aminah . The pictures were taken in 1950 in Singapore.

Sergeant Hertogh survived the POW camp and was reunited with his family after Japan surrendered, . The search for Maria was fruitless and the family went beck to the Netherlands and settled down in Bergen op Zoom. But they asked the Dutch authorities in Java and Singapore to keep looking for the girl.

In 1949 she was spotted (because of her fair complexion) at a school competition in Kemaman by a British official. He visited Che Aminah, who told him about the adoption, but could not show official adoption papers. The Dutch consulate in Singapore asked her to come to Singapore with Maria, to discuss the situation. On 12 April 1950 Che Amina and Maria traveled to Singapore, probably expecting that the adoption would be formalised.

22 April

It must have come as a shock for her that the Dutch consulate wanted Maria to go back to her biological parents, offering Che Aminah 500 Malayan dollars for “safekeeping” Maria during 8 years. When Che Aminah and Maria refused adamantly and were planning to go back to Kemaman, the Dutch consul on 22 April applied to the High Court to deliver Maria into the custody of the Social Welfare Department. The Chief Justice approved the application the same day, without hearing Che Aminah. On 24 April Maria was admitted to the Girls Homecraft Center in York Hill.

19 May

The court session to decide about the custody took place on 19 May. Che Aminah stated that it was an adoption, supported by Adelene Hunter’s brother Soewaldi. Maria wanted to stay with Che Aminah. The Dutch consulate, representing the parents had supplied information about Dutch adoption laws. After a hearing that took only 15 minutes , the Chief Judge ruled that Maria must be returned to her biological parents.

The custody case of a pretty Western Christian girl, raised in a Malay Muslim environment, had aroused a lot of public interest. Many reporters were waiting outside the Supreme Court. A car from the Dutch Consulate was waiting to take Maria away, but she refused to enter. After emotional scenes it was decided that Maria should go back to the York Hill center.

Actually the Dutch Consulate had already booked accommodation on the steamship Sorriento, due to leave Singapore on 23 May. But on 22 May the lawyers of Che Aminah filed an appeal against the judgement of the Supreme Court. Until this appeal was heard in court, Maria had to stay in the Girls Homecraft Center, where she was treated well. Che Aminah could visit her once a week. Twice she was accompanied by a young Malay man, Mansoor Adabi.

28 July

The appeal proceedings started on 12 June and the Appeal Court decided on 28 July unanimously to set aside the orders made by the Chief Justice on 22 April and 19 May. Because of procedural objections: Che Aminah had not been consulted and the Dutch Consulate was not formally representing the Hertogh family. Meaning that Maria came again under the custody of Che Aminah. Overjoyed she fetched Maria from the Girls Homecraft Center, her temporary home for more than three months.

1 August

A few days later, on 1 August, Maria, 13 years old, married Mansoor Adabi, 22 years old. They had met a few times, during her stay in the Girls Homecraft Center, and fallen in love. According to Muslim law the marriage was allowed, as she had reached puberty, although also Muslims had their doubts about the desirability of such a marriage. According to Dutch law the marriage was illegal.

In the Netherlands it was frontpage news. Here is de Telegraaf of 3 August 1950

It is a long article, generally well documented, explaining that the Appeal Court had set the original orders aside because of procedural errors. Here is a translation of the first part.

Dramatic “coup” in Singapore. Bertha Hertogh (13 years old) married off to a Malay teacher.

A new dramatic turn has taken place in the affair of thirteen-year-old Bertha Hertogh, the Dutch girl, who was entrusted to her babysitter Aminah in 1942, when her parents had to flee the Japanese and ended up in a camp. Last night she married a 22-year-old Malay teacher. The marriage took place in the home of Aminah according to the Mohammedan rite. She was introduced to her future husband only 24 hours before the wedding ceremony. She had been informed that the marriage would prevent the decision of the Appeal Court from being overturned by an appeal from her parents in Bergen op Zoom.

Of course Che Aminah was not a “baboe” (babysitter). And there was no doubt about the real affection between the two, although Che Aminah may have thought that the marriage would solve the custody problem, as Maria was now in the custody of Mansoor.

But the marriage was a mistake, because it changed a “simple” custody case into a Religion and Race issue, aggravated by colonial and anticolonial sentiments

Because the 28 July judgement didn’t settle the custody issue, of course there would be a new court case. It started with a request of the Hertogh’s to Che Aminah and Mansoor to return Maria by 10 August, failing which legal action would be taken. As Che Aminah and Mansoor felt safe by the marriage, they didn’t respond. On 26 August a lawsuit was started by the Hertogh family against Che Aminah, Maria and Mansoor.

In Singapore a support fund was started by the Muslim community, receiving donations from all over the Muslim world. Also in the Netherlands money was collected for the Hertogh family, to enable them to go to Singapore to attend the court hearings.

20 November

The court hearings started only on 20 November. There were now two issues. Was the marriage legal and who had custody of Maria.

Here is a Telegraaf report about Adeline Hertogh’s testimony on 21 November. Apparently she and consulate staff had been threatened with death by the communist party of Malacca. The emotions were running high. Keep in mind that the Malayan Emergency had started in 1948 and in 1949 the Netherlands had reluctantly accepted the independence of Indonesia.

2 December

The verdict came on 2 December: the marriage was invalid because Maria was still a Dutch citizen where marriage at the age of 13 was illegal and custody was going to the Hertogh family, because the father had never given his consent for adoption. The judge ordered that Maria should be handed over to her mother immediately.

Again emotional scenes, Maria crying, Aminah fainting, Mansoor promising that they would appeal. Outside the court the police held back a crowd of hundreds of people. A car brought Maria to the Roman Catholic Convent of the Good Shepherd, where she was going to stay until the appeal was heard. Adeline Hertogh later joined her there.

The Dutch Consulate considered the convent more convenient, but it would have been better if she had gone back to the “neutral” Girls Homecraft Center. Although public was not allowed inside the convent, reporters and photographers managed to talk with Maria and take photos.

For the Muslim supporters of Che Aminah this was a provocation, Within a few days the Nadra Action Committee was created under the leadership of Karim Gani, a Muslim political activist. On 8 December he held a speech at the Sultan Mosque in which he mentioned jihad as a final resort.

11 December

The appeal hearing was on 11 December at the Supreme Court. From early morning crowds had gathered around the court, carrying flags and banners.

The court threw out the appeal within a few minutes, confirming to the crowd that the colonial legal system was biased against Muslims.

Riots erupted almost immediately, mainly directed against Europeans and Eurasians. It was only on 13 December that the authorities got back control. A two week curfew followed. Here is the frontpage of the Straits Times of 12 December. Also two photos of firemen and burning vehicles.

Eighteen people, including seven Europeans and Eurasians, were killed. 173 others were injured. Two buildings had been burnt and 119 vehicles were damaged.

On the evening after the judgment Maria could not go back to the convent because the rioters tried to attack it. York Hill was an option but finally she was sent to pass the night on Saint John’s Island, four miles south of Singapore. The next day Maria and her mother flew back to Schiphol airport, where another crowd welcomed them.

And here is her welcome in Bergen op Zoom.

Aftermath

As you may expect, after such a traumatic youth, life would not always be easy. At first Maria could not leave the house in Bergen op Zoom, it was guarded by the police because the authorities were worried about a possible kidnapping. A nun visited her daily to teach her Dutch language. Later she went to a catholic school. The relationship with Adeline remained strained.

In 1955, 18 year old , she married and had 10 children. She helped her husband in a bar. She kept longing for Malaysia and Che Aminah. In 1975 a TV program was broadcast on Dutch TV about her. It included interviews with people in Kemaman and also with Mansoor Adabi, now happily married. Did it break her? She got involved in a weird plot to kill her husband, but it was foiled in time. Not surprisingly she divorced.

She married twice more and in 1998 visited Kemaman, but both Che Aminah and Mansoor had passed away already.

Maria Hertogh died in 2009, 72 years old, from leukemia

A few months before her death, she made a statement. Click on the photo to listen.

Searching information for this post, I came across the book Tangled Worlds, published in 1980 by Tom Eames Hughes. He was head of the Singapore Social Welfare Department  in 1950 and directly involved. Very readable, unbiased, and mostly firsthand knowledge. Available as e-book.

The Game of Life

Last month the English mathematician John Conway passed away at the age of 80. His name may not be familiar to many of you, but he was the inventor of the Game of Life, in 1970. For several years I have been interested in this game. A suitable time to write a blog about it.

When Conway was still an undergraduate at Cambridge University in the sixties, he became interested in “recreational” mathematics and got in contact with Martin Gardner, who had a popular column “Mathematical Games” in the Scientific American. In October 1970 Gardner published in this column The fantastic combinations of John Conway’s new solitaire game “life” Read here and here interviews with Conway about how he invented the game and that for a long time he actually hated it.

The game is played on a grid of adjoining cells, which can be either alive (black) or dead (white). Each cell is surrounded by eight neighbouring cells and what happens to a cell depends on how many neighbours are alive. These are the rules:

1. When a living cell has 0 or 1 living neighbours, it will die.
2. A living cell with 2 or 3 living neighbours will stay alive.
3. A living cell with 4 or more living neighbours will die.
4. A dead cell with exactly 3 living neighbours will become alive.

With zero or one neighbours you will die from loneliness, with four or more neighbours you die from overcrowding. With two or three neighbours you survive and when there are three parents around, a new baby is born. It looks a bit like life πŸ˜‰

Of course other rules are also possible and it took Conway considerable time to find rules that gave interesting results. As there were hardly any computers in those days, they used a go board to follow the development of (simple) patterns!

Here are a few simple examples to show how the rules work. I have indicated the number of living neighbours in each cell. Living cells that will survive have a yellow number, those that will die have a red one. An empty cells with three neighbours gets a blue number. After the start pattern I have only marked the cells with get a colored number.

Two patterns have died, two became stable (one of them oscillating).

Here is a pattern of 5 cells. Again I count the number of neighbours, using the same colours, blue, yellow and red for birth, life and death. After 4 generations the original pattern appears again, but diagonally shifted one cell! This pattern has got a name, it is called a glider, it will continue moving diagonally

This pattern of 5 cells is very similar, with only the leftmost cell shifted to the right, but the behaviour is very different! It “explodes” rather chaotically, grows to a maximum of more than 200 cells and finally becomes stable after 1103 generations with 116 living cells, including 6 gliders (notice that three of them are escaping at t = 150). This configuration is called the R-pentonimo .

Of course you can not follow the development of such a pattern with pen and paper or a go-board. You need a computer. In those days they were huge and expensive machines. Here is a PDP-7 computer similar to the one used by Conway. The right picture shows the display screen running a life pattern. Click here for a video. The computers were still so slow that Conway was only able to follow the development of the R-pentomino until t = 460, when the article was published.

Here are a few more interesting patterns. This one is called a Heavyweight spaceship. It moves, like the glider, but orthogonally, two cells in 4 steps.

And here are three oscillators. From left to right Figure Eight (period 8), Pulsar (period 3) and Fumarole (period 5)

The publication in the Scientific American aroused a frenzy of interest among professional mathematicians and amateurs alike. Conway thought himself that no pattern could grow indefinitely and offered a prize of 50 dollar to the first person who could prove or disprove this conjecture before the end of 1970.

It took only a couple of weeks before an MIT group constructed a pattern that generates a glider every 30 moves. therewith proving that patterns can grow indefinitely. It is called the Gosper Glider Gun. and one of the many guns that have been found since then. Keep in mind that all this is the result of 4 simple rules πŸ˜‰ .

Fifty years have passed since Conway’s invention of the Game of Life, and there is still considerable interest, leading to new interesting patterns every year. There exists a comprehensive Life Wiki, similar to Wikipedia, containing at the moment more than 2100 articles. Here is the main page of the wiki.

Notice at the right a list of pattern categories. The Wiki contains at the moment more than 1350 pattern pages. Each page gives a description of the pattern and an option to watch the development of the pattern, by launching the so-called Lifeviewer at the right side of each page. I have linked the patterns described above to the corresponding Wiki page.

There is a yearly competition for the Pattern of the Year . Here are a few winners :

  • David Hilbert (2019) , 122 cells an oscillator with period 23
  • Sir Robin (2018) , 282 cells, a spaceship moving in an oblique direction
  • Lobster (2011), 83 cells, another spaceship, diagonally moving

Not always use the creators fancy names. Here is the p416 60P5H2V0 gun (left image) It has 26342 cells and fires gliders from four directions which collide in such a way that every 416 generations a 60P5H2V0 spaceship (right image) is produced. The center image shows a just completed spaceship, while gliders are already approaching to form a new one. Fascinating. When you click on the image, you can watch a YouTube video of the process.

You can play with the Lifeviewer , by clicking the image below. You start with a blank grid, where you can draw any pattern you like. The Lifeviewer is versatile and powerful, it may take some time to get to know all the options, just give it a try!

Let me finish this post with a few general remarks.

  • The Game of Life is deterministic but unpredictable. Simple rules lead to complex behavior. All my life that has been a topic of great interest to me.
  • When I got my first desktop computer, in the eighties, I wrote my own Game of Life program, in Pascal and partly in Assembler. I took part in a competition. No prize but a honourable mention that my program was very fast. Nowadays a lot of software exists, powerful and of course much faster. Golly is the most popular one, you can download it here.
  • The Game of Life is much more than a collection of beautiful patterns. It has been shown by Conway himself that the Game of Life is a Universal Turing Machine, it can perform any calculation that a computer can do. The Pi-calculator calculates the decimal digits of Ο€ , the Primer uses the Sieve of Eratosthenes to determine the prime numbers. AND and OR gates can be constructed, etc.
  • The Game of life is an example of what is called a Cellular Automaton.
  • Martin Gardner has written three columns about the Game of Life. Here is the pdf-file with all three articles.

Lockdown!

On Monday night, 16 March 2020, the Prime Minister of Malaysia announced in a live telecast that the country would go on lockdown Wednesday 18 March, because of the increasing number of Covid-19 infections in the country. A very strict lockdown, schools and borders (even interstate) would be closed, people had to work from home, only essential shops (groceries, pharmacies, etc) would remain open. People had to stay at home, no outdoor exercise, no social visits allowed. It was called a Movement Control Order (MCO)

In this post I will give an impression about our life the past 2 months.

The next day there was a rush on supermarkets and groceries, to buy food. We were a bit late, many shelves were empty already.

That day was also my last chance to visit Bukit Kiara. This time I walked in the lower part of the park (green line). The prison fence in red.

The first day of the lockdown. Visiting a supermarket to buy food was still allowed, so I walked to Tesco, carpark almost empty. Not much useful stock left in Tesco, because many people had been panic buying. Other shops closed, also next door IKEA and Mcdonalds.

We managed to buy some canned food, crackers, maggi mee, just in case there would be a shortage.

People were advised to wear masks when going out. Although I was personally not convinced that it would help, we went with the flow.

But our supply of masks was very limited. Hin, a Kiara friend of mine, had ordered a few boxes, and I could buy one from him. A transaction without physical contact, I drove to his house where the box was waiting for me on a pillar next to his gate. Payment online πŸ˜‰ .

We were not allowed to receive visitors in our condo. So, for many weeks I didn’t talk to anybody, except the occasional cashier in the supermarket. I don’t think I would have managed without Aric. Whatsapp also helped, I spent many hours a day chatting with family and friends. Physical distancing led to social bonding! But still I had a few days of depression.

Most of our shopping we did in the Jaya supermarket, about 500 m from our condo. After the first days of “hoarding”, stock was generally sufficient. When I went shopping I always walked, to have at least some exercise.

Supermarkets had introduced a door policy, limiting the number of customers, measuring their temperature and sometimes providing them with plastic gloves. It resulted in sometimes large queues, but as a senior citizen I didn’t have to queue!

To have more exercise I sometimes walked to Tesco about 2.5 km one way. The first time I was a bit worried about the police, as they were sometimes overreacting. One senior citizen had been arrested because he was walking to the grocery, 300 meter from his home, wearing sport shoes. Read the report here. But nothing happened to me (I was wearing sandals haha)

Regarding food, before the lockdown it was our usual routine to go out for dinner a few times a week, or order food to be delivered, and only prepare food ourselves one or two times a week. But now all restaurants were closed and Aric was reluctant to have food delivered by Grab or Panda, because of the hypothetical risk of infection. So from 18 March until last week, we have been preparing dinner ourselves every day!

Here is a selection of dishes prepared by Aric. Mostly Chinese cuisine, from the nice composition you can see that he is a designer πŸ™‚

Here is a selection of my “creations” , Italian food and traditional Dutch fare.

With so much nice food and without my usual hiking in Bukit Kiara, it was no wonder that I gained some weight during the past period.

Did I do anything else beside eating and chatting? Yes, I watched a lot of movies. I am a fan of Pier Paolo Pasolini and many of his films can be downloaded from the Internet. I watched Edipo Re (1967), Teorema (1968), Porcile (1969), Arabian Nights (1974) and a few more.

Another favourite of mine is the Taiwanese film director Tsai Ming Liang . I watched Rebels of the Neon God (1992), Vive l’Amour (1994), The River (1997) and The Hole (1998). I am now watching I don’t want to sleep alone (2007), shot in Malaysia and originally banned here because it showed the country “in a bad light”.

Two more films I watched and (only) one book I read. Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979) is a religious satire about Brian, a Jewish boy, who is born on the same day as Jesus and is mistaken for the Messiah. It was so controversial that it was banned in several countries and I had never watched it, although I was a big fan of Monty Python. Hilarious movie.

Not hilarious at all, actually quite scary, is the movie Contagion (2011) . It describes quite accurately a virus outbreak similar to the Covid-19 pandemic. Contact tracing, fomites, the frantic efforts to develop a vaccine.

I was planning to read more, but I only finished one book. 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari, the author of two bestsellers, Sapiens and Homo Deus. The book was published in 2018, before the Covid-19 pandemic, otherwise he would probably have added a 22nd lesson, read for example this article written by him: In the Battle Against Coronavirus, Humanity Lacks Leadership.

I also tried to blog, but I was not always in the mood. I only published one post about an unknown opera from Domenico Scarlatti. So unknown, that it took me a long time to Google for information. Here is the result, click on the image to go to the blog.

Of course I followed the news about Covid-19, especially in Malaysia and the Netherlands. Here are two graphs (from the Worldometers site). It is interesting to compare them. First of all, the vertical scales are different! Many more people have been infected in the Netherlands than in Malaysia. When you take into account the difference in population (Malaysia has almost twice as many people), the difference becomes even more dramatic. Per 1 million people Malaysia has ( as per 17 May) 213 infections and 3 deaths, compared to the Netherlands 2561 infections and 331 deaths.

Another conspicuous difference is the shape of the graph. You expect a bell-shaped curve (for many years already I am planning to write a blog about exponential growth and S-curves) , for the Netherlands that is roughly the case, but not for Malaysia, where there is a sudden start of infections around 17 March. An explanation can be found here.

On 17 April I celebrated my 76th birthday. A lockdown birthday, no visitors of course. But a few days before my birthday I received an email “16282 is out for delivery” from a company selling liquor. As I had not ordered anything, I thought it might be spam and didn’t pay attention to it. So I was very surprised that GDEX actually delivered a package with a nice bottle of whisky! Turned out to be a present from our UK friend Rodney! Very much appreciated πŸ˜‰ . Aric surpassed himself by preparing a sublime meal and baking a delicious birthday cake.

The first MCO was for two weeks, but it was extended by the government several times. On 1 May the Prime Minister announced that from 4 May some of the regulations would be relaxed, the Conditional MCO . For me the most important relaxation was that we were again allowed to be outside , walk and exercise. Immediately I started walking around our condo. No jungle, but at least green and refreshing.

Unfortunately Bukit Kiara still remains closed, but it is possible to hike in North Kiara. Of course keeping social distance πŸ™‚

The CMCO has been extended until 9 June. If any new developments happen, I will update this post

An opera and some history

Domenico Scarlatti (1685 – 1757) is nowadays mainly known for his 555 keyboard sonatas. Click here for a nice collection. His father Alessandro specialised in operas (114!) and that may have been a reason that young Domenico wrote one himself, in 1703 when he was 18 years old.

Here is the opera L’Ottavia restituita al Trono (Octavia returned to the throne).

Pleasing music, fresh and youthful. It is a concertante recording, seven singers, no stage, no choir.

I listened several times to the recording, trying to understand the “plot”with the help of the (French) subtitles.

The main characters are Nero, Octavia and Poppaea. Nero, Emperor of Rome is sung by a countertenor. Octavia, his divorced wife and Poppaea, his future bride , are both sung by sopranos.

Floro is a Prince of Epirus and Rosilda his wife/bride. They were shipwrecked and got separated. Both are sung by sopranos (Floro in travesti)

Two supporting roles. Dorillo is a young servant of Floro, sung by a sopranist (a male soprano). And Belisa, an elderly female, is sung by a tenor!

So the three male parts, Nero, Floro and Dorillo, are performed by a countertenor, a soprano and a sopranist, whereas the female role of Belisa is sung by a tenor. No wonder that at first hearing I was confused.

The first performance of the opera took place in November 1703 in Naples. Apparently the work received a favorable reception, but later it has fallen into complete oblivion until recently. The original libretto has been preserved, but the music was thought to be lost, until copies of almost all arias were found in the library of the Naples Conservatory. Based on this material, two Italian musicologists, Antonio Florio and Alessandro Ciccolini, have made a reconstruction of the opera. It was performed in 2007, with Antonio Florio himself conducting.

Before giving a summary of the opera , here is some historical background.

Nero, Octavia and Poppaea are historical characters during the Roman empire. Nero was born in 37 AD and married Claudia Octavia in 53 AD when he was 16 years old and she 14. One year later , at the age of 17, he became Emperor of the Roman Empire. Octavia became Empress and was widely respected by the Roman citizen body. But their marriage was unhappy and Nero soon got mistresses. One of them was Poppaea Sabina, seven years his senior, and an ambitious schemer. When she became pregnant in AD 62 he divorced Octavia and almost immediately married Poppaea. Octavia was banned to the island of Pandateria. The citizens of Rome protested so strongly that Nero almost remarried Octavia, but instead he decided, supported (urged?) by Poppaea, that she should be killed. She was 23 years old and, according to the historian Tacitus, she was decapitated. In this painting (Giovanni Muzzioli – 1876 ) Poppaea presents Octavia’s head to Nero.

From the title “Octavia returned to the throne” , you may guess already that the content of Scarlatti’s opera is not historically accurate. The opera consist of three acts, although in the recording there is no interval between them.

———————————————–
Act I

Octavia is back in Rome, disguised as a shepherdess and planning revenge against Poppaea. Nero is going to get married to Poppaea, but also charmed by every nice lady he meets. And Poppaea loves Nero, but she is concerned about the negative reaction of the Roman people and willing to give up her position as empress.
Floro tells Nero about his shipwreck and is appointed as captain of the army. Belisa introduces Rosilda to Nero who is charmed by her beauty, much to Poppaea’s concern. Floro recognises Rosilda and is worried too about Nero’s avances. He decides to hide his identity to Rosilda and “become” Clearque . The act ends with a hilarious duet between Belisa and Dorillo. Belisa fancies Dorillo, who is not interested. Click on the picture to hear the duet.

———————————————–
Act II

Nero and Clearque meet a shepherdess, not realising it is Octavia. She tells Nero her sad fate and that she is looking for revenge. Nero is charmed by her beauty and tells Clearque that it is no problem to love more than one. He tells the same to Poppaea, who is furious about his interest in Rosilda. When Nero meets Rosilda, he tries to flirt with her. She resists and asks Clearque to help her.
Octavia is ready to take her revenge on Poppaea, who is complaining and sad about what is happening. When she falls asleep, Octavia prepares to kill her, but Nero arrives in time to prevent it. Octavia flees and Poppaea blames Nero, who promises to find and punish the shepherdess.
Clearque finds Octavia and after he discovers that they both have a grudge against Nero, he decides to help her. This act ends with another funny duet between Dorillo and Belisa. Click on the picture for the duet.

———————————————–
Act III

Octavia tells Clearque who she is and tells him that he can help her by raising the anger of the people and tell Nero that the only solution is to take back Octavia. Later she meets Belisa, who is looking for Dorillo, and also tells her who she is, asking Belisa for help. Belisa advises Octavia to hide in a garden where Poppaea and Nero will meet.

In the garden Octavia attacks Poppaea, Poppaea defends herself, and again Nero arrives in time. Clearque tells Nero that the people are revolting and want his death unless he takes back Octavia back on the throne. Nero laments that, still loving Poppaea, he has to give her up. Poppaea says that she will give up her position.

Clearque is finally convinced of Rosilda’s faithfulness and reveals to her that he is actually Floro. Both are happy. Nero asks Floro to call Octavia, he apologises to her for his behaviour. She suggest that he go back to Poppaea, but Floro says again that the people want her back. Then she accepts to come back to Nero, for the love of the country , although he is not worth it. Poppaea is not jealous and Octavia forgives her. Finally all (including Poppaea !) sing about the triumph of the God of Love.

———————————————–

When you have read the above summary of the opera, I think you will agree with me that there is hardly anything in it that is historically correct. Yes, the fear of Nero for a revolt of the people. What I found surprising is that Poppaea, considered by most historians as an ambitious, ruthless schemer , is here portrayed as being considerate, genuinely in love with Nero, whereas it is Octavia who , by hook and by crook, wants to get back her position as empress. Nero comes across as a womanizer who is ultimately only interested in his own survival.

A few more comments

  1. The (infamous) Nero period of the Roman Empire must have fascinated composers. In 1643, Monteverdi wrote the opera L’incoronazione di Poppea (The Coronation of Poppaea), based more or less on the historical events. This opera is performed regularly, here is a beautiful recording by the Monteverdi Choir. And in 1704 Handel wrote the opera Nero, the music of which has been lost, only the libretto survived.
  2. Bach, Handel and Scarlatti were all three born in 1685. Bach never wrote an opera, Scarlatti only a few, Handel about fifty! In 1709 he wrote the opera Agrippina about Nero’s mother. Here is a brilliant modern recording by an American ensemble Ars Lyrica Houston
  3. Almost no information exists on the Internet about Scarlatti’s opera. Finally I found this useful link: OTTAVIA, 300 anni fa… It is written in Italian, I needed Google Translate πŸ˜‰ As far as I know only one recording of the opera exists on YouTube, I found two arias, not related to this recording, a duet between Poppaea and Nero and an aria by Belisa That’s all.
  4. A bit more history. Nero murdered Agrippina in 59 AD. And in 65 AD, in a fit of rage, he trampled on the belly of pregnant Poppaea, killing her. Nero went in deep mourning and two years later married the boy Sporus, who resembled Poppaea, after having him castrated. Nero committed suicide in 68 AD , 31 year old.

It was a real pleasure, although time consuming, to find out more about this delightful “little” opera. Hopefully it will be performed more often.

Musical Nostalgia

Followers of my blog know that I love Western classical music. My blog category Music has 16 posts about Bach, Mozart, Chopin and others. But that doesn’t mean I am not interested in other kinds of music πŸ˜‰ .

My interest in “pop music” started in the late sixties when I was studying in Amsterdam. Those were exciting years, there was an atmosphere of optimism that a new era had arrived. Flower Power, Hippies, May 68, Woodstock

It influenced me. Although I remained basically a “nerd”, I did grow my hair, took part in anti Vietnam war demonstrations, wore a ban-the-bomb necklace and watched the Maagdenhuis riots (from a safe distance haha). Here are two photos , illustrating how I changed πŸ™‚

Soft drugs were getting popular in those days, I was too shy to experiment with them, but I liked the relaxed atmosphere of Melkweg and Paradiso, where regularly concerts were given by underground bands, playing psychedelic music. Often liquid light shows were given during a concert, on a huge screen above the stage. This YouTube clip gives an impression.

In those days I started to buy LP records of bands and singers I liked and I still have them. Most of them are not really playable anymore, but nowadays you can listen to most of these albums on YouTube.

I have taken pictures of a number of these LP-covers and present them here with some information. Clicking on the album title links to the full album on YouTube, and when you click on the cover , a song from that album will be played .

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Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan (debut album) (1962)

The times, they are a-changin’ (1964)

Bringing it all back home (1965)

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The Mamas & The Papas

The Mamas & The Papas Deliver (1967)

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Country Joe and The Fish

I feel like I’m fixin’ to die (1967)

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Jefferson Airplane

Surrealistic Pillow (1967)

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Pearls Before Swine

One Nation Underground (1967)

Balaklava (1968)

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Pink Floyd

The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967)

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Van Morrison

Astral Weeks (1968)

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Dr John the Nighttripper

Gris Gris (1968)

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The Flying Burrito Brothers

The Gilded Palace of Sin (1969)

The Flying Burrito Bros (1971)

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Crosby, Stills & Nash

Crosby, Stills & Nash (1969)

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The Soft Machine

Volume Two (1969)

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Neil Young

Everybody knows this is nowhere (1969)

After the Gold Rush 1970

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Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

DΓ©ja Vu (1970)

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The Band

Stage Fright (1970)

Cahoots (1971)

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David Bowie

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972)

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The Cure

Boys don’t cry (1980)

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Japan

Gentlemen Take Polaroids (1980)

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Talking Heads

Remain in Light (1980)

Naked (1986)

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Joe Jackson

Night and Day (1982)

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UB40

More UB40 Music (1983) compilation

Rat in the Kitchen (1986)

Most of the LP records (18) are from the period 1967 -1972. I still think back with nostalgia to that period of my life. Here is a video from the Woodstock festival in 1969, with Country Joe singing I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die . It gives a good impression of the atmosphere in those years.

In 1969 I was doing research for my thesis, but also I went on holidays to Morocco, my first “exotic” destination, an unforgettable experience. One year later , in Rotterdam the Kralingse Bos festival was held, with the Jefferson Airplane, Soft Machine, Country Joe, Pink Floyd and many others. Did I go? No, because I thought I might not fit in.

Maybe I was right, but until this day I regret that I didn’t go.

Betelgeuse

Most of you will know the constellation of Orion. Here is an image taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. The bright reddish star, forming the left shoulder of the Hunter, is called Betelgeuse. Recently this star has been in the news, because there were indications that it might explode in the (near) future.

With the present level of light pollution, it is often difficult to observe the colors of stars, and you will see only the brightest. Of course a star closer to the Sun will look brighter than a star many hundreds of lightyears away. Taking the distance into account, astronomers can determine the intrinsic brightness of a star, called the luminosity. When you plot the luminosity of stars against their color, you get the diagram below. It’s called the Hertzsprung–Russell diagram, named after the two astronomers who created it around 1910.

As you see, the diagram has a lot of structure and it has helped astronomers a lot to understand how stars evolve. The vertical axis gives the luminosity, in units of the Solar luminosity, while the horizontal axis gives the surface temperature of the star, which is directly related to its color. Notice that the temperature decreases from left to right.

The position of some well-known stars is indicated. Of course our Sun, a yellowish star. Betelgeuse can be found in the upper right corner. it has a luminosity of ~ 100.000 times the Sun ! It is a so-called Red Supergiant Star. A giant star, it’s size is about 900 times the size of the Sun. If it would replace the Sun, we would be swallowed, it would extend to the orbit of Jupiter. The reddish color means that its surface temperature is about 3000K

There are also Blue Supergiant Stars. An example is Rigel, also in Orion (his right leg) with a surface temperature of 11000 K. And there exist White Dwarf Stars, with a size 0.1-0.01 times the Sun, and Giant Stars.

Along the diagonal in the HR diagram you will find the Main Sequence Stars. Most stars are located in this band. Here is a plot of 23000 individual stars in the HR diagram

To understand what will happen in the (near) future to Betelgeuse, I must explain a bit about how stars are formed and how they evolve. Stars are born when clouds of interstellar matter (mainly hydrogen and helium) contract as a result of their own gravity. This contraction increases the temperature in the interior of the cloud until the core becomes so hot ( about 15 million Kelvin) that fusion of hydrogen becomes possible. The energy and radiation from this fusion stops the gravitational contraction, a star is born! Here is a very simplified picture of the fusion process.

Let’s look at the star nearest to us, our Sun, It was born about 4.6 billion years ago, and its total lifetime is estimated to be around 10 billion year, so at the moment it is about halfway its life. Here is a sketch, the fusion takes place in the core, the radiation is transported to the surface (photosphere), resulting for the Sun in a surface temperature of about 5800 K and an orange color.

For a heavier star than the Sun, the inward pressure due to its gravity is stronger, so the counter pressure of the fusion in the core must also be stronger to create a balance. Here are some of the effects:

  • The star is bigger and brighter
  • Its core temperature is higher, the “burning” of hydrogen faster
  • The surface temperature is higher, the color more blueish/whitish
  • The lifetime of the star will be shorter

Here is an example: Sirius, the brightest star in the sky. Its mass is two times the mass of the Sun. Compared to the Sun, its radius is 1.7 times larger, its luminosity 25 times larger, its surface temperature is almost 10.000 Kelvin and its lifetime is only about 240 million years. Heavier stars will live even shorter.

We can now explain the Main Sequence in the HR diagram. It is the location of all “normal” stars, who are burning hydrogen in their core. At the lower right we find the low-mass stars, sometimes called red dwarfs , who burn their hydrogen so slowly that their lifetime is many hundred billions of years, longer than the current age of the Universe! At the top left, high-mass stars burn their hydrogen so fast, that in spite of their large mass they have lifetimes of only a few million(!) years.

What happens after the hydrogen fuel in the stellar core is exhausted? That depends on the mass of the star. We will concentrate in this post on the high mass stars (more than 8-10 solar masses), because Betelgeuse is one of them.

In these massive stars, after all hydrogen in the core has been fused into helium, gravitation will contract the core further, raising its temperature, until helium starts fusing into carbon. At the same time the outer layers of the star expand dramatically, while cooling. The star enters its (red) supergiant phase.

The triple-alpha process, as it is called, generates less energy than the hydrogen fusion. Three helium nuclei fuse into on carbon nucleus. Another simplified image.

When the core has fused into carbon, the process repeats. Gravitation contracts the core, its temperature increases , and another fusion process starts, leading to a neon core. Next an oxygen core, a silicon core and finally an iron core. Here is a sketch. A few comments. Notice the difference in scale. The outer layers of the red giant extend to the orbit of Jupiter, whereas the core has about the size of Earth! As you see, the central core is surrounded by layers of lower temperature where still fusion of hydrogen helium, etcetera is going on. It’s like the layers of an onion.

The red supergiant phase doesn’t last long, astronomically speaking, the energy of these fusion processes is much less than the hydrogen fusion. Here is an estimate of the time spent in each of the phases for a star of 25 solar masses. Notice the columns for temperature and density.

When the core has become iron , no more energy can be obtained from fusion and the end of the star is near. Gravity will finally win, the core implodes into a neutron star or a black hole while the outer layers are blown away in a cataclysmic explosion. It is called a (Type II) supernova. During a couple of weeks, the supernova may outshine the galaxy it belongs to and release more energy than the Sun during its whole lifetime. If the supernova is not too far away from us, it may become the brightest star in the sky, even visible during daylight. It looks like a new star (nova = new in Latin), but actually we are watching the last throes of a dying star.

Supernovas are extremely rare, they occur about once every 50 years in a galaxy the size of the Milky Way. A few have been recorded in human history, nowadays many more have been observed in other galaxies. In 1054, Chinese astronomers observed a new star, so bright that during a few weeks it was visible during daylight. Their accurate description made it possible for modern astronomers to conclude that it was a supernova (SN1054) and to identify the Crab Nebula as the remnant of this supernova. Here is the Crab Nebula. At its center a neutron star has been found, the Crab Pulsar.

Click here for a list of supernovae that are of historical significance. The most recent one in our own Milky Way galaxy was Kepler’s Star, observed in 1604, more than 400 years ago!

Time to go back to Betelgeuse. As mentioned in the beginning of this post, it is a red supergiant star at a distance of about 640 lightyear from us. Its mass is about 12 solar masses and its estimated lifetime about 8 million year. It has fused all the hydrogen in its core and is now burning helium in its core. Here is a computer animation of how Betelgeuse might look like.

The gigantic (convection) bubbles are characteristics for this kind of stars. Our Sun has them too, but on a much smaller scale.

Betelgeuse is a variable star, it changes its brightness in a rather irregular way. Here is a graph showing the brightness of Betelgeuse between 1990 and now..

From the right part of this graph you may understand why first astronomers and later the media and the general public became so excited about Betelgeuse. Starting October 2019, the star began to fade more than usual, and by the end of January 2020 it had dropped almost a factor 3 in brightness. A very noticeable difference, here are two photos.

Could it be that this dimming was a signal that Betelgeuse was on its way to become a supernova? It would be a spectacular event, the star might become as bright as the moon and be visible in daylight for many weeks. A harmless event too, the distance of 640 lightyear is too far away. By the way, light from Betelgeuse takes 640 year to reach us, so it could have been exploded already, without us knowing it yet πŸ˜‰ .

Here is an example of a newspaper headline, in this case the Daily Mail , 23 December last year.

Not surprisingly observers from all over the world have been looking at Betelgeuse the last few months, as you can see in the graph below, notice the density of observations in the last three months :-).

I am sure it must have been a disappointment for many that the last month, the fading stopped and Betelgeuse started to become brighter again.

The last few weeks scientific papers are appearing with possible explanations for the unusual dimming. Probably it has been caused by dust. Supergiant stars regularly spew out some of their material into space, where it may condense into grainy particles, temporarily blocking the light of the star.

So, no supernova? Well, on the long term, it will. Betelgeuse is dying and will go supernova. That can happen in our lifetime, but it can also take 100.000 years or even more (see the table above with lifetimes of the various fusing phase).

I will end this post with two short paragraphs about related topics.

  1. This blog is about massive stars. Our Sun, a dwarf star, has not enough mass to become a supernova. After exhausting the hydrogen in its core (in about 5-6 billion year) , it will start fusing helium into carbon and oxygen and become a red giant star, swallowing the inner planets, Earth included. But there the fusion stops. Gravity takes over, and the Sun will end as a white dwarf.
  2. In massive stars, fusion ends when the core has become iron & nickel, because further fusion would need energy instead of releasing it. However, during the supernova explosion so much energy is released that elements heavier than iron can be created. Our Sun is a second-generation star, it was formed from an interstellar cloud that contained, besides hydrogen and helium, already material from earlier supernovae. Earth and everything in it, consists of atoms that have been formed in the interior of stars. We are Star Children, each atom in our body (except hydrogen), has been created inside a star!

Taiping, 20-24 February 2020

In a recent post, I reported about a trip to Kuala Selangor with our UK friend Rodney. He had also never visited Taiping, my 2nd hometown.! A good reason to plan a short trip, only 3D2N, because he was flying back to UK on 24 February. A bit too short for me, so I booked 2 nights in Furama for Aric and Rodney, and two more nights for me. Therefore this report is in two parts πŸ™‚

We started early on 20 February, because our first destination was Penang. Rodney’s longtime Malaysian partner, Keng, had passed away in the UK, a few months earlier and Rodney had brought his ashes to scatter them in the sea near Penang, where Keng was born. We had offered to help and support him.

On our way North we had breakfast in Tanjung Malim. We had half-boiled eggs with ice coffee, where the ice was made of coffee in the shape of a heart, so it would not dilute the coffee, while melting. A clever trick.

Traffic was smooth, we reached Penang in time to have lunch at the Taman Emas restaurant we had visited before, with good char kuey teow and assam laksa.

We continued to Teluk Bahang near the northwestern tip of Penang Island, where Aric had, with the help of a friend, booked a boat.

We had bought yellow and white chrysanthemum flowers to scatter with the ashes.

It was a simple, moving farewell ceremony.

The road ends here. There used to be a restaurant here, aptly named The End of the World.

From Teluk Bahang we drove back to Taiping, where we arrived in hotel Furama around 4 pm. After a short rest we walked to the nearby Lake Gardens. Usually it rains in the afternoon in Taiping, but this time it was beautiful weather. We enjoyed the tranquil atmosphere.

A few more pictures. Top right flowers of the Rain Trees (Samanea Saman) that border the Lake. Bottom left the fruits of the Cannon Ball Tree, not all Taipingites may be aware that a few of these strange trees are growing in the Lake Gardens.

The sunset was very nice. Look at this picture, isn’t it beautiful? The Lake Gardens are fascinating, any time of the day.

Compare it with this video. The famous Chinese Pagoda Bridge in the Lake Gardens has been recently decorated with gaudy LED-lights. Many people are happy with it, personally I think it doesn’t go well with the atmosphere of the Lake Gardens. Feel free to comment.

After this long day we had our dinner at the outdoor food court of Prima. With beer, satay, rojak, otak otak and other delicacies.

The next morning we started with breakfast in a small hawker center near my hotel, often called the Circus Ground by locals, because in earlier days circus shows were given here. The grassy field in the center is surrounded by palm trees and recently “decorated” with “I Love Taiping”. Hmm. We had delicious Chee Cheong Fun in the stall of my friend Mr Tong, 4th (!) generation owner.

Our morning program was to visit the Ayer Hitam waterfall, near Batu Kurau, the rural backyard of Taiping. My last visit was three years ago, it is a 45 minute drive from town. Approaching the trail head, I got a bit worried because quite a lot of development had taken place, a new resort was still under construction. Notice the concrete reinforcement of the river slopes!

The road ends at a small water catchment where we parked our car. Fortunately the trail was still unspoiled, although I noticed some work going on to widen the trail.

It is only a 20 minutes walk on a clear, partly cemented trail, to have a view of the waterfall. From there a small trail brings you in a few minutes down to the base of the fall.

A short video of the impressive and still pristine waterfall. Better don’t wait too long to visit this fall, before “development” takes over.

It was an easy half-day trip, we were back in town for lunch at the Yut Sun restaurant in Jalan Pasar. Of course we had the famous Hainanese Chicken Chop πŸ™‚ .

After a long rest in our hotel, we drove to Kuala Sepetang (former Port Weld). It has become quite touristic, but when you cross the river on a pedestrian bridge to the other side, it is still quite unspoiled. From the bridge you have a good view of the fishing village.

We walked the (only) street until the end, to a big Taoist temple, the Shang Di temple, dedicated to the Emperor of Heaven. Recently built, maybe because the villagers have more income these days? Richly decorated with a huge statue of the Dragon Turtle.

Beautiful tile tableaus, illustrating the dangers of the sea and the importance of paying respect to the gods.

We stayed quite some time at a jetty, watching the sunset and the traffic on the river. Very relaxing.

On our way back to Taiping we stopped in Matang for dinner. There are a few popular seafood restaurants in this small village. We chose the Light House Seafood restaurant where we had a nice seafood porridge.

Almost back in our hotel we came across a Hindu procession. A chariot was pulled by two impressive buffalos. Asking which deity was venerated, I was told that it was Shiva Lingam. I leave it to the reader to find out what a lingam is πŸ™‚ .

Of course I had to show Rodney the mural of Amelia Earhart, the famous American aviator, commemorating that she had landed In Taiping on 20 June 1937 to refuel. A beautiful mural, only problem is that she never did! Read more in my two posts Amelia Earhart and Taiping and Amelia and Taiping (Part Two) .

The next morning we decided to have our breakfast in Casual Market. But before walking there, we first made a detour to have a look at a bungalow, a few hundred meter from the hotel.

Why? Mr Foo, working at Furama and, like me, interested in Taiping and its history, had told me about this bungalow, that until a few months ago it was almost completely invisible because of “jungle” surrounding it. Now the land had been cleared and a beautiful bungalow had come into view. Abandoned, but still in good condition. Built in 1932.

Here is a close-up of the bungalow and a screenshot from Google Street View, taken last year. You can just see part of the roof. An interesting discovery, I know more about its history, but will keep that for another post.

We didn’t take my usual route to Casual Market and passed on our way a small Chinese temple, which I had never noticed before. Notice that the “deities” are wearing a songkok! It is a so-called Datuk Kong temple. A mixture of Chinese folk religion with Malay influences, there are many of them in Malaysia. The right picture shows the Peace Hotel, opposite the Casual Market. Built in 1928, it has a rich history. Nowadays there are food stalls on the ground floor.

Stairs lead up to the first floor. As far as I know that is the domain of the ladies of the night πŸ™‚ . I climbed up to have a look, didn’t meet any ladies, but the wooden interior was nice.

Casual Market is another favourite food court of mine. There are two popular stalls with Char Keow Teow, this time I chose the fishball version.

After our breakfast I showed Rodney and Aric a few of the heritage sites of Taiping, both the positive and the negative ones. Here is the Central Market of Taiping, an iconic building (1884/85).

There are several separate sections. Left a stall in the pork market, I wonder how old this stall is. Right the fish market.

Front view of the Market. Good news, there are plans (and funds!) to restore the market in its old glory (not like Pasar Seni in KL, I hope).

Taiping has many famous schools. This is Saint Georgius Institute (SGI), one of them.

To be honest, it is the mixture of restoration and decay that attracts me in my 2nd hometown… πŸ™‚ . Left the attractive restoration of the Ceylon Association Building. Right the remains of the Rest House.

The government buildings next to the Rest House are still easily accessible. Am I too negative in suspecting that the authorities leave it like this, hoping that drug addicts who are still staying there, will cause a fire one of these days that will destroy the whole building? See my detailed reports Taiping Bandar Warisan and Taiping, October 2019 . Don’t worry , I did not climb up to the first floor πŸ™‚ .

Two more pictures. A nice mural and the skeleton of what once must have been a nice house. As I wrote, the mixture of development and decay attracts me.

After this morning visit of Taping, Aric and Rodney drove back to KL.

The second part of my stay. A nice lotus flower at the entrance of Furama and a picture of me and a huge tree, around the corner of the hotel.

In the afternoon I visited with my friend Halim two quite different kinds of graveyards. First the large Prestavest cemetery in Tupai. I thought that these huge rows of tombs were graves, but the space is too small, they are rest places for the urns of cremated people!

So it is an elaborate (and very expensive!) version of the traditional columbarium, where we also had a look. The caretaker must have thought that we were potential “customers” πŸ™‚ Nice statues of the Buddha give the place a serene atmosphere.

There was still time to visit the tomb of Long Jaafar in Bukit Gantang. He was a Malay nobleman who supposedly (accidentally) discovered tin in the Taiping region. The tombs are well kept, but from his fort nothing remains.

On our way back we enjoyed assam laksa in a roadside stall near Bukit Gantang.

The next day I had breakfast with my friend George. He introduced me to Taiping, many years ago. He suggested the Ee Ee Fatt 128 coffee shop in Tupai. I had Chee Cheong Fun again, not bad, although I still prefer Mr Tong’s πŸ™‚

After breakfast we visited the Botanical Gardens of Taiping next to the Lake Gardens. I had been there when it was still under construction and wondered why to create a botanical garden, with the beautiful Penang one so nearby. Better a botanical garden than a new residential area, my friend Yeap said, and I think he was right πŸ™‚ .

The garden is still under construction,, many trees and palms have been planted already, and there are several scenic spots.

Here is an example, a Fan Palm. I have enlarged the name tag, because I am wondering who has designed the format. Why is the name Taman Botani Perak so dominating? The name of the plant, PALAS KIPAS should be on top in large capitals. Below it, in a slightly smaller font, the Common name : Fan Palm, the Official name, Licuala grandis, the Family name, Arecaceae . Missing the country of origin, Vanuatu. Last lines, in a small font, plant id number, planting date and Taman Botani Perak. Why not Taman Botani Taiping, by the way?

Not yet many flowering shrubs, I found a few.

Next to the Botanical Garden, but now separated from it, one of the oldest heritage sites of Taiping can be found, the communal tomb of the Hai San. The Hai San and the Ghee Hin were two Chinese factions, fighting each other in the Larut wars.

For lunch George and I were invited by Girlie and Yeoh, two other Taiping friends.

I still had some energy left for another trip to the Ayer Hitam waterfall, this time with Halim. Two times the same waterfall? As access is so easy, I had sent a WhatsApp message to my Taiping Heritage friends, if they were interested to join me for another visit. But only Halim responded.

Left the start of the trail, right one of the several sheds where locals stay during the durian season, to guard the king of fruits.

Halim had never visited this fall before and, being an adventurous guy, suggested that we should come back another time and camp overnight. An attractive idea, but I feel a bit too old for it.

Walking back, I found this ginger flower, an  Etlingera coccinea , one of my favourites. It looks like the flower just grows from the earth.

We passed again the new resort, Chalet Latip D’Ayer Hitam and had a chat with the people working there. Modern, colorful design, but I have my reservations about building the chalets so close to the river that you have to reinforce the river banks with concrete.

An beautiful old-fashioned Malay house that reminded Halim of his younger years .

In Batu Kurau we had a teh tarik and apom balik. Batu Kurau has a volunteer fire brigade, the stall was next to it, and our table in front of the “bomba” truck. Fortunately no fire alarm went of during our stay.

Taiping is famous because of its Lake Gardens, so neighbouring Kamunting also wanted one. A nice try, but they can not compete. This is the most interesting part, a lotus pond, crossed by a bridge. Two metal towers at both ends of the bridge. No idea if they ever had a function.

Next morning I had breakfast with Yeap in Lian Thong , soft-boiled eggs on toast, named roti goyang in Malay, “shaking toast” Do I have to explain the name? Later, Yeap picked me up from Furama to bring me to the station, but first we had lunch in the restaurant, that is part of the Ceylon Association building. Nice Tom Yam fried rice. During our lunch a lady joined us, a friend of Yeap, but also a karaoke partner of my friend George. Proving once again that Taiping is a very small world πŸ™‚ .

Waiting for the train back to KL. One of the reasons that I feel so at home in Taiping, is the hospitality of its inhabitants. Will go back soon πŸ™‚

CNY 2020

It has become a tradition that Aric organises a family party on day 3 of the Chinese New Year in Parit Baru, his hometown. The year of the Rat started on 25 January 2020 and a few months earlier Aric began thinking already about this party.

The Chinese character for Rat is the same as that for Mouse, so he decided to use the mouse as a theme. All family members had to wear a t-shirt with a mouse, a Mickey Mouse or at least something in the shape of a mouse.

For the decoration of the house, Aric had bought a large quantity of multi-colored LED-lights. When I arrived, on day 2, he had already made a lot of mouse-like decorations. Here he is standing in front of the kampong house, where he was born and grew up.

Three families have been living in this house, Aric’s father and two of his uncles. During CNY, children, grandchildren and relatives come back to this house, resulting in a big crowd. All families have their own rooms and in the common kitchen they prepare their own meals. Quite interesting.

I had chosen a t-shirt, combining my interest in stars and planets with a kind of mouse shape. But… I forgot to bring it to Parit Baru! Officially there was a penalty of RM 50 for not wearing a mouse shirt, but fortunately Jenny, Aric’s sister in law, could not attend the party and gave her t-shirt to me.

WHen I arrived, Aric was still busy preparing more decorations, here with his nephew Andrew. The (air-conditioned) office of the house was occupied by several of Aric’s nieces.

The LED decorations are not so special in daylight, but in the dark they become very attractive.

After editing the picture to the right, I have created a CNY-wish with it and sent it to friends and family πŸ™‚ .

Here is the designer with the final result.

That evening we had a steamboat dinner with the family in the kitchen, while in the living room others were playing card.

Sleeping can be a problem for me, during these meetings, I am a sensitive sleeper and need some privacy. Fortunately the family has a bungalow, a few km away, and we could have an undisturbed sleep there πŸ™‚ .

Next morning started with coffee.

In the morning more family members arrived from KL and preparations started for the steamboat lunch. Parit Baru is surrounded by fishing villages, so the fish , prawns etc can not be more fresh. With so many people we had to eat in shifts πŸ˜‰ .

In the afternoon a stage was constructed in front of the house, using two lorries and material from the hardware shop.

While Aric and his helpers were busy, it was a good time to take some pictures. Notice that everybody is wearing a mouse shirt (including me haha).

When the construction of the stage was completed and it was still light enough, Aric arranged everybody for the traditional group photo. Almost fifty people!

We had a buffet dinner outside, using a catering service. Later there were several games and there were fireworks.

The grand finale of the evening was a show were many attendees showed their skills, karaoke, wushu, dancing, singing. Not easy to take acceptable photos, quite dark.

It was another successful CNY celebration. Here are some group photos from earlier years.

Kuala Selangor trip

Rodney, a UK friend of us has been in Malaysia many times, but never visited Kuala Selangor! A good reason to bring him there on a half-day trip.

On our way, near Bukit Rotan, we passed a Hindu temple that I had never visited myself. The present Sri Shakti Temple was consecrated in 2013 and is a monumental building, unfortunately closed during our visit.

The front of the temple has beautiful statues of elephants.

Because of the time of the day (3 pm) it was almost impossible to take good pictures of the temple. We will have to come back another time to visit the interior.

Our next stop was the Kuala Selangor Nature Park. We were the only visitors, maybe because it was very hot, but also because Malaysians and tourists hardly know about its existence. It is a mixture of secondary forest and wetlands.

After paying an entrance fee of RM 5 at the visitor center, we entered the park.

We climbed the view tower. During my last visit you could see a lake, with many egrets, but trees had grown, obscuring the view.

There was another visitor on the top floor, enjoying its siesta. We didn’t disturb it, but we were sure our presence was noticed.

It was a pleasant walk. We crossed a mangrove forest on a concrete walkway. Sturdy, but less romantic than the wooden plankway we remembered from an earlier visit.

It was low tide, there were only a few places where we could see water. The whole walk was about 3.5 km, we were very thirsty, almost dehydrated, luckily the visitor center was still open ,so we could buy some cool drink.

Our next stop was at Bukit Melawati, the main attraction of Kuala Selangor. From the top of the hill you have a good view of the countryside.

The cannons are a memory of the past, when there was a fort here. Of course Rodney and I had to prove our manhood πŸ™‚ .

The present lighthouse was built in 1907, the original one was built in 1794 when the Dutch were still ruling this part of the peninsula.

The attractive lighthouse is a good background for pictures. We met a friendly Malay couple there. Left Rodney and me, right with Zarina and Rosni.

And there are monkeys, a few macaques, but mainly the silvered leaf langurs. The young ones are beautifully golden/orange, Zarina told us that there were no babies at the moment, but we were lucky to find a single one, down the road. Changing into an adult, its face grey already.

Bananas and beans are for sale, you can feed the langurs, and they are not shy, some even climbing on your shoulder.

A hidden, almost unknown, gem is the nearby Bukit Belanda (Dutch Hill). From the Dutch fort Utrecht, on top of the hill, not much is left, but the small lake at its foot is very scenic.

Before dinner we drove to the fishing village of Kuala Selangor, at the other side of the Selangor river. We watched the sunset from the Chinese temple there.

The Kuala Sungai (Ah Yu) restaurant in Pasir Penambang, chosen by Aric, has a splendid view of the Selangor River.

And the food was high quality too. Rodney and I could not resist the temptation of big bottles of Carlsberg.

Here is the food we ordered. Forgot to take a picture of the fish ball soup.

After our dinner we visited the Fireflies of Kampung Kuantan, before going home. It was almost full moon and the sky was clear, not a favorable time to see the swarms of tiny fireflies, blinking on and off in a synchronous way. But as it was a first visit for Rodney, still a nice experience.

A rewarding outing!

Visit Dong Dong, 2020

Last year we came in contact, through WeChat, with Dong Dong, a Chinese from Guangzhou. This resulted in inviting him to visit us in Malaysia, from 8-14 January. How to communicate? For Aric of course no problem, either in Mandarin or in Teochew. I had to use Google Translate, because I don’t speak Chinese and Dong Dong only a little bit of English :-).

On 8 January afternoon we picked him up from the airport. Our plan was to show him, during his short stay, as many tourist attractions as possible. And also to introduce him to as many Malaysian food specialities as we could πŸ™‚

We decided for Hokkien Mee, the first evening. There are two famous Hokkien Mee restaurants in Damansara Uptown, almost next to each other. Tiong was full, so we chose the other one.

We ordered four dishes, all very nice, huge serving of mee, we could not finish it πŸ™‚ . A good introduction to Chinese Malaysian cuisine.

In our chats I had told Dong Dong that I often went to IKEA for my RM 1 breakfast and to meet friends. He was interested , so the next morning we first went to IKEA.

After our breakfast I showed him the Curve shopping center. As CNY was approaching, there was already a festive atmosphere.

I am still not very experienced with taking selfies, but I am making progress.

Back home we waited for Aric, who had been busy in his shop. We had asked Rodney, a UK friends, to join us for a visit to KL. First we had lunch in restaurant Kin Kin, supposedly serving the best Pan Mee in KL. Spicy!

After our lunch we walked in the colonial district of Kuala Lumpur. In my blog KL Heritage I have written extensively about the many gems of architecture that can be found here. During this short walk we only had a look at a few.

Contrasts: from left to right an Art Deco detail of the Central Market, the beautiful “Islamic” Dayabumi building, and the Merdeka 118 tower, the world 2nd largest building when completed.

We visited the Kuala Lumpur gallery and this time were disappointed. The light show at the scale model of Kuala Lumpur was quite boring.

Getting more and more touristic. But there is a nice cafe with delicious (and expensive) durian cream puffs. In the left picture you can see how the future Merdeka 118 building will dwarf the Petronas twin towers.

In the afternoon we went to Ampang and from there we took the road to Ulu Langat. This road crosses the hills and has a viewpoint from where you have a beautiful view of the KL skyline.

Heavy rain at the horizon, but we kept it dry.

A bit farther than this viewpoint a side road leads to the Veg Fish Farm Thai Restaurant, where we had our dinner. Aric and I have been to this romantic place several times, the food is always nice and fresh, the restaurant is surrounded by fishponds.

Here some of the dishes we ordered. Left Thai mango salad, tilapia and lamb. Right sotong (cuttlefish).

There was toddy, one of my favourite drinks. A rewarding end of a successful day!

The next day we left for Melaka, where we arrived around lunchtime. One of the food specialties of Melaka is Hainanese Chicken Rice Balls. The famous shop in the center of town was closed during our last visit, but Aric had found a hidden gem in the outskirts of Melaka, Huang Chang.

We had booked rooms in the Puri Hotel, a Peranakan house in Heeren Street. The interior looks like a museum.

The Puri Hotel has a beautiful facade, and opposite is the even more posh Chee Ancestral Mansion, unfortunately not open to the public.

After checking in, we walked around in the historical center of Melaka, now a Unesco World Heritage site. First we had Cendol at the popular Jonker 88 shop.

Here are two tombs, the left one of Hang Kasturi, the right one of Syamsuddin Al-Sumatrani. Even many locals will not know where this second tomb is located πŸ™‚ .

This is the ruin of Saint Paul’s Church, originally built in 1521 by the Portuguese, the oldest church of Malaysia. Many tombstones, some of them dating back to the time that Melaka was a Dutch colony.

Christ Church and the Stadthuys are the center of the town. The gaudy trishaws are characteristic for Melaka. Always crowded with tourists.

Another food specialty of Melaka is the Satay Celup (Steamboat Satay) and the most famous restaurant for it is Capitol. Often we have been queueing here, waiting for a table. Therefore we decided to have an early dinner and that worked out well πŸ™‚ . You select your sticks from a buffet and dip them in the boiling satay sauce. You pay for the number of sticks used.

After our dinner we walked along the Melaka River. In the past the river was quite dirty and unkept, now it has been cleaned, promenades have been created at both banks of the river. Beautiful led lighting in the evening.

It was Friday evening, the popular Jonker Walk night market was busy with tourist. And, sad to say, getting less interesting every time we visit it. Being a Unesco WHS has its disadvantages. Blacksmith street used to be a street full of old-fashioned workshops. Rent increased, they had to leave and instead came boutique hotels and nyonya restaurants. You can see this all over the town. Pity.

The next morning we enjoyed our buffet breakfast in Puri and checked out.

Before leaving Melaka we visited a number of places of worship. Buddhist temples, a Hindu shrine and a Mosque are all located near each other in what is sometimes called Harmony street (mistakenly suggesting that there are no conflicts between the various religions in Malaysia).

The Straits of Melaka mosque is located a bit outside the historical center, you have to go by car, but it is worth the effort. Another example of what is called a floating mosque. A modern building, the opening ceremony was in 2006.

Then it was time to go back to Kuala Lumpur. It was a very short visit, I have written several times about Melaka, here is an earlier report: Melaka Minitrip March 2013.

We arrived back in KL around 3 pm, Aric was busy that afternoon, he dropped us at the Kelana Jaya LRT station, from where we took a train to KLCC.

A visit to Malaysia is not complete without the Petronas Twin Towers πŸ™‚ . I chose the most impressive approach, walking through the shopping center, taking the exit to the park and the lake, then asking Dong Dong to turn around and look up.

The towers are so high that from that location it is difficult to take good pictures. We walked around the lake to take better shots

We walked to the wading pool, only for children, but refreshing to watch.

Of course everything was already in Chinese New Year mood. In front of KLCC a Chinese pagoda was constructed with the signs of the Chinese zodiac. We are both Monkeys and asked a friendly gentleman to take our picture with our sign πŸ™‚

Lots of decorations inside the shopping center, of course with images of the Rat (Mouse) everywhere, the sign of the coming New Year.

From the top floor you have a beautiful view of the park, the lake and the skyline of Kuala Lumpur.

We did not stay long, as we were both tired, and took public transport back, first the LRT, then the MRT and finally a feeder bus to our condo. Dong Dong was happy to experience the various forms of transport.

That evening we had Claypot Chicken Rice in a food court near our condo, and the next morning Roti Canai, both Malaysian specialties.

The next day, after our breakfast, we drove to Penang. With a short stop for a light lunch, we arrived at 2:30 pm at the Airbnb Aric had booked for two nights. And what an Airbnb it was! A complete house, two floors, on each floor a bedroom, lots of antique stuff. One of the best Airbnb’s we have ever stayed in.

After a small rest we went out for a first exploration. Same as in Melaka, the three major religions of Malaysia have their houses of worship in the same street, but the name of the street is here not Harmony Street, but Β Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling, which may be more appropriate for the actual relation between the three religions πŸ™‚ . By the way, Keling (Kling) is the old-fashioned name for an Indian Muslim and nowadays considered derogatory πŸ™‚ .

One of the major tourist attractions in Penang are the murals created in 2012 by Zacharevic, see my report Penang Street Art. With our limited time we could only visit a few.

Before taking our dinner we visited the Tan Jetty, one of our favourites.

We had dinner in the Jetty Food Court, a popular place with a large variety of food.

We continued after our dinner and visited the modern Hean Boo Thean temple, another temple dedicated to Guan Yin, the goddess of mercy. If the access route to the temple was not so clearly signposted, it would have been difficult to find.

Views of the waterfront are spectacular and unobstructed. We stayed a considerable time, relaxing and enjoying the views

After sunset everything becomes even more scenic. It was the first time we visited this temple, it was opened only in 2012. We will promote it to our friends and guests.

Walking back to our Airbnb, we passed a few colonial buildings. For more info about Penang’s colonial heritage, see my report Penang Colonial Architecture.

The next day we had breakfast at the  Roti Bakar in Hutton Lane. I had Roti Goyang which translates as shaking toast (because of the half-boiled eggs on top of the toast)

The weather was perfect, we walked around a bit. The KOMTAR tower is still the highest skyscraper in Penang. The minaret of the Lebuh Aceh mosque looks even more beautiful with the surrounding Chinese New Year decorations.

We passed another Zacharevic mural and decided to visit the Khoo Kongsi, the most elaborate and grand Chinese clan house of Georgetown. I have been there many times, my last visit was in July 2019, here is a report.

For lunch we went to Hong Xiang, where we had Bak Kut Teh. Another famous Malaysian dish. Usually the different pork parts are put together in the herbal soup, but here your order the ingredients separately. Not a bad idea. We took pork ribs, pork soft bone, tofu, two kinds of mushrooms and veggie. All very tasty.

In the afternoon we drove around the island, stopping for a while at the beach near Batu Ferringhi.

We skipped some other locations we had in mind. Not enough time, winding roads, and we wanted to visit the Kek Lok Si temple before it closed at 5:30 pm. This main Guan Yin temple of Penang is a huge complex of halls, gardens, pagodas etc.

We walked up as high as we could.

A few more pictures.

We climbed the pagoda (right picture), I counted the steps, ~ 190 .

I kept taking pictures πŸ™‚

We stayed until closing time and then drove to the Super Tanker food court in Bayan Lepas for our dinner.

The next day we drove back. In the afternoon Dong Dong was flying back from KLIA, we didn’t want to take risks with traffic jams on the Penang bridges, so we woke up early and started before the rush hour.

Good plan, traffic was smooth. It gave us enough spare time to have breakfast in Taiping, my 2nd hometown :-). I showed Dong Dong the Lake Gardens and he liked the atmosphere very much.

We arrived at KLIA 2 in time, he checked in for his flight back to Guangzhou and we had a farewell lunch at Nando’s. More South African than Malaysian, but the alternative would have been McDonalds πŸ™‚ .

A very successful visit, only too short. Hopefully we will meet again in the future, for example in Guangzhou!