Taiping, October 2020

Wow, are you going to Taiping again, my friends asked me, your last visit was in August, only six weeks ago! What could I say, I was just missing my 2nd hometown. So on Thursday 1 October I took the ETS again. I was a bit shocked, especially in the train, by the lack of social distancing, but fortunately I was sitting next to a friendly lady, who was on her way back from visiting her grandchildren in KL. A retired teacher like me, we had a nice chat.

In Taiping, my friend Lay Chun, fetched me from the station. First we had lunch in 3939, a popular hawker center. I had prawn mee.

One of the reasons that I wanted to come back to Taiping so soon, was to see with my own eyes the pillars of the former Residency. In 2013 I wrote a blog Shame on Taiping! about the deplorable condition of several heritage buildings in Taiping. The Pillars and the ruins of the State Rest house/ Casuarina Inn on Residency Hill were one of them. After that report I visited the hill almost every time I was in Taiping.

This picture is from September 2014. I have marked two pillars in this and the following pictures with red crosses.

August 2020. During my last visit we took drone pictures (left). The two pillars have become invisible, completely overgrown (right).

On 19 September a gotong royong (cleaning operation) was organised by the Taiping Heritage Society and many other NGO’s, with a follow-up the next week. I was eager to see the result, so I asked Lay Chun to drive to Residency Hill before dropping me at hotel Furama.

I was really amazed at the effect of the cleaning operation. What a wonderful job had been done, with the support of the Taiping Municipal Council (MPT). All the pillars had been cleaned and were visible again.

Also a start had been made with the cleaning of the State Rest House. This relatively new building was built around 1970, to replace the Rajah Rest House and the Town Rest House. To make space for it, the former British Residency was demolished, with only the pillars left standing.

When I was there, I chatted a bit with Encik Hasmi from the Heritage Unit of the MPT, who was showing the place to a group of interested visitors. I really hope this initiative will result in a new lease of life for the pillars and the Residency Hill.

After taking a rest in my hotel, I walked to the Lake Gardens. Dinner that night with my friend George , who also happened to be In Taiping. Again in Pusat Makanan 3939.

It has become a tradition to visit Mrs Long, the sister of my Singapore friend ST Lee, during my Taiping visits This time I had breakfast with her and her friend Ms Chong in a nearby Indian shop.

She is a well-known and beloved person in Taiping, it was nice to see how happy people were to meet her.

Although she is 90 year old now, she is still full of energy, we walked around quite a bit . The two pictures below epitomise for me the charm of Taiping, a mixture of beauty and decay. Not all Taipingites will agree with me, but personally I wouldn’t mind if the town remained like this forever πŸ˜‰

Ms Chong is living in a beautiful house on Station Road. One of my favorites, every time I passed it, I admired the architecture and wondered how it would look inside. So when she asked if I would like to come in for a while, I accepted her invitation with pleasure.

After our walk we went to Ansari for cendol and pasembor.

The owner of Ansari was visiting India and can’t come back (yet), as Malaysia has closed its borders because of Covid-19. Therefore his two sons temporarily manage this famous landmark of Taiping.

It was a very pleasant meeting, very nice to see how lovingly Ms Chong was taking care of her friend.

I had rented a bicycle in Furama, very convenient in Taiping. In the afternoon I used it to ride to the Residency of the OBJ. Toh Puan Nori , his wife, had organised a meeting with senior Taiping citizens, to talk about Taiping’s history.

I had prepared a selection of slides. It was an animated discussion, especially about the Pillars and the New State Rest House. I wrote a separate blog about it: A Meeting of Old-Timers .

The next day, Saturday, there was a new round of gotong royong at the Residency Hill. When I arrived there, on my bike, there were already many people from various NGO’s. Here is a video.

To be honest, I didn’t really take part in the actual cleaning, I mainly took photographs (and was photographed). And I had my breakfast, the catering was well organised.

At around 11am the gotong royong was finished. Time for a real adventure! With friends I visited Menggelunchor, a water slide near Kuala Kangsar that was popular in the early 20th century. Here we are standing in front of it, from left to right Syafiqi who guided us to the slide, my THS friend Halim, me and Pak Yang , an outdoor enthusiast. For a detailed report click here.

There was time enough for more. First we visited the Green Stone Camp, a project of Pak Yang, on the banks of the Kangsar river. Remote location and clear water, still under construction, a place to keep in mind.

Then it was time for lunch. We had assam laksa in the well-known Laksa Buyong stall in Bukit Gantang. I had told the others that I would pay for the lunch and was surprised that I only had to fork out RM 6.50 ! It turned out that Aifa, the owner, didn’t charge us for the laksa, as a reward for a useful discussion with Syafiqi and Halim about business! I only had to pay for the drinks. Malaysia boleh!

Our last destination for the day was a disused railway tunnel near Bukit Gantang. Two years ago I had visited other tunnels near Bukit Berapit, but never this one. Access was a bit difficult πŸ™‚ .

This is the tunnel, the last one before you reached Taiping in the past. It’s a pity that also here the rails and sleepers have been removed.

Recently Pak Yang and his friends have found and cleaned the platform of the Bukit Gantang station (right picture). In the left picture we are walking to the station, following the former railroad.

Via these steps, the passengers climbed up to the railroad tracks to board the train.

It was a wonderful day. Here are the GPS tracks of the trip.

The next morning I had breakfast with George, Chee Cheong Fun at Mr Tong’s stall.

As I had no commitments that morning, I decided to take my bicycle and just ride around, taking pictures here and there. Beautiful buildings, buildings that needed repair, or even had vanished completely. The first one near the Esplanade, the other three on Swettenham Road. As I mentioned above, it’s this mixture that I find attractive.

Even the former Perak Railway Buildings have their charm, although it is of course a shame that the authorities have let it go down the drain, without any fencing, so squatters and drug addicts can use it freely. One year ago I wrote a blog about it: Taiping Bandar Warisan .

A good location for another gotong royong?

During my last visit to Taiping, I had a look at an apartment in Crystal Creek and reported: “ The view from the balcony is spectacular, but we found the general atmosphere of Crystal Creek disappointing. Many condo’s are for sale, or used for AirBnb. A bit of a failed project, despite its own waterfall?

I got a friendly comment on this report by Grahame, living himself in Crystal Creek: “I cannot argue that the finish to the public areas and the recreational facilities is very disappointing. But, and it is a big but, our condo and life in this location is fantastic!! “

We got in contact via e-mail and whatsapp and decided to meet. Here we are having lunch in Double Tap, after our first choice, Doli, had a long queue. Very nice Western style, food.

After lunch Grahame and Safina invited me for tea in their condo. And I agree with them, the view from their balcony is fantastic, and the condo itself very comfortable.

Another view of the Lake Gardens.

I had invited Yeap and Halim for dinner that evening, stipulating that I would be the host. Nice Thai food in the West Joy Cafe. Pleasant company, but when it came to paying the bill, Yeap wanted to pay. Sometimes Malaysian hospitality can be a bit overwhelming πŸ™‚

The last morning I had breakfast at Lian Thong for another favorite of mine Roti Goyang. eggs on toast.

My train would leave at 2pm, so I had a few hours left to work on another “project” of mine. The main river of Taiping is Sg Larut, which splits in several tributaries. With the help of Google Earth I have sketched many of these tributaries here.

Using my bike again, I cycled around town , looking for sign boards where roads were crossing tributaries, expecting that one of them would still be named Sg Larut. Here are a few, none of them is Sg Larut.

Google Maps names the tributary below Sg Larut, but that is wrong, it is Sg Batu Tegoh

For Taipingites, can you identify which tributary this is πŸ™‚ ?

The advantage of cycling is that you reach places that are a bit too far for walking. Here are two buildings I had not yet photographed before. Left the Masjid India (1969) and right the Buddhist Chan Shan temple (1953)

On my way back to my hotel, I passed this interesting villa, near the OBJ Residency. Built in 1940 in late Art Deco style. Pity that it has been neglected.

That was the end of another rewarding visit. Fortunately on my way back to KL, social distancing was no problem. both in the ETS and the MRT.

Menggelunchor


On the Internet recently I found a book called An Illustrated Guide to the Federated Malay States, published in 1910. You can read it online, or download it in a variety of formats. It makes fascinating reading, a real travel guide, full of interesting details and practical travel tips.

Of course it describes Taiping (“The town itself is one of the most picturesque in Malaya“) and even Bukit Gantang ( “… has always been a great place for tigers“).

Before reaching Kuala Kangsar (“The town of Kuala Kangsar lies on the right bank of the Perak river , at the point where the Kangsar debouches“) a few pages are devoted to the water slide of Mengelunchor, a popular attraction in those days.

There is even a photo in the guidebook where people climb up steps besides the waterfall and then slide down.

Menggelunchor? I had never heard about it and was intrigued. I Googled for it and found a few historical references. Apparently it was a popular tourist attraction in the early 1900s . Here is a description from the book The Malay States by Philip Coote, published in 1923.

From the description above, the water slide should be in the region of Padang Rengas and on the slopes of Gunung Bubu. I gave the photo to my Taiping friend Halim, asking him if he could find more info. He had never heard about Menggelunchor himself, but after asking around, told me that one of his friends had recognised the fall and was willing to take us there. That was exciting news.

On Saturday 3 October we met Syafiqi, who would take us to the waterfall. Actually we were Facebook friends because of our shared passion for waterfalls, but we had never met πŸ˜‰ . We were joined by Puan Kamariah, Suhaina and Pak Yang.

Between Padang Rengas and Kuala Kangsar, a narrow unmarked road took us under the North-South Highway through nice countryside with orchards and scattered bungalows. After about 3 km the tar road ended. We parked our cars and followed the clear trail for a few hundred meters.

Soon we arrived at a waterfall. Syafiqi told me that the river is Sg Dal, a tributary of the Sg Kangsar and that the name of the waterfall is now Lata Bubu. Quite an attractive waterfall .

Here is a short video of Lata Bubu.

A short flight of steps leads the top of the waterfall. The steps look old, could they date back to the early 1900s? At the top there are remains of an old lock, maybe to create a shallow pool at the bottom of the water slide?

Here is the Menggelunchor water slide. Comparison with the old photo shows that there was not enough water this time to slide down. The small steps next to the slide have gone, could they have been on the white rock where I have tentatively marked some red stripes?

Here are the intrepid explorers πŸ˜‰ . From left to right Syafiqi, Halim, Me and Pak Yang. Mission accomplished (picture by Syafiqi)

Syafiqi told us that at the top of the slide there were remains of a swimming pool. Of course we climbed up to have a look. And indeed, it must have been a swimming pool, a bit similar to the New Club swimming pool in Taiping.

After this successful exploration, we climbed down the steps again and walked back to the car.

Here is a Google Earth map of the region. I have marked the location of the Sg Kangsar.

Syafiqi told me that YouTube had several videos of Lata Bubu and I found a few interesting ones. This one shows the Menggelunchor and was taken in 2016, only four years ago. Try to imagine how one century ago, adults came here on elephants to enjoy the fun (and have a nice picnic afterwards).

This video is from the same year 2016 and shows the swimming pool above the slide in full action.

Back home I searched for more historical information. I found the first reference to Menggelunchor in the book About Perak by Swettenham, published in 1883. The link is to the online version. On page 62 and following he describes the Menggelunchor , “Though of ancient origin, it is not well known, even here“. Here is a part of his description, making it clear that he, the British Resident of Selangor, also enjoyed the fun tremendously.

Finally I show here three newspaper clippings, found in the Singapore Newspaper archive. When you search for Menggelunchor, you will get dozens of hits. The left one (13-4-1926) is about a visit of “Mr George Windsor” to Perak. Mr George Windsor is actually Prince George, Duke of Kent , 23 year old during this visit. The right one is about a European party that got lost (20-5-1930) after visitng the Menggelunchor.

The Sultan of Perak regularly invited VIP guests for a visit to the water slide and a lunch. In this case the King of Siam, 3 October 1924. Did they also slide down the Menggelunchor, like Swettenham did?

It was a fascinating excursion and a pleasure to write this blog.

A Meeting of Old-Timers

Knowing of my interest in the history of Taiping, Toh Puan Nori, the wife of the OBJ Larut Matang & Selama, suggested that she could invite a group of senior Taiping citizens for a discussion about Taiping’s “recent” history. Of course I accepted her suggestion gratefully and on Friday 2 October I went to the OBJ residency, where I met a small group of old-timers, most of them members of the Kelab Cinta Taiping. I had prepared a selection of slides and Wan Amril had prepared a projector.

It became an animated discussion with input from many. As several attendees were interested to have copies of my slides, I promised them to put my selection online. Here they are, with some comments.

I started with two Google Earth screenshots of the Residency Hill, resp. 2007 and 2019 imagery (click to enlarge). In 2007 the Casuarina Inn is still intact and the pillars of the former Residency are clearly visible. In the 2019 image they are overgrown and the Inn has become a ruin.

In December 2004 I have been staying one night in the Casuarina Inn. It was a bit rundown, but still acceptable. Huge rooms.

During a Taiping visit in 2017, I spent a few hours at Residency Hill, marking the location of all pillars, 34 in total.

Here is the condition of the pillars and the Casuarina Inn a few months ago.

A few weeks ago the Taiping Heritage Society and many other NGO’s took the initiative for a gotong royong (cleaning operation), supported by the MPT (Taiping Town Council).

During our meeting we discussed a lot about the buildings on Residency Hill. Wan Amril had found an article published in Berita Harian, 29 June 1969, that was very helpful. The Residency had been demolished already and behind it the new State Town House would be built. After completion the Town Rest House and the Rajah Rest House would be closed. Teoh KL told us that his father was the first contractor who had leased the State Town House in 1972. And Toh Puan Nori remembered that when she visited the Residency building in 1961, it was no longer occupied.

According to this 1949 article in the Straits Times about Taiping in the 19th century, it was Hugh Low who in 1887 became the first British Resident to live in the Taiping Residence (before that year he resided in Kuala Kangsar). Swettenham, Treacher and many others followed. Slowly Taiping declined, Ipoh took over and in 1937 became the capital of Perak. The Berita Harian article mentions that part of the Residence became the Land Surveyor’s office. Where there other occupants and when became it unoccupied? We could not find answers to these questions.

One more remark about the pillars. I think that there have been more pillars, but that some (10) of them have been removed to create space for the driveway to the State Rest House. Here is my educated guess :-).

In this 1928 Map of Taiping, the building is still marked as Residency (1). I have also marked he locations of the Rajah Rest House (2) and the Town Rest House (3). The map consists of four parts, very interesting, here is the link.

I could not find many photo’s of the Rajah Rest House. On this photo you see that it was quite a big place. Many attendees at the meeting had good memories about this place. We could not find out when exactly it was destroyed (to make place for a parking lot!)

Here is part of a hilarious article about The Inns of Malaya (1930). Both Taiping Rest Houses are very bad, the Town Rest House is noisy and dusty and should be “abolished”, the Rajah Rest House should change its furniture as it harbours unpleasant insects. So at least in 1930 the Rajah RH was already there.

Here are two Google Earth screenshots of the Town Rest House and the Perak Railway Building.

Around 2005, I also have been staying a night in the Town Rest House, then renamed Lagenda Hotel. After a couple of years it closed.

Although it is now a ruin, Taiping, bandar warisan(!) , still includes it in the list of heritage attractions.

Next to it there are the ruins of what originally was the Perak Railway Building. Here is a page from Anuar Isa’s report Taiping’s Many First

Actually two buildings the wooden building is from 1885, the brick building slightly newer. Many memories, the brick building was occupied by several departments. When readers know more about it, please comment.

Nowadays it is so ruined, that it is beyond repair in my opinion.

I have been following the fate of these buildings for many years, here is a report Taiping Bandar Warisan (2019). And here is an older report Shame on Taiping (2013), also about the Residency hill. When I wrote this report, I didn’t know much yet about Taiping’s history, so the report contains errors. I confused the Residency with the Residence of the Assistant Resident, a common mistake that is prevalent until today, for example in this recent STAR article !

Two more GE screenshots of the Taiping Aerodrome and the Port Weld Railway line. I was interested to know if any of the attendees had memories about either of them. But we had not enough time to discuss.

About the railway line, the orange line is the present track. The green one is the original Port Weld line, ending at what now is KE VII school. The yellow “bend” is a later modification of the Port Weld line, so it would join smoothly to the Ipoh-Butterworth line.

Present situation of the Aerodrome. Left an aerial view, taken by a drone. Right the remains of the control tower and the arrival hall.

Another part of the 1928 Taiping map. I have marked two locations, the Kempe Club (1) and a Ruined Bungalow (2) along King Edward Road (now Jln Sultan Jaafar)

Compare the map with two GE screenshots, 2005 and 2019 imagery. The Playground and the Tennis Courts have completely disappeared, it’s jungle now. Many attendees had memories about the play ground, it was a popular place for sports.

Here is the Kempe Club, founded in 1922. It’s a bit strange that it is not in the 1928 map, possibly the data used for the map are older. When I visited the club, I was invited inside. The interior has know better days, but the building is still in good condition. Interesting detail, when the Taiping Rotary Club restarted after the war, in 1956, they had their weekly lunches in this club.

The ruined bungalow along King Edward Road is one of my favourite ruins. I was hoping to get information about the people who have been living here. I was told that more of these bungalows existed, but many of them have already disappeared.

I had included a few slides about Maxwell Hill, but there was no time to talk about it. This is what is left over from Hugh Low’s bungalow, located between the Nest and Speedy’s. It was quite an expedition , with Law Siak Hong (Perak Heritage Society), to “rediscover it. I would have liked to know if any of the old-timers had visited this bungalow.

And finally two photo’s of Speedy’s bungalow. Left my 60th birthday party in 2004, when Guna was the excellent caretaker. Later it was transformed in a Biodiversity Center, in itself a good idea but it failed in my opinion because of the difficulty of (jeep) transport and insufficient promotion.

It was a very rewarding meeting, there are enough topics for a follow-up. Toh Puan Nori had provided food and drinks, thanks a lot for her hospitality.

From left to right Teoh Kok Liang, who had come specially from KL to attend the meeting, the OBJ, Toh Puan Nori, me and Wan Amril. Thanks everybody.

I was so busy talking and explaining, that I forgot to take notes. If any of the attendees, or other interested Taipingites, have additional information, please comment.

Taiping, August 2020

After our trip to the Cameron Highlands had shown us that traveling in Malaysia was possible again after the lockdown, a visit to Taping was of course my first priority. I booked four nights in my favourite hotel Furama, we drove to Taping on Thursday 13 August, Aric went back to KL on Saturday, I stayed two more nights and went back home on Monday by ETS. Here is a report.

My friend George was also in Taiping and suggested that we could have lunch in a Tupai food court, Sin Wong Kok, where they had the best popiah in town, according to him. When we arrived , my friends were already waiting for us, George and Jenny, and also Suet Fun and Peter. A nice start of our trip and the popiah were delicious indeed.

Of course we took off our face masks during the lunch, but in public we were good citizens.

After checking in at Furama and taking some rest, we went out in the evening and drove to Simpang for the famous char koay teow prepared over charcoal fire. Char koay teow is a favourite of mine, I had visited this stall before, but for Aric it was a first. The shop has been operating since 1972, nowadays the son has taken over from the father. The char koay teow was perfect, we also had very nice stingray.

On our way back we stopped for a while at the Lake Gardens and had a look at the Chinese Pagoda bridge. That the bridge is illuminated is in itself not a bad idea, but the gaudy and continuous change of colors is ugly, IMHO. Judge for yourself.

The next morning we had chee cheong fun for breakfast at Tong’s stall in the small food court in front of the Novotel hotel. That has become a routine for me when I am in Taiping πŸ˜‰ .

Back in our hotel, we noticed a group of monkeys in the huge tree opposite the hotel. Spectacled Langurs, we were quite surprised to see them there, and were wondering how they would go back to the Lake Gardens, where they probably came from.

Our first stop this day was in Barrack Road where we visited Mrs Long, the sister of our Singapore friend ST Lee. Another tradition. During my last visit I had promised her a photobook with pictures of Taiping.

Our next destination was the Taiping Aerodrome. There was some activity at the entrance, friends told me later that they were preparing for a skydiving event on Merdeka Day.

I had asked Aric to bring his drone, here is the first result. The former runway is clearly visible.

I am working on a blog about Isabella Bird in Taiping and one of the targets for this trip was to visit places related to her visit in February 1879. AFter crossing the Straits from Penang and entering the Sg Larut, she landed in Teluk Kertang, from where she continued to Taiping. In those days this was the main port to ship tin to Penang!

Now it is a romantic stream, with quite a few shipyards and charcoal kilns on the opposite bank of the river

We continued to Port Weld (Kuala Sepetang), the successor of Teluk Kertang, where we had the famous curry mee for lunch.

On our way back to Taiping we stopped at Kota Ngah Ibrahim, mentioned by Isabella Bird in her book The Golden Chersonese. Next to the fort is Speedy’s bungalow.

The fort is now an interesting small museum, free of charge and worth a visit. The centerpiece on the ground floor is a statue of an elephant . According to legend this elephant came back from the jungle in the 1840’s with tin mud on its legs, starting the tin mining in the Taiping region. The first floor tells the history of the court case against the murderers of J.W.W Birch, the first British Resident of Perak, who was killed in 1875. The trial took place in this fort.

The Kota has also been used as a school, a teacher training college and it was the HQ of the Japanese army during the war. Because of his involvement in the murder plot, Ngah Ibrahim was exiled and died in Singapore. His remains were brought back to the fort in 2006 .

A drone picture of the complex.

Our next stop was at the pillars in front of the ruined Casuarina Inn. The Taiping Heritage Society (THS) is planning a gotong royong (cleaning) operation of the pillars. The bungalow still existed in 1961 and has been used as accommodation for visiting Residents and Governors. Some of the (34) pillars are completely overgrown, cleaning them will be a formidable job.

A drone picture of the hill with the pillars and the ruins of the Casuarina Inn (originally the Taiping State Rest House).

From the same location the drone took a nice picture of the Lake Gardens. Just visible in the bottom right corner is the former Residence of the Assistant Resident, now the DO’s bungalow. Speedy started building it, Maxwell lived there and received Isabella Bird as his guest in 1879. Of course in those days it was only a simple bungalow, as described in her book.

We decided to have dinner in Yat Sun, one of Taiping’s landmark restaurants. It has now two branches, both in Jalan Pasar. The original establishment was closed that day, so we went to the new one. A bit lacking in atmosphere, but the Hainanese chicken chop was still very good.

After our meal we were looking for coffee and cake. We tried Yinn’s but found it closed. The owner told me later that they close earlier these days because of the covid19 crisis. So not everything is back to normal yet. The beautiful illumination of the facade (the former town house of the Hai San leader Kapitan Chung Keng Kwee) deserves a picture.

During my last visit to Taiping in February I had a look at a bungalow in Tupai, near my hotel, which had been overgrown for years, but recently cleaned. The building intrigued me and with the help of a friend I found out who the owner/caretaker was. Yeap, the president of the THS contacted this Dalbir Singh, who was willing to give us a tour of the inside.

Here is the bungalow, looking glorious in the bright morning sun.

The bungalow is in good condition. The house has not been inhabited for a long time, but it looks like the last residents moved out just recently.

Hopefully this house, built in the 1930’s, will get a new lease of life. I would not mind living there πŸ˜‰ .

Next we visited Crystal Creek. A larger contrast is hardly thinkable. We wanted to have a look to see if apartments here could be a good investment.

We had a look at a penthouse, apparently never inhabited yet, so a massive “renovation” would be needed. The view from the balcony is spectacular, but we found the general atmosphere of Crystal Creek disappointing. Many condo’s are for sale, or used for AirBnb. A bit of a failed project, despite its own waterfall?

We had lunch in the Peace Hotel, char koay teow again. Notice the nice decorations on the pillars. Built it 1928, it is one of the many decorative buildings in Taiping.

After lunch Aric drove back to KL and I took some rest. These days I am a volunteer gardener at the TTDI edible garden, so I was interested when my friend Lay Chun told me that she had started a garden behind her house a few months ago. She showed me around, I was surprised how much she had achieved already in such a short time.

Taiping is called “Rain Town”, but during this visit there was not the usual afternoon rain. It was a Saturday, many people were at the Lake Gardens, boating, walking or just relaxing in the grass. Taiping, my 2nd hometown πŸ˜‰

When I visit the Lake Gardens, I always have a look at my favourite cannonball trees. For those Taipingites who don’t know the location, here are the coordinates: N 4Β° 51.05′ E 100Β° 45.10′

One problem I have in Taiping, is paying the bill after a dinner with friends. They are hospitable and generally faster. This time I was the host at Restoran Yes and I found a trick, by warning the waitress halfway the dinner that the bill was for me. It worked.

We had pig trotter, fish curry, sotong, tofu and veggie. Total bill RM 119.80 for six pax. Amazing πŸ™‚

Halim had told me that he was free for a trip on Sunday, did I have an idea? I suggested that we could explore Kuala Kangsar and surroundings and he agreed.

Actually I wanted to visit two places related to Isabella Bird. In February 1879 she travelled (by elephant!) to Kuala Kangsar to meet the Resident Hugh Low. She stayed a few days in his Residence, a simple bungalow on a hill top. This bungalow was demolished in 1904 to make way for the King’s Pavilion, designed by  Arthur Benison Hubback in 1906, and meant as a residence for visiting Governors of the FMS. Now it is a school.

Nearby is one of Hubback masterpieces, the Ubudiah Mosque, completed in 1917, in my opinion the most beautiful mosque of Malaysia.

Next to the mosque is the Royal Mausoleum of Perak, built in the same period. The two tombs in the right picture finally gave the answer to a question I have often asked (in vain) my Muslim friends :-). Graves have either two round tombstones or two flat ones. What is the difference? The answer is, the round tombstones are for males, the flat ones are for females.

After Kuala Kangsar we went to Kota Lama Kanan. Ever heard about it? After Birch was killed in 1875, the Brits retaliated of course with the Perak War as result. The decisive battle of Kota Lama Kanan was fought against Maharaja Lela and his army on 4 January 1876.

Nowadays Kota Lama Kanan is a peaceful rural district. We went to the mosque and were pleasantly surprised to find there a cannon, according to the caretaker dating back to the battle.

Why was I interested to visit this place? Because Isabella Bird also went there on 16 February 1879. Riding an elephant and crossing the Perak River on it. At that time, three years after the battle, the region was still a “black area”. Detailed story in my forthcoming blog about Isabella in Taiping.

From the mosque you can walk down to the mighty Perak river. It looks impossible to cross this river on the back of an elephant.

We were intrigued by the mention of a Batu Peringatan (memorial stone) on the signboard, looked around for a while, but could not find anything. Finally we asked the caretaker of the mosque who told us that the memorial stone was actually inside the mosque. He allowed me to enter the mosque, after washing hands and feet. A very nice guy.

Mansur Shah I was the 2nd sultan of Perak (1549-1577), he had his residence in Kota Lama Kanan, and in 1577, during Friday prayers in the mosque, he disappeared without leaving a trace. This memorial stone (round and only one!) has been placed in the mosque in 1916. Probably the sultan was kidnapped by the Acehnese. Interesting story.

Our last destination had nothing to do with Isabella Bird. I wanted to show Halim the Suka Suka Lake Retreat of my friends Aziz and Asiah, because I was sure he would love the place. I had stayed in this peaceful resort five times between 2010 and 2014, and it was nice to visit Aziz and Asiah again after a long time. Aziz buys old Malay houses, disassembles them and then rebuilds them on his resort. Halim liked the place very much and I think he will come back soon.

It was a wonderful day, full of variety, really grateful to Halim, hope we can do something similar during my future Taiping visits.

The next day I took the train back to KL, but in the morning I still had meetings with friends. First breakfast and an interesting chat with Anand in Lian Thong. Later, after checking out at Furama, my friend Bok Kin picked me up for lunch, again at Lian Thong. Bomb Mee this time.

After lunch she dropped me at the station. It was a wonderful visit, looking forward to go back soon.

Very convenient way of traveling with the ETS, and no problem with social distancing πŸ™‚

Here is a short video taken by the drone. It shows the Taiping Aerodrome, the Kota Ngah Ibrahim and the Casuarina Inn with the the pillars.

Cameron Highlands, July 2020

Two months ago I published a blog Lockdown!, about our experiences during what in Malaysia has been called the Movement Control Order (MCO). In June this was relaxed into the Recovery MCO, slowly restaurants and hotels reopened and (interstate) travel within Malaysia was allowed again.

We wanted to see if life had gone back to normal a bit , and decided to make a short trip to the Cameron Highlands. First trip since February (Taiping).

We started with breakfast, near our condo. Basically you have to write down your name and telephone number, but most people didn’t do that. Half-boiled eggs, toast and coffee, a good start of the day.

We stopped in Bidor for lunch at the Pun Chun restaurant. Also here registration and temperature check. They are famous for their Duck Noodles, Aric doesn’t fancy duck and had Wantan Mee.

Bidor is a good place to buy petai and next to the restaurant they were working on mural art related to this delicacy (if you like it, haha) .

We took the old winding road from Tapah to the Cameron Highlands and stopped for a while at the Lata Iskandar waterfall. A grandmother fall, as my friend Khong would call it. Perfect for a senior citizen like me!

The first impression you get from the Cameron Highlands is rather disappointing. Vegetable farms with their ugly grey plastic covering, hotels everywhere, like here in Ringlet.

But there are still beautiful tea plantations.

We stopped for tea at the Bharat tea shop where we had tea and scones, of course! More people than we expected (as it was a weekday).

We had booked accommodation in the Lutheran MIssion Bungalow. It was my fifth visit to this unspoilt gem, first time was in 2010, ten years ago πŸ˜‰ . Not much has changed in these ten years, the bungalow is well maintained. They have twelve rooms, but we had the bungalow for ourselves.

We arrived around 4pm, had tea and took some rest.

A visit to the Cameron Highlands is not complete without a steamboat dinner. You find steamboat restaurants everywhere, a favourite of us is Jin Jin in Brinchang. It was crowded, when we arrived there was still a free table, but later people had to queue. Registration as usual, but in the restaurant there was no social distancing. Nice friendly atmosphere.

We ordered steamboat for two people, but could not finish everything.

The sound of birds woke us up next morning, for the rest it was absolutely quiet in and around the bungalow. A bit later we could hear the sound of the caretaker who was preparing our breakfast. Breakfast in British style, with cereals, fried eggs, sausage, toast and jam.

The weather was splendid, super blue sky. We walked around in the garden and took pictures of flowers.

Two views of the garden, the left picture is taken from the living room. There is one room upstairs, with a balcony, from where I took the second picture . Will try to book that room (no 12) next time.

Before we checked out, I walked some distance back on the access road, and then walked again to the bungalow. Always when I come here, I have the feeling of going backwards in time. I hope to share that feeling with these three photos.

The first time I visited the Lutheran Mission Bungalow with my friend Ashleigh in 2010, we were on a mission πŸ˜‰ . Ashleigh wanted to write an article about the disappearance of Jim Thompson on 26 March 1967 from the Moonlight Bungalow in the Cameron Highlands. He was last seen by the cook of the Lutheran Mission Bungalow. Read more about our mission in my blog What happened to Jim Thompson? .

Here is a Google Earth map of the two bungalows with a photo of the Moonlight Bungalow, which is used as a hotel at the moment. Notice the winding access road to both bungalows

Before leaving the Cameron Highlands, we stopped at a few stalls to buy sweet potatoes and petai.


We used a different route to go back home. From Ringlet to Sg Koyan and from there to Raub, as we wanted to have durian and Raub is famous for its durians. The first time I took this road was in 2008, when it was still under construction. A very adventurous trip, here is a report : New Road to the Cameron Highlands . Now the road is a good alternative to the old Tapah road.

We had durians at this stall in Raub. You could not have them in the stall, only take away.

We bought two durians and asked the lady to open them for us. She used a nice contraption to do that.

Next to the stall, beside the road, there were a few makeshift tables , where we could enjoy the “king of fruits”.

It was a nice trip, we should have stayed another night in the bungalow. Our conclusion is that traveling within Malaysia is almost back to normal.

Waterfall Camping

A few years ago, 31 December 2017, I published a post Waterfall Nostalgia, in which I described the beginning of my waterfall addiction. Here is another nostalgic post.

I have kept track of the waterfall trips I have made in Malaysia. Often they were day trips to waterfalls, not too far away from where I live. But also longer “expeditions” to farther away places, like Kelantan, Johore or East Malaysia. From my first waterfall trip in 2003 until now I have made about 300 trips and visited more than 200 different waterfalls.

A few times I have been camping on a waterfall trip and they belong to my most memorable experiences. Here I will describe a few.

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Berkelah Falls 2004

August 2004 I visited the Berkelah Falls in Pahang with Paul and Rahim. In those days you needed a 4WD for the last part of the road, we had booked transport in a nearby kampung.

A nice campsite with no other visitors! We had lunch before exploring the falls.

Berkelah has multiple falls. This is the impressive twin fall, near to the campsite.

Fall after fall. The right picture shows the main fall, with a huge pool.

In the afternoon we walked back and had a drink before preparing dinner.

Enjoying the evening , sitting around the campfire.

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Jerangkang Falls 2008

In the same year I had also visited the nearby Jerangkang Falls, a camping trip organised by a friend. A large group, nice people, but I prefer a small group of friends. A spectacular series of falls, I decided to go again, and went back in August 2008. This time with my own friends Rani, Richard, Paul an Karl. FRom the car park, we had to hike a short distance to the campsite.

We were lucky again, no other people around. After lunch we explored the waterfalls.

We came back to our camp quite late, but it was still light enough to prepare dinner.

Early morning. Morning atmosphere in the jungle is magic. Slowly it is getting light and colours appear again.

We had breakfast on a big boulder near our camp. And before leaving, we had time to explore more and play around. Beautiful pools.

Here is a picture of our fellowship. In 2008 I have published a more detailed report about this trip: Camping in Paradise.

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Tigok Fall 2009

My waterfall friend Siang Hui is very good in discovering new waterfalls, using topo maps and Google Earth. On GE he found a very remote fall in the Bidor region, estimated altitude about 750 m above sea level. When I was passing Bidor on my way back from Taiping, I did a short recce and found a signboard to Pos Gedong, from here it might be possible to reach this fall.

So Siang Hui, Aric, Rani and I decided to give it a try and camp overnight near Pos Gedong. After arriving there we talked with the the penghulu, who knew about the fall and found a guide for us.

We found a suitable place for camping not far from the village near the bank of the river and we could even park the car almost next to our tents πŸ™‚

The weather was nice, we had a relaxing afternoon, there was beer, we made a campfire and later prepared our dinner.

The next morning, after breakfast and packing our stuff, we met our guide in the village and went on our way. First following a logging road, river trekking the last part.

It took us more than three hours to reach the fall, our guide had to chop his way often, hardly a trail. But it was worth the effort. Not many outsiders must have visited this fall, no rubbish, pristine condition.

To go back to the village took us about two hours. Here is a Google Earth map of our route. We walked about 15 km. Very rewarding adventure, here is a detailed report Ulu Gedong Adventure

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Sg Luit Falls 2011

The first time I explored Sg Luit was in 2010 with my friend Keong. Here is a report: Following Chapman’s footprints. After friends told me that there was a beautiful waterfall further upstream, I went back with them to this impressive Lata Makau. Back home, studying Google Earth, I noticed that there could be another big waterfall, just around the corner from Lata Makau. In July 2011 I went again, with Keong, Rani, Jim, Ben and Vincent. We decided to camp near Lata Makau, to have more time for exploration upstream.

It was my most adventurous camping trip. As we didn’t expect to find a regular campsite, we brought hammocks. I had a hammock, but never really used it. No problem because Rani and Keong were experienced hammockers who could help me πŸ™‚ Dark clouds forced us to set up camp before we reached Lata Makau, near a nice small waterfall.

Here is our romantic campsite.

The afternoon rain didn’t last long. We prepared dinner, made a campfire and had a pleasant evening. Real jungle feeling.

The next morning after breakfast we continued to Lata Makau. Beautiful fall with a huge pool.

We managed to scramble up to the right side. No trail , we had to use our parangs, but it was not far. As I expected, around the corner, there was the upper fall, also expressive. Compare the fall with the size of Jim and Rani, who climbed up to see if there were more falls upstream.

Mission accomplished ! Here is a more detailed report: Three times Sg Luit .

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Jeram Berdebu 2013

Our trip to the remote Berdebu waterfall in Terengganu had a special background. In August 2012 Harry, one of my waterfall friends, had visited this waterfall and on his way back from the fall had died in a fatal accident. He was alone and his body was found only a week later. So it was a kind of memorial trip, I was joined by Aric, Siang Hui, Teoh and Nick. Because of the remote location we decided to camp.

The Berdebu waterfall is located in the Kelemin river and to reach this river you have to follow a logging road for more than 20 km to a logging camp, where Harry’s car was found. We came across fresh elephant dung!

A few km after this camp we found the perfect place to pitch our tents on the bank of the Kelemin river.

It was already late afternoon, time to make coffee and a campfire.

We had enough time to relax.

Before we got busy preparing our dinner.

The next morning after breakfast, we started hiking to the fall. The first part was still a logging road, but soon it became river trekking, not always easy, huge boulders.

After a few hours we could see the spectacular Berdebu fall.

It was still a few hundred meter to the fall, with difficult river crossings and terrain. I decided that it was enough for me, Aric stayed with me and Siang Hui, Teoh and Nick continued. The right picture was taken by Siang Hui.

Before hiking back we took a group photo. Later I found out that we were resting here at the same location where Harry had also taken a photo. Read my report A Memorable Trip.

This was seven years ago, time flies. It is still a very vivid memory for me. The stone marker that you see in the picture above, was erected for Harry.

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Dipang Falls 2014

In 2009 I visited the Pos Dipang falls for the first time. On this trip I met Jinnah, a friendly Semai orang asli, who told us that there were many more waterfalls instream. With him as a guide I went three more times, exploring the upper falls. The last time even camping there, because the upper falls are very remote. Here is my report Three Times Dipang. In 2014 I went again to the upper falls, this time with Aric, Teoh, Nick, Eddie, Edwin and Janine. Camping again and with Jinnah as our guide.

We met Jinnah in Pos Dipang and got permission from the Penghulu to camp. After some discussion with Jinnah, we decided to camp in the same place where I had camped earlier with Rani.

As dark clouds were approaching, we had to protect our tents with fly sheets against the heavy downpour that followed.

Luckily around 5 pm the rain stopped.

So we could enjoy a drink πŸ™‚

Basically we had all brought our own food for dinner, but why not join and share ;-). It resulted in a nice evening of fellowship.

The next morning. Ready to go.

It was a long, but pleasant hike. First we visited Lata Cheroh, during my last trip I had only seen it from the top, now w arrived at the bottom, quite a spectacular waterfall.

It was a steep scramble to reach the top of the fall and from there no problem to reach Lata Merjur, the upper fall. I would have enjoyed this impressive fall more, if there had not been big swarms of sweat bees. They are not aggressive, but I am allergic to bee and wasp stings, so I did not feel comfortable.

While I was watching the sweat bees around me, my friends were enjoying Lata Merjur. Because of the rainy season, the water flow was quite spectacular.

Here is a detailed report about the trip : Pos Dipang Revisited.

This has been my last camping trip. Main reason is the above-mentioned allergy. I always carry an Epipen, but still I am reluctant now to venture deep into the jungle. Besides, I am getting older and less confident. But I am happy with these wonderful experiences.

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.

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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.

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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.