Isabella Bird & Taiping

In several earlier posts I have mentioned Isabella Bird, who visited Taiping in 1879. In this post I will describe in somewhat more detail the visit of this intrepid English traveller.

Isabella Bird was born in 1831. Already at a young age she was bitten by the travel bug. During her travels she wrote letters to her sister Henrietta in Edinburgh and these letters have been published in a number of books.

In 1878 she visits Japan (resulting in her book Unbeaten Tracks in Japan) and on her way back to England she spends a few weeks in Hong Kong. On 10 January 1879 she has a lunch with Chief Justice Snowden. In a letter to her sister she writes :

” .. he urges me to go to Malacca on my way home. I had never dreamed of the “Golden Chersonese;” but I am much inspired by his descriptions of the neighborhood of the Equator, and as he has lent me Newbold’s Malacca for the voyage, and has given me letters to the Governor and Colonial Secretary of the Straits Settlements, you will next hear from me from Singapore! “

On 18 January she arrives in Singapore where she is the guest of Cecil Smith, the Colonial Secretary of the Straits Settlements. She writes:

“I wonder how this unexpected and hastily planned expedition into the Malay States will turn out? It is so unlikely that the different arrangements will fit in. It seemed an event in the dim future; but yesterday my host sent up a “chit” from his office to say that a Chinese steamer is to sail for Malacca in a day or two, and would I like to go?”

She has only 5 minutes to decide. And of course she goes, always eager to escape from civilisation πŸ˜‰ .

The two quotes above are from her book The Golden Chersonese and the Way Thither , published in 1883. Left the original edition, right my own copy, a reprint from 2000. You can also read it online or download it to your tablet.

The Golden Chersonese is the ancient name for the Malay Peninsula. The book contains 23 letters, in the first seven chapters/letters she describes her visits to Hong Kong, Canton, Saigon and Singapore (the Way Thither).

I have read her book with admiration and fascination. What a remarkable lady.

Before I write about her travels, first a short description of the (political) situation in the Malay Peninsula during the seventies of the 19th century.

There were the Straits Settlements, a British Crown Colony consisting of Penang, Melaka ,Singapore ( and after 1874 the Dindings), and many independent Malay states. Several of them were in turmoil, for a variety of reasons, the Larut wars (1861-1874) in Perak , the Klang War (1867-1874) in Selangor, a Civil War (1873) in Sungei Ujong {present day Seremban). The result of the Pangkor Treaty (1874) was that Perak accepted a British Resident and soon Selangor and Sungei Ujong followed. The first Resident of Perak , J.W.W Birch, was murdered in November 1875, resulting in the Perak War (1875-1875) . Turbulent times.

And to give you an impression how unknown the peninsula was in those days, from 1875 until 1882 D.D. Daly, Superintendent of Public Works and Surveys, Selangor, surveyed the Malay peninsula with this map as one of the results. His report, presented to the Royal Geographic Society in 1882, is very readable.

On 19 January Isabella Bird leaves Singapore with the SS Rainbow. A small screw steamer with an interesting history. First owned by Rajah Brooke of Sarawak, later sold to the Government of the Straits Settlements and finally to Chinese merchants. Overloaded with about 150 people, she being the only “white man and Christian”, she lands the next day in Melaka “.. after a most pleasant voyage in a steamer one would have thought too bad to voyage in”.

Melaka was part of the Straits Settlement, a sleepy town ” .. the narrow stream and bridge, and the quaint red-tiled roofs of the town, is very charming and harmonious; yet I often think, if these dreamy days went on into months, that I should welcome an earthquake shock, or tornado .. ” She stays in the Stadthuys.

From Melaka she makes an adventurous trip to Sg Ujong, first with a steam launch to the mouth of the Linggi river, then in a perahu. Her description in letter XI is so fascinating that, many years ago, I followed by car, as close as possible, the Linggi river with a friend, from the river mouth to Seremban: Linggi adventure, 15-7-2008. Here I am standing near the river, no crocodiles or tigers anymore.

Isabella’s next destination is Selangor. On 1 February she arrives in Klang (“a most mistriven, decayed, dejected, miserable-looking place “). She stays in the Residency, makes a trip to Jugra to visit the Sultan and is clearly less happy then in Sg Ujong.

A few days later she sails to Penang aboard the Abdulsamad, the yacht of the Sultan, visiting Kuala Selangor and Sabba (Sabak Bernam) on the Bernam river on their way. She spends one night in the Hotel de l’Europe (nowadays part of the E&O hotel) and 10 February she crosses over to Province Wellesley, where in the evening the steamer Kinta arrives with W. E. Maxwell, the Assistant Resident of Perak. In his company two nice Malay boys, the sons of the exiled Sultan Abdullah who will go to Melaka for their education. This is the Kinta.

They leave at night and the next morning at 7 am they reach Teluk Kertang, in those days the main port of Taiping , (“.. with a pier, a long shed, two or three huts, and some officialism, white and partly white, all in a “dismal swamp”) Nowadays Teluk Kertang is a quiet kampong with several shipyards and charcoal kilns.

In gharries (horse-drawn carriages) they drive to the residency. In Permatang they pass “ … two very large two-storied Malay houses in some disrepair, in which the wife of the banished MΔ•ntri of Larut lives, with a number of slaves.  ” That must have been Kota Ngah Ibrahim. Of course it looks very different now.

It was here that in 1876 the trial of Birch’s murderers took place, resulting in the conviction and hanging of two Malay noblemen and the banishment of Sultan Abdullah and Ngah Ibrahim to the Seychelles. The Kota is now a museum, on the first floor you can see scenes of the trial.

They continue to Taiping: “From this point we drove along an excellent road toward the mountains …. and near noon entered this important Chinese town, with a street about a mile long, with large bazaars and shops making a fine appearance, … and on the top of a steep, isolated terraced hill, the British Residency“.  The green line in this Google Earth screenshot, is probably how she went from Teluk Kertang to the Residency.

Maxwell resided in what nowadays is the District Officer’s Residence, originally built by Captain Speedy.

It must have looked very different when Isabella Bird stayed there. In her description: “The Residency is large and lofty, and thoroughly draughty, a high commendation so near the equator. It consists of a room about thirty feet wide by sixty long, and about twenty feet high at its highest part, open at both ends, the front end a great bow window without glass opening on an immense veranda.

She stays a couple of days in the Residency and enjoys it very much. “The house on my side has a magnificent view of the beautiful Hijan hills, down which a waterfall tumbles in a broad sheet of foam only half a mile off, and which breed a rampageous fresh breeze for a great part of the day”. Here is the waterfall, a bit further away than she thought, one and a half mile away from the Residency.

She continues her description: “The front veranda looks down on Taipeng and other Chinese villages, on neat and prolific Chinese vegetable gardens, on pits, formerly tin mines, now full of muddy, stagnant water, on narrow, muddy rivulets bearing the wash of the tin mines to the Larut river”. Taiping as seen from the Residency may have looked like this. One year later, in 1880, the town was destroyed by fire and rebuilt in brick.

The food is simple and Maxwell is working all the time “There are two simple meals daily, with tea and bananas at 7 A.M., and afternoon tea at 5 P.M. Mr. Maxwell is most abstemious, and is energetically at work from an early hour in the morning

She is alone a lot , visits the town and enjoys the company of the two boys. “Those boys of Sultan Abdullah’s are the most amusing children I ever saw. They are nine and twelve years old, with monkey-like, irrepressible faces. They have no ballast. They talk ceaselessly, and are very playful and witty, but though a large sum is being paid for their education at Malacca, they speak atrocious “pidjun,” and never use Malayan, in my hearing at least”. Interesting detail, the two boys, Raja Chulan and Rajah Ngah Mansur were later involved in the creation of the Perak State Anthem.

During her stay she also visits a tin mine in Kamunting. She gives a detailed description of how a mine is working and is treated well by the Chinese owner of the mine who “..  had conveyed champagne, sherry, and bitter beer! His look of incredulity when we said that we preferred tea, was most amusing; but on our persisting, he produced delicious tea with Chinese sweetmeats, and Huntley and Palmer’s cocoa-nut biscuits” She must have loved food, mentions it often in her book!

She also wants to meet Hugh Low, the British Resident, who is residing in Kuala Kangsar, the royal capital of Perak. Kuala Kangsar is less than 25 km from Taiping, as the crow flies, But there are hills and mountains in
between . Have a look at this enlarged details of the 1882 map. The only connection between Kuala Kangsar and Taiping was via the pass at Bukit Berapit, and there was no real road yet. The plan was that Isabella Bird would travel to Kuala Kangsar by elephant and a telegram had been sent that elephants should come to Taiping and meet her.

In the early morning of 14 February: “We had bananas and chocolate, and just at daybreak walked down the hill, where I got into a little trap drawn by a fiery little Sumatra pony, and driven by Mr. Gibbons, a worthy Australian miner who is here road-making, and was taken five miles to a place where the road becomes a quagmire not to be crossed”. This place must have been Changkat Jering, via Air Kuning about 6 miles from the Residency.

But the telegraph line was broken, and Maxwell who had accompanied her, was unable to find other elephants. “There was nothing for it but to walk, and we tramped for four miles. I could not have done the half of it had I not had my “mountain dress” on, the identical mud-colored tweed, in which I waded through the mud of Northern Japan. ” Actually she enjoys this walk tremendously, giving a vivid description of all the flowers, shrubs and trees she finds on her path.

Finally “After walking for four miles we came upon a glorious sight at a turn of the road, a small lake behind which the mountains rise forest-covered, with a slope at their feet on which stand the cocoa-nut groves, and the beautiful Malay house of the exiled MΔ•ntri of Larut” Nowadays the house and the lake don’t exist anymore, only the tombs of Long Jaafar, the father of Ngah Ibrahim.

Here she waits for the elephants to arrive, while being offered cocoa-nuts, buffalo milk and lotus seeds. She writes: “Beyond is the picturesque kampong of Matang, with many good houses and a mosque. Passing through a gateway with brick posts, we entered a large walled enclosure …. “ She makes a mistake here, it is not Matang but Bukit Gantang! There is still a mosque, a porch and remains of an enclosure. Of course not necessarily the same as mentioned by her πŸ™‚

Finally her elephant arrives. The ways she describes the animal (a hideous beast) , the mounting ( I dropped into one of these baskets from the porch ), the driver ( a gossiping, careless fellow ), the riding (This mode of riding is not comfortable ), the unmounting ( letting myself down by a rattan rope upon the driver, who made a step of his back ) is so vivid and often hilarious, that I decided to combine all the passages about her elephant ride into a separate document, The first elephant ride of Isabella Bird

Although the ride is not comfortable, she enjoys the scenery (The pass of Bukit Berapit, seen in solitude on a glorious morning, is almost worth a journey round the world ) and the hospitality ( I clambered into a Malay dwelling of the poorer class, and was courteously received and regaled with bananas and buffalo milk) . Because the elephant is “unruly”, she walks the last few miles and has her first encounter with leeches (surprised to find that my boots were filled with blood, and on looking for the cause I found five small brown leeches, beautifully striped with yellow, firmly attached to my ankles. )

After ten hours of traveling she reaches Kuala Kangsar. “When the sun was low I looked down upon a broad and beautiful river, with hills and mountains on its farther side, a village on the shores of a promontory, and above that a grassy hill with a bungalow under cocoa-palms at its top, which I knew must be the Residency, from the scarlet uniforms at the door”.

Here is how she traveled from Taiping to Kuala Kangsar. Air Kuning and Changkat Jering are not mentioned in her book, but this seems to me the most probable route. In red the part she had to walk. The Perak river in blue

Here is her description of the Residency: …at the top of a steep slope the bungalow, which has a long flight of stairs under a latticed porch, leading to a broad and comfortably furnished veranda used as the Resident’s office and sitting-room, the centre part, which has a bed-room on each side of it and runs to the back of the house, serving for the eating-place. It is as unpretending a dwelling as can be. It keeps out the sun and rain, and gives all the comfort which is needed in this climate, but nothing more. Even simpler than the Residency in Taiping.

The Residency as described by Isabella is no more there. In 1885 Hugh Low rebuilt the Residency , there exists a picture of it. The right picture gives a view of Kuala Kangsar in the 1870s,

In 1905 the Residence was demolished to make place for the King’s Pavilion, accommodation for the British High Commissioner to the Federated Malay States . Now it houses a school.

When she arrives in the Residency, she finds out that “Mr. Low, the Resident, has not returned, and I am not only alone in his bungalow in the heart of the jungle, but so far as I can learn I am the only European in the region“. She is received by the butler, has a nice bath, unfortunately her valise has not yet arrived, so she is obliged to re-dress in her mud-splashed tweed dress. She is annoyed when she sees that dinner is prepared for three, as she is not in the mood for social conversation. But it turns out that the other two guests are Mahmoud and Eblis, the two pet apes of Hugh Low!

She is fascinated by these apes and writes so often about them in her letters that I have collected these passages in a separate document Isabella Bird and the apes of Hugh Low .

On the night of her arrival, the Sinhalese clark of Hugh Low suggests that she could make a trip the following day, this time riding the Royal elephant of the Sultan. “He is such a height (they say ten feet!) that, though he lay down to be mounted, a good-sized ladder was needed for the climb upon his back”. They ride in the jungle for seven hours on the left bank of the Perak river, passing several Malay kampongs. She enjoys everything, almost intoxicated by the beauty of the flowers, the butterflies, the majestic trees. After several hours they arrive at a kampong where they dismount for lunch,  “looking out from deep shadow down upon the beautiful river lying in the glory of the noonday sun, its banks bright with birds and butterflies”.

The locals tell her guide that it is possible to ford the Perak river. “The mahout said that the elephant was a “diver,” and would probably dive, but that there was no danger to us except of getting very wet” She likes the idea of crossing the river to the other side and doesn’t mind getting wet. So they go: “the elephant gently dropped down and was entirely submerged, moving majestically along, with not a bit of his huge bulk visible, the end of his proboscis far ahead, writhing and coiling like a water snake every now and then.”

After crossing the Perak river (and getting wet), Low’s clark says “”I’m going to take you to Koto-lamah; no European has been there since the war. I’ve never been there, nor the Resident either.”

The war he is talking about is the Perak war and it was in Kota Lama that the decisive battle between the British army and the warriors of Maharaja Lela took place: The Battle of Kota Lama Kanan. That was on 4 January 1876, just three years before Isabella’s visit! While crossing the river, her guide says “A few months ago they would have been firing at us from both sides of the river “

I have visited Kota Lama Kanan recently . Very peaceful and rural, difficult to imagine that a battle took place here. But at the mosque we found a cannon, the caretaker told us that it is one of the two cannons used in the battle. From the mosque you can walk down to the river. It doesn’t look very fordable here.

The reception of Isabella in Kota Lama Kanan is not unfriendly, although many men are armed with parangs, spears and even muskets and one of the woman she meets is the widow of Maharaja Lela! “However, though as a Briton I could not have been a welcome visitor, they sent a monkey for two cocoa-nuts, and gave me their delicious milk; and when I came away they took the entrance ladder from one of the houses to help me to mount the elephant.”

They ride back on an overgrown elephant track, passing several lairs and tiger tracks until they reach Kuala Kangsar, where they have to cross the Perak river again, this time in a dugout. Here are two illustrations from her book, a dugout and a street in Kuala Kangsar.

When Hugh Low hears about this adventure, he is at first displeased, saying that the clerk was ignorant and foolish, but later he admits that it has been useful to show that the region was pacified now. “..but, he added, it would appear somewhat odd that the first European to test the disposition of the Koto-lamah people should be a lady

Her stay in Kuala Kangsar is full of variety. She meets Malay Royalty, Raja Yusuf (regent of Perak), Raja Idris (the future sultan) , the two sons of Abdullah, goes bird-shooting with Captain Walker and of course there are the apes.

So it is reluctantly that she leaves Kuala Kangsar. Hugh Low likes her company,. “Mr. Low kindly expresses regret at my going, and says he has got quite used to my being here, and added: “You never speak at the wrong time. When men are visiting me they never know when to be quiet, but bother one in the middle of business.”

Her trip back to Taiping is uneventful and much faster than when she came by elephant, one week earlier. I rode a capital pony, on Mr. Low’s English saddle, a Malay orderly on horseback escorting me, and the royal elephant carried my luggage.

She stays a few more days in Taiping before leaving for Penang, from where she sails back to England on the 25th of February.

I have concentrated in this blog on her travel adventures. The book contains a lot more, there are separate, quite informative, chapters about the states she has visited. Of course she is still a product of the Victorian era, fully convinced of the superiority of the Brits. She can be quite blunt in her opinion about the Malays and especially about the Chinese.

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.

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.

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™‚

Birch monument, Taiping

Do you know that there is a commemorative stone for Birch, up Maxwell Hill, my friend Wan Amril asked me, when I met him in Taiping, May 2017.

Of course I knew about J.W.W Birch, the first British Resident of Parak, appointed 4 November 1874 after the Pangkor Treaty and assassinated 2 November 1875. I knew that there was a memorial clocktower for him in Ipoh, but I had never heard about a monument in Taiping.

Wan Amril, who is very knowledgeable about Taiping and its history, had seen a photo of the monument in 2009 and had visited it in December of the same year. Here is the very readable report written by him about what he called a mini-expedition: The Forgotten Memorials .

He was willing to bring me to the monument and of course I accepted his invitation. Aric and I were staying in the Nest, enjoying the hospitality of Suet Fun and Peter, together with another friend, Law Siak Hong, president of the Perak Heritage Society.

From the Nest bungalow it is less than 1.5 km along the tar road to where the trail starts. The tar road ends at the Cottage, the first bungalow of Maxwell Hill, built in 1884.

It is easy to miss the trail. And you must be prepared for leeches.

After about 200 meter you reach the monument.

This is the text on the monument: THE FIRST ENGLISHMAN TO CLIMB THIS HILL WAS MR T.W.W. BIRCH. FIRST BRITISH RESIDENT OF PERAK IN 1875 . In 2009 Wan Amril had already noticed the mistake, the T should have been a J.

Next to the commemorative stone, there is a metal plaque, not easy to decipher, Wan Amril gives: LAWATAN PERTAMA KALI D.Y.T.M. RAJA MUDA PERAK KA BUKIT INI PADA 23.7.73 JAM 8.02 PAGI. Translated: Inaugural visit by His Highness the Raja Muda of Perak to this hill on 23-7-73 at 8:02am

An interesting monument, leading to several questions. When was it placed here and by whom? Who was responsible for the spelling mistake and why was it never corrected? And of course the most important question, did J.W.W Birch indeed climb Bukit Larut during the short period (less than one year!) that he was the Perak Resident? If he did, for what purpose? Adventure? Looking for a possible hill resort πŸ™‚ ?

Back home in Petaling Jaya, I searched Google for more info and discovered that Birch had kept a journal during the period that he was Resident of Perak! In 1976 an annotated edition of these Journals has been published, out of stock, but the National Library of Malaysia has copies!

I visited the Library in December 2018 and found the book with the help of friendly library staff.

I coud not borrow it, so I sat down and soon found the passage in which Birch describes his visit to Taiping. I made photocopies, here they are. Interesting reading, this is Birch’s private diary and he doesn’t always mince his words :-). Click to enlarge.

Here is a summary with some comments from me

Birch arrived in Taiping from the Dindings on Wednesday 30 June 1875. He met Captain Speedy, had discussions with Campbell about surveying matters and inspected the construction work on the road from Sempang to Qualla Kangsa. Spelling in those days was often different from the present one.

He also meets the Mantri, Ngah Ibrahim, at Bukit Gantang and has to settle Chinese disputes. About Sunday 4 July he writes: A large party of Europeans have come over to see Capt. Speedy and the place is quite lively with upwards of 30 elephants also collected. Do I detect some disapproval here πŸ™‚ ? Not surprisingly he is rather critical about the flamboyant Speedy.

On Tuesday 6 July, he starts the expedition to Gunung Hijau. Not looking for adventure or a potential hill resort, surveying is the target. Campbell and Speedy accompany him and three more Englishmen. Plus of course porters, the plan is to stay overnight at the top of Gunong Huji (Gunung Hijau), so besides surveying equipment also material for a temporary shed has to be transported up the mountain.

After “a very steep and troublesome climb” they reach the house of a “Chinaman” at about 1700 feet, where they stay overnight. The mines are very good there with lots of water around, Birch writes.

The next day they must have started early, because at 9am they reached already some Malay houses/huts, at an altitude of 2500 feet. Also here the (tin) ore was very rich and “… an enterprising man may make a fortune here in a very short time …

The Chinese house, the Malay huts, at least the lower ranges of Bukit Larut were inhabited, so there must have been reasonably clear trails. For the upper part, I think the (orang asli?) guides who undoubtedly brought Birch and his team to the top, chose basically the route which now leads to the Hill Station (at 6th mile) and continues to the Cottage on top of Caulfield Hill. Here is a topo map of the upper part of Bukit Larut. Left the Hill Station at an altitude of 3400 feet. Gunung Hijau is at 4750 feet.

Caulfield Hill is what mountain hikers call a “false peak” at 4500 feet. You think that you have reached the top, but you have to go down first and then climb up again to the real peak. Frustrating, I speak from experience πŸ™‚ In this case the saddle between Caulfield Hill and Gunung Hijau is at an altitude of 4300 feet.

After breakfast, they continue, and Birch writes: “after getting considerably higher, we had to go down a dip of about 500 feet, and then ascend again, but at last reached the top” If I am right about the route they followed, he is more or less correct, they had to go down about 200 feet and climb up again 450 feet.

At the top it is cold, there is mist and a strong wind, but there are also splendid glimpses of the land below and the sea. A shed is built, there is intermittent rain and at night it is very cold.

The next day Birch and Campbell wake up early to do their surveying work. They used instruments similar to these two, left an aneroid barometer and right a theodolite.

First they determine the height of Gunung Hijau. Probably everybody will be familiar with a barometer as an instrument to give information about the weather. Notice that the inner scale gives the air pressure (in inches Hg) and also weather descriptions, From Stormy (28 inch) until Very Dry (31 inch).

But a barometer can also be used to determine height, using the fact that the air pressure will decrease when you get higher in the atmosphere.

Birch had measured 29.42 inch for the air pressure at Mrs Marple’s house (where he was staying in Taiping) , and now he found 25.15 inch. He had also measured the temperature at both locations.

With these values he was able to calculate the difference in altitude between the two locations and found 4425 feet. Estimating the altitude of Mrs Marple’s house at 60 feet, this would give 4485 feet for the height of Gunung Hijau. And that value is not correct, more than 250 feet short, the actual height of Gunung Hijau is 4750 feet ! In an Appendix I will give more details about his calculation and about a possible explanation of the discrepancy..

The next step was to determine the actual location of Gunung Hijau. They used the Admiralty Chart number 1353, where the location of the mountain was given and also the location of several island in the Straits, Pulo Jarra, Pulo Rima, Pulo Kandy and Pulo Tellong. Is the location of Gunung Hijau on the map correct? Now the theodolite is needed. With this precision instrument you can measure angles, both in a vertical and a horizontal plane. The procedure is as follows. The theodolite is pointed to an island, and the angle is measured. Using this angle you can draw a line on the map. Repeat this for the other islands. Where the four lines intersect, is your location. In principle two lines are enough, but more will be better. Result of these measurements : “ … we found that Gunung Hiju was in correct position exactly

The view is magnificent, from the Dindings in the South to Quedah Peak (Gunung Jerai) in the North. Penang is clearly visible. Apparently they can also see Taiping, deep down, the prison, roads etc. About the view Birch writes “It is one of the prettiest bird’s-eye views I ever saw, and beats the view from Penang Hill all to nothing“.

All this during the morning hours, because at 12pm, they pack their instruments and start the descent, another 3000 feet down, to the house of the Chinese at 1750 feet, where they stay overnight again.

The next day, “with a good deal of pain in our muscles ” they descend the last part where elephants(!) are waiting, who bring Birch back to his lodgings at Mrs Marple. That night he has a fever, but the following morning he feels well and fresh again and starts works with Campbell to plot the results of the expedition .

It is his last day in Taiping, in the afternoon he goes to Bukit Gantang, on elephant, where he meets Ngah Ibrahim and has a discussion with him about debt slavery and other matters. He stays overnight in Bukit Gantang and continues the next day to Kuala Kangsar.

It is 11 July. Ten days later, on 21 July, in a meeting of Sultan Abdullah with the Malay chiefs, it is decided that Birch will be killed, not poisoned but stabbed to death. Because he has no respect for Malay culture and tradition, some say. Because he wanted to abolish “debt slavery.” other historians say.

One question about the monument has been answered. Yes, Birch climbed Gunung Hijau in 1875, together with four other Englishmen. When and by whom the commemorative stone was placed at what now is called Birch Hill, will probably remain unknown forever.

I am thinking about climbing Gunung Hijau myself during one of my following visits to Taiping. Of course not starting from the foothills πŸ™‚ There is a trail starting near Caulfield Hill and from there it should take about one hour. Probably there is no view anymore, but I want to check out myself. Anyone likes to join πŸ™‚ ?


Appendix

Atmospheric pressure depends on altitude, as you get higher it will decrease. In my university it was a standard experiment for physics freshmen to determine the height of the laboratory building, using a barometer.

So I was interested how Birch determined the height of Gunung Hijau. Here is the passage in his Journal again, where he does the calculations

The formula he uses is H = 60.000 (log R – log r) K , where R and r are the barometer readings in Taiping and on the top of the mountain, and K is a correction factor depending on the temperatures, measured at the two locations.

Where did Birch find this formula? He mentions Ranbines and Molesworth. Googling for Ranbines gave no results, but Molesworth did. A lot of hits, it must have been a popular handbook for engineers in the 19th century. First edition in 1863, here is a photo of the 19th edition, published in 1879.

The pocket book has 788 (!) pages and can be found online here. I was lucky, I only had to scroll to page 12 to find what I was looking for πŸ™‚

We have to take the logarithm of the two pressure values. Nowadays we use a pocket calculator, but in those days you had to use logarithm tables, which are included in Molesworth’s Pocket Book. By the way, during my own high school days, I still was using a logarithm table! Here are the logarithm pages in Molesworth.

Mainly for nostalgic reasons, but you may try to reproduce the values given by Birch πŸ™‚ Actually I did. Taking the logarithms of the pressure values, I noticed that he gives them in 7 decimals. The tables have 5 decimals, interpolation gives the 6th, but not a 7th. My guess is that the tables in Rambines have 6 decimals, so interpolation gives the 7th. Not that it makes much of a difference. Subtracting the two logarithms, Birch finds a value of 0.0681047, while I find 0.068109, one decimal less, using the Molesworth tables.

The final part of Birch’s calculation is a bit surprising. Birch takes logarithms again ! But there is no need for that, just fill the values in the equation for H, given above

H = 60000 x 0.0681047 x 1.083 = 4425.4 feet (with my value, I find 4425.7 feet).

Of course it is true that using logarithms you replace multiplication by addition, but at the cost of using tables, and the two (long) multiplications are basically primary school stuff.

About the difference between the 4425 + 60 feet found by Birch and the actual value of 4750 feet, the most probable explanation is a change in atmospheric pressure (weather conditions) during Birch’s trip. At least two days between the measurements at Mrs Marple’s house and the top of Gunung Hijau! Look again at the dial of the barometer. “Very Dry” and “Stormy” have a pressure difference of 3 inches!

To see the effect of a small variation in r, I redid the calculation for r= 24.95 inch and found H =4651 feet.

This is a well known disadvantage of the barometric method to determine altitude. Both measurements should be done at the same time!

Taiping, October 2019

This time I visited Taiping to see the Nine Emperor Gods Festival. About the procession and the fire walking I have written a separate post, Nine Emperor Gods Festival . But during my 4D3N visit there was enough time left to walk around Taiping, visit friends and enjoy the food. Here is a report.

After the procession and lunch on Saturday 5 October , I decided to walk to the Amelia Earhart mural at the junction of Jalan Abdul Jalil and Jalan Taming Sari. On my way I passed the Central market and had a look inside. In the morning bustling with activity, but now quiet. Good news: plans for renovation of this iconic building have been accepted and a dilapidation survey has started. The “modern” clocktower in front of the market is quite interesting.

Here is the Amelia Earhart mural. A large mural to commemorate that she landed at Taiping airport on 20 June 1937. The problem is, she never did, as I have explained in two blog posts, Amelia Earhart and Taiping and Amelia Earhart and Taiping (part 2)

The mural is well done and her plane accurately depicted, but the text captions are wrong. She did not land at the Taiping aerodrome, but flew directly from Bangkok to Singapore on 20 June 1937. And the Taiping aerodrome may have been the first one in the Federated Malay States, but definitely not in South East Asia. Read my posts for more background information.

Walking back to my hotel, I passed two buildings that epitomise Taiping for me and actually are a reason that I love the town so much πŸ˜‰ . The contrast between attractive old buildings and ruined structures appeals to me.

The building of the Ceylon Association is another example of successful restoration. And continuing my walk, I could not resist the temptation of a cendol at Ansari πŸ™‚

Last month I have published a post Taiping Bandar Warisan about two ruined buildings along Station Road, the Rest House and the Perak Railway Buildings. I ended this report with:

Finally the Perak Railway Building and the Rest House have been fenced off. Let’s hope that this is the start of a positive development!

I am afraid that I was too optimistic. The Rest House looks fenced off quite well.

But you can still enter easily, as one of the entrance gates is unlocked

I was rather shocked when I saw the fencing of the Railway buildings. Only the front facade is fenced off, the side facade is just open as usual! My friend Yeap gave the explanation. Merdeka Day, 31 August, was celebrated this year in Taiping and the parade was passing the buildings along Station Road. The partial fencing was to cover the eyesore from view! Shame on MPT if that is true.

The main entrance (left photo) is “locked” in a very provisional way. Notice how the fence ends.

But from the other side you can. The fence is a solid construction, but completely useless this way. I entered from the side facade and took several pictures. I took care not to wake up the squatter who was living there and sleeping πŸ™‚ !

I have sent my report about these two buildings to the Taiping Municipal Council and to the Perak Exco for tourism, arts and culture. No reply (yet).

Next two large scale murals. one related to the Central Market, the other one to the Port Weld railway. Well done by the same artist, apparently sponsored by Koridor Utara and MPT. You can find murals nowadays all over Malaysia, good that Taiping seems to “specialise” in large ones.

Almost back in my hotel, I crossed one of my favourite food courts, opposite the Taiping Mall, where I had enjoyed my Chee Cheong Fun breakfast earlier that morning. It seems that in the past, this was the place where they held circus shows. No idea who came with the idea to “add value” to this relaxed place by erecting a useless I LOVE TAIPING .

After a rest in my hotel, it was time for my usual walk in the Lake Gardens . I had taken my umbrella, because the sky was threatening. But with the sun still present, the result is enchanting.

It was a Saturday afternoon, people were enjoying their boat rides, as I was enjoying my walk.

Just a few more photos of plants, flowers, fruits and fresh leaves. Life is good in Taiping.

I have walked numerous times in the Lake Gardens, and never noticed that there is actually a dinosaur near the lake side! After part of the Circular Road became the pedestrian Raintree Walk, people can use it for their exercises.

In the evening I went out for dinner. First I walked to the Casual Market, forgetting that they are not open in the evening. Walking back, passing the nicely illuminated clock tower, I went to another favorite food court of mine, Prima, where I had my Char Kuey Teow.

I was not the only customer πŸ™‚

The next morning I had breakfast with my friend Yeap in Lian Thong, eggs on toast and coffee. Another nicely restored building.

I had rented a bicycle from Furama hotel, because I was planning to visit the Taiping Aerodrome. But first I visited Mrs Long, the sister of my Singapore friend ST Lee. She is the wife of the late Mr Long, headmaster of King Edwards VIII and it has become a tradition to have a chat with her in her beautiful house at Barrack Road. She is a very good story teller.

When I was doing my research about Amelia Earhart and her supposed landing at the Taiping Aerodrome, I became interested in what was left of the aerodrome. I found a so-called aviation map of British Malaya (1935), with a detailed map of the Taiping Aerodrome. Compare it with the Google Earth screenshot. The left corner of the airfield has been developed already and there is concern that the rest of the airfield may follow. Protests have been hold, until now successfully.

Here is a view of the airfield. It would be great if a destination could be found in line with the original function of the field. For example an airfield for glider planes, or a skydiving school. Bus as you can see on the GE map, the field is now surrounded by residential development, so there might be safety issues.

Not much is left from the original buildings. This might have been the control tower.

A few more pictures. Could the building in the bottom pictures have been a hangar? First I thought that the concrete track in the top right picture could have been a runway, but on the GE screenshot you can see that the runway ran diagonally across the airfield (and has been been extended later, after the 1935 map was made).

On my way back to town, I stopped for a while at another mega-mural, near Antong’s coffee mill. Well done, but not a very good location, not many visitors will come and see it.

Back in town, I visited the Taiping city gallery, where I met Puan Jamilah, who still recognised me from an earlier visit. The planning is that this nice building should become a tourist information center for Taiping, but there is a lack of funding. Pity.

I met Yeap again for lunch, now in the company of Halim. After our lunch we visited the antique shop of Kapitan Tan, where Halim of course had to try the old Vespa πŸ™‚

In the afternoon I took a rest in my hotel . Later Yeap picked me up and together we went to the Tupai temple for the fire walking. Here is the link again: Nine Emperor Gods Festival.

The next morning I had breakfast with Keseven, a Taiping Heritage Society (THS) member who like me is very interested in the Taiping Aerodrome and rather upset about the Amelia Earhart mural. Taiping is a small town, so it was no surprise that we met there Neal, another THS member. Of course we talked/gossiped about Taiping and THS πŸ™‚

Halim was free that morning and willing to drive me around Taiping. So I walked back to my hotel, passed the dobi lines, always a colorful spectacle, packed my stuff and checked out.

Halim has been very active in tourism, so we made another stop at the Taiping city gallery and talked a bit more with Puan Jamilah.

Our next stop was at the pillars of the former Residency with the ruins of the ruined Casuarina hotel . Six years ago I have published a report, Shame on Taiping! , about this location. Nt much change, but of course more decay.

A few pictures. Halim told me that he and his wife had managed the restaurant of the hotel when it was still operating, about 12 years ago, so this visit was a kind of nostalgic experience for him.

Halim is quite adventurous and wanted to explore the first floor of the hotel, now resembling a jungle.

He was even more adventurous when we visited the New Club swimming pool, our last destination.

Before dropping me at the station, we had lunch in the Old Railway Station with Mee Rojak and Cendol.

Then it was time to take the ETS train back to Kuala Lumpur. A very convenient way of traveling!

It was a very rewarding trip. Thanks to all my Taiping friends. Looking forward to come again.

Nine Emperor Gods Festival

Last month one of our friends told us that he would have vegetarian food during the Nine Emperor Gods Festival. This Taoist festival is yearly held during the first nine days of the ninth lunar month. The largest celebration takes place in Ampang, but there is also one in Taiping, which I had always wanted to see, but never had πŸ˜‰ .

I asked my Taiping friends about details, and they told me that the main procession would be held on Sunday 6 October, and the fire walking on the last evening, Monday 7 October. So I booked my usual hotel Furama and arrived by train Saturday 5 October afternoon.

Taiping has become a warm nest for me, friends were already waiting at the station, and before sending me to my hotel, we had lunch in restaurant YES.

After a short rest in my hotel, and in spite of the drizzle, I decided to have a look at the Nine Emperor Gods Temple. There are three Kew Ong Yah (Nine Emperor) temples in Taiping, the original one is in Tupai, on walking distance from my hotel.

A lot of activity was going on. Devotees were praying in the temple and having (free) vegetarian food. Many of them were wearing traditional white clothes.

In the temple compound I saw already the floats and chariots that were going to be used during the procession.

That evening I had dinner again with my friends, this time in restaurant 8383 in Pokok Assam. As I said, Taiping is a warm nest for me. The food was delicious and really value for money.

The next morning was the procession. The husband of my friend Bok Kin is a descendant of Ng Boo Bee, the famous tycoon. In April they had taken me to Ng Boo Bee’s tomb, click here for the report. Ng Boo Bee’s town house is in Kota Road., the procession is always passing by there and it is a tradition that the family prepares an offering table in front of the house. Bok Kin invited me to watch the parade from there and of course I accepted her invitation.

Before the procession started, I joined the family in burning joss sticks, not surprisingly nine sticks this time πŸ™‚

Many people were waiting for the arrival of the parade. The cream-colored building is Ng Boo Bee’s townhouse

Start of the procession. In the background the iconic Taiping clock tower.

When the chariots were close to the house and the offering table, they made a left turn and almost ran to the table, stopping just in time.

Many participants were carrying whips, using them to make a cracking sound. There were also quite a few devotees, dressed in tattered monk robes, a fan in one hand and often a bottle of beer in the other. They personify Ji Gong. Fascinating to watch.

Rocking the chariot is a common practice. I had seen it before at the Chengay festival in Johor Baru.

I kept taking pictures πŸ™‚ .

Most of the chariots were carried by men. This one was an exception.

This Ji Gong entered the house to pay his respect to the house altar and wrote something on a piece of paper before he continued.

Another Ji Gong. His robe is tattered. His cap is covering his eyes. Holding a bottle of beer in one hand and a fan in the other. The original Ji Gong (1130-1209) ate meat, drank alcohol and did not care about his clothing… πŸ™‚

The most fascinating part of the procession are the many men, often still teenagers, who have been piercing their cheeks, walk with hooks in their backs etc. They are called masong. Most piercing is done with long, thin, metal poles, but there were a few devotees who had used heavier stuff, like this guy who was using two swords, and the guy to the right, using a gun. Can not imagine how that can heal easily.

Here are more pictures. One guy using an umbrella, another one a tyre pump, even one carrying a ladder! Notice how all of them have one or two helpers, carrying a stool. Understandably, sometimes they have to sit down for a while πŸ™‚

An Indian drum band added to the festive atmosphere. My friends said that this year the procession was longer than before. Several temple are contributing, and also Indians take part in the parade.

Here is another way of self-mortification , similar to what I have seen at Thaipusam, where devotees pull a chariot with ropes attached by hooks to their back. No chariot here, but other boys, pulling back, while the masong are more or less hanging forward.

More piercing of cheeks.

The last part of the procession. Devotees are carrying kavadis. Both the kavadis and the piercing have their origin in the Hindu Thaipusam tradition. Actually, there is a Hindu festival, Navaratri, during the same nine days of the ninth lunar month, but not related, as far as I know.

Heavy stuff, no wonder they sometimes have to sit down for some rest.

One of the last floats. Sprinkling (holy?) water on the crowd.

The whole parade took around 1.5 hour. After cleaning the offering table, the family invited me for lunch. Vegetarian of course πŸ™‚

The fire walking took place on the evening of the next day, so I had plenty of time to walk around in Taiping, meet other friends, enjoy (non-vegetarian) food, etc. I have written a separate post about it, Taiping, October 2019, and will continue here with the fire walking.

The next day around 7pm, my friend Yeap picked me up from my hotel and we found a parking place not too far from the Tupai temple, where the fire walking was going to take place. We were early, a big space had been cordoned off, and people were preparing the bed of ashes. It was shorter than I had seen in Sri Lanka, many years ago.

We had a look inside the temple, where Yeap introduced me to Ong Hean Hai, the caretaker. He is standing second from right, with his children . Later he invited us to his office, where he gave an explanation about the Nine Emperor Gods festival.

There were many food stalls in and around the temple compound. In one of them they were making Yeow Char Kwai, a favorite of mine, specially when freshly fried. The name translates as Oil Fried Devils and here is the explanation for that strange name πŸ™‚

As we were early, we had dinner there. Vegetarian curry mee, very nice. And black coffee with Yeow Char Kwai, delicious when you soak them in the coffee. In the meantime Bok Kin and Teng Hin had also joined.

Preparing for the fire walking, the devotees, dressed in white, perform several rituals. They enter the inner temple, where other people are not allowed. They walk back and forth several times to the fire walking compound, chanting.

The Nine Emperor Gods Festival is associated with rain, and this time was no exception. When the fire walking was beginning around 9pm, it had also started to rain. Maybe easier for the devotees to walk on the ashes? For us onlookers, we needed an umbrella.

The lighting was not very bright, so it was difficult to take good pictures. Here are two videos I took. The devotees are circling a few times around the ashes, before they walk.

It is interesting to watch the fire walkers. Some of them walk slowly, others almost run. Some carry a child or a bundle of clothes. Because of the rain, you could not see any glowing ashes, but it still must have been burning hot. After the first group of devotees, also others try. It is said that you can only do it if you have been vegetarian during the nine days of the festival , but I doubt if that is true

AFter the fire walking was finished, we went back to the restaurant, where also many of the fire walkers were enjoying a drink, food and company.

The festival was a memorable experience for me. I took many videos dring the procession and the fire walking. Here is a collage.

Taiping Bandar Warisan

In 2013 I wrote a blog Shame on Taiping! about a few of Taiping’s heritage sites which were in a bad condition. Especially the former Perak Railway buildings and the Rest House, both along Station Road, opposite the King Edwards VII school

Since that time I have been visiting these buildings regularly when I visited Taiping, taking many pictures, both inside and outside. Here is a (large) collection. I have indicated the year that they were taken. Click on a picture to enlarge.

First the Perak Railway Buildings. Here is a scan from Anuar Isa’s report Taiping’s Many Firsts, published by the Taiping Municipal Council (MPT) in 2013.

In 2016 I took this picture of the whole complex, the old timber structure (1885) in the foreground and the (newer) brick building to the left.

Front and side facade of the old timber structure (PWD 269)

Same for the two-storey brick building (PWD 267)

More pictures of the decaying front facade of PWD 269. Without comment, only the year I took the picture.

Between the two buildings there is a nice gate. Notice that sometimes there was an attempt to block the entrance, so that squatters etc could not enter.

This counter must be familiar to Taipingites πŸ™‚ Nowadays it is often occupied and the squatter living there does not always welcome your visit.

A few photos of the interior of PWD 267. Abandoned but still in reasonable condition. I could even venture to the first floor. Notice the nice iron columns.

The courtyards of the two buildings were taken over by jungle.

In 2017 there was some activity. My Taiping friends told me that one of the entrances had been widened, so a bulldozer could enter the courtyards. When I visited the building, I noticed of course that Donald Duck had disappeared ;-). The entrance had been professionally repaired. A good sign?

The courtyards had been thoroughly cleaned, shrubs and trees had been removed. Of course the ruined state of the buildings became more visible now.

Only later that year I had time to visit the interior of the buildings and I was shocked. The interior had been vandalised, the wooden floorboards had been removed! Was that the real reason for the earlier activity?

It was still possible to climb up (carefully!) to the first floor. The damage is even more clearly visible. Later I asked around, but I was not able to find out who was responsible for this destruction.

In July 2018 I only had a look at the courtyard, there was an unfriendly squatter, I didn’t want to get into an argument with him.

Not surprisingly the jungle is fighting back already.

In December I came again, this time I had no problem entering. Not much change. I am not an expert, but I think these two buildings are beyond repair.

Next to the Perak Railway Building is the Rest House, the Rumah Rehat. Here is what Anuar Isa’s report says about it.

I have been staying in the Rest House, many years ago. At that time it was called Lagenda Hotel. A budget hotel, but quite acceptable, nice colonial atmosphere.

Around 11 years ago the hotel was closed. In the beginning hardly any fencing, you could just walk in, and of course squatters did. Later there came haphazard fencing like in this picture. Still very easy to trespass.

Here two pictures of the iconic main facade, in 2009 and in 2018. Not too much deterioration. But that is only appearance.

In 2012 there was a fence, but very easy to enter. Some decay, mainly in the ceilings.