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.

Musical Nostalgia

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

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

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

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

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

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

———————————————–
Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan (debut album) (1962)

The times, they are a-changin’ (1964)

Bringing it all back home (1965)

———————————————–
The Mamas & The Papas

The Mamas & The Papas Deliver (1967)

———————————————–
Country Joe and The Fish

I feel like I’m fixin’ to die (1967)

———————————————–
Jefferson Airplane

Surrealistic Pillow (1967)

———————————————–
Pearls Before Swine

One Nation Underground (1967)

Balaklava (1968)

———————————————–
Pink Floyd

The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967)

———————————————–
Van Morrison

Astral Weeks (1968)

———————————————–
Dr John the Nighttripper

Gris Gris (1968)

———————————————–
The Flying Burrito Brothers

The Gilded Palace of Sin (1969)

The Flying Burrito Bros (1971)

———————————————–
Crosby, Stills & Nash

Crosby, Stills & Nash (1969)

———————————————–
The Soft Machine

Volume Two (1969)

———————————————–
Neil Young

Everybody knows this is nowhere (1969)

After the Gold Rush 1970

———————————————–
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

DΓ©ja Vu (1970)

———————————————–
The Band

Stage Fright (1970)

Cahoots (1971)

———————————————–
David Bowie

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

———————————————–
The Cure

Boys don’t cry (1980)

———————————————–
Japan

Gentlemen Take Polaroids (1980)

———————————————–
Talking Heads

Remain in Light (1980)

Naked (1986)

———————————————–
Joe Jackson

Night and Day (1982)

———————————————–
UB40

More UB40 Music (1983) compilation

Rat in the Kitchen (1986)

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

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

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

Langkawi, Christmas 2019

A few months ago, Aei Yong, one of Aric’s sisters, came with the idea to celebrate Christmas with the family in Langkawi! She asked Aric to plan the trip, as she knows that he is a good organiser. He booked an Airbnb in Kuah, 23-25 December.

It turned out that not everybody was available, so finally we went with the two sisters and their family, ten people in total. The ferry to Langkawi leaves Kuala Perlis at 1 pm and it is about a 6-7 hour drive from KL, so he decided that we would leave one day earlier and stay overnight in Kangar on the 22nd.

We went in two cars and met in Tanjung Malim for breakfast. I had my favourite eggs on toast, creatively prepared πŸ™‚

Chinese names are not easy for me to memorise πŸ˜‰ . Left Aric’s nephews
Zhen Ee and Chun Yee. , right his two sisters Aei Ling and Aei Yong and in the middle a Kwai Loh, my nickname.

Around 4 pm we arrived in Kangar, the capital of Perlis, where Aric had booked comfortable rooms in Federal Hotel Kangar.

After a short rest we went to Kuala Perlis for our dinner in the Hai Thien seafood restaurant. Aric and I had been here a few times before and we liked the (Thai style) food very much. It was crowded, we had to wait a bit for a free table.

The food was delicious as usual. The advantage of eating with a larger group is that you can order many different dishes!

The next morning we had time to explore Kuala Perlis. There is not much to see, but there is a nice pedestrian bridge, crossing the Perlis river, with good views of the surroundings.

The Al Hussain mosque is quite attractive, and sometimes nicknamed Floating Mosque.

The ferry is relatively small, it was interesting to see how the experienced crew managed to fit so many cars and lorries.

The crossing to Langkawi takes a few hours. The weather was perfect and there was a small canteen where you could buy drinks and snacks.

Around 4 pm we arrived at our Airbnb, a nice, modern house, located in the outskirts of Kuah.

Spacious, many rooms to accommodate our group.

Usually we decorate our condo in Damansara Perdana during Christmas and this time we had taken all the Xmas stuff with us.

The plan was to have our Christmas Eve dinner in Western style. There are not that many restaurants in Kuah that serve Western food, but Aric had found one, the ARTS Cafe. He called them to make a reservation and they asked us to come over already to select what we would like to eat the next day.

After we had made our choice, we looked for a suitable restaurant for our dinner. Our original choice , the Wonderland Food Store , was too crowded, we found a good alternative in seafood restaurant TEO.

Another elaborate selection of tasty food

The next day, after our breakfast we first visited the Durian Perangin waterfall on the slopes of Gunung Raya, Langkai’s highest mountain. I had visited this waterfall in September 2007. Now there was a lot less water, but still enough to enjoy a nice bath.

I took a lot of pictures. It was a good place to frolic around.

The waterfall was a very suitable background for modelling photos πŸ™‚

After spending almost two hours at the fall, we drove to the top of the Gunung Raya, at 881 m the highest point of Langkawi. There is a view tower from where you are supposed to have a 360Β° view of the island. We were also expecting a cafe there for lunch. But everything was closed, already since February 2018!

Next we drove to Cenang Beach for KFC(!) lunch and the tax-free shopping malls. After that back to our Airbnb for a short rest.

Before we left for our Christmas Eve dinner, there was time to take an official family picture.

The ARTS cafe had prepared all the food we had ordered, I forgot to take pictures of all dishes, some people had ordered pasta, others pie, grilled salmon, lamb shank, fish and chips, etc. Nice food.

Many paintings on the walls of this cafe, another occasion for some more modelling photography.

Back home, it was time to wish each other a Merry Christmas.

On Christmas day we visited the Langkawi Sky Bridge and of course we were not the only ones. First we had to use the Cable Car. Well organised, we had to stand ready for the gondola, which doesn’t stop, not much time to jump in πŸ™‚

The cable car has a station halfway, where you get out and can view the surroundings. In the picture you can see behind us the summit station and the sky bridge.

Another gondola brings you to the top.

There is a viewing platform, from where you have a good view of the sky bridge. Notice that the sky bridge is quite a bit lower than the cable car station. It is possible to use the so-called Sky Glide, a short funicular railway, but you have to buy tickets separately for it and there was a long queue. Here is a negative comment of a visitor: Don’t use the SkyGlide.

We decided to walk down, in about 20 minutes. A much better option, although it was rather hot :-). Walking on the sky bridge was a worthwhile experience, for me the first time, because during an earlier visit it was closed for maintenance.

We spent considerable time at this major tourist attraction, so it was almost 5 pm when we arrived at the second destination for the day, the beach at Tanjung Rhu. Crystal clear water, a sandy beach, casuarina trees for some shade, a nice place to relax and take a sea bath.

We had read that at low tide it was possible to walk from the beach to one of the rocky islands (the middle one in the picture below). It was low tide and indeed, you could walk quite far out, as you can see, and on the Internet I have seen pictures that there was even a dry “sand road”, leading far out. But when we were there this was impossible.

We could walk quite far, shallow water, swimming was not easy.

Almost sunset. A romantic beach. This picture was taken at 6:30 pm

Aric had planned our last dinner at Laman Padi Langkawi , a Malay restaurant, surrounded by rice fields. We arrived a bit too late, it was dark already, but we could still see the nice surroundings.

The next day we took the ferry back to Kuala Perlis.

From Kuala Perlis it was a long drive back, we stopped in Bukit Mertajam for lunch in the Sentosa Corner, a very popular eatery, famous for its yam rice.

A relative of the family was living nearby, we paid the couple a short visit.

It was a very successful, but also exhausting trip πŸ™‚

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.

Penang Trip, July 2019

A report about a 3D2N trip to Penang with my friends Paul and Fahmi. Our target was to enjoy food and culture. I have already written separate posts about Penang Mural Art, Penang Colonial Architecture and Penang Museums. In this post I will write about our trip and about food.

We traveled by ETS train from KL Sentral to Butterworth, a very comfortable journey. From Butterworth we took the ferry to George Town. This way of reaching the island is more romantic, compared to the usual way (by car and bridge).

Our hotel was on walking distance from the jetty, but we were hungry and needed lunch first . We found a busy food court, where I had Penang Assam Laksa. The Armenian Street Heritage Hotel is very well located in the heart of the historical town.

After some rest we went out to explore the town. We started with the Khoo Kongsi. More photos .

And of course we saw a lot of mural art. More photos .

The weather was nice. We walked past many houses of worship, in the Guan Yin Temple a celebration was going on with a performance of Chinese opera.

George Town is a haven for foodies, in 2014 I wrote a blog about it, Penang Food. This time we were looking for halal food. We first walked to the Esplanade. because we remembered that there was a Malay food court there, but it was closed already. Beautiful views of the floodlit colonial buildings!

Walking back we ended up at the popular Kapitan restaurant, where we had an acceptable Tandoori Chicken.

The next morning we were in the mood for a dim sum breakfast, but of course most dim sum places are not halal. We were lucky to find a gem: Dim Sum Valet . Delicious dim sum, a very friendly Malay couple, they started the shop beginning of this year. Worth visiting!

We still had some space left for a dessert. Our friends Pat and Roger had visited George Town recently and were very enthusiastic about the durian ice cream of Kek Seng. They were right, it was delicious.

Our first target for the day was the Pinang Peranakan Mansion. A wonderful museum, surprising that I had never heard about it earlier! More photos .

We spent considerable time in the museum, there was a lot to see. For lunch we went back to the food court at the Esplanade that was closed yesterday evening. Now it was open, we had the famous Mee Sotong of Hameed Pata . A long queue, but worth waiting for it

In the afternoon we explored the colonial architecture of Beach Street. One bank building after another prove that in those colonial times George Town was the financial center of Malaya. But not only banks, also emporiums, shops, opulent residences. More photos .

We visited a few more mural artworks, and we were not the only ones. Actually I am not happy about the mushrooming of mural art in Penang (and in the whole of Malaysia!). Not always is it high quality and the economical Law of Diminishing Returns is valid also here. More photos .

After a short rest in our hotel we went out for dinner to the New Lane Hawker Center. I had good memories about this place from earlier visits, but this time I was rather disappointed. Too many tourists, too expensive. We had popiah, oyster omelet , kerang and stingray.

Our last day in George Town already. We had breakfast with Roti Goyang at the Roti Bakar in Hutton Lane. The soft-boiled eggs were really shaking (goyang) surrounded by the pieces of toast. Very nice.

The Sun Yat Sen Penang Basee was the last museum on our list. Sun Yat Sen had his office here in 1912 when he was looking for support for the Chinese revolution. More photos .

A last round of more mural art. Some of them quite nice, in the humoristic Zacharevic style. More photos .

Before taking the ferry back to Butterworth, we had lunch near our hotel, in restaurant Jawi . Peranakan food, friendly service.

After lunch we took the ferry back to Butterworth. Paul and Fahmi went back to KL, I stayed in Taiping for couple of days more, see my report Taiping, July 2019 .

It was nice to visit George Town. But as a result of being a Unesco Heritage Site, it has become very touristic. Fancy museums, I may be old-fashioned, but for me it doesn’t add value.

Penang Museums

During my recent trip to Penang, I visited three museums.

The first one was the Khoo Kongsi, a large Chinese clan house in George Town. I had visited this kongsi already several times during earlier visits, so only a few pictures here. It is one of the most popular tourist attractions of George Town.

The present complex was rebuilt in 1906, after an earlier version was destroyed by lightning. Could it be that the gods were angry because it was too grand, resembling an imperial palace? So the present kongsi is more modest, although you would not say so, when you visit it πŸ™‚ .

The walls of the temple are decorated with beautiful stone reliefs and carvings.

The temple contains de ancestral tablets. There is also a gallery with portraits of the Khoo family.

The second museum we visited was the Pinang Peranakan Mansion . Last year I had visited the Peranakan Museum in Singapore, click here for a report. But to be honest, I was not aware that there existed a Peranakan Museum in Penang! And the museum opened its doors already in 2004!

Now that I have visited it, I agree that it is one of the top attractions of George Town, not to be missed by any visitor!

The building is old, it was built in the 1890s as residence of Chung Keng Quee, the leader of the Hai San secret society . Irony of fate: the site was formerly used by its rival Ghee Hin secret society. That alone made my visit worthwhile already, because as a virtual “Taiping Boy”, I have read a lot about the fighting between the Hai San and the Ghee Hin during the Larut Wars !

Entrance fee is RM 20, not cheap, but worth the money. You can visit the mansion on your own, there is a lot to see. Or you can join a free guided tour.

For those not familiar with Malaysian history, the Peranakan , also known as Baba-Nyonya or Straits Chinese, are descendants of Chinese settlers who arrived from Southern China in the 15th-17th century. Their rich culture contains Chinese, Malay and European elements.

Here is a collection of photos I took during my visit.

Chung Keng Quee even built his own private temple next to his mansion.

The last museum I visited was the Sun Yat-sen museum. Sun Yat-sen was the
leader of China’s republican revolution, overthrowing the Qing dynasty and the first president of the Republic of China. To get support from the overseas Chinese, he moved with his family to Penang in 1910 and organised his activities from this house.

The house was constructed circa 1880 and is a beautiful example of a Peranakan merchant home.

I had only limited time to visit the museum, will spend more time there during my next visit, because Mr Alvin, who takes care of the museum, is a gifted storyteller.

Actually Sun Yat-sen has also a link with Taiping! He had a house there in what is now the Antong Coffee Mill. His concubine lived there for many years and he visited it occasionally. See my report (scroll down).

Penang Colonial Architecture

During my recent visit to Georgetown, I took some pictures of colonial architecture. There is a lot to see!

On our first evening we walked to the Esplanade. On our way we passed St George’s Church, the oldest Anglican Church in South East Asia, built in 1818.

The Esplanade is dominated by two magnificent buildings, the Town Hall and the City Hall. The City Hall, completed in 1880, is the oldest municipal building of George Town. It housed the Municipal Commission until 1903 when the Commission moved to a larger building next to it, the Municipal Offices. The Town Hall kept its function as meeting place for the European Elite. Nowadays it is used for public events, art exhibitions etc.

The Municipal Offices were one of the first buildings fitted with electrical lights! After Georgetown got city rights in 1957, the Municipal Offices were renamed to City Hall

The next day we explored Beach Street, where a concentration of impressive colonial architecture can be found. We started with the Jubilee Clock Tower, built to commemorate Queen Victoria’s 1897 Diamond Jubilee.

The next building, now housing the Penang Islamic Council, is all that remains of the Straits Settlement Government Buildings, destroyed by allied bombing in 1945 during the Japanese occupation.

Notice the eyesore next to the building. It is the Penang Malay Chamber of Commerce, I wonder who gave permission to build it.

The next building, now housing the Bank of China, is of special interest for a Dutchman, because it was built by the Nederlandse Handel-Maatchappij in 1905.

Next to it the Penang office of Tourism Malaysia. I was wondering if this was a colonial building or a modern one. Could not find much information until I stumbled on a blog George Town’s heritage bank buildings . Originally it was a Mercantile bank, later taken over by HSBC. Recently renovated. So it is an old building in a modern outfit.

The Saw Seng Kew building was originally known as the British India House. Built in the 1920, it has been used by many different companies. In 1965 Rubber Tycoon Saw Seng Kew started the Southern Banking Ltd in this building that now has been renamed after him.

At the right side of the above photo you can just see the corner of the India House. It was built in Art-Deco style, completed in 1941 and forms an striking contrast with the surrounding “older” architecture.

Next to the India House, this Philip Capital Building again dates back to the 1920s. I was wondering at first where the entrance of the parking was, until I noticed that the P is actually the logo of the company πŸ™‚ .

The 1886 building is the oldest commercial building along Beach Street that has kept its original form. In the past it housed the Goon Yen emporium, nowadays it is part of the OCBC. A very attractive building.

Another gem, the Thio Thiaw Siat building. Named after a Chinese tycoon, who is better known under his Cantonese name Cheong Fatt Tze (who lived in the famous “Blue Mansion”). This building was built by his estate after he passed away in 1916.

The GeorgeTown Dispensary nextdoor, the main pharmacy of Penang in those days, wa originally located where now the TTS building is.

The Central Fire Station was built in 1908. Notice the mix of architectural styles, with a Classical facade and a Moghul-style tower πŸ™‚

This building is not on Beach Street, but on Bishop Street. I could not find more information about this Cornfield building.

Finally a photo of the Penang Adventist Hospital (1924), nowadays a hotel, located on Muntri Street.

The website of Timothy Tye, Penang Travel Tips, has lots of information about heritage buildings of Penang. And George Town World Heritage Incorporated has published a guide book George Town’sHistoric Commercial & Civic Precincts, that can be downloaded from the Internet as a pdf file.

I am planning to visit Penang again soon and with the help of this guide book, explore many more architectural gems of George Town.

Penang Mural Art

Five years ago, I visited Penang to have a look at the Mural Art, created by the Lithuanian artist Zacharevic in 2012. Here is my report: Penang Street Art. I like Zacharevic, his sense of humour, the way he is using existing objects for his creations. Even then there were already more artists active, some copying his style, sometimes good, more often mediocre.

I went back to Penang with my friends Paul and Fahmi, and to be honest, I was shocked by the proliferation that has taken place in these five years. There is hardly an empty wall anymore, mural art in almost every street. Really too much, IMHO. But I may be an exception in not appreciating this epidemic πŸ™‚ . Here is a quote from Tripadvisor :

The highlight of Penang is literally the street arts. They are everywhere, every street, every corner. I have tons of photos of them. You don’t need a map but just don’t miss any street there. πŸ™‚ .

And there has even been published a coffee-table book already: Street Art Penang Style .

Here are a few of Zacharevic’s creations. When you compare the pictures with those in my report, you will see that several of them have faded. Some even have been destroyed. Zacharevic has no problem with this, he is not making art for eternity. I like his attitude.

A few pictures of Mural Art in Zacharevic style, where you can interact with the artwork

Using existing elements.

Many more. Actually not bad, just that there are too many of them

Two artworks on the Chew Jetty. An original Zacharevic on this jetty has been destroyed.

There are many, many more, which often did not really appeal to me.

Alexander Malofeev

I must confess that until a few weeks ago, I had never heard about this young Russian pianist. I am interested in classical (piano) music, see for example my post about the 17th Chopin Piano Competition . This year, from 4 until 21 May, an international music competition was held in Beijing. This China International Music Competition (CIMC) was devoted to the piano.

The CIMC concert with the three finalists, and the presentation of the prizes can be viewed here. Malofeev got the second prize and not everybody was happy with the verdict of the jury. Have a look at the comments given. Here are a few:

Malofeev should have won. end of story. ” , “Malofeev is FAR ABOVE the rest. Politics again; what a shame! “, “Unforgivable result – a travesty of justice.“, ”
Alexander was obviously the best, is it Russophobia again? “

I got intrigued by Malofeev and searched for information and YouTube recordings.

He was born in Moscow on 21 October 2001 amd began studying the piano at the age of five.

The earliest recording I have found, is from May 2013, when he was eleven years old. He is playing Grieg’s piano concerto in A minor, the audio quality is not that good, but you should watch at least the beginning, how he is greeting the orchestra twice and struggling to adjust the piano stool!

The next recording is from about one year later, when Alexander took part in the 8th Tchaikovsky competition for young musicians, where he won the
First Prize and a Gold Medal. In this recording he is playing Saint-SaΓ«ns’ 2nd Piano Concerto in G minor. A spectacular performance by a 12 year old boy.

Again an endearing start πŸ™‚ He comes on stage and wants to sit down, but then realises that he still has to greet the conductor and the concertmaster.

The quality of this YouTube is very good. If you don’t want to listen to the complete concerto, you should at least watch him playing the third movement. At the end of the recording he comes on stage with his piano teacher, another charming moment.

On 29-3-2015, Alexander Malofeev, 13 year old, plays Prokofiev’s 3rd Piano Concerto in C major. The (audio) quality of the video is not perfect, but it is fascinating to see him in action. And as if playing this demanding concerto is not enough, he gives an encore, Stravinsky’s Sacre du Printemps in a transcription for piano by Kurbatov.

I found two recordings of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto no 1. This one was recorded in Saint Petersburg, also in 2015, on 25 December.

And this one is from the Scala in Milan, 6 February 2017, Malofeev is now 15 year old, a teenager, losing his puppy fat :-). He is playing two encores, a piano transcription of a “pas de deux” from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite and Ondine, the first movement of Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit.

Last year, 27 July, Alexander, now 16 year old, played again Prokofiev’s
3rd Piano Concerto, this time at a festival in the south of France. It is interesting to compare this recording with the one recorded three years earlier (see above).

On 30 December 2018, 17 year old Malofeev played Rachmaninoff’s 3rd Piano Concerto in D minor in the Tchaikovsky Concert Hall in Moscow. A spectacular performance. It is interesting to read the comments. One of them says:

Its pretty obvious who the next winner of the Tchaikovsky Competition will be in June of 2019.

At the CIMC competition, May 2019, where Malofeev got the second prize, he played Mozart’s Piano Concerto in D minor, KV 466, in the final round. It is my favourite Mozart concerto and Alexander plays it beautifully.

For comparison here is the same concert, played by Tony Siqi Yun, the winner of the first prize. Also born in 2001, a few months older than Alexander. He is a Canadian and currently a student at the Juilliard School.

The chairperson of the CIMC jury is Yoheved Kaplinsky , who is also the
chair of the Piano Department of The Juilliard School. A coincidence? Not everybody will agree.

Until now the year 2019 has not been very lucky for Alexander Malofeev. The commenter, mentioned above, may have found it obvious that Alexander would be the next winner of the 2019 Tchaikovsky Competition, but actually he did not even survive the first round! Here is the list of contestants. Malofeev was the youngest of all. Maybe he should not have participated and wait a few more years.

Here is an interesting analysis of Alexander’s first round. He played Bach, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Chopin, Rachmaninoff and Liszt in a 50 minute recital. A quote from the analysis:

By the end of fifty minutes this pale, black-shirted young man of stooping posture had given his all and beyond. Totally drained, totally exhausted. Visually, seemingly even a little unwell, drenched in sweat. Just maybe this could explain the tailing off in parts of the Chopin and Liszt, the gradual lessening of right-hand ‘ring’ and strength. But his determination and imagination, the vision he wanted to deliver, never failed. In the grand scheme of things, the few (inconsequential) slips and blips counted for nothing. The personality and possibilities, the honed facility, the ability to cope under pressure, are what exhilarated.

The jury eliminated him.

I am sure that we will hear more about him.

Journal Dutch trip 2019

On the 15th of April I arrived in Amsterdam and seven weeks later, on the 4th of June, I flew back to Malaysia.

I have written already quite a few blogs about this visit and I will give links in this final post. But there is still a bit more to report πŸ™‚

The first two weeks Aric”s sister joined us, it was her first visit to the Netherlands, we visited many tourist attractions, here are some highlights.

Detailed report here : Aei Ling’s visit. We also spent a few days with her in Paris, resulting in a separate report: Paris.

After Aei Ling had gone back to Malaysia, Aric stayed two more weeks. We visited a photo exhibition in Den Haag: Erwin Olaf in the Gemeentemuseum

And we spent five days in Italy, here is the report: Cinque Terre.

After Aric went back. I stayed for another three weeks. During that period I visited my family and friends. I wrote a report about three of these visits: Family Visits. Here a few pictures, one of each visit.

I also visited a friend in Utrecht and walked around a few hours in this beautiful town. It resulted in another post: Utrecht 2019 .

And finally I wrote a post about an open-air art exhibition in Amsterdam, which I visited just a few days before I flew back to Malaysia : ArtZuid

Altogether seven (!) blog posts πŸ˜‰ . About some of my other activities I will report in this final post.

Aric and visited the Royal Palace in Amsterdam, Aric had never been there yet. In 2016 I have written a detailed report about the Royal Palace, Amsterdam. Here a few pictures taken during our visit.

During an earlier visit, Aric had found on the Internet information about an interesting sculpture near the Leidseplein, the Little Saw Man. The artist is unknown, and has created more artworks in the past decades. We found two more.

Each time I come back to Amsterdam, I fall in love again with the town πŸ™‚ .

There is a lot of beautiful architecture, old and new. From left to right, the Westerkerk, the hardware store of Gunters & Meuser and the hotel Nhow, still under construction.

And there are so many beautiful museums! The Stedelijk Museum is one of my favourites. They have a large collection of Malevich paintings

Like many museums do nowadays, often different art forms are combined in the exhibitions, which adds to the pleasure of walking around.

I like the German Expressionists, the museum has quite a large collection.

A few more of my favourites.

My followers will expect that I also write something about food and the meals I enjoyed :-). I had many lunches and dinners with friends, at home or in a restaurant, but I don’t always take pictures nowadays.

Let me start with a YouTube where I show how to eat a raw herring. It was on Kings Day, normally I am not dressed like this πŸ™‚

My usual dinner with Yolanda took place this time in restaurant Entrepot . Casual, relaxed atmosphere. We ordered the chef’s menu, 5 courses, and everything was delicious. Each dish looked as an artwork πŸ˜‰

I had also a lunch with ex-colleagues from my school. In restaurant Merkelbach. a 3-course lunch menu. Beautiful weather, and here too each dish was a work of art (and delicious as well).

Two more “social” pictures. Left a lunch with friends from my school, right a dinner with friends from my university past.

I will finish this post with a few pictures of my apartment and its direct environment. Here is the livingroom and my study annex guest room.

This is the view north from my apartment.

And here the view west during sunset.

From my apartment it is a 5 minutes walk to a big shopping center, where I almost daily go for my grocery items. On my way I have to cross a small park, with a pond where I noticed a Common Coot who had built a nest. In the right picture the bird was standing up for a short while, so I could see that there were six eggs.

The nest was only a few meter away from a footpath and often people were standing there watching the bird.

On the first of June, three days before my departure, the eggs had hatched! In the video you can see three chicks and the father bringing food. Very interesting. Unfortunately on the last day, the nest was empty and only one chick was swimming beside the parents. Probably the other had been eaten by the seagulls who are frequenting the pond. That’s life

Seven wonderful weeks, though sometimes a bit hectic. After I came back to Malaysia from my “holidays”, I needed time to recover πŸ™‚