Taiping, July 2018

After my visit of the Gunung Rapat Cave Temples, I drove to Taiping, my 2nd hometown…:-). I arrived just in time for a forum discussion organised by the Taiping Heritage Society.

When I checked in in my usual Furama hotel, the reception warned me that it might be noisy in the evening, because in  kampung Peng Loong, near the hotel, a temple festival was going on, to celebrate the birthday of Datok Keramat Empat. These Datuk temples are very interesting, you can read more about them here.

And yes, it was noisy, but it stopped at midnight. I expected Chinese opera, but it was more disco style with a scantily dressed lady singer! The times they are a changing ūüôā

There was a friendly atmosphere, with food and beer. And also people were praying..:-)

The next morning I went for breakfast to the stall of Mr Tong for my chee cheong fun (see my earlier Taiping reports). I asked him if I could come to his house that evening to watch him making the chee cheong fun. I was welcome.

I had another look at the Datok temple, now of course everything was quiet. The shrine is standing against a giant tree. Walking back to my hotel, I noticed an impressive old bungalow with the year on the facade, 1915. A friendly lady, living in the house showed me the name of the bungalow on one of the gate pillars: Spring Lodge

THS had organised an excursion that morning to the Bukit Berapit train tunnels. These tunnels (there are four) are no longer in use after a new tunnel, three km long, has been excavated for the ETS train from KL to the Thai border. Bukit Berapit is a pass between Taiping and Kuala Kangsar, Isabella Bird passed here in 1879 on the back of an elephant..:-). From the no 1 trunk road, we followed a trail leading to the ruins of the former Bukit Berapit station.

From there we walked to the tunnel entrance. Until a few years ago the rails were still there, now they have disappeared, probably sold as scrap iron. The tunnel was dark, partly muddy and flooded. Great fun, although too much for some of the ladies..:-). See the captions of the images.

On our way back to Taiping we stopped at the tombs of Long Jaafar, the father of Ngah Ibrahim. Legend has it that he discovered tin in the region, after one of his elephants came back , his legs covered with tin mud.  Long Jaafar had his fort here, now only the tombs remain

Nearby, in Bukit Gantang, we had lunch at a road stall, nice Malay assam laksa. It was a nice excursion, we visited only one tunnel, I would like to explore the other ones as well.

In the afternoon I met my friend May for tea, in the patisserie next door to the Boo Bee shop of Yeap. This attractive  townhouse was owned by  Kapitan Chung Keng Kooi (1829-1901).

The recent renovation of the left half of the house is well done, and it was quite busy with a young crowd. Hope it will be a success, the cempedak cake was nice.

After tea I walked to Tong’s house, quite near to my hotel. His wife and he were already busy preparing the chee cheong fun. Interesting old fashioned process. But very hot inside, after a while I escaped to the Lake Gardens.

It was a nice evening, the gardens were beautiful as usual, with many people enjoying the peaceful atmosphere. I walked around a bit, always like to have a look at one of my favourite trees , the cannonball tree. Probably many walkers are not aware that a few of these trees are growing in the lake gardens.

Since a few months MPT has closed part of the circular road for motorised traffic, it is now a pedestrian area, called the Raintree Walk. A good move of MPT. Less successful are the planters, placed along the Raintree Walk. Click on the right picture, to see how some of them are used…:-)

The next morning I went with two THS ladies to Aulong. Aulong is a “New Village” created around 1950 during the Emergency. Its purpose was to house squatters who were living near the fringes of the jungle, to isolate them from the CT’s,¬† the communist guerrillas. Those new villages were fenced, with guarded gates.

I am interested in the experiences of people who lived in those new villages. One of the ladies had a classmate whose father had been living in Aulong since 1958, and we went to interview him..:-) It was a nice meeting, but not very informative, when he moved to Aulong it was already more or less a normal village.

The left picture shows a GE screenshot of Aulong. The arrow-like road pattern in the center could have been dating back to the creation of the village. The blue line is where in the past the first railway, from Port Weld to Taiping, was located. And north of Aulong you can see the former airport of Taiping.

As we were so close to the airfield,we decided to have a look. Big empty space, I wonder if there are plans to develop it. I have heard that the land is still owned by the Ministry of Defence.

I had been really very busy after my arrival in Taiping, so I was looking forward to two relaxing days in the Nest, up Maxwell Hill!. The weather was nice, here is a view from the Nest to Gunung Bubu, about 65 km away.

After the jeep has dropped you at Speedy’s bungalow, it is a short walk to the Nest, with each step you feel that you are moving into a different world, into the past…:-)

In earlier posts I have written already a lot about Suet Fun and Peter’s paradise, here a few pictures only. The food was delicious as usual, and the feeling to live in the past was stronger this time, as there was a problem with the electricity, so no hot shower…:-)¬† ¬†Brrr, but refreshing.

What a difference with Speedy’s. Waiting for the jeep back to Taiping town, I had time to explore. Officially all doors were locked, but I have been living long enough in Malaysia to know that there is often a backdoor still open…:-)

Back in town, I stopped for a short while in the Taman Botani, the new mega project to create a botanical garden in Taiping. I must say, it looked nice, although I personally still think the money could have been spent better, for example in upgrading the Maxwell Hill bungalows.

My last appointment before driving back to KL was with Dr Indraraja , who was going to show me  the renovated building of the Ceylon Association. I was a bit early, so that gave me time to have a look at the buildings along Station road which for me represent the Shame of Taiping, Bandar Warisan.

The two buildings between the former First Galleria and the Rest House, can still be entered. But when I did that, a half-naked squatter started shouting at me, so I thought it safer to leave the place…:-)

The Rest House is slowly deteriorating. Click on the pictures and read the signboard, the tablet and the banner. MPT should at least remove all three. The last picture shows the “entrance” I used in the past to go inside. At least that entrance has been blocked.

Let me end this post in a positive way. The restoration of the Ceylon Association has been completed, and the result is pleasing. Here is a view of the backside.

And here are pictures of the front. Pity that the ground floor windows are modern, but Dr Indra explained that the window frames were beyond repair.

Here some pictures of the interior. The ceiling is nice, with the old fan. The first floor planks were very uneven and had to be covered with a kind of laminate. The interior is still empty, furniture etc had to be removed for the restoration.

It was again a visit full of variety.

Singapore, July 2018

In January I visited Singapore, see my blog post Singapore 2018 . We met my friend Dr Lee and had a wonderful time. It was only a short visit and there was no time to visit his penthouse in the iconic  Pearl Bank apartments, the tallest and densest residential building in Singapore when it was completed in 1976.

In February the building has been sold¬†to a developer and it will likely not be conserved¬†despite the wishes of heritage lovers ūüôĀ

The building was designed by architect Tan Cheng Siong, here is an interesting interview with him about the Pearl Bank apartments. 

Dr Lee invited me to stay a couple of nights in his penthouse. The C-shape of the design is very impressive, both looking up from the central courtyard, as looking down from the 37th floor where he has been living since the completion of the building!

From his penthouse you have an unobstructed view of Singapore. It was slightly hazy during my visit, but Dr Lee told me that you can even see the sea and Indonesia when the sky is clear.

The apartments are built in split-level style and as a penthouse occupies two floors, there are many levels. Fascinating, how I would love to live in an apartment like this!

But as the building probably will demolished in the near future, my friend is already preparing to leave. Very sad. There have been proposals for conservation, read more details here, but at the end of the day it came to nothing.

Two more pictures, a night view looking up, and a proposal for conservation/renovation, prepared in 2014 by Tan Cheng Siong’s firm, Archurban Architects Planners.¬†Pity that this beautiful design¬†will not be realised.

After I had arrived in Singapore (by First Coach bus) and met Dr Lee in his apartment, we went out in the afternoon to visit an exhibition of textile art,¬†N√ľshu: An Inspiration¬†, just opened the day before I arrived. The artist, Benny Ong, was present to explain to us the meaning of the artworks.¬† Even without any explanation his work is quite fascinating. Ong became famous as a fashion designer, but switched in the 2000’s to textile art

The exhibition was held in the Goo Loo Club, more than 100 year old, and a couple of years ago revitalised. It used to be the club for the Peranakan millionaires of Singapore The building next to it (right picture) is even grander and was the club for the Chinese millionaires…:-). It dates back to 1891 and was more modestly named the Chinese Weekly Entertainment Club

We had dinner with friends  in another prestigious club, the Singapore Cricket Club , the second oldest club of Singapore, established in 1852, the present clubhouse is from 1884. Very good cuisine, I had a delicious lamb shank

After dinner we had a walk through town. Every time I visit Singapore, I enjoy it more. Traditionally in Malaysia the opinion about Singapore is rather negative, concrete jungle, over organised etc. But when you see everybody enjoying the evening temperatures on the Esplanade, with everywhere activities, it is a pleasant, peaceful town.

The next morning, after breakfast we visited the Flower Dome in the Gardens by the Bay. Special exhibition during our visit was an orchid display, nice, but I prefer the Orchid Garden in the Singapore Botanical Gardens

There are many different gardens in the Flower Dome, each dedicated to a specific continent or plant species. I liked the cactuses..:-)

Nice flowers, old olive trees, a baobab tree, you wonder how they transported those trees from their original locations.

Decorated by Peranakan facades and other decorative items, it was a pleasure to walk around, although the other dome, the Cloud Forest, visited during my January visit, is more spectacular.

Walking back to town from the Gardens by the Bay, you pass Marina Bay Sands hotel, the iconic landmark of Singapore. Not cheap but worth to stay there at least once, see my 2013 report Singapore.  The ArtScience museum nearby is by the same architect

My next destination was an exhibition in the ArtScience Museum by a Dutch(!) artist, Theo Jansen, who has been designing and building “beach animals”, constructions of PVC tube that are able to move along the beach when there is enough wind.

It was a fascinating exhibition, I have written a separate post about it: Strandbeesten, (the Dutch translation of beach animals). Here one of his creations

My trips are not complete without food..:-)¬† ¬†For lunch we went back to the Singapore Cricket Club, where I had a tasty laksa. That evening we had dinner at a friend’s place, he had prepared a delicious meal with many different dishes. And the next morning we went to the¬†Tiong Bahru Food market, where I had nasi lemak. I think it is a misconception that the Singaporean food culture is inferior to the Malaysian one.

This day I spent on my own. After breakfast Lee dropped me at the Peranakan museum, near the Fort Canning Hill. I had never visited this part of Singapore, it was a pleasant walk. The hill has a rich history, read the Wikipedia link.

In the 19th century there was a Christian cemetery on the hill, the Gothic gate (1846) is a remnant and probably the two attractive cupolas as well. Several tomb stones have been placed in the surrounding wall.

I was interested to visit the Battle Box, the Military Command Center during the Japanese invasion in 1941/42. It is now a museum with a guided tour. After I bought my ticket there was just enough time for a cup of coffee in the National Museum of Singapore, located nearby.

The guided tour was very informative. You are not allowed to take pictures inside the maze of corridors and rooms, pity but understandable.¬†¬† I found a picture on the Internet with the most impressive room, where on 15 February 1942 Lieutenant-General Percival decided to surrender, in spite of Churchill’s order to keep fighting until the last man.

I am very interested in the Japanese invasion of Malaysia, see my report Japan invades Malaya 1941/42 which describes the first part of the invasion, until KL.

Some pictures outside the Battle Box. A sally port is a hidden door to enter and exit the Battle Box undetected. In case of emergency or fire you could escape via a ladder. What is now the Fort Canning Arts Center, were originally British Army Barracks, constructed in 1926. And Hotel Fort Canning was the British Far East Command Headquarters during World War II.  Everything looks so peaceful and serene now..:-)

After the Battle Box I walked down the hill to the Peranakan Museum, a beautiful building in Classical style, originally built in 1910-12 for the Tao Nan Chinese School.

You can explore the museum on your own, but I decided to follow a (free) guided tour, which was again very informative. The Peranakan are¬†are the descendants of Chinese immigrants who came to the Malay archipelago between the 15th and 17th centuries. Another term for them is Nyonya (for the women) and Baba (for the men). I didn’t know that Yap Ah Loy, Capitan Cina of KL and Lee Kuan Yew, first president of Singapore, were Peranakan…:-)

Dinner that night was in the Tanglin Club, one of Singapore’s most prestigious and prominent social clubs, founded in 1865. Even more upmarket than the SSC, I would say.

Western food this time. Walking around in the lobby I noticed a board with the past presidents of the club. Surprised to find J.W.W. Birch in the list, the first British resident of Perak, murdered in 1875 in Pasir Salak. In 1876 the club had no president, just a coincidence?

After breakfast the next morning,¬† I took the bus back to KL. Already looking forward to my next visit of Singapore…:-)

Strandbeesten

The Dutch artist Theo Jansen has become famous by the creation of Beach Animals, otherworldly constructions that are able, under favorable wind conditions, to move along the beach. In Dutch language they are called Strandbeesten and on the Internet you can find many fascinating videos of them.

Here is a compilation

I had never seen a Strandbeest in the real, so I was thrilled when I read that there was an exhibition of Jansen’s works in the ArtScience Museum in Singapore! I had planned already to visit my Singapore friends before my next trip to Holland, this was an extra reason. A full report of my Singapore trip will come later.

The iconic ArtScience museum was designed by architect Moshe Safdie and opened in 2011. The Strandbeest exhibition fits perfectly in the concept of this museum. Theo Jansen actually studied physics before becoming an artist and you can still see clearly the scientific/technical background of his creations.

Theo Jansen started the creation of his animals in 1990, basically using PVC tube. The first Strandbeesten are now fossils, they have evolved during the years, the newest species is the Burchus family, resembling giant caterpillars

The exhibition shows 13 large-scale Strandbeests, fossil ones and new developments. They have been assembled in the museum by a team of Jansen’s helpers, according to a museum attendant it took months..:-)

It is really a pleasure to view these creations, even when they are static and don’t move

But of course it is even nicer when they  move..:-) At certain times of the day demonstrations are given with a few models, using a wind generator, but not during my visit.

However, there are two models you can move by hand. Fascinating!

Of course I had to do it myself.

It is a nice exhibition, occupying one floor of the museum. You can experiment yourself, the kids can make drawings.

Some of his creations look like prehistoric animals.

The details are often astonishing.

A few more pictures

If this one was supposed to move, I don’t know. But so beautiful!¬† This exhibition brings you in a happy mood.

The exhibition in Singapore will be on until 30 September 2018. More information about opening times, guided tours etc, can be found here.

For the Dutch readers of this post, here is a very readable interview with Theo Jansen, from 1996: De schaamte van een strand-eskimo

 

Gunung Rapat Cave Temples

Gunung Rapat is a limestone hill, south of Ipoh. When you drive the no 1 trunk road from KL to Ipoh, you will pass  a number of Chinese temples, built in the limestone caves of Gunung Rapat. One or two I must have visited in the past and several times I have been to the Kek Lok Tong temple, on the other side of the hill.

Searching the Internet I found 8 major temples on the slopes of Gunung Rapat and I decided to make it a project to visit all of them during a visit of Ipoh. Here are the results. In the Google Earth screenshot below, the locations of the eight temples are given.

We started our trip with a visit of Tasik Cermin, the Mirror Lake. Until not long ago this was a “secret” location, known only to a few people. The lake is located within a quarry and can only be reached through a tunnel. Access was not always allowed by the quarry owner. This time it looked like quarry operations had stopped, there was no entrance barrier and we were told that the lake is nowadays becoming popular for wedding shoots!

If there is no wind, the water is really like a mirror, but during our visit there was a breeze. Aric tried to operate his drone, but between the steep cliff walls, GPS reception was not good enough.

Da Seng Ngan

Our first temple. When we visited Tasik Cermin in January 2017 (read my blog here), we noticed that there was a cave temple nearby. We visited it and the caretaker told us that the temple is quite old but has been covered by a landslide for many decades, and was only rediscovered in 2006! Restoration has now been almost completed. To get funding, devotees can “sponsor” statues of the Amitabha Buddha. For more information, click here .

From this temple you can actually walk to the Kwan Yin Tong temple nearby, but we were by car, had to u-turn twice on the busy trunk road, which made it more efficient to first visit the Ling Sen Tong temple.

Ling Sen Tong 

There are three temples along the trunk road next to each other, when you leave Ipoh. Lin Seng Tong is the first one, and that might be the reason that it is quite touristy and gaudy. A bit too touristy, we did not spend much time there

Nam Thean Tong 

The second one, next to Lin Seng Tong. A 19th-century Taoist cave temple with colorful shrines.

We explored the elaborate network of steep, dark stairs. Interesting, but a bit rundown

The third temple is Sam Poh Tong, but it was closed when we arrived there in the afternoon. It even looked closed indefinitely, we continued to the Kwan Yin Tong temple

Kwan Yin Tong 

Dedicated to Guan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy. Numerous statues of Guan Yin. An attractive Buddhist temple

Then it was time for food, always an important aspect of our trips ūüôā¬† For dinner we went to a food court, where we ordered deep-fried Mantis prawns, sotong with kangkung, popiah and¬†teochew kueh, everything nice, but way too much..¬† Breakfast next morning at Chooi Yue, one of the famous dim sum restaurants in Ipoh. Good quality dim sum, many varieties.

Unfortunately it was raining heavily the next day, a real downpour. Before continuing our temple tour, our Ipoh friend took us first to another “mirror lake” location, a former tin mining pond at the Iskandar Polo Club. Attractive scenery.

Kek Lok Tong

We started with the Kek Lok Tong temple, the most beautiful of the Gunung Rapat cave temples, in my opinion. In the 1920’s it was already a place of worship. In the 1960’s it became part of an iron mining site, the entrance to the cave was widened to allow lorry access.¬†¬†When mining ceased it was dedicated again to religious purposes and opened to visitors in the 1970s.

Interesting feature of this temple is that after entering and crossing the cave, you will exit to a beautiful garden. Because of the heavy downpour we could not visit the garden this time. Here you see the laughing Buddha, contemplating the view of this garden.

Searching the Internet, I had found two more temples on the North side of Gunung Rapat

Panna Tong

The first one, Panna Tong, was closed, so only a photo of the exterior. By the way, tong means cave in Chinese language

Miaw Yuan Chan Lin

The second one was a pleasant surprise. It is a Thai style Buddhist temple and relatively unknown, compared to the popular, more touristy  temples on the West side of Gunung Rapat. Nice environment, very scenic.

When I play tour guide again for my friends, I will include this temple in the itinerary!

Sam Poh Tong

Before finishing our temple trip, we decided to go back to Sam Poh Tong, because I had checked on the Internet that the temple was not closed forever. And indeed, now it was open, we were told that the day before they had closed early because there were no visitors!

It is quite a large temple complex, but as it was still raining, we did not explore everything. We had a look at the famous turtle pond and bought some kangkung to feed the turtles. But we did not enter the gardens, because of the rain. Will have to come back here.

In the afternoon I continued to Taiping, but that will be another post.

My friend David May has written informative web pages about many of the Ipoh cave temples, for example this one about Da Seng Ngan, with references to other temples.

 

New Horizons

The first time I wrote about the New Horizons spacecraft was in a February 2015 post: Close Encounters. Launched in 2006, its primary destination was Pluto.  During the long voyage it had gone into hibernation (to save energy) and now it had woken up successfully to prepare for the flyby of Pluto in July.

To give you an impression of the size of the spacecraft, this picture is taken in 2005 during preparation for the launch.

Note the black “tube” to the left, it is the RTG, the power source for the spacecraft.

Solar panels can not be used because of the large distance to the Sun, instead radioactive plutonium is used.

The heat of the radioactive decay is  converted into electricity by thermocouples.

My second post was titled Close encounter with Pluto and published July 2015, a few days after the successful flyby. Here is a picture of Pluto, in high resolution, taken by New Horizons. Although the flyby took only minutes, the transmission of all photos taken, took more than a year, because of the slow bandwidth. Analysis is still going on.

In that post I wrote that New Horizons would try to visit another member of the Kuiper Belt before it left the Solar System. Soon after the Pluto flyby, in August 2015,  it was decided that (486958) 2014 MU69 would be the next destination.

What a name ..:-). Let me explain. The Kuiper Belt is located outside Neptune and contains trillions of objects, remnants of the early solar system. Pluto, once seen as the ninth planet, is now seen as a Kuiper Belt object. The Minor Planet Center keeps track of all the observed Kuiper Belt objects and the present count is 779736 !

The target of New Horizons is minor planet no 486958, discovered by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2014.

In this image (taken by the Hubble telescope)  you see the object (surrounded by a green circle) at 10 minute intervals

The code  MU69  tells in a complicated way that the object was the 1745th Kuiper Belt object, discovered in the second half of June! Curious about the code?  Have a look at the Wikipedia item about Minor Planet naming.

 

After a public voting campaign, NASA announced a few months ago that 2014 MU69 would get the nickname Ultima Thule. In classical and medieval literature Ultima Thule got the meaning of any distant place located beyond the “borders of the known world”

First estimate of Ultima Thule’s size, based on distance and brightness, was about 30 km. After it was chosen as the next target of New Horizons, of course many more observations have been made. How to get more information about an object of ~ 30 km, at a distance of more than 6 billion km?

Well, it can happen that Ultima Thule passes in front of a background star! In that case it will block for a short while the light of this star. This is called an occultation. Last year Ultima Thule occulted three different stars in June and July. Such an occultation can only be seen from specific locations on Earth (similar to a solar eclipse).  Here are the three predicted occultation paths.

On 3 June 2017, the NASA scientists tried to observe the “shadow” of Ultima Thule from Argentina and South Africa, but detected nothing. It turned out later that the predicted occultation path was not accurate enough, so the telescopes had been placed in the wrong location..

The second occultation took place over the ocean, therefore the airborne telescope SOFIA was used, flying along the predicted occultation path.

Main purpose was to check for hazardous material around Ultima Thule, which could endanger the fly-bye of New Horizons.

First they thought that they had missed the shadow, but later analysis showed that there had been a short dip from the central shadow

The third attempt was very successful. 25 telescopes were placed along the occultation path in South Argentina and five of them observed the dip.

Here is an example. It is an animated gif, time between the frames is 0.2 seconds.

Watch the star in the centre and notice how it “disappears” for a short while!

Careful analysis of the “dip” gives a lot more information. Ultima Thule might be actually a contact binary, with a very elongated shape.

More information about this amazing scientific exploration can be found in this  NY Times article.

Here is an artist impression of Ultima Thule. The Sun is not more than a very bright star, you can see how New Horizons is approaching… ūüôā¬† ¬†To the¬† left you see a “moonlet” orbiting Ultima Thule, for a while the scientists thought there could be one, but it is now disputed.

On New Year’s Day 2019 at¬†05:33 UTC, if everything goes well, New Horizons will pass Ultima Thule within about 3500 km.

New Horizons has woken up from its hibernation last month and is healthy. The coming months preparations will be made for the encounter.

It will be exciting to see how Ultima Thule looks in the real. But it will take time to transmit pictures back to Earth.  It takes almost six hours for data to bridge the distance between New Horizons and Earth!

An update will follow later.