Taiping, October 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A good location for another gotong royong?

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

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

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

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

Another view of the Lake Gardens.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Menggelunchor


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is a short video of Lata Bubu.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Meeting of Old-Timers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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