Taiping, June 2022

In my blog Penang & Taiping, 2022 I reported about a 4D3N trip with friends to Penang and Taiping. I decided to stay a few days more in Taiping, my 2nd home town. I had lunch with my friends in the Old Railway Station and decided to walk back from there to the Furama hotel, where I had dropped my luggage already. An easy walk, about 2km, less than half an hour. The Central Market is under restoration and I wanted to have a look.

As I would pass on my way the house of my friend Ms Long in Barack Road, I called her and asked if I could pay her a visit. I was welcome and we had a nice chat.

In March, during my last visit to Taiping, I also visited the market, Click here for my blog. Left picture shows the main market in March, the right picture was taken this time. I could not see any sign of recent activity.

But progress has been made on the wet market (better known as Siang Malam). Left the situation in March, right this time.

Some details of the restoration.

Of course I also had to have a look at what I have named the Shame of Taiping, the sad remains of the heritage Rest House (1894).

After checking in at Furama I took a rest before going out later to walk in the Lake Gardens and watch the egrets coming back to roost at the bamboo bushes.

After the food orgy in Penang, I was more thirsty than hungry πŸ˜‰ I bought some chips and had satay in the Taman Tasik food court. A quiet evening.

During my last trip Halim and I had visited a few Indian temples in the Matang region. See my blog for the pictures I took during that trip. I talked about these temples with Muthu Pillai, a member of the Taiping Heritage Society, who knows a lot about Hindu religion. He was willing to accompany me on a trip to several Hindu temples..

Our first visit was to the Vinayagar Temple, dedicated to Ganesha, my favourite Hindu deity, son of Shiva and Parvati. If you are interested to know why he has an elephant head, you should read this: Short story for kids: How Ganesha got his elephant head

Muthu told me that many temples have a place, dedicated to the nine planets, the Navagraha. Nine planets? Actually it is better to call them the nine heavenly bodies. Sun, Moon and the five planets, known in antiquity: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. Plus two demons, Rahu and Ketu, related to the moon. All nine play a role in Hindu astrology.

Next we visited the Sivan Temple, dedicated to Shiva. Here some pictures of a few deities.

The left image show Shiva as the cosmic dancer. The right image shows Murugan again, this without his spear, but with his characteristic mode of transport, the peacock.

Muthu helped me to put a pottu on my forhead ;-). While we visiting this temple, we were invited to have vegetarian food. Very friendly atmosphere.

The third temple was the Mariamman Temple on Jalan Kota. Mariamman is an incarnation of Parvati. This temple I had visited already during an earlier visit

Finally we went to the Muniswaran temple at Simpang Halt. When we arrived, the temple was closed already for lunch, but the friendly lady caretaker let us in, through a backdoor of her shop. During my earlier visit with Halim I was captivated by the beauty and serenity of this temple, although the weather was too hot to enjoy everything. The weather was milder now, I walked around and took numerous pictures. It confirmed my earlier impression, that this is one of the most beautiful temples I have seen.

Hanuman

Inside the temple. Right the shrine of Muniswaran

Some of the statues are colorful, as is common Hindu temples.

But I was very impressed with the many “uncolored” statues.

On the Internet I have found colored pictures of this temple, for example in this blog, written by my friend Liz Price in 2014. Are the statues painted for special occasions?

The temple has a romantic, relaxing garden. I was pleasantly surprised to find a Buddha statue in the garden.

A monumental angsana tree on the temple grounds is very old, you can see it on a photo of the Simpang Halt railway station. The temple itself is actually very new.

After our visit we had lunch in the small shop at the entrance of the temple. Really a very rewarding visit.

In the afternoon I visited the Perak Museum. Of course I had been there before, but this time there was a special exhibition about Taiping and its history.

The exhibition was interesting, mostly photos, but not spectacular.

I liked the photo of Captain Speedy, dressed as an Englishman, because mostly you see him in his exotic Ethiopian outfit. The map of Larut should have come with a comment from the museum staff πŸ˜‰ The map was published in 1883 and shows the Port Weld-Taiping railway, , but this line was not opened until 1885!

A real mistake from the museum staff concerns the landing of Amelia Earhart on 7 June 1937 at Tekah Airport. As I have shown in my blog Amelia Earhart and Taiping, this American aviator flew on 7 June 1937 from Brazil to Africa! And actually she never landed at the Tekah airport.

I walked around in the rest of the museum. Well organised, worth a visit

On my way back to my hotel, I passed the All Saints’ Church, the first church in the Federated Malay States, founded in1886.

A cemetery next to the church has interesting tombstones.

Muthu had suggested to meet again for dinner that evening, after first attending a meeting of the Taiping Toastmasters of which he intends to become a member.. Some of my friends are Toastmasters, with some hesitation I accepted his invitation. It was an interesting experience. Members were asked to give a short, unprepared speech on a given topic. Memories surfaced of my college days as a member of a sorority ;-). Of course I was asked to participate, but i politely declined.

A nice group of friendly people. This photo was taken by Lawren, the outgoing president of the club

After the meeting we adjourned to a nearby restaurant for supper.

The next day I had my usual chee cheong fun breakfast in the stall of my friend Tong.

In the afternoon I was going back by train to KL. My friend Halim often brings me to the station where we have lunch together.. This time he had organised a durian party at his house. Would I mind joining the party, he asked. Of course I accepted his invitation. The durians came from Batu Kurau and were first class. For the first time I tried them together with pulut (glutinous rice) and santen (coconut milk), A delicious combination.

There were lots of other food as well. Nice Malay atmosphere.

As Halim was busy, being the host of the party, one of his friends took me to the station.

A short visit, but full of variety!

Penang & Taiping, 2022

A scuba diving friend of Aric, Tony, has an apartment in Georgetown and invited us and a few friends for a food trip to Penang. He was also interested in Taiping, so it became a 4D3N tirp, two nights in Penang and one night in Taiping.

Tony lives in Kota Kemuning. After meeting him, we first had breakfast at Kheng Chew Kopitiam. From left to right Aric, John, Tony and Rodney. I had my favourite breakfast, half-boiled eggs and toast. with coffee.

With only an intermediate sanitary stop we drove straightaway to a small village, Bagan Samak, not far from Parit Buntar. Here is a Google map of the region, as you see it is a very small village. Surprisingly there are quite a few popular restaurants.

A friend of John had suggested the Sloam Mit Thai restaurant and that was a good choice. We had catfish, lala, prawn crackers, fried pork and paku (ferns)..A good start of our food trip πŸ˜‰

We continued to Penang, where we decided to have a dessert in the Kek Seng coffee shop. Founded in 1906 the cafΓ© is famous for its durian ice-cream and its ABC. Nice antique furniture

The coffee shop is not far from the Komtar tower. Left picture from the ground, the right one from Tony’s condo, where we arrived around 3 pm and had a well deserved rest.,

Tony’s apartment is spacious and has wonderful views

In preparation for our trip Aric had selected a few interesting food venues. One of them was the Peng Hwa Lok Lok in Pulau Tikus. Lok Lok is a kind of steamboat, where the food is skewered on sticks, which you dip in boiling water. Interesting at this stall is that the skewers are already present on the table and regularly refilled. You keep the sticks which at the end are counted to determine what you pay. The place is very popular, you share a table with others. A very interesting experience.

Back in the condo we enjoyed the night view and had a glass of wine

The next day we went again to the Pulau Tikus market, this time for Apom Manis at the coffees hop of Swee Keng. Another must-try on Aric’s list. You have to come early otherwise they are sold out.

After breakfast we split for a while. I visited a friend, LCK, who is living in a colonial mansion at Macalister Road. We had a nice chat with coffee, durians and interesting miniature bananas from his own garden in Balik Pulau.

The others visited the Penang Botanical Gardens.

When they came to fetch me, LCK invited them for more durians.

For lunch we went to the New World Park, where we only had some light food, because more food was waiting for us in Tony’s condo πŸ˜‰

Through Facebook, Aric had discovered an Assam Laksa “shop” that did delivery service only and had good reviews. Here you see Tony and Aric preparing the laksa. Aric loves this kind of noodles and has a website, Assam Laska List in which he describes and assesses the various Assam Laksa shops. His verdict: eatable, but not that special

Afternoon view of Gunung Jerai, from the condo.

We had bought (expensive) tickets for the Komtar tower. More precisely for the Komtar Skywalk, added to the tower in 2016. These top floors offer spectacular views of Georgetown. In the left picture I have marked with a x the location of Tony’s condo.

But the views were not what we came for ;-). Both the 65th and 68th floor have glass walkways, where you can look to the ground below, 250 meter down. The walkway on the 65th floor is the most scary, because the glass is transparent and colorless. I have no fear of height, but, to be honest I had to force myself to stand on this glass. Here Aric is lying down.

Of course we took many pictures. Once you are on the glass, you feel safe, but the first step is really scary.

On the 68th floor a curved skywalk has been created. If you look carefully at the Komtar picture at the beginning of this blog, you can see the “horseshoe” sticking out. A limited number of people is allowed to enter at any time. Because the glass floor has a blueish color, it is less scary.

We wanted to see the sunset and Georgetown after dark, so we had to spend quite some time on the roof, taking more pictures πŸ˜‰

The sunset was not special, but the view of Georgetown with the lights on, was worth the waiting

On our way down, we passed this giant durian. Rodney doesn’t like the King of Fruits πŸ˜‰ The Komtar tower was nicely illuminated.

We had Crab Char Kuey Teow at the Bee Hooi Cafe for dinner and as a dessert Tong Shui at the Traditional Home of Dessert ,

We walked a bit along the esplanade. I took a photo of the City Hall (1903), just to show that I was not only interested in food πŸ˜‰

The next morning , before leaving for Taiping, we visited the scenic Hean Boo Thean temple, at the edge of the Yeoh jetty, dedicated to Guan Yin.

We lit candles. I wrote my Chinese nickname πŸ˜‰

On our way to Taiping we stopped for lunch at the Law Cheang Kee restaurant in Nibong Tebal , another eatery on Aric’s list. Mud crab porridge is one of their specialities. The fresh stock of crab was just brought in when we arrived. We also had fried kembong , a kind of mackerel.

This was our table when we left.

We arrived in Taiping around 3pm and had cendol and pasembor at the Ansari Famous Cendol shop, before checking in at the Flemington Hotel. From the rooms and especially from the roof (with swimming pool) you have a beautiful view of the Lake Gardens

After a short rest we went out again, to visit Port Weld, now renamed Kuala Sepetang. On our way we had a look at one of the charcoal kilns. During my last visit, a few months ago, I was disappointed that it had become very touristy. But this time, almost 6 pm, it was deserted and very scenic.

One of the kilns was working. Controlling the temperature inside to transform the mangrove wood in charcoal, is a complicated process.

Another kiln was being filled with mangrove logs

We walked around in Port Weld and had a nice view from the bridge.

I had invited a few Taiping friends to join us for dinner in Teluk Kertang. There are several popular seafood restaurants in this village (where in 1879 Isabella BIrd landed, see my blog). We had booked at table in the Lemon Tree restaurant. It was a pleasant meeting with nice company and good food.

The next morning we walked in the Lake Gardens. Splendid weather.

Not even all Taipingites know that the Lake Gardens have a few Cannonball trees. After I “discovered” them, many years ago, I always have a look at these magnificent trees..

Here is another view of the gardens, with Maxwell Hill in the background.

After our walk we went back to Flemington to take a shower and check out. My friends were going back to KL, I was going to stay a bit longer. I dropped my luggage at my usual Furama hotel and then followed them to the old Railway station where we had another Assam Laksa.

It was a nice food trip. About my two extra days in Taiping I will write a separate blog.

Taiping, March 2022

The last time I visited Taiping was in October 2020, one and a half year ago. High time to visit my 2nd hometown again. I used public transport, first the MRT, then the ETS. The MRT was pleasantly quiet and in the ETC waiting lounge people kept distance.

Ticketing and boarding is very modern these days, the train was also not crowded and left punctually on time. There is a canteen on board, but I had prepared coffee and biscuits.

I managed to take two heritage pictures during the trip. Left the interior of the Kuala Lumpur station, one of Hubback’s masterworks, and right the Victoria bridge over the Perak river, near Kuala Kangsar.

It has become a nice tradition that Tung Lay Chun picks me up from the station and that we have lunch together, this time also with her husband Kar Seng. They suggested the 266 Kim Hai restaurant in Aulong, where they had been several times.

Delicious food, from left to right bitter gourd omelet, asam pedas fish curry and pork fried in fermented bean curd..

After lunch they dropped me at my usual Furama hotel, where I always have the same room.

After a long nap, I went out to the Lake Gardens, around the corner from Furama.

It was a Friday afternoon, no rain, many families and friends were enjoying the Raintree Walk, on foot or on a rented bicycle. Very pleasant atmosphere. I am often critical of MPT (the Taiping town council), but their decision to make a part of the Circular Road a pedestrian area has worked well.

The actual reason to create the Raintree Walk was that one of the magnificent raintrees had fallen down and blocked the road. Instead of removing it, the tree was left there with some support. It became a tourist attraction, but recently it was discovered that the tree trunk was rotting, so a big part had to be removed (left picture). The middle picture shows the second toppled tree. It is still doing well. And a few weeks ago a third raintree fell down (right pic). Here they have erected it again, with a lot of support. Will be interesting to see if it can survive..

The Chinese Pagoda bridge

After such a long absence I kept taking pictures. The picture to the right shows the Cannonball Tree, the Lake gardens have a few of these interesting trees. No flowers this time.

Last year there was a lot of excitement in Taiping because a pair of Hoopoes had landed and nested in the Lake Gardens. To control the stream of visitors, traffic had to be regulated. These signboards remain, hopefully the birds will come again.

Evening is falling, time to return to my hotel.

On my way back I passed the remains of the historic Lake View Hotel. A heritage food court has been opened in front of it. And I had a look at the bungalow which I had discovered in February 2020 and visited in August 2020. Then it was empty, now one guy was living there.

After my sumptuous lunch I didn’t feel hungry, I decided to have a look at the food stalls of Siang Malam, temporarily relocated from the pasar to the dobi line. I had a Chee Cheong Fun, not very special.

The next morning I had CCF again, now at Mr Tong’s stall, according to many the best in Taiping. While having my breakfast I accidentally met Foo Kok Heng, who used to work in Furama hotel. It was he who told me about the bungalow πŸ˜‰

My “assignment” for that Saturday was to have a look at many of the heritage buildings in Taiping and see if there had been any changes after my last visit. I used a rental bicycle of the hotel. Be prepared for a mixture of positive and negative observations!

First I had a look at the Taiping Tourist Office. I was not surprised to find it closed, it often was during earlier visits. Now apparently some renovation was going on. My friend Halim told me later that the roof was leaking (already for many years). The Tourism Office in Taiping is run by a NGO, which I find surprising, it should be run by MPT.

Positive news about the restoration of the famous Pasar. A start has been made, the stall holders have been relocated to a temporary market, the plan is that they will come back after the project is finished. That may take a long time.

At the moment they are working on the reconstruction of Siang Malam, the wet market and a popular eatery. Let’s hope for the best.

A few weeks ago it was in the news that fire had destroyed part of an old bazar, the Tsen Loong Bazar. I had a look. Fortunately only a few stalls along Main Road had been affected, mostly flower shops. Left picture shows the Main Road façade, right picture the Pasar Road stalls, still operational. The middle picture shows the entrance of the impressive Tsen Loong Hakka Association opposite the bazar on Pasar Road..

Next on my list was the Amelia Earhart mural, commemorating her landing at the Taiping aerodrome on 20 June 1937. A beautiful mural, only a pity that Amelia never landed in Taiping as I convincingly proved in my two blogs about Amelia Earhart and Taiping , part 1 and part 2. Sigh.

Opposite one of the ruined buildings in Taiping, for years already nothing has happened.

A short break at Ansari’s Famous Chendol. No visit to Taiping is complete without a cendol at this iconic place. I paid RM 2

Taiping is a town of contrasts. Nicely restored heritage buildings and pathetic ruins. I don’t want to offend anybody, but for me it is part of Taiping’s charm, compared with vibrant towns like Ipoh and Georgetown.

Left the Ceylon Association, beautifully renovated. Right the town Rest House, left to rot.

Although the Rest House is fenced off, it is still easy to enter. I walked up to the first floor. The structure is still solid, with immediate action it could still be saved, I think.

The building next to it, the former Perak Railway building, has finally been solidly fenced off, no jalan tikus anymore, But years too late, all valuable stuff has been stolen already, Have a look at my 2019 report Taiping Bandar Warisan

Last stop before going back to Furama were the Pillars of the former Residence. The cleaning operation by THS and other NGO’s was successful. The VIP chalets of the former Casuarina Inn are ruimes, but again, that is the charm of Taiping.

Graffiti at the entrance. On my way back I had an accident with my bike, I overlooked one of the many potholes. I could easily have broken bones, but fortunately I only had some scratches and bruises. The Furama staff was very helpful in applying a bandage.

In the afternoon I went out to visit Mrs Long in Barack Road. Another tradition, we had a long chat. I came on my bike, as you can see in the picture, where Mrs Long is standing in front of the beautifully renovated house.

That evening I Had dinner with Anand Pillai in what used to be the Pusat Makanan Taman Tasik, but now has been upgraded to Medan Selera Tai Hu. Nice atmosphere. Just around the corner of Furama, I had food there so many times..

The next day I went out with Halim to explore the region around Matang. We started with a breakfast of thosai. .

In this Google Earth map I have marked the locations we visited. The other map is a topo map from 1942. It is interesting to compare the two . The Port Weld railway has gone but you can still drive along the tracks, now a minor road (marked in red).

Our first destination was a cemetery, already indicated on the topo map. Just beside the road from Simpang to Port Weld. At one side a huge Chinese cemetery, In a few weeks time it will look much better kept, after Cheng Beng. At the other side there is a Hindu cemetery. Interesting for me, I thought that Hindus usually cremated the bodies and scatter the ashes.

I took several pictures of tombstones.

Two more pictures, the left structure one looks very Indian, but the right one looks almost Chinese.

We continued to Kota Ngah Ibrahiim, now renamed Matang Museum. As both of us had visited the (interesting!) museum, we didn’t stop, I just took a picture of Ngah Ibrahim’s tomb. After the murder of Birch in 1875, Ngah Ibrahim was exiled to the Seychelles. In 1887 he died in Singapore and only in 2006 his remains were transferred to the Kota.

Next to the Kota an attractive mansion is called Speedy’s bungalow. Not yet open to the public. In the same grounds a few nice Malay houses.

Our following stop was at Teluk Kertang, where Isabella Bird landed in 1879. I am a fan of her, read my blog Isabella Bird and Taiping for more info about this intrepid British traveler.

In those days, before Port Weld and the railway was built, Teluk Kertang was the main port of Taiping. The region is famous for its high-quality charcoal, made from mangrove wood.

I have visited the charcoal kilns several times, when they not yet had become a popular tourist attraction. We only had a quick look, to observe that it is quite commercial now..

Time for lunch. Halim brought me to a Malay Mee Udang restaurant in Port Weld. Tasty, fresh prawns in a nice gravy.

Then it was time for “new” discoveries. On Google Earth I had found three Indian temples in the region between Matang and Taiping. Two of them, next to each other, can only be reached from the small road that has replaced the former railroad tracks. On the topo map there is a short railroad track, splitting off to where these temples now stand. No idea why.

The first temple is dedicated to Puchai Amman, the Green Mother, an incarnation of Parvati, Shiva’s wife, And green the temple is. A grand building, it looks very new.

Quite a crowd of devotees. Nice statues everywhere

The statue of Pachai Amman was covered with a veil. I don’t know much about Hindu religion, so it was not clear to me if this covering had a religious meaning.

Next to it another huge temple dedicated to Lord Murugan. Full of intricate details. It was a burning hot day, the lighting was not suitable for photography, I will come back another time, with an Indian friend, who can explain more about the religious background.

The third temple is just beside the no 1 trunk road, at Simpang Halt. In the past Simpang Halt was a small railway station on the Port Weld line. This temple is dedicated to Lord Muniswaran, a minor Hindu deity.

I have to study more, here is an interesting blog about Muniswaran worship. It was still very hot, with blinding sunlight not easy to take photos

Intriguing statues.

From the three temple we visited, this one is my favourite. Surrounded by a nice garden. Smaller scale than the other two.

Mission accomplished. On our way back to Taiping we crossed the New Village of Aulong and had a look at the remains of the Taiping Aerodrome. Not much is left of the control tower

This may have been a hangar. Halim still felts young enough to play some football.

After some rest in Furama I went back to the lake gardens around 7 pm, to watch the roosting of the egrets. Within 15 minutes flight after flight of egrets arrived at the bamboo bushes near the Jubilee jetty. Impressive.

Later Halim picked me up from my hotel for dinner. We went to the FMS restaurant, a new building on the location of the former Raja Rest House. Popular Malay meeting place.

First time I had Sop Tulang. Delicious. The satay was also not bad.

View of the Lake Gardens by night. ON this kind of photo even the monstrous Novotel hotel gets some charm.

It was a rewarding, very pleasant outing.

The next day, before going back by ETS, I had breakfast with my friend Yeap in the Lian Thong restaurant, another tradition for me. I love roti goyang (eggs on toast).It was nice to see back Mr Teoh, the owner, after one and a half year ;-).

My train trip back went smooth and was again punctual. Here I am waiting at the station.

Train and MRT not crowded.

It was good to be back in Taiping.

Topo Maps and Taiping

I love topographic maps. For my hiking trips I have bought a few from JUPEM, ,the Malaysian Survey Department. These are modern topo maps, scale 1:50000. Here is an example, a small part of sheet 126, the Hulu Langat Map, printed in 1994. I have marked some of my hikes in red and a few waterfalls in blue.

Probably JUPEM will have an archive of old topo maps, but there is nothing online. Actually I was unable to find any Malaysian site with historic map material.

Surprisingly the National Archive of Singapore has quite a lot of historic map material about the F.M.S and Malaya. I was very excited when I found a detailed map of Taiping, printed in 1928. It consists of four sheets, with Taiping in the center.

The scale of these maps is 4 Chains to an Inch. I had to Google to find the meaning of this colonial expression! A chain is a measuring device for surveying, with a length of 22 yards = 22 x 3 = 66 foot = 66 x 12 = 792 inches. Therefore 4 chains equals 4 x 792 = 3168 inches and the scale of the map in modern notation is 1:3168.

To create the map of Taiping town, I had to “glue’ the four map corners digitally together. Here is the result, not 100% accurate, but acceptable. I have used parts of this map in an earlier blog Meeting of Old-Timers . .

Recently a waterfall friend told me that he had found topo maps of Malaya in the National Library of Australia! A total of 379 maps, printed in the 1940s. Below I show two map details, the actual survey data go back to 1913. Notice the scale, one inch to a mile, 1:63360 in modern notation, 20 times the scale of the Taiping town map. The second detail explains why these maps are in the Australian National Library. Australian soldiers were fighting in Malaya against the Japanese and later against the communists during the Emergency.

The maps are very detailed with an extensive legend.

Here is the same part of the Ulu Langat map as above. If you enlarge the two maps and compare them carefully, you will see that the two waterfalls in Sg Ampang are indicated in the 1940 map (and a few more, smaller ones). To be honest, I doubt if those numerous small tributaries in the old map have been really surveyed.

It is a real treasure trove of information. But mow back to Taiping! Here are the two maps, containing Taiping, images 94 and 96 in the NLA collection.

Again Taiping is on the side of the map, so I had to “glue” the two maps together. Here is the result. Notice how Taiping is bordered on the West side by dredging locations, North Taiping dredging, Asam Kunbang dredging and South Taiping dredging

Here is a detail with the Port Weld Railway. Two stations between Port Weld and Taiping: Matang Road Halt and Simpang Halt. Port Weld had a Police station (PS), a Post & Telegraph Office (PTO) , a Customs station (CS) and a Forest checking station (FCS) . Teluk Kertang is where Isabella Bird landed in 1879. It still had a Customs station and a Forest checking station.

And here is a detail with the winding road up Maxwell Hill, ending at the Cottage. A few of the bungalows are marked, the Nest and the Box. Birch hill, Caulfield’s hill and Gunung Hijau are marked. There is a Post & Telegraph office at the 6th mile. And, a surprise for me, a hill near the Lake Gardens (lower left corner of the map) is called Speedy’s hill. For comparison I have also taken a GE screenshot of the same region.

The NLA topo map collection has often several editions of a specific map. The Taiping map is available in a 2nd edition, printed in September 1943 and a third edition, printed in May 1945. I noticed only one interesting difference, the access road to the Taiping Aerodrome. See the two screenshots. The third edition has a note : With additions and corrections from intelligence operations .In that period Malaya was still occupied by the Japanese!

Here is a Google Earth screenshot of the same region. To make comparison easier I have marked the old access road in red. I have also indicated Aulong, a New Village, built during the Emergency. Notice the many lakes in the upper left, remains of past dredging activity.

When you find other interesting features in these maps, you are welcome to write a comment.

The Gang of Four

Probably everybody knows about the Gang of Four who became (in)famous during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. There are more Gang of Four’s in the world, Wikipedia has a list of them. There are political groups, industrial ones, there is even a rock band with that name.

There is also a Gang of Four in Malaysia πŸ˜‰ ! Here they are. From left to right: Khong Tuck Koon, Jan Stuivenberg (me), Stephen Boey and George Tan.

When I settled down in Malaysia around the turn of the century, I got interested in waterfalls. That’s how I came into contact with Khong, who had created a waterfall website. Stephen was a friend of him and George his brother-in-law. Soon we became friends, as we shared many interests, waterfalls, birds, and not in the last place food. As we were all retired. we had time to make trips together. Often daytrips, where we first visited a waterfall or watched birds, always ending with a nice lunch.

In August 2005 Khong suggested a longer trip to Southern Thailand and it was during this trip that the name Gang of Four was coined for our fellowship. The picture above is from this trip. .A travelogue and many pictures can be found in this report: South Thailand. We visited a number of nature parks.

Of course we enjoyed the Thai food, we visited waterfalls and George kept track of our expenses meticulously πŸ˜‰

In those days, my camera was not good enough to take suitable bird pictures, so mostly I took food pictures. Here is an example of a birding trip to the Selangor Coast, a few weeks after our Thailand trip. In between breakfast and lunch there was bird watching, Khong and Stephen being the real birders, George and I the “accidental” birders, as we jokingly called ourselves.

In those days there was a social media site, called Multiply, where you could publish pictures and share them with family and friends.. I had my own account, and we decided to create a shared account “gangoffour” for our trips. Multiply was quite popular, but not profitable enough and after a couple of years they announced that the service. would be discontinued. I managed to download the content of all albums and wrote a script for my own Multiply website .Here is the first Gang of Four album: Trip up North, (13-16)-7-2006 We stayed two nights in Kulim and visited several birding locations in the region. One evening we went owling in Air Hitam Dalam with Dr Neoh and his wife. We also visited the canopy walkway at Sg Sedim and met more Penang birders at Ulu Paip. On our way back we visited Chan Ah Lak in Taiping. More details in the album.

A few weeks later we made a daytrip to Lagong. Joined this time by Gilbert and Yoke Sim, two birder friends. I had just bought a new camera, a Canon Powershot S3 with 12x zoom and image stabilising. Finally I could take bird pictures myself πŸ˜‰

Our next adventure was a 3D2N trip to Taiping and the Cameron Highlands in August 2006. When I searched in my collection of photo albums for a report about this trip, I discovered that I had never written one, although I had taken almost 200 photos! Of course memories had become a bit vague but with the help of the other GoF members I managed to write a rather belated report: Taiping & CH, August 2006. The album contains 60 photos of birds, flowers, food etc. Our friend Henry Hor joined us on this trip. As I was the photographer, I am not in many photos myself. Here are a few.

With my new compact camera I managed to take this picture of a Black-crowned Night-heron. I was so happy with it that I published it on my Birding in Malaysia website, one of the few bird photos I contributed πŸ˜‰ .

Sometimes the Gang of Four invited guests for a trip. It also happened that not all four of us were free, like on this day trip to Sekinchan, 22-1- 2007. Khong could not join, but as our “sifu” he provided us with a map of suitable birding locations. A few of the photos were taken by Stephen who also wrote some of the captions.

Several times the Gang of Four attended the Raptor Watch in Tanjung Tuan. Here is a report Raptor Watch 2007, This time we went with Gilbert and Yoke Sim, not sure if George was present. We hardly saw any raptors this time.

In May 2007 we went to Merapoh, where we stayed two nights in the Sg Relau visitor center. I didn’t take many pictures during this trip and forgot details. We were hoping to see the Pitta, but I don’t remember if we did. We had to prepare our own breakfast and lunch, for dinner we probably went to Gua Musang. But I still remember the pictures of two monitor lizards I took. Making love, I thought, until my friends explained that they were actually fighting for supremacy πŸ˜‰ . .

In September we made a 3D2N trip to Langkawi. We were joined by Gilbert and Yoke Sim and this time also by Aric. We took a flight to Langkawi and rented a car there. Aric and I visited mainly waterfalls while the others went birding. Of course we enjoyed the food and the fellowship. Here is a report Langkawi (11-13)-9-2007.

Two more day trips in 2007. On 25 October we went to the coast, Jeram and Kuala Selangor. George did not join this time. .

On 7 November we went to Fraser’s Hill. this time without Khong. The smelly rubbish dump is a favourite location for bird watching! But even with my 12x zoom, taking bird pictures is not that easy.

Much easier to take pictures of flowers πŸ˜‰ .

It was an active year for the Gang of Four with six events . Collecting data for this compilation, I noticed that Gilbert and Yoke Sim often joined, and that sometimes only three gang members were present. Stephen was always there, because he had a Pajero with enough space for even six pax!

The first trip in 2008 was to Taman Negara., 3D2N, and this time only Stephen and I represented the GoF . Richard, a hiking friend joined us. The trip is included here , because Stephen contributed quite a few photos to the report Taman Negara (7-9)-4-08. We did the canopy walk, visited a waterfall and had a very pleasant time. Here a few pictures, many more in the album.

A few weeks later a daytrip to Merlimau. I managed to take a few bird pictures.

In May we made an interesting trip to the Cameron Highlands via a new, still partly unfinished road. A detailed report here: New Road to the Cameron Highlands. George did not join, but Gilbert, Yoke Sim and Aric did. The new road was easily passable, and a nice adventure. We stayed overnight in Brinchang, had a traditional steamboat dinner and visited the Mossy Forest the next day before driving back home.

In August a daytrip to Sg Buloh with the complete Gang of Four. It was my lucky day, I took these pictures.

One month later an excursion to the Chiling waterfall, with Stephen, Khong and Robert, a Kiara friend. Stephen and Khong went birding while Robert and I explored the waterfall. Lunch in the WK restaurant in Batang Kali

On 23 November 2008 the Gang of Four attended the wedding of George’s daughter. It was a festive event, where we met many friends. Have a look at the album . Here is the Gang of Four in festive attire.

A few days later we made a trip to Kedah, staying overnight in Kuala Gula. Without George , but with Gilbert and Yoke Sim and this time our friend Zen joined us. I don’t remember if we did any birding, we had a rather dismal lunch in Tanjung Tualang, stayed in a kind of Airbnb and visited the Hua Seng Keng Temple, located in the middle of nowhere near Kuala Gula. Quite interesting, especially the depiction of the Underworld. I got sick on the way back home.

January 2009 we made another trip to Taiping, 3D2N. When I looked for a report, I discovered that I had never written one, same as in 2006. So I wrote a belated report, using a selction of the pictures, without much text, because I forgot details. We visited the Tanjung Tualang tin dredge, Papan, the SBS Buddhist Sanctuary, the Wild Boar temple in Kamunting., the Lake gardens and probably we did some birding. Here is the report, Taiping, January 2009.

In December that year we made a trip to Parit Jawa. Again without George, but with Gilbert and Yoke Sim. I had just bought a new camera, a Nikon D5000. Here is the album: Parit Jawa (2-3)-12-2009. Some of the bird photos taken during the trip, , S= Stephen, K=Khong, J=Jan.

The yearly number of GoF trips was getting less. On 14 March 2010 we made a short trip to Genting. You may wonder what Khong, Stephen and Gilbert are looking at in this photo.

I don’t remember if we have seen birds during this trip. I took only pictures of a crowd of beetles. The main reason to go to Genting was probably that there was a buffet promotion πŸ˜‰

In that year we went to Taiping with Kiara friends: Mostly Makan, August 2010 , and we were invited for the wedding of Zen’s daughter, Zen’s wedding party 23-10-2010 , but those were not really GoF activities.

In December 2011 we had a “real” GoF trip, again to Taiping. Khong did not join. There is no album about this 2D1N trip, I don’t remember where we stayed overnight and where we had our food.

But we went birding. although I forgot the location

The last “official” GoF trip took place in May 2012. Again I discovered that I had never written a report about this trip. But I was able to reconstruct more or less what we did, using my pictures and also emails we exchanged after the trip. Here is the report: Taiping, May 2012. It was a 3D2N trip to Taiping, we stayed one night in the Beringin bungalow on Maxwell Hill.

Of course we met each other after this, but no more trips, as far as I remember. You will have noticed that after our maiden trip Gilbert and Yoke Sim were often taking part, making it more a Gang of Six. They were real birders, compared to the accidental birders George and me. The four real birders may have made more birding trips after 2012.

Around 2018, 6(!) years later, we decided that it would be nice to have lunch meetings every now and then. Khong, always the organiser, created a WhatsApp chat group GoF Classic, with the original Gang of Four as members. As one of our mottos was : Value For Money (VFM), the venues for our meetings were restaurants with attractive promotions.

Our first GoF-VFM lunch meeting was 16 November 2018 in the Skaters Cafe in the Royale Chulan hotel in Damansara. Notice how Stephen looks like a patriarch.

It was nice to meet and talk, so a few weeks later we had a second meeting, this time in the OUG Jade restaurant.

Our next meeting was in my condo in Damansara Perdana. I had promised my friends a lunch with traditional Dutch Pancakes.

In October 2019 we had a buffet lunch in the Kampung Kitchen, a restaurant in the Ibis Hotel, near KLCC.

And that was our latest meeting until now, a couple of months later Malaysia went into lockdown because of Covid-19.

Hopefully we can continue this tradition soon.

Isabella Bird & Taiping

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taiping, October 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A good location for another gotong royong?

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

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

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

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

Another view of the Lake Gardens.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Meeting of Old-Timers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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