EMCO!

In May 2020 I published a blog post Lockdown!, about our experiences during the first Movement Control Order (MCO) in Malaysia. More than one year has passed since then. THe MCO was extended several times, then replaced by the CMCO (Conditional) and later by the RMCO (Recovery), Confusing? There is also an FMCO (Full) and an EMCO (Enhanced). For a detailed review of all the MCO variations, with timetable, see the Wikipedia article Malaysian movement control order.

In the beginning of the pandemic there were hardly any cases in Malaysia, but from October 2020 onwards the situation deteriorated. We are now in the 5th “wave”.

During the Recovery MCO, starting in May 2020, international borders remained closed, but interstate travel was allowed. We visited the Cameron Highlands in July 2020, and Taiping twice, in August and October. When the situation worsened, we could not travel interstate anymore, but inter-district travel (within a state) was still allowed. I visited the Batang Kali waterfall in March 2021 and the Rawang Bypass in the first week of May, a few days before even inter-district travel was no longer allowed. We could still walk, but only in our own neighbourhood. I was very fortunate because from my doorstep i could explore the many trails in Bukit Lanjan. In May and June I walked with friends a few times a week, here is one of those hikes, A Backyard Hike.

Then, on 1 July, the backdoor government announced an EMCO from 3 to 16 July in the Klang Valley (most of Selangor and parts of Kuala Lumpur). .Enhanced or Extreme? Physical outdoor exercise, considered by experts to be safe and healthy, was banned. Everybody had to stay at home, only one person in a household could go out for essential shopping (food, pharmacy).

During those two weeks we have been staying at home almost permanently, blogging, listening to music, playing games. We decided to spend more time to prepare food ourselves and only occasionally order delivery food. Every day we took a picture of our dinner. The original plan was that Aric and I would share the cooking duties, but it turned out that he did most of the cooking, often very creatively. Here is a report.

2 July

On our last day of freedom, I hiked with friends to a viewpoint at Bukit Lanjan. We had a beer and enjoyed the nice weather.

3 July

Durian season was starting, we bought online a few containers of Red Prawn and Musang King. Expensive but delicious. We still had Tau Fu Fa in the fridge and for dinner I prepared Spaghetti Carbonara with salad and a glass of wine.

5 & 6 July

The next two days Aric was the cook, the first day Chinese food, the second day Western style.

Tom Yam Stir-fried Chicken with Veggies (Broccoli, Eggplant, Shiitake)

BBQ Cuttlefish with mashed potatoes and veggies.

Shopping

To get some physical exercise, I decided to go shopping on foot, not to the nearby Jaya grocer but to the TESCO, a roundtrip of about 4 km ;-). I did the same during the first lockdown, carrying a shopping bag to show the police that I was not hiking, haha. The TESCO car park was almost empty, the shops closed. Parts of TESCO also blocked, only a few customers. Eerie.

7 & 8 July

Two more dinners prepared by Aric. One Chinese and one Western cuisine.

Red Snapper with fermented bean paste & Chinese cabbage with fried dried Shrimp and Cuttlefish.

Baked Salmon with Lemon Sauce, Cheese-baked potato and salad.

8 July

Dutch food for a change. Pancakes. Two versions, an apple pancake and a spekpannekoek with bacon, traditionally served with syrup. A glass of beer was a good accompaniment.

9 & 10 July

Although dine-in was not allowed, many restaurants still prepared take-away food. We ordered a meal from our favourite restaurant: fried rice, sotong, tofu soup and veggies. The following day I decorated a frozen pizza from the Jaya grocer with extra mushrooms and cheese.

11 July

Aric’s birthday. Of course no visitors, but he was spoiled with three birthday cakes!

We had a traditional steamboat dinner, ordered online. It included the cooking pot, the soup and a variety of ingredients.

Vaccination

I got my 2nd Covid-19 dose (AstraZeneca) on 12 July at the PWTC in Kuala Lumpur. That is a different state (Federal Territory), but for vaccination you could cross the state border without a permit. No police check on our way. The organisation was very professional, separate stations for dose 1 and dose 2. No queue at all for dose 2, I was in and out in 35 minutes and that included the compulsory 15 minute wait after being injected.(right picture)

12 & 13 July

The steamboat dinner was so copious that we could not finish everything, there was enough for another meal. The next day Aric prepared Tom Yam chicken with green veggies

14 & 15 July

My turn, two Dutch meals. Pancakes again, but now prepared by me, the dough a bit thinner. I managed to turn the pancakes in the traditional way, by lifting he frying pan upward, so the pancake will turn over in the air. The next day I prepared Hutspot, a traditional winter stew in the Netherlands. Very simple recipe, carrots, onions and potatoes. Could not find the smoked sausage, but the sliced pork (from a can) was a good alternative. The pickled onions and gherkins are essential 😉

16 & 17 July

The last EMCO day, Aric surpassed himself with a fabulous meal of Giant Prawns in a Creamy Tom Yam sauce. The next day we ordered food, a Poké Bowl (Fish Bowl), healthy food, getting more and more popular in the Klang Valley.

End of EMCO

The EMCO was announced from 3 to 16 July, what would happen next? Looking at the daily number of new Covid-19 cases, I expected that it would be extended. On 3 July it was 6658 and on 16 July it had increased to 12541. But the government decided otherwise. EMCO was not extended, probably because it had no effect on the virus, only damaged the economy more.

So we went back to another MCO, actually not that much different. A few more shops could reopen (Aric’s laundry shop for example), two people from a household could go shopping instead of only one. Still no inter-district travel.

But for me a very important difference: Hiking around your house was allowed again. I waited a few days , because this government has a reputation of flip-flopping.

19 July

What a pleasure it was to hike again. For the time being I will hike on my own, keeping a safe distance to everybody. It is clear that they virus is endemic now, everybody can be a carrier, I am fully vaccinated now, but even that gives no 100% protection.

I had made myself a thermos with coffee and enjoyed my cuppa at the Hard Rock. I had to use the timer of my phone, that’s why I look so serious 😉

Two weeks of extreme lockdown. Of course we did more than eat, eat, eat. I listened to a lot of music, click on the image to listen to my favourite composer.

I re-discovered the films of Buster Keaton Here is his hilarious movie Our Hospitality (1923). Click on the image to watch the movie.

And I spent much time at my laptop. Here is a blog I published about the French painter Jean-Léon Gérôme and his painting the Naked Truth (1896). Click on the image to read why I wrote a blog about the painting.

I did a lot of gaming too, for my mental health. Here are two of my favourite games, Hay Day and Homescapes.

The Covid-19 situation in Malaysia is still getting worse every day.

The Naked Truth

Last week one of my friends forwarded me an “old poem” about the Lie and the Truth, taking a bath together. The Lie runs away with the clothes of the Truth, leaving her naked. The poem was supposed to be written by Jean-Léon Gérôme in 1896. A quick Google search showed that Gérôme was actually a French painter who had, in 1896, created a painting Truth coming from the well armed with her whip to chastise mankind. But he didn’t write the poem, as I replied to my friend. Here are the WhatsApp messages.

I decided to write a blog about the painter Jean-Léon Gérôme, the Naked Truth and the Well.

Gérôme lived from 1824 until 1904. In 1840, 16 year old, he moved to Paris where he got his training in what often is called Academic Art, because it was taught in the art academies of Europe, especially the French Académie des Beaux-Arts. In 1846 he painted The Cockfight which won him a prize and launched his career.

He became one of the most officially honored and financially successful French artists of the second half of the 19th century. Subjects from Roman and Greek antiquity, but also from the Middle-East where he traveled extensively. His paintings are pleasing to the eye, no wonder that they were sold easily. As a result they can be found all over the world, often in private collections. Here are a few of his paintings to give an impression.

Even today you can buy copies of his paintings, here is a website that has copies of 234 (!) Gérôme paintings for sale. Click on the screenshot to view the website. Interested in your own copy of Truth coming from the Well? You can order it in 14 different formats, from 18″ x 24″ ($259) to 80″ x 104″ ($898) , frame not included.

At the end of his life he became a very vocal opponent of the upcoming impressionist school of painting. Interest in the “sterile”, “academic” style of painting faded but came back in the second half of the 20th century. The Gare d’Orsay museum in Paris is dedicated to 19th century art and one of my favourites. In 2010 the museum organised a retrospective exhibition The Spectacular Art of Jean-Léon Gérôme which I would have liked to see.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, the story about Truth and Lie taking a bath is fake, a fabrication. But why is Truth coming out of her well? Gerome created several paintings about it. In two of the paintings she is also holding a mirror.

In Roman mythology Veritas (Truth) was a goddess, the daughter of Saturn. From the Wikipedia article Veritas : “The elusive goddess is said to have hidden in the bottom of a holy well” and “She is depicted both as a virgin dressed in white and as the “naked truth” (nuda veritas) holding a hand mirror

The expression :naked truth” can be found in Ode 1.24 by Horatius, the famous Roman poet (65-8 BC). According to the Greek philosopher Demokritos (c. 460 – c. 370 BC), knowledge of truth is difficult, since perception through our senses is subjective. In reality we know nothing, for truth is in the depths. No mention of a (holy) well. I have not been able to find any depiction of Veritas in Roman/Greek antiquity on the Internet.

Fortunately I found this webpage: Painting Truth: When did she emerge from a well? The page is part of a fascinating website , created and maintained by Howard Oakley, a developer of Mac software with a huge interest in paintings. The page is so well written and complete, that I will only summarize the content here.

At the end of the 19th century “Truth climbing from a Well” suddenly became a popular subject for painting. It has been suggested that this was related to the infamous Dreyfus affair, where the army officer Dreyfus was falsely accused (and convicted) of treason. But Oakley shows that the interest started earlier already. In fact , he found that the earliest painting with Truth and a Well dates back to the 16th century, about the same period that the expression “the naked truth” got used in the way we still do nowadays. Here is that painting, An Allegory of Truth and Time, by Carracci (1560-1609).

Oakley has written many more pages about Gérôme : Too real: the narrative paintings of Jean-Léon Gérôme .All of them are worth reading, as are the numerous pages about other art topics.

To summarise this post, Truth and the abyss where she resides had a philosophical background, and nothing to do with a (holy) well, from where she emerges. I have found nothing about a naked truth in antiquity except the reference by Horatius. It is only in Western art that the topic appears in the 16th century, culminating at the end of the 19th century. There is sometimes a mirror, but never a bathing encounter with Falsehood stealing her clothes 😉

When you Google for truth, lie, bath, you get quite a few hits. Often it is a 19th century legend, or a Roman fable. Sometimes Truth and Lie are twin brothers, swimming a river.

Rinaldo

Late in 1710 Georg Friedrich Händel arrived in London. A few months later, on 24 February 1711, his opera Rinaldo had its premiere, one day before his 26th birthday. It was a great success, he decided to stay in England, dropped the umlaut in his name and became a naturalised Englishman in 1727,

Here are two portraits of Handel, left circa 1710, right around 1726

I got interested in Handel’s operas, when I was writing a blog about the only opera written by Domenico Scarlatti in 1703, An opera and some history. The history part is about Roman emperor Nero and his mistress Poppaea. History was a popular subject for operas in those days and a few years later Handel wrote his first major opera Agrippina (Nero’s mother). Premiere was in December 1709 in Venice, it was very successful and established the international reputation of 24 year old Handel. Many YouTube recordings exist, here is my favourite (click on the image to watch the recording).

Rinaldo also has a historical background, the First Crusade (1096-1099) The objective of this religious war was the recovery of the Holy Land from Islamic rule. In 1591 the Italian poet Torquato Tasso wrote an epic and romantic poem Gerusalemme liberata about the liberation of Jerusalem. It is epic, containing 1917 stanzas of 8 lines each. And also romantic, the historical background is mixed with several love stories.

The story of Rinaldo and Armida is the most famous one. Rinaldo is a handsome brave crusader knight and Armida a powerful witch, trying to destroy the Christian army. When she meets a sleeping Rinaldo and wants to kill him, she falls in love with the young man and absconds him to her magical island. Rinaldo becomes her willing prisoner and falls in love with her as well. The army sends two friends, Carlo and Ubaldo, to remind him of his duty. Finally they convince Rinaldo to abandon Armida and come back to the war.

Not surprisingly it became a favourite subject for artists. The left painting shows Armida, dagger in her hand, falling in love. The middle one shows a lovesick Rinaldo with Armida on her island and in the right painting the two soldiers have convinced Rinaldo to come back, the boat is waiting already..

If you think that this introduction will make the opera (written in Italian) easier to understand, you are wrong. The story is tweaked completely. Yes, Goffredo is the leader of the Christian army and Rinaldo is the heroic warrior. But the opera gives Goffredo a daughter, Almirena, who will become Rinaldo’s bride after the war is won. And the witch Armida is the queen of Damascus in a love relationship with Argante, the king of Jerusalem. Here is a synopsis of the opera , taken from the very informative website opera-arias.com.

ACT I

The Christian army, led by Goffredo, is besieging the city of Jerusalem. If the city is taken, then the Christian warrior Rinaldo will be free to marry Goffredo’s daughter Almirena.
In an audience with Goffredo, Argante, the king of Jerusalem, is granted a three-day halt to hostilities. The sorceress Armida, queen of Damascus, descends from the skies and tells her lover Argante that their only hope of victory is the destruction of Rinaldo.
As Rinaldo and Almirena express their love for each other, Armida snatches Almirena away. Goffredo and his brother Eustazio discover the distraught Rinaldo. Eustazio suggests seeking the help of a Christian sorcerer who lives in a cave at the foot of a mountain.

ACT II

Goffredo, Eustazio and Rinaldo are wandering the seashore searching for the sorcerer when a spirit lures Rinaldo on board a ship by claiming to be sent by Almirena.
In a garden of Armida’s palace garden, Argante reveals his love for Almirena and offers to help her, but she repulses him.
When Rinaldo arrives, Armida’s initial triumph over him turns to love, but she is rejected. Armida transforms herself into the guise of Almirena, but Rinaldo again rejects her, fleeing when he discovers her trickery.
Armida again disguises herself as Almirena, but this time Argante enters and inadvertently reveals his feeIings for Almirena. Armida is outraged and swears revenge.

ACT III

Goffredo and Eustazio approach the mountain with Armida’s palace at its summit and the sorcerer’s cave at its foot. The sorcerer tells them that Almirena and Rinaldo are held by Armida, and the two warriors set off with two magic wands as protection.
Armida is about to stab Almirena, but Rinaldo rushes to protect her. Goffredo and Eustazio enter and with their wands transform the enchanted garden into a desert. Armida disappears. Argante attempts to rally his generals, and he and Armida are reconciled.
Battle commences, the Christians prevail and the two lovers are reunited. Argante and Armida are captured and, realizing the error of their ways, embrace the Christian faith.

You will agree that this “strange” plot has no resemblance to Tasso’s story of Rinaldo and Armida. Actually this plot was written by Aaron Hill, at that time the manager of the Queen’s Theatre in Hay Market, He was of the same age as Handel and wanted a “hit” for his theatre. Italian opera was becoming popular in London, famous Italian singers were available and his theatre could provide spectacular effects. Giacomo Rossi translated the libretto in Italian and Handel wrote the music. Rinaldo was the result. . All this within a couple of months (or even weeks, although that may be anecdotal) !

A copy of the original Rinaldo “booklet” still exists and is fascinating reading. It contains the text of the opera, both in Italian and in English and has a foreword written by Hill. Here is the foreword. Notice how Hill defends the changes in Tasso’s original story and argues that an opera should give equal pleasure to both senses.

Here is the cast of the first performance. The roles of Rinaldo , Eustazio were sung by castrati, while the part of Goffredo was sung by a female contralto (in travesty). All singers were Italian, the two castrati were so famous that they had nicknames, Niccolini and Valentini. The two sopranos were also prima donnas (and bitter rivals).

Name Role Voice Singer
Goffredo leader of the First Crusade contralto (en travesti) Francesca Vanini-Boschi
Rinaldo a nobleman of the House of Este alto castrato Nicolò Grimaldi (“Nicolini”)
Almirena daughter of Goffredo soprano Isabella Girardeau
Eustazio brother to Goffredo alto castrato Valentino Urbani (“Valentini”)
Argante Saracen king of Jerusalem bass Giuseppe Boschi
Armida Queen of Damascus, Argante’s mistress  soprano Elisabetta Pilotti-Schiavonetti
Mago a Christian magician alto castrato Giuseppe Cassani

It must have been a spectacular performance. The libretto contains very detailed stage instructions. Here are a few from ACT III, where Goffredo and Eustazio arrive at the cave of the Mago.

Notice in how much detail the stage is described. A mountain rising from the front of the stage to the utmost height of the most backward part of the stage. Rocks , caves and waterfalls. A castle on top,” guarded by a great number of spirits“. The audience must have been gasping in awe.

The Mago warns them that they can not attack the castle without his help, but still they try. And fail. Many soldiers are swallowed by the mountain, “with thunder, lightning and amazing noises“.

The Mago gives them magical wands and that helps. When they touch the gate of the castle, the whole mountain disappears and Goffredo and Eustazio find them selves clinging to a rock in the middle of a sea.

No wonder that the opera was a success. In the period until 1711-1717 it was performed 47 times, more than any other opera in the Queen’s theatre, Handel revised the opera in 1731, it was also performed abroad a few times but soon it went into oblivion. Only more than 200 year later, in 1954, there was a performance during a Handel festival in Germany. More about the performance history here.

On YouTube I have found only three complete video recordings of Rinaldo. Here is a short description of them.

The first one is a performance in Prague, directed by Václav Luks in 2009. Here is a screenshot , click on it to watch the opera. For me the least attractive of the three that I have seen. In the first place the cast. Of course there are no more castrati nowadays, but the parts of Rinaldo and Eustazio are sung here by mezzo-sopranos instead of by countertenors. Goffredo too is sung by a mezzo-soprano and not by a contralto. The mise-en-scène is very static, the singers face the audience almost permanently, only move a lot their hands and fingers. Here is a (rather negative) review. The YouTube has French subtitles, which makes it easier to follow the plot.

In 1985 Pier Luigi Pizzi directed the 1731 version of Rinaldo which became quite popular and was repeated several times. Here is a screenshot from the 2012 performance in Ravenna, click on the image to watch the opera. The role of Eustazio has been deleted, Goffredo is sung by a tenor and Rinaldo by a mezzo-soprano. The screenshot shows Goffredo, Almirena and Rinaldo. For reasons unclear to me, Almirena and Rinaldo are dressed almost identically. I found the mise-en-scene weird, the singers don’t walk around themselves but are moved by invisible helpers while seated on a horse, sitting in a boat or standing on a platform. No subtitles. Here is a critical review.

The first time I listened to Rinaldo, was on YouTube, an audio recording of a 2002 performance directed by René Jacobs. Very positive reviews. There is another audio recording , 1999, directed by Christopher Hogwood. Both still available as audio-CD.

I got interested how the opera was staged and found a video recording of a 2001 performance in Munich, by the Bayerische Staatsoper. It was on YouTube for some time, then it disappeared, probably because of copyright issues. Now it is back again, but for how long?

What an absurd, crazy mise-en-scène, was my first reaction. But I have changed my opinion, after reading the libretto and watching the other recordings. Yes, It is a parody of the original plot. But the plot deserves that. Example: in Act III, after the crusaders have won the battle of Jerusalem, Argante and Armida unexpectedly decide to become Christian. That Goffredo often changes his dress into a clerical robe fits into an implausible plot. There are many slapstick elements in this version, making Rinaldo a pleasure for the ears AND the eyes (as was Aaron Hill’s origina intention)

Here are screenshots from the three YouTube videos, click to watch. Subtitles in English,

Act I From left to right Rinaldo, Goffredo and Eustazio (all three countertenors) and Almirena as a cheerleader (!), encouraging Rinaldo to fight

Act II In her magic castle Armida tries to seduce Rinaldo. She tries twice to take the form of Almirena. The right wall, with a cardboard figure and a gap in the wall is used in a really brilliant way to confuse Rinaldo.

Act III The Christian magician (countertenor, cast as a voodoo priest) has given Goffredo and Eustazio magic wands to enter the enchanted castle.

In Act III the battle takes place between the two armies. In Hill’s stage directions there are soldiers and Handel wrote martial music to be played during the fighting. The solution found in this modern performance is inventive and ingenious, a real pleasure for the eyes.

Not surprisingly this performance received mixed reviews .. You either love or hate this “camp” version. It is clear that I love it 😉 .

Actually I am not a real opera fan. Many of the famous operas (by Verdi, Wagner, Puccini etc) do not appeal to me. But I love Baroque operas (and of course Mozart), Handel was a prolific composer, he wrote 42 operas, I have listened to only a few of them. So there still will be a lot of beautiful music to enjoy!

Melbourne 2015

In February 2015 Aric and I visited our friends Pat and Roger in Melbourne. We had a wonderful time, I took almost 800 pictures, but I never wrote a report about it. It is now six years later, details about our trip have become vague. Here is a belated blog about that visit.

They are living in a nice bungalow in the Dandenong hills, not far from Melbourne.

The first day we relaxed, did some shopping for the dinner. All of us love food and Roger is a good cook. He knows that we are addicted to oysters, look at his face as he is watching how Aric is enjoying one 😉 .

The next day we went to Melbourne, to the Prahran Market, a historical market, founded in the 1860s and relocated to its present location in 1881. Lots of fresh produce and also many cafes. Roger did some shopping for the dinner.

We had coffee with cake and later lunch with mussels.

Aric had discovered on the Internet a colorful beach “village”, Brighton Beach, and in the afternoon we visited it. A perfect location for photographers.

That evening again an exquisite seafood dinner.

The next day we started a 5D4N trip to the region in Victoria north of Melbourne. We visited a goldmine in Bendigo, made a paddle steamer trip in Echuca, had lost of nice food and thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company. I wrote a separate blog about this trip, Victoria Trip 2015. Here is a sketch of our itinerary.

After we returned from this trip, we visited the RSL Club of Upwey-Belgrave. Roger is a member and regular visitor of this typical Australian phenomenon. Although the background is military, it now functions primarily as a pub.

The restaurant in the RSL was leased to a chef who prepared an exquisite dinner.

After the busy trip we relaxed the next day. They have a nice garden and Roger prepared the jacuzzi, where we spent a lazy afternoon. They have now become Australians and are clearly proud of it 😉

We had dinner at home. Host and hostess busy in the kitchen and decanting the wine.

We started with oysters

Main course were lamb cutlets. Because Roger knew that lamb was not Aric’s favourite, he prepared fish especially for him!

The next day we went on our own to Melbourne, using public transport. This is the iconic Victoria station (1888)

We started with coffee and cake at Brunetti’s a well-known patisserie in Melbourne. One of their specialities is the Baba Rum and of course Aric had to try it.

Yarn Bombing , also know as Graffiti Knitting, where trees and street objects are decorated with knitted or crocheted yarn, was quite popular in Melbourne during our visit. It gave the street a friendly atmosphere.

We had a look at two churches , the St. Michael’s Uniting Church (1866)

And St Paul’s Cathedral (1891)

This is the former State Theatre, built 1929 in Moorish Revival style.

We were actually looking for another kind of graffiti. Hosier Lane is a landmark of Melbourne, famous for its Street Art.

We kept taking pictures, here is a selection.

Of course not everything is high-quality.

When you are a tourist, you can use a romantic horse-drawn carriage to explore the town, or take a river cruise. We just walked, crossing the Yarra river to the Southbank.

Our destination was the Eureka Tower, a 300 m tall skyscraper, completed in 2006. It is a residential building, but the 88th floor, the Eureka Skydeck, can be visited.

The view of Melbourne and surroundings is of course outstanding.

A very special attraction is the Edge, a glass cube which can be moved 3 m outside the building. Visitors must cover their shoes with protective clothing, because the floor of the cube is also glass. It is opaque, but becomes transparent when the cube is outside, so you can look 300 meter down. Not for the faint-hearted! You can not take cameras inside but an official photo is taken.

With our ticket we were allowed to come back again later, to have a night view, so we had to spend some time 🙂

We walked to the Shrine of Remembrance, the war memorial of Melbourne. Very impressive, especially when you realise that Australia never had a war on its own territory, but, as part of the Commonwealth, has taken part in many wars all over the world.

A view of downtown Melbourne from the memorial. The Eureka tower at the left.

We decided to have dinner at the Pure South Dining restaurant and that turned out to be a good choice. In the menu you can see what we ordered.

After dinner we went up again to the Skydeck. We arrived just after sunset and stayed until it was really dark. We came back home late, after a nice full day.

The next day was already our last day. A relaxing day at home. Pat and Roger’s daughter Sarah came for a visit with her son Nathan, we had lunch together and enjoyed the jacuzzi. Roger showed Aric his new car and we had dinner.

In the evening we walked in the fields near their house. Nice flowers, lit by the setting sun. Peaceful evening

It was a wonderful holiday.

Victoria Trip 2015

During our visit to Pat and Roger in 2015 we went with them on a 5D4N trip in the state of Victoria. First Roger took us to the Organ Pipes National Park. The “organ pipes” are basalt columns, their origin is volcanic and they are 2.5-2.8 million year old.

After lunch in the small town of Woodend we continued to Bendigo where we stayed overnight. In the 1850s gold was found here and Bendigo became a boomtown, attracting gold-diggers from everywhere. There is a goldmine that can be visited and there are numerous imposing buildings in Victorian style. A very pleasant town. This is Pall Mall, the main street. Left the War Memorial, in the middle the former Post Office and to the right, behind the trees, the Shamrock Hotel.

Many buildings are in the (Victorian) Second Empire style. From left to right the former Post Office (1883-1887), the Town Hall (1878-1902) and the Law Courts (1892-1896). Impressive architecture.

The monumental Shamrock Hotel began in 1856 but was several times rebuilt, until the final version in 1907.

Just a few more architecture pictures.

The Rosalind park was where the goldrush started in 1851. It has been a Government Camp before it became a park.

The Alexandra Fountain is located at the entrance of the park and was designed by William Vahland, the main architect of Bendigo in those days. A poppet head is a frame at the top of a mineshaft, supporting pulleys for the ropes used in hoisting . This poppet head comes from a different gold mine and is now a lookout.

The Sacred Heart Cathedral is unusually large for a small town. Construction started in 1897, in Gothic Revival style, but was completed only in 1977.

We had dinner in the Wine Bank on View, a favourite of Roger. It is a wine bar and wine merchant.

They also serve delicious food.

Starters.

We moved inside for the main course.

The next morning Aric and I visited the Central Deborah gold mine, now no longer active and a major tourist attraction. We took the 85 metres: Underground Adventure excursion, very interesting. Overalls, boots, miner’s hat with lamp. A traditional miner’s lunch was served underground.

Various aspects of a miner’s life, changing room, showering, medical assistance.

Our guide explaining where we will go and the poppet head which will lower us down.

An ore deposit, where gold can be found.

Not easy to take pictures underground.

Lunch 85 meter underground.

Before we continued our trip, we visited the Chinese Joss House Temple (1871). During the gold rush many Chinese immigrants came to Victoria to work in the mines.

Our next destination was Echuca on the banks of the Murray river, where we stayed two nights. We had pizza for dinner.

The main attraction of Echuca are the paddleboats. Echuca was founded in 1850 and became fast a major inland port. Nowadays it is a major tourist attraction.

Paddleboats brought their cargo to the Echuca wharf where it was unloaded and transported by rail to Melbourne. The wharf is now Australian Heritage.

Of course we went for a trip, with the paddle steamer Pevensey. It was built in 1911, used to transport wool and still has its original steam engine.

Impressive machinery. Must be a tough job to be a stoker!

The interior of the Pevensey.

Two more paddle steamers. It was a very interesting excursion

In the afternoon we drove around Echuca and visited the Cape Horn Vineyard. The Echuca-Moama bridge dates from 1878, to reach the vineyard we had to cross the Stewart’s bridge (don’t worry, the new one is hidden behind the old wooden structure).

Roger is a wine connoisseur, I am just pretending 😉 .

Of course a day is not complete without drinks and food!

The next day we had a short stop at Kryabam , where we visited the former Town Hall (1895), now an art gallery. Just to prove that we are interested in more than food 😉 .

We continued to Rushworth, another goldrush town. Nice buildings , but not so spectacular as in Bendigo.

I had seen on the Internet that near Rushworth there was an old gold mine with a ghost town. I asked Roger if we could visit that place. He agreed but regretted it when it turned out that the access road was bad, causing some damage to his car. Fortunately Aric could repair it 😉 .

The Balaclava mine is an open-cast mine. The tunnels have been closed for safety reasons, so there is not much to explore.

The ghost town of Whroo is not much more than the cemetery. Hard to imagine that once the town had several churches , a school, a library and a few hotels.

We stayed overnight in a motel in Nagambie and had an al fresco dinner at the Nagambie lake.

A beautiful sunset!

The last day of our trip we visited Yea, another small town, with some interesting buildings. The Shire Hall is from 1877, the Grand Caledonian Hotel was built in 1901.

Yea was founded in 1855, because of the gold rush, but now it is primarily a farming and agriculture town.

The Yea Wetlands are worth a visit,

We had lunch in an heritage building, the E.S Purcell’s General Store (1877).

On our way back to Upwey, we had a stop at Yarra Glen for a drink in the Grand Hotel (1888).

It was a very rewarding trip. Amazing how much we could do in just a few days.

Martha Argerich

In 2013 I wrote a blog entitled I have fallen in love, with a lady, about Maria João Pires , a Portuguese pianist. Here is a blog about another pianist, Martha Argerich , seen by many as the greatest pianist of our time. Have I fallen in love with another lady? No, but I got intrigued by her, while I was working on my blog Toccatas. The last few weeks I have listened to numerous YouTube recordings of her concerts and also watched interviews and documentaries about her. In this blog I will concentrate on her musical achievements, but I will intersperse it with some information about her personal life. A very informative article about her was published in 2016 in the Washington Post. Another source of useful information is a blog, The Enigmatic & Extraordinary World of Martha Argerich.

Martha Argerich will be 80 this year and is still going strong. Here she is playing at the Lausitz Festival in Germany, a few months ago. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic there is no audience, no applause, she is just alone in the huge hall. Kind of weird. Click on the caption to watch the recording.

The oldest recordings date back to 1957, when she won two prestigious awards within three weeks, the first prize in the Ferruccio Busoni International Competition in Bolzano and the first prize in the Geneva International Music Competition. She was sixteen year old!

After this success, Deutsche Grammophon wanted to make a gramophone recording with her. Reluctantly she agreed. In 1962 she went to New York, hoping but failing to meet her idol Vladimir Horovitz.

She became depressed, thought about leaving music, got pregnant by a friend and went back to Europe where in 1964 her oldest daughter Lyda was born. It was pianist and pedagogue Stefan Askenase who convinced her to go back to music. In 1965 she won convincingly the first prize at the VII International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw.

That was the real start of her international career. Here are two recordings from 1969. Ravel’s piano concerto in G, in Rome and Grieg’s piano concerto in A minor, in Buenos Aires.

In the same year 1969 she married the Swiss conductor Charles Dutoit and in 1970 she had a second child with him, Annie. In 1972 they were interviewed by the Swiss RTS. A candid spontaneous happening, notice how she is almost continuously smoking, even while playing!

Their marriage didn’t last, they divorced in 1973, but remain close friends. And they give concerts together like here in 1975 in Genève where she plays Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No 1.

The same year her third daughter Stéphanie was born from a relationship with pianist Stephen Kovacevitch. They still perform together, but from that period I could find only one recording, a piece for two pianos composed by Debussy.

In 1980 the X International Chopin Piano Competition was held in Warsaw with her is now a member of the jury (after winning the first prize herself in 1965). One of the contestants was Ivo Pogorelich. He was eliminated in the third round, Martha Argerich considered him a genius and was so upset that she resigned from the jury in protest. The left video is a documentary about this “scandal”.

A Japanese fan has created a website Martha Argerich Recordings . It is an amazing, huge collection and interesting to see who her favourite composers are, and if any popular piano concertos are missing from her repertoire. For example, here is a recording of Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto no 3, but the even more popular no 2 is missing. By the way, the no 3 concerto has the reputation of being one of the most technically challenging piano concertos.

Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G is clearly one of her favourites, she has played it more than fifty times. Here is a recording with Dutoit as conductor. Nice to see how he hugs her after the concert 🙂

She has played the first Beethoven Concertos, but never recorded no 4 and 5. Watch this amusing discussion between Pires and Argerich.

Here is a recording of Beethoven’s Piano concerto no 2. As an encore she plays Scarlatti’s sonata 141 (Toccata). Watch at 29:25 one of her trademarks: she sits down and immediately starts playing.

Only a few of the many Mozart concertos have been recorded by her . KV 466 is my favourite and if you want to know how my fascination with Maria João Pires started, have a look at this video: Maria Joao Pires expecting to play another concerto.

Chopin wrote two piano concertos, she has played both, the first one in E minor more often. Here are two recordings, with three decades in between them. Notice how she has become an “eminence grise”. In 2010 she was again a jury member of the XVI International Chopin Piano Competition. No scandal this time although many were unhappy that Daniil Trifonov only got a third prize.

The piano concerto no 3 of Prokofiev is another favourite of her, here is a recording from December 2020. Her first recording, according to the Japanese site, was in 1959, 60 years earlier. Because of the Covid pandemic there is no audience, the members of the orchestra are sitting far apart, the string section is wearing face masks. After the concert the orchestra applauds and Martha thanks the concertmaster with an elbow salute.

In 2012 Stephanie Argerich, Martha’s youngest daughter, created a fascinating movie about Martha Argerich and her relationship with her daughters. More than 1.5 hour, really worth watching.



In 2016 Martha Argerich went to New York, reluctantly, to receive a Kennedy Centre Honors award.

Her three daughters were also there. From left to right Anne Dutoit, Lyda Chen, Martha and Stephanie Argerich

And finally here are Maria João Peres and Martha Argerich together, playing the beginning of Grieg’s first Peer Gynt suite.

With all the respect I have for Martha Argerich, Maria João Pires is still my favourite 😉 .

Toccatas

A few days ago I came across a YouTube video where Yuja Wang plays the Toccata in D minor Opus 11 of Prokofiev. A spectacular and virtuoso performance, played by her as an encore after a piano concerto with the orchestra. New for me.

Wiktionary gives this definition of a toccata: A piece of music (usually for a keyboard instrument) designed to emphasise the dexterity of the performer.

On YouTube you can find many recordings of this Toccata. Here are a few: Alexander Malofeev, Tiffany Poon, Martha Argerich , Haochen Zhang, Yeol Eum Son. I like the last one very much, not superfast, but very expressive. As you may know, Alexander Malofeev is a favourite of mine, I wrote a separate blog about him. In this 2019 recording he is 17 year old, can you believe that he already recorded this piece when he was 12 year old 😉 ? Quite amazing, watch here.

Here is the score of the Prokofiev Toccata:

The Wikipedia article Toccata gives more information about the history of toccatas. The form originated in Italy in the 16th century. In the Baroque it became quite popular, here is a well-know toccata by (Domenico) Scarlatti, played by Martha Argerich.

After the Baroque toccatas became less frequent. Schumann wrote a Toccata that is considered to be one of the technically most difficult works in the piano repertoire. Could that be the reason that so many recordings exist? Here is a YouTube search for Schumann’s Toccata, I lost count. Which one to choose for this blog? I decided for George Cziffra, an “old” recording (1960s?), because of his superior ease of playing.

In the 20th century Ravel wrote a toccata as part of his Tombeau de Couperin. It is a favourite encore ( Mariangela Vacatello, Rachel Cheung) . For this blog I chose a recording by 12 year old Ryota Yamazaki . If you want to compare recordings by different pianists (including Ravel himself), then this is a suitable YouTube : 12 Great Pianists in Comparison .

And here is a Toccata written by another French composer, Claude Debussy, as part 3 of his Pour le Piano. I have selected this YouTube because I find it fascinating to watch the ten fingers of the (unknown) pianist moving almost independently 🙂 .

All these toccatas were written for piano (or harpsichord), but there is another keyboard instrument, the organ. The 19th century French composer Widor wrote a number of symphonies for organ and the Toccata from the 5th symphony (1879) has made him famous. Here is a recording by the Dutch organist Gert van Hoef , 19 year old. Notice that not only ten fingers but also two feet are needed to play this toccata 😉 .

When you ask lovers of classical music if they know a Toccata, they will probably mention Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565. After you have heard the opening bars of this famous work for organ, you will never forget it. Click on the score to listen to the first three bars.

Looking for a suitable YouTube video, I came back again to Gert van Hoef. Not only does he play very well, but it is also interesting to see how he has helpers to change the organ stops, when necessary. Team work. The Toccata takes the first three minutes, at 3:22 the Fugue starts.

Wikipedia writes about “the most famous organ work in existence”, that in its rise to fame it was helped by various arrangements, including bombastic piano settings (Busoni) , versions for full symphonic orchestra (Stokowski) etc.

Not surprisingly there are a few recordings where the Toccata and Fugue are played on accordion. After all you could say that an accordion is a kind of miniature pipe organ. Here is a recording by Sergei Teleshev.

I don’t like the Stokowski transcription for orchestra, but this recording by the United States Marine Band (!) is beautiful and hardly a transcription. You could say that the organ pipes have been replaced by wind instruments 😉

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 😉 .

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 Mĕntri 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 Mĕntri 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 🙂

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 😉

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 🙂 .

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 🙂

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 🙂 ?

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 😉 . 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 😉 . 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.