Giant Joss Sticks

After Aric had heard that a temple near Kuala Pilah had built three giant joss sticks for an upcoming festival., he suggested that we should go there and have a look. Kuala Pilah, in Negeri Sembilan is quite far from KL and it took us almost two hours to reach the temple. The temple is located about 7 km sount of Kuala Pilah, along the road to Tampin. We were not the only visitors, there was a massive crowd. Well organised, we followed instructions to find a parking place.

We started our visit with the giant joss sticks. And huge they are, almost 20 meter tall. Visible from far away.

.The yellow ribbon left is a tape measure. Starting from 0 m at the top until almost 20 m at the bottom.

Beautifully decorated with dragons. Here are details from the three sticks

Left the top part of the center joss stick. Notice the many supporting cables in the right picture.

There is a lot more to see in this Si Thean Kong temple. It is a Taoist temple, dedicated to the Nine Emperor Gods. Originally it was located in the center of Kuala Pilah, but moved to this new location in 2015. Still not yet completely finished, there are plans to add a pagoda, but already quite spectacular.

The Nine Emperor Gods festival takes place in the beginning of the ninth lunar month, culminating on the ninth day. This year that will be on 4 October and that explains the huge crowd of devotees. On that day the crowd will be much larger. Usually the temple will be more quiet, see this YouTube video.

Here is a drone video of the temple complex, taken by Aric.

We walked down from the joss sticks to the main temple.

The main temple

Inside the temple you have to take off your shoes. Better remember where you left them, with this crowd it might be not easy to find them back. You can give a donation for the ongoing construction.

After visiting the temple we walked around. Well organised. Here a view of the monumental entrance arch. Tables and chairs for the visitors to rest.

And eat! There was a hall were free food was served, I had a plate of mee goreng , while Aric was busy droning. The right picture shows a contraption, where a waterspout would rise in the air when you blew in the horn. Not related to the Nine Emperor Gods, just fun for young and old.

I took a short video of the horn blowing.

Here is the monumental stone arch, the biggest in Malaysia and already in the Malaysia book of records.

View from the roadside. At the main event on 4 October, there will be a big procession, where the “boat” in the right picture will take part.

We made another round, climbing up to the joss sticks and down again to the crowd

Aric took another video of the temple complex.

The crowd had grown a lot

There was entertainment, left a traditional Chinese opera, right a modern light show.

There were also many food stalls, but with very long queues, so we gave up, walked back to our car and had a late dinner at a Malay stall in Kuala Pilah.

This temple will become a major tourist attraction in Negeri Sembilan and even in Malaysia. Many of my friends are not yet aware of this place.

A Family Visit, part 2

From 8 until 25 August 2022 my brother Otto and his family visited us in Malaysia. A report of what we did, can be found here. Part of our program was a 8D7N trip to a few of our favorite “haunts” and here is a report about this trip.

We decided to limit ourselves to the West Coast of (Peninsular) Malaysia. Below is the route we followed. Our first destination was the Suka Suka Lake Retreat, next we stayed two nights in Georgetown. One night in Kuala Kurau and in Taiping, finally two nights in the Cameron Highlands.

It is a three hour drive from our condo to Suka Suka, we travelled in two cars. .Using the highway we stopped only for some snacks at the Tapah R&R. The Suka Suja lake retreat is located on the bords of the Chenderoh reservoir, one of the oldest in Malaysia. Left a drone picture of the reservoir, right Suka Suka, marked with an X.

When you enter the resort, it feels like going back in time. Traditional Malay houses, built on pillars. Here the main building with some pictures of the interior..

The resort is managed by a family, Aziz, his wife Asiah and their son Azam. I have stayed in the resort many times and they have become friends. Very friendly and hospitable. We were welcomed with a drink and some fried chempedak.

Aziz has bought old Malay houses from various locations in the country, taken them apart and rebuilt them in his resort. Original design, he only added modern bathrooms. Here are the two houses where we stayed.

Suka Suka is a place to relax, for example in one of the gazebo’s

But of course you can also explore the resort.

Staying there is not cheap, but meals are included and Asiah is a very good cook, eager to explain the various Malay dishes she prepares. She lent us sarongs and asked us to wear them during dinner. Actually we should have eaten, sitting on the floor, but looking at the seniors among us, she suggested that we could sit on chairs 😉

After the dinner she explained to my nephews how to play congkak, a traditional Malay game. Here are the rules, if you are interested. Of course a photo had to be taken with all of us wearing our sarongs.

The next morning Asiah prepared breakfast for us.

The resort has kayaks which can be used by the guests. Aric and I had done that during an earlier visit and we nearly got lost, orientation is not easy with all those small islands. So we left the exercise to Otto and Nina, and to the twins. They found their way back without problems

Then it was time to say goodbye and continue our trip. Azam used a tripod to take this nice farewell picture.

Our next destination was Georgetown in Penang, in 2008 declared a World Heritage Site, because of its historical past. You could spend weeks to explore everything, but we stayed only two nights.

On our way, we passed Kuala Kangsar, the Royal town of the Perak state. Two landmarks, the impressive Ubudiah mosque, a masterpiece by colonial architect A.B. Hubback, completed in 1917 And the Istana Kenangan, the former Royal Palace.

Aric did some droning, here is an aerial view of the mosque. with the present Royal palace in the background and the Royal mausoleum in the left foreground

We had some snacks in an R&R and arrived in the afternoon at the Airbnb booked by Aric. Located in the historical center of Georgetown, it was a nice house in Peranakan style. Left the façade, right the (very) steep stairs, leading to the bedrooms. Notice the traditional screen shielding the ground floor rooms from the entrance

Left the screen as seen from the entrance, and two pictures of the bedrooms. The house was well furnished and comfortable.

Having some refreshments before going out.

During our last stay in Penang, Aric and I had visited the top floors of the Komtar tower, where you can look down 250 meter, through a glass floor. We liked it so much that we wanted to show it to our guests. Here are Xander and Aswin, sitting relaxed on the (very) transparent glass.

Nina had said that she would scream, but she did not. Bravo ;-). I took a photo of our group.

The top floor has a skywalk. Here Aric took a picture of us. I found this a lot less scary. We stayed until after sunset, to take some night pictures.

Dinner at the New World food court. Aric ordered a selection of dished. Without him we should have been at a loss what to order. From top left clockwise: popiah, lobak, vegetarian spaghetti and dumplings.

The next morning. Two brothers having a relaxed cup of coffee in the front yard of their temporary home.

We did a lot of walking that day. First we had a look at some of the famous Zacharevic murals. If you are interested, I wrote several blogs about Penang Mural Art. A lot of copycatting, I am not sure about the top right one, and the lower right is definitely not Zacharevic.

Then we walked to the clan jetties, another landmark of Penang. We selected the Tan Jetty and were a bit disappointed that we could not proceed until the end, from where you have a fantastic view of the harbor front. I could only take a shot through an opening in the gate.

We had a refreshing coconut there

On our way back we passed the famous Khoo Kongsi, the most impressive clan house of Georgetown. We entered and walked around. I have visited this place so many times, I did not take many photos.

After some rest in our Airbnb, we discussed what to do the rest of the day. We decided to take the cable car up Penang Hill and walk around a bit there, having a drink at the Bellevue hotel. This colonial style hotel is owned by a friend of mine and has a spectacular view of Georgetown and Butterworth on the mainland. We stayed until after sunset before taking the cable car down.

The next morning we first had breakfast in the famous Toh Soon cafe. We had tried the day before but found it was closed. Now it was open with a long queue of people waiting. It is famous for its coffee and its toast. I had my favorite eggs on toast.

A trip to Penang is not complete without a visit to the Kek Lok Si temple in Air Hitam. The Buddhist temple is dominated by the huge statue of Guan Yin, the goddess of mercy.. You can only take a photo of the whole building when you are far away 😉

The construction is not yet complete, you can donate roof tiles. The family bought a tile and wrote NOPAX on it (Nina, Otto, Pascal, Aswin and Xander)

Nina also bought a candle.

There are many temples in the complex. This is the main one.

You can climb the beautiful pagoda, but I had done that already in the past. So I waited at the bottom while the others climbed up.

Before crossing over to the mainland, we visited another temple, the snake temple. Inside(!) the temple and outside in the trees many Wagler’s pit vipers live. When you don’t disturb them, they are harmless (although venomous). During our visit there were only a few snakes inside the temple, sleeping. But many in the trees of the courtyard.

After a simple lunch opposite the snake temple, we crossed the bridge and drove to Kuala Kurau, a fishing village at the mouth (= kuala) of the Kurau river. Years ago we had discovered in this village a nice homestay, located right on the river with a terrace from where we could observe the many activities on the river.

The owner of the homestay, a young man, studied and worked in the UK, but came back to his hometown, missing the rural life. Nicely renovated house.

For dinner the owner suggested a restaurant from where we could enjoy the sunset. In this kind of seafood restaurant you start with looking at the fish tanks to select what you like to eat, Can not be more fresh. The food picture, from top left clockwise: seaweed soup, stingray, mantis shrimps and crab. The bottom right picture shows how people here leave the table after a nice dinner 😉

The restaurant was about1 km from our homestay, as the crow flies, but to reach it by car we had to take a long detour. Crossing the Kurau river we saw the numerous fish farms in the river.

Back in our homestay it was time to relax.

The next morning Aric woke up early to take drone pictures of the river and our homestay (marked with a yellow x). Notice another fish farm in the river.

We had breakfast in the village and walked around. Of course there was a fish market.

On our way to the Hua Seng Kong Temple near Kuala Gula, Aric got a flat tyre, which he changed superfast . The temple is located in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by plantations. We were the only visitors.

This Buddhist temple has strong Mahayana and Taoist influences. It has a rustic atmosphere, no exquisite art here. Left the family at one of the entrances. When you kneel on the metal plate, as Nina does, the statue starts pouring holy(?) water.

Very interesting is the depiction of “Hell”, where people are punished for the sins they have committed in their life. A small scale version of the famous Haw Par villa in Singapore.

Here Xander and Aswin are waiting for their judgment. After the punishment everybody gets a cup with the tea of forgetfulness, so they have no memories after being reborn.

It was not far to Taiping where we had lunch in the Old Railway Station. Finally we had Assam Laksa, Aric’s favorite food. He has a special Assam Laksa website. Try to find his verdict about this assam laksa (hint: there are three assam laksa entries for Taiping)

We had booked rooms in the modern Flemington hotel, next to the Taiping :Lake Gardens. After some rest we walked around, we were lucky, Taiping is named the rain town of Malaysia, it rains often in the afternoon, but we had nice weather,

At sunset we watched the colony of egrets, roosting every night at the Lake Gardens. Thousands of them. We also had a look at the rain trees that in recent years have fallen down on the road. The town council took the smart decision to leave them there and make part of the road pedestrian: the Raintree Walk. Now a tourist attraction.

Dinner in the Double Tap, a modern fusion-style restaurant near the Lake Gardens. I had spaghetti with smoked duck, curry leaves and salted egg! Very eatable.

A special feature of Flemington is the infinity swimming pool on the top floor. I had told my family to bring swimwear, they did, but I was actually the only one using the pool haha. We had a buffet breakfast the next morning.

Here is the Raintree Walk during daytime. During evenings and weekends teher can be a happy crowd.

As the “godfather of Malaysian waterfalls”, of course I had to bring my family to a waterfall North of Taiping there is a nice waterfall, not yet discovered by the general public, although easily accessible on a clear trail

The Air Hitam waterfall is an attractive one, from where I took the photo, you can still continue to the bottom of the falls, but that is more tough going. Aric took a drone picture of us.

We could not stay long, because we had a (late) checkout before 1 pm. We had lunch in the Lighthouse restaurant in Matang. The famous Teochew fish porridge (Aric is Teochew himself).

Our last stay was in the Cameron Highlands, two nights in the Lutheran Mission Bungalow. A lot of the Cameron Highlands has lost its charm because of agricultural (over)development, but this bungalow is still relatively unspoilt. Left a drone picture, the ugly gray plastic roofs are approaching. Right the bungalow, built in the 1950s as a retreat for Lutheran missionaries.

How I discovered this bungalow (12 years ago) is too complicated to tell here. Read my blog What Happened to Jim Thompson. I have been there many times and booked three rooms in the main bungalow this time.

For our dinner we went to the Jin Jin Steamboat restaurant in Brinchang. Steamboat is popular in Malaysia and specially in the Cameron Highlands. You get a bowl with hot broth and plates with meat, fish, veggies, mee etc. You prepare your own food. Although it was a weekday, it was very busy, we had to wait for a table. But it was worth it.

Traditional breakfast the next morning..

The view from the garden is still very nice. and there are lots of flowers.

One of the attractions of the Cameron Highlands are the tea plantations.

We visited the BOH Tea Centre Sungai Palas and we were not the only ones. The tea house has a spectacular location, overlooking the tea fields.

Of course we had BOH tea and cakes. I had scones

Pity that the tea factory, where they process the tea leaves, was closed for renovation. Of course we took many pictures of the tea fields.

Another attraction of the Cameron’s are the strawberries, strawberry farms everywhere (with the ugly gray plastic roofs) When you buy Cameron strawberries in the supermarket, they are very sour, but the ones we bought here, were surprisingly sweet.

In the afternoon we hiked to another waterfall, the Parit fall. On the way back it started to rain a bit. We have been very lucky with the weather during the whole trip.

Back in the bungalow Otto and I enjoyed a glass of whisky on the balcony. You have to book for dinner and breakfast in advance. The food was not bad, colonial style: fish and chips for Nina and chicken chop for the others.

The next day we took another route from the CH back to KL. Passing through Raub, a famous place for durians, we stopped at a stall and Aric bought one. For RM 132 , yes durians can be very expensive. But we just had to let our guests taste the “King of Fruits”

I am addicted to durians, judge for yourself what the others though about it.

Our last stop was at the Chamang waterfall, until recently always open without paying tickets, but now closed. It is called development :-(. But at least we saw a nice group of long-tailed macaques along the road.

We did a lot during our 8 days trip ;-). and came back quite exhausted.

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 😉

We continued to Penang, where we decided to have a dessert in the Kek Seng coffee shop. Founded in 1906 the café 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 😉

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 😉

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 😉 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 😉

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 😉

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.

Kumari Kandam & Lemuria

Recently I came across an article The Lost Continent of Kumari Kandam in which I found this map:

I had never heard about Kumari Kandam and had to check Wikipedia: Kumari Kandam, “a mythical continent, believed to be lost with an ancient Tamil civilization” The Wikipedia article is interesting and worth reading.

Kumari Kandam never existed. The concept of a lost continent with a Tamil civilisation is the result of Tamil Nationalism . As I want to avoid this sensitive topic, I will give in this blog only some background information, starting with Lemuria.

In 1864 the English zoologist Philip Sclater explained the presence of lemur fossils in Madagascar and India, but not in Africa and Arabia by assuming that in the past Madagascar and India were connected by a landmass , which later was submerged by the ocean., He named this lost continent Lemuria.

A couple of years later this idea of a lost continent was picked up by the German scientist Ernst Haeckel, a staunch defender of Darwinian evolution. He suggested that this lost continent could have been the cradle of human evolution. Here is a map drawn by Haeckel.

Here is a detail. Notice the alternate name Paradise for Lemuria!

The “Out of Asia”” theory of human evolution was quite popular in those days.

We know now that Lemuria never existed and have a much more fascinating explanation: continental drift. I will write a separate blog about this topic. Continents (tectonic plates) have not a fixed location ,but move slowly. Here is a video of the continental drift the last 100 million years. India was still connected to Madagascar, but moved north until it collided with Asia (the collision caused the Himalayas). Also notice how at the start of the video Australia is still connected to Antarctica.

The classical Tamil literature (Sangam) mentions the occurrence of flooding, resulting in the loss of land. At the end of the 19th century Tamil scholars and nationalists suggested that Lemuria was the center of Tamil civilisation and named it Kumari Kandam. After its submersion Tamils had to migrate to other parts of the world, bringing there civilisation and language.

The submersion is often explained by the rise in sea levels after the last Ice Age. More than 100 meter. In itself that makes sense, as you can see in the Google image below where I have roughly indicated a contour line 120 m below sea level. Considerable amounts of land were lost to the sea during the past ~ 20.000 years.

But not a continent.

Alkmaar 2022

In 2015 I visited Alkmaar after my brother Arie and his wife Ineke had moved there. I wrote a report about this visit. During our city walk I discovered a few buildings in Art Nouveau/Art Deco style. This time I tried to explore more. Using the Internet I had found several interesting locations, marked on this Google Earth map.

I arrived by train and started from the station. First destination was the Wilhelmina School in the Doelenstraat, built in 1903 in Art Nouveau style. Taking pictures in narrow streets is not easy, but I managed to take a close-up of a tile panel in Art Nouveau style.

Next stop was at a former coal shed at the Kanaalkade and a former cheese warehouse at the Houttil. Both designed by the Alkmaar architect P.N. Leguit in 1908 and 1905 respectively. Of course they are now used for a different purpose. The right picture shows an Art Nouveau detail of the cheese warehouse.

Then it was time for lunch. It was still a bit chilly, but I found a nice terrace where I had a “broodje kroket” , a typical Dutch snack.

Next I went to the Tourist Office (VVV), housed in the Waag to ask whether they had more information about Art Nouveau or Art Deco buildings in Alkmaar. They did not. The traditional cheese market would only start later in the year, but a friendly volunteer took a picture of me as a “cheese bearer”. Already quite a number of tourists.

I continued my walk to the former department store of V&D, completed in 1927, Amsterdam School style with Art Deco details.

Het Kasteeltje (The Little Castle) was built in 1901 and is probably the most striking example of Art Nouveau architecture in Alkmaar. A real gem, here seen from across the Nieuwlandersingel.

Here a few details of this beautiful building.

The main destination for my walk was the Nieuwlandersingel. Along this “singel there is a concentration of capital villas, built in the beginning of the 20th century.

Not easy to take good photos. Here are a few facades

This is Villa Emma (1905)

Villa Wilhelmina (1904-1905) and Villa Marianne (1908-1909)

And here are some details of Hofdijkstraat 2, corner of the Nieuwlandersingel, a villa built in 1907 in Art Nouveau style

The Emmakwartier , behind the Nieuwlandersingel, was the first neighbourhood built outside the city walls in 1890. Until then it was not allowed by law to build outside the city walls! Many beautiful mansions in this quarter, Here are some pictures

At the end of this architecture walk I walked back to the city center for another snack and a glass of wine.

Stedelijk Museum 2022

The Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam is one of my favourite art museums. I visited it on a sunny, but cold Monday morning. It is located on the Museum square, with two other famous museums, the Van Gogh museum and the Rijksmuseum (picture).

The New Wing of the Stedelijk (2012), nicknamed the Badkuip (Bathtub).

I started with the old building, walking up the monumental stairs to the mail hall, which was barren and very white.

The old building houses the “collection 1980-now”, with the exception of the huge Parakeet and the Mermaid (1952) by Matisse, because this huge work of art needs a big hall. I took a few pictures, but most of the modern works didn’t really impress me. A sign that I am getting old?

The new wing houses the “old” collection. The way the works of art are exhibited is quite nice.

Here is a selection of what appealed to me. It was of course a feast of recognition, I had seen all these works of art many times before.

But something was missing. I was not in the right mood, Strange.. I stayed in the museum less than one hour..

The first floor of the new wing is dominated by this modern artwork of Barbara Kruger,

Was I missing Aric? It was good that outside the sun was shining.

One week later I visited the Stedelijk Museum again!

This time not alone, but in the company of Nellie. We first met as freshmen at the Free University in 1961, more than sixty year ago. When I am in the Netherlands we try to meet for a cultural activity. This time we wanted to visit the Cobra Museum in Amstelveen but noticed that it had a timeslot system which was not suitable for us. Instead we decided to visit the Stedelijk. This time I was in a much more positive mood.

Just some pictures I took during our visit

Who Sings It Best?

Recently I discovered a YouTube channel Baroque and Beyond, created by someone who in the ABOUT section writes: My channel mostly focuses on Baroque operatic music. You may know by now that I am very interested in Baroque Operas, so I immediately subscribed to this channel. It is a real treasure trove.

One playlist of the channel, containing more than 60 videos, is named Who sings it best? Each video has several recordings of the same aria, sung by different singers. Of course “best” must not be taken seriously, they all are professionals, but it is interesting to compare them, and each music lover will have her/his own preference.

Here are a few of the singers. Top row, from left tp right Max Emanuel Cenčić, Sara Mingardo, Jakub Józef Orliński, and Sonia Prina. Bottom row, from left to right Marijana Mijanovic, Philippe Jaroussky, Nathalie Stutzmann and Franco Fagioli.

What they have in common is that their vocal range is basically the same! The men are countertenors, the women contraltos. Wikipedia gives for both an identical vocal range, two octaves, here marked in green. on a keyboard, the key with a dot is the central C-key.

In Baroque operas, the leading male roles were almost never sung by a tenor or a bass, but generally by a castrato or a contralto in a “trouser role“. As there are no castrati anymore, countertenors have taken their place. That is why in many of the Who Sings It Best videos you can listen to a mixture of countertenors and contraltos.

Here is an example, Who sings Vivaldi’s “Vedrò con mio diletto” best?, sung by two countertenors, two contraltos and one mezzo-soprano. In the opera .Il Giustino (1724) the emperor Anastasius sings this aria as a love song for his wife Ariadne. Wouldn’t you expect a tenor to play this role?

In Handel’s opera Rodelinda (1725) the role of king Bertarido was originally sung by an alto castrato. His famous aria “Dove sei, amato bene” is a love song for his wife Rodelinda. In Who sings Händel’s “Dove sei, amato bene” best? it is sung by five countertenors. If you like contrasts, listen also to this recording by mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne. Not my favourite 😉

Here is an aria from another Handel opera, Oreste (1734). The opera is a so-called “pasticcio” in which Handel assembled arias from his earlier operas into a new one. In this case the story of Orestes and his sister Iphigeneia. In 1734 Orestes was sung by a famous castrato. In Who sings Händel’s “Agitato da fiere tempeste” best? , the aria is sung by three countertenors and two contraltos, from left to right Orlinski, Mingardo, Stutzmann, Jaroussky and Fagioli.

Finally here is an aria sung by another king in Vivaldi’s opera Farnace (1727) , Farnace, King of Pontus, has been defeated by the Romans and commands his wife to kill their son, so he will not fall in the hands of the victors. No love song, but a tragic aria, originally sung by a contralto en travesti. Here are the lyrics of the aria, in an English translation.

Cold in every vein
I feel the blood flow
The shadow of the lifeless son
I am filled with terror

And for my greater pain
I see I was cruel
To an innocent soul
At the heart of my heart

In Who sings Vivaldi’s “Gelido in ogni vena” best? this beautiful aria is performed by two countertenors, a contralto, a mezzo-sorano, a soprano and even a tenor!. Compare which recording you prefer.

Actually the best recording (in my opinion) is not in this list. Listen to Countertenor Christopher Lowrey. Absolutely breathtaking, it gives me goosebumps.

I will end this blog with a few Who Sings It Best videos that don’t fit in the countertenor/contralto category.. For a variety of reasons.

In Who sings Porpora’s “Torbido intorno al core” best? Two countertenors and a contralto sing an aria from Porpora’s opera Meride e Selinunte (1727) , But here they sing an aria of Ericlea, a female!. In those days the modern concept of gender identity probably was not yet developed ;-). Porpora was famous in his days,, see my blog Countertenors and Castrati, for more info about him..

Then there is Who sings Vivaldi’s “Armatae face et anguibus” best?, The aria is from Vivaldi’s oratorio Juditah Triumphans (1717), performed in this video by sopranos and mezzos, but in the libretto the aria is sung by Vagaus, a eunuch! He sings this furious aria when he discovers that Juditha has murdered his master Holoferenes in his sleep. The Who Sings it Best videos are actually audios. Watch here the fury of Cecilia Bartoli in a real video.

And finally Who sings Vivaldi’s “Cum dederit” best? Vivaldi composed Nisi Dominus between 1703 and 1739. Not an opera and Cum Dederit is not an aria. Sung in the video by four countertenors and two mezzo-sopranos. Surprisingly the best recording (again in my opinion) is left out! Watch here Andreas Scholl

CNY 2022

On 1 February the Chinese year of the Tiger started. As a preparation for a New Year, Chinese buy new clothes and have a haircut. We did the same, in the left picture I am standing in a shopping center next to my own zodiac sign.

A 29 January the management of our condo had organised a simple Lion Dance.at our swimming pool. Fun for the kids.

The traditional wish for CNY is Gong Xi Fa Cai (in Mandarin, “Congratulations and may you be prosperous”). Here is my CNY wish, from our new penthouse.

On CNY-eve, 31 January, we went back to Parit Baru, Aric’s hometown. That is a yearly tradition, but last year it was impossible because of the Covid 19 pandemic and travel was very limited. Click here for a report about CNY 2020. .

This year travel was allowed again and we were fully vaccinated, but it was still advised anyway to take a Covid antigen test. Already on our way, we heard that one of Aric’s brothers had tested positive, although vaccinated. So we decided also to take a test and started looking for a pharmacy. Many were closed, but we found one in Tanjung Karang. Aric bought two test kits and we took the test in our parked car. ;-). Fortunately we were both negative.

We arrived in Parit Baru in the afternoon.. Here is a Google Earh map of the village and its location in the most northern part of Selangor. . The Bernam River forms the boundary with Perak. Parit Baru is surrounded by fishing villages.

There was time to take some photos of the surroundings. Nothing spectacular, just quiet agricultural countryside.

Then it was time for the CNY-eve dinner, traditional steamboat. Three families live in the kampung house, so dinner was in several sessions.

.Here is the kampong house. It may be about 70 years old. The families run a successful hardware and timber store. It is basically a wooden house, only the front façade and a few other parts are in stone.

Posing in front of the house. Alone and with the children of one of Aric’s cousins. Notice how they hold puppies, the one held by the girl has just opened it eyes.

The three families have their own rooms, but share the common living room and the kitchen. Even after Aric’s parents passed away, a couple of years ago, the setup is still the same.

Although the families share the kitchen, they have their own sink, fridge, washing machine. It might be a unique construction. In this photo, Aric’s aunties to the left and Aei Ling, his sister to the right.

The house is surrounded by a big garden, with fruit trees and flower bushes.

It is a tradition that people give ang pow to relatives and friends. This time we also did it. I received myself several red envelopes with money inside 😉 The picture at the right shows that I am getting old. Sunglasses to protect my eyes and clip-on reading glasses.

In the afternoon we drove around a bit, to take pictures

Another steamboat dinner, this time with Ong (Aric’s brother in law) and nephews and nieces. Seafood can not be more fresh than here!

A curious visitor.

A few of my waterfall friends go back with CNY to their hometown Teluk Intan and several times we have used day three of the CNY to make a trip to a new/remote waterfall in the region. I decided not to join this year, feeling less confident in the jungle nowadays. Our last trip was in 2017 and not successful, here is the report : An unsuccessful waterfall trip so it was decided to give this Lata Jala another try. This time my gang reached the fall.

The first picture shows my “gang”, from left to right Siang Hui, Teoh, Nick and Joshua (a new member). Lata Jala,, in the middle, is an impressive unspoiled waterfall. The right picture shows an aerial photo of the fall, taken by Joshua’s drone.

Aric and I explore a bit more the countryside around Parit Baru. This is the Bernam river. Across the river is Perak.

Left a Taoist temple in Sg Lang, one of the Chinese fishing villages. Right a young mangrove seedling, trying to survive. Notice the numerous holes, made by tiny crabs

Back in Parit Baru, a few more family photos. A group of young ladies, Aei Ling with two cute young kids and Ong teaching his son how to ride a bike.

In the evening there was a party with yee sang and a lucky draw,

And of course there were lots of firework.

The next morning I went to the village with Ong for breakfast with Roti Tampal. I knew about Roti Telur but this was new for me. Egg on top, not inside

Before we left there was another praying session..

A few days later, there was another celebration, in Puchong with Ong and his family, He is Hokkien and for the Hokkien community day 9 of the CNY is an important date. It is the birthday of the Jade Emperor, the God of Heaven. Again there was yee sang.

And there were drinks too 😉 Ong and have a drink of the (in)famous Timah whisky and the younger generation shares a bottle of wine. Playing cards, singing karaoke, a very nice evening.

An offering table is prepared for the God of Heaven, and joss sticks are lit.

At midnight there is a lot of firework. Note how I am protecting my ears.

The ceremony ends with the burning of Joss papers.

The Gang of Four at Kampar

In a recent blog, The Gang of Four, I wrote about the fellowship of Khong, Stephen, George and me, and the many trips we made during the past 15 years. At the end of that blog I wrote that we had not organised any activity during the Covid-19 pandemic and that we were hoping to continue the tradition soon.

Although the pandemic is not over, the situation in Malaysia became better during the last months and in November we organised our first outing since 2019. We had planned to visit a colonial mansion in Rasa, but unfortunately it was closed..

However, we had a sumptuous lunch at the WK restaurant in Ulu Yam.

Our next outing was on 20 January and our destination was Kampar. A two hour drive from KL, so we left early . First we had breakfast in the huge Kampar Medan Selera. I had a very tasty Chee Cheong Fun, Hong Kong style.

After our breakfast we visited the Kinta Tin Mining Museum. I had visited the museum in 2018, see my album Versatile Perak, for my friends it was new. It is an attractive museum dedicated to open tin mining, using gravel pumps. Lots of old machinery, many dioramas.

Recently I had come in contact with Jacky Chew, the curator of the museum regarding some heritage issues. It was nice to meet him now in person. He is very knowledgeable about the history of tin mining.

Our next destination was the Battle of Kampar Heritage trail. The Battle of Kampar was a valiant attempt of the British Commonwealth forces to slow down the advance of the Japanese Imperial army in December 1941. Jacky Chew told us that the trail started next to a factory, north of Kampar old town. We found the factory and asked for further directions.

Mr Chee, the owner of the plant, pointed out where the trail started and also explained to us what they were doing in the factory. Basically it is a mineral processing industry. More info here. Very interesting and an unexpected bonus of our trip.

The trail starts next to the factory and was doable for us seniors ;-). Clearly signposted.

There is a memorial with info about the battle.

The wreaths in front of the memorial were put there a few weeks ago, at the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Kampar.

From the memorial a trail leads to a few remains of the battle field, a bunker, a trench and the location of the former command post.

Here is a view from the Green Ridge. Not easy to imagine that this was a battlefield where hundreds of soldiers died, eighty years ago.

We went back to the old town for our last destination. After the success of the mural art of Zacharevic in Penang, mural art has been mushrooming all over Malaysia. KL, Ipoh, Gopeng to name a few. And now Kampar as well. The works of art are concentrated in a small lorong (alley) between the two main roads of old town. The quality is not always very good, but at least it is colorful.

Here is a collection of pictures.

Kampar has also quite a lot of heritage architecture, but there was no time to explore as we were getting hungry. Our plan was to have lunch in Sungkai , at the Choy Kee restaurant, but we found it closed, maybe we were too late. So we continued to Slim River, the Fook Seng restaurant, a favourite of Stephen.

We had pork knuckle, herbal chicken, tofu and bean sprouts. With drinks and rice the bill was RM 102. Value for Money VMF), one of the tenets of the Gang of Four 😉

We are already looking forward to our next outing!

La Clemenza di Tito

In my blog post Rinaldo I wrote in the final paragraph: “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),”

In 2018 I wrote a blog post about Mozart’s first opera, Apollo et Hyacinthus, composed in 1767 when he was 11 year old. In this post I will write about his last opera, La Clemenza di Tito, composed a few months before his death in December 1791.

Probably most of you will have seen the movie Amadeus (1984), one of the greatest films of all time. The movie was not meant to be historically correct and obviously is not. A fascinating, accurate description of Mozart’s last year can be found in this report: Mozart’s final year and death – 1791. Worthwhile to read it.

The Clemency of (Roman emperor) Titus was a popular topic for operas in the 18th century, after Metastasio wrote the libretto in 1734. Here is a list with more than forty (!) composers who used the libretto for their version of La Clemenza di Tito. I found two recordings on YouTube , one by Antonio Caldera (1734) and one by Christoph Willibald Gluck {1752).

In 1790 the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II died. He plays an important and often hilarious role in the movie Amadeus and I can not resist the temptation to show here a scene from the movie.(click on the image).

Joseph’s younger brother Leopold II succeeded him as Roman Holy Emperor, King of Hungary and Bohemia, and Archduke of Austria. The coronation as King of Bohemia took place on 6 September in Prague and Mozart was commissioned to write an opera for the occasion, based on Metastasio’s libretto.

Mozart accepted the commission although he was very busy with Die Zauberflöte and the Requiem and managed to write the opera in about two weeks time . Metastasio’s libretto was modified by court poet Mazzolà and condensed into two acts. The première was not a success and for a long time this traditional opera seria was considered a kind of failure, compared with Cosi fan tutte, Don Giovanni and Die Zauberflöte. It is only during the last thirty years that a re-assessment has taken place. Here is a very informative article: La Clemenza  di Tito: Mozart’s Operatic Failure?

After this introduction, i will write separate paragraphs about the historical background of the opera, its structure and some of the modern performances.

Historical background

In 69 CE Roman emperor Nero died. A chaotic succession struggle followed with four emperors in that year, Galba (killed), Otho (suicide), Vitellius (killed) and finally Vespasianus. When Vespasianus died in 79, his son Titus (39-81) became Roman emperor.

He had been married twice. and was in a controversial relationship with Berenice, a Jewish princess, when he became emperor. He was a fair, benevolent ruler. During his short reign he became popular for his generosity after the eruption of the Vesuvius and a big fire in Rome. He also completed the Colosseum. His reign was short, after only two years he died of a fever.

Structure of the opera

The opera is only vaguely related to Roman history. It is set in 79 CE, just after the eruption of Vesuvius. There are six roles.

  1. Titus, Roman emperor: tenor
  2. Vitellia, daughter of the deposed emperor Vitellius :soprano
  3. Sextus , a young man, friend of Tito and deeply in love with Vitellia : castrato
  4. Servilia, the sister of Sextus : soprano
  5. Annius, close friend of Sextus and in love with Servilia: soprano (en travesti)
  6. Publius , the commander of the Pretorian guard : bass

The opera consists of two acts. Mazzolà’s libretto can be found here (Italian and English). Here is a synopsis.

Act 1

Vitellia is furious that Titus is planning to marry Berenice, urges Sextus to kill Titus, but takes this back when Annius tells that Titus will send Berenice home. Sextus and Annius meet Titus who tells them that he will take Servilia as his bride. Vitellia is furious again and persuades Sextus, who this time leaves to kill (his friend!)Titus. Servilia tells Titus that she loves Annius and Titus then decides to take Vitellia instead as his bride. When Vitellia hears this, she is upset, but it is too late, Rome is burning already and according to Sextus, Titus has perished.

Act 2

Annius tells Sextus that Titus is still alive. Sextus is relieved, confesses that he has betrayed Titus and wants to leave the country. Annius convinces him to stay and hope for leniency from Titus. Vitellia urges him to flee, but Sextus tells her that he will never betray her. Then Publius arrests Sextus, he has mistakenly wounded Lentulus, who was dressed as emperor , but has survived the attack. The Senate will judge him. Titus can not believe that Sextus is guilty. But Sextus has confessed and the Senate has condemned him. Titus hesitates to sign the verdict and wants to see Sextus first. Sextus, to protect Vitellia, doesn’t explain his action. Titus signs, then tears the judgment. Annius and Servilia plead with Vitellia to ask Titus for clemency..Vitellia decides to confess. Before Titus can pardon Sextus, Vitellia tells Titus that she was the main conspirator. Titus is shocked, but then decides to pardon everybody.

It is quite interesting to compare this synopsis with the original one by Metastasio. .There the first act ends with Publius telling Vitellia that she will become the new empress. It is only in Act 2 that the fire and uproar occur with Sextus confessing that he is responsible. This act is full of drama. Here is one example: Sextus is wearing a blood-stained cloak with a red ribbon, so other conspirators can recognise each other. After Annius tells him that Titus is alive, he convinces Sextus to visit the emperor and ask for leniency. They exchange their cloaks. When later Annius meets Titus, the red ribbon is seen and Annius is arrested, only to be released after Publius tells that Lentulus has identified Sextus as the attacker.. The act ends with Sextus being led away and Vitellia worried that her guilt will be revealed soon.

In my opinion the Metastasio “story” is more interesting than the Mazzolà one. But musically Mazzola did a good job, Mozart praised him that the libretto had been “reworked into a true opera” The Metastasio libretto is a series of recitatives and arias, Mazzolà adds trio’s ,duets and even a sextet at the end of the opera, where all six singers take part.

Performances

When the commission for La Clemenza was given to Mozart, it was stipulated that the opera should contain roles for two famous Italian singers in those days, a prima donna soprano and a castrato. It resulted in Vitellia and Sextus. In the original libretto also Annius was sung by a castrato. The stage may have looked like this:

Nowadays we don’t have castrati anymore (see my blog Countertenors and Castrati) ,the roles of both young men are usually sung by (mezzo)sopranos.

I have found a number of recordings on YouTube and selected a few for this blog, The earliest one is the film version (1980) of a performance by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle (1969), when La Clemenza di Tito was still virtually unknown. The video quality is not perfect, but acceptable.. The mise-en scene is traditional, classical surroundings, although the costumes are more 18th century than Roman. In the picture Servilia is telling Tito that she is in love with Annius. Publius watches. When you click on the picture, you can listen to the YouTube. When you are not familiar with this opera, it is a good introduction, because the video has English subtitles.

In Harnoncourt’s version (2003) the setting is a nondescript apartment building (car park?) and the costumes are modern. I am not a fan of this kind of approach. In the screenshot Sextus meets Titus and Publius after he has been arrested. Maybe useful to mention that Titus is standing at the right. Click on the picture for the opera.

Here is the version of Colin Davis in 2011. The screenshot shows the quintet at the end of Act 1. Rome is burning, Sextus is almost confessing that he killed Titus, Vitellia stops him. Servilia, Publius and Annius watch, shocked by the disaster. Subtitles in French.

And yes, the screenshot below is also from La Clemenza di Tito! The 2017 version by Sellars, where Tito has been mortally wounded and talks with Sextus on his deathbed. When I first watched the video, I was stunned and considered writing a blog “The rape of an opera ” Click on the picture, watch the opera and probably/hopefully you will be stunned as well..

Sellars tweaks the story beyond recognition, from the start until the end. During the ouverture, before the opera even starts, Titus picks Sextus from the crowd and “couples” him to Vitellia. But Sextus is a close friend of Tito and deeply in love with Vitellia., his emotional struggle between his love for Titis and for Vitellia is an essential part of the opera.

Sellars introduces at 56:47 an intermezzo in act 1 where Sextus is being prepared to become a suicide bomber. A terrorist instead of a traitor! The music played is not from the opera, but from Adagio and fugue in C minor, K. 546 ! Sellars does this 5 more times, at 22:07 , 38:03, 1:20:18 , 1:47:27 (parts from the Mass in C minor, K. 427) and at 2:38:12 after the opera has ended (Maurerische Trauermusik K. 477)

Here is a screenshot of the quintet at the end of act 1. Rome is burning the singers lament and Sextus almost confesses. In front of them lies Titus, mortally wounded by Sextus.

One last screenshot of the sextet at the end of Act 2. Titus has forgiven everybody and takes his last breath, singing in full force : Cut short, eternal gods, cut short my days on that day when the good of Rome ceases to be my care. To be honest, I found it a bit hilarious.

It can not be denied that the Sellars version is visually and musically spectacular. But personally I still think that it is unacceptable what he has been doing.

Let me finish this blog with some remarks about the roles of Sextus and Annius, originally sung by castrati. In modern recordings they are usually sung by (mezzo)sopranos. It means that the two love couples are sung by four female voices. In my opinion Sextus and Annius should be sung by countertenors or sopranistas. I know of only one YouTube recording where Sextus is sung by a countertenor, a 2021 (!) performance in Bergen. Sextus sings here the aria Parto, ma tu ben mio (I go, but, my dearest,..), probably the most famous aria from the opera.

The aria is so famous that it has often been recorded separately. I will give a few examples. Here is a recording from the Sellars version. The aria is accompanied by a basset clarinet and Sellars had the brilliant idea to make it a duet on stage between Sextus and the clarinet player. Click on the screenshot for the video. Fascinating. Sung by Marianne Crebassa, dressed as a man, but still very obviously a lady.

Here is the same aria sung by Kangmin Justin Kim , a young South Korean countertenor.

And here is a recording of the aria sung by Bruno de Sá, a male soprano/countertenor.

As last one here is Cecilia Bartoli. No attempt to cross-dress 😉 I am a fan of her.

For many years La Clemenza di Tito has been a favourite Mozart opera of mine. For this blog I have been listening numerous times to the various recordings. Never boring, it is still a favourite.