In May 2020 I wrote a post An opera and some history, about the opera L’Ottavia restituita al Trono by Domenico Scarlatti. When I was looking for information about this opera, I came across the opera Agrippina by Handel. Handel was born in1685, in the same year as Scarlatti, and he composed this opera in 1709 while he was staying in Italy. It was a huge success, got into oblivion later, but is now considered one of Handel’s major operas.

Agrippina (AD 15 – 59) was the wife of Roman emperor Claudius (10 BC –AD 54) and mother (from an earlier marriage) of emperor Nero (AD 37 –  68). Claudius died by poisoning, with probably his wife Agrippina as the instigator. Nero became the next emperor AD 54, 17 year old. At that time he was married to Octavia (AD 39 or 40 – 62), but the marriage was an unhappy one and soon he got mistresses. One of them was Poppaea (AD 30 – 65), married to his friend Otho (AD 32 – 69) who would become emperor after Nero’s suicide.

Probably everybody knows about the reputation of Nero. He killed his mother Agrippina AD 59 (22 yo) and a few years later he divorced Octavia and got her killed AD 62 (25 yo). He forced Otho to divorce Poppaea and exiled him to Lusitania (present day ~ Portugal). He married Poppaea AD 62. When se was pregnant AD 65, he caused her death.

It was a tumultuous period in the Roman Empire.

The Italian composer Monteverdi created in 1643 the opera L’incoronazione di Poppea (The coronation of Poppaea). Nero, Poppaea, Octavia and Otho are the main characters in his opera. The libretto uses the historical facts reasonably well, although with some artistic freedom. Otho loves Poppaea, but she prefers Nero and Nero prefers her above his wife Octavia. The opera ends with Otho and Octavia being exiled and Nero marrying Poppaea.

Scarlatti twists the historical facts. In his opera. Octavia has been exiled, but comes back to Rome, disguised as a shepherdess, to take revenge on Poppaea. Because the Roman people support her (historically true), Nero finally accepts Octavia back, although he still loves Poppaea. Otho doesn’t appear in this opera.

In Agrippina the main characters are Agrippina, Nero, Claudius, Otho and Poppaea. In the libretto of this opera the historical facts are distorted beyond recognition and I find it surprising that in the reviews of this opera hardly any attention is paid to the discrepancies.

The opera starts with Agrippina receiving the news that Claudius has drowned in a storm while at sea. Immediately she starts plotting to have her son Nero as the next emperor. She tells him: . “del quinto lustro oggi al confin sei giunto” which literally translates as “you have reached the border of your fifth lustrum today“. It took me some time to decipher this, the start of your fifth lustrum is when you turn 20. As Nero was born on 15 December AD 37, this gives an exact date of this conversation between Agrippina and Nero, 15 December AD 57.

Why do I pay so much attention to dates? Well, Claudius died AD 54 (possibly poisoned by Agrippina) and Nero was already Roman emperor from that time on. His friend (!) Otho was actually married to Poppaea at that time, she divorced him AD 58 only. Nero himself is still married to Octavia and divorced her AD 59.

So the story of the opera is completely fake. Keep that in mind when you read the following synopsis.

After receiving the news about the death of Claudius, Agrippina starts her scheming by asking Pallas and Narcissus to support Nero. In the opera they are both in love with Agrippina and provide the comic relief in the story. Historically, they were important figures in Claudius’ court. Pallas and Agrippina may have been lovers, but Narcissus was very loyal to Claudius and was murdered in AD 54, at about the same time as Claudius. Another fake element in the opera.

When Nero is about to be crowned emperor, Lesbus, a servant of Claudius enters and announces that Claudius did not drown, but was rescued by Otho, the commander of the army. Big commotion. Otho enters and tells that Claudius in gratitude will resign and make him the new emperor Privately he tells Agrippina that his love for Poppaea is more important for him than becoming emperor.

This gives Agrippina the opportunity for another plot. She knows that both Claudius and Nero are in love with Poppaea and tells Poppaea that Otho has promised Claudius that he will leave Poppaea to him, if he can become emperor. .Of course Poppaea is upset. Agrippina advises her to tell Claudius that Otho has forbidder her to see him, hoping to make the emperor so angry that he will take back his promise to Otho

When Poppaea meets Claudius she does as suggested by Agrippina. Claudius is furious and when he meets the others, he is full of praise, but calls Otho suddenly a traitor. Agrippina, Poppaea, everybody deserts Otho after this. Left alone he sings a lament, one of the most beautiful arias composed by Handel. Listen to Voi che udite il mio lamento, sung by countertenor Jakub Józef Orliński.

Poppaea, can not really believe that Otho has forsaken her for the throne and meets him in a garden. Soon it becomes clear that Agrippina has been plotting and Poppaea wants to take revenge. She asks Otho to come to her rooms later, Lesbus enters to tell her that Claudius wants to visit her in her rooms, next Nero meets her, she also invites him to her rooms.

Follows a hilarious scene in Poppaea’s rooms. First Otto arrives, she asks him to hide. Next comes Nero, also asked to hide, When finally Claudius has arrived, she tells him that it was actually Nero and not Otho who told her she should not meet Claudius. He can not believe her, but is convinced when she calls Nero out of his hiding.

Claudius is now confused who is lying and who is speaking the truth. He asks everybody to tell their story.. When Poppaea tells that Nero was in her rooms, he takes a decision, Nero will marry Poppaea and he will keep his promise that Otho will become emperor! Everybody unhappy 😉 When Otho refuses the crown, he reverses his decision: Otho can marry Poppaea and Nero will become emperor. Everybody happy.

All is well that ends well

In this synopsis I have omitted many details of the various subplots. As this review says: The plot of Agrippina is convoluted, even by operatic standards. I found it very informative to read the libretto (English translation). Before I mention the various YouTube recordings of Agrippina, a few comments about the libretto.

  • The libretto contains a huge amount of recitatives. The text file contains ~ 3000 lines, of which ~ 2400 are recitative. All recordings I have watched skip parts of the recitative here and there.
  • This opera has an unusual large number of “asides”, speech of a character, meant for the audience, not for the other persons on stage. Agrippina has 108 of them, they are an essential part of the story.

I have found many video recordings of Agrippina on YouTube, in this blog I will mention a few of them. I will give the link, a few screenshots and some comments.

I will start with the most recent one, a Swedish production, premiered in January 2023 and only visible on YouTube until July 2023.


It is the most authentic prodcution I have found. The opera is performed in a theater that dates back to the 18th century. The men are dressed in Roman togas, the ladies in period dresses.An empty stage, no props, hardly any action. Here are a few screenshots

The opening scene of the opera, Agrippina has geven Nero the letter about Claudius’ death.

Claudius praises the others but calls Otho a traitor. Notice that Otho is played by a mezzo-soprano (a trouser role). Actually it follows the premiere in 1709, where Nero and Narcissus were sung by castrati, but Otho by a mezzo.

Poppaea takes her revenge. Nero, thinking that Cl;audius has left, jumps out of his hiding

The final scene. In the original libretto the goddess Juno appears at the end and gives the love couple her blessing. Modern productions skip this finale

I liked this recording very much, although some of you may find it too static. Here is another extreme, a 2016 production by Robert Carsen, a famous opera director. Full of action, with many extras (non-singing actors). Personally I think this production is way over the top and distorts the essence of the libretto.


The opening scene. Nero, still in pyamas is watchting TV before Agrippina gives him the letter.

Agrippina asks Pallas and Narcissus , both in love with her, to support Nero. Later she will reward them. A grotesque mise-en-scene. Left Pallas, right Narcissus.

When Claudius arrives, video cameras record him. He praises everybody, but calls Otho a traitor

In the libretto Poppaea meets Otho and later Nero in a garden (“with a fountain”).. Carsen changes the garden to a fitness club with a pool. Hilarious but also ridiculous. Left Poppaea feigning to sleep when Otho enters. Right Nero jumps out of the pool.

The libretto places the next scene in Agrippina’s rooms, where she meets Pallas, Narcissus and Claudius and still tries to promote her son Nero. In this production the action takes place in the same fitness club, which makes no sense at all. Agrippina meets Pallas, gets a massage from Narcissus and his friends and convinces Claudius that Neo should become emperor.

Poppaea’s room. Nero has been hiding behind the sofa, when he thinks that Claudius has left, he jumps up and mistakenly tries to make love with Claudius.

The final scene of the opera, added by Carsen. Nero is laughing hysterically, while both Agrippina amd Poppaea have been killed. No comment 😉

After this extravaganza it is a relief to watch the 2018 production by Ars Lyrica Houston, my favourite. A timeless rendition, no military uniforms, no smartphones, it doesn’t matter that Agrippina is white and Nero black, there is no suggestion of an incestuous relationship between mother and son, Agrippina has only one wish, to make her son emperor.


The opening scene, Nero reads the letter that Claudius drowned.

Lesbus announces that Claudis is alive and Otho shockes the others when he telss that as a reward he will be the new emperor.

Agrippina lies to Poppaea that Otho leaves her to Claudius and advises her to make Claudius jelaous

Agrippina’s plot works well. Claudius praises everybody but calls Otho a traitor. After all the others despise him, he sings his heartbreaking lament. Click here to listen.

Soon the plot becomes clear and Poppaea is planning revenge, She invites Otho, Nero and Claudius to her rooms. Left: the plot becomses clear. Right: : Poppaea invites Nero to her rooms

Agrippina manages to get a promise from Claudius that Nero will become emperor. Claudius agrees, is actually in a hurry to visit POppaea,

WIth Nero hiding in her rooms, Poppaea explains to Claudius that it was Nero and not Otho who told her not to meet him. Claudius finds this difficult to belief, but is convinced when Nero comes out of hiding, half undressed.

The final scene. First Claudius decides that Nero will marry Poppaea and Otho will become emperor, but he reverses his judgement when everbody is unhappy.

Compare this production with the vulgarity of Carsen! The supporting role of Lesbus is played brillianly. Agrippina not only sings well, it is also a pleasure to see her facial expressions. The many asides fit well in this production. That Poppaea and Otho are slightly drunk when they reconcile is aristice freedom of the director. Really my favorite Agrippina

I will show the other YouTube videos in less detail, in chronological order.


With Jarousky as Nero. Period costumes and funny wigs. Not convincing. Nero reads the letter (left) and Otho is called a traitor by Claudius.(right)


All producers like to give a presonal touch to Handel’s opera: “This is MY Agrippina”. Here is the version of Jan Vriend. Nero is sung by a tenor and Otho by a bariton. Two screenshots, one that Nero reads the letter, the other one that Otho is called a traitor by Claudius. Interesting staging ;-).


Another version, by Hernan Schvartzman. Lots of semi-nudity. A bit weird. The relation between Agrippina and Nero is more than is normal between mother and son. Left : Nero has read the letter. Right: Otho is called a traitor.

I found this production so weird that it deserves an extra screenshot. Claudius is furious after he finds Nero in Poppawa’s room. Why Nero is having angel wings escapes me. The other half-naked boy with angel wings is Amor. Mind you , here is a very positive review of this production. “De gustibus non est disputandum!”


The stage in this modernist production is a theater hall. Maybe original but not functional. Left: Agrippina hands an ipad(!) to Nero. Right: Claudius calls Otho a traitor

Part of the action takes place underneath (!) the theater hall. Here Nero is litterally exposed to Claudius in Poppaea’s room. Another example of a producer who wants to leave his personal mark on the opera.


Nero is a punker here and the relation between him and Agrippina is rather incestuous. A miscasting, in my opinion. The rotating installation on stage is not functional. Left: Nero and Agrippina. Right: After Claudius has called Otho a traitor, Pallas and Narcissos physically attack Otho. Ridiculous


This Metropolitan Opera production is no longer availble on YouTube, only a trailer. Military uniforms, Nero is played by a mezzo in a trouser role and sniffs cocaine. Many extra actors. If you just forget about the original opera, it is an interesting modernist version..


I started this blog about four months ago. Of course I have not been working on it daily, and often I just was listening to the various YouTube versions. I have not counted the number of “Agrippina” hours, but it must have been a lot. Still the music is not boring at all.

If you disagree with my critical remarks, please leave a comment.

Gong Xi Fa Cai

On 22 January the Chinese year of the Rabbit started. People wish each other Gong Xi Fa Cai (Mandarin) or Gung hay fat choy (Cantonese). Meaning Congratulations get rich.

Here is our CNY wish for all of you..

About the Chinese Zodiac

The Chinese Zodiac has twelve signs (Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig) and five elements (Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water).The signs repeat in a 12-year cycle, the elements in a 10-year cycle (an element takes two years, one yin and one yang). The combination of signs and elements gives a 60-year cycle. On your 60th birthday you start all over again, that’s why this birthday has a special significance. I celebrated mine in Taiping, on Maxwell Hill, click here for a report

Here is the Zodiac wheel , including the elements, for one 60-year cycle, from 1984 until 2043. Use your birthyear to find your sign and your element. If you were born before 1984, add 60 to your birthyear and use the same wheel. For example, I was born in 1944. I add 60 to my birthyear, 2004 and see in the wheel that I am a Wood Monkey.

The date of CNY is variable (see below). can be between 21 January and 20 February., When you are born in that period, you need to know the CNY date in your birthyear. Here is a list of CNY dates between 1930 and 2030.

2023 is a leap year

The Chinese calendar is based on lunar months. An average lunar month (time between a new or full moon and the next new/full moon) is ~ 29 d 12 h 44 min, therefore a lunar year of 12 lunar months is about 11 days shorter than a solar year. Without correction the Chinese New Year would advance about 11 days each year. To keep in sync with the solar year, on average every two/three years one of the months is duplicated, a leap month. Compare it with the leap day (29 February) that is inserted in the Gregorian calendar basically every 4 year.

CNY this year was on 22 January. Next year it would be 11 or 12 January. But this year has an extra month, so next year , CNY will be actually on 10 February.

Here is a list of CNY dates, with the leap years marked in yellow. Also I have marked which month is duplicated. In this year 2023, the 2nd month is duplicated.

2016Feb. 8, 2016 (Monday)Monkey
2017Jan. 28, 2017 (Friday)leap month 6Rooster
2018Feb. 16, 2018 (Friday)Dog
2019Feb. 5, 2019 (Tuesday)Pig
2020Jan. 25, 2020 (Saturday)leap month 4Rat
2021Feb. 12, 2021 (Friday)Tiger
2023Jan. 22, 2023 (Sunday)leap month 2Rabbit
2024Feb. 10, 2024 (Saturday)Dragon
2025Jan. 29, 2025 (Wednesday)leap month 6Snake
2026Feb. 17, 2026 (Tuesday)Horse
2027Feb. 6, 2027 (Saturday)Sheep
2028Jan. 26, 2028 (Wednesday)leap month 5Monkey
2029Feb. 13, 2029 (Tuesday)Rooster

To determine which lunar month is duplicated in a leap year, is a quite complicated. If you are interested, have a look at my webpage The Chinese Calendar.

Gong Xi Gong Xi

In the period around CNY you will hear everywhere Chinese New Year songs. One of the most popular ones is Gong Xi, Gong Xi. When I hear it , I can not easily get it out of my head 😉 The same happens for me with the Bolero of Ravel.

Listen to Yao Lee and her brother Yao Min.

Until recently I thought that this was a very old traditional Chinese song. But I was wrong, when I was born the song did not yet exist. It was composed in 1945 by Chen Gexin, NOT as a New Year song, but as a song to celebrate the defeat of Japan and the liberation of China at the end of the Second Sino-Japanese War (World War II).

The Wikipedia article Gong Xi Gong Xi , has the lyrics of the song. Here are a few lines (in translation).

After experiencing so many difficulties,
Going through so many ordeals,
How many hearts are looking forward
To the news of Spring!
Congratulations, congratulations

Although there are numerous Gong Xi’s (Congratulations) in the song, there is a feeling of sadness. Chen was jailed and tortured during the war. Nevertheless, soon it became a popular Chinese New Year Song.

A bit off topic: the D-minor key

Actually the song is written in a minor key, D minor. Here is the score.

The Wikipedia article D minor. gives a list of classical musical works written in that key. I was surprised to discover that several of the works mentioned belong to my all-time favorites.

I can not resist the temptation to mention three of them.

Top of the list, the chaconne from Bach’s 2nd partita for solo violin in D minor. .The most beautiful music ever written. Some of the variations still give me goosebumps. I wrote a blog about it: The Chaconne

Two works by Mozart. Here is his piano concerto KV 466 in D minor, my favorite. Here played by Maria João Pires, also my favorite 😉 . I wrote a blog about her: I have fallen in love

And his Requiem in D minor. I didn’t write a blog about it, but I watched the movie Amadeus many times 😉

Ok, one more, sorry. Bach again, his Toccata & Fugue in D-minor for organ. I wrote a blog about this and other toccatas: Toccatas

A Nice Outing

On 22 October Free Malaysia Today had an article with the intriguing title Mysterious 135-year-old temple in Perak’s jungles .Of course I was interested and wanted to have a look myself. But where was this temple located? The article mentioned Jeram and Jalan Chenderiang. Still a bit too vague. Fortunately my friend Siak Hong Law had visited the temple many years ago, he gave me the exact location. The temple is actually on Google Maps, named as 石山脚寿仙岩观音庙, which Google translates as the Shouxianyan Guanyin Temple at the foot of Shishan

As the temple is still a two hours drive from PJ, Aric and I decided to make it a day trip, combine the temple with waterfalls and food. We started with breakfast in Tanjung Malim. The Thye Fah coffee shop is popular and well patronised.

Their special ice coffee has a frozen coffee heart on top. I had my half-boiled eggs, the buns with butter and kaya were really delicious. A good start of the day.

After our breakfast, we drove to Jeram and from there to the temple. In the left picture you see how to drive, first following the Chenderiang road until you turn left into a small road. I forgot to take a picture of the junction, so I took a screenshot of Google Street View. The description by the author of the FMT article of the temple as “hidden in the depths of a thick jungle.” and of the road as “you have to travel along a stretch of dirt road snaking through an oil palm plantation” shows that he has a rich imagination. The road is tarred, passing a few industrial sites, then following the peaceful Sg Dipang. No jungle at all.

After less than 2 km, this road ends at a clearing, next to a former tin mining lake. Peaceful surroundings.

The entrance of the temple

The temple complex is partly built inside a limestone cave. Overgrown with trees. It is a Taoist temple dedicated to Guan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy. According to the FMT article more than 135 year old.

Here is a collection of pictures, taken inside and outside the temple.

Left a statue of Guan Yin, right a statue of the White Guard, one of the Heibai Wuchang deities, escorting the souls of the deceased to the underworld.

The friendly caretaker told us that the temple bell was quite old and that attempts have been made to steal it. The bell is now tied with metal chains to its scaffolding.

Outside the temple there is an interesting Datuk Kong shrine.

Next to the temple there is a fascinating collection of idols, left there by devotees who had no place for them in their home and didn’t want to destroy them.

We walked around a bit, there are many small caves

It was a very rewarding visit.

Quite near the temple complex there are popular waterfalls, the Salu Falls. We had a look at the lower fall, easily accessible on a cemented path

It’s only a short walk and you can see and hear the fall from some distance already.

Here is the waterfall. There are more upper tiers, but they are more difficult to reach..

The Salu falls have now been upgraded to the Taman Eko Rimba Sungai Salu. Taman Eko Rimba is a fashionable concept, you can find them now all over Malaysia..

I had to smile about the warning signboard. Started in 2011, counting yearly accidents and fatalities. I guess that when nothing had happened in the following 6 years, they gave up updating the signboard.

Time for lunch! We were not far from Tanjung Tualang, famous for its udang gala restaurants. We had our lunch in the You Kee restaurant. We knew that the prawns would not be cheap, but they were delicious, We had three big prawns each and there was Tofu and paku salad. The bill was RM 97, value for money.

On our way back home we noticed that we were not far from the Lata KInjang waterfall. Most Malaysians will have seen this waterfall, driving on the North-South highway. Not many will have visited the falls. Also these falls have been upgraded and are now named Taman Eko Rimba Lata Kinjang. Access is not cheap, we paid RM 21! (Foreigner RM 10, Malaysian adult RM 6 and car park RM 5). Here are some pictures. It was already a bit late in the afternoon, we just walked to the hanging bridge and back again. We reached our car just before it started to rain.

We made this trip on 16 November 2022, three days before the GE15 elections. This is the small town of Chenderiang, near Lata Kinjang.

A rewarding day trip, very Malaysian. A combination of Culture, Nature and Food. Malaysia Boleh!

Did Amelia Earhart land in Taiping?

In September 2019 I published two blog posts about Amelia Earhart, the American aviator, who flew over present-day Malaysia from Bangkok to Singapore on 20 June 1937. A mural had been created in Taiping, honoring her landing on 20 June at the Taiping Aerodrome for a refueling stop.

In my two reports, Amelia Earhart and Taiping and Amelia and Taiping (Part Two) I showed that Amelia Earhart never landed at the Taiping Aerodrome and not even had the intention to do so. I shared these reports with the Taiping Heritage Society (THS). Lukewarm response, no follow-up. A few months ago the Perak Heritage Society came into action: “She Never landed in Malaysia”  Amelia Earhart Mural In Taiping Puzzles Locals It will be interesting to see if now something will happen.

Here is a bit more information about how the confusion started./

In 2007 a Wikipedia contributor, Andrew Kidman, starts a topic Taiping Airport. He adds content in the following years, for example on 1 February 2009 :

” … The airport also achieved fame through the famous American aviator, Amelia Mary Earhart in 1937, when she was doing her world flight and stopover at the Taiping Airport for refueling petrol. Amelia Earhart was doing her flight route from Thailand to Singapore, her permission to land at Taiping Airport was allowed on 7 June 1937 by the then Resident-General of Malaya….”

The second sentence is correct, the first one is his own conclusion and erroneous. His last edit of Taping Airport was in April 2009, he is not active anymore, I have tried to contact him, without success.

Yes, Amelia Earhart received a letter on 7 June that she was permitted to land at the Taiping Areodrome. Does that make Taiping at least a bit special? To make clear that this was mot the case, we must keep in mind that in 1937 Malaysia did not exist, it was British Malaya, consisting of the Straits Settlements , the Federated Malay States and the Unfederated Malay States, Crossing the airspace of British Malaya, Amelia needed several authorizations. In my second blog copies of these letters are shown. Each gives authorization for a specific period (‘in or about June’) and mentions the airports where she is permitted to land. Here is the list, with date of the authorization letter and the airports. Kedah and Johore were unfederated states and had to give authorization separately.

  • 15 June Straits Settlements (Penang, Singapore)
  • .7 June FMS (Taiping)
  • 17 June Kedah (Alor Star)
  • 17 June Johore (Batu Pahat)

Taiping was just one of the five airports where she was allowed to land. But she did not , as is clear from the book Last Flight. In her report she mentions a few times Alor Star (We checked over Alor Star airport but did not stop, and headed for Singapore)

Amelia Earhart never landed in Taiping and had no intention to do so

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