Taiping, March 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Chinese Pagoda bridge

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

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

Evening is falling, time to return to my hotel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I took several pictures of tombstones.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quite a crowd of devotees. Nice statues everywhere

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

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

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

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

Intriguing statues.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was a rewarding, very pleasant outing.

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

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

Train and MRT not crowded.

It was good to be back in Taiping.

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