Thursday, July 24, 2008

I like this place.

There is a town in Malaysia called Taiping

It was the centre of activities for tin-mining for a long time, initially when tin was earlier discovered and mined in Malaya (then, Malaysia now). I am told that ‘taiping’ is a Chinese word for ‘forever peace’ (I stand corrected here) because when the Chinese first arrived in that area and started to mine tin, they were opposed strongly by the local Malays. I don’t really know the history of Taiping, but every time Taiping is mentioned, the name Ngah Ibrahim a local Malay Leader, keeps cropping up. It was because of all the fighting, feuds and killings that brought the British into Taiping to established a ‘peace’ town. In the olden days it was called Matang (again I stand corrected).

However I shall not go into the history of Taiping, as my knowledge in this area is almost nil. I just want o say that Taiping is one of the most pleasant town in Malaysia today. As you drive into Taiping, into the older part of the town, the streets seems to criss-crossed, the shop houses (mostly two storey brick buildings with 5 footways, built before the WW II) in square formation, with some old mosques and the Taiping Hospital in the middle. At the end of the town is the Administrative area. Go further and you are in open space called the Taiping Lake Garden, where in the old days it used to be the tin mining areas. Now it’s a very green area, with old trees, mostly raintrees and matured tall tembusu trees. Just on the fringe of the Taiping Lake Garden you will find the Prison (which used to be the main prison in Malaya), the Taiping Museum, and all the schools. Go further you will end up at the foot of the hills which used to be known as Maxwell Hill, now called Bukut Larut. Just before the foot of the hills you will find the very well maintained and kept British War Cemetary, and a few natural cool water pools. I remembergoing to those pools in my younger days. If you dare to go by the Land Rover up the hill, through some of the most curvy, narrow and winding roads in the country, you will find yourself in cool air of the hills, where even daffodils will grow. And from the hill you will see the whole of the Taiping Town. In my young days I had hiked up the hill from the bottom, not by the road but by climbing the steep slopes.

Taiping has got a military garrison, and in addition to the prison it also has got an intern centre where people are keep without trail in a camp called the Kemunting Camp, where political dissidents are kept under the Internal Security Act. Thus Taiping peaceful as its is, it has an evil secret which is quite unpleasant.

Whatever evil Taiping has, it has some of the most pleasant aspects, the people are friendly, air fresh and cool (according to weather records, Taiping had the highest rainfall in the whole country) and the food reasonable good. Just the other night I went to their night food stalls and I had this taufoo and sotong kangkong.

By looking at the photo you will know what they are. And in the end my wife and I dug into the concoction,

and we had a very pleasant dinner.

Once a year this region has its fruit season. And you can imagine what variety of fruits they have.
Durian, with skin,

and when you open it and keep in a plastic container. See the beautiful flesh on the seeds,


Cependek, a sort of smallish jack fruit,


And a few others like petai , langsat ,

and even bananas.

Durian and petai are fruits smelling to high heaven and the other fruits are all sweet to the taste that when you care eat them with your hands and fingers you will have sticky fingers (you may even lick your fingers to get the better taste of those fruits). Most locval over here eat fruits with their hands, and you can imagine the results.

And now after going there a few times a year on duty, I am just beginning to like the place. Remember that I went to a residential school about 40 km south of this town. So I am no stranger to Taiping really.

Taiping can be reached on the net through ‘taiping talk’

Saturday, July 19, 2008

wedding gift containers.

In a Malay wedding in Malaysia, not only the exchange of vows is essential, but the exchange of gifts between the bride and the groom are also essentials. The quality of the wedding shows by the quality of the gifts and the containers where the gifts are put in during the wedding ceremony.

Below are some of the better quality gift in the containers that are exchanged nowadays. The photoes show what the bride will present to the groom; note the quality of the containers.

Friday, July 18, 2008

We liked the British.

They came, they saw and they conquered. And we (the Malays) subjugated ourselves to them.

When I read in an eGroup (which I am a member) about what happened in a kampung (village) in Pahang, Malaysia, after the WW II and just before the Malayan Emergency of 1948 or about, on how they formed groups to fight the British in the Administrative District where my kampung (village) was situated, then I begin to recollect what happened in my own kampung (village) at about the same time.

Those trying to fight the British were what I might call anti-British. They were branded as bandits and Communists by the British rulers. But in my own kampung (village) and in the neighbouring kampung (village), we were pro-British. The anti-British kampungs (villages) were only about 10 miles downriver from our kampong (village). In those days paved roads were rare commodities, travel was always by the main rivers, in this case the wide and slow flowing Pahang River.

Let us start with the village school, a primary school where 6 years to 12 years old went, and I went there in my childhood days. The British Doctors & nurses used to come to the school to medically examine us and to take care of our health. They brought medicines, powdered milk and distributed (for free) the milk to the pupils.

Our lives were basically under (and ruled) the British. And I had the impression that we liked them. The British District Officer (looking after the District Administration and the Land Office) used to come to our kampung (village) once a year during the collection of land revenue. And he was a chatty chap as well, though he talked with a very strong English/British accent. Small in stature and almost fair haired, I remember him as smoking a pipe, young guy, in white shorts, whiter shirt, white stocking up to about just below the knees and wearing a sort of leather shoes, and carrying a walking stick. And he was always there to supervise the collection of the land revenue. He came in a house boat (pulled along by a diesel engined boat) similar to what the Sultan then had.

And we used to be given free film show every month, well almost, on showing how bad the bandits (Communists) were. Propaganda that was. Of course there were other films showing development for the country, and even Charlie Chaplin films which the folks loved best.

We had British soldiers coming into the kampung (village) showing the kampung folks how to use shotguns (and sometime semi-automatic weapons). They always seemed to have biscuits to be given to the children, I was one of them; but we could not really tell whether they were dog’s biscuits. And at time Gurkha soldiers used to march through our kampung (village). No British or Gurkha soldier got shot in our village, though in some other villages a few miles away some people did not took to much liking that the British and Gurkhas soldiers who visited those villages.

Our village is by the wide and slow flowing Pahang River. And about 3 to 4 miles inland the British buffalo bombers were bombing nests of bandits (Communists) in the jungle and by the hills. Later, in life, after reading the book My Side of History by Chin Peng (the Communist leader of Malaya), it was his men that the British was bombing.

Why I conclude that we were pro-British? We never made the British and Gurkha soldiers felt unwelcome. And we never took pop shots at them. And our Penghulu (village head man) was on very friendly terms with them. The British provided him with a revolver which he carried around for his self (and probably family)protection, though he was not (as far as I knew) given a personal bodyguard. But his house was well fenced up, and many thick stockades were built on the inner side of the fencing and the villagers took turn to guard his house at night. The bandits (Communists) used to come many times at nights to try to capture him (the Communist has high price on his head), but they mostly only managed to shoot into the air, it was too dark to see their target. Over the years the Communists came many times on many nights. And the villagers guarding his house fired back, using whatever shotguns they had. And in the morning we children then used to go to the ‘fort’ to hear what happened the night before, the men boasting about their shooting experience, and to collect whatever bullets that got stuck in the trees surrounding the ‘fort’, bullets from the shooting the night before. No villager got killed and until today I do not know if any of the Communist even got killed. And the penghulu (village headman) went about managing the village in the day time as though nothing happened the night before. In fact in the day time it was very safe in the village then, the village folks just went about their business, planting padi or tapping rubber trees.

The penghulu (village headman) must have been a brave man, and the British liked him. In fact in some ways he tried to please the British by being very good to them and speaking in a soft tone to the British and to the villagers, just like the English speaking their language in the colonies.

In the neighbouring village, the same thing happened and again to the best of my knowledge no fatalities occurred, even though the Communists attacked that penghulu’s (village headman) house more often than that at our village. Now this penghulu (village headman) was more dignified looking, he had been given a revolver and an armed bodyguard by the British. He used to dress like the British, white shorts, white shirt, white stocking up to just below the knees, walking with a walking stick (British gait), hair well greased and combed back, and sometimes wearing a hat, but in most cases wearing a songkok ( the Malay velvet head gear). He was on a higher wanted list than the penghulu (village headman) of my village. This neighbouring penghulu (village headman) guy was a proper coloured colonial whiteman then.

Our two villages were the model pro-British village in the Administrative District then.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Abdullah Munshi

The voyage of Abdullah, translated by AE Coope.

This book gives insights into what the States of Pahang, Trengganu, and Kelantan were like in about AD 1838. These States are all now in the new country called Malaysia.

I wish to just quote a few paragraphs from the book.

“I saw that the country of Pahang looked like an orchard; there were no market places or shopping centres; nor were there any regular paths, except in Kampong China where there was a practicable path about 100 yards long. I was sorry to see how neglected and overgrown the country was owing to the laziness and slackness of the people. But anything you sow or plant will grow, and all the trees looked fruitful”

“As for the people, as far as I could see, not one in ten did any work; the majority of them loafed about all day in poverty and vice. And each man carried four or five kinds of weapons and never parted from them”

“There were some who liked to make themselves smart and wore fine jackets and trousers, but they did not earn their living by work”

“Many of them were thin and pale – obvious opium smokers”.

"The people’s houses were all made of thatch; some were large and some small, all of them on dry land. The surroundings of the houses were thick with undergrowth, and they were sighted higgledy-piggledy, some in the jungle, some on the shore. Some of the compounds were fenced, some not; each man followed his own fancy. There were clusters of houses at intervals all along the river front”

“Under the houses was a lot of filth; each house had under it a puddle and piles of rubbish; when one entered a house, the stink seemed to fill one’s nose. Some people just let the undergrowth grow. Some lit smudges every day under the house to smoke out mosquitoes; if one went into these houses, one at once had achoking feeling and ones eyes watered and smarted”

The question is, has the above changed?

Of Trengganu he said,

"I question the Head of Customs …………".

“’There is no market at this time of day,’ he said. ‘The market is held only in the evening. As regards the laws of the country, you must not keep an umbrella up when passing the house of a Raja. And you must not wear shoes or yellow clothes of fine muslin. All these are absolutely forbidden’”

“But when it comes to prohibitions which are sensible and beneficial to mankind, nothing is said! What about the smoking of opium, which ruins people! What about all the different kinds of gambling that go on, and bad customs learned from the Chinese! There is no doubt that they ruin the people, but they are not forbidden”.

“What about clothes stiff with dirt, not washed for four or five months! (Full of lice too – sit awhile and catch some lice as you sit!) That is not forbidden.”

“And all through the town there are puddles and rubbish and filth and undergrowth full of snakes and almost high enough to harbour tigers. But that does not matter!”

“The houses were scattered about without order or arrangement; each man had built as pleased, and the fences of compounds were not aligned. The houses were high and thatched, and surrounded were filthy, and under the houses was rubbish and also stagnant water. Most of the houses had piles of coconut husks under them; they used to light it with at night to smoke out the mosquitoes. All around the houses were coconuts. In each cluster of houses was a chapel, also thatched.”

“The houses had no regular frontage; some had their backs to the path, some their front, some were built on a line with it; in some places the path between the houses was so narrow that one could only squeeze through.”

“The people’s clothes were poor and dirty, and their persons were unclean. But everyone carried four of five javelins and a kris and cutlass. Their work consists of carrying weapons hither and thither! It is the women who sell in the market and act as hawkers and do all the work necessary for the earning of a living. But the men are drones; they eat and sleep and repair their weapons – that is they do.”

Has the custom changed todate?

On Kelantan then.

“The shore was thick with thousands of people, all armed; every man had six or seven javelin, a chopper or cutlass or sword, and a kris at his waist; some had guns – they bristled like the branches of dead trees.”

“I notice that among all those thousands of men there were none really fair skinned; one or two were fairly light-brown, the rest quite black.”

And later in the book,

“As we went along I saw many trees which had been shattered or had their branches broken by shot; some indeed had collapse. And many houses had been riddled with shots”

“In distance the cannon roared uncreasingly”
“On top of the fortification were two large cannons which were continually firing and registering hit on the Bendahara’s house”

And the stories in Kelantan was most interesting.

Nothing really has changed in all the three States, except that now instead of using weapons, they use political will.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Another artist

This morning when passing the Shell Fountain at Kuantan Town (Malaysia) I happened to see some painting being displayed. I stopped to take a look and found them to be good (at least to me). One showing Munshi Abdullah, famous both in Malaysia and Singapore, arriving in Trengganu (Malaysia) in his book Kesah Pelayaran Abdullah (a must read book called 'The Voyage of Abdullah' translated by A.E. Coope, The Lotus Library, Oxford University Press 1967).

And another a Malay worrier named Abd Rahman Limbong showing he was about to fight the British soldiers in the early days of Trengganu (Malaysia). Those soldiers happened to be mostly Malays recruited by the British then.

And the artist was Osman bin Limat, a local artist.

He told me that he had been an artist for a long time, probably one of the first few who started the artist Association in Kuantan (Malaysia). I have no mean to confirm that. But his work was good.

Kuantan (Malaysia) seems to have quite a few artist, good ones they are. I am familiar with Ismail Hussein a book where I have included many of his art work, at Hyatt Regency Hotel by the Kuantan (Malaysia) beach. Earlier I wrote in my blog about him.

And recently about Mohd Noor a new comer in the local art world, I am told.

My earlier blog on an artist in Kuantan (Malaysia) was on Artist Mee .

I am sure this meeting with Osman, the artist will not be the last meeting with good artist of Kuantan Town (Malaysia).


Tuesday, July 8, 2008

wasps again

(Click on the posting heading to see the previous story on wasps)

The story of red wasp seems to present itself in real life. We discovered a red wasp nest right in front of our windows, of our apartment in Kuantan (Malaysia).

It was about the size of a soccer ball.

And it was active, and may grow bigger if allowed to remain there. However it was to be noted that the insects built the nest on a stalk of a palm leave, so it was not on a very strong support. The stalk of the palm leave may give away due to the weight of the wasp nest (the weight will increase as the size of the nest grows) or that the palm leaves may die when the stalk of those leaves at the bottom dies (one after the other, in a series normally) and falls off. If either event happens the nest falls off (together with the stalk and the leaves), then we the residents of the apartments will be in such a danger of being attacked and stung by these wasps. Actually in such a panic situation the wasp will attack anything that moves, and we human tend to move about out in our daily activities.

We informed the local Fire Brigade (in Malaysia its called The Fire and Rescue Department), whom we were told would be the right Department to report to, that morning when we discovered the wasps’ nest. They came when it was dark (normally wasps cannot see its target in the dark, we are told), unprepared as they were, they managed to get some rags and a pole, and they burned down the wasps nest.

The next morning I took these photographs.

The wasps casualty.

The next, in one of the nest's layers (looking like a bees nest), still having some of the live larva inside, and a wasp trying to salvage the nest.

A closer look at the dead larva on the ground next to the burnt nest.

And looking up I could still see a few of the live wasps trying to locate the nest at the palm stalk, they are dangerous now, they will seek revenge.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

After being ignored.

After seemingly ignored of maintenance for sometime (long time in fact), and the Kuantan (Malaysia) Town Council has left it seemingly to rot, the Medan Pelancong (Tourist Square) of Kuantan (Malaysia) has now resigned to its fate of going to be turned into a locality of a hotel (of international standard?)

Many of us who were in Kuantan (Malaysia) or have grown up in Kuantan (Malaysia) in the 70s would have remembered how popular Medan Pelancong (Tourist Square) Kuantan was. All the nice/and good Malay restaurants

and all the Malay souvenir shops were there.

What I remembered most were the big udang galah (river prawns) in those Malay restaurants, and they were cheap in those days. Nowadays udang galah (river prawns) are only eaten by the rich and the famous (and mostly only available in Japanese Restaurants in Kuala Lumpur).

Local (Malaysian) newspapers have mentioned that Medan Pelancong (Tourist Square) Kuantan will no longer be there by about the end of this year, most probably. It will be torn down to make ways for a hotel (of international standard?) to be built there, so the news say.

What will happen to the tenants there? According to the report they have already been asked to shift out or move (to a more expensive areas, for the rich and famous?).

I just do not know why the Kuantan (Malaysia) Town Council (MPK) does not make complexes like Pasar Payang in Trengganu (Malaysia) or Pasar Siti Khatijah in Kota Baharu (Kelantan, Malaysia) for the these Malays tenants who were in the Medan Pelanacong (Tourist Square) as an alternative site for them to do business. Or for tourists (in Malaysia today the State of Pahang always talk about being a destination for tourists) to Kuantan (Malaysia) to go to buy local products, just like what are available in Pasar Payang (Trengganu, Malaysia) or Pasar Siti Khatijah in Kota Baharu (Kelantan Malaysia) or even like Pekan Rabu in Alor Setar (a northern town in the State of Kedah, Malaysia). Kuantan is seen only to be built to cater for the rich and famous, so it seems.

These photos are what the deplorable state the Medan Pelancong (Tourist Square) Kuantan looks like today. Just for the scrap book. Maybe all these will be gone tomorrow......just a memory.