Saturday, 15 September 2012

Redoing all the pictures

Just found out that which was what I used to make the slide shows for all the Celebrate Malaysia ride posts has closed down and I’ve lost all the slide shows. Fortunately I’ve got the pictures organised in folders so I’ll go back and add in individual shots for all those posts.

A bit of work, but worth the effort I think.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Me and Mark go roadtripping Part 5

Amaranathan attended school at La Salle with me though we weren’t very close then. Quite understandably we lost touch thereafter and it wasn’t until many years later that we bumped into each other again. I had decided to take Mark up to PJ by overnight train, just to give him the experience and for me to relive some of mine.

It was on an overnight train that I had made my very first trip to Singapore in 1980 and in subsequent years I often rode the old steel wagons between my old and new homes.

Stepping off the train at KL Railway Station that morning with Mark, I heard someone call out my name and turned to see a vaguely familiar face who introduced himself as my ex-schoolmate Amaranathan. Amaran, as he was typically called, was working temporarily in Singapore and was making his weekend trip back to Melaka to be with his wife and family. We’d been on the same train and he’d spotted and recognised me as we disembarked.

A gynaecologist, he had gotten himself attached to the KK Women and Children’s Hospital in Singapore for 6 months, just to get more experience. We met up in Singapore quite often after that and became good friends. When I cycled through Melaka in 2007 I dropped by and celebrated one of his children’s birthdays as well.

Now whenever I go through Melaka I try to meet up with him and my other good friend, Singam. I couldn’t get the two together this time so decided to meet Amaran at night and Singam in the morning. That evening Mark and I drove along the coast up to Bert’s which I used to dine/drink at occasionally some years ago. It’s a nice restaurant/pub by the sea - a seaside bungalow with a large wooden deck right out onto the seashore, large trees in the garden, good food and cold beer.

That night I was corrected by one of the staff - Geragau is not pronounced ‘Grago’ as I thought, but is indeed ‘Ge-Rah-Gow’. We ordered that and some other food and a few beers and had an easy, pleasant evening.

Bert’s was almost a victim of the land reclamation works - when once it sat comfortably by the sea, with the waves lapping against the stilts upon which the wooden deck was built, it suddenly found itself some distance back, beached on the dry sands the reclamation works had suddenly transformed that part of the sea into. I have no idea how they managed it and don’t really want to ask, but they somehow contrived to have a breech made and like magic, a lagoon was formed and although the waves no longer come in like they used to, water is once again prettily a few feet from you when you sit down for dinner.

Amaran and Mark at Bert's

I fear I might have sidelined my dear son a little, as Amaran and I got reminiscing then discussing the current Malaysian situation. Within what seemed like minutes, we’d finished dinner, knocked back a few drinks (not too many as I had to drive) and caught up in that relaxed manner good friends do.
We got back late, were thankful for the private secured carpark and eventually hit the sack ready to get up early for our breakfast with Singam.

Singam arrived the next morning and we strolled off for breakfast at Saravanan, a popular banana-leaf rice place in town. Breakfast was like Chapter 2 of the night before without the meat and the beer, but with all the friendship and good conversation I’ve come to treasure from my friends in Melaka. A walk along the back lane led us back to the Baba House and eventually our own exploring later that morning.

The riverside from the backs of some shops

An old shophouse with a new shop inside

We drove off to Kampung Ayer Salak a place Singam introduced to me in 2007. It’s an interesting village - a Catholic Village in fact, built on land owned or managed by the Catholic Church. Everywhere you turn, there are signs of this village’s religious affiliation. One of the largest of this is the statue of the Virgin Mary built on a slope at a quiet road junction. Mark and I stopped to have a look and this was the first time I noticed that Mary was standing on a serpent. Mark told me that’s how she’s often portrayed.

The statue of Mary showing her stepping on a serpent.

We drove around a bit and then stopped at the St Mary’s Church and Kindergarten. On these sprawling grounds were a small school, an old church, a newer one, a basketball court and a large grotto. Stunning blue skies framed this scene and I thought it was such a beautiful place to attend kindergarten in. Certainly the memories of those first few schooling/play years would be wonderful ones.

The old church

The inside of the new church

The Grotto

The old church

A wider shot showing the new church on the left, the main school buidling on the right and the Grotto in the middle

At Montfort.

Singam is on the board of the Montfort Youth Centre and I told mark how my father used to help out with the one in KL too. We once visited and I remember noticing how nice the young boys there were and how earnest they seemed. My Dad explained then that they knew this was their last chance of making something of their lives and they worked hard at it. Youth probably have much wider horizons now, but the complex times they face must surely be the same. Tough situations lead to some poor decisions and places like Montfort serve an important role in helping pick up lives that have perhaps gone too far down the wrong path.

Kampung Ayer Salak is a peaceful and calming contrast to our typical hustle-and-bustle neighbourhoods and I’ve always enjoyed an hour or two here. But soon the call of food became more strident - not hunger but, shamefully probably gluttony (considering our surroundings) was the culprit I think… We drove back to Melaka town and found Sun May Hiong open and bustling.

The staff recognised Mark and I from the evening before and laughingly brought us our food. And oh what glorious food… I’ll wager no one makes Satay as tasty as this. Apologies to those who don’t eat pork, but the satay here is simply fantastic. The succulence of the meat, the texture and tenderness of the liver, the simple flavour of the pineapple-laced sauce, the smokiness from the charcoal pit… mmmmmmMark agreed…

I took the scenic route back and tried to retrace some of my bike route back but missed the steep cemetery-adorned hills around Batu Pahat. We didn’t miss the 2-storey high trishaw on the border though. Some hours later we were back in Singapore.

It was too short a trip, but in this day and age we take what we can. 4 days might be shorter than ideal, but it’s longer than no-days and for that I’m grateful. Almost as grateful for how despite some foolishness on my part, my son is turning out to be a fine young man. Warm, friendly, creative, intelligent, sometimes moody (though not on this trip) in the way many similarly-talented people are, kind and patient with his old man, I’m learning how to be a friend and less a father and I’m relishing it.

Me and Mark go roadtripping Part 4

I like Melaka. I like its easy confidence in its culture and history and its informality. I like how the old fits in with the new and I like how you can just wander around for hours and make friends so easily. I like how you can find something for yourself, no matter if you’re looking for a drinking-hole tucked away in a corner or a more middle-class eatery by the river.

All this is on the menu in Melaka, sometimes despite the worst  efforts of politicians, cvil servants and planners. Like almost everywhere else in Malaysia, Melaka is not without fault - one of which would be the need for land reclamation. Still, it remains one of my favourite destinations.

And talking about menus, you can find quite an array of cuisines here of course and after dabbling with and abandoning some - like Ikan Bakar where the hype is better than the actual thing - I have a few favourites now. The last trip with Mei and my in-laws unearthed one or two more, but generally I promised Mark some Satay Babi and some Eurasian/Portugese food.

We had booked into the Baba House, a hotel I’ve stayed in many times before. It’s not swanky but the location along Heeren Street is unbeatable, and there’s a free car park. Add to that now the free wifi too and you’ve got a fantastic mix.

Mark in the lounge area of the Baba House.

First thing we did after settling in was to go for a walk. The new riverside project has prettied up the river banks at the expense of a few things, but it’s quite a nice stroll now and that’s what we did before going past that swanky new condo/hotel/retail thing called Casa del Rio. I must say they’ve done a decent enough job with this place and the river-facing side has restaurants and clubs which, as we strolled past, were in the process of opening for the evening and night.

We walked along the new esplanade and into the Kota Laksamana area where Sun May Hiong’s Satay Babi shop is… only to discover the owners closing up for the day. A quick chat ascertained they would be open for lunch the next day so we were not to be disappointed.

We walked back and that’s when we discovered Melaka now has a revolving tower. A tall thin tower was the spine of a revolving elevator whose glass sides gave a panoramic view of Melaka city and the surroundings. I thought it was a rather clever idea.

As we walked I pointed out various landmarks, some of a personal nature and others of historical significance. We imagined what it must have been like in the old days when Melaka was a bustling port and the centre of an empire and when the Portugese then the Dutch and finally the English colonists came and waged war. The river we crossed would have been a hive of activity as well as probably a scene of bloodshed at various points in the last 600 years.

The banks of the river now are a great place to enjoy a stroll. Or a sit-down-and-look-at-the-map-to-figure-out-where-we-are moment...

A new development called Casa del Rio

I have no idea what this fake water wheel is all about...

This dragon floats in the air above the little roundabout. 

The rivercruises have been modernised. You can see the spine of the tower in the background.

Mark near the main roundabout near Christ Church and the Stadhuys.

I've never figured out what this building is along Heeren St. It's set back some ways and looks very nice.

The Cheng Ho Museum was already closed at this point in the early evening so we went past and up the hill. Just outside St Paul’s Church is the statue of St Francis Xavier with his right hand broken off. In Goa, his right forearm - the arm used to baptise and bless his followers - was detached and placed elsewhere. In Melaka, a tree fell across the statue and broke off the right hand in eerie synchronicity…

We wandered around the church and the nearby cemetery, trying to soak in the atmosphere of the place and what it must have been like years ago. I sometimes wish I had had a better History education and that somehow my teachers had made History out to be more exciting. Because that’s what it is to me now - when I vista old places, I imagine the sights and sounds and smells of the place years ago. Melaka is a huge repository of history. Sleepy village, bustling port, centre of an empire, colonial territory, it’s seen it all and sometimes as I wander its streets I wish there was a wormhole or a tear in the fabric of space-time that would allow me a momentary step into what it was 300, 400, 500 years ago…

Mark on the way up to St Paul's Church. The statue of St Francis Xavier with the broken hand can be seen in the background.

Mark at the last remaining gateway at A Famosa.

 Mark reading some inscriptions on a burial chamber.

 The resting place of St Francis Xavier before his body was moved to Goa.

At the bottom of the hill was another museum - does Melaka have the highest concentration of museums in one town centre? - and a motley collection of planes, trains and automobiles. We clambered into the railway engine and found it surprisingly intact. The cabins on either end were dusty, cobwebby and rusty but still had most of the controls in place. The large diesel engine sat in the middle and there was a narrow corridor on either side of this engine through which the driver or engineer could move. It must have been a noisy, throbbing environment with little by way of creature comforts.

A couple of planes and even an airport fire tender represented the rest of the display and standing beneath the twin-engined propeller plane made me marvel how fragile these early airliners looked.

This area was a concreted and tiled area but smack in the middle of the area was a large hole in the ground, barricaded with railings. The excavation revealed some crumbly stonework in the ground and we later discovered these were the remains of the fort that once stood here. Works had revealed these centuries’ old archeological remains and to the credit of the Melaka authorities, all work stopped and the area became a tourist spot instead. I told Mark how it was the same in Rome and that is why you see so few high-rise buildings there - if the builders had unearthed anything, they would have had to stop work and the project would grind to a halt.

We wandered back to the hotel, going through Jonker Street and past The Orangutan House where we'd shopped a little earlier. This is one of my favourite T-Shirt places and I love the work of Charles Chiam who has now returned to Malaysia after years away in Hungary. Both Mark and I bought a few shirts including a couple of ‘I’m Hot’ ones for Mei and Megan.

We rested a bit before setting off for dinner with my old friend Amaranathan.

More on my Melaka friends in the final part.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Me and Mark go roadtripping Part 3

What is it about a simple burger, done simply, that is just so delicious. I bet it’s that darned Planta margarine they use. I shudder to think of the effect it has on my arteries but, hey, I only enjoy them a couple of times a year if that, so I’m not worried.

I have no idea how the name came about as the owner’s surname is Han. The current proprietor started the business sometime in the 60s I think, hawking burgers and hotdogs at the nearby Taman Jaya - all from the back of his bicycle. This Han took over at some point as they went from a bicycle to a motorcycle and then to a van. They stopped the mobile business, parking the van outside their house in Section 14 and only moving the van a hundred metres or so every now and then in order to satisfy the town council officers on their rounds. Malaysia Boleh!

The Hans remember me as the guy who’s always taking pictures and who sometimes takes out two foldable chairs from the boot of his Singapore-registered car, plants them down under the tree (now sadly pruned) and makes himself comfortable while enjoying a burger or two.

James, Mark and I finally got our fill, sans folding chairs. Just thinking and writing about Jackson burgers now is getting me hungry for them again…

We also managed to take the dogs for a walk around the neighbourhood and to take a walk down to Raju’s for breakfast one morning. This is a PJ institution of course and all La Sallians have a tale or two to tell about the place. Whether it was hanging out there smoking surreptitiously, or pontenging (playing truant) mere metres form the school, or having serious discussions with schoolmates, or just having a meal (they weren’t so expensive in those days), Raju’s history is tied inextricably with those of SMK La Salle PJ and the hordes of La Sallians who trooped through the school in the last 40 or 50 years.

To be honest I have no love for the shop - the way Raju and then his son/nephew/whoever treated their workers and their general arrogance in dealing with their retail neighbours and so on doesn’t sit well with me. However, I thought Mark would enjoy the experience and could probably put up with his old man going on with some of the tales about Raju’s.

I must admit that one thing Raju has going for it is the general ambience - after they cemented over the large drain and made the outdoor seating area, it is now a rather comfortable spot to enjoy some rotis and teh tarik. I reckon you get better food in Brickfields and some other PJ restaurants but with the exception of Kanna’s in Section 17 (near Section 19) the ambience can’t be beat. I also think Kanna’s has much better food, but you can’t walk there from the PJ house so Raju’s it was that morning.

The PJ part of the trip was very much to meet family so we didn’t do much exploring. We didn’t have much time and there was only a day or so in Melaka and we were determined to make the best use of that.

More in Part 4. Meanwhile, enjoy the pictures…
James and Mark on our morning walk to Raju's. Section 5 PJ is still, thankfully, reasonably lush.
Under the trees at Raju's. Tony Pua in the background - I had a quick chat with him
One of the 2 rows of shops known as Chantek Shops, named after the road they're on. Only Raju's and one Dobi remain from my childhood times. My friend used to live in this corner unit - Malaysia Dobi it was - but it's now some art gallery. Even the corner Indian provision shop is gone.

The old tree has been pruned so he's moved the van a few metres down.


Simple. Delicious.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Me and Mark go roadtripping Part 2

When I was a kid, hanging around with most of my cousins meant it was either the school holidays or the festive season. During the school holidays it was common for some of us to be shipped out to spend a week or so at a cousin’s, or for one of the other 38 n my generation (yes, we’re a big family!) to stay over with us.

Sometimes too we would go away for a few days - Port Dickson being a particular favourite in those days.

My Mum’s and Dad’s families were spread mostly through the PJ and KL areas though we had aunts and uncles in Perak, Melaka, Penang, Pahang and Terengganu too at one point. I guess I was close to a handful of cousins but even then we didn’t see each other that often so the holidays or festive occasions were great fun.

When Mark, Megan and Michael were younger we used to bring them up to PJ where they could hang around with Rosemary’s kids, James and Joanna. Generally a splendid time was had by all, as the Beatles would sing, and I like to think that my own fond memories of the PD trips were echoed by the PJ trips for my kids.

The kids now have more ways to stay in contact with each other now - Facebook being a primary point of contact - but I think it’s still rather a fun time when Mark, Megan and Michael go up and spend some time with their cousins, James and Joanna. Time moves on as do people, and James and Joanna are now studying overseas so it’s much rarer for them all to meet up. Still, we were fortunate that both were back and that Mark managed to get the leave necessary to do this trip just then.

My Mum’s battle with Dementia and Parkinson’s continues and she gets sufficient care for the most part. She has good days and not so good days and when we were there she was a little tired but reasonably alert. At least she had a pretty good appetite and that’s always a reassuring sign.

My Mum having dinner.

An appetite was what we needed and we displayed it in ample quantity over the next two days.

A trip with Mark to get my favourite Jackson’s Burgers ended fruitless but chendolled… Jackson’s was closed but a Chendol stall down the road wasn’t so Mark and I indulged. The chendol was so-so but it was nice once again to be able to sit under a tree next to a mobile hawker stall. It’s little things like this that can be so pleasurable.

If there’s one thing that identifies Malaysians, it is our ability to almost immediately be at ease with a stranger, and to make friends. I found this out with the numerous people I met at various gerais all down the west coast of the Peninsula, and although I find cities to be more rushed and aggressive, you can still set yourself down at a chendol stall and make friends within minutes.

 Yes I know the spoon looks large but that's because I shot it from close up and it distorted it. You can see there's stuff in the chendol which isn't normally there and which I think detracts form the taste. Still, it was not too bad.

Mark is into board games now, as are his cousins, apparently so they whipped out something called Munchkin Quest which Mark had brought up form Singapore and were at it that evening. I stayed clear - these things confuse me…

The next day passed in a blur of food (wantan mee, yong tau fu, roti chanai, Ipoh-style chicken rice) and some board games. The kids ditched Munchkin Quest to include me in Risk - a game I do like - and we promptly had a lesson in politics. First we manoeuvred so James destroyed his sister, then Mark and I ganged up and whalloped James after which I kicked my son’s butt. Champion of the world! ha ha!

 I like this shop in PJ New Town for breakfast, not because the food here is the best but because it's a very pleasant mix of decent service, variety and ambience. Cool, shady trees give you shelter not just form the heat but from the hustle and bustle too.
 Wantan & Pai Kuat Mee the way I like it.
Yong Tau Fu

Oh, we did get our helping of Jackson’s Burgers and mmmmmm they were too… More in part 3...

Forever Falls - a day trip to Selama in Perak

Fishing in Oil Palm Estates It seems this part of Perak is all about waterfalls. We’d seen signboards for so many in our recent travel...