Splendour and Mystique of Malaysian Small Towns

Batu Gajah and Kuala Kangsar in Perak
Reflections and monuments of a bygone era

My wife and I embarked on yet another road trip on Valentine’s Day in February 2020. It was to two relatively famous small towns in our distant past in the former tin mining state of Perak. In those colonial days, Perak was a very important state in Malaya. Our economy at independence depended chiefly on tin and rubber.

Small towns can sometimes be boring and dull depending on your perspective. At other times, if you are a keen history buff, then a visit to such towns can be a joyful and enlightening experience.

Interesting Names of Towns

Batu Gajah ( or Stone Elephant in Malay ) and Kuala Kangsar ( derived from  Karong- Sa ) which means  ‘ 99 tributaries which flow into the Perak River are quaint towns which still retain much of their charms and lovely historic buildings.

For the record, Batu Gajah is reported to have a population of 120,000 in the district and Kuala Kangsar is said to have a much smaller population of around 50,000. Kuala Kangsar is also designated as the Royal Town in Perak and HRH the Sultan of Perak has his official, impressive residence or Istana ( Palace ) in Kuala Kangsar.

Batu Gajah District Hospital

C-HospitalBatuGajah
Hospital Batu Gajah

The Batu Gajah District Hospital was built in 1880 to cater to two communities i.e. the Europeans and the locals. European patients were treated in the European section while Asians were treated in the other section. It was the public hospital for the well-known Kinta district of Perak. It was built on a tableland called Changkat by the locals.

It is a fine and lasting tribute to the builders of that era that the buildings housing the hospital are still in use almost 140 years later – and they still look gorgeous.

I remember the Kuala Lumpur General Hospital looking somewhat like that in the past but given its importance as the nation’s capital, the hospital in Kuala Lumpur now has a more modern look.

However, this district hospital now only has 2nd Class and 3rd Class wards for patients. According to Stephen Dorairaj Sinnappan, a stalwart of the This is Batu Gajah special interest group on Facebook this is probably because of the need to serve the poorer sections of the community. There have been no 1st Class wards at this hospital for over forty years!

Imposing Old Court House

C-Old Court House Batu Gajah
Imposing Old Court House

Another imposing building that still stands tall literally is the Old Court House in Batu Gajah. It was constructed in 1897 and is still in regular use. This fine building appears to be in good condition externally and hopefully will continue to serve as a courthouse for many more years.

It is buildings such as these that help to evoke memories of a distant and oftentimes mysterious past. For the British, it was a glorious era when that country ruled almost half the world! For the Malayans then, it was a period of colonisation and with it came so many forms of subjugation and discrimination.

To be fair, the British did leave us with a fine education system and many schools of excellence in all the major cities of Malaya. For instance, Victoria Institution and St John’s Institution in KL as well as Free School and St Xavier’s Institution in Penang. They also left us with a sound administrative system and a legal and judicial system of some high standing.

St Joseph’s Church in Batu Gajah

C-St. Joseph's Church Batu Gajah
St Joseph’s Church in Batu Gajah

Another formidable, impressive and stately building in Batu Gajah is St Joseph’s Church. As you approach it, it looks imposing and solid. It also seems to be well maintained, with a good coat of cream coloured paint. The church is in regular use by its loyal Catholic members.

It is situated in spacious and well-spruced grounds and right across the church is a large St Joseph’s Community Centre. I understand children go there for religious classes on a regular basis. It is also used for meetings and seminars and appears to provide some sleeping quarters too for attendees.

William Kellie’s Castle in Batu Gajah

C-KellysFolly
Kellie’s Folly

This building is now a ‘ must-see sight ‘ when anyone is in the Kinta Valley. It is being actively promoted by tourism authorities both at the federal and state levels. It is still a magnificent structure, built in a Moorish / Roman style, in its present unfinished form.

Kellie’s Castle is sometimes also known as Kellie’s Folly because of what befell the owner of that unfinished castle. William Kellie-Smith was initially a civil engineer who built many of the roads in Batu Gajah.

He later switched professions and became a planter as Malaya’s booming rubber industry took off in those heady years. But this proud Scot did not seem to get on well with the other English officials in the civil service as well as with fellow European entrepreneurs. At the height of his success as a businessman, he wanted to build a castle for two reasons: as a gift for his wife and also to spite the others who were envious of his successes.

Workers, Bricks and Marble from India

Kellie imported bricks and marble from India and Tamil workers from Madras ( now known as Chennai ). The building was almost three quarters completed before disaster struck. A raging disease took a toll on his workers and many died as a result.

He persuaded the other workers to move a distance away and promised to build a Hindu temple for them. He kept the promise and did build that still lovely and well-maintained temple. As a tribute to him, the local Hindus constructed a small statue of him and placed it high on the outside of the temple wall.

The other reason for abandoning the project was because his business suffered quite a bit. He also died unexpectedly while on a return sea voyage to Malaya. The jungle soon covered the castle and the building was quickly forgotten. It is only in recent times that an effort was made to restore Kellie’s Castle to its rightful place in Malaysian folklore.

These towns have their own personalities and interesting stories to tell if only we care to listen.

A trio of Exquisite Buildings in Kuala Kangsar

We were lucky to see, appreciate and marvel at the architecture and radiant beauty of a trio of exquisite buildings in Kuala Kangsar during this road trip. I do wonder whether this has anything to do with the fact that Kuala Kangsar is the Royal Town of Perak!

Official Residence of the Ruler

The first of these buildings is Istana ( Palace ) Iskandariah, the official residence of HRH the Sultan of Perak. It is situated on top of a sprawling hillock in a lovely part of the town. The huge palace sits majestically in the centre of the grounds which are well manicured and landscaped to give it that air of grace and serenity.

The whole area surrounding the palace is a sort of well maintained public garden or park where both locals and visitors can walk about at a leisurely pace while admiring the beauty of the palace.

Palace of Memories

C-Palace of Memories Kuala Kangsar
Palace of Memories

Close by is another treasure. This is Istana Kenangan or Palace of Memories. This is a much smaller palace that served another purpose earlier on.

This unique building is an amazingly well designed and attractive palace. It is local architecture at its best at that time. It was built using wood and no metal nail was used in its construction. Another material used was bamboo which was woven expertly into diamond-shaped patterns.

From an aerial view, it is said that the palace is shaped like a keris ( a curved dagger ). From our vantage point, just a few feet away, it was breathtakingly stunning.

Ubadiah Mosque

C-Ubaidah Mosque Kuala Kangsar
Ubadiah mosque

This mosque is made of marble and huge gold domes and is situated in the same area as the other buildings that I mentioned earlier on. It is also next to the Bukit Chandan Royal Mausoleum.

It is reported to be one of the prettiest mosques in the country. Having seen it at close quarters, I think that claim is a fair statement.

Other Buildings Worthy of Mention

There are two other buildings that caught my eye. I drove past Clifford School, Kuala Kangsar twice just to be sure. It is such a beautiful building and in very good form that I was just blown away to discover that such a treasure does exist even after one hundred and twenty-three years!

C-Clifford School Kuala Kangsar
Clifford School Kuala Kangsar

The school was named after the distinguished personality who had the honour of officially opening the school. He was Sir Hugh Clifford, British Colonial Governor of the Straits Settlements at that time. The school was also known as a Government English School.

The other building that merits a mention is the very small, cute Anglican Church of the Resurrection in Kuala Kangsar. It was consecrated as a church in 1908 and it sits right across the road from Clifford School.

C-Anglican Church Kuala Kangsar
Anglican church

It has a distinctive red roof and is easily noticed. It immediately reminded me of that famous television series ‘ Little House of the Prairie ‘. It can accommodate at most about fifty to eight attendees. That is just my guess.

We had also wanted to visit the well known Victoria Bridge but this was not to be because of time constraints. We also missed out seeing the Pavilion Tower both in Kuala Kangsar.

All in all, sightseeing trips on federal roads that we normally do not travel on is a very interesting way to see and better appreciate such small towns. These towns have their own personalities and interesting stories to tell if only we care to listen. The beauty and grandeur of some of the old buildings is something worth preserving for future generations.

 

Silk Routes of Southern XinJiang

On Roads Less Travelled

This is the second guest post published on my blog. It is by Patricia Lim-Morais, a specialist teacher ( educational technology ) and it is on her recent travels through the Silk Roads. Patricia speaks three languages – Bahasa Malaysia, English, and Kristang.”

I have always been intrigued by the Silk Routes taken by the early traders from Europe to China. So when this opportunity turned up, I did not hesitate to sign up.

This journey took place in mid-October 2019 for 13 days. My small group traveled to the legendary cities of Kashgar and Kuqa, the two largest Uygur and Muslim communities of Xinjiang. On the way, we passed through the towns of Tashkorgan, Aksu, Xayar, Luntai, Korla, Turpan and Urumqi.

The tree lined street of Kashgar
tree-lined street of Kashgar
The walled ancient city of Kashgar
the walled ancient city of Kashgar
city of Urumqi
city of Urumqi

The journey began with a long flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing via Singapore. From Beijing, we flew to Kashgar via Urumqi. It took one and a half days of flying and transiting at airports to get to Kashgar.

Tree-Lined Streets Of The Cities

Beautiful canyons of China
beautiful canyons of China

The cities we passed through, some of which have a population of 500,000, looked new with broad four-lane streets. There was also a dedicated lane for scooters and an inner lane for pedestrians.

These were electric scooters and they were very silent as they pass you by. The buildings and streets in the city all look new and have the same, boring architectural design. What impressed me most was how clean and beautiful the tree-lined streets were.

Reassuring Presence of the Police

Traffic was light and at traffic junctions, there was the presence of police. In fact, the presence of police is clearly visible everywhere, not forgetting the CCTV cameras in many areas.  Their presence tells you that you are being watched and monitored all the time.

Kashgar is a very dusty city as there is always a cloud of dust or sand hanging over the city. The sand blows in from the Gobi Desert. As you travel down the street you will notice that the trees and cars are covered in a layer of dust or fine sand.

At night the city is lit up like fairyland.

We drove into Taklamakan, China’s largest desert, the nearby Tianshan Mystic Grand Canyon and also the Tarim River Euphrates Poplar National Nature Reserve across Luntai county. Here the poplar trees turn a lovely chrome yellow in autumn. Large groups of locals would visit these parks during this season. In fact, while we were there, we noticed most of the tourists who came in busloads were people from various parts of China. Apart from us, there were no others.

Impressive Karakoram Highway

A drive to Tashkorgan, a Tajik natives county located on Pamir Plateau along the impressive Karakoram Highway took us to the foot of the Pamir Mountains surrounded by the three highest peaks. Here we saw the azure Lake Karakul, a jewel among the harshest landscapes in west of Xinjiang. This lake is located at an altitude of 3652m above sea level and is 200km from Kashgar.

We took pills to combat high altitude sickness. We were advised to breathe slowly and to stop talking. Three people, however, took ill halfway up, two of whom recovered sufficiently to continue the journey.  One person, however, had enough and decided to return to Kashgar.

Five Star and Four Star Hotels

The five-star hotels were really grand and the stay there was comfortable. The hotel rooms and bathrooms were big and came with clean white towels, bedsheets and adequate bathroom toiletries.

The supposedly four-star hotels were not great and were a letdown. In fact, in one of the local hotels, we experienced a blackout half an hour after we checked in. Electricity was restored only to go off again after another half hour. The rooms, however, were comfortable.

The hotel breakfasts were mostly bland Chinese fare with some beef bacon, eggs, sausages, bread, and pastries. In the local hotels, we had only a limited selection of Chinese fare and hard-boiled eggs.

Interesting Sights in Kashgar

We had an English speaking guide of Han descent by the name of Alfred as our tour guide.

On the first day in Kashgar, he took us around the city, to the Id Kah Mosque and the tomb of Abakhja family. We also visited an Uygur family and spent some time touring the Night Food Market. The food market here is just like our ‘Pasar Malam’ ( Night Market ) where all kinds of food, as well as fruits (fresh and dried), were sold. There were also stalls selling local fare like ‘pilaf’ with mutton or lamb and huge pieces of bread like naan baked in a tandoor.

Morning market scene
morning market scene

 

 

The animal market held on a sunday
animal market held on a Sunday

The payment was done in yuan only. No credit cards were accepted. We were told that Kashgar, the most western city of China is 200km from the borders of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afganistan, and Pakistan. One can also understand why the Uygurs look more Caucasian than Chinese.

Uygur musicians
Uygur musicians

Security Measures are Taken Seriously

Border security is tight when going through each city. We had to pass through a security checkpoint each time we entered and exited the city. These checkpoints are manned by the police who are armed with guns and it entails asking who we were and where we were from each time we crossed. They have definitely heard of Malaysia.

At these checkpoints, our passports are individually scanned. Sometimes, we are required to be present, and at other times, just presenting the passports through our local guide was sufficient. I remember at one point a guard came up the bus and individually took our photos.

Even filling up petrol at the gas station requires the bus to undergo the same procedure.

Discipline is Maintained on the Highways

The highways are good and well maintained. Signboards were written in Chinese and In Arabic script. Occasionally, we saw English ones too.

The speed limit on these highways is 60 kph. And when going uphill, a mere sluggish 40 kph. So our journeys to the cities really took a long time. We traveled 500 to 600 km each day with various stops for toilets, lunch and local visits. Quite tiring really!

At one time we were on the bus for eleven hours including stopovers. It seems, we were told, that drivers are required to take a 20-minute break after every four-hour drive. It was mandatory to fulfill this requirement each time we were on the road.

Euphratica Trees and Bachu Red Bay Resort

Leaving Kashgar we proceeded to our first exploration of the amazing Euphratica trees. In late autumn, these trees turn a golden yellow while waiting for winter to come by. These trees thrive well here because they are resistant to saline-alkali soil and other hostile conditions in the northwest area. We headed to Bachu Red Bay Resort to enjoy these amazing trees.

From there we proceeded to Aksu where we passed cotton fields and farms. Along the way, we saw rows and rows of red chilies being dried in the sun. The cold dry air makes this job easy.

A drive along the Tianshan Mountain range where we enjoyed diversified landscapes along the way was truly breathtaking. A visit to a local bazaar and food court was an exciting event where we got to taste some local fare like ‘pilaf’ (a rice dish) with mutton.

The Tianshan Mountain range
the Tianshan Mountain range
MountainScene
mountain scene

Important Hub on the Silk Road

Lying in the northwestern part of Xinjiang between the middle ranges of Tianshan Mountains and the Tarim basin is Kuqa, surrounded by mountains and the Taklimakan Desert. It is an important hub on the Silk Road.

Here we saw magnificent landforms of Yardang and the mysterious Tianshan Canyon, 5.5km long. It is regarded as one of the most beautiful canyons of China.

The imposing Salt Water Valley along the way was the prehistoric ocean floor and parts of the mountain resembled Potala Palace as a result of wind erosion a million years ago. The imposing rock formation reminded me of fabulous Petra in Jordan.

prehistoric ocean floor at the Salt Water Valley
prehistoric ocean floor at the Salt Water Valley

Endless Desert Landscapes

To reach the center of the Taklimakan Desert we experienced the endless desert landscape, sand dunes and gas fields. It is supposed to be the longest desert highway in Asia built for transporting gas. The road is protected by grid bay, the method introduced by Israel.

We drove along to Turpan. Along the way, we passed windmill power stations, the Iron Gate Pass which was an ancient pass connecting north and south of Xinjiang and Korla, the largest petroleum city in Xinjiang. Most of Xinjiang ‘s grape farms lie here. Raisins that were green, red and brown were plentiful and were seen sold everywhere. These raisins are unusual as they are seedless and at least an inch long. They are also delicious.

Urumqi – A Modern City

Our last day was spent in Urumqi, a modern city of more than 2 million people. The whole city was lit up and crowds had gathered to watch a street show when we arrived.

The grand bazaar looked glitzy and crowds of people mingled in the streets. Walking through the bazaar one could see shops selling scarves, clothes, souvenirs, trinkets, and dried fruits and nuts. According to a few fellow travelers, this bazaar used to be a traditional one but now it is housed in a modern building with  CCTV cameras everywhere.

Horrible Toilet Scene

Before signing up for this tour, I had my reservations about the toilets in China. I had heard horror stories about the toilet scenes from friends who have been to China before. I was reassured by the travel agent and by those who had been to China more recently that I was not to worry as they had constructed proper toilets in towns, tourist spots and also in remote locations.

Yes, it is true there were toilets. But almost all the toilets found were of the squatting type.

Toilets With No Doors

Many of these toilets were badly maintained. Very often, they were filthy. They stunk and mind you, some did not even have doors. One hilarious instance we had was when we arrived at a place a little out of town. Here, the ladies sat quietly while the men got down to use the public toilets. Soon, one returned and exclaimed angrily how really dirty they were! He remarked that he could not find a place to put his feet down. This brought a lot of laughter from those who stayed back in the bus.

Huge Rocks and Moveable Tent

For the menfolk, it was not quite a problem. At times they were asked to go behind the poplar trees or find a place behind some rocks to relieve themselves. We, the ladies, also had our moments. At times, we were asked to go find a huge rock. Our local tour guide came up with an ingenious idea of a bottomless mobile tent that could be folded and taken with us on the bus. It had a zip upfront. We pitched it in an empty space by the side of the highway and we took turns to use it in complete privacy. The tent had to be held down on four sides because of the strong winds.

At times, it was difficult especially when we had to battle the biting cold and the winds. We also experienced using another type of toilet (the drain type) where one needs to climb two steps up and with feet astride a wide drain where you were supposed to do it!

Kangaroo Squat Moves

To make matters worse, there were no handrails to help you up so the only solution was to do the kangaroo squat. The drain was lined with metal and at intervals water flushed by.

Mind you, here too, there were no doors!

One wonders why when performing the most private bodily function that it cannot be done in a private manner.

It looks like China has a long way to go in this respect.

Impressions of my Trip

Taking this trip has given me a better understanding of China even though it’s the southern part of an autonomous region of  Xinjiang. The places I  saw were interesting, ancient and different in terms of architecture, customs, culture, language, and people.

There is a certain air of mystery in these ancient silk route stops. The people here are the Tajiks from Tajikistan, the Kyrgyzs from Kyrgyzstan and those from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and of course, the Hans.

Inside a Tajik yurt
inside a Tajik yurt

The scenes I came across as we traveled from one place to another were breathtaking.  The mountain ranges of Tianshan Mystic Mountains, the Pamir Plateau, and the Taklimatan Desert were simply awesome. The snow-covered peaks on the Pamir Plateau, which ran along the Karakoram  Highway were simply majestic.

Pamir Plateau along the Karakoram Mts
Pamir Plateau along the Karakoram Mountains
Taklimakan Desert
Talimakan Desert

The sellers we met were courteous and even though we did not speak their language they allowed us to taste their dried fruits and nuts. Their staple food is the bread that sometimes came in huge rounds. We were told that these special bread, as a custom, were never cut into pieces but instead were torn away from the main as a means of sharing a meal.

Another impression is the tight security at border crossings in and out of each city that came complete with lots of CCTVs and armed police. The locals were aware of the CCTVs and so there was no instance of littering or snatch thefts for instance in these cities. There was also intensive scrutiny of our passports.

With all the recent stories of the bombings carried out in market places and mosques one can understand the reason for strict security.

PatriciaMorais
Patricia Lim-Morais

RANDOM ACTS OF KINDNESS

When the best of humanity shines through!

 

Malaysians have been badly served, for many years now, by a bunch of irresponsible and extreme politicians whose sole agenda is to sow hatred among the races and in the process appear to be  ‘ heroes ‘ to the people from their race. These sort of race baiting tactics are equally employed by politicians from both sides of the divide. One so called prominent leader even had the gall to advise his supporters to suspend judgement on the issues  and to just listen to the leader! He had thus,  in one stroke, conferred on himself the aura of infallibility.

When Unity Among the People Was Clearly Evident

 Was it always like this in Malaya and later in the early formative years of Malaysia? The answer is a big emphatic  NO. The various races in Malaya and later Malaysia under the wise and benevolent administration of  our beloved Bapa  Malaysia ( Father of Malaysia ) YTM Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al Haj got on remarkably well. Tunku always said that he was the happiest prime minister in the world.

There was real unity among the people and the various races mixed freely. Friends from the various races visited each other in their homes. They also consumed drinks and food in the homes of the friends.

Fraying At The Edges

After the bloody riots of May 13 1969, things began to take a turn for the worse. The races began to look at each other with a mixture of suspicion and distrust. This was exacerbated by crazy politicians who chose to issue inflammatory statements on a regular  basis. When this sort of action is repeated many times over, it has a devastating effect on people, particularly those who are clearly unable to think matters through.

A malady affecting a sizable portion of the population is its abject inability to THINK matters through and instead these people chose the easy way out by  resorting to EMOTIONS when dealing with important issues of the day. These are sometimes accompanied by threats, implied or otherwise.

Many individuals who turn up at rallies and demonstrations, for instance, do not even know why they are there! They have come to collect the payments they will receive after the protest / demonstration is over. In addition, many in these crowds of protesters have been bused in from rural areas to the cities to shore up the numbers. This is ‘ rent a mob ‘ Malaysian style!

Rukun Negara Relegated to Insignificance

After the riots of  May 1969, the government of the day in Malaysia came out with a wonderful set of principles called the Rukun Negara for the people to live by. It had five clearly spelled out principles. This was modeled upon the fine principles of Pancasila  which the Indonesian government has been practicing for many years now.

The RN principles also appeared on the back cover of school exercise books as a reminder to students. Somewhere down  the line however, the Rukun Negara was unceremoniously forgotten and not a single minister or key government officer mentioned it in their speeches. Had the political leaders followed the Rukun Negara, we would not be in this situation today.

Avid Interest in Human Interaction

Whenever I go anywhere, be it a supermarket, a hospital or even a restaurant, I make it a point to observe and note interesting acts of human interaction. This comes quite naturally to me partly because I have been a teacher at a La Salle Secondary School in Kuala Lumpur for fifteen years. I use these examples to illustrate my points during training sessions that I conduct about four times each year.

Relatives and Friends Rally Round

Recently I went to visit a former teacher and friend who was warded at the University Hospital in Petaling Jaya. He had a fall at home which was as a result of a mild stroke while he was having his bath. He lay on the floor of the bathroom for three days before help finally arrived.

He was unable to get up because the stroke affected his right side but he remained conscious throughout. His relatives and friends tried to contact him repeatedly through the phone and through whatsapp. Finally, two relatives decided to visit him at home and noticed his car in the porch.  His shoes and slippers were also neatly arranged outside the door to his house.

Action Needed To be Taken in A Timely Manner

They managed to get hold of  a spare set of his house keys and the two individuals entered the house and called out his name. There was no response. As they passed by the slightly ajar door to his bathroom, they noticed him lying on the floor of the bathroom, holding on to a pipe with the water still running. He was conscious and he gave them a weak smile.

The individuals immediately summoned an ambulance and he was rushed to the Emergency Ward at the hospital. He is  in a stable condition currently but will have to stay in the hospital for sometime more. This is to enable him to go for regular physiotherapy sessions. Relatives and friends are taking turns to stay with him for brief periods in the ward.

The reason for this collective effort?

This helpful man lost his wife to cancer about 15 years ago. They did not have any children. His two sisters passed away some time back. He was living alone all this while in a single story terrace house and having his meals at a relative’s place in the neighbourhood.

Thus these kind hearted individuals decided to step in and do the needful.  They acted spontaneously and with great concern for his welfare. When faced with such a sad and dire situation, the human spirit can rise to the occasion and render much needed assistance. This is a case in point. How very uplifting to see relatives and friends come to his assistance and that too in a timely manner.

Empathy For A Senior Citizen

On another occasion when I was visiting a friend at a private hospital, I noticed a brief and touching encounter between a young, tudung clad Malay lady in her mid twenties and a Chinese senior citizen probably in his mid seventies.

This elderly man, who had one one hand in a plaster cast, was having trouble operating a drink vending machine in the foyer of the hospital. He thus politely sought some assistance from this young lady who was manning an insurance booth next to the vending machine.

Milk of Human Kindness in Her DNA

It was not her responsibility to handle such matters but she obviously has the milk of human kindness in her DNA. The man also did not have small change for the vending machine but he offered her a RM 5.00 note. The lady sized up the situation very well. She inserted, I think, RM 2.50 into the machine and lo and behold, the senior citizen had his bottled drink.

It Is A Small Matter

The grateful man tried to give her the RM 5.00 again and again but she remained steadfast in her decision. She politely declined the offer and she said that she did not have the  change. She added as an after thought: ‘ No problem Uncle. It is a small matter.’

This is yet another instance when the human spirit transcends the narrow confines of race and religion, and rises to a higher level of sheer humanity. How very comforting to witness such a heart warming encounter. I then spoke to the young lady after the senior citizen had walked away and endorsed her kind deed. Such noble acts need to be encouraged in our multi racial nation.

 

‘ Gotong Royong ‘ Community Effort

The third and last case, I wish to highlight is that of  a group of  kind hearted and caring Malay neighbours coming forward to assist a destitute Chinese family living  in a low cost flat somewhere in  Kuala Lumpur.

Now in Malaysia there are many types of flats and even condos for the people to choose from. The low cost flats are the ones meant for the poor in the city. These individuals have to bid for them from City Hall. If they are lucky and do get one, then they only have to pay a small nominal rent on a monthly basis.

Low Cost, Medium Cost and Luxury Accommodation

Often these flats  are not well maintained both by the residents and the local government. The lifts servicing these flats also break down often forcing the residents to walk up the stairs to the high rise flats. Then there are the medium cost flats and condos as well as the luxury condos in various parts of the city for the well heeled.

In this instance, the Malay neighbours noticed the deteriorating conditions affecting this family and their ageing father. They discussed the matter among themselves and sprang into action.

Time for A Spruce Up

One group of neighbours talked to the family about their plan of action and received their agreement. Another group of neighbours began removing accumulated stuff ( rubbish ) which the family had been hoarding. Yet another group began giving the flat a thorough clean up. They then painted the inside of the flat.

It was a badly needed transformation and it did bring much joy and satisfaction to this previously neglected family. To cap it all, they also presented the family with some basic necessities and a hamper of goodies.

Why did they act in this manner?

They realised that Chinese New Year was fast approaching. They felt sorry for the family. From the goodness of their hearts, they chose to make a difference…………………no, a big difference for this family. And all this took place quietly and without fanfare or publicity.

These three glowing examples  illustrate how Malaysians can rise above the blatant chauvinism and religious intolerance that is often peddled by fanatics/ extremists masquerading as politicians or religious leaders. Their agenda is not to unite us as a nation but to divide us so that they can continue to lord over us!

Is it, therefore, any wonder why the celebrated George Bernard Shaw once described politics in these telling words: ‘ Politics is the last refuge for scoundrels ‘ ?. Let me also add that this is in reference to the worst kind of politicians as I have described. There are also, without doubt, a few principled politicians. In Malaysia unfortunately, politicians jumping party ( political frogs ) has now become the norm. Some have the notoriety of having jumped not once but four times.

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Sri Lanka Is Blessed With Many Natural Attractions To Be A Great Tourism Destination

Amazing Sandy Beaches, Authentic Local Cuisine and Impressive Remains from the Colonial Era

 

My wife and I enjoyed a six-day holiday in Sri Lanka at the end of December 2019.

We spent four days in Colombo and two days in Kogalla, a beach area about 15 km from the historic city of Galle.

We went to that country with confidence and a desire to experience what it has to offer on a number of fronts. We were not deterred by negative statements or dire warnings from well-meaning friends and associates. Politics aside, this nation deserves a chance to get back to normalcy.

These friends and associates were, of course, referring to the horrible and devastating 2019 Easter bombings of a few major hotels and churches during that mad spree by evil, cold-blooded terrorists. Yes, indeed many lives were lost, many more innocent people, including visitors to the beautiful island nation, were severely injured.

Tourism, which is a major factor in the economy of that nation, also paid a heavy price.

I was reliably informed that hotel occupancy rates in Colombo and other areas plunged to as low as 25 percent in the aftermath of that senseless tragedy. Many tour operators canceled their tours and bookings and airlines, as well as hotels too, had to make refunds to those who chose to abort their trips to the country.

Impressive New Expressways

We had arranged for a well-known taxi operator called Kangaroo to have a budget car to take us from the international airport to the 4-star Cinnamon Red Hotel in the heart of the capital.

I had been to Colombo for work-related matters, at least four times in the past, and the last visit was probably way back in 2005. And so I was pleasantly surprised to travel on a new, well -built expressway for most of the journey to our hotel. It is a tolled expressway that was built by competent and energetic contractors from China.

On our way to the 4-star Long Beach Resort in Kogalla, about 15 km from Galle, we also chose to travel part of the way on a new tolled expressway. This too was a well-built and well-maintained expressway but it seemed to have only a few cars on it. Once again contractors from the PRC were responsible for its construction.

The local people probably use coastal roads because it is cheaper. These winding roads offer travellers a glimpse into a rustic, rural, and easy-going lifestyle.

Glimpses into Rustic and Rural Lifestyle

The local people probably use coastal roads because it is cheaper. These winding roads offer travellers a glimpse into a rustic, rural, and easy-going lifestyle. Hence, we chose to take the rural roads for the trip to the resort but then opted for the expressway for our return journey to Fairway Colombo Hotel.

On our journey, we noticed a medium-sized clearing facing the sea with a nice breeze blowing in. This place had a number of coconut trees, some small huts and a few tables and chairs for patrons.  We noticed that a number of locals were enjoying their daily drinks of arrack. Arrack is what we in Malaysia call toddy.

 This FC four-star hotel has a unique and well-regarded location. It is very close to the President’s House and so there is a strong military and police presence in the whole area. Nearby is the 5 star Kingsbury Hotel ( formerly Intercontinental Hotel ). Opposite the hotel is Colombo’s own imposing World Trade Centre. Very reassuring indeed!

Heavy Construction in Progress

While traveling in the city what was clearly noticeable was the heavy construction of roads, highways, overhead passes and buildings. This was not the case during my previous visits. Looks like the Chinese contractors from the PRC are having a field day in that country.

To be fair, these contractors and their staff are fast workers. They do not believe in wasting time but get on with the job at hand in a serious and professional way.

Dining Experience in Sri Lanka

While in Colombo I met up with a former counterpart and a fellow divisional director of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants named Upali Ratnayake and his wife, Prithi.

Upali is well known and respected in the professional and social circles in Colombo. I had earlier on sent word ahead that I had wanted to meet up with him and he very graciously made the effort to meet with us on two occasions.

The first was when we hosted the couple to drinks at the 26th Floor Rooftop Bar of the hotel. We then adjourned for an interesting Sri Lankan dinner to the well known Colombo Club which is sited in the 5 star Taj Samudra Hotel in the city. The food was good and tasty but the wait for the food was much too long!

The very slow service levels in Colombo and Kogalla was a turn off for us. To wait one hour plus for the food, however good it may have been, is just too high a price to pay! Then again, understanding of the English language by the waiters is limited especially in Kogalla.

Authentic Sri Lankan Cuisine

On the last day of our holiday, Upali and his wife hosted us to a lavish and authentic lunch at a premier restaurant in the city named Upali’s. This is widely regarded as the best Sri Lankan restaurant in the city.

One has to make advance bookings in order to secure a table and my friend did just that. We were shown to our reserved table, by a waiter, when we arrived at about 12.30 pm. The air-conditioned, two-story restaurant was ninety percent full at that time. I also overheard a regular being politely turned away because he had not bothered to make a reservation.

By the time our food arrived, the place was full. Our feast consisted of the following dishes:

  • One serving of mutton curry;
  • two servings of prawn curry cooked in different styles;
  • two servings of fish curry;
  • one serving of breadfruit curry;
  • one serving of jackfruit curry;
  • one serving of pineapple curry;
  • three different servings of their famous senisambal; and
  • one serving of dried fish pickle.

It was way too much food for us, especially at lunchtime. However, I must say that it was a tasty and good introduction to authentic Sri Lanka cuisine and that too in a fine dining restaurant.

The Old Colombo Dutch Hospital is a case in point where the amazing transformation of that historic building is working wonders for the area and for businesses too.

Old Colombo Dutch Hospital

Transformation can take many forms. In some cases, it can be for the worse. In other instances, it can turn out to rejuvenate and revitalize the area where the building is sited.

The Old Colombo Dutch Hospital is a case in point where the amazing transformation of that historic building is working wonders for the area and for businesses too. It is said to be the oldest building in the Colombo Fort area and was built in 1681 during the Dutch colonial period.

It was meant to serve the needs of Dutch officers and other staff serving under the Dutch East India Company. Because of its close proximity to the port, seafarers too were treated at this hospital. In an earlier transformation, it became the Colombo Fort Police Station from the early 1980’s to 1990’s. The historic building suffered heavy damage in the LTTE attack that followed the Central Bank bombing in 1996.

Amazing Transformation into A Happening Place

B-Inside the building at the Independence Square
Inside the building at the Independence Square

In 2011, the Old Dutch Hospital was transformed yet again into a smart shopping mall and dining district. It has a number of stylish souvenir shops, restaurants, café and bars within and around the shell of the Old Dutch Hospital. The exterior structure and the roof have been wisely retained and the inside hollowed out to accommodate the shops and dining outlets.

B-Ministry of Crab at the Old Dutch Hospital complex
Ministry of Crab at the old Dutch Hospital complex

One of the most prominent of these is the famous and popular Ministry of Crabs restaurant right in the centre of the building. We tried to dine there but it was fully booked. This particular restaurant now has sister outlets in Dubai, Bangkok and Singapore. The whole area has been transformed for the better and our hotel, FC was just opposite the Old Dutch Hospital.

Impressive Long Beach at Kogalla

When we arrived at the Long Beach Resort ( 4-star ) in Kogalla, we were struck by how sturdy and solid is the building housing the 200 plus room hotel. It is an old building but it has undergone a major refurbishment. One of the cupboards in our room could not be properly shut! However, the bathroom was clean, spacious and the water pressure in the shower area was good.

The resort has two restaurants. The one on the ground floor serves a la carte meals and the one on the floor above serves buffet meals. The meals on offer are both western and typical Sri Lankan.

There was extremely loud music during the evenings on the two nights we were there. This was their attempt to ‘ create the mood ‘ for the post-Christmas period. However, such loud music is not pleasant at all although I must admit I did see some Russians dancing away to the music.  Chinese tourists too were there in the busloads! I was informed that many Chinese people come to just buy gemstones and these are then sold for a profit when they return to PRC.

Nature, Power and Splendour on Full Display

We were mesmerised by the beauty, the power and the grandeur of the huge waves that came rolling over, again and again, and then crashing down on the shore with a thunderous roar. It sort of lulled us as we slept at night too. This was to me, the awesome beauty, splendour and power of nature that was so wonderful to watch and take in as we lazily sipped an orange juice in the comfy lobby lounge.

But surely the greatest wonder of it all was the extremely long and tantalising beach at Kogalla. It was at least 1 km or more in length as far as I could make out and was very clean. There were no broken bottles, empty plastic bottles or plastic wrappers littering the place as we slowly walked along the beach on both days.

This is because the whole area is a security zone with a military airbase nearby. No shanty type huts or dwellings are allowed in this area. The lovely fawn coloured sands of the beach were shimmering in the noonday sun and it was a wonderful feast for the eyes.

Tuk Tuk’s Clog the Streets and Roads

We spent time in Colombo, Kogalla and Galle while in Sri Lanka.

The roads and streets seemed clogged with heavy traffic. The tuk-tuk drivers were everywhere and many of them drove in a reckless and crazy manner in Colombo … much like the mad bus drivers in Kogalla who were speeding needlessly and recklessly in a rural setting.

I guess they do provide a vital service for the local people as there are no taxis plying the streets of Colombo. The tuk-tuk drivers seem to target tourists and foreigners to pull off some scams. The tuk-tuk drivers in Galle, however, were better behaved.

Although the drivers had agreed to send you to your destination, once you get in, they pester you to stop by a shopping mall or a gem store first. We chose to get down from one very pesky tuk-tuk driver’s cab because he kept insisting we stop by the gem store first.

This sort of behaviour is counter-productive to the country’s valiant tourism promotion efforts and I have duly emailed that tourism bureau about this menace. They have promised to sort out the matter.

Dutch Wall Fort

B-View of the old Dutch Fort wall

old Dutch Fort wall

B-Another view of the old Dutch Fort

another view of the old Dutch Fort wall

This is the major tourism draw in Galle and the surrounding areas. It is also known as Galle Fort and it is sited in the Bay of Galle. It was constructed in 1588 by the Portuguese and it was later extensively fortified by the Dutch from 1649 onwards.

These high, solid walls and the excellent construction of the huge fort is partly the reason why residents in the area around the fort were saved from the devastating effects of the horrific tsunami. That tsunami destroyed much of Aceh in Indonesia, Phuket in Thailand and Galle in Sri Lanka in the recent past

My wife and I chose to climb up to the wall from a slope below it and walked about 100 metres along the 20 foot wide walls admiring the rugged beauty of the fort and its surroundings. As we peered from the high walkway, we could see the crystal clear waters down below. It was a sight to behold and treasure.

I understand that some extreme sports enthusiasts have begun diving from that height. There are many rocks and jagged formations in the waters surrounding the fort and it is a risk not worth taking! For the record, the Dutch Wall Fort is a world heritage site and the largest fort in Asia.

On the way to the Dutch Wall Fort and close by we passed a number of fishermen selling their fresh catch from simple stalls and even from their boats. The fish on display was impressive and varied and they did seem to enjoy good business.

Other Interesting Areas

There are other areas in Sri Lanka that should be included in your bucket list. One is to visit the city of Kandy, which I did on a previous visit. This will enable you to visit the grand old Buddhist Temple that houses a tooth of the Great Buddha.

Another is to visit Nuwara Eliya, a city in the tea country highlands of Sri Lanka.  Many people refer to this highland as ‘ Little England ‘ with its enchanting tea plantations, lovely golf courses and lush botanical gardens. There are also Tudor style accommodations in this hill resort area.

 

Remembering Unforgettable J Victor Morais

A Man of Supreme Confidence and a Witness to History

John Victor Morais was born on 18 December 1910 in Trivandrum, India. He had his primary and early secondary education in Trivandrum. He then embarked on a seven-day long sea voyage to Malaya where his eldest brother John Manuel Morais worked and lived.

John Manuel Morais
John Manuel Morais

His brother was a highly respected teacher of Geography at Anderson School in Ipoh, a premier secondary school in Perak. His brother also had government quarters in Green Town, Ipoh.

Highly Respected Brother and Advisor

Victor Morais was the last brother to be brought to Malaya.

Two brothers who were brought to Malaya earlier on perished soon thereafter from diseases prevalent at that time. So naturally, the eldest brother, who was 18 years his senior and a father figure to him, was rather reluctant to bring yet another brother to Malaya.

But like a dutiful, filial and loving son, he relented when his father in India pleaded with him to give Victor a chance to make good in Malaya. Victor, as it turned out, happened to be the brother who grabbed the opportunity and made a tremendous success of his career and life. His brother enrolled him in Anderson School, Ipoh. Many years later, Victor was duly recognised in the school’s Year Book as a Distinguished Old Boy.

In those days in colonial Malaya, one could get a job with the Junior Cambridge Certificate. But Victor wanted to go further and completed his Senior Cambridge and earned that coveted certificate.

Along the way, he found time to excel in sports, football and cricket. Later on in adult life, he was regular in his weekly tennis games.  He also enjoyed the scouting movement and rose to become the troop leader in his final year in school.

Rapid Results College

When his eldest brother, John Manuel asked him what he wanted to do after his form five examinations, Victor replied that he wanted to be a teacher like him. But his brother knew that Victor enjoyed writing because some of his letters had appeared in the newspapers at that time.

So the brother advised him to forget about teaching as a career. He told him instead to apply for a reporter’s job which he secured with some ease. To further his knowledge in this field, Victor enrolled for a tedious, time consuming but interesting correspondence course in journalism from Rapid Results College in the United Kingdom. With determination, he successfully completed this correspondence course.

Career as a Journalist

His career as a reporter was interesting, occasionally challenging and enjoyable. But during the years of the 2nd World War, when Malaya was under Japanese occupation, it was a dangerous and stressful occupation.

Victor was ordered to edit and publish the Yamato News.

Prominently placed outside his office and on the walkway were the severed and bloodied heads of two persons stuck crudely on two poles. These were individuals caught by the Japanese Police for some serious offence and summarily executed in a brutal fashion.

This was meant to be a stark and deadly warning for the public at large. It worked well to cow the populace and reduce crimes in the city.

Victor relished going on assignments and interviewing well-known personalities for news stories. He really enjoyed seeing the bylines that he had earned. Occasionally, he had to go outstation to towns like Kuala Kangsar, Gopeng or even Taiping to cover events.

Victor received promotions in quick order and before he was thirty years old, he was appointed the managing editor of Malaya Tribune at its office in Brewster Road in Ipoh.

A Supportive and Loving Brother

In the early days of his career, his bicycle served him well but as the assignments took him further away, his supportive and loving brother bought him a 2nd hand car for his use. Victor was truly shocked and humbled that his eldest brother would go to that length to assist him.

The brother himself opted to take a rickshaw whenever he needed to go somewhere. This was a brother that he truly respected, admired and loved for the rest of his life.

Victor received promotions in quick order and before he was thirty years old, he was appointed the managing editor of Malaya Tribune at its office in Brewster Road in Ipoh. This appointment was made by the directors in Singapore.

Invited to Serve as a Writer for Magazines in South East Asia and South Asia

In the seventies, there was a highly popular magazine, called the Asia Magazine that came free together with the Sunday issue of The New Straits Times. It was also included in the Sunday issue of regional English language newspapers.

This Hong Kong-based idea of a magazine covered regional issues of a light-hearted nature and had colour photographs of lovely South-East Asian ladies on its weekly cover page.

Victor Morais was invited to contribute articles and interviews for this magazine by a former colleague of his named Castro. He contributed a few such articles.

In the seventies too, Victor Morais received an invitation to become a regular contributor to a Bombay ( now Mumbai ) based hard-hitting, independent magazine called Himmat. This magazine covered a host of relevant issues in India.

He had a chance meeting with the publisher and editor, a man named Rajmohan Gandhi, a grandson of the famous Mohandas K Gandhi. Victor Morais also accepted this invitation and made a few contributions.

Recognition by Peers

During his time as a journalist in Kuala Lumpur, he became a member of the Press Club of Malaysia. At that time, he was the chief sub-editor of The Malay Mail.

Later on, he was duly elected as president of the Press Club of Malaysia. He enjoyed his tenure in that role.

It was his idea to publish a Who’s Who for the country way back in 1956.

Who’s Who in Malaysia

The famous biennial book publication, Who’s Who Malaysia, is now forever associated with Victor Morais.

Who's Who Malaysia

It was his idea to publish a Who’s Who for the country way back in 1956. Many people, even well meaning friends, colleagues and printers, tried to dissuade him from undertaking this risky project. But he remained convinced, steadfast and resolute and went ahead nevertheless.

The first such publication was titled: Leaders of Malaya and Who’s Who. All future publications were simply called Who’s Who Malaysia. The book was sold to the public, to libraries all over the world – even to the Library of the US House of Congress, the British Parliament and to the Library in Moscow.

The cost of publication was covered by several advertisements in the book and also by sales of the book. Major companies, even multinationals took out advertisements and many schools, colleges and libraries in Malaysia also bought copies. Despite the unfounded fears of naysayers, Victor made this publication a financial success.

Many years later, he reluctantly sold the company publishing the book to an insurance company. But to his credit, he did manage to faithfully and successfully bring out the publication every two years.

Author, Editor and Publisher of Many Publications

Victor Morais was an ideas man in every sense of the word!

He was someone who was constantly thinking of writing on some subject. He was also keen on undertaking a book project from time to time. He tended to specialise, however, in biographies – it was his forte!

This love of his, for writing and editing, started very early in his career as a journalist. While still a young reporter and because he covered developments in badminton in Perak, he wrote and published a book titled: Badminton in Malaya under the pen name of Racquet. Victor was then the honorary secretary of the Perak Badminton Association.

He managed to obtain a few advertisements to cover the cost of printing. The proceeds from the sale of the publication became his profit. It was almost $1,000.00, a big amount in 1934. Victor was, however, humble enough to realise that he needed someone senior to look over his manuscript and to offer him expert advice. He found that in a senior editor, who readily obliged and then commended him.

There was no looking back after that maiden effort. Victor went on to write, edit and publish numerous books over the years. In each of these projects, he invested considerable time, energy and ideas and he has thus left a huge legacy.

Some Publications That Come to Mind

Some of these publications include the following books:

  • A Tryst with Destiny on Tun Hussein Onn;
  • Strategy for Action on Tun Razak;
  • A Profile in Courage on Dr. Mahathir;
  • Resolute in Leadership on Anwar Ibrahim;
  • Witness to History – Memoirs of an Editor;
  • Selected Speeches; A Man of His Time – Lord President Tun M Suffian;
  • A World Trade Unionist – P P Narayanan;
  • Without Fear or Favour – on Tan Sri Mohd Noah – 1st Speaker of Parliament;
  • Blueprint for Unity on Tun Tan Siew Sin; and
  • The Golden Wheel on Rotary.
Pic08-WitnessToHistory
Witness to History by J Victor Morais

Competent and Humourous Public Speaker

Victor Morais was well known for his public speaking skills and abilities.

He was equally good in giving prepared speeches as well as in speaking off the cuff when the need arose. With his prepared speeches, unlike many, he did not read from the written speech but he spoke naturally and with confidence on the topic. He was also adept at infusing humour in the speech.

During his lifetime, he gave over twenty toasts ( speeches ) at wedding celebratory dinners, mostly at Malayalee Catholic weddings and also at other Indian weddings in Ipoh and in Kuala Lumpur.

As a Rotarian in Ipoh, Perak and while still a well-known editor, he was called upon to speak on a number of occasions on behalf of his president who shied away from public speaking.

On the State Department-sponsored two week study trip for twenty South East Asian journalists to the United States in the late fifties, he was chosen to speak on behalf of the journalists at each of the US cities that the group of journalists visited.

From time to time, he also readily assisted friends who had to prepare speeches. All these activities came quite naturally to him.

Community Leader Par Excellence

Rotary Club of Ipoh

Victor was a gregarious person by nature and loved meeting people and interacting with them. He also had a passion to contribute to the local community in what ever way or manner that he could.

That led him to the Rotary Club of Ipoh where he served in a few capacities before being elected the president of the club in 1949. He was introduced to the Rotary Club by a well known lawyer named K L Devaser. This club had a mix of English, local businessmen and professional members.

St John Ambulance Association

Victor was also suitably recognised for his services to the St John Ambulance Association Brigade in Perak. Sir Donald McGillivary, the last British High Commissioner of Malaya presented him a medal i.e. Serving Brother of the Order of St John ( Sb.St.J ) awarded by HM Queen Elizabeth of England at King’s House in Kuala Lumpur.

High Commissioner presents medal to J Victor Morais
High Commissioner presents medal to J Victor Morais

Indian Associations in Kinta and Selangor

Here too, Victor was as active as ever. He joined these associations, first the Kinta Indian Association and later when the family moved to Kuala Lumpur, the Selangor Indian Association.

Pic03-SoccerTeam
J Victor Morais with the Selangor Indian Association Soccer Team

At both these associations, he soon became the president, and during his tenure, he and his committee organised many activities for the members. One such high profile activity was a dinner by the association in Selangor where the Indian community organised an event to honour and welcome Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj as the chief minister of Malaya. Also invited to the event was General Geoffrey Bourne, the then Director of Operations, Malaya. The event was also attended by representatives of all communities.

Pic07-IndianCommunityHonoursTunku
Indian community honours Tunku Abdul Rahman

Other Bodies Where He Served

Victor Morais also made time to render service for some years to the following organisations. He was a Board Member of the Malaysian Association of the Blind, a Director of the YMCA and a Committee Member of the Pure Life Society.

He was a friend of the founder of the society, a man named Swami Satyananda. Victor also served a stint as vice president of the Ipoh Library.

High Recognition by the Government of Perak

Victor Morais was appointed as a State Executive Councillor of the Perak Government soon after his election as president of the Kinta Indian Association. It must be noted that he also held concurrently prominent positions in the Rotary Club of Ipoh as well as the editor of the local newspaper in Perak. And he was thus a notable and respected figure in Perak.

J Victor Morais appointed as a State Executive Councillor of the Perak Government
J Victor Morais appointed as a State Executive Councillor of the Perak Government

Much later in life and after he moved to Kuala Lumpur and then to Petaling Jaya, Victor Morais was nominated to serve as a Member of the Town Board of Petaling Jaya. He enjoyed serving in these positions and earned the trust and respect of those with whom he interacted.

Famous Personalities & Leaders

As a seasoned journalist, he had a natural curiosity to meet and interact with outstanding personalities and world leaders both in Malaya and later in Malaysia. He wanted to find out what made them tick! He also wanted to learn from such leaders.

J Victor Morais interviewing Tengku Abdul Rahman after he stepped down as Prime Minister.
J Victor Morais interviewing Tunku Abdul Rahman after he stepped down as Prime Minister.

These then are some leaders that he was privileged to meet, interview and/or interact with, in no fixed order of importance.

Rabindranath Tagore, the first Indian Nobel Laureate in Literature when he visited Malaya in the late 1930s and spoke to about 1000 teachers in the Ipoh Town Hall.

Subhas Chandra Bose or to many of his ardent followers he was simply addressed as ‘Netaji’ ( Leader ) when he visited Malaya and addressed a huge gathering at the Ipoh Padang in 1943. He was a former leader of the All India Congress. Subhas Chandra Bose had many admirers in South East Asia.

Jawaharlal Nehru, 1st Prime Minister of India visited Malaya in the 1930s before he attained high office.

Indira Gandhi, another Prime Minister of India when she twice visited Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Lord Baden Powell, was the 1st Chief Scout of the worldwide scouting movement.  Lord Baden Powell visited Ipoh in the forties.

Mr. Malcom MacDonald, the charismatic British High Commissioner for South-East Asia.

Lady Edwina Mountbatten, when she visited Ipoh in the late forties as the patron of the St John Ambulance Association. Lady Edwina was the wife of the Supreme Allied Commander for South-East Asia during World War 2. Lord Mountbatten, an admiral of the Royal Navy was a cousin of HM Queen Elizabeth.

Tun Sir James Thompson, First Lord President of the Federal Court.

Tun Tan Cheng Lock – President of the Malaysian Chinese Association at the time of independence. His son Tun Tan Siew Sin was a former Finance Minister of Malaysia.

Dato Onn Jaafar, Founder President of the United Malay National Organisation. He was destined to be the prime minister of Malaya but fate decided otherwise. He is the father of Tun Hussein Onn.

Living a Life with Purpose

On looking back, I can say with conviction that Victor Morais led a life with high purpose, quiet dignity and unfailing grace.

He made time to render voluntary service to a number of organisations. This was because he truly believed in giving primacy to the human and spiritual, rather than the material values in life. He also strove to promote the adoption of higher social and civic responsibilities as part and parcel of one’s career.

Victor Morais was married to a lovely and talented lady named Gladys Vaz for a little over 50 years.  She was also a great mother, a good cook and later became a gifted cake maker. Gladys Vaz also successfully conducted cake making classes for ladies for over twenty years. The couple have five children: Herbert, Benedict, Elaine, Dawn and Justin.

Someone wise once remarked: ‘ Do not be fooled by what a man says. Watch what he does ‘.

Victor Morais accomplished so much more in his lifetime ( 80 years ) than most people because he was always driven by some worthy goal.

Finally, I would like to leave you with this quote:

‘Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time ‘
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

 

Discovering Medan and Its Surroundings

Brastagi, Mount Sinabung and Sipiso Piso Waterfall   


My wife and I decided to go on a short break to a nearby destination and chose to visit Medan in Sumatera, Indonesia. It is only an hour’s flight time from Kuala Lumpur. One does not go to Medan for a brief holiday like one does to Phuket, in Thailand or Bali in Indonesia.

But we were curious enough because we had heard about some of the intriguing sights and buildings to see and marvel at in that part of Sumatra.

It turned out to be an eye-opener of a visit and holiday.

Medan itself still retains, through its love for its chequered history, some very interesting architectural sights and buildings.

Charming Old City Hall Building

Blog01-CityHall
City Hall

This is the old city hall building constructed by the Dutch during the colonial period more than a century ago. It is unmistakable in its fine and distinctive Dutch design and character and stands out brilliantly as a building worth retaining.

However, to have allowed a 5-star hotel to be built right smack behind the building was not a wise or a carefully thought out move. That huge new building housing the hotel dwarfs the city hall building unnecessarily and distracts the interested observer somewhat!

The next outstanding building from that Dutch colonial era is the smart Post Office and Telegraph Office. It still retains a mystique of its own as it majestically straddles a street corner near the city centre.

Blog01-Post and Telegraph  office.jpg
Post and Telegraph Office

Love for Stately Old Buildings

There are also other instances of Dutch colonial era stately mansions and buildings loving restored and preserved. These dwelling places all have verandas around the mansions and are sited in spacious grounds with well-manicured lawns and gardens in bloom! They certainly knew how to live and that too live well.

For the record, we also noticed with sadness, quite a number of decrepit buildings that were forgotten and allowed to rot away probably because it would have required enormous funds to restore these ‘ old dames ‘ to their original glory.

Graha Maria Annai Velangkani

This is the 2nd Catholic Church built in honour of the Lady of Velangkani. The original church is sited in an area near Trichy, in Tamil Nadu, India. That church which is credited for many miracles has been drawing devotes in the millions for many years.

Blog01-Lady of  VelangkaniChurch.jpg
Lady of Velangkani Church

This church, with the same name, on the outskirts of the city of Medan is about fifteen years old. It too has been attracting devotes in the thousands for a number of years. The devotees come from Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and countries of South East Asia. Although not as old as the original church in India, this church too has a number of miracles attributed to it since it was constructed.

There is something quite unique about this church.

From the outside, it appears to be a Buddhist temple just judging by its design. It is only by entering the church proper that one comes to realise that it is a proper catholic church. The first area that one visits on the ground level is a big hall for prayer meetings or gatherings.

‘ Come To Me All You Who Work Hard ‘

But there are two ascending pathways on either side of the church which one has to slowly walk up to. The very act of walking up in this manner is a show of reverence to the Almighty!

Once at the top, one has to remove one’s shoes before entering the church.

Greeting us as we enter is this huge sign: ‘ Come To Me All You Who Work Hard and Who Carry Heavy Burdens And I Will Refresh You ‘. The sign is repeated in two other languages, namely Chinese and Bahasa Indonesia. Right outside the church is a special shrine dedicated to the Lady of Velangkani.

Shake, Rattle and Roll Driving Experience

On the next day, we decided to undertake a two and a half hour road trip to Brastagi and then another one and a half hour journey to the Sipiso Piso Waterfall. We had with us a careful driver cum knowledgeable guide named Pak Wardi from Narasindo Tours with fifteen years of experience under his belt.

Brastagi is only a mere 85 km away from Medan and the S P Waterfall is only another 55 km from Brastagi. However the road trip was unforgettable and lengthy for a number of reasons.

  1. It is not a highway by any stretch of imagination. It is just a narrow, winding, single country lane up to Brastagi and another narrow lane winding down to Medan all the way.
  2. The lanes on both sides were of an uneven nature. A few parts were smooth and comfortable. There were many parts that were most uneven.
  3. The traffic on the trip was very heavy with most of the vehicles being heavy laden lorries carrying cargo and farm produce from the surrounding Karo  Highlands around Brastagi. These vehicles were slow-moving and belching thick black smoke all the way. There were also buses ( some with passengers sitting on the rooftops ) and then we had the usual motor cars and, of course, the ever-present motor-cyclists weaving in and out of the traffic on the narrow lanes!
  4. On both sides of the lanes and close by throughout were muddy patches, some filled with water. Garbage and litter of all kinds were liberally spread all by the side of the lanes! A little further beyond are the shanty type, flimsy shacks that passed for dwellings, some provision shops, a couple of barbershops and many tiny restaurants catering for the people in the area.
  5. There were no Rest and Refresh Centres at the midway points on this trip. However, our driver knew where to stop for our comfort breaks. He chose to stop at 4-star hotels and so we were able to rest and refresh for a while. The tour company he works for regularly brings guests to stay for the night at these 4-star hotels.
  6. Although we travelled in a well built 7 seater Toyota Innova, this did not prevent us from enduring the shake, rattle and roll that we felt most of the time.

Some Fun Facts about Brastagi

It took us about two and a half hours to reach Brastagi, driving most of the time at a steady 35 to 45 km per hour and occasionally reaching a top speed of 60 km per hour.

Along the way and mostly around Brastagi we saw fields of cabbage, carrots, coffee, mangoes etc. We also noticed a field where strawberries were sold but you had to pick them!

The temperature of this picturesque city of close to a million inhabitants situated at an altitude of 1,300 metres above sea level in the Karo Highlands is around 17 to 20 degrees. When we stopped for a comfort break at a 4-star hotel named Grand Mutiara, we were greeted by lovely, cool mountain breezes! What a refreshing change it was from the heat, humidity and smog of Medan.

Later on, when we stopped for a light lunch at the 4-star Sinabung Hotel, the restaurant was facing a most lovely and well-landscaped garden with many flowering plants in full bloom. Ahead of the garden was a nice swimming pool.

The many guests in the restaurant chose like us, to have their meals along the veranda rather than inside the closed-door restaurant. By making this wise decision, we were rewarded by a continuous cool breeze which seemed to caress us in the process. It was just heavenly!

Sipiso Piso Waterfall, Mount Sinabung & Mount Sibayak

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Sipiso Piso Waterfalls

The Sipiso Piso Waterfalls, is a smaller and less dramatic version of the world-famous Angel Falls Waterfalls of Venezuela. The Angel Waterfalls is yet another marvel of nature because it is the world’s highest uninterrupted waterfall! What struck me as odd was Sipiso Piso’s Waterfalls very small, circular opening for the waterfall. It was nevertheless, a sight to behold.

Our viewing platform was some distance away but we could nevertheless see and admire its beauty. There was a small crowd at the place but what impressed us more was the magnificent landscape of the area. There were towering peaks, rock formations and steep ravines with lush undergrowth dotting the area. It is sheer rugged beauty in all its splendour.

Our views of Mount Sinabung and Mount Sibayak were obstructed somewhat by the hazy conditions on that day. We could, however, catch brief glimpses of the mountains from afar.

Mount Sinabung is the taller of the two volcanic mountains. When compared to the majesty of the volcano we sighted in Bali, this view was an anti climax. Thankfully too we were able to see from afar the beauty of Lake Toba. It is the largest lake in South East Asia.

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Lake Toba from afar

Amazing Batak Longhouses

In Medan and the rest of Sumatra, the Batak people are a significant community.

There are, in fact, four distinct Batak tribes. They are Mandailing, Dairi, Karo and Toba. The Toba tribe is the largest.  Each tribe has its own distinct language, customs and histories. The Batak number around 4 million.

Some of the Batak were once cannibals. I was quite intrigued by some restaurant signs that stated B1. Other signs indicated B2 and/or B3. I asked our driver what these signs meant. He told me that B1 meant that that restaurant served dog meat! The other numbers referred to beef, fish or chicken.

We travelled a short distance from the area where we saw the waterfalls before entering a village or area named Doakan which housed about fifteen amazing Batak Longhouses.

 

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The Batak house where eight families live

These Batak Longhouses are impressive looking, sturdy structures built to accommodate eight families in one such longhouse! The one we actually visited was about two hundred plus years old. There were also some more than 300 years old.

The Sleeping Quarters and Cooking Areas

We had to climb up four steps of a small but safe bamboo ladder to enter this longhouse. We then had to step over a short board at the entrance to the longhouse.

On entering the dark longhouse, we could clearly see mats on the floor on either side of the walkway. A few of the sections had beds probably for the seniors of the tribe.

Cooking stoves, pots and utensils could be seen because each family cooked their meals inside the longhouse. The huge, sturdy wooden beams and flooring were stained black from all the cooking activities. The families also had their meals inside the longhouse. For some privacy when needed, there were curtains between each section which could be easily drawn. On an even higher level, there is an open storehouse where unused equipment could be stored.  I spied two guitars in the storehouse.

On the ground level, the Batak people kept their poultry, pigs, dogs and other animals while high above the curved and distinctive roof was the prominent image of a Buffalo’s Head. The buffalo is a hugely important animal to the Batak people. The washing of clothes, bathing and toilet facilities were on the ground level and in another building further away from the longhouse.

Impressive Batak Influenced Architectural Building

Our driver cum guide, Pak Wardi knew that we are Catholics and so although this place was not on our itinerary, he brought us to visit this imposing and beautiful structure. It is a church dedicated to St Francis of Assisi.

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St Francis of Assisi Church

St Francis is known as a lover of animals. But he is probably better known worldwide for his powerful and meaningful prayer:

“ Lord make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred, let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith”.

There are many more verses in this well-crafted prayer.

The church is situated in very spacious grounds and has within the compound of the church, a dormitory or quarters for visiting priests, priests under training in a seminary and students. By some lucky coincidence, we also had the pleasure of meeting a well known and respected local of Dutch origin. He is Fr. Leo Joosten who has spent the best part of 50 years in Brastagi.

Fr. Joosten informed us about two interesting matters. The architecture is Batak influenced. He did not want any Dutch or foreign influence. It had to reflect the local Batak influence. He also said that the Brastagi area has thus far produced and trained over 230 priests who are currently serving on the island.

It was a tour of unexpected surprises.

We loved the cool climate in Brastagi. I am disappointed that the local government does not see the need for a proper highway, at least two lanes each way, to be built from Medan to Brastagi and beyond. The highway should also have proper Rest and Refresh Centres with all the supporting services and facilities needed. This would give the economy a huge boost.

 

A Speaker of Extraordinary Competence, Courage and Conviction

John Bercow  – Speaker of the House of Commons

“ It is important that the decorum and dignity of the House is upheld at all times.” Pratibha Patil

Rarely in my lifetime have I seen a truly extraordinary speaker of courage, conviction and competence preside over a sitting of the House of Commons. But of late, I must confess, that I have been impressed by the surefooted handling of a sometimes boisterous and often heated sitting of the House of Commons. Thanks in part to the availability of 24 hour TV coverage for that opportunity.

Bringing Dignity and Decorum to the Office

The House of Commons is the United Kingdom’s lower, but certainly more influential chamber of Parliament. The upper house is the House of Lords.

John Bercow

Watching John Bercow preside with supreme authority and firmness over an oftentimes heated debate, one is left in no doubt that this is a speaker who brooks no nonsense. John chooses instead to bring dignity, class and decorum to that important office. The job of a speaker of parliament is, without doubt, a difficult one and it has a number of challenges.

Re-elected Speaker Thrice

John Bercow, in his mid fifties has been the speaker of the House of Commons since 2009. He graduated from the University of Essex with a BA Honours ( 1st Class ). He is a strong, ‘ never say die ‘  personality and he was only elected a Member of Parliament for Buckingham in his third attempt!

He is a member of the Conservative Party but that party membership did not prevent him from carrying out his duties with utmost fairness, competence and dignity. These are the hallmarks of a great speaker and / or an able chairman of a meeting.

That may well explain why he has been re-elected unopposed as speaker three times. There was, however, an attempt once to remove him as speaker but this move thankfully was narrowly defeated.

Makes for Compelling and Dramatic Theatre

John Bercow, about five feet six inches in height and possessing a shock of greying hair, makes for very interesting and dramatic theatre. He goes about discharging his onerous duties as the presiding officer during parliamentary sittings and debates with a degree of calm assurance. With the Brexit debate looming large and constant, he has been a force to be reckoned with.

John Bercow uses his sharp tongue, quick response, thunderous voice and body language, including facial expressions, to good effect. He is famous for commanding: Order! Order! often during rowdy sessions. This is because he truly believes and has insisted on scrupulously ensuring that both sides of an argument are always heard. Good temper and moderation are, without doubt, the characteristics of parliamentary language.

“Parliament is supposed to be serious. It is not a place for jingoistic cheering.” – Jeremy Corbyn

Comments from Some Members of Parliament

A number of Conservative Party MPs, however, are disappointed by John Bercow’s handling of his duties. A few have described him as being unfair. One person said he behaved like a verbal playground bully in the way he treated his colleagues. There were also other unflattering comments.

On the other hand, the deputy leader of the Labour Party had some positive things to say about John Bercow as a speaker.

Memorable Quotes from John Bercow

John Bercow described the Brexit debates in the House of Commons as being among the worst he has seen in 22 years as an MP. He said some of the insults hurled at MPs were ‘low grade and vulgar’.

On accusations made against him by those claiming he favoured the opinions of Remainers , John Bercow famously retorted: ‘ If you are losing the match, its quite bad form to blame the referee.’

John Bercow has also wisely gone on record by stating : ‘It should be possible for us as democrats to disagree agreeably’. Where indeed have the courtesy, respect and decency, usually accorded to fellow parliamentarians, gone in these hallowed halls?

Taking Leave of Their Senses

Contrast that assertion with the circus we see in some notable western democracies of late.  At the other end of the spectrum, we have also seen on TV, from time to time, violent fistfights, shoe-throwing incidents and some other ruckus in a few parliaments.

Apparently, taking leave of their senses occasionally is quite normal for those parliamentarians who have chosen the cowardly way out by reacting emotionally rather than thinking through issues intelligently!

On The Flip Side

Few speakers anywhere in the world display this sort of serious approach to that high office. Many speakers, although well-qualified individuals are known to be partial and downright incompetent.

They act stupid not because they are stupid but because they have not bothered to develop a sturdy backbone for that high office.

Casually Demeaning That High Office

These individuals are prepared to casually jettison good sense, fair play and decency for short term political gain. In that disgusting process, these delinquent speakers demean the high office by their irresponsible behaviour.

These so-called speakers are easily seduced by the position, glamour and perks of high office. Before an election to high office, they piously claim to represent the people! But once elected and in office, they choose instead to serve some vested interests.

By acting in a such a silly, unfair and incoherent manner these individuals are signalling that they are prepared to be lackeys of the government of the day. What a horrible legacy to bequeath their families and the nation!

John Bercow is slated to resign as speaker of the House of Commons on 31 October 2019. Whoever succeeds him, and there are nine candidates in the running currently, is in for a rough ride and a rude awakening because these are mighty big shoes to fill!

Photo courtesy Saeima – Apvienotās Karalistes parlamenta Pārstāvju palātas priekšsēdētāja oficiālā vizīte Latvijā, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=74414660