Dragon (a novel by Rose Gan)

by Maganjeet Kaur

Francis Light is no stranger to us. We know him as a buccaneer and the founder of a British colony on Penang. But who was he really? Where did he come from? What drove him? These questions are explored in Rose Gan’s thrilling novel Dragon: Penang Chronicles 1. The book will be available at the local bookshops by the first week of November 2021 but it is possible to pre-order it online.

I have had the pleasure of reading an advance copy; as a historical novel, it satisfies both the need to have beauty of language in a book as well as the desire for historical information. Rose is adept at creating atmosphere – her description of places, people and events immerses the reader in the time-period in question and, thus, appreciate the story at a deeper level. The novel also fleshes out the many facets of Light’s personality allowing us to understand him better than through the two-dimensional character typically depicted in history books.

The story is so real and engrossing that one may forget this is a work of fiction. We must remember though that there is a lot unknown about Light especially of his early life. We don’t even know how he looks like – the statue at Fort Cornwallis is based on the likeliness of his son, William. Rose’s filling in the gaps based on the in-depth research she has undertaken seem very plausible. Overall, although the book is filled with facts, it is an easy and pleasant read.

Book Launch at Ubud Festival – 10 October, 6.30pm (GMT +8)

Rose will be sharing her journey writing the book on 10 October at the Ubud Festival (click here for details).

Her talk will be streamed live on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. Do tune in; you can interact with Rose at this time and ask any questions you may have. If you are not free on the 10th, the recording will remain available online at the links above.

I have written a short summary below if you want to understand the story before the talk (no spoilers, I promise).

The Story in short

The story opens in Suffolk, England, in 1740 with the impending birth of Light, conceived through an illicit love affair. The soon- to- be father sought help to place the unwanted child in adoptive care with the directive that the child be brought up as a gentleman (or a lady, if female). Thus, upon birth, the baby became the son of Mary Light, a young widow, with Sir William Negus as his guardian. Sir William, fond of the boy, provided him with a grammar school education as befitting a gentleman.

We first meet Francis Light at Seckford School in Woodbridge, Suffolk, and quickly come to realise that even at the tender age of fourteen, Light was no pushover; his careful planning and execution to extract revenge on a bullying schoolmate shows the single-minded deviousness with which he later grabbed Penang Island from the Sultan of Kedah. He was a poor student. Although obviously clever, he could not apply attention to the likes of Greek and Roman verbs or religious education. Hence, the principal of the school felt it better if he withdrew from school and focussed on learning a trade. However, he yearned to join the Royal Navy thinking he could, through hard work, climb up the ranks and, in time, command his own ship in spite of his lowly illegitimate status in life. A war could make this a reality.

left: Seckford’s Free School, Woodbridge, a sketch by Thomas Churchyard  c. 1800; right: A small windowpane from the original school, later town library, etched with the names of Francis Light and James Lynn. It was donated to the Penang Museum. Rose has weaved the windowpane into the story in the scene where Light extracts revenge.

In October 1754, he joined the HMS Mars as a surgeon’s assistant. Although bitterly disappointed that he could not join at the rank of midshipman because of his low social status, he made the best of the situation and sought to learn quickly. Here, we catch a glimpse of life on board a warship and understand the importance of rank in eighteenth century British genteel society. We also see his character unfold further – he is observant, calculative, learns quickly and is a good judge of character. He is no fool and does not trust people easily. When the ship runs aground, Light’s singular act of bravery saves all the men on-board and earns him the friendship of Captain John Amherst, which would help his naval career over the next few years.

Example of an East Indiaman, c. 1770. This was a generic term for European ships headed to India.

An appointment with Sir John Cleveland, the First Secretary to the Admiralty, put him in high hopes of getting his name on the List and entering the ranks of an Officer. He was to be disappointed. Then, a chance meeting with James Scott, a former shipmate on the Arrogant, got him thinking of a career path outside the navy. Scott had been offered a position with the East India Company (EIC), also known as the Honourable Company, and was due to sail out shortly. He suggested Light follow his lead as there was opportunity for making lots of money out East. Being illegitimate, however, his application to the EIC was rejected and, so, he went to India as a common sailor on the Clive, an East Indiaman headed to Madras (known also as Fort St. George to the British, today Chennai). In Madras, Light landed a job with the country traders Jourdan, Sullivan and DeSouza, and he finally realised his ambition of captaining a ship.

Representative of the Speedwell type of ship, a country ship captained by Light

Rose fleshes out more of Light’s character. We see a soft side to him when he adopts a starving, orphaned child after he stumbles over him at the entrance of his lodgings. The kid was around ten years old, possibly Bugis, spoke Malay and answered to the name of Soliman. They teach each other their languages and Light’s mastery of Malay would hold him in good stead when he started trading along the Straits of Malacca. We also see that he is not averse to profiteering and smuggling when he sneaks into Dutch-controlled Ceylon. In a run-in with a Bugis ship in which not only his ship and goods were in danger of being seized, but he and his crew potentially slain, we see Light as a silver-tongued orator sweet-talking the Bugis into doing business with him and outsmarting the Dutch.

His old friend, James Scott, had left the Honourable Company and had become an entrepreneur. Light catchs up with him in Junk Ceylon (Phuket today, known previously as Thalang to the Siamese and Ujung Salang to the Malays). Scott wanted Light to partner with him but Light prevaricated. His conversations with Scott reveal his motivations – he wants to be accepted as an equal and to go back to England in glory as a gentleman. Unlike Scott, who had married a Malay and does not care for approval, Light was not willing to be cast out of genteel English society. Hence, we see the motivation behind his willingness to work hard in supporting a British settlement in the Straits.

Through his trading trips down the Straits, we get to understand the political undercurrents and the jostling for power in the region – Siam rising under a new king (Tak Sin), the Bugis-Dutch rivalry for control over the Straits, dissent among the chiefs under Sultan Alaudin of Aceh, and the courting of foreign powers to keep local enemies at bay. With Junk Ceylon taken over by Bugis Riau and Kedah beleaguered by a rebellion as well as by Bugis Selangor, Sultan Muhammed Jiwa of Kedah suggests the EIC set up a trading post at Kuala Kedah and promised that all trade would pass through British hands. He reasons that this will keep other powers at bay and he enlists Light’s help to forward the proposal to the EIC. Is this the chance Light has been seeking for so many years?

19th century Phuket

Light’s attention also turns to marriage. In his typical calculative fashion, he singles out Thong Di – her mother is a member of the Kedah royalty and her father’s family is well connected politically and economically in Thalang. Thong Di herself is a widow with two children; her deceased husband, Martim Rozells, was a good friend with whom he had previously done business. However, Thong Di throws him a curve ball when she suggests an alliance between Light and her daughter, Martinha. Light initially baulks at marrying a girl half his age but eventually comes around after weighing the advantages of the union.

The book ends with Scott suggesting the time was right to ask the Sultan to bestow on him the pearl that he had always wanted – the island of Penang, which he could develop into a settlement. His success in obtaining Penang and his relationship with Martinha is explored in Pearl: Penang Chronicles 2, which will be published next year.

left: statue of Francis Light at Fort Cornwallis; right: portrait of a Malay woman by Robert Home, c. 1790. Could this be Martinha?

Shooting Birds: What one Museum Volunteer does during the Covid-19 Pandemic

by V. Jegatheesan

To paraphrase Lynn Thomson:

To be standing together in a frosty field, looking up into the sky, marvelling at birds and revelling in the natural world around us, is a simple miracle. And I wonder why we are so rarely able to appreciate it.”

Lynn Thomson, Birding with Yeats: A Mother’s Memoir [paraphrased]

A recent article in our blog titled ‘Volunteering at the Museum during the Covid-19 Pandemic’ by Karen Loh, touched on the Museum Volunteers’ organisation and its continuing work. It prompted me to reflect on the previous year. Museum Volunteers have largely carried on with normal life, as well as some new things in the sudden ‘time windfall’. Of course, there is the shopping, cooking, house cleaning because the house cleaner cannot come in, and the outdoor exercises. Tasks previously done on weekends are now spread out over the week. There are the unusual activities like cooking or baking foods you never did before and repairs you always wanted to do but put off. I, however, have found a way to indulge in bird photography just around my garden.

I am a keen amateur observer of birds, but I have only observed because I did not have a powerful camera. I do have powerful binoculars and used this to take notes and then refer to all the colour plates in the book I have on birds to identify them. A challenge in itself. Then, a good friend insisted I use his spare Canon EOS1 Ds Mark III, together with a 400mm and 70-200mm zoom lens. This truly opened up a completely new world nine months ago. Somehow, it seemed that the various birds knew their pictures were going to be taken, so they all appeared and posed for me. After that, some of them would not be seen for a long while or ever again.

Being near Bukit Gasing helps making a collection just by being in the garden. However, it involves hearing new sounds, keeping the camera always on the ready and with its battery charged. The first pictures I took were of the Scaly-breasted Munia. They are certainly rare, at least in my garden, as I have never seen them again. They come in pairs and move slowly around a bushy plant, pecking away at tiny insects or seeds.

Scaly-breasted Munia

Mind you, bird photography is not just point and shoot. The quick dash to capture the pictures, the excitement and shooting it quick in case it flies off, all makes one nervous with a shaky hand resulting in a few slightly blurred initial pictures. However, unlike film, with a digital you can take as many pictures as you want until your hand steadies, because it is all free! All part of the fun!

Then again, many birds sit high up a tree or they may be far away. Then, there are birds that never sit still but continuously flit about in the bushes such as this Olive-backed Sunbird. How does it feed at that speed I wonder?

Olive-backed Sunbird

The Crested Serpent Eagle is a real treat. I first sighted it in the early morning on top of a dead pinang tree. A few days later, that vain bird (or maybe another) was on the top of the telephone pole right outside my front gate like a sentinel! Was it oblivious to my clicking away? It does make an appearance now and again in the late evening, perched regally looking around for prey, which could be snakes or frogs and rats. These eagles nest up in the bukit. On some hot breezy days sometime after 10am, they spread their wings and circle, ‘riding the thermals’ as the hot air lifts them higher and higher, till they disappear from view, with a call that sounds like a baby’s cry.

Crested Serpent Eagle. Clockwise from top-left: in flight, on telephone pole, on pinang tree, up close

If you see the eagle’s crown is ruffled, it is best to make a quick exit, as this means the bird is angry.

I must qualify that the comments I make here are based on my own observations over time and not from books – so please do not challenge me lah. While I could use scientific names like birderus whateverus, I prefer the simple names. Admittedly, I am not yet familiar with the sub-species. Only for a few birds, I can distinguish between male and female. While the explanations are simple, detailed descriptions like habitats, migration patterns, range etc., are avoided as this is all about my sightings only.

Naturally, other than the exotic birds, there are the few plebeian, or ‘commoner birds’. These will be familiar to all.

Clockwise from top-left: Yellow-vented Bulbul, Eurasian tree sparrow, Magpie Robin, Javan Myna

Black-naped Oriole with small fruit

Left: Peaceful Dove, Right: Spotted Dove

Spotted Dive in flight

The Kingfisher comes by because of a monsoon drain nearby. It dives down into this drain and comes up with a guppy in its beak. A couple of wallops of the beak on the wire kills the fish, which then gets swallowed. They are also partial to worms and caterpillars.

Left: White-throated Kingfisher, Right: White-throated Kingfishers fighting for caterpillar

White-throated Kingfisher – the winner

Then there are the seasonal birds, though some have become resident. I first sighted the Koel in this area, as well as in many other parts of the country in about the late 1980s, usually between November and March. Over the years it has become resident all over the country. A very shy bird which is almost always hidden in the trees and therefore difficult to photograph. But one of the ‘gems’ if captured on film.

Left: Female Koel; Right: Male Koel

Their call is a short continuous ‘woo woo’, which gets louder and louder. On a cool evening with the setting sun and a light breeze, the call truly sounds the knell of parting day. (Note to self:  get a video camera).

The Philippine Glossy Starling is a simple black beauty in low light but is really a glossy dark-green in full light. It usually flies in a small flock, roving from one plant to another to feed, stopping long enough to be photographed.

Left: Philippine Glossy Starling; Right: Immature Philippine Glossy Starling

Another year-end bird is the Green Bee-eater, which I first saw at the Kuala Gula Sanctuary swamps ages ago. These are still year-end birds and remain so, except that there are stragglers staying on later than before. They sit on a wire, then dive or fly up and catch a bee mid-air and get back to the wire to eat. If the bee is a bit large, the bird beats its beak on the wire to kill the bee first.

Green Bee-eater, can be seen eating a bee

Some birds you hear but are difficult to see due to their size. They need some effort as they flit quickly in the bushes, pecking at unseen things on branches and twigs. Below are two examples – the Asian Brown Flycatcher and Common Tailorbird.

top: Asian Brown Flycatcher, bottom: Common Tailorbird

The Coppersmith Barbet has a strong voice. Its sound is a regular beat ‘tonk tonk tonk’ and it can go on for quite a while with short intervals, and a ‘sore throat tonk’ sometimes in between. The sound is similar to a coppersmith beating metal to shape it and hence the name of the bird.

Coppersmith Barbet

When I was shooting the Koel, along came this proud Pink-necked Green Pigeon and settled on a nearby branch.

Pink-necked Green Pigeon

Now comes another set of very rare birds for this area; I have seen each of them only once and never saw them again. It was sheer luck of being at the right place at the right time.

Banded Woodpecker

left: a pair of Greater Goldenback Woodpeckers; right: the female of the species

male Greater Goldenback Woodpecker (the redhead is the male)
Wild fowl (ayam hutan)

The Little Egret and White-breasted Waterhen do frequent the neighbourhood, but you need sharp eyes and have to be well hidden to get them.

Little Egret near the monsoon drain
White-breasted Waterhen

Other interesting creatures visited as well.

Left: Common Birdwing Butterfly; Right: Monkey

This bat used to hang from an outer ceiling all day for a few months; flying off in the evening, returning later in the night and then messing up the floor below. You can see why – it was eating a jambu air the night I took this shot.

Bat eating jambu air

Then there is the pesky tree shrew; nevertheless a beauty of its own, unless it runs into the house.

Tree Shrew

This last picture is of birds in a feeding frenzy after an evening rain – all flying so swiftly and up high.

Feeding frenzy after rain

I have yet to get a good shot of the common crow, which does fly by but up high. That is on my To Sight List, which also includes the Heron. For the Heron, I may have to make an exception and go to Taman Jaya to spot them in the ditches. Who knows what other birds I may find there!

When it is safe to travel, trips to Kuala Gula, Frasers Hill and other places are on the card. This will add variety to my personal collection, which I have titled ‘Birds Seen by Me’.

Volunteering at the Museum during the Covid-19 Pandemic

by Karen Loh

The International Museum Day’s theme this year, “The Future of Museums: Recover and Reimagine” is appropriate in view of the current pandemic and its uncertain future. This article is about the Museum Volunteers’ (MV) experience as we navigated the series of lockdowns, which began on 18 March, 2020.

Volunteering at the National Museum (Muzium Negara)

Having a guide whilst visiting a museum, be it a docent, audio guide or booklet enhances a visitor’s experience. For one hour or so, the visitor journeys with the guide and travels back in time to a particular period through the displays and information boards on vitrines in the gallery. The artefacts are brought to life by factual stories imparted to them as they navigate that display. For example, the visitor does not only marvel at a 560-year-old shipwrecked celadon dish but follows its journey from the time it was first fired at Sisachanalai, Thailand. It was then loaded onto a ship destined for markets in South East Asia but the ship tragically sunk during a great storm. There it lay for 540 years until a marine archaeologist recovered it and it made its way to a museum vitrine, on display, having never served its original purpose.

How then can a visitor experience this journey with their docent when the guided tours have been cancelled and the museums closed due to the pandemic? Even as museums reopen to the public, the number of visitors is limited and guided tours restricted to fewer numbers in a tour group.

New Norm – finding a suitable video-conferencing/virtual meeting platform

When we began the first MCO on 18 March 2020, many of us took the lockdown as an opportunity to rest, spring clean, read the books we had kept aside to read later and indulge in television. Muzium Negara was closed indefinitely and all of our volunteer activities at the museum with it. As the two-week lockdown became four weeks then eight and so on, it became clear to the MV committee that some changes had to be made. We could not afford to sit around and wait for the museum to reopen. The first thing the committee had to do was to learn how to hold our meetings in some alternate mode like video-conferencing platforms. We had to adapt to today’s technology. The second thing was to get the members acquainted with the new technology. We all had to learn how to join an online meeting, turning on or muting our microphone, turning our video camera on or off and screen share, all of which are done effortlessly today. Not willing to pay for any service then, we looked at different video-conferencing platforms besides Zoom (which provided only 40-minutes free service), like Microsoft Teams, Skype, Google Meet where subscription payment was not required. While many of the video-conferencing platforms provide similar service, the committee decided to subscribe to Zoom after the second lockdown (MCO 2.0).

MV Committee in a Zoom meeting

The MVs who did not stop working – Research and Focus Teams

Although all of our guided tours and school programme activities came to a halt, our Research team and Focus team continued to operate. The Research team have a deadline to produce Muzings, which is MV’s annual digest. A draft copy of Muzings has to be submitted to JMM for approval before the end of every year until 2024. Besides discussing our articles and trying to solve problems in sourcing for research material, we also held in-house presentations online. This proved to be another learning curve as those who have done this would tell you that speaking to a computer screen with everybody else muted and video camera turned off is a very lonely experience.

The Focus team rolled out their first webinar in July 2020. We hosted the presentation from the IT lab in JMM with assistance from the IT technicians, using JMM’s Skype for business platform. The talk was given in-person by the speaker along with the Focus team present at the IT lab to our attendees online. Though the lab was limited to six people due to SOP, I think this little bit of human presence boosted the speaker’s morale. We also used the extra half hour before the start of a talk to interact with our members online. MCO 2.0 prompted us to subscribe to a video-conferencing platform. All talks from then on were conducted remotely. In retrospect, using a video-conferencing platform has been beneficial to the MV, for not only online meetings and webinars but also reaching out to speakers who do not live in the Klang valley. This has been the positive side of the pandemic. The Focus team and Research team have been able to reach out to speakers from around the world (taking into account the time difference of course). Seminars or conferences, which we had to travel to, to attend previously, could now be attended virtually in the comfort of our homes. It has certainly lessened our carbon footprint.

Interactive Projects at Muzium Negara – new forms of cultural experience

There were months in between the lockdowns when the museum was reopened. MVs used this opportunity to complete their training programme, which had been put on hold since 2019. Other projects such as the following were introduced:

i)  One-hour recorded tours by volunteer guides in four languages: English, French, Japanese & Korean. The tours highlight selected artefacts in each of the four galleries in the museum. The recorded tours have been posted on Muzium Negara’s Facebook page.

ii) Shorter five-minute recorded talks on one artefact in the museum in the language of the guide’s choice. These talks are posted on Muzium Negara’s Facebook and Instagram pages.

iii) Proposed MV activities at the museum after the lockdown: cooking and paper-folding demonstrations as well as a beginner’s level language course.

Looking forward – Results and Discussion

i) Sustainability of the volunteer training programme. In order to become a museum volunteer guide, all docents have to attend the 16-week MV training programme. This programme was cancelled for 2020 and 2021; the programme for 2022 is still under consideration. The training programme involves a classroom style in-person attendance and museum walk-throughs. While online training has not been explored, another option would be lesser numbers per session.

ii) Whether the museum is able to provide MV guides with face shields, face masks and/or wireless tour guide portable audio system for group tours.

Conclusion

There is a global vaccination programme going on with governments providing Covid vaccines for free. As more people are vaccinated, will our volunteer guides resume their duties when the museum reopens? Will visitors need to produce vaccine passports? If not, will our guides feel safe conducting in-person tours? Vice-versa, will visitors join a guided tour? Is the use of audio-guided tours the best alternative? There is still much to be discussed and decided.

Taking the AstraZeneca Vaccine

by Karen Loh

As with most people, my husband and I contemplated taking the AstraZeneca (AZ) vaccine when it was announced that it would be available to anyone on a volunteer basis. After talking to a few friends in the UK and France who had already taken the AZ vaccine, we decided to register. Yes, we read about the risks of blood clots, etc. but trusted the scientific reports that the benefits far outweighed the risks. I think I must have been one of the first batches of volunteers who registered as I was given the 3pm time slot on the first day of vaccination at Universiti Malaya (UM) on 5 May.

Before I knew it, it was the 5th of May and it was time to take the vaccine. Using Waze, I arrived at Bangunan Peperiksaan, UM around 2:45pm. For those who are also going to UM, there is plenty of parking available on its premises. The many signage placed around the premise were also helpful. From the entrance of the building, volunteers/staff were stationed at various stops to assist. The process went something like this:

Step 1

First stop, scan MySejahtera app with my phone.

Step 2

Show the person at the counter/desk my appointment slot. Only those who have an appointment that day will be allowed to enter the hall (If you have the same date with a family member, I read that you can go together irrespective of your different time slots. Just choose one of your appointment times).

Step 3

Temperature taken and a numbered card was given.

Step 4

Take a seat and wait to be called.

Step 5

The following stop was to confirm my identity. I was asked to scan the QR code with my MySejahtera app and produce my MyKad (or passport for expats). A few general Covid questions were asked – whether I had been in close contact with a Covid patient, been out of the country, where I worked. Two health consent forms were then given; these were to be filled out and signed later at the next stop (you can fill up the forms first and leave signature part for later as it has to be signed in front of the doctor).


Health consent form is double sided with one side in English and the other side in Malay

Step 6

The next stop is a quick consultation with a doctor. The doctor asked me whether I had any allergies, pre-existing health conditions, whether I was on any medication and then proceeded to brief me on the side effects of the vaccine. The most common side effects include a sore arm where the shot was administered, slight fever, mild headache, fatigue, muscle pain and nausea. She also warned that if any of these symptoms became severe and if rash appeared, to go to the nearest hospital or report the symptoms on MySejahtera. Fortunately, other than a headache I experienced the next day, my side effects were minimal. I was advised to take paracetamol for my headache.

The consultation desks where the doctors are seated

Step 7

Taking the AstraZeneca vaccine! As soon as the consent forms were signed (the doctor takes one form while I was given the other), I was ushered to a booth for the shot. I was instructed to place my left hand over my right arm, take a deep breath and then it was done. There was no pain at all, just a pinprick feeling over within seconds.

Vaccination booths at the back of the waiting area

Step 8

After the shot, I was asked to proceed to the waiting area for observation. The observation period is usually 15 minutes. After the wait, I had to scan MySejahtera app again to update my vaccination report, which has the vaccination date, vaccine number and batch number. A vaccination card was also issued and I was informed that that the second dose would be given after 12 weeks and the date confirmed later.

In conclusion, the AZ vaccination process was quick and efficient. It took less than one hour from Step 1 to the time I took this photo!

Tribute to Cikgu Lee

by Eric Lim

When my fellow Museum Volunteer sent a message asking whether I had heard news of the passing of Cikgu Lee, I brushed her off and told her that I had met him about a week ago at his centre and he was perfectly fine. Not too long after, the official news came from other Museum Volunteers of his passing. Cikgu Lee died of a heart attack and he was only 66 years old.

Lee Kim Sin, or affectionately known as Cikgu Lee, was from Merbok, Kedah. He was a teacher at SMJK Yu Hua, Kajang, before he stood for elections during GE 12 in 2008 for the Kajang state seat. He came out victorious with a majority of 3,268 votes. I met him for the first time when he attended one of our Tai Chi events at Mewah Club in 2010. My next meeting with him came ten years later, in early 2020 when he was the Director of the Kajang Heritage Centre located at Jalan Mendaling. I wanted his permission to bring visitors to the centre and, at the same time, request him to narrate the history of Kajang and the surrounding towns. Since then, I have been a frequent visitor to the centre.

Every time I set foot in the Centre, I learnt new things from Cikgu Lee. He was ever willing to share his knowledge with us. I still recall vividly that I told him that I was writing articles about places and he would immediately mention the major events that took place in the town. For example: Broga – thermal incinerator project, Rawang – protest against the construction of high tension electric cable towers, Tanjong Malim – Battle of Slim River, Dengkil – discoveries at Jenderam Hilir and Orang Asli land issue at Bukit Tunggul.

Cikgu Lee was also a keen researcher on the Sin Sze Si Ya temples in our country. He was passionate about the preservation and conservation of the town. For one of his projects, the Taman Tasik Sungai Chua, a former tin mine, he worked closely with the Kajang Municipal Council, and this project ultimately came to fruition. It was officially opened last year to great response from residents of Kajang; I am a frequent user.

Kajang as well as the cultural and heritage community will miss you dearly. Rest in peace, Cikgu Lee.

Tales from the Malay Annals: The Wisdom of Tun Perak

by Alvin Chua

One of Melaka’s most formidable foes was the Kingdom of Siam, now known as Thailand, whose power reached as far south as the Malay Archipelago. All the kingdoms of the region, with the exception of Melaka, acknowledged Siam as their overlord and paid tribute to the Siamese king.

When Bubunnya, the King of Siam, learned that the Melakans had not accepted Siamese suzerainty, he demanded a letter of obeisance from them. At that time, the ruler of Melaka was Sultan Muzaffar Shah. He rejected Bubunnya’s demand. When the Siamese king heard of the Sultan’s refusal to submit, he was furious and ordered his army to prepare for war. The Siamese army, which was placed under the command of Awi Chakra, marched down the Malay Peninsula until they arrived in Pahang.

Frontispiece of a Jawi edition of the Malay Annals. Image: Wikimedia Commons (public domain)

When Sultan Muzaffar Shah received news of the impending Siamese invasion, he assembled an army by ordering his vassals to bring their soldiers to Melaka. One of the vassals who responded to the sultan’s order was Tun Perak, a chieftain from Klang, Selangor. Unlike the rest of the Sultan’s vassals, Tun Perak brought not only his warriors, but also their wives and children. The men of Klang saw this as an inconvenience and complained about it during their audience with the Sultan.

Sultan Muzaffar Shah was intrigued by what he had heard so decided to get to the bottom of the matter. He summoned one of his heralds, Sri Imarat, who was originally from Pasai, northern Sumatra. Thanks to his wit and eloquence, he had been appointed as a herald at the court of Melaka. Sri Imarat was instructed by the Sultan to question Tun Perak about this issue when he came to present himself. A stool was then placed below the Sultan’s knees, Sri Imarat’s usual spot. When he sat on this stool, the herald carried the Sword of State and delivered the Sultan’s messages.

Once Sri Imarat had taken his seat, Tun Perak entered the court and presented himself to Sultan Muzaffar Shah. The herald addressed the chieftain, “Tun Perak, your men have complained thus to the Sultan: all the other vassals of the Sultan have brought only their warriors to Melaka, whilst we were commanded by our chief to bring our wives and children. Tun Perak, what is your explanation for this?” Tun Perak made no reply, so Sri Imarat repeated his question. Tun Perak maintained his silence.

An artists depiction of Tun Perak; photo taken at the Malacca Sultanate Palace Museum. Image credit: Orhanghazi (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Sri Imarat questioned Tun Perak a third time, and only then did he respond, “Hey Imarat! Take good care of yourself and of the Sword of State that you bear. Let not its blade rust, nor its tip lose its sharpness. What do you know about the work of us fighting men? His Majesty resides here in Melaka with his wives, his children, and all his belongings. Do you think it would be right for a vassal to bring only his warriors to defend the city? Should anything happen to Melaka, what would it matter to us? That is why I instructed my men to bring along their wives and children, so that they would fight the Siamese to the utmost. Even if they lose their resolve to do battle for the Sultan, they will continue fighting in order to protect their families.”

Sultan Muzaffar Shah was impressed by Tun Perak’s wisdom and approved of his answer. As a reward, the Sultan gave Tun Perak some betel leaves from his own betel box. The Sultan also remarked that Tun Perak should not stay in Klang anymore but move to Melaka so that his services may be put to better use.

Eventually, the Siamese army arrived, and a great battle ensued. The battle lasted for a long time and many Siamese soldiers were killed. The invaders, however, failed to capture Melaka and were forced to retreat.

When the war was over, all the vassals of the Sultan returned to their homes. The Sultan, however, did not allow Tun Perak to return to Klang, but kept him in Melaka. As one might expect, the Siamese were not at all pleased with their defeat, and planned another attack on Melaka. That, however, is another story for another time…!

In this series

The Sultan Who Went Undercover

A Brief Introduction

Reference

Cheah, B. K. (comp.), Abdul Rahman, Hj. Ismail (transcr.). 2009. Sejarah Melayu. Kuala Lumpur: The Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society.

Tales from the Malay Annals: The Sultan Who Went Undercover

by Alvin Chua

Sultan Alauddin Riayat Shah was arguably one of the most hands-on rulers of Melaka. At one point during his reign, the sultanate was suffering from a plague of thieves. These ferocious men not only stole people’s belongings but also violently murdered their victims. This happened night after night, causing all the inhabitants of Melaka to live in fear.

Frontispiece of a Jawi edition of the Malay Annals. Image: Wikimedia Commons (public domain)

When the Sultan heard about the plight of his subjects, he was grief-stricken and resolved to deal with the problem himself. So, one night, Sultan Alauddin Riayat Shah disguised himself as a commoner and left his palace with two of his warriors, Hang Isap, also known as Hang Siak, and Hang Isak. The three men travelled incognito around Melaka to see for themselves the situation in the city. 

During their patrol, the Sultan and his companions encountered a group of five robbers who were carrying a huge chest laden with valuables. The thieves, shocked by the unexpected appearance of the three men, dropped their loot, and fled the scene. The Sultan opened the chest and commanded Hang Isak to keep his eye on it, while he and Hang Isap gave chase to the robbers.

The two men followed the robbers up a hill, finally catching up with them under a large weeping fig tree. The Sultan attacked and succeeded in killing one of them. Using his parang, the Sultan slashed the criminal at his waist, splitting him in two like a cucumber. The rest of the thieves fled for their lives but Sultan Alauddin Riayat Shah still would not relent. At a bridge, the Sultan caught up with them again, and killed another. The three remaining thieves managed to escape from the Sultan by jumping into the river and swimming to the other side. The Sultan returned to Hang Isak, ordering him to bring the chest back to the palace. After a long and tiring night, the Sultan and his men finally reached home.

Parang Jengkok, Gallery B Muzium Negara

The following morning, Sultan Alauddin Riayat Shah held an audience attended by all the ministers and notables of Melaka. The Sultan asked the Temenggung, his minister of public security, whether he had been on duty the night before. When the Temenggung, Sri Maharaja, also known as Tun Mutahir, replied in the positive, the Sultan said, “I heard that two murders occurred last night, one on a hill and the other at a bridge. Might you know who the culprit was?” The Temenggung admitted that he had no idea and was thus reprimanded by the Sultan for sleeping on the job, quite literally so, perhaps.

Sultan Alauddin Riayat Shah then ordered Hang Isap and Hang Isak to bring in the chest that they had seized from the robbers. When the chest was brought in, the Sultan commanded the two warriors to tell the court all that had happened  on the previous night. Hang Isap and Hang Isak did as the Sultan ordered. When they finished their story, everyone bowed to the Sultan in fear.

Fortunately, Sultan Alauddin Riayat Shah was not a tyrannical ruler so no one was punished that day. Neither was he a greedy ruler. Instead of keeping the chest of valuables for himself, which he could easily have done  the Sultan ordered his men to investigate to whom it belonged. It was found that the owner of the chest was a merchant by the name of Ki Tirubalam. The Sultan had the stolen chest returned to the merchant after which everyone went back to their homes.

Melaka Sultanate Palace Museum. Image credit: Namimatisa (Wikimedia Commons)

When night fell, Tun Mutahir, who was still feeling the sting from the Sultan’s admonishment earlier that day, doubled his efforts in guarding Melaka. As the Temenggung was making his rounds, he bumped into a thief, whom he promptly attacked. Not to be outdone by his liege, Tun Mutahir chopped at the thief’s shoulder, hacking the man with such force that the severed limb was flung onto the tie beam of a nearby shop. Imagine the shopkeeper’s shock and horror when he came to work the next morning!

The actions of the Sultan and the Temenggung sent a clear message to any would-be thieves in Melaka. Hence, from that day onwards, Melaka was free from robbery. Sultan Alauddin Riayat Shah went on to enjoy a prosperous reign, while Tun Mutahir eventually attained the position of Chief Minister and became the Bendahara. That, however, is another story for another time!

In this series

Tales from the Malay Annals: A Brief Introduction

Reference

Cheah, B. K. (comp.), Abdul Rahman, Hj. Ismail (transcr.). 2009. Sejarah Melayu. Kuala Lumpur: The Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society.

Was Bujang Valley a Kingdom?

by Marie-Andree Abt

In our museum, Bujang valley (BV) is presented as the first Malay kingdom in the Peninsula, but, as far as I know before beginning this research, we have yet to find any artefact showing it was indeed a kingdom. I wanted to be sure and began to investigate. During my research, I learned a lot about BV, not always directly related to my research but I will share it anyway.

A kingdom is a country ruled by a king or a queen, as per Oxford advanced learner’s dictionary 7th edition.
Bujang valley (Malay: Lembah Bujang) “is a sprawling historical complex and has an area of approximately 224 square kilometres (86 sq mi) situated near Merbok, Kedah, between Gunung Jerai in the north and Muda River in the south. It is the richest archaeological area in Malaysia.” (Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bujang_Valley)
Srivijaya Kingdom was situated in South Sumatra, with its capital at present day Palembang. It was founded in the seventh century by Dapunta Hyang who led twenty thousand troops from Minanga Tamwan to Palambang, Jambi and Bengkulu. This event is recorded in the Kedukan Bukit inscription dated 16th June 683, setting its birth in the seventh century. Chinese sources called Srivijaya “Shi Li Fo Shi” and the Arabs “Sribuza”. Its wealth comes from trade with China, India and the Arabs. It extends to the Strait of Malacca up to Burma and part of Java, over kingdoms that had existed since the second century, if one believes Chinese sources. These kingdoms were trading local products such as benzoin, camphor, dammar, spices, aromatic woods, ivory, tin and gold with Srivijaya, who then sent all that farther. This way of ruling is often described as a mandala (explained later in this article).

In the eighth century, Srivijaya had links with the Sailendra, a Javanese dynasty (which built Borobodur). Srivijaya was a centre of Mahayana Buddhism studies and Sanskrit at least until the twelfth century. Some kings gave money not only to build a temple in South Thailand, but also to repair temples in India and Guangzhou. It had a very good administration with a datu (minister) for each kingdom.

The Indian Tamil Chola king attacked first Kedah then Srivijaya in the eleventh century. Srivijaya was clever enough to make believe that it was the other way around; Chinese envoys always thought that Chola was under Srivijaya rule! In a memorial presented to the Song emperor Huizong in 1106, the Song Shi (Song Annals) records: ‘The Chola kingdom is subject to Srivijaya. We wrote to its ruler on coarse paper’.

The capital of Srivijaya was moved from Palembang to Jambi, centre of the Melayu kingdom, which gave its name to the Malay language. It marks the beginning of the decline of Srivijaya who shared its power between Kedah, Kota Cina and Jambi, becoming Three Vijaya according to Chinese accounts. In 1292, Three Vijaya fell under the Singarasi (another kingdom of which little is known) who then quickly fell to Majapahit. Majapahit founded its wealth not only on trade but also on agriculture, being based on Java, a volcanic fertile soil area. It lasted until 1520 with the rise of Islam in Java.

Srivijaya around the 8th century. Image credit: Gunawan Kartapranata (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Indian written sources

The first to write about BV were the Indian. As early as the second century BCE, Indian writing related trade between BV and some ports of South India that lasted until the 10th century CE. Later, the inscriptions of Tanjore speak of a king of Kedah and Srivijaya and, in 1007, the Chola seemed to have already attacked Kedah. Scholars do not know why.

However, in 1025 the Chola king Rajendra, lobbied by Indian trading guilds fed-up of paying taxes to Srivijaya each time they send a boat in these waters, attacked Srivijaya. The description of this attack informed, “the Maharaja of Kedah and Srivijaya, named Samgramavijayottungavarman, was taken prisoner during the attack of Palembang”. Hence, it seems that, at this time, there was a king of Kedah, but ruling from Srivijaya since he obviously lived in Palembang. After the sacking of Srivijaya, a new Maharaja was enthroned – Sri Deva.

This new king could not “pay” anymore for the allegiance of his vassals and hence they sought independence. Among the first to do so was Kedah, who openly revolted in 1060. Sri Devi chose to make peace with the Chola Kingdom and sought their help to bring Kedah back into the Srivijaya mandala. In 1068, Virajendra, the ruler of Chola, attacked only Kedah, looted it and returned it, graciously, to Srivijaya. This uncommon event confused the Chinese who thought that Chola was under the rule of Srivijaya.

Candi Bukit Batu Pahat; the Merbok Archaeological Museum was built next to this candi

Chinese written sources

Chinese writings mention tributes given to China by the BV polity. In the Sui Shu (History of the Sui, completed in 636 CE), Kedah was called Chitu, Jietu, Geluo or Geluofashaluo. Two missions were sent from China in 607 and in 610. The first one left from Guangzou under the command of Chang Jun. It was bound for Chitu and Luocha. These two were the only destinations for the mission, showing the growing importance, at that time, of these transhipment centres for long distance Persian Gulf-India-China trade.

Chang Jun mentions that the capital of Chitu was named Sengzhi, perhaps located near the Muda River in what is now Kampung Sungai Mas. He describes it as a city surrounded by three concentric walls separated by one hundred paces each. “At each gate, there are painted flying spirits, fairies and Bodhisattva images… The king, we are told, is Li-Fu-Duo-Sai Qu-Tan (Riputro Gautama?). Behind his throne is  a golden crouching  bull and above it , one bejewel parasol and bejewelled fans left and right…Hundreds of Brahmans seated in rows facing each other on left and right. The practice of the residents was to respect Buddha and give special reverence to Brahmans. Indian music was played during the audience with the ruler. When the king sent a nayaka (leader or protector) as an emissary to China, with local products, he also sent a gold leaf letter”. Hence, it appears to be a Buddhist kingdom where Brahmans were key players advising the ruler and performing Indian-based ceremonies.

What is bothering me in this description is the presence of a triple enceinte. As far as I know, archaeologists never found any traces of these walls. Even, if their construction materials were used later as a source of stones or bricks for other constructions, they would have had some sort of foundations … that have not, yet, been found. So was Chitu really Kedah? In my opinion, it still needs to be proven. Other sources, including the Encyclopaedia of Malaysia: Early History, places Chitu in Kelantan. This makes more sense.

In the chronicles of the Tang dynasty (619 to 916 CE) translated by Winstedt, it seems that Kedah was called Kalah or Kora or Kala. It is said that this Kora has a king named Misi Pura Sri Pura and the customs of the people were the same as in Siam. But in the same book, Winstedt writes that Langkasuka was the former name of Kedah and that under the Liang dynasty (502 to 665 CE) people dated the birth of the country four hundred years earlier.

Seventy years after the Chitu mission, yet another name for Kedah in Chinese writing appears – Jietu, again a phonetic rendering of Kedah. In 671, the Chinese monk Yijing left Guangzhou and stopped over at Srivijaya where he studied Sanskrit. He then went to Kacha (probably Kedah) to board a boat to India. This was the first proof that Kedah may have been a major port of embarkation for the long journey to India. When he came back in 685, he noted that Kedah was now under Srivijayan rule. He explains that BV was the northern capital of Srivijaya, levying taxes on the merchandises coming from the West with Palembang, the southern capital, took care of the goods coming from the East.

There are also other sources showing that Jietu was an important port for merchants and monks on their way to India. The Xin Tang Shu notes that south of Panpan lay Geluo. Around 800, Jia Dan writes about Geluo, recording that it had 24 provinces – “It was a major trading port since the 9th century or earlier”. There is no evidence of diplomatic contact between Geluo and Tang China.

Bujang Valley pottery on display at the Merbok Archaeological Museum. Image credit: Anandajoti Bhikkhu (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Arab written sources

As early as the 8th century, Arabic navigational treaties mention Kalah. Several archaeologists have studied the writings of Arab or Persian merchants. According to as-Sin wa’l-Hind, Kalah was a kingdom located near the coast. Kalah-bar (government) was a kingdom under the control of al-Zabaj (Srivijaya). Sulayman describes Kalah as a colony of Srivijaya and an entrepôt trade centre where the traders called to obtain supplies of clean water. Abu Dalaf Misar stated that Kalah was a huge kingdom surrounded by walls, gardens, water, market and houses with a large population…”Kalah has its own social system that is really organised in terms of justice, treatment of offences and matters related to fines”… Katacha entrepôt developed rapidly since the fifth century and it is believed that the port existed since the early century CE. Kataha’s centre at that time was situated at today’s Sungai Mas. Various types of temple architecture and thousands of foreign ceramics are the best proof of it. Relative dating on inscriptions showed that Sungai Mas prospered since the fifth century. Later, the entrepôt was moved to Kampung Pengkalan Bujang.

Modern research

The discovery of glass fragments at site 18, Pengkalan Bujang, was reported by Quaritch-Wales in 1940. With the discovery of laterite stone blocks and bricks in the vicinity, Quaritch-Wales expects them to belong to a palace hall or a building structure in a palace. Ah! Finally proof of Kedah as a kingdom? … Not so sure.

Michel Jacq-Hergoualc’h explains in his Arts Asiatiques article in 1992 that Quaritch thought the main Indianisation of Kedah and South East Asia dated from 550 to 750 with a Pallava colonisation. Alastair Lamb restudied the same areas as Quaritch plus some others and concluded, “We can definitely not use periodization influenced by the too approximate and too partisan Quatrich work. For us, South Kedah is not a small kingdom created by Pallava, it is not even a Malay kingdom Indianised as Quatrich suggested.”

Overall, the study of Chinese ceramics shows that the trading activity moved to Kampung Sireh on Sungai Mudah for a few decades only. Then it moved to Melaka. Hence, from the fifth to eleventh century, BV was centred in Kampung Sungai Mas, South of Merbok River; it was mostly Buddhist if we believe the artefacts found at the candi. From the eleventh to early fourteenth century, the centre moved to Pengkalan Bujang, north of Merbok River and it became mainly Hindu. Beginning of the fourteenth century, it was moved again to Kampong Sireh, which silted at the same time Melaka became the predominant kingdom; so Kedah, as a port, started to decline.

In 2014, John Guy wrote on the formation of states in South East Asia. He does not know exactly how they functioned in term of political organization “whether they are best characterized by fiefdoms, polities, kingdoms or states is open to discussion”. O.W. Walters was the first to suggest they might work as a mandala-negara, an Indian model described in regional inscriptions as “radiating zone, strongest in its centre, weakest at the periphery with porous frontiers that intercepted adjacent tributary”. The peripheral states trade their local product with the more powerful one in the centre, who concentrate and finally send the goods further, creating a kind of loose federation based on trade.

I conclude by referring to Dr Nasha Rodziadi Khaw’s talk to the MV on 6th January 2021. He told us that Kedah trading ports existed from 6th century BC to 1371. It consisted of a confederation of trading polities for which no proof currently exists that they were kingdoms. Hence, so far, it seems we cannot conclude yet if BV was indeed a kingdom.

A sitting Buddha terracotta statue recovered at Site 21 Candi Pengkalan Bujang

References

Dr Cheah Boon Kheng, Early modern history, Archipelago press, 2001

Baker, Jim. Crossroads, Marshall Cavendish editions, 2008

Winstedt. R.O, History of Kedah

Guy John, Last kingdoms. Introducing early Southeast Asia, 2014

Wade Geoff. Beyond the Southern Borders: Southeast Asia in Chinese texts to the 9th century

Sulitiyono, Journal of marine cultures, volume 7

Ramli, Shuaimi Nik Abdul Rhaman, Zain Musa, Samsudin, Rodzi Abdul Razak. Arab-Persian merchants in the Malay peninsula based on foreign sources and archaeological data, Institute of Malay world and civilisation, Faculty of social sciences and humanities, School of history, politics and strategy, The national university of Malaysia.

Selvakumar, V. Commercial interactions between India and Southeast Asia during medieval period and future Interactions between ASEAN and India.

Jacq-Hergoualc’h Michel. Art asiatiques. 1992

Oxford advanced learners’ Dictionary ,7th edition

Munoz, Paul Michel. Early kingdoms of the Indonesian archipelago and the Malay peninsula. Dr Nasha Rodziadi Khaw. MV focus: History and archaeology of ancient Kedah, a reflection of multiculturalism in the Malay Peninsula.

Federated Malay States Railway

by Eric Lim

The introduction of railways in our country occurred in the second half of the 19th century and the British played an important role in its development. However, a Malay Ruler beat the British to the construction of the country’s first railway.

He was Maharaja Sir Abu Bakar of Johor who laid the foundation for the construction of the Johore Wooden Railway (JWR) line connecting Johor Bahru and Gunong Pulai where he had envisioned constructing a sanatorium and a hill resort in 1869. James Meldrum was given the task to build the line. In 1875, upon the completion of the first phase, he invited Sir Andrew Clake and his wife to ride on the steam locomotive, which was purchased from India and was subsequently named Lady Clarke. A few months later, the incoming Governor, Sir William Jervois was invited for a ride. An article in the Straits Observer (Singapore) dated 21 September 1875 reported the abandonment of the JWR line. The JWR was a short-lived railway line purposely built for the Maharaja and his guests.

Maharaja Sir Abu Bakar / Photo source : Wikimedia Commons

In 1880, Maharaja Sir Abu Bakar ordered the construction of another railway, connecting Muar town and the coastal settlement of Parit Jawa, to eventually link with Batu Pahat and Johor Bahru. It became known as the Muar State Railway (MSR).Both JWR and MSR were funded from the state’s coffers. The early construction was done by Malay and Javanese workers and the line began operation on 11 March 1890. MSR was very profitable due to the high traffic of passengers and goods travelling between the terminals. Children attending English school in Muar travelled free. The opening of Jalan Abdul Rahman in 1918, greatly affected the traffic of MSR and eventually the line was closed in 1929. Below, news reports of construction workers who uncovered railway sleepers believed to be part of MSR.

The development of the railway system by the British tied up closely with their involvement in the politics of our country. The first phase started after the Pangkor Treaty of 1874 that saw the start of the Residential System.In 1880, Hugh Low, who was the British Resident of Perak, sought the approval and fund for the first British-built commercial railway line linking Taiping to Port Weld. Construction began in 1882 with help from the Pioneer Corporations of the British Army stationed in Ceylon. The line was completed in 1884 and opened for traffic on 1 June 1885. The locomotive was named Lady Weld, which later became FMSR 1 and ended its service in 1916.

In Selangor, Frank Swettenham who was then the British Resident recommended the construction of the 19-mile line between Kuala Lumpur and Bukit Kuda. It was opened to traffic on 10 September 1886 and it became the second line built by the British. It was extended from Bukit Kuda to Klang, a distance of 2 ½ miles on 17 April 1890. Lady Clarke from the JWR was used on the construction of the Selangor state railway. It was renamed as FMSR 2 and it survived until scrapping in December 1912.

The third line was in Negeri Sembilan. This time, a firm by the name of Hill and Rathborne was granted a concession to construct and operate the 24 ¾ mile long line between Seremban and Port Dickson.Construction started in 1888 and it was completed in 1891. The name of the company set up to run this line was Sungai Ujong Railway Company Limited. The locomotive was aptly named Sungai Ujong and it was later sent to Selangor and was called FMSR 4. It was sold to a contractor in 1909.

Tin production in our country was the fourth largest in the world in the 1870’s, then we became the largest producer in the 1880’s and by the 1890’s, British Malaya was producing more tin than the world’s production combined. Also at this time, the country was heading into agriculture and rubber became the major crop. Commercial cultivation of rubber was developing rapidly and most of the rubber plantations were located along the railway lines.

Model of locomotive used in the Taiping to Port Weld line displayed at Gallery C, National Museum. Photo source : Eric Lim

By the end of the first phase, twenty railway lines were already being constructed connecting all the major mining towns and districts in Perak, Selangor and Negeri Sembilan to their respective ports. The second phase started in 1896, which saw the amalgamation of Perak, Selangor, Negeri Sembilan and Pahang into the Federated Malay States (FMS)under one central administration headed by Frank Swettenham as the first Resident General.

Frank Swettenham, in a bid to unify the railway lines, put forth several suggestions. He suggested a line from Tapah Road to Kuala Kubu (thus linking Perak and Selangor railway system), a line from Taiping to Kuala Perai (Province Wellesley) and an extension of the Pudoh-Sungai Besi-Cheras to the south to connect to the Sungai Ujong line in Seremban. In 1901, saw the formation of the Federated Malay States Railway (FMSR) and two years later in 1903, Province Wellesley, Perak, Selangor and Negeri Sembilan were connected by rail, linking Perai in the north to Port Dickson in the south. Edwin Spooner was appointed as the first FMSR General Manager. By this time, an additional thirty-seven lines were constructed across the FMS.

On 1 December 1905, the section from Tampin to Malacca town was officially opened thus extending the North-South trunk line from one Straits Settlement to another. The Straits Times reported on 4 December 1905 that ‘it is now possible to leave Malacca at 1 pm and arrive in Penang at 6.21 on the following day instead of taking two to three days by steamer’. Malacca Government Railway was awarded the concession to construct the railway line. The following year, they extended the main line from Tampin to Gemas and upon completion, Malacca Government Railway was absorbed into the FMSR.

During the expansion of the railway lines in the FMS, Frank Swettenham had wanted to connect the FMSR from Penang to Singapore passing through Johore but it was turned down by Sultan Ibrahim, who took over the throne from Sultan Abu Bakar who had died in 1895. That impasse ended on 11 July 1904 when the Railway Convention was signed in London. Construction began northward from Johore Bahru at the end of 1904 and in March 1905, construction from Gemas moving southward started. The line passing through Johore was completed in August 1907. However, the line was opened to the public on 1 July 1909 and was known as the Johore State Railway. It later came under the FMSR when the FMS government managed to lease it for 21 years, starting from January 1912 with rental paid each year at an incremental rate. The section to cross the Straits of Johore was made possible with the construction of a causeway at the end of 1919. It was opened for goods trains on 17 September 1923 and later to passenger trains on 1 October 1923.

The next important event that took place was the signing of the Anglo Siamese Treaty a.k.a Bangkok Treaty on 10 March 1909. The treaty was intended to resolve the dispute over railway development and control in the Peninsula. For the latter, the states of Kedah, Perlis, Kelantan and Terengganu were ceded to the British. These four states became known as the Unfederated Malay States (UMS) and Johore was later added to this grouping.

Photo source / The Imperial Locomotive : A study of the Railway System in British Malaya 1885 – 1942

The stage was set for the next grand expansion of the FMSR into the UMS and to the last state in the FMS i.e Pahang. Construction of the railway line connecting Bukit Mertajam to Alor Setar started towards the end of 1912 and it was officially opened in 1915. It was then linked to Bukit Ketri in Perlis on 15 October 1917 and reached the border town of Padang Besar on 1 March 1918. The line from Padang Besar linked up with the Siamese Railway system and it was opened on 1 July 1918. This marked the start of international train services between the two countries, with an initial schedule of three times a week between Perai and Bangkok. The following year, saw the first international express train service from Thonburi to Malaya. By 1920, it was possible to transverse the entire West coast of Malaya, from Padang Besar to Johore Bahru, by rail.

Between 1910 and 1931 theEast Coast line was constructed from Gemas to Pahang and Kelantan, while in Kelantan, construction began from Tumpat. On 15 October 1917, the construction from Gemas had reached Kuala Lipis. In May 1920, it marked another important milestone for the FMSR, with the start of construction of the longest river bridge in the country, the Guillemard Bridge, as a crossing over the Kelantan River. This 600 metres bridge was completed in July 1924. The other river bridge built by FMSR is the Victoria Bridge in Perak, which was built in 1900. The date 5 September 1931 witnessed the completion of the East Coast line connecting Gemas and Bahau (in Negeri Sembilan) through to Mentakab and Kuala Lipis (in Pahang) and finally to Gua Musang, Tumpat and Sungai Golok (in Kelantan).

Guillermard Bridge / Photo source : Wikimedia Commons

By 1935, fifty years after the start of the first British built railway line, FMSR had laid 1321 miles of railway tracks and built 213 permanent stations and 76 halts across the Peninsula. Terengganu remained the only state not connected by the FMSR. (The new railway link infrastructure, East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) will be connecting all the East coast states namely Kelantan, Terengganu and Pahang to the West coast).

References

https://www.academia.edu/1517283/The_Imperial_Locomotive_A_Study_of_the_Railway_System_in_British_Malaya_1885_1942 / updates@Academia.mail.com

Kaur, A. (1980). The Impact of Railroads on The Malayan Economy, 1874-1941. The Journal of Asian Studies, 39(4), 693-710. doi:10.2307/2055178 

Postcards from the south : Memory and history of the Malaysian railways / Book by Mahen Bala / Originally published 2018

My Journey With Malaysia Airlines

Captain Lee Ean Keong

It is a dream of many young boys to fly, soaring high into the wide-open and mysterious skies and feeling adventurous and free. Mine was not any different except that I thought that if I were to take up flying I would be done with books and examinations, which proved to be otherwise. My journey with the airline started in July 1971 when I was selected as a cadet pilot with Malaysia-Singapore Airlines (MSA). It was right after finishing my Form Six (A-Level) in Ipoh.

Unknown to many, the airline started as Malayan Airways and it was actually formed way back in 1937. However, it did not take-off until 1947 due to the Second World War. Its Headquarters was in Singapore. In 1963 with the formation of Malaysia, the airline was renamed Malaysian Airways. Two years later, with Singapore leaving Malaysia in 1965, it was again renamed, this time to Malaysia-Singapore Airlines (MSA). The airline was jointly operated by both Singapore and Malaysia. Malayan Airways Ltd (MAL) started with Airspeed Consul Aircraft and Twin Pioneers. Douglas DC 3 was later introduced into the airline fleet.

I was sent to the Philippines Airline Aviation School for flight training. After training, I was posted to Sabah as a young Second Officer flying as co-pilot on the Fokker Friendship F-27. The road system was not very good those days in East Malaysia. It was more convenient to travel by aeroplanes. As such, we have passengers coming on board carrying chickens in baskets and the next thing you know the chickens were running all over the cabin with the poor stewardesses chasing after them!

Most of the aeroplanes stationed in Sabah and Sarawak were Fokker Friendship F-27 that replaced the DC 3s and Britten Norman Islanders (BN-2). The B737-200 aircrafts were used for flights between East and West Malaysia and Singapore. The first jet aircraft was the de Havilland Comet 4 used for regional and international flights. Unfortunately, Comet 4 had some metal fatigue cracks in the wing structure, which was a safety concern for the airline. The aircraft was replaced with a couple of Boeing 707s.

As early as 1970, there were already differences in opinion between the two governments as to how MSA should be run. The Singapore government was interested in expansion of international routes whereas the Malaysian government was more interested in expansion of domestic routes for obvious reasons. Eventually, MSA was officially split on 30 September 1972 into Malaysian Airline System (MAS) and Singapore International Airlines (SIA). MSA was a very popular airline worldwide. Both governments wanted to utilise these alphabets in their new airlines. The Malaysian government used Malaysian Airline System (MAS) since mas in the Malay language means ‘gold’. The Singapore government called their airline Mercury Singapore Airline (MSA) but finally changed it to Singapore International Airline (SIA).

On 01 October 1972, MAS became operational with two flights taking off in the early morning. Utilising brand new B737-200, the first flight was from Subang Airport to Singapore piloted by Capt. Hassan Ahmad while the second flight from Subang Airport to Penang was piloted by Capt. Khairi Mohd. At that time, only 30 odd Malaysian pilots opted to come back to MAS from MSA. I was one of the pioneers. In my batch of 12 pilots, only three of us opted for MAS. As such, MAS had to recruit a number of expatriate pilots from Australia, New Zealand, Britain and Ireland. I was then stationed in Kuching, Sarawak still flying as co-pilot on the F-27. I was transferred back to Kuala Lumpur and I started my B737-200 conversion course. As part of the course, I was sent to Christchurch, New Zealand for simulator training with the New Zealand National Airline. MAS had only ground instructors and classrooms for ground school but did not have any simulators then. Being operational on the B737, I was promoted to the rank of First Officer.

As the company expanded, MAS bought two B707 from Qantas. We were sent to Sydney for the conversion training with Qantas. MAS eventually bought a third one with the expansion of her international routes to Sydney, Melbourne, London and Europe. With upgrading to wide-bodied aircraft, MAS bought two McDonnell Douglas DC 10-30s. This time we were sent to Long Beach, California for a three months conversion-training course. This included flight training in Yuma, Arizona and ferrying the DC 10-30s back to Malaysia. MAS eventually sold off the three B707s and bought a third DC 10-30. The airline was becoming a well known and popular air carrier internationally. In 1981, we added the Airbus A300B4, a medium sized regional aircraft to our network. In the rural air services, the BN-2s were replaced with Twin Otters and the Fokker F-27s with Fokker F-50s.

In the late 1970s, I went down to the B737 fleet as a Captain. After three years, I was made a Flight Instructor conducting training and the checking of pilots. Pilots are checked for flying proficiency every five months in the simulator. Two years after that, I was appointed Fleet Manager for the B737 fleet. That was also the time the Malaysian government bought a B737-200 to be used as VVIP aircraft for the official use of the King and the Prime Minister. This aircraft had a Sitting room, Dining room, and Bedroom in the cabin with seats for 10-15 passengers at the back row. When not on VVIP flights, MAS would use the aircraft for normal service. The interior would be changed to the normal passenger-seating configuration. I have flown this special VVIP flights to many interesting places and destinations that were not commercially covered by MAS, for example Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Fiji, Tonga, Western Samoa, Romania, Yugoslavia, Libya and even Timbuktu to name a few.

Most of the countries that we flew to would provide security personnel for our King or Prime Minister on arrival. We do, however, carry our ‘Mat Bonds’ (Malaysian James Bonds), as I like to call them, with us sometimes, all three of them from Bukit Aman. On the lighter side, during our flight to Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, when the Prime Minister came down from the aeroplane, our national anthem was played but the Singapore flag was raised!!!! The next day, the newspapers in Port Moresby ran an apology on their front-page headlines, because it seemed the next week, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, PM of Singapore was supposed to visit Port Moresby.

Another incident was during our recce trip to Tonga, we were told that there would be a large roasted pig as the centre dish of the traditional Tongan feast. We politely told them that our Prime Minister is a Muslim and does not eat pork. On our actual arrival day, it was announced on the Tongan radio that Malaysian Prime Minister has arrived and proceeding to the King’s palace for a Tongan feast and all the pigs were running about happily! For the Prime Minister’s flight, smoking and alcoholic drinks were not allowed in the aircraft.

To be competitive in the aviation market, in addition to a disastrous air accident in America involving the crash of a DC-10 on take-off due to the opening of a cargo door, MAS replaced the DC-10s with two Jumbo jets B747-200 in the mid-1980s. A third jumbo jet that came into service was a B747-300 with an extended upper deck. This was the time we started our USA services into Los Angeles. With sufficient flying hours and seniority, I became the captain of the Airbus A300 for two years, captain of the DC-10 for a year and became a jumbo jet captain at a young age of 36. Two years later MAS bought the B747-400, which has no flight engineer, just 2 pilots in the cockpit. Eventually, MAS sold the two classic jumbo jets B747-200 and the B747-300 and replaced them with thirteen B747-400s. This aircraft can fly direct from Kuala Lumpur to London. On this long haul flight, we carry two sets of pilots. There is a bedroom right behind the cockpit for the pilots to rest. Most of the flight engineers, 40 years and below, were retrained as pilots.

The first two B747-400s were the Combi version. The first half of the cabin was filled with passenger seats and second half with space for cargo containers. It was during one of my flights from London direct to Kuala Lumpur that a Lamborghini belonging to a Sultan was in the cabin cargo compartment. Flying the B747-200/300/400 from 1987 until my retirement in 2011, has taken me to many interesting and lovely places. Unlike many other airlines, MAS flies to Johannesburg and Cape Town in South Africa and onwards to Buenos Aires in Argentina. In my years with the airline, I have seen and heard pilots and cabin crew complaining about the places and hotels we night-stopped, but that one place that I have not heard any complaints about is Honolulu, Hawaii. I guess, probably the only complaint would be not enough layover days there! I also had the honour of ferrying one of the new B747-400 aircrafts from the Boeing factory in Seattle, USA direct to Kuala Lumpur. It was almost a fifteen and a half hour flight.

Another interesting flight is operating cargo flights, which is a different cup of tea, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. MAS had two B747-400 full cargo aeroplanes. The whole cabin from the nose to the tail of the aircraft is loaded with cargo containers or sometimes animals like cows, sheep, goats and horses. For long haul flights, we carry two set of pilots and no cabin crew. The pilots had to heat up their own meals and make their own drinks. There was a flight I did that carried 400 cattle from Australia to the Middle East. The difficult part was to maintain the cabin temperature at 22°C. This is to ensure the cows did not develop too much gas in the stomach. False fire alarms in the cargo section had been activated on some previous flights due to excess gas produced by the many cows. Turbulence can cause anxiety to the nervous cattle too. Cargo flights also stop at destinations that normal MAS flights do not operate to for example, Milan, Italy and Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

When I retired in 2011 from flying, I had clocked almost 20,000 flying hours. MAS had bought six Airbus A380 superjumbo jets. With a shortage of flight instructors, I was re-employed to train pilots in the simulator conversion courses for the B737-400 and B747-400. I did this for three years and finally decided to enjoy my retirement even though MAS wanted me to continue for a few more years.

Malaysia Airlines has always been an excellent airline. The cabin crew has won six awards and its pilots and engineers are well sought after in the international market. The airline has encountered some bumps and thumps but it is still a good and favourite airline among the locals and foreigners.

Many airlines and businesses in the tourism industries are now facing difficult times in this pandemic period. Malaysia Airlines is no different and I wish the airline all the best. This national airline has touched the lives of all Malaysians near and far.