KL Car-Free Morning: Part 1 – Morning Run

by Eric Lim

“Hi hi hi, beautiful Sunday. This is my, my, my beautiful day”, lyrics from the song “Beautiful Sunday” sung by British pop singer Daniel Boone, and it became a hit song in 1972. 

Moving forward to November 2, 2019, it was also a Sunday and it was to be a beautiful day for me as I managed to complete two of my favourite activities in just under two hours. For the first part, I ran in the KL Car Free Morning and right after, took a walk round Dataran Merdeka, marvelling at the colonial buildings surrounding it.

KL Car Free Morning was introduced in 2013. Over the years, this initiative by DBKL has received good support from KLites/Kuala Lumpurians and currently, it attracts about 3,000 participants each time. It is held on the first and third Sunday of each month and the circuit is approximately 7 kms long, covering the major streets of KL Golden Triangle. Participants can walk, jog, cycle (free rental of bicycles provided by OCBC Bank), hand-cycle, roller skate, rollerblade and even go skateboarding, including using of two-wheel smart self-balancing scooters drifting board.

When I reached the starting point at Dataran DBKL, it was already crowded and participants were all eagerly waiting for the start of the event. We were flagged off at exactly 7.00 am; for safety reasons, joggers had to keep to the left and cyclists as well as skaters to the right.

The start of the circuit took us through the straight stretch along Jalan Raja Laut, passing Sekolah Kebangsaan (L) Jalan Batu, formerly known as Batu Road School (BRS) [1]. BRS was established in 1930 to serve as the preparatory school for Victoria Institution. Today, part of its premises has been converted into a school for students with special needs and visual impairment. At the intersection, we turned right into Jalan Sultan Ismail and at the first intersection, we turned right again into Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, KL’s Golden Mile. Two KL landmarks are located at this road’s intersection with Jalan Dang Wangi. On the right is Pertama Complex [2]. It is one of the earliest shopping malls in KL and I remember having bought my first pair of Adidas sports shoes here. On the left, is the building of the old Odeon Cinema [3]. This cinema was designed by architect A.O. Coltman and it opened in 1936. It closed temporarily in 2010 but reverted to screening movies a year later with a new management until it was finally shut down in 2015. The building is slated to be demolished to make way for a retail-apartment building.

Next, we turned left into Jalan Dang Wangi and passed by Campbell Complex [4], Dang Wangi Police Station [5] and Kompleks Wilayah [6], all located on the right. Jalan Dang Wangi was previously known as Campbell Road. Straight ahead is Bukit Nanas [7], where KL Tower is located. It is here in this small hill that one can see the only virgin tropical rainforest left in the city of KL; this rainforest dates to 1.3 million years. At the T-junction, we turned left into Jalan Ampang and, at the next intersection, we turned right into Jalan Sultan Ismail where we soon arrived at Hard Rock Café [8] and Concorde Hotel [9] on the left; and Shangri-La Hotel [10] further up, on the right. Fans of Michael Jackson will remember that The King of Pop came to KL to perform as part of his History World Tour, a solo concert tour that spanned the globe with concerts in 57 major cities in 35 countries, on 5 continents! MJ was in KL from October 27 to 29, 1996 and he stayed at Concord Hotel.

At the traffic lights, we then turned left into Jalan P.Ramlee, one of the nightlife hotspots in the city. It was known as Jalan Parry until the name changed in 1982. About 500 metres ahead is the iconic Petronas Twin Towers [11], once the tallest skyscraper in the world (1998 to 2004) and now the tallest standing twin towers in the world (at 452 metres). In the olden days, the area surrounding KLCC used to be the site of the Selangor Turf Club. At the next traffic lights, we turned left into Jalan Ampang and headed towards its intersection with Jalan Sultan Ismail. We turned right at this intersection and headed towards Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman intersection. On the way, we could see Quill City Mall KL [12] on the right and Sheraton Imperial KL [13] on the left.

At the same intersection that we passed earlier on, we turned left back to KL’s Golden Mile (Jalan TAR) and this time, we went straight to the end of the street. Another standalone cinema is located at this section of the street, and it is none other than the Coliseum Theatre [14]. It was built by businessman and philanthropist Chua Cheng Bok in 1920 to become the first cinema to open in Malaya; it opened in 1921. Today, the cinema specialises in screening Hindi and Tamil films. Located next door is the Coliseum Cafe and Hotel [15],which opened at the same time as the cinema. It was a popular social hub for British planters and miners. It is here that KLites come to do their festive shopping, at places such as Globe Silk Store, Emporium Selangor and Mun Loong.

At the end of Jalan TAR, we arrived at Jalan Tun Perak where we turned right and just a short distance away, we turned right to Jalan Raja Laut to the finishing point at Dataran DBKL. I took about 42 minutes to complete the circuit, averaging 6 minutes for one kilometre and I was quite pleased with the timing. Then I went over to get a cup of free refreshing isotonic drink and hurried across the busy Jalan Tun Perak to Jalan Raja for my next activity, the Colonial Walk.

This article continues to Part 2 – Colonial Walk at https://museumvolunteersjmm.com/2019/11/26/kl-car-free-morning-part-2-colonial-walk/

Visit to Kuala Kubu Bharu (KKB)

by Eric Lim

As I am writing this article, the Air Pollutant Index reading in four stations had recorded very unhealthy levels yesterday. Johan Setia in Klang, Selangor was the highest with a reading of 229. 

The API was hovering around the 100 level a week earlier when I brought a couple from Hong Kong to a half-day tour of Kuala Kubu Bharu. I met Rochas and Alexis Tse during my call of duty at the National Museum on 2 September 2019. At the end of the tour, they had enquired about other museums in the city and we communicated using social media. When I mentioned about visiting Kuala Kubu Bharu, they immediately said yes. So off we went on an early Wednesday morning, leaving KL city centre at 7.00 am.

Kuala Kubu Bharu or affectionately known as KKB, is 60km north of the city using the trunk road known as Federal Route One. The journey is now made easier and faster with the use of the Rawang Bypass, which was opened to traffic on 28 November 2017. In less than an hour, we had reached our destination and our first stop was for breakfast. Alexis had ordered a bowl of Laksa noodles, which I thought was adventurous for someone from Hong Kong. Then we went to the nearby wet market where I was told that bananas from our country are better than imported bananas that are available in HK. A local elderly Chinese woman who was standing beside us gave us some in-depth information about the dokong and duku langsat and Rochas decided to buy some dokong to take home. We returned to the car to keep all the purchases and off we went to explore KKB.

History of Kuala Kubu

KKB and its surrounding area, collectively known as Ulu Selangor, were inhabited since the Neolithic Age 4,000 years ago (discovery of slab stone burials in the Bernam Valley in the North of Ulu Selangor) and through the Metal Age 3,000 – 2,500 years ago, with the discovery of iron artefacts and bronze celts in nearby Rasa and Kerling. Moving forward, the 18th century CE saw the arrival of people from Sumatra, the Rawa and Mendailing, who came in search of new land and for tin. Sungai Selangor was the main river that transported goods including tin, to Kuala Selangor, which was then the royal capital of Selangor. It became an important route and it even prompted the Dutch to set up post to collect taxes from the Malays when they managed to capture Kuala Selangor towards the later part of the 18th century CE.

The Malays in Ulu Selangor were involved in the Selangor Civil War (1867-1874) and it was during this turbulent time that the town got its name. The conflict separated the Malays into two factions, on one side led by Raja Abdullah, Raja Ismail and, later, Tengku Kudin. The opposing faction comprised Raja Mahadi, Raja Mahmud and Syed Mashhor. The Chinese rival groups also joined the fight with Hai San led by Yap Ah Loy, throwing their support for Tengku Kudin while Ghee Hin led by Chong Chong offered support to Raja Mahadi. The Malays in Ulu Selangor supported Raja Mahadi. As a defence against his rivals, Raja Mahadi had built an earthen fort near the mouth of a river and that was how the town got its name – Kuala Kubu (fort at the mouth of the river). Raja Mahadi managed to capture Kuala Lumpur in March 1872 but a year later, Tengku Kudin together with reinforcement from Pahang and Hai San came charging back to retake Kuala Lumpur. Raja Mahadi fled to Singapore while Syed Mashhor retreated to Perak. Years later, both men were given pardons by Sultan Abdul Samad but Raja Mahadi died in Singapore while Syed Mashhor returned to Kerling as a Penghulu (chieftain). He developed the place by opening up lands for tin mining and he died in 1917.

Selangor became a British Protectorate at the conclusion of the Selangor Civil War. At that time, tin mining activities in Kuala Kubu was second only to Kuala Lumpur and this prompted Frank Swettenham as the First Assistant Resident of Selangor to visit Kuala Kubu in 1875. He commented that the huge dam constructed by the Malays with the help of the Orang Asli in the 1700s as gigantic in size. Tin mining was carried out just below the dam.

Kuala Kubu circa 1906. Photo taken from http://peskubu.org/latar-belakang-sejarah-kuala-kubu/

In July 1883, Cecil Ranking, a young man of 26, started work as Tax Collector and Magistrate and he immediately got down to serious work wanting to show his capabilities to impress the Resident. However, his work was cut short because three months later, on the fateful evening of 29 October 1883, the huge dam broke and flooded the town. It was recorded that floodwaters rose as high as 10 feet; 38 houses were destroyed and 50 people perished, including Cecil Ranking. Local legend has it that Cecil Ranking had on that day, shot a sacred white crocodile believed to be the guardian of the dam. As a result, the dam broke. However, there were other factors more likely to have caused the tragedy.

  1. The dam was more than 100 years old and the wood was already rotting away.
  2. Cecil Ranking was seen dropping three dynamites on the dam ten days before the tragedy for the purpose of killing fish and this action could have shaken the foundations of the dam.
  3. It was raining non-stop few days before the flood.
  4. It may be linked to the Krakatoa volcanic eruption on 26 and 27 August 1883 in Indonesia. The tremor was felt in Kuala Kubu. It was to be one of the deadliest and destructive volcanic events in recorded history.

The new township was built nearer the left bank of Selangor River and the British were by now leading the development. In a short span of four years, the population grew to 7,580 making Kuala Kubu the third largest town in Selangor. Tin mining continued to be the main activity of the town and more lands were opened up for mining including Peretak, which is on the Main Ranch. By 1887, tin output for the year had doubled that of 1885. Also in 1887, British announced its “greatest undertakings in road making ever essayed in the Federated States” with the start of the construction of a bridle track from Kuala Kubu to Kuala Lipis in Pahang (capital of Pahang at that time as well as a gold mining centre). It was to be the earliest federal road ever constructed in Pahang. With this massive undertaking, Kuala Kubu became known as the Gateway to Pahang. It was on this very road that another historical event took place – the assassination of Sir Henry Gurney on 6 October 1951 by the Malayan Communist Party terrorists. Gurney was travelling in a convoy to Fraser’s Hill. Today, this road is known as Federal Route 55.

Mail service using motor vehicle in 1910. The vehicle is passing through Jalan Kuala Kubu on the way to Kuala Lipis.

Train service arrived in 1894 when the final section of the railway track was completed linking Kuala Kubu to Serendah, Rawang and Kuala Lumpur. In 1906, bus service from Kuala Kubu train station to Kuala Lipis was made available.

 Kuala Kubu railway station in 1900

Also available in Kuala Kubu was a nearby hill station called Treacher’s Hill (a.k.a Bukit Kutu), named after Willam Hood Treacher who ventured into the place in 1893. W.H. Treacher was the British Resident of Selangor from 1892 to 1896. There were two bungalows serving as a sanatorium at the peak of the hill until its closure on 31 December 1932 due to soil movement that rendered the resort unsafe. There was also an army training camp set up in 1915 to recruit volunteers for World War I in Europe.

Sanatorium on Treacher’s Hill

However, the improvements done to Kuala Kubu did not last long as the township was constantly ravaged by floodwaters. There were floods in 1885, 1913, 1917 and by 1921, the District Officer of Ulu Selangor announced the abandonment of Kuala Kubu and shifted its district headquarters to Rasa. Between 1923 and 1926, Kuala Kubu was flooded a number of times and finally upon the advice of the Public Works Department at the end of 1926, the Government decided to move the town to a new site up river and to higher land.

Flooded area of Kuala Kubu in 1926
Kuala Kubu in the 1920’s

Kuala Kubu Bharu – 1930 to present

Charles Crompton Reade, a town planner from New Zealand, who was employed by FMS, was given the task to plan the new town – Kuala Kubu Bharu. Reade planned the town along the garden city concept, such as distinctive use of zoning, angular visual entry to the town centre, and a compact town centre to allow space for the parkland separating the residential areas and hospital. Today, KKB is recognized as the first garden township in Asia.

Earliest shophouses in KKB. Post office on the right.
Charles Crompton Reade

One of the earliest shophouses built in the commercial sector of the town has the year 1930 embossed on its top front façade, which marks the birth of KKB. Other significant structures built in the 1930s:

  1. The former Land Office built in 1931 by the British on top of the administrative sector, overlooking the town.
  2. The clock tower commemorating the coronation of King George VI.
  3. The stone monument commemorating the Silver Jubilee of King George V.
  4. The former Holy Ascension Church, which is now being used as the Hulu Selangor Traffic Police Headquarters.
  5. KKB Post Office (neoclassical architecture with round gable window and round tribe casement window).
  6. Old Fire Station built in 1931.
  7. Shophouse No 1 & 2 at Jalan Dato Tabal (formerly Bowen Street).
Commemorative clock tower

Besides these structures and buildings, it was recorded that an airfield was set up on the outskirts of the town in 1931 as a means of transport for high-ranking officials as well as for goods. The airfield was used during the Malayan Emergency (1948-1960) for the landing of Taylorcraft Auster light aircraft.

In the book “Tarikh Kuala Kubu 1780 – 1931” published by Persatuan Sejarah Kuala Kubu, it revealed a letter written by the District Officer of Ulu Selangor to the Resident about the naming of streets in KKB. The British discarded the local names written in Malay and mentioned about the unavailability of “well known Asiatic gentlemen connected with Kuala Kubu”. He then forwarded a list of five names of “Europeans who have been intimately connected with Kuala Kubu”:

  1. Ranking (as in Cecil Ranking, the first Tax Collector and Magistrate to be stationed at Kuala Kubu)
  2. Bowen (long serving District Officer of Ulu Selangor)
  3. Davidson (who made Kuala Kubu his home for about the last 25 years of his life)
  4. Stonor (who was the District Officer, then the Secretary to the Resident and finally the British Resident of Selangor)
  5. Maxwell (possibly William George Maxwell who was Resident of Perak and after whom Maxwell Hill was named before the name changed to Bukit Larut or his father, William Edward Maxwell, who was Resident of Selangor).

The four main streets in KKB were named after Bowen, Davidson, Stonor and Maxwell, only Ranking was not selected. Today, they have all changed to local names – Jalan Dato Tabal, Jalan Dato Balai, Jalan Mat Kilau and Jalan Dato Muda Jaafar respectively.

A sketch of Kuala Kubu Bharu and surrounding areas. Taken from Kamalruddin Shamsudin (2015) Charles Reade: Town Planning British Malaya 1921-1929, pp. 291

Next, we shall look at some “well known Asiatic gentlemen connected with Kuala Kubu Bharu”.

  1. Jawaharlal Nehru made two visits to Malaya i.e in 1937 and 1946. Both visits were to look at the welfare of Indians in the country. It was during the second trip when he visited KKB at the invitation of one of his family members who were then working in KKB.
  2. Rehman Rashid wrote the book “Peninsula – A story of Malaysia”. In one of the sections, he wrote about small towns in the country. After he retired, he came and stayed in KKB and immediately fell in love with the place. He then wrote a book Small town as a special tribute to KKB.
  3. Popular Malay singer, the late Sudirman Haji Arshad also sang about KKB. In his song entitled Joget Kenangan Manis, he sang “kalau pergi Kuala Kubu, tulis nama atas batu”, which translates to “if you go to Kuala Kubu, write your name on a rock”.
  4. David Chin, owner of Dave Deli restaurants owned a shophouse in KKB. Whenever he came to cycle with his buddies, he will open his shophouse for them to enjoy their meals and to rest. He called his place “Bicycle Stopover”.
  5. B.Rajkumar is a local-born athlete. He broke the national men’s 800m record by clocking 1.47.37 to win the gold medal in the Asian Track and Field (ATF) Championship held in Jakarta in 1985. It remains a national record.
  6. The late P.Gunasegaran was a top local golfer and he made his name at the 1994 Malaysian Open where he lost an epic eight-hole playoff to Joakim Haeggmann of Sweden at the Royal Selangor Golf Club in KL. Until today, no other local golfers have ever come close to his achievements in the Malaysian Open history.

Today, KKB remains the main administrative town of Hulu Selangor district. And there are plenty of training centres around the town such as Royal Malaysian Police Academy, Central Region Fire and Rescue Training College, Royal Malaysian Signals Army Unit, AsiaCamp (Team Building Camp), Kem Bina Semangat Ampang Pecah, just to name a few. 

The following are some of the main attractions in KKB:

  1. Sungai Selangor dam
  2. St. Paul Catholic Church
  3. Former Coates Theatre built in 1953
  4. KKB Hot Spring @ Taman Arif
  5. Chilling Waterfalls
  6. Kampung Orang Asli in Pertak
  7. Bukit Kutu
  8. Old Chinese Temple at Ampang Pecah

By the time we left Galeri Sejarah Kuala Kubu, after our last stop of looking at old photographs of KKB, it was almost noontime. We went straight to Teo Kee stall to have our lunch. They serve delicious Teochew dishes and porridge. After lunch, we took a last look of Kuala Kubu Bharu town before heading back to the city.

Kuala Kubu circa 1910. Photo taken from Cheah Jin Seng (2008) Malaya: 500 Early Postcards, Singapore: EDM, pp. 52

Note: I forwarded a copy of this writeup to Alexis and this is what he wrote in return:

“Kuala Kubu Bharu is absolutely a strange city to me. After being guided through various historic sites within the city, a strong sense of similarity floated. Vaguely, KKB seems like one of the New Zealand cities, which I have visited. Would it be like Port Chalmers, Picton or Napier? Eric told me that KKB was the first city in Malay Peninsular with town planning initiative by Charles Reade, a colonial town planner. We are lucky and privileged to be guided to this special city for an in-depth understanding of the history of Malaya”.

References:

  • Persatuan Sejarah Kuala Kubu – Tarikh Kuala Kubu 1780 – 1931
  • Muzium Negara – Information board

A Charcoal Factory at Kuala Sepetang

by V. Jegatheesan

Charcoal is a controversial fuel these days due to climate change and atmospheric pollution fears. Nevertheless, this fuel was a standard feature in the kitchens of most Malaysian houses. It is still being used although on a much reduced scale. Making charcoal is not a matter of just heating wood until it is burnt. It is more involved than that requiring the right type of wood and the right method. However, it is still a very basic process with no high tech blast furnaces or machinery. A recent visit to the Khay Hor Holdings Sd. Bhd. Charcoal Factory provided me with good insight on how charcoal is made.

This signboard is of the dealership but it involves the same people

The factory is located in Kuala Sepetang, formerly and better known as Port Weld. Kuala Sepetang is within the Matang mangrove forest reserve, which at 40,000 hectares is the largest and best-managed mangrove forest in Malaysia. The west coast of the peninsula has many other mangrove forests, Kuala Selangor for example, but they do not replant the chopped trees thus depleting the forest. Matang, however, is recognised as a good model of sustainable mangrove forestry and conservation.

The images above are from https://www.rainforestjournal.com/kuala-sepetang

There are a few factories in the area, but the one we visited was the only factory that gave a tour. This was led by Mr. K. Y. Chuah, a member of the owning family, who, in his work clothes of a sports shirt, shorts and sandals, gave us a spirited and engaging tour of the factory and its operations.

Mr Chuah explaining the process

Among the mangrove, the two species most commonly used are Rhizophora apiculata and Rhizophora mucronata. Mangrove trees are locally referred to as bakau. Any wood can be made into charcoal. However, these species can withstand high heat. The charcoal-making process involves high heat to remove the water content in the wood. This is smoked out rather than burnt out. It also gives a shine to the charcoal.

The Rhizophora apiculate tree (Image from https://www.rainforestjournal.com/kuala-sepetang)

The wood from these trees is initially very heavy, as we found out when carrying one of the logs, because of high water content. In fact, this wood will sink in water and not float like other woods, because there is no air space due to water saturation. It is after all a mangrove swamp tree.

The kiln is igloo shaped and there are six of them located in a large shed. The bricks used are of the same type as used in housing. The structure is plastered with very fine clay and sand to seal the kiln completely. It does take an expert to do this perfectly. The kilns are all 7m in height by 6.7m in width. These sizes are specified by the Forestry Department to make it easy to calculate the duty to be paid.

Wood is stacked to fill up the kiln. It will weigh some 50 tons inside. This is high because of the water content of the wood and when the process is completed, it will weigh some 10 tons only. The fire is not inside as the wood is not burnt. The fire is on the outside and it is the heat that slowly goes in to heat the wood and remove the water content. There are six flues or vents around the kiln to allow the vapour to escape. Simply put, heat goes inside and heats the wood to release the water content.

This is just the first stage with the fire burning for 14 days. Workers in three shifts have to check every 3 to 4 hours to top up the wood and keep the fire consistently going. If not topped up and the fire lowers, the oxygen leaks inside and the fire follows inside and burns the wood.

A close-up of the fire just outside the kiln
Vapour coming out of the vent

The vapour comes out of the vents. It is in fact steam, which is very hot and has a strong pungent odour. Expertly smelling and seeing the colour, as well as using a thermometer to be sure, the workers will know when it is ready to reduce the fire to a smaller one. Through experience, the workers know how to control the slow fire. It is still hot inside but the vapour is reduced and, thus, not as hot as before. This will continue for another 11 days after which there is no longer any vapour. The workers then shut down the fire and seal the kiln completely. It will take another 7 days to cool it down completely.

Finally, the kiln opening will be hacked, the bricks removed and the charcoal taken out. The six kilns in this factory are used in turn to continuously produce charcoal.

The condensed vapour is referred to as vinegar; it is liquid oil, which is collected. Mr. Chuah extolled the virtues of this and of other products, which can be used as mosquito repellents and soaps with no chemicals added.

Mr Chuah holding a bottle of the Charcoal Vinegar

The factory is in a swamp area and the stench takes some getting used to. The canal by the side is used to bring in the wood from the forest. It is a tidal canal and therefore used on certain days only. Contract workers are paid to cut and transport the wood and are paid after delivery. As the forest is harvested, the cutters have to go in deeper and so it takes longer to bring the wood in.

The Forestry Department annually allots the specific lots for harvesting and they have to use their allotment. Otherwise, the following year’s allotment will be reduced or the licence cancelled. The replanting is also managed by the Forestry Department but tendered to contractors.

Mr. Chuah explained that Japan buys 70% of the production and they insist on these species. According to him, the Japanese despite being very high tech still believe in charcoal. They use it as barbeque fuel as more people prefer traditional methods. For those who can afford it, houses are built with a layer of charcoal beneath to keeps the houses warm in winter and it absorbs odour. In addition, among its many other uses, charcoal is also used as an absorbent.

All in all, it was a very interesting tour and appreciation of charcoal. Questions were in our minds as to whether charcoal is environmentally friendly to use. It is not fossil fuel and it is touted as being green. However, how much of the carbon released is recaptured by reforestation?

Penang Botanic Gardens

by Eric Lim

photo source: Penang Botanic Gardens website

The definition of the idiom “old habits die hard” is that it is hard to stop doing things that one has been doing for a long time. This is actually what happens every time I visit Penang, The Pearl of The Orient. I will go to the Penang Botanic Gardens, “come rain, come shine” and always between 7.00 and 9.00 in the morning, the best time of the day to achieve that daily 10,000 step goal. I was in Penang last month with friends and, of course, we visited Penang Botanic Gardens.

An information board located outside the garden’s office building mentions that the Penang Botanic Gardens were established in 1884. It may come as a surprise even to Penangites that the Botanical Gardens on the island goes back earlier than that, in fact, to the 18th century when the island was under the control of British East India Company. Francis Light declared British rule in the island and named it Prince of Wales Island in the year 1786; eight years later, in 1794, saw the setting up of the first Botanical Gardens in Penang. A Kew Gardens-trained botanist by the name of Christopher Smith was given the task to establish the gardens. The first Botanical Gardens was essentially a spice garden as Smith brought in specimens of nutmeg, clove, canary nuts and sugar palm from the Moluccas Island (Maluku Islands) in Indonesia, which were known as the Spice Islands. These grew very well. However, Smith did not enjoy the fruits of his labour as he died unexpectedly in 1805. The Company decided to close the Gardens and it sold off the Gardens’ contents.

Alstonia sp. (Pulai), photo source: Penang Botanic Gardens website

After a lapse of 17 years, the second Botanical Gardens took shape in 1822, due to the urging of Sir Stamford Raffles who had a keen interest in Botany and was at that time the superintendent of the Singapore Botanical Gardens. Sir Stamford Raffles is best known for the founding of modern Singapore in 1819 and this year, the Republic is celebrating its 200th Anniversary. George Porter who was working as the headmaster at Penang Free School was recommended to manage the Gardens. He managed the Gardens for 12 years and once again, it suffered the same fate as the earlier Gardens, as in 1834 the then Governor Kenneth Murchison decided to sell it off for a sum of 1,250 rupees. With the closure, Porter returned to his job as headmaster.

These two earlier Gardens are believed to have been sited at Air Hitam valley and at Sungai Keluang in Bayan Lepas; however the actual locations cannot be identified. It would take another 54 years, i.e in the year 1884, as stated in the information board, for the creation of the third Botanical Gardens. This time, the running of the Gardens came under the Strait Settlements Department of Gardens and Forests with its parent establishment, the Singapore Botanic Gardens. One of its responsibilities was to conduct research on tropical plants for their economic use. One of the success stories was the promotion of rubber trees (Hevea Brasiliensis) to be planted in the Malay Peninsular by British botanist Henry Nicholas Ridley who was at that time working for Singapore Botanical Gardens.

Schima Wallichii, photo source: Penang Botanic Gardens website

The third Botanical Gardens were established at the site of an abandoned granite quarry that lies deep in a tropical valley, at the foot of a big waterfall. Additionally, a river meanders through the valley. Due to a cascading waterfall, the Penang Botanic Gardens were also popularly known as the Waterfall Gardens. Charles Curtis, an avid botanist and a devoted plant collector, was appointed as the first superintendent of the Botanical Gardens. Under his supervision, the Gardens transformed from an old quarry into a magnificent garden – due his great vision in landscaping and his ability to blend into a tropical rain-forest settings. Curtis also focused his research in native plants as well as introduced non-native exotic plants to Penang and Singapore. He continued his good work for the Garden until December of 1903 when he formally retired due to health issues.

All was well until 1910 when there was a proposal to turn the valley into a massive reservoir that would serve the needs of the majority of households on the island. Fortunately, the plan was abandoned and instead, a small reservoir was constructed at the foot of the waterfall. This reservoir is still in operations today and it is supplying water to about 10-15% of the population of the state. During the Second War World, the Japanese army took over and immediately went into excavating tunnels, which were turned into assembling and storage facilities. After the war, Penang Botanic Gardens was separated from its parent establishment in Singapore. The year 1956 saw the appointment of the first local, Cheang Kok Choy as the curator of the Penang Botanic Gardens. Earlier on, Cheang was trained by the British and he continued on the good works of his predecessors until he retired in 1976.

Canon Ball Tree, photo source: Penang Botanic Gardens website

Today, the operations of the Penang Botanic Gardens come under Jabatan Taman Botani Pulau Pinang (Penang Botanical Gardens Department), an arm of the Penang State Government. It is divided into 11 sections namely Aquatic Garden, Economic Garden, Quarry Garden, Secret Garden, Herbs Garden, Aroid Trail, Lily Pond, Curtis Trail, Formal Garden, Sunken Garden and Japanese Garden. There are also four plant houses – Fern House, Cactus & Succulent House, Orchidarium and Bromeliad House. And among the flora that visitors can see includes Cannon Ball tree (botanical name: couroupita guianensis / origin: Guyana), Argus Pheasant tree or commonly called Sengkuang tree (dracontomelon dao / Indo-Malesia), Pinang palm (areca catechu, from which Penang got its name), black lily (tacca integrifolia), Ipoh tree (antiaris toxicaria, from which Ipoh got its name), angsana (Burmese rosewood), Rain tree (samanea saman / South Africa) and many more. The fauna includes the dusky leaf monkeys, long tailed macaques, squirrels and many insects and butterflies.

Apart from the department’s involvement in conservation efforts, research developments and educating the public on nature and gardening, the department is also targeting on the tourism aspects by adding new attractions and organizing events to make the park a popular destination for locals and tourists. Dataran Teratai is one of the attractions; it opened in June 2011 and it features the giant water lilies of the Amazon River basin. It is the venue for the annual International Flora Festival (in May) and Penang Orchid Show (this year, it is scheduled for 11 – 18 August). It is the starting point for the many Penang Hill trails and a non-governmental organization called The Friends of the Penang Botanical Gardens organizes monthly visits to the waterfall which is now privately owned. On a daily basis, visitors can join in the practice of Tai Chi, Qigong and aerobics or go jogging and strolling around the park.

With so much to do and with activities scheduled throughout the year, it is my hope that the next time you visit Penang you will visit the Penang Botanic Gardens/Waterfall Gardens, just like I do. It is open every day, from 5.00 am to 8.00 pm and is just about 8 km from Georgetown city. If you are driving, there are plenty of parking bays. Penang Botanic Gardens, here I come, again.

The large rain tree (Pukul lima) at the Gardens’ entrance (at the centre of the photo) was planted in 1887 to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria. It stood tall for 130 years. Unfortunately, it had to be chopped down in 2017 as the dying tree posed a danger. This photo was taken circa 1910. Photo source: Cheah Jin Seng (2012) Penang: 500 Early Postcards, Singapore: EDM.

Malay Architecture in Terengganu

by Ong Li Ling

I attended a talk on Malay Architecture at Petronas Gallery recently. I was so impressed by the slides shown by Mr Alex Lee that I decided to visit his resort – Terrapuri (The Land of Palaces) at Pantai Penarik, Terengganu.

Mr Alex is a Peranakan who grew up in Marang. He has been collecting old Malay houses since he was 20 years old. In order to build Terrapuri Heritage Village, he secured an 8-acres piece of freehold land in Setiu in 2005. Alex took 4.5 years to build this resort. The resort has 22 villas but only 15 are open at present. The resort usually has full occupancy in the months of July and August. Alan Hoh was employed as the conceptual artist and Oon Soon designed the logo of the resort based on the ancient Istana arch.

Kampung Kuala Baru is part of the Setiu wetlands, which is why the climate is so hot. There are nine ecosystems present including mangrove forest, beach, lagoon and BRIS forest.

The local ulama chooses the suitable location for the house. Old Malay houses are constructed using traditional Malay Geomancy principles. The house is based on the length of the matriarch’s outstretched arms, which is called a depa (wingspan). For example, a house can be 10 depa wide. The owner needs to take accurate measurements; “crow measurements” may result in the owner falling sick. On the other hand, prosperity will ensue if the ular cinta mani measurement is followed, i.e. the height of the main pillar (tiang seri) is an exact round number.

I flew to Kuala Terengganu airport and my Grabcar took around 45 minutes to get to Setiu. After ringing the bell, the resort staff opened the gate to let us in.

The first thing I noticed was the Double Gater layout, a typical architecture during the Langkasuka period. The Langkasuka Kingdom is believed to have been established in the 2nd century CE. It lasted till the 15th century when it was replaced by the Pattani Kingdom.

I admired the sobek (filigree-like woodcarving with old floral carving), which was popular back then. In the old days Kala was used to ward off evil. I also saw several stupa influenced by Buddhism.

I checked into my villa, known as Rumah Binjai Rendah. The typical Terengganu house is known as the Rumah Bujang. It has a gable roof and the outline of a makara. The makara is a mythical half terrestrial, half aquatic animal and it is the vehicle of Ganga, the River Goddess. It is also a symbol of fertility. The Singgora roofs represent the scales of the Makara. Grooved windows are usually reserved for royalty.

The number of steps of the staircase is always an odd number. You step with your right foot first and want to end up on your right foot. This is also the belief in Hinduism.

There are 6 units of Malay houses in the central courtyard. The resort can organise makyong, wayang kulit, main puteri (trance) and gamelan performances upon request.

The Rumah Berang (from Kuala Berang) houses a table used by Tunku Abdul Rahman. The 8-seater hardwood table was the very same one used by our first prime minister when he chaired a meeting with folks from Kampung Atas Tol in Kuala Terengganu.

The Resort Gallery is housed in Rumah Teluk Pasu which is a Rumah Tiang Enam (6 pillars). All houses in this resort are more than 100 years old.

It is customary for the owner to place a needle or coin made of iron under the main pillar (tiang seri) of the house as it is a symbol of semangat waja (courage, strength). This is an old practice. The bangau or egret carving has two faces. In the Mahabharata, the bangau is a makara and it is a symbol of money. The Perahu Bangau is carved with images of characters from the Mahabharata epic. The sanga can be found at the back of boat and it is carved in the shape of a bangau.

The kotak kelaut is where fishermen place their cigarettes and other personal items. This box can be used as a flotation device or safety tool should the boat capsize.

A laksa maker. In addition, brass-ware can be seen at the bottom of the stand.

This mould was used to make Singgora roof tiles.

This cloth is called the bunga halang or bendera pendekar (warrior flag). It protects the house from evil spirits. Every pillar has this cloth tied at its top. Later, due to Islamic influence, Arabic words were inscribed on top of the white cloth.

The carving on the left is geometrical. It has the bunga cina motif. The unduk unduk (seahorse) motif at the bottom protects the house from bad spirits. The carving on the right resembles two eyes and a mouth. It is a kala motif.

A few other design elements can be seen below.

The Baris Laksamana originates from the Ramayana epic in which it protects Sita from dangers. It is now used as a pagar rumah and has the lam alif Islamic wording (there is only one God).
This is a Pagar Musang. It looks like a door but we cannot walk out.
This beautiful wall is known as Dinding Janda Berhias.
Some houses have bamboo walls or dinding pelupuh.

Rumah Tanjung is an 8-pillar house. It was used for the shooting of the movie Merung Mahawangsa and Legenda Budak Setan. The kerecut grass installation in front of the house was designed by famous water colour artist Chang Fee Ming. He called this artwork Standing Proud. Kerecut grass can be used to make mats.

The Kisaran Semangat installation looks like a grinder or mill wheel.

I admired the orange pandan fruit (right). It is called Pandan Laut as it grows by the sea. The white Bunga Keledang or Bunga Kerak Nasi can be found on the resort. In Terengganu it is called Bunga Tikam Seladang.

The Rumah Jeram has a Chinese Peranakan interior design. It is believed that Cheng Ho on his 4th journey to Malaya instructed his men to go into Kampung Jeram to get water.

Boats, the main form of transportation in the past, were stored below the house.

This is a Baloh rice barn to store paddy.

An arch from the Istana at Jalan Kota in Kuala Terengganu.

A spa house where guests can enjoy mandi bunga and massage. Notice the stupa at the top; it indicates Buddhist origins.

Jawi inscription related to the Wali Tujuh.

Salted fish and preserved mangoes were stored in urns. There were no freezers back then and salt was expensive.

The tiang seri is usually the middle pillar underneath the rumah ibu. Minyak Canuar Kampung or Minyak Seri is placed at this pillar. It is made from coconut oil. It serves to bring radiance (berseri) to the people in the house.

The houses are constructed with bendul beams. Nails are not used in the construction of the houses.

Terrapuri in the evening. A big thank-you to Mr Alex Lee for showing me around his lovely resort.

The Batek People

by Ong Li Ling

I recently attended a curatorial tour of Mahen Bala’s Ceb Bah Heb Elders of Our Forest exhibition at the Taman Tugu Nursery Trail. This exhibition is part of a documentary looking at the life of Batek people. The exhibition is on until the 21st of July; do go check it out. The documentary itself looks at the relationship between the forest and its people. You can find more details on the documentary here.

Below is an aerial photograph of Sungai Tembeling. At present, the left hand side of the river is still properly preserved. Unfortunately, the right side has been exploited. If you only live in the jungle, you will never see land this way. The Batek do not see land the way Google Maps, Waze and city folk see land. The Batek use trees and mountains as markers. The coloured structures in the photograph are Batek settlements.

Traditionally the Batek are nomadic and hence they had no proper settlements. Due to pressures from outside and their inability to continue living off the forest, they are changing their lifestyles. Our government is telling them to stay put in order to participate in the lucrative eco-tourism business. This is against their ancestral practice as they are used to travelling and foraging. This photograph shows what the typical Batek person does all day. They are waiting for tourists to pop over so that the curious tourist can take photos with them. Reminds me of the Long Neck women I saw in Myanmar. The tour guides will give them a token amount to “add to the authenticity” of the jungle tour. This shows how hard it is for the Batek people to live off the forest today.

The Batek only take what they need from the forest. Whatever they hunt or forage will be brought back to the village to be shared. They have respect for the animals they kill. They believe bad luck will befall them if they break the taboos.

This photograph shows a typical Batek family and the structures they build. This structure is called a Hayak, Lintus or Lean To. Once they decide where to spend the night, the whole family is involved in setting up their home for the night. When they are ready to move, the shelter is returned to the forest and so their impact on the jungle is minimized. The Batek view the seasons differently than we do. During the fruiting season, they live entirely on fruits. During the flower season, they survive by harvesting honey.

The children are involved with the running of the community from a young age. As soon as they are able, they learn survival skills such as how to use the parang and how to weave batik. This period is also an important time for bonding, as the elders will tell the children folk tales. The children are taught that every member of the family is important.

This is a photograph of Mr Di. He is holding a blowpipe and he carries a canister of darts around his neck. The blowpipe is an important asset to the Batek and they keep their blowpipe from cradle to grave. It is the most important of their material possessions. Batek people are egalitarian in that they consider both genders as equals. Women can also hunt and forage food and men can take care of children. This equal partnership relationship is now changing as they are forced to stay in one place and men are forced to do work requiring hard labour. Hence, the women stay at home to look after their kids. We can see the damage that this has done to their community. Modern civilisation is forcing our ideas and our “modern” ways of life on them and they have no other choice but to follow.

This is a photograph of Mr Di’s son. In general, the Orang Asli are depicted negatively in the media. We often see them when there is negative news e.g. protest against deforestation. The way these articles are written are so negative towards the Orang Asli that many think that “they have not caught up with our modern world”. Mahen made sure that his photographs show that the Batek as dignified and empowered. Some Orang Asli groups have traditional costumes and they wear these with pride. However, they have been directed to wear the costumes for the sake of tourism and that is not a good practice. Just in case you are wondering, the Batek do not have a traditional costume.

This is an important photograph as it shows the burial site of a deceased Batek. They will choose the highest tree that they can climb and they will build a simple structure. They will then start a fire to keep animals away. The Batek believe that the soul will fly to heaven. This location is kept a secret, as they do not want outside disturbance. It was reported in the news recently that the Kelantan government exhumed the body of a Batek, did a post mortem and then buried the body according to Islamic rites!

The Batek gather and share stories whilst hunting e.g., “I saw a herd of elephants next to the river”. This allows them to form a shared mental map of the area. They have a ground view of the land and whenever people share stories, they can imagine what else is happening on their land. The Batek use trees that really stand out as waypoints to navigate the terrain.

This photograph shows some Orang Asli children going to school. Most of them have trouble getting to school due to transportation. Some Orang Asli kids travel 12 hours per day to receive an education and so it takes amazing determination and grit. The cost is another challenge, as their parents cannot afford shoes and uniforms. They are sometimes discriminated against by teachers and hence they do not find school enjoyable. After a while, they feel so discouraged they prefer to stay at home and help their parents. Mahen met many bright Batek kids. Some quit school before the age of 14 due to these challenges. The statistics show that out of 100 who attend primary school, only six are expected to finish Form 5.

This photograph shows the Orang Asli children happily bathing in the river. Most of us will find it difficult to swim in these rivers due to the currents.

This final photograph depicts Mr Di against the backdrop of construction and development. It encourages us to reflect on the Batek way of life versus our way of life. We can still live as Malaysians and go back home and practise our traditional way of life. So why is it that we force Batek people to change and adapt to our way of life? According to the statistics, there are only 1500 Batek people left. It is only fair that we acknowledge their customary rights to their land. The Batek are well versed in the medicinal values of forest plants but if you are a researcher, it may not be in the Batek people’s best interest to publish these secrets in journals. We can assume that greedy pharmaceutical companies will come and grab the knowledge and then patent this knowledge for their commercial benefit. When that happens, there is little else left for the Batek to survive on.

Nam Hooi Wooi Koon – a Cantonese Clan Association

by Ong Li Ling

Several site excursions were organised as part of the Georgetown Heritage Celebrations 2019. I was fortunate enough to join the tour of the Nam Hooi Wooi Koon Cantonese Clan Association. Mr Adrian Pak (President of the Association) and Mr Johnny Yee (Honorary Secretary) led the informative tour and also provided the background information for this blog piece.

Our guides explained to us that Nanhai District is located in Foshan City China and has a history of 2,000 years. In 214 BC this place in Guangdong China was known as Nanhai County and, in 1992 it was renamed Nanhai District. The Nam Hooi Wooi Koon is a Cantonese Clan Association with members comprising of immigrants from Nanhai. It has been estimated that there are around 400,000 Nanhai Chinese living outside China and they are scattered around the world.

Some famous Nanhai figures that you may have heard of are revolutionary leader Kang Youwei, reformer Kang Tongbi, martial artist Wong FeiHung, martial artist Ip Man, actor Leung Ka-Fei and father of Engineering Zhan Tianyou. During the 1890s, Nanhai immigrants, Chen Yuqin and Zhou Xingyang, controlled the Penang opium market. They were the founding members of the Kwangtung Association, Nam Wah Ee Hospital, Chinese Town Hall and the Ng Fook Tong School in Penang.

Nam Hooi Wooi Koon was established in 1828, which means it will celebrate its 192nd anniversary come October 2019. Nam Hooi Wooi Koon is the oldest Overseas Establishment certified by the Nanhai Association in China. Within 77 years after its establishment, Nam Hooi Wooi Koon occupied its own building and it also operated 4 other shop houses and a funeral parlour. Coincidentally, the 1st (Bai Yupei), 11th (Bai Yuzhan), and the 21st President who is also the sitting President (BaiYubin) are from the Bai (Pak) family.

To make it easier for members to stay informed, Nam Hooi Wooi Koon started a Facebook Page and an official website in 2002. They also established a brotherhood Association with 2 other clan associations namely the PunYue (Panyu District) and Soon Tuck (Shunde, District).

Georgetown is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with more than 5000 buildings of interest. Nam Hooi Wooi Koon is one of 82 Category 1 buildings, reflecting the authenticity of its cultural landscape. The length of this building is 200 feet, which is rare in Penang. The front faces Chulia Street and the back faces Kampung Malabar.

We started our tour at the front door. The words Nam Hooi Wooi Koon (in Cantonese) is solidly moulded on a concrete style signboard above the door. Instead of using gold coloured paint, “gold leaves” were stuck onto the letterings to make the words stand out. You can see with a pair of 7 lettered Chinese couplets on either side of the door. It reads Nan Yu De Zhi Peng Cheng Yuan  and Hai Guo Tong Xin Yan Hui Zhang. This phrase was composed by Lingnan calligrapher Lin Qihan in 1904. The roofing and engraving on the exterior beams has a unique wooden flowery architectural design and showcases the expert craftsmanship of the artisan.

Once you enter the front door, you will see a Tai Pak Kong (Fu De Zheng Shen) on your left. It is also known as Tudi Gong (Diety of the Earth). Everything except the deity was repainted in early 2019. A specialist was hired to do the repainting and lacquering and he replicated the same colouring style as indicated in the archived photos. You will notice that this is the typical style adopted from Southern China. Tudi Gong is the Main Protector of the Community and Land.

Moving on, we were shown the United Nam Hoi Association Affiliates plaque on the left wall. This initiative was launched in Oct 2017. Members can establish trade with China via the Malaysia Nam Hoi Commercial Division.

We noticed the black tablets behind the counter on the right. In the 30th Year of Emperor Guangxu many enthusiastic members donated to the building fund, and their names were engraved in white lettering against a black background stone tablet. Carving a list of names onto a stone is a common practice in clan houses and kongsi. If you look carefully you may find the names of your great-great-grandfathers, great grandfathers or grandfathers engraved on the tablets. Members contributed not more than a few ringgit but it meant a lot to the association, as the value of money was big back then.

We looked up to admire the Golden Congratulatory Plaque. The previous plaque which was put up in 1905 collapsed in 2000  due to termites  and a replica was put in its place .The board is engraved with the 4 letters of ‘Wei An Le Guo’.

There are lots of rosewood Ching Dynasty and Guangxu era antique furniture in the Hall. Rose wood is strong and free of termites. The more you sit on the chairs the more it shines and it will also cool you down when ambient temperatures are high.

There used to be 2 large Qing Dynasty vases on the stage. Unfortunately these priceless artefacts were stolen. The Association has since installed a CCTV to prevent future occurrence of theft.

We were brought to the inside section of the building where we admired the 2nd air well. As this air well has not been sealed, rainwater pours in when it rains.

Netting has been installed to prevent bats and swallows from coming in.

We looked up and noticed 5 red plaques hanging from the ceiling. These plaques are the pride of Association as they are given only to outstanding Chinese Scholars. These 5 pieces were originally from Nan Hai and they were bestowed to Nan Hai children who got into the Honorary List after sitting for the Qinghai Imperial Examination (example The Champion Zhuangyuan and The Flower Tanhua). These Scholars were eventually promoted to senior positions such as Ministers in the Imperial Palace.

At the end of the inner hall, there stood a high Chinese-style altar with numerous ancestral tablets. These tablets commemorate the dead. Their families often come to this alter during the Cheng Beng Festival instead of visiting the tomb.

The altar is more than 2 stories high. It is rare to find wooden structures of that height especially after the Communist rule in China. On the altar, we admired exquisite carvings of deities that told of Chinese folk tales. We also saw flowers, fishes and others of wooden frameworks with golden leaves stuck on. This altar is one of the prominent antique pieces in Nam Hooi Wooi Koon. Nanhai was famous for porcelain making and the vases at the front of the altar were imported many years ago to decorate the altar. The vases are made of single porcelain pieces and are deemed as priceless antiques.

Visitors can go to the praying area at the back of the building to ask for their blessings. There is a stone altar with the Sheji Zhi Shen (God of Society) and Bai Hu Ye (White Tiger God). If you make an offering to the God of Society/Community, you will be blessed with good weather and a good millet harvest. The White Tiger God is a Protector God. If you feel you are experiencing a bout of bad luck, you can pray to the White Tiger God for a smooth sailing year ahead. This God is said to open its mouth during certain times of the year. Devotees rub the mouth of the Tiger with a piece of lard for good luck.

This stone altar is visited by many Penangites and is open to the public throughout the year. There is no entrance fee and all are welcome to visit and pray for good luck. Many come at the start of the Chinese New Year. The Cantonese come in droves to ‘Ta Siew Yan’ (Da Xiao Ren) i.e. “Beat up the Villain”. Those who hinder your progress and growth, those who oppose you and are obstacles to your progress are deemed as ‘siew yan’ villains.

Some visitors will engage the services of the Resident Lady who is well versed in chanting poetic mantras, which get rid of bad luck. She will hit a red paper cutting representing the human shape of the villain. The ‘villain’ will be beaten up using a Chinese wooden clog while she chants the Mantras. An angpow can be given to the Lady as an appreciation for her services. You can also present an offering to the Tiger God.

We admired the side of building from the outside; 200 feet is considered long for a Penang building. The Association would like to commission a mural on this wall to depict Nanhai history and culture sometime in the near future.

We then walked upstairs to the 1st floor and admired the red staircase which is over 100 years old.

On the upper level, we saw 2 more altars with ancestral tablets. These tablets are exclusive to the Nan Hai people and they can purchase a tablet for nominal amount.

From the upper level, we can see a big ball on the rooftop, which represents a Pearl. This pearl radiates light in all directions. Next to the pearl are fishes, which symbolise abundance to fengshui believers.

Ceiling is old style
This sink has been in use since British colonial days. The tap is the original tap and it is still in good working condition.
Old Chinese musical instruments, now museum-quality pieces. Members can participate in the Chinese Opera Group, which uses newer musical instruments.

We were then brought to the air-conditioned karaoke room, which is location at the back portion of the upper level. Initiated by the Association’s Past President, Mr. Lee GH, karaoke is an effective way to engage teachers and members alike. A competition is organised once a year to showcase budding talents.

The third altar located upstairs.

We were treated to yummy Cantonese snacks whilst we enjoyed the Chinese opera karaoke performed on stage. Big thanks to Mr Adrian Yap, Mr Johnny Yee and the association members for the educational tour and warm hospitality.