Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Sokcho Squid Sushi Paradise.

Situated on the north eastern coast of South Korea, many visitors often give this coastal city a miss when they come to this part of the country. Many have only one aim - to head to the nearby hill resort -Seoraksan.

We were pleasantly surprised with what Sokcho has to offer when we decided to leave Seorak-dong and spent a couple of days there on September 22, 09.

We desperately wanted a change from the regular, and pricer kimchi based stuff they offered at Seorak-dong, thus Sokcho easily become the obvious choice when it comes to looking for a more delightful choices of Korean food and value for money.

We found the harbor to be a seafood paradise.

If raw squid sushi catches your fancy, then head to the Marine Police base across from the City Hall. There, twenty something squid stalls are operated by mostly women. They will sell you 4 giant squids from W10,000, but you need to bargain hard.

Apparently September is the peak harvest season for squids. The locals too come in full force to fish for squids and you can watch them engage in their favorite past time not far from these makeshift stalls.

When you have agreed on the price, they will net the squids fresh from special water tanks and slice them into pieces using knifes and special squid shredder. All these are over in just a few minutes.

The dish come with tiny onion cuts and green chilles on top of the servings and a packet of spicy red sauce which is extra W1000, and there you'll have your fresh squid sushi. You eat Sokcho sushi by taking the cut squid in a paper cup and mixing it with the hot sauce.

There are also unforgetable seafood delights at the edge of the port near the lighthouse and the Sokcho pavillion. The building housing the sushi foodstalls are located opposite the pathway to the pavillion and it is a short walk from the large parking area to the far end near the massive tidal breaker.

You can order the meals from many fresh seafood sellers downstairs and you enjoy the meals upstairs overlooking the inner harbor.

The services are fast and friendly and you know it is a good place to enjoy food when the locals head there too.

Anyone who loves seafood should seriously consider making a stop at Sokcho.

Miss Kim Chol Yeon from the local tourist office who mans the tourist booth just outside the Sokcho Express Bus Terminal is a great help if you have just arrived in Sokcho and need information.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Penang welcomes British Helicopter Carrier.

History was made in Penang when Royal Navy helicopter carrier - HMS Ocean -L12, anchored in the Pearl of Orient for the first time on June 18, 2009.

The Penang stopover is a welcome respite for Her Majesty ship and her thousand plus crew who have just returned from a tropical war game at their favorite army camp in Brunei.
Needless to say, the arrival of the HMS Ocean brought much excitement to the otherwise mundane ferry terminal in Butterworth. However, the sight of the warship gets more profound if one could grab the opportunity to view it from the iconic ferries plying across the narrow Penang Strait.

It is from the ferry, one can appreciate the full scale of the carrier. The 208 meter long floating airfield dwarfs over everything nearby at the wharf.

However, all eyes are quickly drawn to the Sea Kings and Chinooks on board the Amphibious Assault Ship.

Another spectacular feature of the warship is the cutting edge military hardware packed with awesome firepower. The most noticeable lot is the Phalanx CIWS - the state-of-the-art anti ship missile system positioned at the HMS Ocean’s bow and helm. I saw only two Phalanx units on board although Wikipedia notes there are three.

The ship is currently on a month long journey back to their home base in Plymouth.

Quite expectedly, the arrival of the British warship captured the headlines in the local press. The Penang based Chinese daily Kwong Wah Yit Poh ran a special feature on the event (June 18, 2009 edition; see attached photo) and the news also went national on Starmetro (Warship docks in Butterworth, June 25, 2009)

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Ex-Penang Museum Curator Gets Thumb-Up for Project

Penang conservationist Khoo Boo Chia, shows why he is still the best in his league when his latest museum project at Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi received rapturous applauses recently. (The Starmetro, Rich history of a clan, May 27, 2009)

Khoo, the former Penang Museum curator, grabbed the headlines in 2006 (The Sun, March 24, 06 ) when he was forced to vacate his post in Penang Museum after he fell out of favor with the then Penang BN councilman holding the cultural and heritage portfolios.

Although Khoo was not formally blamed for any wrongdoings, it was an open secret that the vocal politician from UMNO was not pleased with Khoo and his work at the state museum.

According to reliable sources, Khoo was ‘guilty’ of failing to use his good office to project Penang’s multi cultural facets in the museum. The exhibits in the state museum was deemed too pro-Georgetown which is prominently Chinese and lacked features of Malay majority in Prai.

Hence, he was axed and replaced by his then young and inexperienced assistant curator.

Fortunately, the 2006 fallout has turned into a blessing for Khoo and he could devote himself wholeheartedly to the preservation of Georgetown historical enclave without having to make consensus or - worst - being labeled responsible for cultural balkanization in the Pearl of Orient.

In just a short span of a few years and the verdict is out.

Today, Khoo’s fate has been redeemed and he has proven that he is a force to be reckoned with in the field of preservation and heritage conservation.

He has left many of his personal imprints in the RM400,000 project to refurbish Leong San Tong Museum, and it could pose serious challenge to the State Museum as the next must-see heritage site.

In this bizarre twist of fate, the state has now taken a keen interest in Khoo’s latest work and it has gone so far as to proclaim the site as its next biggest treasure chest.
The icing of the evening for the former Penang Museum curator is when he got the thumb-up for his work from the Chief Minister of Penang when the latter turned up to grace the opening.
(All Photos are sourced from Penang Tourism and Khoo Kongsi websites)

Monday, June 1, 2009

Pulau Ketam's Watery Playground.

The waters around Pulau Ketam are a natural playground for the children of this Chinese fishing community in this mangrove filled island.

Unlike their peers from the city, the Pulau Ketam kids have a very different idea of having fun and find sliding or swinging at the neighborhood park a yawn.

There was a hive of activity when the tide was at its highest at about six in the evening.
A group of boys, about five of them wasted no time for some eye-opening activity from the village's main bridge.

While they seemed to throw caution out of the window, the boys certainly have a great respect for motorized boats, pausing until each boat has passed.

However, they will stop at nothing when having fun. Not even when they spotted a jelly fish under the bridge but that did not deter their enthusiasm to dive.

For hours till dusk filled the air, they dared one another to take the next plunge into the murky waters. When they jumped, they often screamed out loud the names of girls they fancied and it makes me wonder if their diving and shouting says something about adult relationship.

Right- girl swimming from door front.

Further downstream, the younger ones also took to swimming with great ease.

A few households have children some as young as five or maybe less frolicking in the waters. All they have is a small floating device on their arms but that's basically all.

Despite swimming close to the busy waterway, these kids have no qualms about the danger lurking nearby and seemed to enjoy their wet play time right in front of their doorsteps.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Lou King Howe Memorial Museum

LOU KING HOWE Memorial Museum is a tribute by Sibu residents to a philanthropist whose name is synonymous with remarkable stories of early settlers in this predominantly Foochow community in Sarawak.

Lou, a successful rubber planter of his time, had donated generously to the set up of a modern medical facility to help improve the lots of many folks from all backgrounds when malaria and other deadly tropical diseases were ravaging the entire population.

Lou now has his name forever enshrined in history.

Through the initiative by Sibu elders, the disused hospital was given a fresh coat of paint and has since embarked on a new journey as a memorial dedicated to Lou cum a museum showcasing the health services from a bygone era.

Other communities in Malaysia can learn a thing or two from Sibu about honoring pioneers and leaders but stop short of trumpeting over the figurehead.

Unfortunately, many Malaysian museums tend to have a habit of positioning themselves exactly in the opposite. These museums often under the domain of the respective states are used as platforms to score political mileages.

Too many honorable figures from a spectrum of Malaysian backgrounds and their sacrifices, both for their community and to some extent this country, have for too long sidelined and now risked losing forever in time because they don’t fit into somebody’s agenda.

Sibu is a hard act to follow but their approach can be the yardstick in how we promote bias free Malaysian heritage.

If Sibu museum can succeed on the initiative of its residents, and at the same time doing a fairly impressive job of showcasing its tumultuous past, then the key players in Malaysian conservationist circle should get their act together and approach heritage in a wholesome and polarized-less atmosphere.

See enclosed write-up

Sarawak's First And Malaysia's Biggest Medical Museum Will Be Ready In July (Bernama, March 14, 2008- Edward Subeng Stephen)

Come July, Sarawak will have the distinction of being home to its first, and the country's biggest medical museum. Known as the Lau King Howe Memorial Museum, it is the brainchild of a group Chinese businessmen who are descendents of early settlers to the state. The museum itself, is named after one of the early Chinese settlers, Lau King Howe.

The new museum will occupy the original main building of the former Lau King Howe Hospital in Lau King Howe Road near the Sibu Town Square."It will be another attraction to the town and will probably be the biggest of its kind in the country," said Urban Development and Tourism Minister Datuk Sri Wong Soon Koh in a recent interview with Bernama.

He said the project was a joint effort of town leaders, United Chinese Association and other non-governmental organisations, Sarawak Museum, health department, Sibu Municipal Council and public works department."As a matter of fact, two NGOs namely, Confederation of Pan-Chen Lau Association, Sarawak and the Sibu Kwong Yuen Benevolent Association have each contributed RM300,000 towards its restoration works," he said.

According to Dr Hu Chang Hock, who is chairman of the local branch of the Malaysian Medical Association, the museum "is designed to remember, perpetuate and propogate the spirit of Lau King Howe, his sincerety, benevolence, generosity and his profound love for the sick, poor and disadvantaged."
He said the late Lau King Howe, who was a trained teacher and a pious Christian, arrived from Foochow, Fukien in China in 1916, to manage a rubber plantation here. Before returning to China in 1930, he decided to donate all his properties to the then colonial government to set up the town's first modern hospital. Completed in 1936 at a cost of RM82,000, the hospital was named after him.

On Aug 31, 1994, when the new government hospital at Oya Road was completed and began operations, Lau King Howe Hospital ceased operations. Dr Hu said the museum, the first of its kind in the state, "will attempt to illustrate the changing pattern of infectious disease such as diptheria, malaria and tuberculosis spectrum in their prominence in the 1930s to the 1950s, to the present prevalent chronic disease such as diabetes mellitus, hypertension, heart disease and others."

"It will also try to illustrate the progress of medicine from the exhibits of age-old reverent equipments of the former Lau King Howe Hospital to the pictorial illustration of modern equipments available at the Sibu General Hospital. "It will highlight how far we, in Sibu, have came to acquaint and adapt to the new advances in tools of medical applications," he said, adding that the exhibits would be changed frequently to enable the museum to be lively and vibrant.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Muzium Gopeng - Old Mining Town Honoured.

(Photos courtesy of The Star)
Museums in Malaysia are given a fresh new breath of air recently when a group of friends decided to join hands to start a thematic museum in former tin mining town of Gopeng.

In my view, this privately-run museum has the potential to outshine “state run” muzium because of the wealth of information in its collections.

Most if not all the artifacts in Gopeng Museum are personal collections passed down the generations.

Furthermore, home grown museums are often a labor of love for the few bold individuals who value heritage, and their passion for history compensates whatever is lacking in these small museums.

Gopeng Museum should also be jointly promoted with the Tin Dredge museum (T.T No. 5, photo on the left), another privately run museum in Tanjung Tualang as the country’s foremost repository of tin mining history.

Together, these Kinta Valley based museums will offer visitors and historical bluffs a glimpse of the valley’s industrious past and a startling introduction to the world’s most successful tin mining story.

Old mining town honoured (The Star, May 16, 09/ FOONG THIM LENG)

Inspired by the 2006 American animated feature film Cars, successful businessman Bernard Yaw has set up a museum in his hometown, Gopeng, in Perak.

Muzium Gopeng, opened on April 18 to coincide with World Heritage Day, is located in his ancestral home at 28, Jalan Eu Kong.

Cars, the animated film, is a story about an old sleepy town, Radiator Springs, which was once a popular stopover along the infamous US Route 66.

Successful entrepreneur Bernard Yaw who founded the Muzium Gopeng.

However, with the construction of an interstate freeway US-15, cars and trucks no longer need to patronise the small town’s businesses and services and simply bypass the town to rush to Los Angeles or Las Vegas, thus causing a major economic and financial slowdown for Radiator Springs.

As the story goes, one Sally Carrera, a beautiful 2002 Porsche 911 from California, grows tired of life in the fast lane and wants a new start in the small town, so she makes Radiator Springs her home. She runs the only auto motel there and is the one most dedicated to preserving and reviving the town with the hope that one day, it will get ‘back on the map’, and it succeeds.

The story reminded Yaw, the director of Dubai Ventures Group Sdn Bhd, of the reality faced by Gopeng and other similar towns along the North-South Expressway.Yaw recalled the time when the tin mining industry collapsed in the 1980s, residents from Gopeng and nearby towns were forced to venture elsewhere in search of greener pastures.

He himself left in 1980 for tertiary education in the United States and after graduation, he used to travel to New York city as part of the demands of his job and he would visit Chinatown’s famous Canal Street. “I could hear the Manglish and the Jen Shen Hakka spoken there,” he said. “The local Chinese residents there even regarded Canal Street as Kopisan Street. Many Gopeng folk made their living in restaurants there to send money home,” he said.

During his 20-year stay in the US, Yaw said his heart and thoughts were always with Gopeng.

The idea for the museum cropped up during a few rounds of lai fun (rice noodle) and local coffee sessions in the town by Yaw and a group of friends a few months ago.

“Like many of us who were born and raised in Gopeng, we loved the former hustle and bustle of this town. “We savoured the simplicity of life in Gopeng, without the Internet, Gameboys and iPods.

“We were all just simple, honest, frugal and conservative Gopeng folk,” he said.

He loves the simplicity of little towns where everyone is kind and generous and where the food is freshly made and the air clean.

“We decided to form Muzium Gopeng as we have a strong common desire to share the rich legacies of Gopeng and to bring about its revival,” he said.

Yaw restored the ancestral home that was built in 1882 by Eu Kong, the founder of the famous Chinese medicine company Eu Yan Sang. It was leased for 99 years to Yaw’s great-grandfather Yaw Mun Chong who came from the Hakka Dapu County in Guangdong Province in the early 1900s to set up a sundry shop in Gopeng. Yaw bought over the house in 1999. Five generations of Yaws had grown up in the house.

Muzium Gopeng is now under the care of the Gopeng Museum Management Society’s ad hoc committee headed by Yaw.

The society’s secretary Phang See Kong said there were over 300 artefacts on display including clocks, radios, typewriters, tools, weighing scales, household items, kitchen utensils, decorative platters, glass jars and ceramic urns, coins and currency notes, pens, lighters, torchlights, watches, ceremonial items and silver belts.
Phang said most of the artefacts belonged to treasurer Wong Kuan Cheong.

Another interesting display is a gallery of photographs on important people and incidents in Gopeng over the years, said Phang, a retired teacher.

Phang said Gopeng was a pioneer town in the Kinta Valley dating back to the early 1850s. He said the museum had attracted over 2,000 visitors from all over the country and also tourists over the past few weeks.

Perak Heritage Society president Law Siak Hong said there were opportunities in heritage waiting to be tapped. Already, eco-tourism in the jungle nearby has made Gopeng a popular destination.

“This history centre will attract more visitors to town,” he said.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Second 'ship' museum for Malacca?

(Photos courtesy of NST - An artist impression of the replica )

Malacca is set to expand its successful Maritime Museum to include a replica of a 15th century royal schooner assumedly used during the heydays of Malay Sultanate in Malacca. (NST, Second ‘ship’ museum for Malacca, May 12, 2009)

The second replica costing close to RM5 million will be built a stone throw from Flor de la Mar on the newly reclaimed square across the historical river. But here is where the similarity ends.

While a great effort was taken to design the Portuguese Galleon when they set out to build the replica, the constructors of the Malay royal sail may face greater obstacle in their quest to design the ship.

Records about Flor de la Mar - the flagship of Albuquerque’s armada are well documented and there are plenty about its voyages in the Portuguese Archive but we cannot say the same about the royal vessel for the Malacca Sultan.

Malacca maybe the formidable sea faring state but information on its naval fleets and types of vessels used by the sultanate is vague if not none at all.
When Malacca was under siege by the Portuguese, we were told the battles were fought by soldiers on elephants and the Portuguese men-of-war pounded our shores without a hint of naval resistence.
Why and where was the Sultan’s fleet?

Hence, there are questions if there was a royal ship like the state would like us to believe today.
More worrisome is if the 2nd 'ship' museum venture part of an on-going plan by the state authority to localise the many attractions currently being developed on the banks of the historical Sungai Melaka.

Second 'ship' museum for Malacca (NST, May 12, 2009)

MALACCA: After the 19- year-old Flor De La Mar Ship Museum, the state government will soon build another ship at Sungai Melaka.

This time, it will be a replica of a 15th century royal ship, costing an estimated RM4.9 million.

Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam said the ship, which would be developed by the Malacca Museum Corporation, would be able to accommodate up to 150 visitors at any one time.He said the ship would take tourists back in time to the era of the Malacca sultanate during the reign of Sultan Mansur Shah (1459-1477)."Apart from depicting Malacca as a trading port then, the ship will also exhibit the maritime activity in this part of the world," Ali said.

Two historians, Tan Sri Aziz Tapa and Datuk Djohan Hanapiah, were also consulted to ensure the success of the project, expected to be completed in 18 months.Ali said the RM20 million Ma-lacca Planetarium, the fourth in the country, will be fully operational by next month.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Trishawman for Heritage.

There is an old saying that life begins at forty but when I hit the number exactly a month ago – my fortieth birthday has all the markings of a very unsavory connotation to it.

So imagine the surprise when I flicked the papers (NST, Here comes the trishaw man, May 7, 2009) and there it was my peer from Malacca days grabbing headlines for attempting a feat not for anyone much less at 40!!

Tan Ming Kiong, MK to me or Frankie as he is now preferably known, has been an outstanding athlete smashing records and blazing tracks in Kubu back when George Michael was known for his reign at UK music chart and not something else.

Sadly, a quarter of century later today nothing about our physical state is close to those glory times.

Hence, MK has my highest respect and support with his twin heritage city quest. If he succeeds and God bless, he will embody the free spirit that was once a profound feature in all of us. Despite the glaring age factor, he and his beca shall overcome the 800-plus kilometer journey for humanity.

Here comes the trishaw man - NST May 7, 2009

Frankie Tan Ming Kiong says riding his trishaw is the best way to promote Malacca and Penang.

MALACCA: Frankie Tan Ming Kiong is pedalling a trishaw from here to Penang for charity and to promote the two world heritage cities.

Tan, who spent 10 years in Britain as an IT consultant, said he wanted to give himself a career break and get involved in social welfare activities."I would like to make a difference and, at the same time, promote Malacca and Penang as world heritage cities." Although there were many ways to promote the cities, Tan said, trishaw riding was the best way to do it."The trishaw was the mode of transport in the old days and is still popular."

His journey began yesterday at the A'Famosa Fort. His journey will take him to Pengkalan Balak, Port Dickson, Sepang, Tanjong Sepat, Banting, Morib, Teluk Panglima Garang, Klang, Jeram, Kuala Sungai Selangor, Sekinchan, Sabak Bernam, Kampung Baru, Lumut, Segari, Pantai Remis, Terong, Changkat Jering, Simpang, Parit Buntar, Nibong Tebal, Simpang Empat, Butterworth and Komtar, Penang."

Small towns still exhibit the heritage side of Malaysia and that is precisely why I will stop at all these venues before I proceed to my final destination, Penang," Tan said. He will be taking photographs during the journey to create an album of the "united faces of Malaysia".

The charity organisations which will benefit from Tan's trishaw journey are the National Council for the Blind, Women's Aid Organisation, SPCA Malacca and Wings Malacca (centre for learning-disabled children)."

I will bear my own expenses and any proceeds or donations will be given only to the charitable organisations."Interested individuals can get in touch with the organisations directly or email us at contact@thetrishawman.com or call me at 012-6613813."

Friday, April 17, 2009

Kg. Banda Kaba Joins Heritage Status

Two urban villages in historical Malacca Town to be declared Heritage Villages.

Khamis Abas, GM for PERZIM – the state museum board - briefed about 80 families in Kampung Banda Kaba and Kampung Bukit Cina on April 14, 09 on the Chief Minister’s plan to accord them as Heritage Village – Kampung Warisan. Khamis said that these “special status” villages are created to enhance and safeguard the development of Malacca as UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The two villages totaling 276 households and 54 houses, if they are successfully listed under the Malacca Conservation Enactment 1993, would join other urban villages in the state namely Kampung Morten, Kampung Chetti and Portuguese Settlement and Chinatown enclaves in Heeren Street and Jonker Walk to be accorded the special status.

According to Khamis, by listing the villages with the status would help to preserve the heritage there. And he adds that the move would draw the tourists to the areas.

This turn of event may be a lifeline of hope to residents in the affected areas.

Because of its proximity to the town center, the population consisting of mostly wage earners and small petty traders has for decades stayed in their houses without knowing when the ironic ball of development will strike their stilted homes next.

Previously a quaint and peaceful inter racial settlement but their fate lingers by the tender hooks with low cost flats and other property projects mushrooming next to their neighborhood. Amongst in the pipeline, a multi storey condominium set to overlook the Banda Kaba surau.

The result is a downgrade affecting the peace and tranquility of the neighborhood. Old residents suffer unbearable ding from traffic jams all day long and the narrow roads are choked with outstation registered vehicles on weekends and holidays.

However, the affected residents could face headaches to renovate their mostly wooden houses and the state is unashamedly vague on this crucial matters because some structures are weathered and in dire needs of repair.

Upgrading their homes may prove more troublesome now because the occupants must now seek special permission from the MBMB (Malacca’s City Hall) and PERZIM for approval.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Giving way to Fast Development.

NST Reporter Zalina Mohd Som (NST Traveltimes, April 14, 2009) wrote this feature about how much she missed the old Malacca and how much development has eroded and put the historical legacy in Malacca at risk. The Malaysian mainstream media (MSM) are not bold enough, perhaps apathy to voice out the worrisome progress taking shape in the state.

Zalina’s effort may be a start but it takes more than having a feature in a leisure segment of Malaysian leading paper to shake into the conscious of the power-to-be to the awful fate awaiting Malacca Old Town.

Below is the article.

Giving way to Fast Development - Zalina Mohd Som (NST Travel Times, April 14, 09)

THOUGH it has been three decades, I can still remember vividly my first visit to Malacca. What fascinated me then was standing on the river bank, watching hundreds of mudskippers while the Portuguese fortress of A’ Famosa stood silently not too far away. Though the fish caught my fancy, I was more overwhelmed by the aura surrounding the historic location. The pages from my history book came alive before my eyes. I imagined myself standing between the Portuguese who had taken shelter inside the fortress and the invading Dutch ships in the Straits of Malacca.

Then, as I turned to look at the vast lawn of Padang Pahlawan, a black and white image played in my mind – I could feel the euphoria as hundreds of Malaysians gathered around Tunku Abdul Rahman, our first Prime Minister, who was there to announce the date of our Independence Day. Then, 12 years later, I revisited Malacca as a college student and tried to find the same spot where I had stood mesmerised as a 10-year-old. But things had changed. Where was the water’s edge? There were rows of stalls stocked with local handicraft and souvenirs separating the historic fortress and the big padang.

There was a big kereta lembu (bullock cart) monument at the edge of the padang and next to it were some over-decorated bullock carts (with real bulls) from which dondang sayang songs (Malaccan traditional song) were being blasted out. On the roadside, a row of wooden stalls sold Malacca specialties like asam pedas, ikan bakar and sambal tumis. Today, my job requires me to travel to historic Malacca again and again and each time I can find something different at Dataran Pahlawan. Some years ago, I was shocked to find a huge commercial centre opposite Dataran Pahlawan.

The view of the Straits of Malacca was obstructed by tall commercial buildings – hotels, shopping mall and hospital. The stalls where I had some of the best asam pedas, had moved and there was only a short row of stalls at the end of the field, opposite the Hotel Renaissance Melaka. On my latest trip a couple of months ago, I saw more changes.

Not only had the stalls been demolished, but a big, probably century-old angsana tree was no longer standing. The brick road in front of the high-end of Dataran Pahlawan Mall was choked with traffic. The construction of the mall had somehow reduced the size of the field. Ironically, construction works on the site had unearthed another Portuguese fort facing the A’Famosa.

The fenced-up area was probably where I had stood as a little girl watching mud-skippers. At the same spot now, I can only see the posh Dataran Pahlawan Mall and the parking lot of the revolving tower Menara Taming Sari.

Tomorrow, as Malacca celebrates the sixth anniversary of its Historical City status, I wonder if the city will be able to sustain its historical charm when all evidence points to a preference for dynamic modernisation.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Hotels Development a Peril At Malacca River.

The recent ground breaking of the Rio Hotel across the river from the Maritime Museum marks the beginning of an ambitious plan by the state authority to follow suits with similar hotels along the Malacca River.

The chief minister has announced that the Plaza Inn, abandoned over the last decade will take a new shape in 2009. The state has bought and completed the renovation of the 3-star hotel opposite the old Cathay cinema, and according to the CM, it will offer visitors unobstructed view of the river at an affordable price.

My guess is that the state aims to seize on the opportunity that come with the completion of River Beautification Project in late 2007. So far, the project seems to have an upper hand to eradicate some of the earlier concerns about pollution in the river but the verdict is still far from over.

In my view the project has many flaws and it has struck a final nail to the coffin to the river historical link to malacca's hey day as a powerful maritime state. Taking away the unique character of river barter trade and stopping Sumateran schooners and purple fishing trawlers to berth is to deprive the river from functioning naturally.

At this rate, parts of the river within the Malacca historical enclave would soon be home to multi level concrete structures. If the development of the hotels are left unchecked, it would pose serious threat to the classic chinatown ambience which the enclave is so famous and attracts millions of visitors from all over the world.

The Rio Hotel, spotting an Iberarian architecture and building more cubic shaped hotels in the enclave are only affront to the heritage legacy in the old town and also an eye sore. The plan to build more hotels is also a sickening similarity with Singapore.

Unfortunately, modern visitors staying in hotels at the Malacca River will see nothing of its vibrant past and what they will find is a largely a mundane canal waterways with unimpressive views of river life.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Malacca Gets Thumb Down in a Damning Report.

The popular National Geographic Traveler(NGT)Nov/Dec 08 issue decries at the over-development inside the Malacca’s historical enclave. It further adds that if it is left unchecked this iconic Malaysian city may face a bleak future.

A distressing development is creeping over the entire town. Tourism facades have superseded conservation efforts and permanently marred the original cityscape. The culprit is the chief minister in guise of state development agencies and they are relentless in their new pursue.

They are known to embrace a worrisome keenness to replace the town’s colorful past with artificial attractions, mechanical joy rides and flickering neon lights in place of colonial ruins.

Hence, the unfavorable notion that the town has turned into a ‘Disneyland’ and commercialization has bred its ugly heads.

This alarming review by the widely circulated travel publication has inevitably thrown a spanner to the state tourism promotion plan. It is a critical wake up call for the state to revamp its approach to reap benefits from tourism and to leave the historical heritage unmolested.

The authority should also be mindful of the damages brought by these short term tourism projects and the impact to the historical enclave.

A theme park setting within Malacca’s fragile environment will dilute and worst, threaten unique historical features. To rely on these man-made trump cards would only incur further wraths for damning and jeopardizing Malacca’s fabulous past.

All stakeholders, from the Chief Minister to the lay men on the streets must acknowledge the extent of the damages caused by these overzealous attempts. They must take heed to arrest further the downgrading of Malacca Old Town.

A list of 109 historic places from over the world was compiled and rated in the NGT issue; Malacca was positioned at 98th whilst Georgetown fared slightly better at 68th .

Below is the excerpt from NGT.

Malaysia: Old port of Malacca
Score: 50

"One of the most fascinating destinations in Asia. It is rich in history as a gateway into Asia for early Europeans. The old churches, China Town, and vernacular Malay houses are beautifully maintained."

"The major problem for Malacca is the incredible extent of the land reclamation that has taken place at the mouth of the historic river, now heavily developed with high-rise residential and commercial buildings. As a result, the historic connection between Malacca and the sea, which is fundamental to its significance, has been almost totally obscured."

"There is very little left in Malacca that is authentic. The city has been Disneyfied and commercialized to a degree that has to be seen to be believed."

"Landfill on the town side of the Straits has forever altered the historic connection with the Straits."

"You have to make an extra effort to find 'authentic' Malacca behind the very carefully manicured heritage facade."

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Rosenbauer In Macau.

Tourists looking on an adventurous holiday in Macau are bound to have an early kick if they peek out of their cabin and see their flights making the final approach at the Macau International Airport - Aeroporte Internacional de Macau.

All flights on this former Portuguese enclave depend on this single elevated runway built just a few meters above the Pearl River Delta.

Only the special breed of pilots have the guts to manouevre in reputedly some of the world's shortest and narrowest runways in a full fledged airport. One false move and it is perfect recipe for catastrophe.

Not wanting to take any chance, the airport has brought in three Rosenbauer state-of-the-art rescue and fire fighting vehicle (Unit #11, Unit #12 & ?) in Nov. 2007.
On my visit in Oct. 08 (photo from wing tip of A320), I saw of one of the Austrian-made vehicle -Unit #11 - parked at the runway edge. The rest, I believe, are in the main control center.

Rosenbauer Panther 6X6 has a top speed of 120km/h and at that speed it could cover the entire length of the runway under the stipulated international response time of 3 minute or less. The CAT C-18 6 cylinders engine also gives it enough power to hit 0-80km/h in 29 seconds.

Unit #11 with telesquirt (left) & #12(right) - Photos courtesy of Melinda(chanmelmel)
The Macau's Rosenbauers come with few variants; #11 is armed with a telesquirt or a long arm gadget to help fight fiery clash from a distance, whereas #12 is more conventional in look. (Note: Would appreciate any input on the 3rd unit)
According to Rosenbauer official website, each of the new generation fire trucks can carry up to 12,500 litres of water and 1,500 litres of foam respectively to help it take on missions successfully.
Look out too for the airport's fleet of rescue boat next to the main base.
They will be handy since the probability of aircraft veer over the runway into the water and the rescue mission turn into high sea drama is very high in Macau.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Heritage Status for Malaysian School.

Victoria Institution or VI, one of the leading schools in Klang Valley and the alma mater for some of the most influential and powerful Malaysians have beat the odd again when the century old school was listed as National Heritage. (The Star, Feb 14, 09)

It is the first time that such honor is given to a school. The shocking news by Shafie Apdal, the minister in charge of heritage, is bound to invite criticisms because some argue that there is other notably more established and successful schools which deserve the honor.

KEKWA having accorded VI the status, risks receiving the same flaks Pos Malaysia had over its decision to include VI in a special issued stamp series of Malaysian schools. It drew strong words from premier alumnus all over the country, about their choice or lack of it.

Maybe, Shafie Apdal was more inclined to please fellow cabinet collegues and former Victorians like Zulhasnan Rafique (FT Minister) and Rafidah Aziz (UMNO Wanita Supremo) and tycoons Francis Yeoh and T. Ananda Krishnan, than to worry if it is fit to put VI into this honorable roll or if some other schools are better qualify.

Nevertheless, there is bound to be some good with this move. Now that VI has this special status, it could stop property magnates from eyeing the school and turn it into a prime property estate.

Historically urban Malaysian schools have being on the receiving end when it comes to property development. At this rate, more schools will suffer the same ill fate of convents in Bukit Bintang and Seremban and succumb to overzealous developers. Both fell under the demolishing ball without arousing a single eyelid from the honorable Heritage Minister.

Coloane Chapel for Wedding Photos.

Snapping photos with European flavour backdrops to commemorate weddings are the en vogue thing for many newly-weds in Macau. Topping their favorite list is the St. Francis Xavier Chapel, the chapel with the distinctive Iberian architecture in the quaint Coloane.

Ailee and I found out this interesting fact when we were visiting the century old chapel after we had the famous Lord's egg tarts a short walk away.

We had decided on a full-day outing at the southern most tip of Macau with primary one thing in mind - to simply get away from the tourists and the crowded squares.

Crowd can be quite a problem in this tiny former Portuguese colony, but we were also hoping to catch the last remaining parts of rustic Macau before they are taken over by another mega casino project.

Nevertheless, the chapel built in the 1920s plays a bigger role for Christians in Macau.

The main hall in the chapel is adorned by statues and wall murals depicting St. Francis Xavier and his many endeavors in the Far East. However, a small gallery next to it is where we found maps and more captions about the saint, and house the sacred relic of a tiny skeletal remains of the saint.

However, few tourists have ventured out here, and hence it is not swarmed by the maddening crowds.

We were also pleasantly surprised by the peaceful surroundings and when we stepped inside the church we felt we were like miles away from the city. Unfortunately, we missed out on the sacred bone.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Bontoc Museum - A Repository of the Ifugou.

Our tour in the Philippines took us to Bontoc, one of the main settlements in the mountainous region in Dec. 2, 08. Despite the size, most tourists would give the town a pass but we read that the quaint museum was worth a detour. Soon, we found the Bontoc museum next to the post office and were glad that we did.

According to many write-ups, the two-level museum is a must-see repository of the Ifugou culture and heritage, and a leading historical authority of Ifugou heartland. While the admission at 50 pesos is rather steep but think of it as a little contribution to conservation efforts by this church affiliated establishment.

The museum stands out from its neighbors with its unique traditional roof. It was established by Belgian missionary in the early 20th. century. Inside, there are galleries to showcase intricate traditional costumes, old photos and hunting and farming tools but imagine the shock we had when we encountered very graphic black and white photos of a headless victim.

We soon learned that the entire mountain region was engulfed in some gruesome tribal wars and enemy skulls were the preferred trophy for the victors.

Nevertheless, the main draw has to be the Ifugou village replicas just outside the museum. At the yard, we found well-preserved stone shelters known as Ilis - to protect the Ifugou against all weather elements.

We could see the design of Ilis has many similarities with other traditional farming houses. Tribal house served more than just a place to sleep over and each home comes with a stone pit for household animals, usually pigs; and storage areas for farm produce.

Every detail is given a thorough effort to project a sense of a working village including having a meeting area - a must in many Ifugou villages. In this aspect, the museum has done a remarkable job incorporating these elements.

The Bontoc Museum is where you go to see Ilis - the tribal homes up-close, without risking joint aches from conquering the hills to see one.

Sadly, Ilis are rare sights now in the mountains. With modern ways making inroads into the highlands, many Ifugou villagers have replaced tradition with convenience – ancient wooden houses now come with zinc top and modern amenities.

In my view, the Bontoc Museum is the best of its league and the only reputable establishment highlighting the Ifugou community in all of Cordilleras.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Kuala Selangor Historical Gem

The chequered past of Bukit Malawati, the popular Kuala Selangor outcrop with the domineering century-old lighthouse, makes a worthy story.

Early Bugis raden or rulers first identified the importance of the hill overlooking the Selangor estuary, and saw it fit to reap the strategic location to establish their power base in the areas. Kuala Selangor was a thriving port by the 17th. Century, and it has assumed the role as the undisputed domain of the new Selangor ruler.

Not surprisingly, it invited prying eyes and sowed the seed for many invasions to come.

Soon, bloody tussles between the Bugis warlords and Dutch invaders flared over who gets the hill and the lucrative tin trade. As the warring tides wavered, the hill’s namesakes, Bukit Malawati and Bukit Belanda -Dutch Hill -in Malay, too moved back and forth.

Three hundreds years later and much of the history artifacts have disappeared with time.

For years, the hill suffered one too many lacklustre attempt to brace up the place for the role it played in history, like the cannon replicas at the hilltop. They were dismay attempts and fail to conjure accurately the violence that plagued this military stronghold.

However, with the boom in tourist arrivals, fame soon dawned on Kuala Selangor and everyone is thinking how to milk the new cash cow. History suddenly has an economical value.

The state museum board - Perbadanan Muzium Selangor was among the first to join the bandwagon - and opted for a brilliant plan to excavate the entire hill. Few artifacts related to the location like cannon balls, broken chinaware and colonial coins were found. They are now placed in a museum housed in the former home of the District Officer, next to the iconic lighthouse.
All five galleries of this Historical Museum (Muzium Sejarah) are devoted to the hill’s tumultuous history, and why Kuala Selangor is touted as the cradle of Selangor Sultanate.

However, the information and displays in the museum can be overwhelming for the uninitiated. The museum is also let down by the lack of historical artifacts, like weapons and archaeological findings to add weight to the message about the turn of events.

My other bane is the dioramas inside the galleries, particularly the two depicting the early trading days and the battle between the Dutch and raden’s men. Unfortunately, the diorama presentation is amateurish, and worst, historically inaccurate.

It is puzzling why the curators had overlooked the diorama showing European galleons berthing at Kuala Selangor when no record validates such event. Other dioramas also beg for answer especially the one depicting Dutch troops wearing cowboy hats. I doubt that was the soldiers' uniform when they were slaughtered by the locals in gruesome bloodbath scene.

Despite these drawbacks, the historical Malawati Hill and the museum is a great weekend getaway for those looking for an adventure with Selangor history.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

World's Smallest Fire Station in Sagada.

Perch high in the mountainous regions of the Philippines Cordilleras is reputedly the World’s Smallest Fire Station.

Locals will proudly tell you that despite the unfavorable size of Sagada Fire Station, the cabin-shaped station operated by the Bureau of Fire Protection is their only visible insurance to safeguard the idyllic hamlet against fire hazards.

A tall order nonetheless, for a tiny fire station and its entire fleet consisting of just a red Honda scrambler (which I believe has seen better days).
Missing at the station is also viable fire fighting paraphernalia except a radio transmitter inside.

Hence, you'd be forgiven if you doubt if the world’s smallest fire station could live up to its roles in an emergency.

Sagada is remarkable as a pristine highland retreat and as we have discovered in December 2008, has great potentials for a respite holiday destination with a magnificent mix of caving adventure and picturesque rice terraces add to it.

Nevertheless, a quick check in the internet revealed a chequered past that is anything but peaceful.

The quaint town was almost consumed by a devastating fire not too long ago and telltale signs are still found at the town square opposite the Police Station cum market.

Till today, the fiery episode remains a mystery but its outbreak is reminiscent of a more sinister and turbulent time.

Like many first time visitors, we were surprised to learn that curfew hours are enforced from dusk to dawn in this tranquil place. When we asked the town folks, the only answer we got is that the curfews are for our safety without revealing too much.

We soon learned that the entire Cordilleras were engulfed in a violent armed struggle.
It ended only recently in the late 80s when the locally supported - The New Peoples’ Army (NPA) - signed a peace accord with Manila to bring peace to the area.

Perhaps for this historical reason, it is best to assume that the non-descriptive looking fire station despite its imperfections may serve its role rather perfectly.
Without a doubt, the Sagada Fire Station is the best antidote for the war-weary people who long for some real peace and tranquillity.