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.

Klang New Heritage Center

2009 will be an watershed year for Klang, and if the Sultan Selangor has his way, the royal town will have a heritage enclave to call its own in a year or two.

The successful opening of the Sultan Abdul Aziz Royal Gallery in early 2008 (pls read my blog article posted on Apr, 08) in the old quarters of Klang town has ignited new interest to preserve other similar colonial buildings in the vicinity.

Numerous royal dignitaries and visitors have made a beeline to visit the royal gallery including Sultan of Kedah and royalties from Negeri Sembilan.

However, the best PR triumph for the gallery, in my view, lies with its growing popularity with locals.

The gallery opts for a visitor friendly policy to encourage the public to discover the gallery for themselves. Despite the valuable exhibits inside, visitors can roam at their will and if there was security barrier, they have done a remarkable job of concealing them. The gallery staff are generally well-trained to ensure visitors have an uninterrupted visit.

Klang is moving in this new interesting direction as a heritage center and much of the credit goes to the Selangor royal family.

They have played a key role by spearheading buyouts (?) of buildings with significant historical value adjacent to the Royal Gallery. These buildings now used as commercial lots will be given a new lease of life by converting them into museums. They will be the new attractions in town and the exhibits will usher new interest in royal family and its history.

New Malaysian Museums For 2009.

Despite the gloom in Malaysia’s economical outlook, heritage aficionados and museum goers might have plenty to cheer for in 2009. Grabbing the headlines are new museum openings and they should provide some excitement and more importantly, generate impetus for a more heritage conscious society.

Based on reports from main dailies, there are 3 new museums in the pipeline and a further two including the national museum at its final stage of refurbishing.

According to the Museum Department Director General, Ibrahim Ismail, two museums – the Malaysian Textile Museum and the Natural History Museum will open its doors to visitors by the middle of the year.

The textile-themed museum, as I best recalled, was a brainchild of Pak Lah’s late spouse, Datin Seri Endon. She had vigorously promoted and encouraged batik –a traditional Malay textile art form- as mainstream fashion and an icon of Malaysian creativity, much to chagrin of the Indonesians.

Needless to say, with such strong backers for the project, it is no surprise to see KEKWA playing a huge role in this museum.

Its venue will be at the Moorish designed building which formerly housed Kraftangan, next to Sultan Abdul Samad Building. My guess is that a substantial portion of the exhibition will be devoted to Batik legacy. According to the DG, there will be a gallery to showcase Baba Nyonya fashion heritage but in my view, the gallery comes amidst too little and too late.

Malaysia found its tail caught between its legs in a race with our southern neighbors across the causeway to ride on the popularity of the Baba Nyonya heritage. Singapore has not only beaten us in 2008 by setting up a Peranakan Museum in the island republic but adding salt to injuries, a major portion of its collection were bought from Penang! (For more about this, please read “Cultural Coup by Singapore Peranakan Museum” posted on April 24, 2008)

In Putrajaya, work on the new Natural History Museum is progressing well and is expected to receive its first visitors in the second quarter of the year. The multi-million ringgit museum will be the showpiece of Malaysia’s natural richness and lauded by its founders to rival the best in the world.

A symposium in 2008 on the museum generated a lot of excitement amongst Malaysian scientists because many shared the view that the establishment of the museum is not just timely, but perfect as a springboard for those who keen to know our rainforests.

After a two-year hiatus, Muzium Negara and its four main galleries now come with new DNA for their exhibition themes. The revamp was a question of life and death for the national museum. It needed quick remedy to maintain its role as the nation’s leading repository and to safeguard its relevance to the Malaysian public. The RM20 million major facelift was the first for the national museum since its inception in the early 60s.

The reviews so far have remained surprisingly silent but I am fascinated with what I have discovered from my recent visits to the new Galleries D, C and A.

Despite my concerns with some of exhibition themes, the new galleries are ushering a new wave of museuology and exhibition designs in this country. Gone are the old musty feel and depressing displays that plagued so many of the galleries in Malaysian museums.

The newer versions entice visitors with an array of fascinating Malaysian spectrums and history through bold and captivating display and dioramas. Each theme takes you across well researched subjects and issues spanning millenniums, from the cave men dwelling in Niah to colonialism and to Proton cars.

Interestingly, 2nd quarter of the year will be a busy time for museum calendar.

Bank Negara is also joining the fray with a new Numismatics Museum. The old Muzium Bank Negara has shut dpwn since July 2008 and in its place, a completely new establishment is expected to open its doors in July 09.

This central bank initiated project will have a new home within the vicinity of the former Prime Minister Office in Bukit Perdana. It is purported to be larger than its predecessor in Bank Negara and comes equipped with interactive exhibits.

Up north, renovation work spearheaded by Jabatan Muzium at Taiping Museum is expected to be completed around the same time. According to the curator, there will be new facade, flooring and cutting edge exhibitions set to thrill visitors when they visit the oldest museum in Malaysia. (pls read article “Taiping Museum To Be Revamped - Dec 1, 08”)

Nevertheless, with all sectors of the economy coming to a gridlock, it is not surprising if heritage related development and conservation efforts for the coming months take a backseat in the government list of priority. However for the meantime, these museum openings will cast a welcome rainbow for the country’s heritage scene.