St. Joseph’s Cathedral, Kuching

7 07 2013

The capital of the East Malaysian State of Sarawak, Kuching, has some rather unusual pieces of architecture, the recently completed DUN Sarawak being one. Another is the Catholic Cathedral of St. Joseph, consecrated in 1969 as St. Joseph’s Church, replacing a much older Neo-Gothic style church which was built by Chinese labourers during the reign of Charles Brooke, the second White Rajah in 1891. Elevated to a cathedral in 1976 when the Kuching Archdiocese was established, the building features an unusual roof structure somewhat reminiscent of that of the Church of the Blessed  Sacrament in Singapore. The roof in this case is made up of very dense belian wood.

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Besides the cathedral’s building, what is also interesting is the parish cemetery next to it. The cemetery is where the graves of 21 Iban warriors who gave their lives during the Malayan Emergency, the remains of which have been recovered from various parts of Malaysia and Singapore for reburial at the cemetery in 2011.

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A colourful area in old KL

5 07 2013

One of the more interesting and colourful parts of the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, affectionately referred to as “KL’ to wander around is the area around what used to be the heart of Chinatown. The area is one that is very much in transition, having discarded large bits of a past which has now been largely forgotten. The area is now better known for the street market at Jalan Petaling (Petaling Street), a modern interpretation of the street markets of old complete with the offering, typical of many modern street markets, of imitation goods.

Lychees on sale at the Petaling Street market. The area is one of the more colourful areas of KL.

Lychees on sale at the Petaling Street market. The area is one of the more colourful areas of KL.

A remnant of the past in the midst of stall selling fake goods -  real goods, in this case really good roast duck out of a push cabinet along Jalan Petaling.

A remnant of the past in the midst of stall selling fake goods – real goods, in this case really good roast duck out of a push cabinet along Jalan Petaling.

The area, as with much of the rapidly modernising city, finds itself in the throes of change. Walking around today, we find that there is increasing number of shophouses where the once thriving organic trades have abandoned, the businesses themselves having been abandoned by the modern society. Despite this, there are still pockets in which the area does cling on to its past, where reminders of a world which soon may pass can still be found.

One of two old textile shops still operating at Jalan Tun H S Lee. The shops once did a roaring trade in the days when it was common to have clothes tailored.

One of two old textile shops still operating at Jalan Tun H S Lee. The shops once did a roaring trade in the days when it was common to have clothes tailored.

An old photo studio along Jalan Sultan.

An old photo studio along Jalan Sultan.

One area which does hold tightly on to the past is found off Jalan Petaling /Jalan Sultan at Madras Lane. There a market, relatively quiet by yesterday’s standards, does still operate. It is in a section of the wet market, where some trades do still thrive can be found. That is where some of the best street food said to on and off the streets of  old KL is said to be found at. Besides the two famous laksa stalls which often sell out before lunch time, there is an extremely popular Ampang Yong Tau Foo stall at which even if one is there for an early lunch, one sees a snaking queue.

The wet market at Madras Lane is not as busy as it once might have been.

The wet market at Madras Lane is not as busy as it once might have been.

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The cooked food stalls at the market still however, do good business.

The cooked food stalls at the market still however, do good business.

The queue at the Ampang Yong Tau Foo stall.

The queue at the Ampang Yong Tau Foo stall.

A walk down Jalan Sultan and the other streets around, including those north of Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock around Old Market Square can also be pretty interesting. There is plenty of the old mixed with the new including textile shops, medicine shops, snack shops, eating places and other traditional businesses set among businesses which are more relevant to today’s society – including a whole area rich in colour that now caters to a group of migrant workers from Bangladesh. Jalan Sultan is particularly interesting, besides the back lanes there teeming with food stalls and one at the end of which a back lane barber operates, there is an old place where dentures are made.

A look down Jalan Sultan.

A look down Jalan Sultan.

A old idsused public telephone.

A old disused public telephone.

A back lane off Jalan Sultan.

A back lane off Jalan Sultan.

A shop in which dentures are made.

A shop in which dentures are made.

Another view around Jalan Sultan.

Another view around Jalan Sultan.

A hole-in-the-wall Chinese medicine shop along Jalan Tun H S Lee.

A hole-in-the-wall Chinese medicine shop along Jalan Tun H S Lee.

A hole-in-the-wall convenience shop along Jalan Sultan.

A hole-in-the-wall convenience shop along Jalan Sultan.

An old hardware shop and signboard along Jalan Petaling.

An old hardware shop and signboard along Jalan Petaling.

Along Lebuh Pudu - business have sprouted up catering to the migrant Bangladeshi population.

Along Lebuh Pudu – business have sprouted up catering to the migrant Bangladeshi population.

An area south of Jalan Sultan I have not previously explored is that around Jalan Balai Polis and Jalan Panggong – which seems now to be dominated by businesses catering to budget travellers. Besides the old shop houses and lanes which are full of character, that is also where some remnants of the old are still very much in evidence. One is an old abandoned houses standing at the corner of Jalan Panggong where Jalan Balai Polis turns into it next to which one is confronted by a now familiar sight in KL – a construction site. It is at Jalan Balai Polis where a memory which has survived for more than a century does exist – that of the Gurdwara Sahib Polis. This interestingly dates back to 1898, built to serve the community of Sikh policemen who were brought in from India by the British to serve in the police force – a throwback to a time when a large part of the police force was dominated by Sikh migrants from India not just in the then Federated Malayan States (FMS) but also in Singapore. More information on the Gurdwara Sahib Polis can be found at this link.

An old abandoned house along Jalan Panggong.

An old abandoned house along Jalan Panggong.

A Sikh police house of worship along Jalan Balai Polis.

A Sikh police house of worship, the Gurdwara Sahib Polis, along Jalan Balai Polis which dates back to 1898.

Lorong Panggong off Jalan Balai Polis.

Lorong Panggong off Jalan Balai Polis.

Lorong Panggong.

Lorong Panggong.





The Astana

1 07 2013

A nighttime view across the Sarawak River from Kuching of The Astana, now used as the official residence of the Governor of Sarawak. The palace was built by Charles Brooke, the second White Rajah of Sarawak for his wife, Margaret, as a wedding gift – although she is said to have spent much of the 50 years Charles was on the throne back in England.

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The Astana today serves as one of the many memories of that period in the history of the East Malaysian state, a period when three Englishmen ruled over it as Rajahs. The story of the White Rajahs, which has fascinated me since my childhood when I first learnt of them after coming across a ship, the “Rajah Brooke” in the Straits Steamship Company’s fleet, began with the reign of James Brooke, often depicted as a swashbuckling adventurer. He obtained sovereignty over the territory around Kuching then controlled by the Sultanate of Brunei, as a reward for quelling a rebellion against the Sultan. The last of the White Rajah’s Vyner, son of Charles who was the nephew of childless James Brooke, ceded the territory, which had been expanded substantially, to the British Crown in 1946, thus ending the reign of the White Rajahs.





The DUN across the river

29 06 2013

The wonderfully blue skies over the capital of the East Malaysian State of Sarawak, Kuching and one of its iconic landmarks, the State Legislative Assembly or Dewan Undangan Negeri (DUN) Sarawak Building across the Sarawak River from the city makes for a perfect picture postcard scene. The nine storey building which features a very distinctive roof structure referred to locally as the “payung” or “umbrella”, is located at Petra Jaya close to another landmark, the Astana. It was completed in May 2009 and combines elements of the different local styles of architecture. More information on the building can be found on Wikipedia.

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Kaki lima

27 06 2013

The kaki lima or the five-foot-way, is a feature of the shophouse, which was once dominant in the urban landscapes across much of British influenced South-East Asia. Sheltered from the blazing tropical sun and the frequent torrential downpours, they made an ideal communal space, as well as one in which many trades thrived.

A five-foot-way along Jalan Tun H S Lee.

A five-foot-way along Jalan Tun H S Lee.

The five-foot-ways I encountered in my childhood, full of bustle, colour and texture, were ones I found to be thoroughly fascinating. I never did have a dull moment walking along one, even in the evenings – the corridors, even those emptied of life and traders, found other uses. It was common to see bicycles and tricycles parked as well as other clutter. A common sight that we don’t see today is that of the jaga, more often than not an elderly turbaned Sikh man, seated on a charpoy – a wooden framed rope bed, outside the business premises he was to guard. It would also have been, especially in the smaller towns across the Causeway, common to hear a noisy chorus of swallows who built their nests overhead in the corners of the ceiling.

A five-foot-way along Jalan Sultan with a hole-in-the-wall shop still commonly found along many such corridors.

A five-foot-way along Jalan Sultan with a hole-in-the-wall shop still commonly found along many such corridors.

The kaki lima of today, particlarly those we find in Singapore, are much less lively versions of those of yesterday. They are still however wonderful places to explore and can often offer as enjoyable an experience as they might have in the days of my youth, throwing up a surprise every now and again. One area where I did find myself wandering through the kaki lima recently, was around the Jalan Sultan and Jalan Petaling area, in the heart of old Kuala Lumpur, where the set of photographs in this post were taken.

A five-foot-way along Jalan Tun H S Lee north of Jalan Pudu just outside a now quiet textile shop which must have once done a roaring trade.

A five-foot-way along Jalan Tun H S Lee north of Jalan Pudu just outside a now quiet textile shop which must have once done a roaring trade.

The shophouses in this part of the Malaysian capital once contained many traditional businesses. With many abandoned by the organic businesses which had brought much life to them and their sheltered corridors, the rows of shophouses seem to be in the throes of a slow death. It is a sense of sadness that I am filled with finding little reminders of what did once used to be as well as businesses still there for which time has obviously passed.

A five-foot-way along Jalan Petaling. A sign for a tailor shop which has closed reminds us of a time forgotten.

A five-foot-way along Jalan Petaling. A sign for a tailor shop which has closed reminds us of a time forgotten.

In Singapore, with over 6000 shophouses conserved, the more colourful shophouse five-foot-ways are still easy to find even as vast areas of its urban landscape are now populated with modern buildings. The ones around several conservation areas including in Little India, Kampong Glam, Geylang and Chinatown, are still rather interesting. These five-foot-ways were the subject of a contribution of photographs I made to a recently concluded three-month long exhibition on vanishing trades held at the National Museum of Singapore which looks at how spaces some of the early traders were commonly found it have evolved.

Another five-foot-way along Jalan Petaling where the remnants of an "old trade" was spotted.

Another five-foot-way along Jalan Petaling where the remnants of an “old trade” was spotted.

The idea of the five-foot-way as an architectural feature to provided a continuous sheltered walkway and as a space where trades could operate has been attributed to Sir Stamford Raffles who had it stipulated in the 1822 Jackson Town Plan that he oversaw that “all houses constructed of brick or tile should have a uniform type of front, each having a verandah of a certain depth, open at all times as a continuous and covered passage on each side of the street”. It is thought that Raffles’ got this idea from buildings in Dutch administered Batavia he had observed during his time as the Governor of Java, influenced it is suggested by verandahs found around squares in southern Europe. From Singapore, the five-foot-way spread to other parts of South-East Asia.

Watching time slowly pass on a five-foot-way along Jalan Sultan.

Watching time slowly pass on a five-foot-way along Jalan Sultan.

A five-foot-way along Jalan Panggong.

A five-foot-way along Jalan Panggong.





Paradise found?

23 06 2013

Not quite what I would consider to be paradise, but the Damai Puri Resort sure does look close enough to being one – at least in the off-season. Located at Teluk Penyuk Santubong, some 30 kilometres north of Kuching, the resort does apparently get crowded during the peak season and the best time to enjoy the resort set in a secluded bay with its own private beach is during the quiet periods – when, if not for anything else, it does offer that escape one might be looking for. The resort is also located very close to the Sarawak Cultural Village – a must visit destination for any visitor interested in having an appreciation of the culture of the various ethnic groups and tribes found in the East Malaysian State, as well as on the peninsula where the legendary Mount Santubong is located.

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The wet market at SS2 Petaling Jaya

23 06 2013

Wet markets in Singapore, although still very interesting and colourful, do pale in comparison to the wet markets found around much of Asia. Wet markets are very often, around where life in the community it serves revolves. It is often where, when on the road, I would try to visit to provide me with a sense of a place and its people. I managed a visit to two markets during a recent trip across the Causeway, not perhaps to give me a feel of the place, but more to remind me of how we in Singapore used to be.

A "carrot cake" vendor.

A “carrot cake” vendor – markets are always where a burst of colour can be found.

A fishmonger.

A fishmonger.

One of the markets I visited, a very popular one at Sea Park in SS2 Petaling Jaya,  is an open air market – its hawkers operating under colourful shelters of large parasols and tarpaulins, is perhaps reminiscent of some of the street markets which once did exist on the streets of Singapore, minus perhaps the smell one never failed to catch a whiff of.

The SS2 wet market is reminiscent of the street markets found on the old streets of Singapore.

The SS2 wet market is reminiscent of the street markets found on the old streets of Singapore.

A dry goods vendor.

A dry goods vendor.

The market, as many in Asia, is also where live produce is sold – clucking and quacking poultry, wriggling eels and frogs in cages a common sight. A sight that is not for the faint hearted is the sight of the frog vendor skinning frogs alive.

Live frogs on sale.

Live frogs on sale.

The market does perhaps lack the disorder of the street markets of old – licensed hawker stalls are organised in sections depending on what they sold and orderly queues forming at the popular ones have increasingly become a common sight, although there were a few where the crowd seemed to be in the disordered order that would once have been commonplace.

A poultry seller with freshly slaughtered chickens and ducks on offer.

A poultry seller with freshly slaughtered chickens and ducks on offer.

A cooked food section next to a dry sundry section.

A cooked food section next to a dry sundry section.

In my wanderings around wet markets in Singapore and Malaysia, I often look for specific reminders of the wet markets I do remember. One trade which did fascinate me when I was young was the Indian wet rempah (spice paste) mixer, who would get to work mixing a paste made of some of the colourful array of pasty spice arranged around him or her, depending on what the customer related as to what he/she wanted to prepare. That I have not thus far been successful in locating, although I have come across a few spice powder mixers around. One Chinese vendor in the SS2 market did come close, she did have in addition to the colourful selection of dry powdered spices, have a few pre-mixed pastes of wet spice on offer.

The rempah vendor at SS2.

The rempah vendor at SS2.

Bamboo pau (steamed buns) steamers.

Bamboo pau (steamed buns) steamers.

Walking around I did catch a glimpse of a sight which did always catch my eye as a child – the preparation of dough fritters. Although this can still be observed in Singapore, the cubicles our market hawkers now operate in are opened to prying eyes only from one end and it is hard to observe the preparation in the same way I would have as that wide-eyed boy.

One other sight which did fascinate me as a child was the how dough fritters would be prepared and fried.

Preparing the dough for making dough fritters (You Tiao or U Char Kway)  – one other sight which did fascinate me as a child was the how dough fritters would be prepared and fried.

Cutting the dough.

Cutting the dough.

Deep frying the dough in hot oil.

Deep frying the dough in hot oil.

Dough fritters almost ready to be drained and sold.

Nicely browned dough fritters almost ready to be drained and sold.

It is perhaps a matter of time before wet markets in Malaysia, as they are in SS2, fall victim to progress as many such markets in Singapore have. Until that time, however, they will be there for some of us in Singapore to remember how life for us might once been.








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