Wednesday, March 25, 2015

vale Lee Kuan Yew - my Singapore memories

Lee Kuan Yew died on 23 March 2015 at the age of 91 (1923-2015). Over his lifetime he transformed Singapore from a small fishing port into one of the most successful countries in the world. Only recently Singapore was listed as being in the top 5 most expensive countries in the world.

Singapore was a British colony when LKY was born. He became prime minister in 1959 with the People's Action Party (PAP).  Singapore then became part of the Malayan Federation in 1963 and Malaysia was created. However in 1965 Singapore was expelled by Tunku Abdul Rahman of Malaysia. This year Singapore will celebrate 50 years of independence.

Under LKY Singapore was able to stand on it's own two feet and do so well, despite having no natural resources. For decades it had to buy water from Malaysia.

I've known Singapore for almost 26 years, having first visited in 1988. In those 2.5 decades I have seen the incredible transformation that has taken place. In the 1990s I used to visit Singapore regularly as it was still cheap - accommodation was cheap and it was cheap to fly from Kuala Lumpur. I also used to fly Singapore Airlines to London.

But in recent years Singapore has got so expensive. Hotels are just too expensive for me now. But I really admire how Singapore has grown and how Lee Kuan Kew made the country so successful.

I was lucky enough to know some of the old parts of Singapore. I can remember Bugis St before it totally changed. I went to Raffles before it was renovated.

In my backpacker days I stayed in the cheap hostels (crash pads) in Bencoolen St. - Air Power, Peony Mansions, Hawaii guest house, Bencoolen St Apartments aka Goh's homestay, and buy air tickets at Airmaster Travel. In those days a dorm bed was $6.
Hawaii was still around in 2004 -

 I remember smelling durians for the first time in the street market near Bencoolen. I also saw my first Chinese opera on the street.

Then I progressed to more expensive Chinese hotels, Kian Hua ($25 single room), Tiong Hoa, Victoria Hotel. Many times I stayed in The Mitre Hotel in Killeny Rd, ($20). It was a wonderful old colonial house, very run down but very atmospheric and full of character and characters!


I was so sad when I went past in 2012 and found the house and gardens were now this monstrous building

After the Mitre I went more upmarket! New Mayfair Hotel ($33), and the Mario-Ville dance academy. In recent years I've also stayed in some of the 5* hotels!

I remember eating at Cuppage (Orchard Rd), the Paradiz Centre, Plaza Singapura, Fatty's at Albert St, the Satay Club and of course Newton Circus. I had many good Indian meals in Komala Villas in Serangoon Rd. Mum looking at a stall selling pig parts!

I often went to the cinema in a shopping centre in Beach Rd (Beach Centre?).

I used to pay many visits to the GPO at Raffles Quay, to collect my mail from poste restante. It was always nice to step into the coolness of the building. The GPO is now the luxury Fullerton Hotel.

Opposite were the famous satay stalls in the open air food court. I also paid many visits to Singapore philatelic office to buy stamps for my uncle and go to the telekom place to make phone calls back home to mum. The philatelic shop -

Change Alley was just beyond the GPO and was a good place to change money and for cheap shopping. In those days the Merlion Park was tiny.

I used to know Orchard Rd really well. Now it is almost full of tall shopping malls, hotels and office buildings.
I went to Changi prison a couple of times.

Many times I went to the swimming pool in River Valley Rd. And I would walk over the hill at Fort Canning. I also went to the national library near the YMCA and Bencoolen. I occasionally went out to the Jurong Science Centre for 3D films.

Changi Airport has won awards over the years. I used to fly to/from Pulau Tioman to Seletar Airport on Singapore.

I haven't been to Singapore zoo for years but know it is an excellent zoo, especially the night safari.

I didn't go much to Chinatown area in those days. Only went to the Haw Par House (the Aw brothers of Tiger Balm fame) once. I also went out to the Tiger Balm Gardens 10 km out of the city. I saw the Sunday morning bird singing. Only went to Sentosa once.

Singapore is nicknamed 'a fine city' because of the strict rules and laws and people are fined for breaking them - even more 'minor' things like jaywalking, littering, chewing gum etc. The best thing about Singapore is it is so efficient. Everything works, everything is clean. It is such as refreshing change to go to Singapore from Malaysia! The transport system is good, the MRT, buses and the taxis. I was a regular on the buses to JB, the 170 from Queen Stand the more direct 390.

And finally Raffles who started Singapore even before Lee Kuan Yew

Monday, March 23, 2015

Malaysian weather 2015 and spring equinox

Feb and March 2015 were particularly hot and dry in Malaysia. It was the end of the monsoon season and there long periods with no rain. So the hot increased and the haze came back. The heat was unbearable at times, up to 35C.

Spring equinox in the northern hemisphere is when the sun is directly over the equator, about March 21. There was also an eclipse of the sun seen in Europe and high tides between England and France. However I missed this being in Malaysia. It was a new moon on 20th.

This was the sunset through the haze

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Hakka Miners' Club, ipoh, Perak

Han Chin Pet Soo – The Hakka Miners' Club

Han Chin Pet Soo or Han Chin Villa is a new museum/exhibition in Ipoh. It is located in the old Hakka Miners’ Club building. Mining Towkay Leong Fee set up the Han Chin Tin Miners' Club in 1893. Leong Fee arrived in Malaya in 1876 and succeeded in tin mining and set up the club for tin miners.

Han Chin Villa is  located at No 3. Jalan Bijeh Timah (Treacher Street). The Kinta River is just behind. At that time the club building was just a double storey shophouse. Entry was restricted to Hakka miners, and men only. It was a social place for them to meet friends, smoke opium and gamble legally and entertain "dancing girls" hence the men only rule.

 Leong Fee died in 1912 leaving 4 wives, several concubines (mistresses) and numerous “dancing girls”. The club was later bought from Leong's son and in 1929 was rebuilt into the structure seen today. It is quite unique with a bay window, eyebrow windows and a ribbed dome and even what look like Muslim tombstone structures.

The club is still used by members although nowadays there are very few surviving miners, most of the members being sons of miners who are still connected with the tin industry. However the 3 storey building has now been lovingly restored under a project was set up by Ian Anderson of Ipoh World.

The front door opens straight into the dining room. The large table is laid with pieces from the time period and there are  two huge infinity mirrors. Looking down on the room is a picture of Leong Fee who founded the club.

The next item is a display case of small mining items, including rock samples, tin money and a hat worn by the female workers. From here you step into a corridor with a long mural of a scene from a tin mine. It was painted by students from PIA. There are also several mannequins going about the various jobs and each one is dressed in typical clothing from that time.

In a small side room you get the chance to watch an old educational video about tin from Malaya. It is quite detailed and very interesting. Next to this room is another small room that was the maid's room and contains a wardrobe with cheongsams etc.

From here you step into the kitchen which is exactly how it was. There are charcoal stove plus one for wood. I loved the collection of old tins.

Outside is the 'town square' with murals on all the walls showing street life. Two naughty Malay boys laughing at a Chinese coolie, a tin ore dealer, a dredge and a Malay house with elephants.

From here you go upstairs to the first floor to the 4 evils - opium, gambling, prostitution and the triads. Opium was legal in those days, taxed by the British.

Inside the gambling room you see a table of gamblers and various examples of other games played. The entertainment was provided in the form of 'wine, women and song' - there is a bar, Japanese girl and a girl in a cheongsam and an old radio - 78 record player. The windows have been restored to how they were originally.

Upstairs again to the second floor. The stairs are all the original wood. The upper floor was for the guests. There is a small bedroom set up as it would have been in the 1930s with no running water or toilet. I can imagine the room would have been horribly hot. The bed is large enough to sleep about 3, and there are some original fold up camp beds. Next door is a more modern bedroom from the 1960s and outside is a toilet. 1930s room -

Around the walls are displays about the Hakkas. Hakka means 'guest families'. These people originally migrated from north China to the south, where they settled in Fujian and Jiangxi provinces where they lived in secure contained villages. They then migrated to Malaya via Singapore. There is a fascinating extract from a diary written by one man in 1926 describing his journey from China to Papan in Perak.

Back downstairs and you pass through an office with old equipment, safe etc. Next is a photo board of Hakka food and final items about the club.

The visit is a fascinating step back in time. Guided tours are available 6 days a week and bookings can be made through IpohWorld reservation.

Admission is free but donations are welcome. New additions are regularly added to the displays so it can be worth a repeat visit. The club is available for private functions such as themed dinners.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Indonesia waiving visas for many countries

I haven't been to Indonesia for a short holiday for years as I've been boycotting the visa fee. It used to be $10 for up to 3 (7?) days and $25 for 30 days, but then those visas were scrapped for a 30 day visa at $35. That's quite a lot for a short stay of less than a week.

In March 2015 it was announced that Indonesia will waive visa fees for many countries, including UK. So maybe I will start visiting Indonesia again !

See more in the Jakarta Post, 17 March 2015.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Chinese New Year 2015, Chingay at Penang

Chinese New Year 2015 started on Feb 19th, and the last (15th) day was Mar 5th. The 15th day is known as Chap Goh Meh, and is a Hokien festival. Girls throw oranges into the sea and in the hope of finding a life partner.

Chingay is a street parade held in Malaysia and Singapore as part of the Chinese New Year festivities, in celebration with the birthdays of the Chinese deities or the procession of the Goddess of Mercy (Guanyin).

Chingay originated from China, and is now celebrated by the Penang Chinese. It is a street art where the performer balances a giant flag that ranges from 25 to 32 feet (7.6 to 9.8 m) in height and about 60 pounds (27 kg) in weight.

I've seen Chingay in Singapore many years ago but have never seen it in Malaysia. So I was lucky to catch it in Penang during CNY 2015.

Here a man on a bike is trying to 'catch' the flag and balance it.

This man has it balanced on his forehead

These people, mostly girls are having fun dancing

Friday, March 6, 2015

Sarkies E&O, Raffles and Strand Hotels

Having recently revisited the E&O Hotel in Penang, I decided to do a post on the 3 main hotels established by the Sarkies Brothers in Southeast Asia.

The Sarkies were 4 brothers of Armenian ethnicity, born in Iran. They are famous for setting up a chain of luxury hotels throughout Southeast Asia. These hotels are The Eastern & Oriental Hotel (Malaysia), Raffles Hotel (Singapore) and  Strand Hotel (Burma/Myanmar).

The Eastern & Oriental Hotel , George Town, Penang, Malaysia - 1885.
My first visit to Penang was 1988 but I don't think I went to the hotel. The first time I actually went inside was in 2015.

Raffles Hotel, Singapore - 1887. Originally it was a tiffin house then became a hotel and was taken over by the Sarkies in 1887.  By 1915 the Long Bar was famous for the Singapore Sling.

My first visit to Raffles was in 1988. I had a Singapore Sling in the Long Bar, it came with peanuts and it was the done thing to throw the shells on the floor.

Raffles then closed for renovation and reopened 16 Sept 1991. I had a Singapore Sling in the 'new' Long Bar on 18 Sept 1992.

Raffles statue
Enjoying the Singapore Sling in 1992 -

And the outside in 1994
and 1991

Strand Hotel, Rangoon (Yangon), Burma (Myanmar) - 1901. Sold by the brothers in 1925.

In 1996 I stayed in the Strand Hotel. It was wonderfully run down, and I remember the bathroom which had a bath tub on legs. Unfortunately I don't have/can't find the photos apart from these -

In 2009 I was back in Burma, now called Myanmar, and had high tea in The Strand (and The Star article).