Wednesday, 30 November 2011

COFFEE

I had time to fill in on the ship..........and they used to produce coffee in Sri Lanka in the 19th century.



COFFEE
It is a mystery to me why so many people are so indiscriminating about the coffee they drink. As we are aware, coffee comes from many parts of the world; Kenya, Vietnam, Ethiopia, Brazil, Cuba, Central America and, for all I know, the South Pole, to name but a few places.   
I am certainly no expert. All these coffees have their own distinctive flavour and coffee merchants no doubt spend a lot of time making and marketing different blends. Also, before I start to bang on, I appreciate that there are indeed a very small number of ‘coffee emporia’ which cater for the coffee connoisseur . Personally, I don’t like Vietnamese coffee which tends to have a strong and bitter taste but some people do. Again, there are different types of coffee bean there too. When you buy ground coffee in a British supermarket it normally says ‘blended from abroad’ or something similarly vague on the packet. Perhaps not surprisingly considering the lack of coffee ‘fincas’ in the UK, but would that be acceptable on a bottle of wine or a packet of tea?
When it comes to wine, whisky or even tea everyone likes to wax lyrical about their favourite tipple and even pretends to know something about the provenance of these drinks to try ( and usually fail ) to impress their friends and colleagues. You know...”Oh, this is such a precocious little chateau bottled single malt which leaves just a lingering delicate aftertaste of Lapsang Suchong on the palate”, or somesuch bollocks. But at least people ‘care’ about such drinks. Even gin drinkers worry about whether it is Gordon’s, Plymouth or Bombay ( they all taste exactly the same to me ). So why not coffee?
I suspect the Americans, as always, are to blame. I think it is they who invented all these incredibly naff and supposedly trendy names such as Latte, Americano, Cappuchino, Nochachino, Stickitupyorarso etc. to sell rubbish coffee at exhorbitant prices to the naive ‘lets get with-it’ public, and we have been conditioned to accept it all as ‘good’. In Oz and New Zealand you are expected to order either a ‘flat white’ or ‘long black’. They are thrown into confusion if you ask for a ‘flat black’. I asked a Kiwi what these terms meant. Didn’t have a clue. In fact it just means with or without milk, and noone gives a monkey’s what kind of bean the coffee is made from. Could be acorns for all they care.
Indeed nowadays you cannot order just a cup, or better still a pot, of quality coffee. It is necessary to choose from a list of these dozen or so bizarre  and pretentious concoctions mostly ending in the letter ‘o’. Many years ago I remember ordering and being served a pot of coffee in a French hotel. It came with a jug of hot milk and was absolutely delicious. I have never been able to find the equivalent since. It was certainly not some fancy named frothy fizzing fart-arsed confection with bloody caraway seeds, cinnamon or rabbit’s droppings sprinkled on the top to conceal the revolting taste of the ‘sweepings’ used to make it at £25 per quart sized paper bucketful.
Companies like the American Starbucks are to blame, together with all those many gullible brainwashed people who have fallen for their high-pressure and pervasive advertisements and the almost complete take-over of high-street outlets. I suppose we should give the Yanks some credit for managing successfully to invade, unopposed, the cities of most of the world with their crappy but addictive fizzy drinks, burger joints and coffee shops but it doesn’t say much for local enterprise, or taste, or health for that matter. I think the French once tried to put up some resistance, but failed dismally.
Anyway, I believe a fight-back is long overdue, and we should start by bringing back a discriminating taste for proper coffee. The choice is yours. Will anyone join me? I doubt it. 



Monday, 28 November 2011

COLOMBO - SRI LANKA

22nd - 25th Nov 2011

The Sri Lankan flag

Tea and cricket. As far as I am aware these are the two things that this country is most famous for, apart from a couple of recent disasters. It was hit badly by the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004, and suffered a prolonged and violent struggle with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam ( LTTE ) separatists , more commonly known as the Tamil Tigers, until they were soundly defeated in 2009. Both of these episodes caused major social and financial upheavals from which the place is only now beginning to recover. I have only been here a few days, so am not really in any position to judge much yet. However......notwithstanding....
My first impressions of Colombo were mixed. The place has a rather faded, crumbling and dilapidated appearance. The streets are well swept, but in need of considerable renovation. It is hot and humid and fairly choking with exhaust fumes. Many of the shops and buildings look rather run-down but, in amongst it all, are some jewels and, from what I have experienced, the people are delightfully helpful, smiling and keen to make tourists feel welcome.
Like Malaysia, Sri Lanka has been under Portugese, Dutch then British rule. Actually the British were the first to control the whole place because up until 1815 the Kingdom of Kandy was it's own master with it's own, rather brutal, king.
Their are two languages spoken; mainly Sinhalese and, to a lesser extent, Tamil. I am not fluent in either. Fortunately most of the people speak good English. The currency is Sri Lankan Rupees ( LKR ) of which there are about 111 to the US$. Divide the rupees by 10 and you can't go wrong.
I booked into hotels, one reasonably smart, the next less so on Galle Road running south out of the city. It seems as though hotels are pretty full up at this time of year, which is why I had to change,  and are not particularly cheap either. I also discovered that, unlike Malaysia and most other Asian/Oriental countries, they tend to charge quite a lot for internet services and, more irritatingly, have adopted that cursed USA tradition of adding a mandatory 'service charge' and 'taxes' onto bills ( plus plus! ) which, in effect, increases the listed price of things like restaurant and hotel bills by about 30%!


The architecture is a mixture of dilapidated Dutch and British colonial style with a majority of locally designed ramshackle shops and houses, plus a few modern concrete and glass edifices. There is no way you could describe Colombo as being an elegant city.
The place is seething with three-wheeler mini-cabs ( as seen left ). They sort of resemble smaller down-market Bangkok tuk-tuks. Wherever you, as a tourist, are and stop, they are around you like a cloud of midges on a Scottish moor on a summer's day. "uwantaxi" being the war cry. They are actually, even at tourist rates, remarkably cheap and useful. 100 rupees ( less than a $ ) is normal for any local run. I asked what the local name is for these vehicles, but apparently it is just 'three-wheelers'. How unimaginative. However, I quickly discovered such places as The Cricket Club ( off Galle Road ) which is a splendid bar and restaurant in the olde worlde British tradition serving good old fashioned British fare like Shepherd's Pie and Steak and Kidney Pud, all named with a cricketing theme. There are many cricketing mementos like signed bats, sweaters and other kit hanging around the walls. The service, as I have found everywhere so far, is excellent.


Likewise the Galle Face Hotel ( right ). This is perhaps the Colombo equivalent of Singapore's Raffles. Build by the British in the 19th century it retains much of it's colonial charm.










It is on the sea front and features a decent swimming pool and various bars ( nobody would dare swim in the sea near Colombo. If you are not dragged out by the undertow you would die of pollution ).









Right: The Veranda Restaurant with a decent bar of the faded fly-blown fan-cooled Graham Greene style at the far end. Talking of which, I was persuaded to try the local tipple, Arrack. This comes in various differing guises and is made from coconuts. I couldn't make out a similarity in taste to anything I knew. I settled for a solution of whisky mixed with cleaning fluid. If it is an acquired taste, I don't think I'll bother to acquire it.





In the foyer there is a large decorative board listing all the famous people who have stayed at the hotel. Emperor Hirohito and Her Majesty the Queen of Denmark to name but two ( not sharing a room as far as I understood ). There is also a bust of Colonel Uri Gagarin ( left ), the first man into space in 1961, who visited Colombo shortly afterwards. Perhaps he was coming to have something done to his teeth which look rather alarming here; perhaps shaken loose on re-entry.









Right: Another view of a street scene. I have forgotten what the rather interesting looking building is over the road. I was staying a couple of days here in Colombo to plan my further travels with an agency recommended to me. They have proved most helpful ( www.classictravel.lk if you are interested ). They are also sorting out my Indian visa.  Travelling in any form of comfort around Sri Lanka, I discovered, is not easy by bus or train. They come in varying degrees of serious discomfort and danger. There is, however, the recent introduction of a 'first class' carriage on a train from Colombo to Kandy which features lots of mod-cons and is unique to the Sri Lankan rail system.



Left: The Fort ( central ) Station in Colombo. I had booked myself onto the 1st Class carriage to Kandy ( 2.5 hours @ $20 return ). Most rail tickets in the class which includes hanging out of the doors and on the roof cost pennies, so $20 is an unheard of price for locals.









Right: This is the driver. I shall report back on the voyage.











Next stop the hill town of Kandy. I shall be there for a few days.


Thursday, 24 November 2011

MOZART. MALAYSIA TO SRI LANKA

17th - 22nd Nov 2011



I arrived at Port Tanjung Pelepas in good time, and was met at the port admin building by Captain Lalin De Silva, the shipping company’s agent. He is a star. Not only did he smooth the way for me boarding the ship, but because I was early ( the ship was not due to sail until that evening ), he most generously took me out to lunch at a fantastic traditional Malay seafood restaurant nearby; the enormous buttered fresh prawns being particularly memorable. Originally from Sri Lanka himself, he also gave me comprehensive advice on where to go and what to see in that country. I was very well looked after. If you ever end up in PTP, Captain De Silva is your man. By the way, his wife’s grandmother was Scottish, from Edinburgh.



Left: The redoubtable Captain Lalin De Silva. If you are ever passing PTP and need any assistance, his office is on the 4th floor of the Port Administrative Building Block B, and I am sure he would be delighted to help.















Right: I was taken out for lunch by Capt Lalin at this seaside restaurant. It was the start of what turned out to be a five day gastronomic extravaganza. Enjoyable, if somewhat debauched. 






He dropped me at the Seaman’s Centre, the place I had previously visited 12 days ago with the two Incas. Karsten, the affable Dane who runs the place, was again behind the bar. It really is a most ‘up-market’ seaman’s mission and from there I then got the port shuttle bus to the ship; CMA-CGM Mozart. CMA-CGM is a French company based in Marseille.


Left: Karsten the Dane at his Seaman's Centre at PTP. All mod cons and gallons of Carlsberg lager available. He is a bit overworked at the moment because of staff shortages. He is looking for a Philippino speaking Malay national to help him. If anybody knows one who is available...please advise ( Bernie? ).






The Mozart ( right ), another container ship, is somewhat larger in capacity than the others I have been on. It is 277 metres long with a beam of 40 metres and carries max 5782 TEU. Did I tell you, the Titanic was 268 metres long with a beam of 28 metres? I may also have explained; a ‘TEU’ is the space equivalent of a 20 ft long container. It also has a lift!





I arrived in time for dinner and it was soon apparent that procedure on this ship is a completely different kettle de poisson than the previous, Eastern European/Philippino manned, vessels. C’est chalk et fromage compared to the Carelia, Bahia and Cap Cleveland. For a start, all the ship’s officers wear neatly pressed uniform of white shirts and black trousers for all meals and when on duty, they shave properly, look smart and they all meet for pre-dinner drinks in a sort of ante-room/bar and, apart from the officers on watch, all eat together and don’t leave the table before the Captain. The French ( Breton ) chef wears whites and hat and there is a carefully prepared menu. The food is superb, and a full bottle of wine is provided with both lunch, 1230hrs, and dinner at the more respectable time of 1930hrs. It is all remarkably civilised. I’m surprised they don’t have a ‘palm-court orchestra’ to accompany the meals, a la Titanic.



Left: The table set just for me. I am the only passenger. I think this was the Sunday Lunch starting with smoked salmon and hot toast. 












Right: An example of a menu. Zut alors!




















Left: Les Officiers ( or most of them ). Le Captaine, Jean Hasle, on the right. All most civilised.














Right: Encore un menu. Ceci de Dimanche. 


The steward, a Romanian called Adrian, again in uniform, is both charming and efficient. Unlike the idle and uncommunicative Philippino stewards ( or more likely just badly instructed ) on the ex-Soviet manned ships, this guy punctiliously makes the beds and cleans the cabins each day, as well as serving the food.









On the second afternoon the whole ship’s company, plus myself, assembled on the bridge to be given safety briefings, including procedures in the event of ‘piracy’, a demonstration of how to get into your immersion suit ( left ) and who was responsible for what. The fact that this briefing was given in French by the Captain, Ist Mate and Bosun, and consequently I didn’t really understand much of it, was immaterial. This sort of collective ‘briefing’ would never have occurred on the previous ships. The ship’s company numbers 27 ( I think I counted ) which is considerably more than on the other vessels. They are mainly French with some Romanians. This is peculiar to the ‘French’ half of the CMA-CGM shipping company; the other half of their 360 ships is crewed by ‘international’ crews i.e Eastern European, Indian and Philippinos.
The Captain, a smart and charming Frenchman, a Breton, called Jean Hasle ( pronounced, I was told, ‘Allez’ ) is quietly spoken and exudes calm efficiency and authority. The other officers include an amusing ( good line in jokes ) Romanian 3rd Mate, and an attractive French lady 2nd Engineer. As I said, a different ‘joue de ballon’ to what I had experienced before.
We rounded the north of Sumatra and set a westerly course across the Indian Ocean for Sri Lanka. The sea being calm so far ( as I write this on the night of the 19th ), it is very much a pleasure cruise.



 I am worried about putting on more weight so shun the lift, quel luxury unnecessaire, and use the stairs to my cabin ( right ) on E Deck ( 8 decks from main-deck to Bridge. The mess dining room is on B Deck ). This is my token gesture in the face of irresistible cuisine. Zut Alors! There is a g*m ( unspeakable ) and a ping-pong table, a special lounge on my deck with DVD player and an enormous library of ( many English ) books and DVDs , a bar in the ‘ante-room’, a laundry room, nice pictures on the walls and lots of home comforts. C’est manifique.



I visited the bridge after breakfast on Sunday, 20th, where the Romanian 3rd Mate, Catalin, and one of the three helmsman were on watch. Very peaceful up there with some pleasant 1960/70s music playing quietly in the background. There were a lot of large ships in the area either ahead of us, we overtook a couple, or coming in the opposite direction. It is obviously a very busy shipping lane. Apparently on Sundays the chef makes an even greater effort to provide ‘le repas memorable’. Dejeune was certainly a case in point. After this gargantuan feast I felt a little bit like that enormously fat man in the Monty Python film ‘The Meaning of Life’ who, when persuaded to eat a final ‘waffere-thin mint’, explodes. I must, I will, go on a serious diet when reaching shore.
Monday 21st, much of the same routine and later in the day we were in sight of Sri Lanka. I am told the pilot comes on board at 0100hrs and we should dock about an hour later.
Woke up on the morning of the 22nd to find that we had indeed arrived. Petit dejeune, said my 'au revoirs' and, together with the lady 2nd engineer ( she was on her way back to Paris ), disembarked. After much paper stamping by various Sri Lankan customs and immigration officials it was " Hello Colombooooooooo!!!!!"

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

SINGAPORE 2


15th - 16th Nov 2011


Raffles Hotel
Back in Singapore for a couple of days. Some ‘admin’ to do arranging the next leg of the journey plus a bit of sight-seeing. So much to see and never enough time. I have to be at Port Tanjung Pelepas ( Malaysia ) to catch my next ship on the morning of the 17th. It is the ships which cause my only dead-lines and the only aspect of this worldwide meandering which I have had to book well in advance. All the rest is done on the back of the proverbial fag packet as I go along.
Down-town to do doing some necessary shopping ( boring ) and the first thing I noticed was that the blasted Christmas decorations had gone up in the few days I had been away, with a vengeance. Why on earth do places like this persist in displaying Christmas trees, Rudolph the Stupid Red Nosed Reindeers, tinselly snowflakes, polystyrene winter scenes and playing non-stop ‘Frosty the Snowman‘, ‘Jingle Bells’ and other tacky rubbish in streets, department stores and shopping ‘malls’? ....and it’s still only November! Nobody has seen any snow or ice in this place for millions of years and never will! Money, that’s why, and the excuse to sell more and more tat on the back of a Christian/Pagan festival of greed, gluttony and materialism. If I had my way, a flame-thrower would come in very handy at this time of year.
I went back to Marina Bay to go up the Marina Bay Sands ( MBS ) building, the one that looks like an airship moored on the roof of a skyscraper, to the SkyPark thereupon. Good views, although as is so often the case in this part of the world, the conditions were hazy. 




Left: City view from the MBS viewing balcony. That flower shaped building is where they had, maybe still have, the Titanic ( highly recommended ) and Dali ( slightly recommended ) exhibitions.
The floating footy pitch must provide a few problems collecting the balls booted well into touch.

















Right: View to the south showing the vast armada of commercial shipping traffic which forever hangs around the port area, and all the way up the Malacca Strait ports.
















I also called in at Raffles Hotel. I suspect it was nothing like it is now in Sir Stamford Raffles’ day ( 1819 ) even though they insist it has been ‘faithfully restored to it’s former glory’. I doubt if Sir Stamford would recognise the prices. The cost of a ‘basic’ room is $1350 per night per individual, rising to $5800 for the ‘grand’ suites. Bloody Hell!!! That is more than the annual salary for most of the world's population.The cost of an ‘original’ Singapore Sling in the famous old ‘Long Bar’ ( left ) is, including service charge and tax, $30 a glass. Quite a whack for what, in effect, is a sweet sickly pink tart’s drink. I think, judging from what I saw, the Americans fall for it. It probably explains the glum looks on the faces of the customers in this photo who, having just drunk the filthy concoction, have been confronted with their bills.





Right: Inside one of the shopping 'malls'. Malay style boat trips throughout  the shopping area seemed popular. Not enough space for waterskiing.







To go by road from Singapore across the causeway to Johor Bahru ( JB ), unless by private car, it is necessary to get either a bus or specially licenced taxi from the JB depot in Queen Street. It is, inconveniently, not possible to go direct to the Singapore border, cross on foot and get a taxi on the Malaysian side. The Malaysian check-point is on the far side of the causeway. I would need to do this later the same day, so I thought a recce was in order. On the way to Queen Street I passed the one time, during colonial days, infamous Bugis Street. 




Left: The modern boring Bugis Street.
It was once a well known haunt for very friendly ladies and, more intriguingly, for very friendly boys that looked like ladies, who provided intimate social entertainment for the often rather over-indulged and licentious soldiery, with sometimes unexpected results. 
It is now just a covered market selling food and junk.






The last bus running to JB was to leave at 1730hrs, so I would have to get a taxi; later. So, back to my ever patient and generous hosts in Seletar Hills to re-pack and generally sort myself out.





Right: Goodbye and many thanks to my generous hosts David and Louise, plus Poppy the dog and the cat. Also to their indefatigable maid Virgy who, against all the odds, washed and ironed all my clothes with inexplicable enthusiasm.





 Return to Queen Street and a taxi ( S$40 as a standard fixed rate....not too bad for delivery to the front door of a hotel in JB ) across the causeway through the two separated check-points, with no baggage checks, to the Puteri Pacific Hotel. This is a quality 4 star hotel and a very comfortable room, including breakfast, cost S$68 (  £35 approx ). This is about half the price of a single YHA room with shared facilities in Oz and NZ.
Mr Zak is due to pick me up at 0830hrs tomorrow to take me to Port Tanjung Pelepas ( PTP ) to meet the ship, the French container vessel CMA-CGM Mozart which will, hopefully, take me to Colombo, Ceylon.
So far, so good.................

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

UP COUNTRY - MALAYSIA

12th - 14th Nov 2011

The Railway Station, Ipoh.

The next day it was train again, 3 hours north up to Ipoh ( 1st class this time. With my 50% reduction the ticket cost RM24, £6 equivalent! ). This was where the Regimental HQ and HQ Squadron were based from 1954-57. 





Left: The Ist Class compartment. Perfectly civilised and plenty of space. I won't show you any more insides of trains for ages...promise!



Arriving at lunchtime I made a bee-line for the Royal Ipoh Club, which is close to the station anyway. This place has been going since 1895 and, I was told, featured prominently in off-duty officers’ social life. I dread to think what went on! By chance I met there a delightful ex-rubber planter, John Black, who had been in the King’s African Rifles during national service in Kenya at the time of the Mau-Mau uprising. He had emigrated to Malaya in 1963 and only gave up his last interest in rubber trees in 2009. He was one of the top-dog rubber planters in his day. He also played cricket, a batsman, for the State of Perak when they beat Singapore in 196....something; the cricket ground is in front of the Club. We had a good chinwag over a much appreciated Tiger beer. I learnt a lot about Malaya in olden days from him. Because I expressed an interest in military matters during the ‘emergency’, I was then invited to the house of a gentleman, Dato ( that’s a title ) R Thambipillay ( call me Pillay ), for tea and cake. He had been a Superintendant of Police ( CID ) in the 60s and 70s, and is one of the local high ranking dignitaries. He is also the Liaison Officer for the National Malaya & Borneo Veterans Association UK. He has been awarded lots of gongs, including the MBE presented to him by the Queen on a visit to Malaya. He and his wife generously entertained me. I am most impressed by the hospitality and unwarranted kindness I have been shown by all the Malaysians I have met so far. Even the taxi drivers have been good value; always jolly and informative! 








Right: The front door of the Royal Ipoh Club (Est. 1895). Don't suppose it's changed much.



















Left: ....and the committee; I suspect this has changed quite a bit. I was interested to see, on the notice board nearby, many people 'listed' as being banned or persona-non-grata!
I didn't recognise any of them. At least I don't think any of them were hang-overs from 1957.























Right: The dining room. The menus consisted of much beautifully old fashioned, long forgotten ( in UK anyway ) and delicious British fare including steak and kidney pudding, shepherd's pie, jam roly-poly and, of course, spotted dick. Curry puffs were 'on special' on the day I took this photo.
















Left: The side of the Club looking out over the cricket ground.





















Right:.......which is still in reasonable nick. Rather a slow outfield with some longish spongy grass. Artificial wicket. The flag is that of the State of Perak.














I tried to find the old barracks in which the Regiment was based, but the place on what was then known as Ashby Road is now a large collection of Malaysian army establishments, so not possible for me to identify any in particular. Knowledge of someone who had been there at the time was needed. This photo ( left ), looking over the fence at one of the older looking parts of a military camp, might be recognisable by someone. 






I stayed at the Syuen Hotel; good value and, unlike in some Muslim countries, hotels here have bars selling alcoholic refreshments.







Right: The war memorial outside the railway station dedicated to those who were killed in WW2. I think the venerable Superintendant ( Retd ) R Thambipillay had a hand in the construction of this. He was keen that I should take a photo of it.

















The next day, Sunday 13th, was Remembrance Day in UK. That I was here then is a complete quirk of coincidence. The intention was to visit the cemetery in Taiping, about 60 miles north, where another 15th/19th Hussars Squadron was based. It is also where eight of our soldiers who were killed between 1954-57 are buried. I set off by bus, the Ipoh-Taiping Express ( a slight exaggeration here ) and arrived in Taiping at 1020hrs.






Left: The Ipoh-Taiping Express. 





















Initially I was taken by another helpful taxi driver ( my opinion of taxi drivers is being reviewed ) to the British and Commonwealth Cemetery on Maxwell Hill ( now Bukit Larut ) shown here.
This is a beautifully maintained cemetery where those servicemen who were killed in or just after WW2 are buried, with a separate Indian Army plot over the road; but not our guys. I gave a quick salute and was then taken to the correct place...... 








.....The Christian Cemetery on Kamunting Road ( left ) arriving there, again by coincidence, just before 1100hrs. 
















In amongst a large, rather scruffy, weed infested graveyard are two neatly kept patches with smart uniform headstones; those of British soldiers killed during the emergency. I found ours; eight graves consisting of one officer ( 2/Lt J A Davies ), one SNCO ( Sgt Thompson ), one JNCO ( Cpl Wells ) and five Troopers; Bruce, Fitchett, Campbell, Jones, and Summers. I had my poppy with me which I left as my token wreath. Pity I didn’t bring a bugle, although those lying there would probably not have appreciated it much.






Left: The grave of one of them; Cpl Wells. I took photos of them all. Cpl Wells was only 20 years old when he died. He was a very young and undoubtedly talented JNCO. To think, if he had lived he would be nearly 76 now. It would be interesting to know what further success he would have made of his life and, of course, we never shall.
They are not forgotten.



















Right: The Roll Call of those buried here. Whoever maintains this patch of earth holding our fallen soldiers deserves great credit ( War Graves Commission? ). I didn't find out.
























Back to Ipoh and a quick trip up to what is now the Ipoh Flying Club to see if I could find any trace of the Army Air Corps Squadron ( 656 Sqn ) which was based there.  Being Sunday the place was almost completely deserted. They obviously don’t go flying on Sundays, and I saw nothing that was recognisably British AAC but took a photo of an ancient looking hangar ( left ). I have been told subsequently that this is indeed a remnant of the AAC presence in Ipoh.










Just a couple more views of Ipoh for the benefit of those who were there in the 'old days'. This is one of the civic buildings opposite the railway station. A couple of traditionally dressed Malays were playing 'catch' with a bunch of flowers for the benefit of some cameras; maybe doing a publicity photo.














Left: The bridge over the river Kinta leading into the town centre. I suppose it has been there for ages.












So, that was my pilgrimage to Malaya. I must say, I expect those serving there in the 50s probably had a marvellous time on the whole. Any comments by surviving ‘old gits’ of the 15th/19th The King's Royal Hussars of that era would be much appreciated. Does Richard Renwick read this? His name has been mentioned as a subaltern from those days! I know Alan Bulman does. They will doubtless correct me on a few points
My last night in Ipoh I dined at a fantastic Chinese restaurant and got the train back to Singapore the next morning, again 1st Class because it is so cheap especially for us of a fairly senior age. OK, the fixtures and fittings are a bit tired and worn but it was comfortable enough. It was also running an hour and threequarters late which, I am told, is par for the course.
Incidentally, you may be aware that Malaysia is a constitutional Monarchy. What you may not know is the name of His Majesty the KIng. This, plus his ‘post-nominals’ as the RAF so quaintly call them, take a bit of remembering. He is Duli Yang Maha Mulia Sultan Pahang Sultan Haji Ahmad Shah Al-Musta’in Billah Ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Abu Bakar Ri’Ayatuddin Al-Mu’adzam Shah DKP, DK, DKM, SSAP, SIMP, DMN, DK(Perak), DK(Johor), DK(Kelantan), DK(Terengganu), DK(Perlis), DK(Kedah), DKMB, DK(Brunei), DK(Negeri Sembilan), DK(Selangor), Qiladah Badr Al-Kubra(Saudi Arabia), Qiladah Al-Sheikh Mubarak Al-Kabir(Kuwait), Grand Order of the Mugunghwa(South Korea), Hon.D.Litt(Malaya), LLD.Hc.(Northrop USA), Hon.D.Sc.(Bedfordshire,UK), Hon.PhD.(Civil Engineering, Universiti Malaysia Pahang).
His friends call him Barry.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

KUALA LUMPUR- MALAYSIA

10th - 11th Nov 2011

Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur.

Train from Woodlands check-point on the north tip of Singapore to KL, 2nd Class. Surprisingly cheap ( £12 ) for a 6 hour journey including a 50% discount, without being asked ( I must be looking old ), for those over 60. Even 1st class would only have cost S$50 ( about £25 ), but that was full up. The Malaysian KTMB train ( 2nd Class ) was fairly basic and had probably seen better days, but had good air-con and comfortable enough seats.  A little old lady wandered through the carriages selling what turned out to be rather tasty meat and potato ‘pasties’ of some sort and plastic bags of fruit, and there was a buffet car. There were absolutely no tiresome and irritating announcements which was like a breath of fresh air and, incredible though it might seem to Oz ( and Brit ) train management, we all survived more than happily despite the fact that most of the outside doors between carriages were left wide open. I did not notice any plummeting passengers. Left to their own devices most human beings, believe it or not, are quite adept at looking after themselves.




Left: A door open to the elements while on the move. Most of them were. It provided a pleasant breeze. I didn't see, or hear, anyone fall out, and certainly nobody was complaining.








A minor station. Pletfum No. 2


Lots of stops at minor station stops and into KL at 1530hrs. There were two things immediately apparent about this place. Firstly, everyone I spoke to was extremely charming, polite and helpful; all delightfully smiley. Secondly, the whole place seemed a mass of confusion. The city transit system consisting of several unconnected and differently named metro style train lines, including a mono-rail, plus buses was, to a novice, almost impossible to fathom. This was compounded by severely disfunctional signage. In fact the whole city is a ramshackle hotchpotch of architecture. It is a fusion of high-rise, traditional Muslim, Chinese, Indian and kampong which is the result of scant urban planning; it has just ‘happened’. Tourist maps are confusing and different maps showed somewhat different city layouts. This, combined with few signs pointing the way to the major tourist attractions, resulted in little groups of tourists huddled at street corners consulting several maps and scratching their heads. I bumped into a couple from Bournemouth who were clearly at an entirely different place to where I thought I was. We parted not much the wiser, except to agree we were lost. It makes for interesting and quite a lot of wandering ( and wondering ).








Left: The main square, Merdeka Square, in the city. If there is a city centre then this place is it.


Everything is relatively cheap as you might expect. I booked into a modest, but perfectly clean with all mod cons including TV with BBC 24 and, of course, free wifi, hotel near the central station. It cost RM ( ringit ) 80 per night; that is about US$25. The confusing ‘metro’ systems were equally cheap with most one way journeys costing about RM1 ( 20p ). They made it complicated by fares varying by about RM.10 ( 1 or 2p ) either way so you were always fiddling with very tiny change. Lots of ladies in headscarves serving at ticket kiosks and various other staff as well as many modern ticket machines. It is not efficient, but a system that keeps people employed, and they smile a lot when confronted by a confused tourist.
I set off on foot across the Lake Gardens. My first port of call was the National Museum. I hadn’t planned to go there, and no signs advertised it, but it just appeared as I crossed a busy main road. It was quite interesting with sections on pre-history, pre-colonial, colonial and contemporary. I hadn’t realised that the Portugese ( in 1511 ) followed by the Dutch ( 1641 ) had colonised parts of the area and for longer periods than the Brits who first gained a foot-hold here, in Penang, in 1786. They ( the Brits ) then gained effective control of most of the Malay states by one treaty or another in 1895 and the whole ‘colony’ of Malaya, including the states on Borneo, not until 1930. It was British, with a brief period of enforced ownership by the Japanese, until Independence in 1957. Malayan wealth came originally from tin mining, then also rubber. ( Malaya produced 55% of the world’s tin at the end of the 19th century, and 30% as recently as 1979 ).



Left: Outside the museum, a 1930s fire engine, made in Britain and still in service until the late 1960s. I was tempted to ring the bell.











Right: An original rickshaw. Those were the days, eh? Not only did the idle colonial passenger travel in style and comfort, but the 'driver' kept fit and made money into the bargain; something modern-day fitness fanatics pay fortunes to join vastly expensive 'gyms' to achieve, and then don't even earn money for their pains. Bring back the rickshaw, I say. Charge people to pull the thing!






...and while on the subject of transport, this ( left ) is an original Japanese army bicycle. The sort they pedalled over the causeway on in 1942 to visit Singapore.












Right: An example of some Arabic/Moorish/Muslim architecture. Lots of buildings like this stand alongside high-rise and Malay Kampong styles.









I wandered on in search of the National Monument ( not sign-posted ) and after much quartering the area eventually found it north of the Lake Gardens. I again passed several lost souls poring over misleading maps. It was amusing to compare ideas with people of various nationalities on where we thought we were.

The National Monument ( left ) commemorates all military and police, mainly British but also Commonwealth ( Aussies, Kiwis and Indian predominantly ) and Malayan, of course, who died in WW2 and subsequent conflicts. My interest was locating the plaque in honour of my old army Regiment, the 15th/19th Hussars, which had served here during the ‘emergency’ from 1954-57. Well before my time, I hasten to add.
The inscription on the pedestal of the 'soldiers' statue reads "May the blessings of Allah be upon them". 







The colonade behind the statue had 191 ( yes, I counted them ) plaques of predominantly British regimental and battalion army badges and RAF crests fixed to the ceiling. They were all in surprisingly good nick.















This ( left ) is ours. It will bring back memories to some. 'Merebimur' indeed!










Then on to the KL Tower. This is visible from just about everywhere, until you get close to it. It stands in the middle of a ‘rain forest’ park and zoo smack in the centre, if there is a centre, of the city and then it seems to disappear. I must have walked most of the way around the outside of this park, blinking miles, before I didn’t see where the entrance was and it started to thunder and lightening and rain, heavily. I took refuge in a hotel and watched a rugger match between Ulster and Connaught ( what?! ). Ulster won. The rain stopped eventually and there was just enough daylight left when I eventually found the entrance to the park and tower. A free minibus ride takes people up the last bit of road in the park, all of half a mile; a mere nothing to the distance I had slogged, mostly in the wrong direction, previously.




Right: The KL Tower in Bukit Nanas Forest Reserve Park. It affords excellent views of the city, on the few occasions when the visibility is good. It had just stopped raining when I got there but there was some residual mist and haze.














Left: View north-west over the Petronas Twin Towers. There was an audio guide available on the observation floor of the KL tower, but it was somewhat vague and often referred to places that one could not see. 'Where Things Are in Kuala Lumpur' is a closely guarded secret.











Right: View to the east over the City airport.











Left: View to the west towards the Lake Gardens and National Monument from where I had walked, and then around the park, amongst other unknown places.











Right: The Malaysian flag. This was an enormous one flying in Merdeka Square ( the one in the sort of centre ).











Next stop will be up north at Ipoh and Taiping on further Regimental pilgrimage. This may be of interest to a few old soldiers. Must dash.