Love Lane, Penang
The name it goes by is Love Lane. In Malay, the name is translated as Lorong Cinta (although I doubt many would refer to it by that name). Hokkien speakers call it Ai Ceng Hang. All these names refer to the narrow street adjacent to Muntri Street - located somewhere in the heart of the UNESCO World Heritage Site in Georgetown, Penang.
There are many stories as to how Love Lane got its name. Some say that in the colonial era, it used to house brothels frequented by sailors and soldiers. Another story claims that in the olden days, many wealthy Straits Chinese merchants stayed at Muntri Street - and kept their mistresses at Love Lane. The second story is satirized in Tang Mun Kiang's steel rod sculpture - Cheating Husband - which you can find at Love Lane.
A couple of months after moving to Penang, Abi who knew my penchant for old buildings took me to Love Lane. Ecstatic with what I saw, I put up a public FB status "Love Lane, just my kind of street!". A couple of days later, another friend told me that until today, Love Lane still has the reputation of being a red district area. Oh, well...
Anyhow, red district or not - today, most of the townhouses there have been converted into boutique hotels, backpacker hostels and a few shops selling vintage and artistic items. If you're there and when you get hungry, do walk over to Muntri Street and try the Nasi Lemak Bento at Muntri Mews Cafe.
Last year, on a weekend trip to Ipoh - Vee and I found ourselves lost in Ipoh old town. Wandering around, we came across a small lane. An English bar at the entrance of the lane has a signboard. So, we've stumbled upon the Concubine Lane.
Concubine Lane's formal name in Malay is Lorong Panglima. Now, Panglima is the Malay word for Commander (so I guess the English name is translated by virtue of reputation rather than semantics). Like Love Lane, I doubt many folks here would refer to the lane as Lorong Panglima either. It's name in Chinese is Yi Lai Hong.
As the story goes - Concubine Lane too used to be an area where wealthy Chinese merchants kept their mistresses (that goes without saying on account of the name). But what's more intriguing, it is believed that the story of mistresses were merely a smokescreen to cover visits to gambling houses and opium dens! Apparently, Concubine Lane was where the vices dens were. And essentially, going to Concubine Lane to visit your mistress was more acceptable than conceding that you smoke opium or that you love gambling!
As we walked through the alley, it is sad to see most of the houses there in a dilapidated state. Some are in so much ruin with missing rooftops and weeds literally growing in them! The good news is that, there is some evidence of refurbishing work being done. Don't worry if you get thirsty, there is a small shop that sells beverages, cotton candy and touristy knick-knacks.
Prostitution, harems, mistresses and concubines - these concepts may have been around ever since human understood the meaning of love, lust, marriage, adultery and infidelity. With that, I guess all towns have their own versions of Love Lane or Concubine Lane - and each with its own tales to tell.
There we were, a little lost somewhere in the old Ipoh town. The initial intention was to check out a place call Plan B. But we had to park the car some blocks away, and for some reasons, just couldn't get our bearing right to get to the cafe (...must be the rain, definitely, the rain).
So, as we walked aimlessly trying to figure out where we were, I saw these advertisements. Sights like this is not something one see much on the streets of Malaysia these days. And if you love old buildings and their designs (like me) - you can understand my interest in the poles!
Can you read the writings on the left pole? Don't worry if you can't read the Jawi script - on the right pole is the Rumi or romanized version of the advertisement.
Okay, let me see if I can explain a little bit of the writings to you.
Jawi refers to the Arabic alphabets that has been used to write Bahasa Malaysia (or back then, Bahasa Melayu) since the pre-colonial era (possibly dating back to as far as 1303). In those days, education for the Malays was mostly focused in Islamic religious studies, and, hence, the prevalent usage of Jawi as the writing system.
This Jawi pole says - "Kain palikat cap siput, tanggung tiada luntur". Basically, it's promoting a particular Sarong brand (specifically, the Siput/Seashell brand), and its tagline is that the sarong's color won't fade or run.
It's kind of amusing to see pelikat/sarong spelled Pulicat, and siput/seashell spelled Sipoth. I don't know why they are spelled this way. But apparently this particular brand of sarong comes from India - so maybe there is a juxtaposition and influence of Malay, Indian, and English pronunciation and spelling in this texts.
Now that is just the thing to love about Malaysia. In every step I take, I am always reminded of the multiplural society of Malaysia that we are - and all the similarities that bind the differences.
The sarong referred here is what we locals call kain pelikat - the checkered patterned fabric sewn in tubular shape, worn by men in place of their pants (or sometimes together - with the sarong's length folded in half). Men wear the sarong by wrapping and folding the top of the fabric around the waist. In Malaysia, men generally wear sarong as house wear. And for some, as part of the attire in religious ceremonies.
On this pole, the same content is now written in Rumi (what we Malaysians call the Latin Alphabets used today to write Bahasa Malaysia). I found this pole no less charming with its Malay/English text written in pretty much archaic spelling - an indication of how long the shop has been in operation.
Thank God for GPS! If it were left to me, we would've probably ended up circling Taiping town dozens of times before eventually finding Sentosa Villa.
Honestly, who would have guessed that there was an amazingly cosy resort tucked at the end of Taman Sentosa housing estate in Taiping.
Hidden, and yet strategically located - Sentosa Villa is about 10 minutes away from Taiping old town. This means that the resort is also only a few kilometers away from most of Taiping's main attractions:
Bukit Larut (formerly known as Maxwell Hill)
WWII War Cemetery
Sentosa Villa, to me, was a wonderful introduction to the lush and scenic natural landscape of Taiping. Its concept is a reminiscent of the orchard lifestyle - fruit trees all around, fowls roaming the compound, wooden living quarters and a stream that possibly originates from the surrounding hills.
And if you're game, you can also play Teng-teng kapal terbang* at the resort ground.
* Teng-teng is the Malay word for hopscotch
* Kapal terbang is the Malay word for airplane
Taiping, one of Perak's more historical towns, is a good road trip destination for the weekend, and especially so if you're coming from Penang (just over an hour's drive). It has all the integral elements of a wonderful road trip - good food, old colonial buildings and beautiful landscapes.
I have a thing about trees - especially those ancient, majestic-looking ones...
And yet, ironically - no matter how much affections I have for trees, I can never plant or take care of them. One time, a friend gave me a cactus as a gift, and it died in my care - a CACTUS!
Hence, I keep my relationship with trees to just admiring them from afar. When cameras became more affordable commodities, I took to taking photographs of trees, usually with the blue sky as the backdrop.
So, spending time at the Lake Gardens in Taiping was a real treat. All the lush, foliage - bursts of green over the blue-black Bukit Larut (previously known as Maxwell Hill) in the background. A total change from my normal concrete jungle scenery.
Taiping Lake Gardens was opened in 1880, making it the first public garden in Malaysia. Chung Thye Pin donated the land, that was initially an abandoned tin mine, to be turned into a recreation park.
There are ten man made lakes and ponds at the park. But the main attraction would be the row of ancient Angsana (in English: Golden Rain) trees, standing tall and majestic along the Residency road.
As we walked along the road, we were greeted by these beautiful Angsana trees - their branches stretching over to the other side of the road touching the lake.
In Malaysia, where it is consistently sunny and hot - finding a shaded area outdoors, where you can just sit and talk, is not an easy thing. So it was a real change to have the Angsana trees over us, providing enough shade to sit down comfortably on the grass - reading our books, lulled by the sound of nature.
I'm going to stop talking now, and let you absorb the beauty of these majestic Angsana for yourself...
A cemetery is a strange place to visit on a road trip with your girlfriends. But, I am glad that it was one of the places we chose to visit in Taiping. It was a short stop - yet, poignant and humbling.
The hotel we stayed in is located at the foot of Bukit Larut, also known as Maxwell Hill, its name in the old days. From the main road, we need to make a right turn to go to the hotel. And just by the road side, on the left, is where the War Cemetery is. So, we would see the cemetery every time we leave or come back to the hotel. It soon became a curiosity.
I did wonder why is there a war cemetery in Taiping?
During WWII, Taiping was the home to a battalion of the Indian Army Infantry of the British armed services, a part of the Allied forces. With the impending Japanese occupation, the small town became the line of retreat on the west coast of the Malay Peninsular, a sort of transit point for re-fitment purposes, before troops moved southwards to Singapore.
The war cemetery was erected and is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The cemetery is well kept, tidy and has an air of tranquility about it - a reflection of respect and gratitude to the war heroes.
The cemetery is made up of two burial grounds separated by a small road. On one side of the road is the Christian burial plot, while the non-Christian soldiers were laid to rest in the other burial ground, across the road. In addition to the WWII casualties, the cemetery is also the resting place for army personnels who were killed prior to the Malayan Insurgency.
The non-Christian burial plot is identified by the Stone of Remembrance, inscribed with the line "Their Name Liveth For Evermore". Looking at the tombstones, I saw Muslim and Indian names as well as names written in what I thought was Tamil or Urdu. I found out later, that those were the tombstones for the Gurkha soldiers.
Over on the other side of the road, at the Christian burial plot, a Cross of Sacrifice stands tall. This is where the British and Australian servicemen were laid to rest. For those who were identified, their tombstone display their regimental crests.
All in all, 850 soldiers had been interred at the Taiping War Cemetery. But, only 329 of the casualties had been identified. For the rest of them who were unidentified (more than 500 soldiers), their tombstones were inscribed with the famous phrase from Kipling - "Known Unto God", which means, "unknown, with exception to God".
It was a poignant visit for us. These men were somebody's father, son and brother. Most of the men were barely in their '20s, and most of them were unidentified. One wonder if the folks who were waiting back home for them, had ever had their closure.
It is humbling to know that if it were not for them, we would live in a whole different world today.
It is ironic to think that a place that felt so tranquil, is a product of a destructive event, a product of a war.