Thursday, 31 January 2013

Pekan Rabu Wednesday Market

Pekan Rabu, Alor Star (CNB 2013

You have not been to Alor Star if you have not shopped at Pekan Rabu! This 'Wednesday Market' or rather everyday bazaar is very well known and beats any modern shopping mall for unique charm. You can find everything under the sun here. Well, almost everything.

Our lightning visit to Alor Star recently enabled us to eat and shop at Pekan Rabu. First there was breakfast with a delicious array of local kueh mueh, nasi lemak, etc., etc.

My Pekan Rabu breakfast (CNB 2013)

We returned here for lunch too because the Menara Alor Star revolving restaurant was closed for renovations. And definitely no regrets here - my lunch plate of white rice and gulai ikan & terung (fish and brinjal curry) was simply so delicious, just like my emak used to make. Sedapnya ...

Lunch from 'Pak Man Nasi ', Pekan Rabu (CNB 2013)

After lunch we went around the bazaar to shop for 'necessities'. This is certainly the place to buy ready made baju Melayu, kurung, tudung, and other clothing. At the dried food shop-lots  I suspect that many of the snack foods sold here come from Thailand. So we sought out the more authentic local foods.

Various levels of Pekan Rabu (CNB 2013)

With a young trader at Pekan Rabu (BB 2013)

We stopped by Fatimah Mehat's shop-lot where she makes kueh karas or 'kekarhaih' in Kedah speak. She seems quite a celebrity, having appeared in newspapers a few times. She also has on display some photos of Che Det aka Tun Dr Mahathir and wife visiting her shop-lot nearly every Ramadhan/Aidil Fitri. A well known fact is that TDM was a trader selling pisang goreng (banana fritters) at Pekan Rabu in his teens. During my Alor Star childhood, I used to sell sagon at Pekan Rabu too. Naah, not true ... just to my schoolmates in the Sultanah Asma Primary School.

Fatimah making kueh karas (CNB 2013)

Freshly made kueh karas (CNB 2013)

Sagon at RM2 in Pekan Rabu. Hey, I sold them at Lima (5)
in the 50s (CNB 2013)

I debated whether to buy some ikan pekasam or not. This authentic local favourite is a pungent delicacy of fish preserved with salt, rice and tamarind, and is an acquired taste. It is said to taste better the longer it keeps. But my father Ba did not really like it so it was almost 'banned' from our home and I have never eaten it. But he did love another local favourite of salted ikan talang with which my emak made the most delicious gulai ikan kering. Simply delightful!

Ikan pekasam Pekan Rabu (CNB 2013)

It was just a lightning visit to Alor Star and its Pekan Rabu, but we shall return ... insyaallah.
28 January 2013

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Alor Setar, Alor Star, Aloq Staq

This capital city of Kedah is spelt Alor Setar, pronounced Alor Star or even Aloq Staq in colloquial Kedah speak! We spent just 13 hours in Alor Star, going there recently by the last Senandung Langkawi express train to stop at the railway station on Jalan Station. I have visited Alor Star a few times after leaving it in early 1960, and every time there was always the thought that I missed something.

B in her upper bunk berth on the Senandung Langkawi
(CNB 2013)
Arriving in Alor Star at  day break (CNB 2013)

After going down memory lane or rather Station Road where I used to live in the 50s, we headed for the town centre to have breakfast at the very well known bazaar - Pekan Rabu (literally translated as Wednesday Market, but open all week long). This central part of town has been spruced up and there are Kedah flags/buntings all over to celebrate the recent birthday of the Sultan (now also the YDP Agong).

Along Jalan Tunku Ibrahim, where Pekan Rabu is (BB 2013)

The Pekan Rabu  complex building (CNB 2013)

We sought other Alor Star landmarks nearby, especially the historic ones. We found most in the city centre, along Jalan Pekan Melayu. The beautiful Masjid Zahir (Zahir Mosque) of Moorish architecture was built in 1912. It is one of the oldest mosques in the country. This 101 year old state mosque has been been spruced up and the distinctive black domes that I still remember are now copper brown.

The beautiful Zahir Mosque (CNB 2013)

Just across the road we went into the Muzium Diraja Kedah (Royal Museum), in a beautiful building which used to be the palace of the Sultans of Kedah from 1735 to 1935. Our 'Bapa Malaysia' Tunku Abdul Rahman was also raised here. The exhibits trace the history of the Kedah sultanate, oldest in the country, which started in 1136.

The Royal Museum (BB 2013)

Just next door is the Balai Besar (Great Hall), a heritage building built in 1893, during the reign of Sultan Abdul Hamid Halim Shah. The original structure was built in 1735 by the founder of Alor Star, Sultan Muhammad Jiwa Zainal Abidin, 19th ruler of Kedah Sultanate, as the Balai Rong Seri or Audience Hall.

The Balai Besar (CNB 2013)

The Balai Seni Negeri (State Art Gallery) is in a colonial style building built in 1893 and originally accommodating a court house. From 1912-1983 it housed various government departments, before being converted into the State Art Gallery in conjunction with the Silver Jubilee of the reign of Tunku Abdul Halim Mu'adzam Shah. Pity we did not really have the time to check out the exhibits of Kedah artists/artisans here or to lepak at the Dataran (Square) close by.

Dataran Alor Star & Balai Seni Negeri  (CNB 2013)

The Istana Kota Tengah Arch replica is sited between the Balai Besar and Balai Nobat. The original arch formerly adorned the Kota Tengah Palace of Sultan Abdul Hamid Halim Shah, 26th Sultan of Kedah (1882-1943). It had been demolished to make way for the Wisma Negeri.

Istana Kota Tengah arch (CNB 2013)

The Balai Nobat is a ceremonial tower topped with an Islamic-style dome which houses the instruments of the Royal Orchestra. The unique, almost 'haunting' music of nobat is most interesting to listen to. But of course it is only played during special royal occasions. Originally five storeys, the Balai Nobat was built during the reign of Sultan Ahmad Tajuddin Mukarram Shah (1854-1879), but a 1906 renovation/reconstruction reduced it to three storeys.

Balai Nobat (CNB 2013)

Galleria Sultan Abdul Halim (Sultan Abdul Halim Gallery) was formerly the Mahkamah Tinggi/High Court building. It is another colonial building but with Roman columns, built in 1922. It houses the personal collection of the Sultan, official documents, palace attire and accessories. The Gallery is just next to the Balai Nobat.

Galleria Sultan Abdul Halim (CNB 2013)

Bangunan Jam Besar (Big Clock Building) is the clock tower across the road from Balai Nobat. It was built about the same time as Masjid Zahir. The detail on its door/entrance is quite exquisite.

The Big Clock tower (CNB 2013)

Rather nearby along Jalan Kancut is another tower - a relatively very new one built between 1995-1998.  Menara Alor Star (Alor Star Tower) is a prominent landmark because it soars above the city skyline. Architecturally, the design of this telecommunications tower is representative of a bunch of padi stalks tied together. The observation deck affords a panoramic view of Alor Star and its environs. We had planned to have our lunch here, but unfortunately the revolving restaurant was closed, so we had to find another place to have lunch.

Menara Alor Star (CNB 2013)

Of course there is much more* to see and experience in this capital of Kedah ('rice bowl of Malaysia'), but for thirteen hours in Alor Star, I think we did pretty darn well. And it helped that all these landmarks were within the city centre.

*Rumah Merdeka, Rumah Kelahiran Mahathir Mohamad, Bangunan Wan Muhammad Saman, Istana Kuning, Pejabat Pos Besar, Masjid Albukhary, Tugu ... etc., etc.
28 January 2013

Monday, 28 January 2013

Nostalgia: Alor Star Station & Railway Quarters

The Alor Star railway station on the morning of 28 Jan 2013
(CNB 2013)

Beginning tomorrow, the Alor Star* Railway Station will operate from a temporary (and later new) site. But we hope the beautiful old station building will be preserved and not demolished altogether. Its proximity to Alor Star's CBD makes the site very attractive and we know that history and heritage often times have to make way for 'development'. Hopefully its not the case with this colonial style building constructed between 1912-1915.

The AS station clock tower (CNB 2013)
This railway station building is particularly dear to me because it was my childhood playground in the 50s. My father Ba worked with Keretapi Tanah Melayu (now KTMB) and I was born at 20 Railway Quarters, just a stone's throw across from this station. I remember that sometimes my older siblings and I would have  roti bakar with kaya  and hot Ovaltine drinks at the canteen here with Ba and his friend Uncle Kam Kee and his children.

I made the split second decision of going back to Alor Star by train when I saw a news flash about the Alor Star railway station operating from a new site on the 29th January 2013. It was my last chance of arriving 'home' by train. Just like my father used to do before.

Its a long ten hour train journey from KL Sentral, but the night train 'Senandung Langkawi' enabled us to sleep our way to Alor Star! Buying train tickets just a day before the journey meant that there were only berths on the upper bunk available. But lucky for me, on the train, a very nice UM student, offered me her berth on the lower bunk. Thanks to June of Sungai Petani, I had a good sleep before arriving 'home' (Alor Star) at 7.15 am on the 28th January.

B and I on arrival at Alor Star  railway station

Seeing the old house that used to be home invokes many beautiful memories of a railway childhood in Alor Star. But time has ravaged the  row of houses on Jalan Station (Station Road). They now look quite abandoned - so dilapidated and probably just awaiting the demolition squad. Jalan Station used to be quite a busy road but seems no longer so. I recall being knocked down by a bicycle while crossing this road to the station opposite, and the very apologetic young fellow perpetrator received an earful from Ba. The young fellow and I became friends, got married later and live happily ever after. No, I just made up this story about us being friends, etc. ... but, the being knocked down by his bicycle is true!

Railway Quarters, Jalan Station, Alor Star (CNB 2013)

Postbox with the address of my childhood home in the 50s
(CNB 2013)

The row of rain trees along this road must be nearly a century old because I remember they were very big even then in the 50s. Unfortunately there are fewer trees now so some must have been cut down. There seems to be so many changes in the station area, and to me, its mostly not for the better. OK, okay, everything changes and I was also very young once upon a time in Alor Star!

The century old rain trees along Jalan Station (CNB 2013)

 We spent the rest of the day visiting some Alor Star landmarks before 'Fireflying' back from the Sultan Abdul Halim Airport in Kepala Batas to Subang and home (Shah Alam) the same evening.

P.S. I'm glad Osman Ali featured the Alor Star Railway Station in his very successful box-office Malay film Ombak Rindu. I know that some people refer to this station as "Station Ombak Rindu". 

* I still prefer to use the old spelling of Alor Star because it is pronounced so. One does not actually say Alor Se-tar, but Alor Star! Or Aloq Staq in deep Kedah speak!

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Mawlid an-Nabi 1434

Salam Maulidur Rasul. The tradition of Mawlid (celebrating the Prophet Muhammad's birthday) probably goes back to the 10th century. The celebration by Muslims around the world has the main aim of reminding people of the way of life brought by the Prophet. This year Mawlid falls on the 24th January 2013.

In Malaysia Mawlid is celebrated well with special ceremonies and prayers in mosques and in homes. At the national and state levels it is celebrated with much grandeur.

Majlis Maulidul Rasul at a home in Shah Alam (CNB 2013)

This year I attended a Majlis Maulidur Rasul at a home in the neighbourhood. There was doa/prayers and also shaer/qasidah (lyric poetry) praising the Prophet, performed by a group from Sungai Petani, Kedah. Interestingly, there was Sufi twirling whirling* by a single performer as well.  I was fascinated because I had never seen a live performance of this meditative dance before. For a while  it was like being in Konya, Turkey!

All good Majlis end with great food and this was no different.

Sufi whirling  during Mawlid (CNB 2013)

(CNB 2013)

*Sufi whirling or spinning as practiced by dervishes is performed with the aim to reach the source of all perfection. The camel hair hat represents the tombstone of the ego, the wide white skirt represents the ego's shroud. Source: Wikipedia.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Twice Sold Books

So what do you do when you are done with your magazines? Or even your books? There are several ways of getting rid of them. Here are some suggestions.

1. Give them away to people/places that may want them. But do not be offended if no body/place want them. Because, hey, you too do not want them in the first place!

2. Sell them off to the 'Surat khabar lama' man for a pittance, because your discards also mean nothing to them except as recyclable paper. They accept everything, and the plus point is, they come to your house.

3. Sell them off to the second-hand book stores for slightly more than a pittance. But first you have to find the store, then you have to angkut (lug/carry) the stuff you want to be rid off there. Do not be surprised if they do not accept everything that you have brought. Sheesh ... after all the lugging! From my experience, many magazines that are considered 'trash', i.e. with no real feature articles (read URTV, and the like) will not be considered. So also trade magazines or those with too many advertisements (aren't most magazines full of ads anyway?)

4. If you live in Shah Alam like me, sell them off to the "Twice Sold Books" kiosk at the Giant Hypermarket in Section 13. Last year I dejunked a whole lot of magazines there and earned the very princely sum of RM27, for what originally cost us probably about RM2K!!?  But yay! I did get to reclaim the space they were occupying ... for more magazines ... of my ever growing National Geographic collection.

The 'Twice Sold Books" kiosk in Shah Alam  (CNB 2013)

Monday, 21 January 2013

Snapshots: Abi & Amran Stokin (Cats in Our Lives)

As posted/promised earlier, I would write about the cats in our lives. But the muse will not come to write anything, after I was reminded of a very sad incident involving one of them. So these pictures of Abi, our main cat, and Amran Stokin, our front lawn cat, will do for now.

1. Abi, "What are you lookin' at? Me?"

2. "Get off my case!"

3. "Just let me be ... its comfy here on the sofa"

4. Amran Stokin, "How come Abi gets a comfy sofa and I get this ticklish lawn? Did I say lawn? More like a grassland actually!"

5. "Not fair, I say. My white stockings will get dirty, lah!"

Photos by CNB

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

The Hill Stations of Pahang

The Cameron Highlands, Pahang (CNB 1990)

Of the six hill stations in Malaysia, four are in the state of Pahang. Hill stations are 'cool' in the real sense of the word. You almost forget that you are in the tropics when you are up there. Apart from the Cameron Highlands, Fraser's Hill, Genting Highlands and Bukit Tinggi in Pahang, there are the Bukit Bendera/Penang Hill in Pulau Pinang, and Bukit Larut/Larut Hills in Perak.

Cameron Highlands

M, B, A & furry friend in CH (CNB 1990)
Cameron Highlands seems to be a rather popular hill station and most favoured 'cuti-cuti Malaysia' destination, with busloads of rombongan sekolah (school groups) and organisations making the way there, especially during the school holidays.

What I remember of my first visit when still a student in the 1960s, was just how cold it was at night! If you left your seat a while, then the mist/dew set in. If I remember correctly, our accommodation was at a school and we had to make do with desks for beds! (I will need to confirm this with DFH who definitely has a much better memory of our schooldays). At that time we all took back the almost iconic 'everlasting' flowers; they were then the ultimate memento/souvenirs from the highlands.

M, B, A & Orang Asli (CNB 1990)
Later we had our family holidays there in the 1990s where M drove us from Pulau Pinang, stopping along Tambun for pomeloes, and Taiping for tea at the Lake Gardens. On the way up (or was it down?) we stopped by some Orang Asli homes to say hello and talk to them.

We had accommodations at Tanah Rata, and Cameron Highlands being a 'huge green carpet', we made the customary visits to check out the Boh tea factory and the tea plantations. We also went on to visit one of the numerous vegetable farms, the strawberry farm, and the rose garden.

We even took to the jungle trails, keeping to the 'easier' ones because of the children. The highland jungle flora was quite abundant, and once our trek led us along a river to a picturesque waterfall. One eventful (or should I say non-eventful?) experience was when we were denied entry to the colonial Ye Olde Smokehouse in Brinchang because we were not properly attired (read: one among us was wearing jeans, another had sandals on). Oh, well ... their loss; the Rajah Brooke Restaurant at the Merlin Inn got our custom/money instead.

Ringlet morn mart (MB)
In the morning, there was the market at Ringlet to browse for flowers, fruits and vegetables. Just the place to buy highland produce to your heart's content, before you make your journey down to wherever home is.

In all, Cameron Highlands is a great destination for family holidays although negotiating the snaking, winding roads in the highlands is very dicey at times, and we almost had a head on collision with one of the numerous lorries there. But M handled the roads quite well despite being more used to driving on the 'wrong side', hehehe!

Time and again we read about the 'rape' of the hills by unscrupulous people, although no more permits are being issued to clear the highland jungles for vegetable farming, etc. We hope the temperature up there remains 'cool', so that we may all escape to the hills every now and then.

Fraser's Hill
This is Malaysia's piece of  'Little England', now famous internationally for bird racing. No, the birds do not race, but the bird lovers/ornithologists do! They race (against time) to count the birds ...

My first visit was, when on the way to Taman Negara in 1976, our friend detoured to Fraser's Hill, named after Louis James Fraser, a haulier and tin trader. I only remember the one way traffic up or down depending on the clock, the beautiful waterfall and a most delicious meal at the colonial style Gap Resthouse.

A second visit more recently enabled us to look more closely at the beautiful colonial style bungalows, built of local grey limestone blocks. These include the Sultan Suleiman Building/Bungalow (a Selangor landmark because it is in a sliver of Fraser's Hill that falls inside Selangor).

At the iconic Fraser's Hill clock tower

On the way down, we had little black and white birds flying around the car, accompanying us to almost halfway down the hill. If VVIPs have outriders, then we had outfliers!? It was very surreal, and truly memorable.

We did stop for refreshments at the Gap Resthouse, but it was not the same anymore. Nothing we can do really, because as we all know, change is the only constant ...

Genting Highlands

CR poster
We all know that the main draw to the Genting Highlands is the Casino, where busloads of foreign tourists are taken by tour guides to gamble away their hard-earned money (but hey, I am not judging!)

My first trip to GH (with family and friends) was to fulfill a wish - to see the idol of my teen years, Cliff Richard, perform live at the Arena of Stars there in 2007. As revealed earlier on my posting about CR, I paid a lot of money for my very good seat. But I did enjoy the show, even if CR is a senior citizen (like me, lah!) prancing on a stage. In my seat I could not prance, so I merely tapped my foot, sometimes feet. But there were other senior citizen groupies in the audience who were behaving like hysterical teenagers (but hey, I am not judging again!)

Another trip was on a New Year eve. I drove us up to the Awana Genting Resort where we stayed, and in the afternoon rode the cable car to the top. I have always been fascinated by carousels, so with a friend KN, rode on the outdoor carousel while our children went on the 'faster' rides. Greeting the New Year 2009 there was very much a Bollywood affair, because a few busloads of Indian tourists really made their presence felt.

When we were living in Pulau Pinang, we used to go up Bukit Bendera/Penang Hill to 'cool off'. Now that we live in Shah Alam, the nearest hill station unfortunately, is Genting Highlands. But 'cooling off' here recently is not so nice anymore. I feel that more and more, the atmosphere here is of 'a circus in a shopping mall' (though I know some members of the family will beg to differ!).

A, B & M at GH (CNB 2011)

Bukit Tinggi
Eer... I have not been to this fairly new hill station, but I hear that the Japanese Garden there is full of Malaysian flowers and has a koi pond, and that Colmar Tropicale is a French resort village with Malaysian staff. I hope to find out for myself a.s.a.possible probable.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Quirky postcards from Spain

My postcard collection is serendipitous. I do not purposely buy postcards to collect but usually by chance, they become part of an unorganised pile in a couple of shoeboxes.

A close family member was in Spain not so recently and got these rather interesting postcards for me.

The female dancers' dresses are embroidered and the layered skirts sewn and pasted on. Quirky and kitschy! But I like them anyway, so they will languish in my unorganised pile of postcards. Ole!

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Visiting the Alma Mater after Three Decades

As of January this year, the Tunku Kurshiah College (Kolej Tunku Kurshiah) is no longer in Seremban. This boarding school for girls has been moved to a new campus in Bandar Enstek/Nilai. (The campus in Seremban will house another school). Although change is inevitable, we hope the new TKC campus will be an even better learning environment for the girls involved.

Back after more than 3 decades!
After seven years (1964-1970) of being educated there, a group of us visited our alma mater not so recently, me for the first time after more than three decades! The buildings are the same, though not so familiar anymore. They seem to be smaller (or rather we had grown taller, wider and older/wiser?). Some have been spruced up, some renovated, a few added.

TKC for us, had come full circle, because one of us - Tengku Azuan is the Principal then, and she had mooted the idea of a reunion at our alma mater. It was certainly a trip down memory lane ... Alma mater in Latin is 'nourishing mother' so I guess we were being nourished during our life in TKC, with a quite wholesome education.

The School block and a familiar though rather
older tree (CNB)

Visiting the dorms/rooms we used to live in brought back lots of happy memories. It's funny how the past seems pretty rosy now. We were young then and eager to learn and forge friendships. Friendships that have lasted many long years ...

With NH at the Red House block (SHJ) 

We went into the Dining Hall where we had been nourished on nasi kawah, gulai kawah, soggy papayas, bruised bananas, etc. ... I did enjoy the food then, really, and old photos of my 'chubby' self during the lower secondary school years, testify to this.

The Dining Hall seems bigger now to cater for more students

We walked by the Sick Bay where we remember the formidable Matrons who nursed us back to health. But you do not really want to have to be admitted into the Sick Bay in the first place!

The spruced-up Sick Bay (CNB) 

Before leaving, we went into The Hall where we had assembled every morning, where we had sat for our exams, and also where we were entertained - by weekend movies and flings, and the occasional parties. And there and then we had our own little gig on stage - dancing the cha cha, etc. ... rekindling memories of our dancing learning days.

The Hall seen from the Dining Hall corridor. We did not have
the covered walkway then. (CNB)

Farewell to TKC in Seremban, and hello to TKC in Bandar Enstek/Nilai.
P.S. Thank you, Ku We for the lovely lunch spread at the Principal's, I mean, your house.