5 Must-Try Traditional Dishes In Selangor, Malaysia

Malaysia has 13 states and 2 Federal Territories, each with its own unique cuisine. Some are better known than others:  Penang for its assam laksa and char kuey teow, Negeri Sembilan for its Minang cuisine, Sarawak for its mee kolok, and Kuala Lumpur for its Kari Laksa. But despite being one of the country’s economic hubs and the gateway to Malaysia, Selangor food is often overlooked – which is a shame, as the state is home to a slew of gastronomical delights, drawn from the multicultural background of its inhabitants. The recipes for some of these dishes have been handed down through the centuries and perfected in modern times.

Whether you’re a native Selangor-ian or just visiting, here are five authentic Selangor dishes to indulge in for your next gastronomic adventure!

Pecal from www.maggi.com. my.v1

Pecal

Pecal is a common appetiser that can be found just about anywhere in Selangor. A traditional Javanese salad of sorts, it consists of vegetables topped with a mouth-watering peanut sauce that can also be served with Ketupat or Lontong (rice cubes). Pecal is easy to make, so you can try your hand at making it at home! Key ingredients include peanuts / groundnuts for the kuah (gravy), tofu, bean sprouts, long beans and cucumber.  

Nasi Ambeng

Nasi Ambeng by nona manis kitchen cyberjaya.v1.v1

Nasi Ambeng is made for sharing, as it is usually served on a platter for four to five people. It comes with side dishes such as chicken, fried noodles, long beans and sambal tempe accompanied by white rice. The dish is a common sight at festivals or large gatherings (kenduri).  

Sambal Taun

Sambal Tahun by salamisimon1 on blogspot.v1.v1

Another Selangor dish with Javanese roots is Sambal Taun or Sambal Tahun, which was brought over by early Javanese settlers. A copious amount of chilli is used to make sambal taun. Cow skin is often used as the main protein, but clams, cow lungs and anchovies can also be used, according to one’s preference. Other ingredients needed to complete the dish are red onions, garlic, shrimp paste, coconut milk, oil, tamarind paste and a pinch of salt and sugar.  

Wadai Kipeng

Wadai Kipeng by www. friedchillies.c om.v1

In the tongue of the Banjar people (who are originally from South Kalimantan in Indonesia), ‘Wadai’ means ‘Kuih’, while ‘Kipeng’ means pieces. Back in the day, the Banjar community traditionally served Wadai Kipeng as part of their Thanksgiving ceremony. This porridge-like dessert is made from glutinous rice flour, coconut, palm sugar, granulated sugar and pandan leaves – the perfect sweet ending to any meal.

Bahulu Kemboja by manis2012 on blogspot.v1.v1

Bahulu Kemboja

An all-time favourite snack, Bahulu Kemboja can be served for breakfast or tea. To maintain the moisture of the kuih, original pandan essence straight from the leaves has to be used, along with wheat flour, rice flour, coconut milk, eggs, sugar and salt, as well as a dash of sesame seeds as toppings.

For more interesting tidbits and tales about Selangor, visit www.selangor.travel. 

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Content courtesy of Tourism Selangor. Photos provided by Tourism Selangor, via friedchillies.com, salamisimon1, maggi.com.my, Nona Manis Kitchen Cyberjaya and Manis2012 on blogspot.

 

Attractions Near Jonker Street, Melaka : A Day/Night Itinerary

Tucked in the heart of Melaka’s Chinatown, there’s plenty to see and do in Jonker Street – from unique craft shops and museums to temples, mosques, decades-old eateries, chic cafes and more. It also has a rich history. Dutch colonists lived in nearby Heeren Street, just next to the Melaka River, while the main thoroughfare, ie Jalan Hang Jebat, was home to rich Peranakans (Straits Chinese) settlers, who built lavish homes with beautiful architecture and filled them with exquisite furniture.

BY DAY 

Lung Ann Refreshments 

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Start the day with a traditional Malaysian breakfast at Lung Ann Refreshments. The shop’s setting is typical of Malaysian kopitiams, where elderly aunties and uncles bustle about preparing your orders, and drinks are served in white and green ceramic cups. No fancy noodles, only the basics – half boiled eggs, and toast with kaya and butter, washed down with either coffee or Milo.

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I didn’t realise how Malaysians take this for granted (usually if someone asks about local dishes to recommend, I’d think of nasi lemak) until N told me how unique he thought it was (half boiled eggs for breakfast isn’t a thing in the Phils, apparently). Sometimes it’s really the simplest things that are the best. Bread is nicely toasted and fluffy, with generous amounts of kaya and butter. Despite how simple it looks, half boiled eggs are notoriously difficult to get right (the timing has to be extremely accurate). The one’s at Lung Ann were perfect.

Baba And Nyonya Heritage Museum 

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A private housemuseum that once belonged to a wealthy Peranakan businessmen, the Baba and Nyonya Heritage Museum is a must visit for lovers of culture and history. The Peranakan, or Straits Chinese (also called Baba Nyonya), are a community descended from Chinese settlers who immigrated to parts of the Nusantara, ie Dutch-controlled Java in Indonesia, southern Thailand, the British Straits Settlements of Malaya (Penang and Melaka), as well as Singapore. Many adopted local customs, whilst still maintaining a strong Chinese heritage – resulting in a unique blend of cultures that you will not find elsewhere. The Malaysian Baba and Nyonya, for example, speak a creole version of Hokkien and Malay, dress in baju panjang which is influenced by the Malay kebaya dress, but still practice ancestor worship.

You can wander the museum, which consists of three terrace homes joined together as one, on your own – but I highly recommend the guided tour. The tour brings the entire house and its past occupants to life, as knowledgeable guides point out details and events that have happened in those very spaces. You get a sense of being separated by time, but not space. Everything is lavish, beautiful and meticulously made – from elaborately carved furniture inlaid with mother of pearl and silk embroidered paintings done by masters in China, to hand painted tiles, crystal ware, porcelain dining sets.

Note that photos are only allowed in the foyer.

Cheng Hoon Teng Temple

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Literally the ‘Temple of the Green Cloud’, Cheng Hoon Teng is the oldest functioning Chinese temple in Malaysia,  built in 1673. It is dedicated to the three precepts, namely Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism, so visitors will see deities dedicated to all of these religious beliefs. The altars in the main hall are dedicated to Guan Yin, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy, as well as the Taoist goddess Mazu and deities such as Kwan Ti, the God of Justice, and Thai Sway, the god of worldly human welfare.

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Even if you’re not a devotee, the temple is worth visiting for the architecture alone. Lacquered surfaces, gold gilding, intricately carved archways and windows abound. The main hall, made from timber, was built without the use of nails.

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Keilun, ie what Westerners like to call foo dogs (they’re actually mythical lions).

Orangutan House 

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The quirkily named Orangutan House is an art gallery-cum-souvenir shop, where you can get colourful printed tees and art pieces. It’s hard to miss if you’re walking around the area, as there is a huge mural of an orang utan on the side of the building. The inside is equally colourful and trippy.

Explore the Streets

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Jonker Street is chock full of interesting sights, and sometimes the best way to see them is just to explore the area on foot. You never know what hidden gems you might uncover. In any case, they make for great photos. (Above) the doors of the Hokkien Association.

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This neat little nook next to the river.

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BY NIGHT 

We’re not done: sundown is when the fun really begins. Jonker Street is the place to be on weekends, as there is a huge night market, just there for you to snack from one end to the other.

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Crowds, yes.

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Worth it because you get to gorge on delicious street food…

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Did I mention delicious street food?

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Delicious street food!

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One does not come to Melaka and not have a refreshing taste of a coconut shake. 

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You can also commission a street artist to have your portrait drawn…

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Or buy a hand-drawn sketch from this extremely talented young man. His drawings were phenomenal!

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Jonker Street’s entrance is hard to miss, as you have this inn/restaurant lined with red lanterns, which somehow reminds me of the classical Chinese novel ‘Dream of the Red Chamber’.

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You can do the touristy thing and hop on to one of the loud and colourful trishaws for a spin around the city.

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If crowds are not your thing, opt for a cruise down the Melaka River, which is decorated on both sides with neon lights.

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Dutch Square, just a few steps away from Jonker Street, is also much more quiet at night.

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Literally had the whole place to ourselves for photos.

I hope this itinerary has been useful in helping you to plan what attractions to see while in the Jonker Street neighbourhood. Happy travels!

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Museum of Malay World Ethnology @ Muzium Negara, Kuala Lumpur

When visiting Muzium Negara (The National Museum), most people make a beeline for the main building – so some might not have noticed the building adjacent to it which houses a small but interesting museum well worth checking out.

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Muzium Ethnologi Dunia Melayu (Musuem of Malay World Ethnology) is dedicated to Malay culture and history, where visitors can learn about traditional games, clothing, accessories, arts and crafts and weaponry, among others. While not very large, visitors will find a good collection of exhibits on display, with detailed descriptions.

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Malay culture is rich and steeped in various influences. This is thanks to the strategic geographic location of the Malay Peninsula which made it an important trade centre for traders from as far as India, the Middle East and China. Wars with powerful neighbouring kingdoms (what is now Thailand and Indonesia), as well as the invasion of foreign powers such as the Portuguese, Dutch and English have also added to the tapestry that is the Malay heritage we know today.

Here are just some of the interesting exhibits you’ll be able to see:

SHADOW PUPPETS 

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Like many cultures in Southeast Asia, Malay culture has its own form of shadow puppetry, called wayang kulit (literally ‘skin performance’) – so called because of the cowhide leather that the puppets are made from. They often feature mythical characters and have a moral lesson behind their stories.

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The northern state of Kelantan is particularly well known for its wayang kulit, with designs carrying a strong Thai influence, where as in the southern state of Johor, the wayang kulit is influenced by the Javanese Indonesian style, brought over by Javanese immigrants. The puppets are supported on sticks or buffalo horn handles and moved around by a puppet master, with characters voiced by different actors. The shadows are projected onto a cotton cloth using an oil lamp. You could say it was the earliest form of ‘animation’ or ‘cinema’. Performances are often accompanied by traditional gamelan music.

TRADITIONAL WEDDING (BERSANDING CEREMONY) LIFE-SIZED DIORAMAS 

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Bersanding is an integral part of a Malay wedding. The bride and groom are seated at a pelamin (an elevated platform, usually elaborately decorated) side by side, and a reception is held for family and friends. Traditionally, one would find items such as bunga telur (a decorative ‘egg’ flower to represent fertility), although these are becoming rarer in big cities. Certain other traditions such as spraying rose water and pouring scented petals onto the couple are also slowly done away for the sake of convenience.

GOLD / METALWORK 

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Malay culture is renowned for its craftsmanship and artistry, especially in gold and metalwork. Geometric patterns and floral motifs are common. In traditional Malay society, the quality of the jewellery worn, such as brooches, pins, earrings, belt buckles and necklaces in gold, silver and other precious metals often indicated wealth and status – so the more intricate the piece, the more important the person or his/her family.

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Silverware and bronzeware exhibits featuring items such as kitchenware, pots and pans, cutlery, trays, jewellery boxes, teapots and more.

WEAPONRY 

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When it comes to Malay weaponry, the most well known of all is definitely the keris, an asymmetrical dagger with a wavy blade – also a symbol of Malaysia’s royal families. The keris can come in a variety of designs (there are also straight-bladed keris), with a meticulously carved handle and sheath inlaid with precious stones, wood, gold or ivory. It is said the wavy pattern made it easier to rend through an enemy’s flesh.

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Diorama of a Malay blacksmith circa 15th century

WOODWORK 

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Woodwork and woodcarving is another area that the Malays excel in, and you’ll see this applied in everything from architecture to carpentry. Decorative wall hangings (above) feature geometric and nature motifs (flowers, clouds) as is common in Islamic design, or Islamic verses in Jawi (bottom left).

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These interesting contraptions are quail traps! You can see even these have a lot of effort put into them from the beautiful cage fronts.

TRADITIONAL GAMES 

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Congkak is a mancala game involving two players and a board with a number of ‘holes’ and two ‘homes’ at each side. The objective of the game is to get as many seeds into the player’s respective home, and involves a measure of strategy, speed and skill. The game was played by people from all classes, although the wealthy would have nicer congkak boards such as the one above shaped like a large and beautiful bird.

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And then we have the Wau – giant kites that span over a metre in length that are flown as much as for sport as they are for recreation. Wau-making competitions and wau races are still popular until this day, dotting the skies with a rainbow of colours during tournament season. The Wau Bulan (moonkite) is unique to the state of Kelantan, and is also used as the symbol of the Malaysian national carrier.

So there you have it! Not a big museum but a nice one filled with interesting things to see. Be sure to check out the Museum of Malay World Ethnology while you’re at Muzium Negara! Entrance is RM2.

Also while you’re here, there’s a replica of a traditional Malay house on stilts sandwiched in between the MWEM and the main building.

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MUZIUM ETHNOLOGI DUNIA MELAYU 

The Office of Malay World Gallery, Department of Mesuem Malaysia, Jalan Damansara,Tasik Perdana, 50566 Kuala Lumpur

Opening hours: 9AM – 6PM (Daily)

Exploring Phuket’s Historical Old Town District

Phuket may be known for its beautiful sandy beaches and party scene, but if you’re into culture and heritage, then Phuket Old Town is a definite must visit. Comprising several roads including Dibuk (Thai for ‘tin’), Thalang and the narrow but extremely popular alleyway called Soi Romanee, the area is a haven of old shops and hipster cafes, selling everything from artisan ice cream and drinks to cheap clothing, accessories and jewelry.

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Before it became a popular island destination, Phuket’s riches were founded in tin, and in the late 18th century, Hokkien Chinese immigrants made their way to its shores, establishing themselves in the trade centres which would later become bustling towns. As such, the architecture is reminiscent of regions in Southeast Asia with a similar ethnic heritage and past, such as Penang in Malaysia as well as Singapore. The architecture style, dubbed Sino-Portuguese, features colourful facades and elaborate decorations, blending both traditional Chinese /local elements with European touches.

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While small and narrow, Soi Romanee is perhaps the area’s most popular (and Instagrammable) street, flanked on both sides by cafes, hole-in-the-wall eateries and boutique inns.

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Apparently a great place to get ice cream (especially in Phuket’s scorching weather!) is this ice cream parlour called Torry’s.

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Also like Penang and Singapore, the area has been spruced up with large and colourful murals adorning the sides of several buildings – bringing together the old and the new.

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Crossing over to Thalang Road, which boasts the same neat and colourful buildings with shaded five-foot walkways.

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Parts of the walkway are occupied by pop up stalls selling clothing and jewellery. If you’re a fashionista, this would be a great place to get some unique pieces that you won’t be able to find back home – and at cheap prices to boot.

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Reflecting its Chinese heritage (Thailand has the largest population of overseas Chinese in the world), many of the shops here have been running for generations and still carry Chinese names. Next to swanky cafes and cool eateries sit generation-old businesses such as gold shops, optical shops and traditional medicine stores.

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There’s actually plenty to do in the area but we were pressed for time and missed out on alot of places.

Some notable spots for a half-day tour include the Thavorn Hotel Museum (as the name suggests, an old hotel turned museum), The Memory at On On Hotel (where they filmed The Beach starring Leonardo di Caprio), Thai Hua Musuem ( a museum on Chinese heritage in Phuket/Thailand), Jui Tui Shrine (a Chinese temple), Blue Elephant (where you can have cooking classes), and many more.

 

Visiting Chinatown (Kampung Cina) @ Kuala Terengganu, Malaysia

 

Hey guys! So I was recently on a media trip to Redang island, off the east coast of Peninsula Malaysia. Took an overnight bus from KL, and stopped at Chinatown in Kuala Terengganu for breakfast. Dubbed Kampung Cina (literally Chinese Village), it is one of the oldest Chinese settlements in Southeast Asia, dating back to the 1700s. Although not as old as the one in Binondo, Manila, it’s still pretty old! 🙂

KT Chinatown sits at the mouth of the Terengganu River, where the place was once an important trading hub. In its heyday, it had over 1,000 homes! All that remains now are several dozen shophouses, most of which have been designated as protected buildings under the UNESCO World Monument Programme. The style is similar to many Malaysian-Chinese shophouses found in Ipoh, Penang, Malacca and Kuala Lumpur – usually double storey, with a five foot walkway (covered corridor) at the shopfront.

Entrance arch with the usual Chinese motifs – lanterns, sloping roofs, dragons on clouds.

Breakfast at one of the restaurants – trying out a local specialty called ‘Roti Paung’. It’s like a cross between buns and bread, with a flat bottom but lumpy top somewhat similar to a sixpack lol. The bread was firm but fluffy, and came with a slab of butter and kaya (coconut jam) as spread. To complete the meal, some soft boiled eggs seasoned with pepper and soy sauce, and a glass of cold sweet Milo. 

Exploring the town! The designs aren’t uniform; each building has its own character, which makes them more charming.

Many of the Chinese who live here may be descended from early settlers, with the homes handed down from generation to generation. While it is not clear when exactly the city was founded as no archaeological digs can be conducted in order to preserve the heritage buildings, records by Admiral Cheng Ho (one of China’s most famous admirals) date back to the 15th century, where he supposedly landed in Terengganu with a fleet.

A fire in the 1800s gutted most of the town, so the buildings we see today have been reconstructed. Most are made from brick, plaster and timber.

Small town saloon – nothing fancy. I love how idyllic things are here. Do you spot the shopkeeper peeking from behind the door? xD

 

Heritage Walk – Concubine Lane & Kong Heng Square, Ipoh

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Last year, Ipoh was listed as one of the Top 10 Places to Visit in Asia by Lonely Planet. It’s not hard to see why. The city has a quaint, laidback charm, with its colonial-style coffeehouses, beautiful architecture and unique, natural attractions. In recent years, the city has enjoyed a surge in popularity – especially among the younger crowd – and along with it came the hipster cafes, Instagram-worthy nooks and crannies, creative art murals, etc.

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One of these must check-out spots, a favourite hangout of youngsters, is Kong Heng Square. The term ‘old is gold’ never seemed more apt, as the cluster of restaurants, vintage stores and hip cafes are surrounded by giant trees with vines, buildings faded with age and overhung by carpets of ivy but revamped on the inside.

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Art pieces are displayed periodically to go along with permanent fixtures. During our visit, they had put up some pieces done by local art students, which used recycled items such as old bottle caps and CDs.

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Made from discarded bottle caps.

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Just a few steps away is Concubine Lane, which I’ve blogged about previously Here. Since it was a holiday, the street was packed with tourists. Stalls were selling all sorts of knick knacks, from souvenirs to handphone accessories, hair clips to biscuits and cookies.  The street was also decorated with red lanterns and hangings to suit the Chinese New Year mood.

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Literal jelly fish

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Also nearby are two museums – Hor Yan Hor (a local herbal drink) and the Han Chin Pet Soo, which I visited the last time I was in Ipoh (blog post Here). It’s a good idea to spend half a day just hanging around the Kong Heng/Concubine Lane area! 🙂

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Oldest Taoist Temple in Singapore – Thian Hock Keng, Chinatown, Singapore

Singapore has a significant Chinese population (74%). Long ago, when the first Chinese immigrants arrived on the island republic with nothing to their names but hopes and dreams, Chinatown was the epicentre of everything. Today, it spans several blocks within the Outram district and houses numerous heritgae sites and old buildings – an important reminder of the country’s culture and history.
For our Chinatown Tour, we had Shal from Ruby Dot Trails as our guide. And what a guide she was! Visiting places of interest is one thing but having a good guide is another: and Shal really elevated our experience by telling us loads of interesting stories and tidbits. It felt more like having a very knowledgable local friend bringing us around. 🙂
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Our first stop for the day was Thian Hock Keng, or the Temple of Heavenly Happiness. Established in 1839, it is the oldest and most important Hokkien/Taoist temple in Singapore. Shal pointed out that the temple sits on Telok Ayer Street, which was so called because the area where Chinatown is right now was actually by the sea (now it’s not due to land reclamation).
Dedicated to the Goddess of the Sea and patron deity of seamen, Ma Zu, the temple was originally a simple shrine located close to the shoreline. Sailors arriving after a long voyage from China would offer their prayers as thanks for safe arrival to Singapore. Eventually they brought over a Ma Zu statue from China and erected a proper temple in 1842, at a cost of 30,000 Spanish dollars.
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There are separate entrances to the temple. We entered through the side door, because the main one is only for VIPs. The side doors are painted over with images of two fierce generals, or the ‘Door Gods’, who guard the temple from evil.
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The main entrance, on the other hand, has different ‘door gods’, which, according to Shal, are eunuchs (since Mazu is a goddess, so it’s more appropriate).
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The main temple. It’s not very large, but it sure is grand. Just look at the elaborate details!
The structure is typical of Chinese temples, with a spacious courtyard and a huge ash urn for joss sticks. Shal pointed out some interesting fixtures for us. If you look up at the beams, there are Indian elements – figurines of Indian craftsmen alongside the usual dragons and phoenixes. During the temple’s construction, Indian craftsmen and workers were brought in to help. As a gesture of thanks, they were allowed to carve their images into the structure. It proved that racial harmony and tolerance were in place, even back in the days. How cool is that?
Even though it wasn’t a very big temple, it was surely an important one. Visitors looking up might notice a large scroll-like hanging at the top of the chamber, which was a decree from a Qing Dynasty emperor – a great honour for a temple in what was considered the ‘boondocks’. The decree has been stored away for safekeeping, but we can still see the replica at the temple today.
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Source: taoist-sorcery.blogspot.com note: NOT the Ma Zu statue at Thian Hock Keng temple.
Pictures of the main shrine housing the Mazu statue wasn’t allowed, but I wanted to illustrate the story with a picture, so yeah.
Mazu: The Goddess of the Sea
Like many Taoist deities, it was believed that she was an actual person before being deified (is that a word?) Her real name was Lin Moniang, and she lived in 900s Fujian province during the Song Dynasty. An excellent swimmer, she wore red garments while at the shore to guide fishing boats home, even in harsh weather. Her father and brothers were fishermen. Legend has it that a big typhoon arose while they were at sea, and Lin Moniang fell into a trance where she dreamed of them drowning and attempted to save them. She saved her father but her mother woke her up from her trance, thus dooming her brother. The father returned alive and the villagers believed a miracle had happened. It was said that Lin Moniang ‘died’ when she climbed a mountain alone and flew to heaven, becoming a goddess.
Mazu is often flanked by two generals, Cheen Lei Ngan (thousand mile eye) and Soon Fung Yee (with the wind ear), from the legend of the 10 Brothers. They are her eyes and ears, and lookout for sailors or fishermen in trouble.
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Chinese temple, but European-style tiles from Holland. The outside gate is Scottish steel.
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Side area, housing other deities. There are deities for everything you could possibly pray for – Mazu for protection and blessing, Confucius for kids who are studying, another deity for health, and one for matters related to love.
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Another interesting story is that of the Black and White guards of Hell, or the Heibai Wuchang. 
Legend has it that they were once two constables of justice, Xie Bi’an and Fan Wujiu. While looking for an escaped convict, they split up and promised to meet at a bridge. Fan Wujiu was on time but due to heavy rain, Xie got delayed. Not wanting to break his promise to his colleague, Fan waited, but the rains swept the bridge away and he drowned (hence the black colouration of the deity, due to decomposition). Upon finally arriving, Xie was so overcome by remorse and guilt that he hung himself (thus the long tongue). Looking down from heaven, the Jade Emperor was impressed by their loyalty and friendship, thus appointing them guardians of the Underworld.
At Thian Hock Keng, Shal explains that devotees pray to these deities if they wish for wealth from ‘unorthodox’ means, ie striking the lottery or such. A closer look at the statues reveal that their tongues and mouths are stained black from opium and more recently, cigarettes – since unorthodox wealth = unorthodox offerings lol. There was a small table with an ashtray and sometimes you’d see beer or alcohol as well. Those with very sick and old relatives also pray to the Heibai Wuchang, to strike the person’s name off the list, since they are soul catchers.
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After all that, stepping out from the temple to the sight of towering buildings was a bit disorienting. We are still in the middle of 21st century Singapore!
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Thian Hock Keng Temple 
158 Telok Ayer St,
Singapore 068613
Opening hours: 730am-530pm
Entrance: Free – but observe local customs and dress decently.
thianhockkeng.com.sg

Han Chin Pet Soo Hakka Club, Ipoh

The year was 1876.

Leong Fee, a 19-year-old from China, arrived on Malayan shores via an old freight to Penang, then a British stronghold, to seek his fortune. Having worked as a cook for six months on the island, Leong, along with 16 other Chinese immigrants, made their way to Epoh (now Ipoh), a small enclave of Malay huts between thick jungles and Perak’s Kinta River. Here, they were one of the first ‘Chinamen’, prospecting in mines for the ‘gold’ of that era – tin.

Having made it big as a tin miner, he founded the Han Chin Pet Soon Hakka Miners Club in 1893. It became an important social and cultural gathering place for the Hakka Chinese, a home away from home.

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After many years, the place was abandoned for some time and left in a dilapidated state, with termites gnawing on the wood and pigeons roosting in its attic. Thankfully, it was bought over by a heritage club and opened as a heritage museum in 2015. Many of its fixtures have been restored, including some of the elegantly curved bay windows which were removed during a small renovation in the 1960s.

Visits are by guided tours (you’re not supposed to roam around on your own). It’s fascinating to hear Leong’s story, which is an extraordinary one of rags to riches, and understand the hardships and perseverance in the face of adversity that drove many Chinese, including my ancestors, to seek better lives far away from home.

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The cream coloured exterior is elegant-looking and features beautiful decorated tiles with patterns of roses and peacocks. The colour combinations are vivid and bright.

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You’re probably wondering what Han Chin Pet Soo means. While I’m not very sure what Han Chin is (probably just the name given to the building), ‘Pat Sou’ is Hakka for ‘villa’. It somehow got translated to Pet Soo over time.

Upon entering, visitors will be greeted by the main dining area, with a long wooden table laid out as if for a meal with old style mugs, bowls and cutlery. On both sides of the room are elegantly carved wooden chairs, as well as two large mirrors. The floor tiles are original, imported from Europe as was common among the wealthy back then.

There are also portraits of Leong Fee, his son (who took over management of the club after his father died) and other prominent Hakka clansmen along another side of the wall.

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From the outside, the building looks deceptively small, but it’s actually very long and extends way out back, with several floors. Moving on to the next area, the guide tells us about the rich tin mining history of the Kinta Valley in Perak, which was full of tin deposits. Some of the more primitive tools used for prospecting include bamboo containers, sampling sieves and magnets.

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Tin was used as currency in the 18th century in the form of various animal shapes such as crocodiles, roosters, fish and turtles. There were also coins and other geometric shapes. Must have been a hassle to carry them around !

We cramped ourselves into a tiny room to watch a black and white documentary on the tin mining industry in Malaya, produced by Hollywood (yes, it warranted that much merit!). The docu explained the process of prospecting, traditional (dulang washing) and modern (tin dredge, gravel pump) extraction methods, production and shipping.

In the 1970s, Malaysia was the largest producer of tin, amounting to about 1/3 of the world’s production.

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A scene put together showing the tools used in that era, including the gravel pumps which would shoot high energy water jets into a cliff in order to loosen up the soil. The murals are done by local art students.

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The kitchen area. Before the advent of gas and electric stoves, people used firewood for cooking by placing them in niches within a stone counter. The fire was ‘controlled’ by a fan to make the flames bigger or smaller.

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Some of the old utensils, which are no longer common in modern households – pestle and mortar, tiffin carriers, wooden rice buckets, etc.

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The last room on the ground floor has been converted into a ‘town square’, showcasing various tin-related items during the hey-day of the tin-mining era. We came to this exhibit of a mannequin wearing a traditional costume and mum smiles. “Your grandma used to wear this to work everyday,” she tells me wistfully.

Ah Dai, as I called her, was a dulang washer. Despite tin mining companies using modern equipment such as tin dredges and pumps, many Chinese women in the 60s and 70s still did the traditional method of tin extraction, or dulang washing. Using a large circular tray, they would swished soil around, leaving the heavy tin deposits at the bottom. This long and slow process often required them to stand in mine waters all day, bent over almost double. The scarf and hat, as well as the long sleeves, were to protect them from the harsh sun.

Ah Dai would cycle to the mines behind my mum’s old home, and worked from dawn til sunset. On the basket is a dulang washing ‘license’, which allows them to work in a certain area. The tin is often sold to the company owning the mine. It was hard work and didn’t bring in a  lot of money, but for many households back then, every bit counted.

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Scale used to weigh tin. The bags were heavy !

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Fine tin ‘sand’, before they are processed into actual tin products.

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The second floor had rooms dedicated to leisure.

Opium was a vice that many Chinese got addicted to. First considered a luxury for the rich, it soon became widespread even among the general population and was a serious problem in China (the Qing Dynasty fought a war with the British, who were importing in opium through their plantations in India. China lost, and were forced to open their ports to trade). When the Chinese diaspora migrated, they brought the practice over to Malaya.

Since those allowed to enter the Hakka Tin Miners Club were rich, the opium room had all the comforts – big wooden beds and cool pillows made from marble (Chinese people slept on hard pillows).

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Just like any drug, smoking opium wasn’t a good thing as it caused severe addiction. Often, addicts would spend a large amount of money, time and energy on opium, contracting health problems and wasting their lives away.

20161002_101004-tile A black and white photo of Japanese prostitutes in Malaya. The four vices back then were considered to be opium, gambling, prostitution and triads (secret societies).

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Next, we came to the VIP lounge or the Clubhouse, the most exclusive room in the building. Big and airy with whitewashed walls, the room was well lit with tall windows that let in lots of sunlight. Mannequins were posed to reenact scenes of how the rich Hakka tin miners would gather and play gambling games, such as mahjong, gin rummy, poker and more. They would be entertained by singing and dancing girls.

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The wealthy dressed in two styles – traditional (right), or Western, emulating the Europeans.

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A guessing game involving counting the number of seeds (?). Members of the club would often drink and smoke as they gambled.

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On one side of the wall, list of the wealthy and prominent club members. Notice that some of them are in traditional Qing Dynasty costumes.

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Did you know that back in the days, you had to have a license to own a TV? 

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An antique radio.

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Of course one can’t run an exclusive clubhouse without some high quality alcohol.

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Last but not least, we checked out the top floor, which was considerably smaller than the rest. The area was used for guests who wanted to stay the night. The history of the Hakka people were displayed in an exhibition space. Guests can also try on their costumes.

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Our guide explained that the top floor was in disrepair when the building was handed over to the heritage organization to be converted into a museum. Now, the rooms have been reconstructed to resemble the 1930s and 1960s era , with beds, washing basins, mirrors, dressing table and oil lamps.

The Han Chin Pet Soon museum is a must visit for travellers to Ipoh. It’s educational and offers an interesting insight into the lives of Chinese immigrants, their success stories and their contributions to building Ipoh and the country as a whole. 10/10!

Entrance to the museum is free, but visitors must join a guided tour. On less busy days they might allow you to walk-in but to be safe, try booking online at http://www.ipohworld.org.

HAN CHIN PET SOO MUSEUM

3, Jalan Bijeh Timah, 30100 Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia

Phone: +60 5-241 4541

Opening hours: 930AM – 5PM (closed on Monday)