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Sunday, 19 April 2015

A short trip to Ipoh for CNY 2015

It's been a while since we last went back to my parents' hometown of Ipoh, Perak.

While we in the mood of Chinese New Year, I took the opportunity of celebrating CNY and to visit relatives in Ipoh for a family reunion. So off we go, on a road trip with my mother, sister and brother-in-law.

 On the very next day marks the  end of a celebration, Chap Goh Meh (Hokkien for the “15th night”) signifies the last day of the CNY.

Upon reaching the outskirts of Ipoh city centre, at approximately 5km we are greeted by a magnificent views of limestone hills. It's like a twin city of Guilin, referring to the Chinese region famed for its spectacular hills.

 People  are fascinated by the various shapes of the numerous limestone hills in Ipoh.  Here I can see the mountain  resembled  "Sleeping Buddha". You don't have to take my word for it. Just my imagination. Like in the movie Life of Pi , from a long distance we see an island appears like the Buddha sleeping.

 Many people pass through Ipoh get a firsthand, close-up look at Ipoh's  awesome limestone hills. 

Oh My Gosh! What is happening here?  It resembles a war zone with hills that look like they had been bombed  in the vicinity of the Tambun toll plaza. Quarrying and mining had left a scarred on Ipoh 400-million-year-old beautiful hills and caves .One of Ipoh’s last natural heritage which have stood for millions of years but have fallen prey to man’s greed and folly?

A hard to miss landmark is this huge letter sign of Ipoh. Modelled after the 'HOLLYWOOD' sign in the United States on a hill, as though welcoming you back to Ipoh.The older generation would still have some recollection of seeing a famous giant Benz logo atop a huge limestone outcrop when approaching Ipoh from the south. In 2009, the Ipoh City Council built two giant signs spelling the city's name at entry points on the PLUS expressway to recreate an equally memorable landmark like the old Mercedes logo.

The Mercedes-Benz logo was believed to have disintegrated in the early 1990s. Ipoh was left without a grand icon after the Mercedes logo was  brought down.

The white letter spells out the words "IPOH"signs.  

 Many people do not know there are actually two of giant lettering of Ipoh giant signs. Two giant signs spelling the city's name at entry points on the PLUS expressway, one of that can be seen from the northbound lane, just 1km after the Gopeng exit. The other one if you are driving from north to south using the PLUS Highway past the Jelapang Toll Plaza. 

"Hooray for Hollywood". We can do the same thing  do the same thing "Hooray for Ipoh" well known for great foods and...pretty girls too. One of Hollywood Movie star also comes from here, our very own Tan Sri Michelle Yeoh. See, I told you Ipoh is famous for many pretty girls. 

For those who may not know,  ever wonder where the name of Ipoh comes from? Ipoh get it's name from Tree (Antiaris toxicarial), also known as pokok upas or pokok epu, which grew abundantly along Kinta River in the olden days. The sap of this plant is poisonous and was used by aborigine tribes or  'Orang Asli' to coat the tip of the darts of their blowpipes for hunting purposes.

You can still see one of the few Ipoh tree, this 34-year-old Ipoh tree standing majestically in front of the iconic Ipoh Railway Station.

Another name of where Ipoh takes its name is also known as "Paloh"(Chinese: 霸箩) among local Chinese, referring to the gigantic mining pump used for early tin ore extraction. This is the city that that tin mining built. From a mere settlement surrounded by thick jungles and limestone hills in the Kinta Valley, it catapulted became the main commercial town  during the boom of the tin mining industries.In its heyday,  75% of the world's supply of tin comes from Malaya where the mines are open cast and excavated by monitor pumps.

In the olden days of mining, the palong allowed water and sluice which contained mud, sand and tin ore to flow over it, and miners would separate tin ore on the palong, which was basically a big wooden sluice box.

This mode of mining was eventually replaced by tin dredges which is like a floating factory. The tin dredge in Batu Gajah along Jalan Tanjung Tualang is the last tin mining museum.

 After crossing the bridge, we're now an officially in Old Town. The new look bridge was built in the style of traditional Colonial Era architectural.
We drove by Jalan Sultan Iskandar(Hugh Low Street), one of Ipoh's main streets, go right through to the Hugh Low Bridge (Jambatan Sultan Iskandar) over the Kinta river. This more than 100 years old bridge was demolished on 15 August 2009 and replaced with a new bridge  costing RM10 million.After ten months of construction, the new bridge opened to traffic on 2 July, 2010. 

There are two ways to find where exactly is the Old Town of Ipoh. A good rule of thumb should be the precincts along the riverbank of Kinta River, although things really are not set in stone. The other way is to use the three bridges that cut across the Kinta River as the marker that separate the "Old" and the "New" parts of the city. The bridges are located on either Jalan Leong Boon Swee - Jalan Datoh - Jalan Sultan Yusuf, Jalan Sultan Iskandar Shah and Jalan Sultan Idris Shah. 

 Hugh Low Bridge , how it used to look in the old days 

 Soldiers paraded through the streets, marched past the spectators, continued across Hugh Low Bridge

When an army marches across a bridge, the soldiers often "break step". In theory, a number of people marching in step can set up vibrations that will cause a bridge to collapse.I don't think they follow that rules as this is not a suspension bridge.

The reason of why suspension bridge had collapsed under the feet of marching troops is during feet landing at the same time will cause the bridge to sway one way and then when the other foot comes down  comes down the weight is transferred so the pressure causes the bridge to sway the other way eventually causing a disaster. 

The Ipoh Field, or fondly known as Padang Ipoh, is a sight that one would not miss when getting around Ipoh..In commemoration of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, the Chinese community subscribed over 43,000 pound to create the Ipoh Padang in 1898

Remembering happy times in the past. This place holds special memories for me as a young boy.

IPOH’S Japanese Garden, set up by the Perak Turf Club in the early 1960s.  It was once a beautiful beautiful and colourful garden on Jalan Raja Dihilir. What a pity to see such a once majestic and well loved garden has turn to rack and ruin. Now a depressing shade of grey and brown. 

Ayam Garam Aun Kheng Lim (Ipoh) 宴琼林盐焗鸡. "Aun Kheng Lim salted herbal chicken" or "Yim Kok Kai". 75, Laluan Tasek Perdana, Medan Tasek Perdana, Ipoh.

My uncle in law never failed to make a stop at this shop to get a few boxes as gifts on the way back  to his hometown Ipoh.

Ipoh Railway Station bear the resemblance of Indian Palace, no wonder the local people call it Taj Mahal of Ipoh!

The Ipoh Railway Station was designed by the Government Architect, A. B. Hubback, with classical elements harnessed to the British "Raj" style, surmounted by Moorish domes and turrets.  Hubback was also the architect for the ornate Kuala Lumpy Railway Station, completed in 1911, after working on the final stages of the Sultan Abdul Samad Building designed by R. A. J. Bidwell.

Our Lady Of Lourdes Catholic Church in Jalan Silibin
 This Church catered to mainly the Indians Catholic community in Silibin area. 

There used to a house here in the middle of the picture. My grandparent home is no longer standing,
 an empty field of long grass is now in its place.All that's left are sweet memories of days gone by.

Here's an old picture of my grandfather's house. Three little girls on the left is my cousins,
while the furthest right is my sister

In Buntong, the underground water sources near rock formations have been found to be the best for growing bean sprouts.

My grandparent house was just within walking distance of the famous bean sprout farms. It’s the best in the world. The taugeh from elsewhere cannot come close to Ipoh bean sprouts. Bean Sprouts Chicken (Chinese : 芽菜雞) - also known as nga choy kai is a must have food, whenever you visit Ipoh. Smooth Chicken goes well with Crunchy Chubby Bean Sprouts. Growing bean sprouts only requires water and more importantly, watering technique. Buntong  or "mun tong" in Cantonese  is blessed with an abundance of underground water is drawn from the wells in the sprout farm, about 20 feet (6.1 meters) deep which is iron-rich and perfect for growing the beansprouts.

Maybe the secrets of why Ipoh has so many beautiful girls is drinking water sources comes from underground water. Its mineral rich water rejuvenates your skin for a healthy and beautiful look of Chinese with fair-skinned girls, silky and porcelain-smooth skin.

There used to be  a row of food stalls  facing Silibin Road near Our Lady of Lourdes Church. One of the stall was Buntong bean sprout chicken but that’s all gone.  I wonder where they have resettled in?

Ipoh Silibin Roundabout  looks comparatively neat and tidy. The same can be said of most roundabout in Ipoh.

GP Food Court @ First Garden 城中城 @ 第一花园. I wonder how those folks  tried to get in shape and lose weight when you have so much food stall, it looked too irresistible.  After the exercise made them feel hungry…I reckon they will eat more calories than they have burned.
A long time ago, mobile foot peddlers went around the village and sell food .The baskets contain the goods they peddle.  I may be a kid but I remember particularly well a vendor selling wan tan mee who will use bamboo clapper to attract customers.

Chinese Bamboo Clapper, just like the spanish dancers use they're shaped like shells make a clapping kind of noise 

Forget everything you ever learned hygiene coz that's the best damn delicious wan tan mee  I have ever eaten in my life even till today.
My food paradise shop closed? What happened? Luckily its closed for a few days after working non stop during the Chinese New Year festival. Surprise! My Aunt told me there's a new "Nam Heong" branch that opened.

Fuyoh, so grand decoration. My aunt explained, this is a feng-shui of a rich man`s home.

The modern facade will attract attention from regular passersby; clearly visible from afar and  stands out among the new shophouses at Ipoh SoHo.

 Wow, an escalator to bring guests up to the first floor where the dining area can easily accommodate up to 200 patrons as claimed. In a normal day, you don't find a line of customers waiting to be seated.

Nam Heong Food Court elevates the dining experience by housing the ‘hawker kitchen’ stalls on the ground level, resulting comfortable, relaxed and cosy setting but be prepared to pay slightly more than usual. 
The term ‘white coffee’ originates from the literal translation of its Chinese name.

 OldTown White Coffee still hold the current status as a market leader. 

What's so special about Ipoh White Coffee?  To be honest, Ipoh residents and cafes rarely drink or serve this type of instant coffee. Fresh brewed coffee is their first choice! The rapid growth of white coffee popularity started in 1999 when Oldtown White Coffee made history when the company became the pioneer white coffee producer to manufacture and launch the famous Malaysian Ipoh White Coffee instant blend. Since then it has inspired a host of new competitors to join  3-in-1 Instant Coffee market share.

Along Jalan Bijih Timah consist of Sin Yoon Loong, Nam Heong, Ah Chow, Nam Chau, etc. All these coffee shops have serve brew coffee that is famous for generations. In the  corner lot opposite 20 storey  Kinta Heights flats in Ipoh Old Town is  Nam Heong,famous coffee shop which  is renowned as the birthplace of the OldTown White Coffee franchise.  Somehow the various Old Town joints have failed to live up to their own expectations of the original outlet taste.

“怡保白咖啡" or Ipoh White Coffee was introduced in the 19th century by Chinese migrants who came to work in the local tin mines. The original white coffee referring to a great beverage prepared from drink made from 100% coffee beans roasted in margarine, brewed and served without any sugar. 

As a consequence, white has nothing to do with the colour in this instance but is rather shows a lighter colour due to the way how the coffee is roasted. In Chinese word "怡保白" or means, 'without, or unadulterated coffee. Nothing has been added to the coffee during the roasting process.

Today's mobile coffee rarely sells coarsely ground coffee powder but delivered to your workplace or made right there at your event by selling  hot & cold beverages.

Every coffee drinker knows the feeling they get when they have their morning ritual of a hot strong cup of coffee. For me, if I miss my morning coffee I will feel like sleepyhead. Strangely my friend, Ong will not able to sleep well in the night if he miss to drink coffee every night. 

 In the old days,  there is no product sold as ready-to-drink liquids or powders that you mix with milk. For hundreds of years, people have made coffee the old fashioned way take coffee beans, grind them up, pour hot water over the filter.Wait for the water to drain all the way into the mug. Nothing beats the “old fashioned” way of brewing coffee in bringing up goodness of coffee's aroma and flavor.

My grandma had a bad habit of making  Kopi O and using the steel tea kettle to serve and stored  coffee for a long of period to served in daily. It is strong black coffee served with sugar. 

There was a mobile coffee seller in an old Datsun station wagon car that will make a stop  in the vicinity of my grandparents' house every week. My grandma would instruct someone to go and buy the  fresh roasted coffee beans. After ordering the seller will then put the Coffee beans into the grinder and I crank it rhythmically a few times until beans are ground. The grounded coffee beans were then sealed in plastic bags using a sealer.

The aromatic smell of grounded coffee will always linger on my mind.In fact, coffee beans loses 40% of their aroma in the minutes following the grinding process. Forget instant coffee, it sucks, only a good choice for those who want convenient prepared coffee.

A bit too high tech for my sister to understand how to order on the e-Tablet, a pretty  waitress came to our rescue.

 Nam Heong Char Kuey Teow good but not the best in the Ipoh. Somehow I do belief a piece of banana leaf lined the plate can bring out the extra fragrance. Maybe that's what missing.

Chicken Kuey Teow Soup,  hor fun with a soft and silky smooth texture.

Happy customers will keep coming back for more. It  meet customer needs and expectations.

I do enjoyed the atmosphere at the old Nam Heong Kopitiam where we can see the food being prepared. No, I dont mind crowded noisy eating places and the smell of frying oil from the  char kuey teow. This is what life is about, we're supposed to eat in a more natural kopitiam environment and watch the world go by. On the other hand, I do hate some customers at my side waiting for me to finish my food. Here there is no proper way to be seated when go to restaurant. Others fancy restaurants require all guests be dining to receive a reserved seat. Here you can just grab any empty table and start your ordering. 

You don't have the pleasure of slowly enjoying your food. Those waiting for another table to get up and get cleaned by a busser so they can sit down and order their food. If your eating too slow, other customers pulled a long face when waiting for you to finish.

Among some of the most visited are the Ling Sen Tong and the adjacent Nam Thean Tong, located off Jalan Raja Dr Nazrin Shah (formerly Jalan Gopeng).Not enough time to explore Ipoh temple caves.

I heard so much about the Pomelo girls. Due to stiff competition, stall owners hired pretty girls to woo customers to their stalls.I got to see, first hand but where have all the pretty girls gone? Must be still celebrating CNY or this marketing ploy  has ended!

Tai Ka Che? Yup, she really is mum big sister. Being the eldest of her sisters and well reputed for her kindness.  Our tour guide of the day was fantastic and so informative!

Smile a little smile for me.  My brother-in-law lack of smiles for pictures. 

We enjoyed the end of our trip in Ipoh. A little sadness because of too little time to explore it all but the most important of all.. I haven't tasted all of my favourite food in Ipoh.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

‘Sakura’ in Malaysia

Imagine a gentle breeze gently tugs at them, causing feather-thin petals falling from the branches of trees above you. This silent shower of pink or white, bell- shaped blooms is like a magical scene from a dream or a fantasy , except it's really happening.

As certain it will fall like snowflakes, laying a romantic fragrant carpet of petals scattered around the floor.

If only for the briefest of time.Spring has sprung, and with that follows a plethora of flowers eager to blossom and keep us in awe and appreciation for the beauty of Mother Nature.

Some of us may have mistaken appearances of cherry-blossom trees and will continually make this mistake...but of course but if you look closer, it's not gonna be the real Sakura since Malaysia climate is not suitable. Instead we have Tabebuia rosea(aka Sakura's twin sister).

In Malaysia, it is  commonly known as "Cherry Blossoms or Sakura" tree and "tissue-paper" tree. Nicknames related to physical characteristics of its thin petals.

Tabebuia has more than 100 species, and in Malaysia, Tabebuia pentaphylla is most common and often planted along  residential streets and in gardens, parks and recreation areas. The most common variety of colours most often seen are from the pink and white varieties.

And if you’re anything like us, you’d be dying to fly off to those areas to personally view nature close-up and view the sakura flowers (cherry blossoms) in Japan. But let's get back to reality since that travel is expensive and money doesn't grow on trees. You would most probably have to  erase these dreams until you save enough money to travel.

You might not see beautiful cherry blossoms in bloom in Japan but you can be compensated by witness the the cherry blossom locally. Both flowers look equally beautiful to me, just my opinion.

The Tabebuia is native to Central and South America and the local people there called it ipê rosa, apamate, matilisguate and maquilishuat. It is the national tree of El Salvador. This elegant tree is commonly known in English as Pink tabebuia, Pink tecoma, Pink poui, Pink trumpet and Rosy trumpet.

Usually I will  zoomed past this road at Beranang but when it comes to "Malaysian Sakura"season, I will  slow down and admire the beauty of these beautiful blossomed trees. 

It was as if I'd entered another world. Scenery here never fails to take my breath away.

The trees bloom twice a year, usually around March and in June or July and come in hues of white, offwhite, light pink, lilac and pearl. Tabebuia requires a distinct dry season in order to burst into bloom

 Local version have given you some ideas of what it may have been when you
 experience Japanese Hamani (“flower viewing”)

Thin and translucent petals very much like facial tissue-paper

 It takes up to 2 days to dry up. Beauty is only temporary, but your mind lasts you a lifetime.
Beautiful Yellow Flower, Tabebuia chrysantha

There is also this  type of thin flower, like paper commonly found here. Bougainvillea, it locally called "Bunga Kertas" or Paper Flower in Malaysia.  We have all kinds of colourful flowers blooming all year round

 Magnificent blossoms

When blooming like you can see on the picture, you can been mistaken in Japan. It is more or less the same as in Japan  cherry blossoming days come at the same time .

Most  authentic sakura come into bloom once a year in Spring (March-April-May). Many cherry trees have no leaves when they bloom. After all the blossoms have fallen, whole tree is covered with new green leaves.
Locals believe that when our ‘Sakura’ flowers start to fall, it marks the end of the dry season. A popular belief by Chinese tells how it rains heavily when the annual Qingming Festival comes around.

Well most of us enjoy the view and appreciate the beauty of Tecoma trees (Tabebuia rosea) but to sweep is a problem as the flower is wet type when drop from the tree. Moreover it is not easy to sweep as the flower is soft and stick to the ground.

For those who  maintain the cleanliness such as our local council,it will be a nightmare and they're glad it's over. As the old saying goes, One Man's Treasure Is Another Man's Trash.