Time distorts, and its greatest distortion, more than 30 years after I left Taiping where I spent my childhood and teenage years, was in the dimensions of the house I grew up in.
It had seemed so large when I was a boy. The rooms and garden that I had wandered through in the spacious idleness of youth now looks small, even toyish. Back then, time and space seemed to stretch on forever. Now, not only the space seems constricted but the passing time also seemes compressed.
Nonetheless it was a pleasure to see that the old house was still standing stolid against time. The house, on Cator Avenue, which was subsequently renamed Jalan Panglima, had been built by the British. My father was particularly proud of that fact, partly because it was British built and, I suspect, partly because he could purchase something that had been built by the Brits. It was in the early 1960s when he bought the house, and there was that strong residue of colonial admiration/antipathy in most things.
Time had also shrunk the road leading to my house, making it look narrow. My neighbors houses had also taken on different appearances since I last saw them. Some had become decrepit, others abandoned, others passed on to children or sold off to strangers. Some looked like they have had a new lease of life breathed into them through renovations, others looked sad and forlorn, marking time before inevitable decay.
Apart from that, however, the other aspects about Taiping seemed pretty much intact, with very few changes in the past three decades. The significant change is that they now have a Tesco and a Giant supermarket . And trafffic lights. Otherwise Burmese Pool remains much as it was, bouldered with rushing water and refreshing with a smell that is a mix of water vapor and decay of the forest.
Something’s that changed, however, is Coronation Pool, at the foothill of Maxwell’s Hill. They’ve tarted up the place and it nowhas modern pools. I tried to get in to get a look but the ticket collector would not let me in unless I paid. He did give me a spiel on how it was the only pool in Malaysia with pure water from the hills that is devoid of chlorine that makes your hair difficult to manage, your eyes sore and your skin itchy. So they now have a sales pitch as well.
One institution that’s remained is Ah Lan Che’s chicken noodles. It’s now in a shoplot with the official name of Restoran Kakak on Jalan Pasar but the food and many of the waiters there still remain the same, even after four decades. It’s still one of the most popular breakfast hangouts in Taiping, harkening back to a time that is Pre-Starbucks.
The government offices, dating back to colonial times are still there. And the Lake Gardens remain pristine in its beauty (see previous post).
The railway station, however, has come in for huge changes. Malaysia is in the throes of building a dual track high speed railway from north to south. Apparently the initial plan was to do away with the over a century-old railway station (that constitutes one end of the first railway line in Malaya). But after there were some protests they decided to build the new railway lines some distance behind the railway station, leaving the building intact.
The Taiping market remains very much as it was when I was a boy. The century-old steel and wood building still stands, looking a bit decrepit but still serviceable. It is roomy, airy and seen much history.
One feature that still survives and is quite remarkable considering the price of things these days are the pork-seller’s stalls. Made of concrete, these stalls are unique in that they have huge solid marble slabs for tops. My sister and I could not help wonder what the marble slabs alone would cost these days.
My old secondary school, St George’s, has seen few changes but one major change is that it’s now all locked up in the weekends, with the only access through the main gate with a sentry. Its a testament of times and innocence lost. Once you could stroll into the school compound at will through three or four unguarded gates. Go there to meet friends, play basketball or just to wander through its storied halls. But no more. I guess they have theft, drug addicts, child predators and other ills of modern life to deal with these days.
One institution nearby is Ansari’s, home to very delish cendol, pasembor (rujak to KL-ites) and the best gandum. The cendol and pasembor are still there but unfortunately they’ve stopped serving the gandum.
One thing that seems to have changed, and this seems to be a common theme throughout Malaysia, is in the sense of security. Speaking to friends who still live there, you get the impression that everyone’s a little afraid for the own safety. We were treated to lots of stories of Indian gangs extorting and robbing residents. It seems that some Malaysians of Indian origin, a group has had a rough time economically in Malaysia, have resorted to gangsterism and crime to make a living. The Indians are now apparently leading Triads and extortion rackets.
In spite of the changes, however, Taiping still remains quintessentially the small town I grew up in. Two days is too short a time to visit the place and Unspun plans to bring the wife and the Unspunlet there for a longer stay the next time. There is still the Zoo, the temple with the dometicated wild boars, Austin pool, Maxwells Hill and other favorite haunts to rediscover.
Oh yeah, there was also the oddly named store. Imagine sleeping on Simony or in the Mlay-ised spelling Simoni.
Didn’t know you are a Taiping boy. Welcome back! My hometown home is at 45, Jalan Panglima; so that would like 6 houses away from yours. I had been reading your blog, and I still don’t know what you are doing in Indonesia for a living.
I used to live at 24 Cator Avenue from 1963 to 1979.Joseph Ratnaraj I think your house was next to the Noory.with the monson drain in between.I think my house is used by some religious group now.
Joseph: yes indeed, my house was next to the stream. Noory was the other side. Where exactly was your house in relation to Noory’s?
My family stayed at no. 48 for a year or so. It was next to the empty grass field and JKR workshop.
That’s further up the road, right? Near the Seetho house!
My late mother-in-law used to stay in Cator Avenue for several years in mid 70s.Though she is now gone I still go back to Taiping a few times a year with my wife and children as I have a sister and brother-in-law staying put in Taiping.I think you have done an injustice to your readers by not mentioning two eating shops synonymous with that historical town i.e the Yat San and Bismillah Restaurants,famous for their Hainanese Chicken Chop and Roti Chanai.Every Taiping folk will agree with me I guess!!!
@Wan Det: Small world! Trying to place 45 in my mind. My parents must have known yours. In Indonesia I consult to people on communications and crisis and issues management. Unusual but its a living and I love it.
@Rahimi: Thanks for visiting this blog. You are right about the injustice I’ve perpetrated. My excuse is that I have but one stomach to take in all the wonderful food that Taiping has to offer on a two-day trip. Remember Bismillah’s Roti Canai very fondly, flakey, crunchy on the outer layers, moist in the inner layers, accompanies by dhal or fish curry…… Similarly did not have time to take in Yat Sun, Tai Chien (where the best popiah apparently has moved to near the old Cold Storange building), the nasi campur at Siang Malam….sigh! So much to eat and so little time. Will do better next time and let you know.
Excellent post bring back fond memories. Coronation Pool (since renamed as Kemahkotaan) is now smaller than it used to be when we were there for our school’s annual swim meet not too long ago. It has been refurbished and the other end at the water intake has been partitioned off as a wading pool. Otherwise, it’s still the same, the simple changing room with a tinge of pee, the ‘cold’ water from the hills with an added odour of rotting leaves and twigs, definitely chlorine free. I was there a few months back since I didn’t have my jogging shoes with me!
Woon Yih! Yes, the tinge of pee in the changing room of Coronation Pool. Forever etched into our minds. And the damn cold water….
Do you know David Ng,Peter Ng, Mohd.Shahril Ong Hock Chuan Form Five 1974, 1975 and 1976
Can’t recall. Many of these guys did not have Christian names then
Oh, and i am Ong Hock Chuan
The best school in the world
Great to there people of “my generation” out there. Yes ponting school (KE-7) to Burmese or Austin Pool, satay at the Casual Market, the gandung stall beside Nurl Ghani, parattas at Bismillah or Sultan’s Cafe, oh yes the rojak at the ice kacang stall at Assam Kumbang, heavenly chicken chops from Yet Sun, cheap matinees at Cathay, taxi dancers at the Coronation Park, remember the aroma of ‘benggali bread’ hot from Osman Bakery oven at Station Road… what memories,- rose-tinted nostalgia.
I don’t know any of you but I do remember Cator Ave. I was from King Edward VII -’67, a vintage year.
Well fond memories that cannot be forgotten, it definitely brings back the sweetest experience and off course some sad experience especially when I go back every year with a question “why I did not settle down in Taiping”, probably career wise and family relocation. All of you above are my senior, I am an Edwardian 1991 (1974) when I finish my form 5. It was an era of rugby for the Edwardian boys. Cycling to school was a good experience from Lumba Kuda to KE7 during my secondary school passing by TMGS school and bunch of girls to communicate with while cycling. Walking from Taiping bus station then known close to Mara building to Lumba Kuda wasn’t tiring. Now days seeing one cycling or walking is rare but more of MTB bicycles are around. Life then was so much simple, friends from different diversity and politics was not much a big deal although it was important for our leaders to play their part – whether for their own benefits and people of Malaysia. On my recent plan along with my wife is get a property for retirement / even as home stay. Taiping has become a place for tourist, homestay, lodge and hotels have appeared like mushroom – still a good place to live and enjoy the atmosphere. I am afraid in years to come, like Klang valley this township will loose its heritage – good knowing you guys and hope to see some more stories – take care guys.