Jalan Bellamy – Kuala Lumpur

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Jalan Bellamy, in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, has been the home of Alice Smith’s Primary School campus since 1952. For the benefit of those Old Alice Smithonians who might be feeling nostalgic about their school days here is how Jalan Bellamy looks in 2017.

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It is actually one of the better preserved streets in KL, with a number of old colonial bungalows still in use and lined by massive mature trees. You can even hear roosters calling in places. Most of the bungalows are of identical design so perhaps the former colonial occupants were all officials of the same seniority.

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It is a short road (about 700 m long – it may have been truncated when the Jalan Istana highway was constructed) and it was named after H.F. Bellamy who was a civil engineer and director of the Public Works Department in the late nineteenth century. He participated in the construction of the famous Sultan Abdul Samad Building on Dataran Merdeka though he was not in charge since his boss wrote that he was lacking in talent and drive to execute such a major construction programme. A Mr. C.E .Spooner from Ceylon was brought in over Bellamy’s head to run the project. How terrible that poor Bellamy’s job appraisal report is still being banded about on the internet after all these years but at least he got a road named after him.

Jalan Tun HS Lee Fire Brigade

He also had other interests. He headed up the Selangor Volunteer Fire Brigade and he might well be in this old photo.

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Next door to Alice Smith is a Hindu temple called Sri Thirumurugan.

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Opposite the school is an old bungalow housing the KL office of the Veteran Association of Malaysian Armed Forces.

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The Embassy of Bosnia and Herzegovina is also on this street. KL is probably a nice quiet posting for Bosnian diplomats.

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Next door is the mirror image of the embassy only this time with a blue roof. It is occupied by a government sports and welfare council office with the catchy acronym MAKSWIP.

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A more modern building is the National Civics Bureau (Biro Tatenegara) of the Prime Minister’s Department and the Nationhood Academy (Akademi Kenegaraan).

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Another pair of bungalows with identical designs to MAKSWIP and the Bosnian Embassy are nearby. They are called Rumah Meranti 1 and 2 and are probably used as government offices or rest houses.

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The best house on the street is Rumah Melaka, a wonderfully preserved colonial mansion which is the official residence of the Chief Minister of Melaka when he is visiting the big city of KL.

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The street ends next to a park called Taman Dusun Bandar (urban orchard park) which opened a few years ago at some considerable expense. It’s a very nice park. It’s just a pity that I was the only person there, apart from the gardening staff.

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A much more busy place is the adjacent Medan Ikan Bakar – barbecued fish hawker stalls. Specialities here include grilled squid, cat fish and mackerel wrapped in banana leaf. According to Lonely Planet, when the nearby Royal Museum was still used as a royal residence, the King would sometimes send one of his staff to buy an order of grilled stingray from one of these stalls.

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Serunding means ‘floss’ and comes in three flavours, fish, beef or chicken. I think I’ll stick with Oral-B mint flavour.

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Malaysian Conman?

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The way Malaysian English is pronounced and understood, it is perfectly reasonable for an air-conditioning servicing business to call itself ‘Aconman’.

Some people though might hesitate before trusting someone who calls himself a conman.

An unfortunate choice of brand name or just a clever way of getting noticed in a crowded marketplace?

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Miniatures Museum of Taiwan

I could not resist visiting the Miniatures Museum of Taiwan during my trip to Taipei earlier this year. It is hidden away in the basement of a modern office building but contains a treasure trove of dolls-house-sized models of Dickensian London, early 20th Century America, mystical fantasy scenes, Edo-period Japan and much else, all in superb detail.

Since Christmas is fast approaching I have made my photos into a seasonal slide show video.

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Sarkies Hotels

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On my recent trip to Surabaya I stayed at the prestigious Hotel Majapahit, established in 1910 as the Oranje Hotel by Lucas Martin Sarkies, a member of the famous Sarkies clan of leading hoteliers.

Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1078786

Clockwise from top: Arshak, Tigran and Aviet Sarkies

The Sarkies brothers, (Aviet, Arshak, Martin and Tigran) were Armenian businessmen born in New Julfa, the Armenian quarter of Isfahan in Iran. They founded a hospitality empire in South East Asia at the end of the 19th century which included the Eastern & Oriental Hotel (Penang), Raffles (Singapore) and the Strand (Rangoon).

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A few antiques fill the foyer in the oldest section of the hotel.

Lucas Martin Sarkies was the son of Martin Sarkies and continued the family tradition in Surabaya. He commissioned noted architect RAJ Bidwell to create a Dutch colonial art nouveau hotel with a budget of 500,000 guilders. Bidwell also designed Kuala Lumpur’s Sultan Abdul Samad Building and Singapore’s Raffles Hotel. 

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Needless to say, I did not stay in the opulent and massive 806 square metre Presidential Suite shown here.

The Oranje soon became the place to stay in East Java and famous guests have included Charlie Chaplin, Joseph Conrad and now, Thrifty Traveller.

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The art-deco section of the Hotel Majapahit, opened in 1930.

In 1930 a new art-deco style lobby was added and is where the hotel’s main lobby is now located.

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Painting of the flag incident on the roof of the hotel in 1945.

The flag pole on the roof is where a celebrated incident took place at the end of World War Two as Dutch forces were attempting to re-establish control after the defeat of the Japanese. Leaders of the Indonesian independence movement ripped the blue strip off the Dutch flag, leaving just the red and white which became Indonesia’s national flag.

Apart from the Majapahit, I have also had the good fortune to visit the other surviving former Sarkies hotels, even if I could not afford to stay in any of them.

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Raffles Hotel in June 2014.

Raffles Hotel, Singapore. Continues to be the ultimate in colonial-era luxury. The Long Bar (home of the Singapore Sling) is the only outlet I’ve visited in the Raffles.

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Eastern & Oriental Hotel, Penang in December 2011.

Eastern & Oriental Hotel, George Town, Penang. An advert for this hotel in 1906 boasted that it was ‘perfectly appointed, unrivalled situation,sea, lawn, excellent cuisine & wines, terms moderate’ . All still apply, except perhaps the bit about moderate terms. The Sarkies also ran an establishment next door called the Oriental Tiffin & Billiard Rooms, a great name which should be brought back.

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Vintage postcard of The Strand.

The Strand, Rangoon – ‘the finest hostelry East of Suez”’ said the 1911 edition of the ‘Handbook for Travellers in India, Burma and Ceylon”. Still the top hotel in Yangon.

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Sarkies Bar, The Strand, Yangon.

I enjoyed a quiet drink with my son at the Sarkies Bar at The Strand in 2010. The hotel’s website says that the bar ‘has played host to many a thirsty traveller, explorer and celebrity alike, and the names of Noël Coward, Rudyard Kipling and Orson Welles are worth a mention.’

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Selfies

One reader asked me why I seldom put photos of myself on my blog. I’m not really into selfies but here are a couple of pictures of me taken during a recent precautionary MRI scan:

I don’t look quite so scary with my skin on!

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House Of Sampoerna & Indonesia’s Smoking Addiction

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The House of Sampoerna is considered to be the top tourist attraction in Surabaya according to TripAdvisor. It’s a cigarette museum and tells the rags-to-riches story of Liem Seeng Tee who arrived in Java from China as a boy in the early 20th century and, through hard work and good luck, ended up running one of Indonesia’s leading tobacco companies, now part of the Philip Morris group.

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The museum displays old photos of cigarette production at the factory.

Sampoerna specialises in kretek cigarettes, a uniquely Indonesian product made by adding cloves to tobacco. Kretek, which by the way is an onomatopoetic term for the crackling sound of burning cloves, were originally marketed as a medicinal product as they were thought to be a cure for asthma, would you believe. Sadly that is not the case and we now know that kretek are as unhealthy as any other cigarette, even if they smell slightly better.

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House of Sampoerna is still a working cigarette factory and visitors can observe the hand-rolling process with more than 400 women workers hand-rolling cigarettes at the rate of over 325 per hour. It was a day-off when I visited so all the women were at home attending to their coughing husbands and sons.

One day perhaps cigarettes will only be found in museums and future generations will wonder why cigarettes, which have killed more people than all the wars in the whole of human history put together, were allowed to be sold legally for so long.

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Some of the factory’s products.

That day is not likely to come soon for Indonesia because the whole country seems hopelessly hooked to smoking. It is estimated that two-thirds of adult males in Indonesia smoke. The addiction is getting worse as many boys now start their habit as young as age 7. The price for a packet of 20 is around US$1 so it’s cheaper to smoke than it is to eat.

Smoking has been estimated to kill 425,000 Indonesians annually. At least smoking is not popular among women – only 5% of Indonesian women smoke – so there must be a lot of widows.

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A model ship made from cloves. The museum’s gift shop sells some smart souvenir items. A heritage bus tour of Surabaya, called the Surabaya Heritage Track, is an added attraction.

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The factory compound includes a batik exhibition and a restaurant for visitors.

 

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In Search Of Wallace – Part 8: Bali & Lombok

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Perhaps the most lasting legacy of Arthur Russel Wallace’s eight year odyssey though the Malay Archipelago was his discovery of what came to be known as the Wallace Line, a boundary separating the faunal species of southeast Asia from those of Australia and New Guinea.

Wallace found this demarcation to be most abrupt when he travelled across the 35 kilometre wide Straits of Lombok between the islands of Bali and Lombok.

Although these neighbouring islands share similar terrain and climate Wallace was surprised by the differences in fish, bird and mammal life:

“Neither of these physical differences corresponds with the remarkable change in natural productions which occurs at the Straits of Lombock, separating the island of that name from Bali, and which is at once so large in amount and of so fundamental a character, as to form an important feature in the zoological geography of our globe.

During the few days which I stayed on the north coast of Bali on my way to Lombock, I saw several birds highly characteristic of Javan ornithology. Among these were the yellow-headed weaver (Ploceus hypoxantha), the black grasshopper thrush (Copsychus amoenus), the rosy barbet (Megalaema rosea), the Malay oriole (Oriolus horsfieldi), the Java ground starling (Sturnopastor jalla), and the Javanese three-toed woodpecker (Chrysonotus tiga). On crossing over to Lombock, separated from Bali by a strait less than twenty miles wide, I naturally expected to meet with some of these birds again; but during a stay there of three months I never saw one of them, but found a totally different set of species, most of which were utterly unknown not only in Java, but also in Borneo, Sumatra, and Malacca. For example, among the commonest birds in Lombock were white cockatoos and three species of Meliphagidae or honeysuckers, belonging to family groups which are entirely absent from the western or Indo-Malayan region of the Archipelago.”

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This Google Earth image is taken looking from west to east. Lombok is in the foreground with the spectacular crater lake of Mount Rinjani (3,726m) easily recognisable. Lombok’s main town of Mataram can be seen in the middle left. Beyond the Lombok Strait lies Bali with its volcano, Gunung Agung, on the top right. Bali’s capital Denpasar can be seen next to the search box.

Wallace did not climb Mount Rinjani. You can read about my trip of a few years ago here.

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