Ouessant & Pasopati

I have been on two submarines in recent months. Not underwater thankfully but safely berthed on land and now serving as museums.

KRI Pasopati

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The first is the Submarine Monument in Surabaya, Indonesia. KRI Pasopati is a Whiskey-class Soviet-era submarine built in Vladivostok in 1952 and acquired by the Indonesian Navy in 1962.

It weighs 1048 tons and is 76 metres long. She was well armed with 6 torpedo tubes, 4 at the bow and 2 at the stern. I had not realised how huge these torpedo are – probably over 6 metres in length.

The submarine has seven cramped compartments housing the torpedoes, the diesel-electric engine, navigation, communication and other equipment as well as the living accommodation for a crew of around 50 men.

According to the museum’s brochure, this vessel participated in Operation Trikora,  an Indonesian military operation to gain control of Netherlands New Guinea, which later became Irian Jaya (now Papua / West Papua).

SMD Ouessant

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The other sub I visited is the Ouessant which is now the Submarine Museum in Melaka, Malaysia. The Ouessant is an Agosta-class conventional (non-nuclear) submarine built in Cherbourg in 1978 for the French Navy. She was decommissioned in 2001 and from 2005-2009 she served as a training vessel and used to train Royal Malaysian Navy personnel, while still based in France. Since she was never really integrated into the Malaysian Navy fleet she maintains her French name.

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This submarine is shorter than the Indonesian one (67 m ) and is designed for a complement of 5 officers and 36 men. She only has forward-facing torpedo tubes but can also deploy Exocet missiles.

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Boys and girls considering a career as submariners should visit museums like these before they sign up. The claustrophobic working conditions would put most people off and the courage needed to serve in a submarine during wartime means that only a special kind of person need apply.

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Baghdad, England

I was in England last month visiting family. While I was there, I learned that there is a town in the green and leafy English county of Hertfordshire which was named after Baghdad.

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Old Baghdad

It was founded by the Knights Templar in the 12th century on the site of earlier Roman and Iron Age settlements. Seemingly, while on the Crusades, the Knights Templar had visited, or heard about, the famed city of Baghdad with its bustling souks. On their return to England they wanted to emulate this city’s success by establishing a market town which they named Baudac or Baldac, being the Norman French form for Baghdad. The name has since been Anglicised and the town is now known as Baldock.

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Baldock Town Hall & Museum

An alternative theory is that the Knights named the town after Baalbek, the ancient Phoenician / Roman city in modern day Lebanon, an area which the Crusaders were far more likely to have visited.

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Baalbek on a 1967 Lebanese Postage Stamp

Whatever the true origin of the name, modern-day Baldock bears little resemblance to either Baghdad or Baalbek. The Charter Fair started by the Templars in 1199 is still held annually though these days it is more of a fun fair than a bustling Middle eastern souq. The town’s heritage is remembered through the Templars Hotel & Restaurant, the Knights Templar School and the Knights Templar Sports Centre.

The town is twinned with Eisenberg in Germany and Sanvignes in France. There are no plans to twin Baldock with the Iraqi capital!

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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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