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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Crossing The Equator – Not What It Used To Be

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While flying back from Surabaya to Kuala Lumpur last month it occurred to me that I was crossing the equator for the fourth time this year. 

Crossing the equator by air these days is a non-event. The Captain does not come onto the intercom to announce ‘ we are now crossing the equator’. There is no rush of passengers to the toilets to check whether the water in the wash basin swirls down the plug-hole in the opposite direction in the northern hemisphere compared to the southern (apparently that’s just an old wives’ tale).

Back in the glamorous days of air travel, up until the 1960s, some airlines used to make more of a deal when crossing the equator. BOAC for example would award their passengers with certificates to mark the event.

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On KLM the pilot would dress up as King Neptune and scrub a few passengers with soap and water, an act which nowadays would probably end up in a lawsuit. KLM’s ceremony was a hark back to the traditional ‘crossing the line ceremonies’ held on ships.

The Royal Navy, US Navy and other navies, as well as merchant vessels, and some cruise liners, still pay their respects to King Neptune, Lord of the Seas, on crossing the equator. This requires all those who had never previously crossed the equator to be initiated and usually involves a lot of dressing up in fancy dress and people getting very wet.

HMS Illustrious

My father received his certificate in 1944 while serving in the Royal Navy on board HMS Illustrious. He crossed the equator at longitude 86° East which is in the Indian Ocean, south east of Sri Lanka and about mid way between the Maldives and Sumatra. Actually he says this was the second time he had crossed the equator but the certificate had not been issued on the first occasion (there was a War on at the time).

Air travellers today are not so concerned about the equator or other lines of latitude. We are only concerned with lines of longitude, because these bring jet lag.

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