Saturday, 19 October 2013

A day in Kota Bharu

Moustache cat

Sorry Murray, we didn’t go to the beach of passionate love, it was too darned hot, so having wandered around in the heat with everything else shut we had to retreat to the A/C. Went out in the evening to the food court where we had a very pleasant meal, we ordered a beer, but the girl obviously had no English, so just looked for help to the gentleman we were sharing a table with, it is obviously expected by everyone that people of a certain age speak English! During the war we discovered today, not only did they only have 6 months to learn Japanese (or suffer the consequences) they were also ‘governed’ by the Thais so had to learn Thai too!

The War Museum
There was a football match on last night, we didn’t watch it, though we might as well have – the man next door was, as were the people in the roadside café over the road. Cheering was in stereo! They are completely obsessed by football here (hate cricket, all the pitches left over from the British just lie empty) the number of times Manchester United has been mentioned is quite bizarre!

Today, however, everything was open! The heavy rain in the night had abated and, although it was cloudy with only occasional rain, it was still hot, hot, hot! Nevertheless we went out in search of museums and the particular one I wanted to go to, the War Museum. It was situated in a building that, during the war was used by the Japanese secret police that, apparently, were similar to the German Gestapo, so you definitely didn’t want to get on the wrong side of those guys.

Jahar Palace, built in 1887 for Sultan Muhammad III
Inside it had a lot of stuff about the Japanese invasion the likes of which we’ve seen before, but Kota Bharu was one of the landing spots, in fact the main one in Malaya, most others occurring in southern Thailand. Being a British colony, defences had been set up and along the beaches pillboxes had been built, miles of barbed wire had been erected and anti-personnel mines deployed on the beaches. On the evening of 7th December 1941, Japanese ships were sighted anchoring just off the coast, but at that time war had not been declared, so no action was taken. 

Drinks while waiting for the cultural afternoon to start
Just after midnight on 8th, the Japanese embarked onto their landing craft and made for the shore, the ships out to sea opening fire in order to weaken the British defences. The war had begun. Against heavy fire from the British and Indian troops, plus air cover using Australian planes from Kota Bharu airfield, the Japanese, through sheer persistence and through pulling their dead comrades out of the way, managed to secure a bridgehead, eventually knocking out the pillboxes, the British and Indian troops fighting virtually to the last man. The airbases were heavily bombed and General Percival, commander of forces in Malaya, ordered a withdrawl back to Kuala Lipis, using the railway to ship as much equipment south as possible, while the troops held the line against the Japanese. By 2pm on 9th December Kota Bharu, where we are, fell to the Japanese, commencing their rule of terror over the whole of Malaya, which was to last 4 years, costing thousands of lives and inhuman treatment of POW’s.

The drummers start - fabulous sound!
As Jackie mentioned above, in 1943 Japan gave 4 northern states of Malaya to the Thai’s, in thanks for their support in allowing the Japanese to use their territory for the landings, a fact that had escaped us until today. The Thai’s ruled by military force, but were forced to return the territory at the end of the war. I’ve just started a book called ‘The Last Role of Chin Peng’ by General Dato’ Kitti Ratanachaya, who is a Thai General who fought the rebels. Chin Peng was a Chinese communist who formed the Malaya Communist Party and fought the Japanese and, after the war, the British from bases in southern Thailand and northern Malaya, so this area has been a hotbed of unrest from before the war to 1989, when communists effectively laid down their arms. 
And I was invited to have a go
It was Chin Peng’s communists who caused the ‘Emergency’ to be declared in Malaya in 1948, eventually causing 10,000 lives and a guerrilla struggle that was never quite won by either side. It was similar to Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam, except he won against the USA, Chin Peng was contained by the British and Thai’s and never quite managed the same victory. Hence we have a democratic government based on the British system in existence today – and also the reason that we all know of Ho Chi Minh, but not Chin Peng, history is always written by the winners, except that General Ratanachaya wanted to fill in this bit of history, so I’m glad I managed to find a copy and hope it makes interesting reading.

Then the four piece band
Having only had fruit for breakfast we were a little peckish, wandered into a café and found toast, it seemed to be all they did, with honey, with kaya, with eggs but toast! You’ve never seen a boy so happy, and he tries to pretend he’s not missing anything Western!

We then went to the craft museum and centre which sadly still seemed to be mostly shut! Oh well we couldn’t have bought much anyway and we did have an interesting chat with an old boy about politics and a nice girl about the cats that were milling about. So lunch, and he didn’t want noodles, so I took him to the bakery for doughnuts and iced coffee! What a healthy well balanced day we are having!

A Silat display
I’d found out about a display at the cultural centre this afternoon, so not knowing what to expect off we went, loved it. Men with big drums (B had to have a go) the sort of band they have at weddings we gather (the compere despite having lived in England was very hard to understand) who then accompanied a silat display. This is a form of martial art, “Generally speaking, silat Melayu is characterized by fixed hand positions and today is often thought of as a slow dance-like art among non-practitioners” is what wikpedia has to say. 

Two of them getting serious, Kung Fu style
It was however done with a huge amount of style, strength and humour from the two older lads with pretend punches and throws, one of them landing on the bench next to me before taking his opponent down again and pinching his nose and tweaking his nipple! Spinning tops were the next order of the day, but no normal tops, very heavy and started by winding a gum covered rope round the base, before tying the other end round the wrist and flinging it with all their might to a concrete square where someone else had to gather it onto a flat piece of wood and manipulate it onto a stand. In theory it would then continue to spin for 2 hours, though they mostly seemed to have dropped off after an hour, but even so!

One of them ready with his heavy spinning top, wound with rope and attached to his wrist
The guy in the blue top spins and throws it...
There was then a 30 minute break before it was all sort of repeated with different drum beats and smaller lads doing the silat. Still we had a lovely afternoon, despite being the only two spectators, entertained by a cast of about 25 for 2 hours, we were then ‘dismissed’ so they could eat before doing it all again at 21.00!

The guy in yellow catches it...
And hands it to the guy who threw it (different thrower this time)

Batik painting
And the latest update on the ‘hotel’, with one more night to go is that we’re a little more comfortable here. Maybe we’ve got more used to the grubbiness, or maybe we’re less tired and a little more happy about Kota Bharu having had an enjoyable day, I don’t know. I was just going to write that we haven’t seen any more cockroaches, but we’ve just this minute got in from dinner and there on the floor was another one. Much smaller, only about 1” (25mm) and, after it ran under the bed, I lifted the bed and Jackie despatched it, we’re hopefully OK for the remainder. Jackie’s a bit of a good shot with her shoe, must remember not to upset her when she has a frying pan in her hand!
Applying hot wax through a special pen with reservoir, that prevents the paint from running outside its outline

No comments:

Post a Comment