Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Ipoh days 2 & 3

The last two days have been relatively chilled and we’ve stayed in and around Ipoh City. Firstly, we have to tell you about the ‘Steamboat’ meal we had in the hotel restaurant the other night, it was a feast and took about 2 hours!

Steamboat all set to go
It resembles a fondue, in that you cook the food yourself at the table, by dropping food into boiling broth. We had a big metal pot divided in two, filled with a spicy Tom Yam soup (no coriander!) on one side and a chicken soup on the other. Heat was provided by one of those camping stoves of the like we had in NZ and Oz and it was left bubbling away on the table. We had three plates of food, one containing thin and not so thin noodles and two raw eggs in shells, a second plate (all raw ingredients) contained four medium sized prawns, a dozen or so cockles, eight pieces of chicken and four pieces of tofu (not quite sure about tofu!) all on a bed of bok-choi leaves. A third plate (cooked ingredients) had some crab sticks, some squid some smoked tofu and some fried stuff that was quite nice but don’t know what it was, again all on a bed of bok-choi leaves.

Two soups
Raw ingredients
It was very filling and we were unable to finish the noodles and some of the soups and passed a very pleasant couple of hours. Chef came over at one point and cracked one of the eggs into the chicken soup, let it cook and then fished it out onto my plate. Mmm, not sure about that, but it was OK. With a couple of drinks (non-alcoholic) the bill came to RM40 (£8) and she was thrilled when we gave a RM5 (£1) tip, which she obviously thought was over generous and thanked us endlessly as we left.

Cooked ingredients
And the noodles and raw eggs

The railway station
On Tuesday we took the self-guided Heritage Tour round the Old Town, which turns out to be full of mainly British built colonial buildings, with some very interesting Chinese and Indian buildings. The layout of the old British area is not dissimilar to KL: a central grass area (I guess an old cricket pitch, now a football pitch) is surrounded by the Royal Ipoh Club (used as a laundry by the Japanese during the occupation), the very grand St. Michaels Institution building down one side, that became the Japanese administration HQ in Perak during the occupation, an Anglican church (used as a noodle factory by the Japanese), a mosque, a restaurant and HSBC bank all in very grand neo-classical or renaissance styles. Further out from these are other amazing buildings designed and built by the British, almost too many to mention, but they are all classic, imposing designs and look absolutely fabulous. The grandest of all is the railway station, built in 1917 and designed by the same chap who made his mark in KL, A.B. Hubback. It is often referred to as the ‘Taj Mahal’ of Ipoh.

The Town Hall and Old Post Office
The ballroom inside the Town Hall
We wanted to look inside these buildings, but could only get into a few. The railway station was easy and was a solid but open and very airy construction, still in use today. Opposite was a war memorial to those lost in the two world wars and a separate plaque to those who lost their lives building the Thailand to Burma railway, the Death Railway (it said that 250,000 people were used in its construction, 170,000 Asian labourers, chiefly from Malaya, Burma and Thailand, and 61,700 Allied POW. About 80,000 Asian and 12,600 Allied prisoners lost their lives during its construction).

The High Court. We had just done our 'good samaritan' bit by jump starting the black car in the foreground
The Royal Ipoh Club
The Town Hall was a little more difficult to get in but, as there was no-one about, we just walked in through a huge entrance hall with chandeliers and looked through one of two huge entrance doors to a massive ballroom with stage at one end. How fantastic to have a ballroom dance in there (except the floor was crap. It was a hard stone tiled floor, not a sprung wooden one) with all that space and high ceiling. We didn’t venture upstairs as we thought that was pushing it. The High Court was another magnificent building, but the security guard would only let us walk round the outside, we couldn’t go in. The same at the Royal Ipoh Club, still an ‘exclusive members only’ club. The security guard said we could only go in if a member signed us in, but then relented and said we could probably go in if we bought lunch in there. As it was only 11:30 we declined but thanked him.

The old cricket square with Royal Ipoh Club on right
St. Michaels Institution, now a school
Panorama from the other side. Royal Ipoh club on L, St. Michaels Institution in front, mosque and restaurant towards the R
Panglima Lane
The other buildings we walked round the outside of, until we came to Panglima Lane, which used to be called Concubine Lane. Its history dates back to the turn of the last century, when the town houses were renowned for opium, gambling and brothels, later developed into a residential area for rich Chinese, where they reputedly kept their concubines. It’s an interesting place and we stopped to take a photo in a place where we could hear electronic music in one of the old town houses. 

The DJ school
A sign outside said it was a DJ training school and, on seeing a young Chinese guy just inside the door, I said ‘hello’ and asked if we could look round. Inside were a range of electronic gear spread out on tables and he was quite open to show us how they worked. Of great interest to us was the bit of kit that is the modern equivalent of the old vinyl record turntable that DJ’s would slow, turn backwards and move forwards and back with their hands to give strange sounds. 

The modern interactive turntables
We assumed that modern DJ’s still used this system, but now it’s all electronic, but made to look like a turntable to give the same ‘feel’ of controlling the speed of a record, but with no record! He switched it on and we had a go, amazing! He even showed us the effect of when a turntable is switched off and the sound slows to a stop, but it’s all done by computer. No wonder DJ’s have to go to a training school, it’s a different world even for DJ’s now!

The old Dramatists Hostel, containing the Homestay
He was even good enough to take us outside to show us a ‘homestay’ in one of the old heritage buildings, but unfortunately the owners were at lunch. He hunted round for keys or a way in, but had to admit defeat and apologised profusely and shaking our hands before returning to his studio.

The old Mikasa Photo Shop
The last building we visited was the old ‘Mikasa Photo Shop’, which took a bit of finding in the old narrow streets. I wanted to find it as apparently a Japanese spy, Masaji Fukabori alias Masaji Hosaka once worked there sending information about Malaya back to the Japanese Army, which I thought was really interesting. We found it as an end town house, all now unused and looking fairly unloved. In fact the whole of this area needs some money spending on it as all the buildings are showing their age.

Just a few more grand old buildings. This one is the Chartered Bank building
The Hong Kong and Shanghai (HSBC) Building

The old Straits trading building
The SPH De Silva building. There are many, many more similar

Another spicy dish - Curry Mee
Today is a chilled day before our departure to the Cameron Highlands tomorrow. We’ve been to the bus station and came back through the city’s Little India and found a restaurant recommended by the porters in our hotel. It looks fabulous so, tonight it’s an Indian food fest for us!

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