Category Archives: Malaysia

Sun Yat Sen’s Singapore Villa

The villa sits in a residential area. It is in Balestier (near Novena, a Catholic church popular among Filipinos) named after US Consul Joseph Balestier, a huge chunk of the estate was made into his botanical garden. Balestier was married to Maria Revere, daughter of one of US’s founding father, Paul Revere.

Last month, I visited the historic villa that became the Singapore headquarters of Dr. Sun Yat-sen. I found out about this place from a Chinese-Singaporean cab driver who I met three years ago.

While he drives his cab here in the Lion City, his Filipino family is in Iloílo. The daughter studies in a Chinese school (I couldn’t remember if it was Iloílo Sun Yat-sen High School).

He told me that he intends to retire in his wife’s native province. Not a bad idea. I would likely do the same, I said. He then went on to talk about Dr. Sun. His knowledge of the Chinese revolutionary was impressive. He said it comes from his parents who revered China’s “forerunner of democratic revolution”.

When we passed by the Balestier area, he told me that there’s a house there where Dr. Sun stayed. Officially, he only visited it a total of nine times.

Dr. Sun and his Filipino connection

There’s this delightful photo of Dr. Sun and Mariano Ponce wherein the former was dressed in a Western-style suit while the latter, looking rather like a Japanese, was wearing a kimono. Those who don’t know both patriots won’t be able to tell the difference. They shared a deep friendship. One of the first biographies on Dr. Sun was penned by Ponce himself.

Dr. Sun assisted the Filipinos in procuring arms from Japan. Most of these did not reach its buyers. The ship carrying the arms sank in Chinese seas. Some of the salvaged guns and ammunition ended up in the hands of Chinese revolutionaries.

I visited Dr. Sun’s Penang headquarters two years ago. I didn’t intend to see it, but we stayed close to it. The series of defeats made solicitations in Singapore difficult; Dr. Sun had to move his nerve center.

Penang (Georgetown) is cashing in on their Sun Yat Sen connection. They have tours going on in places that are linked to him. He is a popular historical figure among the Chinese–their version of José Rizal. Both lived in the same era, they were contemporaries. But they never met. Judging from their renown, I am sure that they had heard about each other.

Dr. Sun (middle seated) surrounded by his Singapore crew. The guy knows how to dress. Good looking fella. (Photo taken from the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall)

The Villa in Balestier

The villa owner at the turn of the century was the rubber magnate and Dr. Sun supporter, Teo Eng Hock. He purchased it for his mother as a retirement home (it was called Wan Qing Yuan). Teo is the great granduncle of Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean (I saw how this man campaigned because we used to live in Punggol, his constituency, and we were startled to see how tall he was in person — the guy can play basketball center!).

When Teo Eng Hock learned that Dr. Sun chose Singapore to be the center of his campaign, he offered his villa, and the mother was OK with it. Balestier at that time was considered outskirts; there was not a lot of happenings in the area.

They just don’t make things like this anymore. Look at the details and finish. Singapore not only preserved this villa but made sure that it would last for another one hundred years. When it comes to restoration and re-use of heritage structure, no one comes close (in the region) to how Singaporeans does it.

It is a stately mansion (we Filipinos used this word). From its veranda, once could probably see the rubber plantations and all the natural beauty old Singapore once had. The art deco shop houses in the area are worth seeing.

The two-tiered colonial style villa changed hands a few times. A group of Chinese businessmen bought it, then handed it over to the Chinese chamber of commerce. During the Japanese occupation, it became a communications office.

The first floor exhibits the story behind the Singapore operations and its contributions to the revolution. The second floor features the room believed to be used by Dr. Sun. There’s also the “Reading Room” where revolutionaries brought the Chinese in Singapore to be indoctrinated and educated.

Dr, Sun’s republic is most likely closer to the wester ideals than to the Chinese model we have today. He spent a considerable amount of his younger years in Hawaii where he became a Protestant Christian. When he got back to his bucolic Chinese village he openly criticized old religious practices and even attacked temples. I am sure he also learned how to surf! Mahalo!

Model restoration

We Filipinos could learn a thing or two from Singapore’s heritage conservation. They create clear and viable plans, there’s vision on how historical buildings are managed. Singapore’s museums and heritage sites rank among the best in the world.

There’s but one board that decides which building and monuments are to be preserved. Once a decision is made for a monument or building to be gazetted (for conservation by a technical group capable of doing so, and for public education by relevant agencies), they follow three simple rules: maximum retention, sensitive restoration, and careful repair. Throughout the process, from deciding which one needs preservation up to the actual restoration, there are no overlapping agencies. So typical of Singapore — uncomplicated process, free from delay and corruption.

A detailed floor plan of the Balestier submitted to the colonial British administrators

A delightful tour

I went to the museum intnding to observe the exhibit on my own. I ended up joining the tour. There were only three of us. The other two visitors were young, bespectacled Singaporeans, history buffs like myself.

The tour guide was a knowledgeable and cheerful volunteer, Madam Mae Chong. She goes to the villa to tour people. She laments that visitors are often small.

If there ever was a person with expertise and passion about the life and times of Dr. Sun Yat-sen and his men in Singapore, this lady is it.
I asked Madam Chong if Dr. Sun is revered in China as much as in Taiwan and other places. She said Dr. Sun is considered the founding father of China—they claim him as theirs, the same way the Taiwanese does.

Like what the Beatles said, “you say you want a revolution, well, you know, we all want to change the world”. Looks like everybody has a different take on how to change things.



Lessons from Penang

I was not surprised to see Penang drawing tourists like magnet when I visited it two weeks ago. I’ve seen how well they market their tourist attractions back in Singapore. From international events like the Penang Island Jazz Festival to architectural heritage tours, their vibrant and diverse food scene. You see their ads everywhere—tourism is the economy’s mainstay.

The Penangites has successfully restored most of their English colonial buildings including the old British fortification, Fort Cornwallis, in George Town. The oldest English structure in town. These people understands what looking after heritage and promoting it can do for local business and their lives in general.

Everywhere there are hotels, restaurants serving local and international cuisines, tourist friendly bars and walking tours. If you want a do-it-yourself tour, pick up a brochure and a map at the airport and just spend a day walking (or rent a bike) around George Town. It’s not hard to do. The locals are very accommodating.

I felt secured walking the streets. I visited the brightly lit colonial shop houses at night and they were impressive. Like Macdonald’s in Dato Karamat Road; an English era building called the Birch House now leased to the fast food giant. Some of these buildings and shop houses has been around for a century. They contribute greatly to the charm of old George Town. The town is an example of why there’s more value from reusing old buildings than replacing them with bleak concrete and glass structures.

The old City Hall, the Eastern & Oriental Hotel (Singapore’s Raffle’s sister hotel, older by 2 years), the Queen Victoria Diamond Jubilee watch tower and Fort Cornwallis; the beautiful Georgian and Victorian colonial buildings that houses Standard Charter, Southern Bank and HSBC, you can see all of these architectural treasure on foot. They’re clustered in what is known as the heritage core of the town. The oldest Catholic church, the Assumption, in Love Lane (called as such because millionaires used to house their mistresses in the area) is not far from another heritage church, the Anglican’s St George in Lebuh Farquhar.

The local government is also promoting some of the houses that Sun Yat Sen visited when he was in Penang. Turns out that he had supporters in town and that he had an office along Jalan Macalister, not far from where I stayed in Jalan Rangoon. This Chinese revolutionary not only was contemporary to some of our country’s founders but had known them personally. He helped Filipinos acquire arms from Japan during the revolution. Mariano Ponce is a very close friend of Sun.

Like Manila, Penang was mostly abandoned after WWII. The Chinese “towkays” and Europeans moved out. Squatters from other places started to move in, occupying the old buildings of George Town. Its story reminds me of Intramuros.

But this all changed in 2008.

There was a drastic shift when their leaders started investing on infrastructure. They developed their port to accommodate large cruise ships. Tourism started booming. They improved their airport, the long bridges to the hinterlands also contributed in increasing tourism traffic. The shorter bridge was constructed in the 1980’s, the longer one, 24 km long, in 2006.

Then George Town was designated a  UNESCO World Heritage Town—this made the locals go full blast in restoring what’s left of their heritage. The declaration made the town even more appealing especially to those hearing about it for the first time. The rest as they say is history and a visitor seeing this entire place now would be surprise that this transformation took so fast.

But for sure, behind this remarkable achievement is unity to accomplish a common goal. Never easy but never impossible. They did it so why can’t we? Just imagine Manila drawing tourists not for its casinos, girly bars, shopping malls and fancy hotels but because people wanted to get acquainted with its history.

If you’re a foodie type, well, Penang’s food hawkers are all over the place. The best food is street food. We all know this right?

We ate char kway teow as if it was staple food. Word is Penang’s version is the best. I ate this fried flat rice noodle in Singapore and in other places in Malaysia. They all taste the same. I guess I’m not a good char kway teow judge but Singaporean friends attest that Penang’s better than those made here. Must be the water, but everything is tastier, greener, better on the other side of the fence.

The food is plentiful, remarkably good, and cheap. I have written a blog about our food experience in Penang here. What I enjoy most about George Town is that food hawkers are not that hard to find. Well, not ideal I guess if you’re trying to curve your calorie intake but in these stalls you get to taste authentic local food. Our cab guy, Ibrahim, told us to go for hawkers instead of restaurants. I told him that I always go for local market and hawker food. For me this is where the best local cuisines can be savored.

Another curious phenomenon in George Town are its graffiti.  Tourists stop by them like pilgrims. I’ve never seen anything like it.

We should borrow a page from Penang’s handbook. I don’t know of any place that experienced such a rapid economic transformation without losing its important historical structures.

“When you come back, 5 years from now, there will be better infrastructure, less traffic than now,” Ibrahim said while driving us to the airport.

We can learn from these guys.

Efficient. modern airport. Getting a taxi is a hassle-free. Clearing immigration was fast. Not the biggest airport but it works just fine.

Chinese temples and ancestral houses everywhere. Well kept and accessible for tourist who wants to see what’s up with these colorful structures.


Tried following the heritage trail of Sun Yat Sen but was too ignorant about his history. There are several houses in town linked to the man. This one, near where I stayed, is in Jalan Macalister. He stayed here for a brief time. It serves now as a historical center for everything Sun.

An example of an ancestral house that belongs to some of the pioneer families in town.

Shop Houses are everywhere. These are shops that doubles as residence for shop keepers and owners. Fascinating is how these structures stood the test of time. Some of them are a hundred year old building. Interesting historical artifacts that are still being utilized to this day. They’re still mostly shops by the way.

This is one of popular hawker places in the area. This is in Lorong Selamat. Food stalls like this are known to serve the best Penang dishes. It can’t be beat by expensive restos I tell you.


You can go around by bike here. The weather’s very similar to that in Manila though. Get ready to have your armpits wet.

The most famous graffitti in town. These folks was having their pictures taken with the “Little Children on Bikes”. And just look at that shirtless old dude on bike, pausing so this family can have their photo taken. What a courteous fella.

Cute board signs in Chinese that made little sense to me of course.

A scene from one of the clan jetty. These are areas were historically appropriated to coastal families. The descendants still occupies the area and it has become tourist attractions. There are rooms that can be rented here.


I just love the scene. Busy food stalls. At night, everything comes alive.

An old building now a fast food resto.

Gaya Gaya, Puto Maya

“Gaya gaya, puto maya!” is a childish rhyme that was popular when I was in grade school. It means copycat where I came from – you get teased with this when you get busted copying something. But most of us have no idea what a “puto maya” looks like. I don’t — until a vendor offered to sell me one in Cebu four years ago. I’ve always thought that it was some kind of “puto” — bread-like, soft, best with cheese, perfect with coffee — to my surprise, it was not.

I took this photo in Daangbantayan. So this is what a “puto maya” looks like. So basic, but damn filling.

This is the Malaysian “putu mayam” but I think this one’s processed in the factory. I’ve never seen the traditional one. And I’m looking… The twist with the Malaysian version is that they’ve turned it into a noodle-like product. Eaten with grated coconut (similar to what we do with puto kuchinta, which by the way is our adaptation of the Malaysian “kuih kosui”).

The Filipino “puto maya” is sticky rice, steamed in coconut milk. You can have one in Dumaguete’s public market, served in small plastic  plates, elsewhere, in some kind of “suman wrap” that helps seals in the flavor. It’s closer to “biko” than the common “puto”.

Last year, I came across the Malay version called “putu mayam“. This laid out to me that the “puto maya” we know had an origin unknown to us. Interesting is that while this “putu mayam” is considered a Malaysian delicacy, it actually traces its origin to the Tamils. So their version, like ours, is an offshoot from original. Now that’s fascinating. Tamil are people that came from South India and some parts of Sri Lanka.

This little food discovery led me to the conclusion that I know little about the history of Filipino cuisine. Food preparation are fascinating cultural adaptations that our ancestors acquired from series of migration and conquest. Food, like us, are products of history — discovering these little nuances is a humbling experience. A reminder that history has a history and that we owe what we have today from the past.

Interesting is that most of our traditions are bound to disappear — except the way we prepare our food. The costumes, dances, songs, literature, even language, they’ll end at some point but not food. This makes food an important element in our distinct identity as people.

I have yet to find a book that looks into the history of Filipino food — ala Doreen Fernandez — someone that would delve deep into the history of  our cuisine — how they came to be and their meaning. I hope someone picks up after Doreen. There’s a lot of things have yet to uncover and understand.

Heck, I thought “puto” was us Filipino injecting our naughty bits in naming food. So it’s not from “puto” (slang for a male whore) but “putu” the Malaysian rice cake.

Relic of St. John Baptist de la Salle

This saint is often depicted with “stretched right arm with finger pointing up, instructing two children standing near him”. He died in 1719 and was made a saint by Leo XIII on the 24th of May 1900.

My recent blog reminded me of another interesting relic I saw last year. Around June when I went to see it in Lipa. The relic belongs to San Juan Bautista de La Salle. It’s the saint’s arm bone, sealed in a reliquary adorned with images of bronze angels on each corner.

The French known as the patron saint of all teachers established the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools. Its arrival in the country was accorded with military honors which was interesting as there are not that many country that welcomes relics this way.

The teaching congregation St. John started has grown like no other in the world. A good example is the St. Josephs Institute, founded in 1852, one of the oldest educational institution in Singapore (it predates our La Salle University, which was established in 1905). Singapore’s Art Museum has taken over the old baroque chapel and school of the La Sallian brothers. The institution has since moved but has remains as one of the best schools in the country.The La Sallian school in Kuala Lumpur, which I was fortunate to see back in 2010, was established in the early 1900’s. All of these educational institutions are testament to the La Sallian brothers missionary work for education around Asia.

If you’re not Catholic the subject of relics wouldn’t really interest you. You might even find it strange. It really is a Ripley’s Believe it or not encounter for most the people I know. But Catholics always had this tradition. Relics provides that spiritual connection for most of us. The word “relic” came from the Latin reliquiae, literally means, “remains”. In the case for Catholics – that’s bones, flesh and body parts! we really took it to a whole new level!

Relics unfortunately are also being traded over the internet. I checked ebay a few days ago and was shocked to see what Catholics would refer to as first class relics on sale.

Speaking of education, I could only imagine what we would have today if it were not for the religious orders. History for many means great heroes and battles. Religious history, especially its contributions, is often gloss over. In Philippine history, the only mention of the religious and missionaries in standard history text are the stereotypical abusive friars. Which of course, does not do justice, to either their cultural contribution or the religion they bequeathed the nation. Their track record in developing agriculture is among the greatest event in our modern history, and yet it is hardly ever mentioned. Add to this is their contribution in the arts and in education. It was the historian Pio Andrade that advised me “to be cautious in assessing friar history… you might uncover them to be heroes”. I say, that these men deserves a second look – especially for us Catholics – much of what we celebrate and consider Filipino culture was formed and influenced by what they brought to our shores.

Lessons from the Malaysian Dutch Eurasians

While I was vacationing in Malaca I found out about the small Dutch Eurasian community. The Dutch was in Malaca for almost 200 years and these people are their descendants. Aside from their last names , the locals are said to still possess some unique  characteristics of their Dutch ancestors.

Unfortunately for me, time ran out and I never got to speak with anyone from this community (I’ve read about them in the museum). So, I was left wondering what these people were really like.

These Dutch Eurasians are organizing themselves so they can collectively study their past. An organization lead by one Malaysian Dutch Eurasian has started a website dedicated for the “minority and forgotten community of Dutch descendants living in Malaysia”.They want to find out more about their “rich historical past… unique and unrivaled heritage”.

And this is the challenge because they had lost much, including the language,  because the tie with “Netherlands are much further back in history”. This are bound to happen with small groups because the natural tendency for small ethnic minorities are too merged with popular and more dominant culture. This is the reason why conservation and study projects must be made.

They’ve already started interviewing Dutch Eurasian in Malaca and KL. I think its a great initiative. I wish them the best.

The reason that I think this is important is that these groups are studying a past that many of us would see bad. We forget about the importance of the cultural and historical aspects.  For many, the solution is to rid the Filipino of everything related to our hispano filipino past. That would be sure interesting if anyone can do that.

Just look at the opposition directed at the efforts in bringing back the Spanish language, which has been historically one of our official language. These issues gets too politicized. In the end, nothing gets done.

By the way, I don’t think the most Dutch Eurasian’s in Malaysia still speaks Dutch. The language has been lost for some reason but there still could be some of them that still speaks Dutch.

Historic Malacca (Part 1)

Drizzling Morning at Woodlands

The morning drizzle did not dampen our spirits to travel to one of the most historic place in South East Asia. We have planned this for so long. Nothings going to stop these backpackers – so off we go.

Buses here meets most of my transport needs. They’re comfortable, inexpensive – and what I like the most — wide clear windows, perfect for those who take pleasure in seeing the sights. Most destination are served by more than one bus company. Coaches (long haul buses as they call it here) are very well maintained – we’re not really in a hurry, so these extended trips are perfect. And we got a very nice bonus — Filipinos on board! their loud conversations in Tagalog, “sitsitan” and nonstop “chismisan” provided some strange comfort.

The vast immigration complex located in Woodlands (Woodland Checkpoint) is yet another testament to the Singaporean efficiency and effectiveness brand. They have a knack for making things work. Simple steps – go down the bus, fall in line, have the immigration officer check your passport – done. Your bus is already waiting for you at the other end. Ready to take you across to Malaysian terra. Traveling made easy – I think that’s what these people had in mind.

Tourism means money to these guys – they got the game figured out. No wonder they have one of the highest tourism revenue, considering their size, in Asia.

Oh well, that means we have some catching up to do back home.

The houses and shops along the river. This area is referred to as the "Old Town" of Malacca.

The Country Scene

Beautiful Green Hills of Johor. There are massive housing developments in the area. All around the provinces of Malaysia, the rubber tree abounds.

The long trip  provided natural refreshing scenes. Strings of rugged hills – still lush, still green, on both sides of the road. There were streams and rivers as well. You’ll have more or less three hours of these pleasant Malaysian country scenery, so sit back and relax. If you have keen eyes you get to see groups of monkeys on top of trees. Quite hard to spot since your moving at 60 to 80 km/h but worth the try.

The only stop is after about an hour or so of traveling. A quick 15 to 20 minutes break. Good time to pick up some food and drinks. The kopitiam is a good place for stacking up reserve energy – you know what I mean. These places offers diverse variety of noodle and rice meals. Prices are cheap of course – welcome news for me since I’m always on a tight budget.

Directions in Melaka. In the Heritage area of Malacca can be found many museums: The Democratic Government Museum near Stadthuy, the Architecture and Islam museum on the opposite side, then the UMNO, Ethnography, Kite and Stamp museum - all a few yards away from each other.

Arriving in Melaka Sentral we immediately tried to find the bus that will take us to the heart of Malacca – the old town.

St. Francis Xavier’s Malaccan Legacy

The city has been awarded with a UNESCO World Heritage title. A label that most of them are very proud of. Walking around you’ll see why.

The Church of Saint Francis Xavier

The St. Francis Xavier Church is a twin-spired neo-gothic structure built on the site of an old Portuguese church by a French priest, Father Farvé, in 1856, in honour of St. Francis Xavier … known as the ‘Apostle of the East’… It was believed that the church was modelled after the Cathedral of St. Peter in Montpellier in Southern France, which closely followed the older church’s original construction, except for a portico which was added on in 1963.”

The street where old houses and shops were kept as it was

Catholics in Banda Kaba “cherish with pride the fact that their patron saint walked their local paths”, and I could understand that. It’s the same emotion Las Piñas natives had when their Padre Ezekiel Moreno, the loved Spanish Recollect  in the parish where the famous bamboo organs was invented, was declared a Saint.

Together with the memorial statue of St. Francis is that of Yajiro, his young Japanese disciple whom he met in Malacca. The Japanese went to back to his land to preach, although he was said to have been unsuccessful, he became of one the first Christian missionary there.

Some Filipino religious believe that Francis reached Mindanao after preaching for more than a year in Moluccas. But the story is unproven as there are no existing document that supports it. In the island of Ternate (Moluccas) where he once preached were families that would end up one day in Cavite. Descendants of these Christianized Malays that listened to him are now in Ternate (Cavite) the spot where their ancient warrior ancestors were relocated.

Magellan’s group came to our shores in 1521 but missions to Christianize the islanders only started under Legazpi (his group arrived in 1565). If St. Francis was doing his evangelical work in 1546 , then he had been planting the seeds of Christianity before the Spaniards, his countrymen, established their mission work in what would become Las Islas Filipinas.

On his feast day, two reliquaries containing “piece of skin taken from the foot of the saint while the other encases a fragment of a finger bone” are shown to the public. Strange artifacts but you know us Catholics  – we dearly love our saints.

 Church Ruins on the Hill

The Ruins of Sao Pao. The large black stones are grave markers.

“In Paul’s Hill was where he passed nights in prayer, preached the Word of God, worked miracles, wrote important documents and letters and even raised the dead”, According to Padre Pintado who wrote a book about the ruins of St. Paul.

The Saint’s reputation as a miracle worker is legendary. One of my favorite stories about him is when he run into some bad weather – it was said that he dipped his cross and pacified the bad weather but he lost his Cross — then crabs from the deep sea went ashore and handed it back to him!

We’ll never know if that really happened but Malacca locals believes this miracle and take it as gospel. They say that the crabs, distinctly having what appears to be a cross on their shell can only be found in the area, “proof” they say that it wasn’t a myth. Some of them refrain from eating these crabs out of respect for their beloved saint.

But what interest me is that some suggest that this incident took place in Mindanao.

The steep stairs that leads to the old ruins of Sao Paolo. Malay's calls it Bukit St. Paul. "Bukit" is a word familiar to us because it is where we got the word for "Bukid" which means a hill.

Back to the amazing ruins on the hill. It was originally built  by a Catholic Portuguese Captain in 1521. The same year Magellan arrived and tried to conquer our islands for Spain. “Inside the decaying stone interior are hefty, intricately engraved tombstones of the Dutch nobility”. It felt eerie inside but the history of the place was just overwhelming.

The church on a hill. The white structure was a British built lighthouse

The rear portion of the Ruins of St. Paul. There are still existing graves here of Dutch and British nobility.

The Dutch who once attempted to wrestle control from the Spaniards in our country but was routed took the administration of the Malacca from the Portuguese but relinquished to the British later on. Reading this felt like reading news from the recent world cup!

St. Francis was temporarily buried in this elegant church until his body was sent to Goa. A wire fence now protects the former grave of the saint inside the ruins.

When the Dutch took Malacca from the Portueguese they used the church and renamed it (I don’t know if they painted it orange) but they soon abandoned the church when they completed the Christ Church.

(End of Part I)


Voice of Ruins, Rev. Father Manuel Pintado

In Honour of Malaccas Saint, Sunday Star December 2 2001, by Vanitha Nadaraj and Percy D’Cruz

 February 2011

Histori Malacca (Part 2)

The Merdeka Square

Abdul Samad Building with the financial district just behind

This is probably their version of Luneta. And like ours, there’s much to see and learn. In this square can be found the worlds tallest flagpole. In 1957, they hoisted the Malayan flag here signifying their independence from British rule. Inscribed in a polished brown marble stone that commemorates that event:

“It was here that the Malaysian flag was raised for the first time at 12.01 on 31st of August 1957 to replace the Union Jack, thus signifying the end of British rule over Malaya and the end of colonization…The 95 meter is among  the talles in the world. The Merdeka square, previously known as Selangor Club Padang, was built by the British in 1884 during their colonization of Malaya. The strategic site and exclusive location resembled the atmosphere and environment of their homeland. The field was a popular venue for social activities and occasionally used for the game of cricket. At the corner of the square is a fountain that was built in 1897”

The Merdeka Square that the British built is almost entirely intact today.

There was a barn like structure that I thought was a restaurant if not a lodge. Later, I found out that it actually housed club members who regularly played cricket. It became a social area where players, families, men and women would hang around to  socialize while sipping tea and playing cricket on the side – if that’s not British, I don’t know what is.

Beneath the square is Plaza Putra, it has food courts and shops but it was closed. I later found out that it was flooded recently and was undergoing renovation. It was unfortunate but the Malaysians has been fighting their seasonal floods since time immemorial.In the process they have been  coming up with some of th e most innovative ways of improving their cities capability to handle overflows. They don’t play the blame game here – they take action— something we can all learn from.

I was awed by the beauty of the Sultan Abdul Samad building’s architecture. Its Moorish and Moghul style was said to have been inspired by several Islamic buildings all over the world. What is fascinating is that it was designed by an English man named A.C. Norman. It was intended to be the administration hall (of course of the British) during its creation in 1897.  Later on, when the administrative offices were gone, the judicial courts came in– but they too left. The government is trying to find its next occupant.

The Malaysian’s national museum is also in Merdeka square. The elegant white building was once a commercial bank but has long been under government management. It was close when  we dropped by. What strikes me is how wonderfully preserved all the buildings are in the plaza. Made me wonder why they seem to respect their cultural heritage more than we do ours. Sometimes you ask yourself if we have been made blind by the very institutions that was supposed to make us realize how wonderful our history is.

Interesting is how the British adopted what was predominant in the Malayan society. They understood that the Malays had a sense of their own identity and that attempting to replace it would only undermine their hold on the state. Testament to this careful balance is the buildings that at first glance would appear to have been designed by the locals themselves.

Moving down a little further near the highway is an Anglican church, the only Christian church I visited in this country. The church of St. Mary the Virgin is a graceful building of British gothic influence built in 1894. This church is another fine example of superb restoration work. It has a little garden and its surrounding is well planted with trees.

I dream that one day that what is being accomplished by our close neighbours would be replicated in our own backyard. When and how is the question at hand.

August 2010

Petronas Tower

Petronas y yo

The Petronas towers is one of the most successful modern building project in all of Asian history. The most recognizable building in South East Asia to date. Tourist are just drawn to it – and I never understood why until the day I saw it.  It set the record as the tallest building until 2004. I was very impressed with the towers specially the concept behind the design. Perhaps this is the reason why it has become a true Asian icon – it represents the identity of an Asian nation. We normally see soaring skyscrapers that has no sense of local identity but the completion of Petronas changed all that .

A friend once told me that “architecture is identity” I think this is what he meant-because you can tell a lot about the owners just by looking at the features of the structure and the materials that were used. I’m not sure what to make then of those people who build houses using designs borrowed from foreign culture. In Cavite I saw Italian houses while in Sta. Rosa I saw villages that reminded me of Washington. Not that there’s anything wrong with the idea, we all have different taste when it comes to style. It was just strange for me seeing all that here in our country. Influence is something that stems from the media and our modern lives over exposes us with cultures that does not share our values and traditions.

NAIA 3 was designed using indigenous houses for inspiration. The spacious waiting lobby leading to the check in area was suppose to represent the receiving area of the old houses of our Abuelos. I believe that even modern buildings must make sense in terms of the locality because our old way of doing things conforms to our past and existing landscape. In the past, Sionil Jose has criticized Leandro Locsin for designing buildings that does not connect with Filipino’s culture and history. I happen to agree with Jose’s view for the most part, but of course there are exceptions. Modernity has swept in like a tropical storm-the Filipino landscape has changed drastically because everybody’s modeling their houses straight from the magazines without considering the design and elegance of the Filipino past.

The Petronas and Kuala Lumpur Towers as seen from Merdeka Square.

From our rented place in Paser Seni in Chinatown, KLCC station is about five stations away by MRT. The station is situated beneath the mall of the Petronas Tower. We only found out that we were already inside the Petronas when we finally went outside – we were laughing non stop. Another Malaysian icon, the Kuala Lumpur tower is a few kilometers from where Petronas is, it’s visible even from Chinatown. The twin tower is best viewed at night when it glows from the stunning lighting design.

Chinatowns: SG & KL

Chinatown Singapore. Yes, that's me in my uniform black shirt.

I used to come to Singapore’s Chinatown way back in 2008 to shop for bargains or just stroll around aimlessly or grab some quick chow. Here you’ll eat even when you’re not hungry. Everything here reminds me of our Chinatown minus Binondo and Sta. Cruz Church, pancit and the local hopia. It’s remarkable how these districts all look and feel the same regardless of country.

For eating and drinking there are numerous stalls and restos around Singapore’s Chinatown that serves just about everything – from frog leg stew to Chinese sweets to an assortment of noodle fare. Tables and chairs are placed in the middle of a close road, finding a place where to eat is never a problem. Singapore’s Chinatown is over-endowed with eating places; you might as well forget your diet. Along the streets are the old buildings of Chinatown, which they aptly called heritage centre. Here you can find an office that offers tours and literature about the district. The place is always teeming with people regardless what day of the week. During Chinese New Year its streets are filled from side to side.

A beautiful heritage building at Smith St. Here people are in no hurry to erase their past. Colonial names of streets and places are usually retained.

Another interesting store that Filipinos are bound to enjoy is a shop called Bee Cheng Hiang that sells meat products that resemble our tapa. They also serve grilled pork, hard and sliced thinly and sold by the pound. The taste of this delicacy is close to our inihaw na liempo. A personal favorite, Hokkien mee is fried noodles cooked with frawns, toge and some greens – aside from this Fukienese dish, there is prata with its spicy reddish yellow curry sauce on the side. These have become la comida favorita for us couple.

The Hindu temple. Historic and colorful. Tourist are allowed inside as long they leave their shoes and sleepers at the gates.

Pass the streets of Singapore’s Chinatown (but still in the same district) is a pleasant place where old shops has been restored. Along this street is the historic Vishnu Temple built in 1860. Known for its intricate carvings and is truly a temple exhibiting Hindu art at its finest. The Vaishnavites worships “avatars” (incarnations). A fascinating attribute of this island nation is how several religions exist without conflicts and tensions.

Half an hour ride via plane is Kuala Lumpur where there exist another popular Chinatown. There are great bargains here, although we found some tinderos a bit too aggressive and rude, except this one who kept on talking about Pacquiao after he found out that we were Filipinos. The district is perfect for buying souvenirs. If in Singapore you can still identify Filipinos from the crowd, this would be difficult to do in Malaysia – because they all look like us. We were delighted to meet Filipinos, both tourist and shopkeepers. Like this kind lady, originally from Tanauan who gave us a relaxing foot spa. She said that the owner is a Malaysian who rarely visits the spa. It’s sad to hear their stories, being far and away from home is not easy, especially if you’re just compelled to do so because your country can’t offer you a job.

The Proton Wira's. Malaysia's car manufacturer.

Kuala Lumpur airport (or simple KLIA to many) going to Chinatown is a 30 minute ride by an express train. From the Sentral station, another train ride this time you must hop to another platform (using their MRT that service the whole KL city) then finally alighting in Pasar Seni. Trains are part of the daily lives of Malays and they have a very impressive infrastructure. Traveling by train going to other Malaysian states (even Singapore and Thailand) is also a great idea. We found several hotels that offer inexpensive lodging – in the business center (KLCC to them – Malays are fond of abbreviations like us) where the Petronas tower is located, hotel prices goes up considerably.

Like in Singapore, Hindu and Chinese places of worships can be found in Kuala Lumpurs Chinatown district.

Busy Chinatown in downtown Kuala Lumpur at night time. There were many foreigners dining and drinking in the streets

The night when we were in Malaysia, we dined at one of the many local restos that serves freshly cooked seafood. I try to avoid restaurants that serve frog dishes – I don’t know why; probably I just grew up liking Kermit the Frog and did not like the idea of him being cooked alive. Seafood, regardless of type, is best in spicy red sauces. We had big prawns and the Malay version of chop suey. While eating diner, we were entertained by a fist fight between a young man and an old lady – I don’t know what’s wrong with that guy but something like that would never happen where I came from. As soon as the fight was over the busy street resumed to its normal state. We then went back to our rooms with our stomach full to its limits.

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