Wednesday, January 10, 2007

AirAsia is giving 1,000,000 free seats!

Those who already know about it will kill me for posting this. But those who might find out about it when it's too late will kill me too for not posting it. It's like a damned if you do, damned if you don't thing. Hehe! Anyway, AirAsia is at it again. I almost thought they weren't giving away free tickets this year. So I was pleasantly surprised when I saw the announcement in my inbox, that they had 1,000,000 free seats up for grabs.

In fact, I've already booked flights to Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta this June! Although the fare is free, you pay for taxes, surcharges and other expenses. My round-trip ticket from Clark to KL came out at PHP3,290. Add the PHP1,620 travel tax you pay at the airport plus the terminal fee of PHP300 (I'm not sure about the security fee), it's really cheap! I also bought a round-trip ticket from KL to Jakarta for just RM175 (PHP2625).

Hurry because the free flights are going... going... gone!

Friday, January 05, 2007

Malaysia: More Straits Settlements history in Malacca

I arrived in Kuala Lumpur from Penang late in the evening. Of course, the first thing we did was go for a late dinner. If I remember it right, it was at a mamak which served roti canai, beef murtabak and teh tarik.

September 19: The next day, I think we went shopping since the only thing I could remember was that we passed by KL's Central Market. That evening too, Leon took a bus from Singapore to join us in KL.

September 20: We decided to go to Malacca (Melaka) and meet up with Shyamala, another SSEAYP batchmate who lived there. Aside from me, Kenneth and Leon, two Filipino friends of Kenneth joined us.

Since I had been to Malacca the previous year during the SSEAYP program, we didn't go around much. I hadn't realized it then but I had actually visited the three major towns of the Straits Settlements (Singapore, Penang and Malacca) during the trip.

Just like Penang, Malacca had its own heritage trail sponsored too by American Express. We started at the Town Center of Malacca Town. One of the major structures there is Stadthuys. which according to the Melaka website was built in 1650 as the official residence of Dutch Governors and Deputy Governors. It adds that "the edifice is a fine example of Dutch architecture, with solid doors and louvred windows. Believed to be the oldest Dutch building in the East, the port-red theme extends to the other buildings around the Town Square and the old clock tower."

Also painted in port-red is Christ Church which was completed in 1753. Inside this Dutch church are 200-year old pews, an altar painting of the Last Supper on glazed tiles, as well as 15-meter beams each made from a single tree.

From the Town Center, we walked straight to Jonker Street (Jalan Hang Jebat) which is a cluster of art galleries, antique and souvenir shops, as well as traders of traditional items, "among them goldsmiths, watch repairers, clog makers and beaded shoemakers, blacksmiths, rattan and bamboo weavers, Chinese traditional medicine merchants and food outlets."

Also in the area were several mosques and temples, among them the Kampong Kling Mosque, one of the oldests mosques in Malaysia which has Sumatran architectural features; and the Cheng Hoon Teng Temple which was built in 1646 and is thus the oldest Chinese temple in Malaysia.

One of the must see sights which I got to visit the previous year is A'Famosa, the "hallmark of Melaka and perhaps the most photographed subject next to the Stadthuys. Built by the Portuguese in 1511 as a fortress it sustained severe structural damage during the Dutch Invasion. The British had set to destroy it but timely intervention by Sir Stamford Raffles in 1808 saved what remains of A' Famosa today."

Also visit the ruins of St. Paul's Church, where the remains of St. Francis Xavier were briefly enshrined in the open grave in 1553 before they were brought to Goa, India.

When it comes to food, don't miss the Baba-Nyonya cuisine which is unique to Malacca. The Baba-Nyonya are the Straits Chinese, descendants of very early Chinese immigrants who partially adopted Malay customs. Another collective term for these immigrants is Peranakan which refers to descendants of foreigners who had assimilated into the local community. There are Indian Peranakans called Chitty and Eurasian Peranakans known as Kristang. In the Philippines, we had the mestizos de Sangley, with Tsinoy as its modern day equivalent

After that long day in Malacca, Shyamala joined us back to KL where we met up with another batchmate Andrea. The five of us went up to Genting Highlands for the evening. It is a 2000-meter high peak which is occupied by a mountain resort called Genting - City of Entertainment. They call it the Las Vegas of Malaysia since it is the only legal land-based casino in Malaysia. Aside from the casinos complex and the world-class hotels, other facilities in this resort include a theme park, golf course, shopping malls, sky diving simulator, concert hall and many more

September 21: It was a Sunday and we didn't do much. Leon had to commute back to Singapore since he had work on Monday. All I remember was we just kept on eating, and eating, and eating since Kenneth was very eager to let me try as much Malaysian hawker food as possible.

September 22: The M/S Nippon Maru docked in Port Klang. I attended the welcome ceremonies in the afternoon as well as the reception on board the ship in the evening. I had to leave immediately after the reception since I had to rush back to KL which was about an hour away to catch the 11:50 p.m. bus back to Singapore.

Septermber 23: I arrived in Singapore early in the morning. I think I took a nap after breakfast. I was in Changi Airport by early afternoon for my Singapore Airlines flight back to Manila.

Related entries
Melaka, Malaysia is a historic city of the Straits of Malacca
Exploring the Penang heritage trail on foot
Bus trip from Kuala Lumpur to Penang, Malaysia
Following the heritage trail in Penang

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Malaysia: Following the heritage trail in Penang

The good thing about most Asian cities is that they have central bus terminals unlike Metro Manila where every bus company has its own terminal which, although clustered together in areas such as Pasay and Cubao, make transferring from one bus to another very inconvenient since the distance between each of them is quite far for a walk. Anyway, Kenneth had already purchased for me a round trip ticket to Penang (Pulau Pinang) at KL's Puduraya Bus Station. A one-way ticket for the five-hour trip on Transnasional was RM22.70 then.

I arrived in Penang at 5 a.m. which was good since I was able to save on hotel expenses. When I got there, it was still dark. I went straight to the hotel where I was booked and tried to get some more sleep.

Penang is also referred to as Pulau Mutiara which means Pearl of the Orient. I was actually surprised when I found out about this since we all thought the Philippines is the undisputed Pearl of the Orient. Well, if we weren't heavily bombed during the Second World War and if the City Government of Manila starts doing something to preserve what's left, there would be no contest. Today, the stunning architectural heritage of Penang is very much intact. In fact, Penang is working to put its capital George Town on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list which they hope would put Penang in a better position to protect her rich cultural heritage.

Established in 1857, George Town became the first city of Malaysia when Queen Elizabeth II granted it a city status by a royal charter on January 1, 1957. It was the only city in Malaysia until Kuala Lumpur was granted city status in 1972.

I was up at about 10 a.m. and started my walk around George Town. The good thing about George Town is that there are readily available brochures for do-it-yourself walking tours called the Penang Heritage Trail. The structures along the heritage trail were restored using a grant given by American Express. Here are the brochures for Penang Heritage Trail 1 and 2.

Among the interesting sites in the trail is the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, an 1880s Chinese courtyard mansion which is distint for its cobalt blue walls. The restoration of the mansion from 1991 to 1995 was recognized in 2000 by the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Culture Heritage Conservation as the Most Excellent Project of the Year. You can actually book a room in the mansion for a unique heritage homestay.

You also shouldn't miss the City Hall which was built in 1903 in the British Palladian architectural style. It currently houses the Penang Municipal Council Chambers and was listed as a national monument of Malaysia in 1982. Between 2004 and 2005, the Penang Municipal Council spent RM3.58 million (PHP54 million) for its restoration.

The most famous historical monument of Penang is the Khoo Khongsi which is called the Heritage Jewel of Penang. It is the clan association temple of the Leong San Tong (Dragon Mountain Hall) clan, whose forefathers came from the Sin Kang clan village in Hokkien province. Built in 1906 when the Khoo clan was at the height of its wealth and eminence in Penang society, the temple underwent a RM4.2 million (PHP63 million) restoration between 1999 and 2000.

I also got to visit the Residence of Ku Din Ku Meh, the Benggali Mosque, Cathedral of the Assumption, St. George's Church, Fort Cornwallis, the Town Hall and Yap Khongsi among other structures that day.

The next day, I continued my walking tour, walking as far as Wat Chayamangkalaram which was quite a distance from the downtown area. Along the way, I saw some elegant colonial country mansions!

Built in 1845, the temple is most know for its Reclining Buddha, the 3rd largest of its kind at 33 meters length. When I got there, they were raising funds to restore the tile roof and what they were doing was actually a good idea since visitors are requested to donate RM10 to sponsor one tile and you could write a dedication at the back of the tile.

I then walked back to the historic core where I hired a trishaw to tour me around. The driver knew the history of the different sites and I was impressed. I visited the Malay Mosque, Mahamariamman Temple, Syed Alatas Mansion, Kapitan Keling Mosque, Kuan Ying Temple, Christian Cemetery, Dr. Sun Yat Sen's Penang Base and Hainan Temple before finally boarding the 5:30 p.m. bus back to Kuala Lumpur.

Related entries
Bus trip from Kuala Lumpur to Penang, Malaysia
Exploring the Penang heritage trail on foot
Melaka, Malaysia is a historic city of the Straits of Malacca
More Straits Settlements history in Malacca

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Singapore: A little trip around Singapore town

Wow! Talk about digging out albums from the baul! And talk about tedious too since I had to scan every photo!

I was lucky then since I still had remaining miles on my United Mileage Plus account for a free ticket to Singapore. The plan was for me to attend the 2003 SSEAYP reunion (SIGA) in April but that didn't work out since it was postponed to 2004 due to the SARS scare. So I had to rebook my ticket to a later date and I chose instead to visit when the M/S Nippon Maru was docked in Singapore and Malaysia in September. It was still risky since if the SARS situation didn't improve, SSEAYP could have been cancelled. But to make the long story short, the trip pushed through.

September 12: I arrived in Singapore late in the afternoon on a Singapore Airlines flight. I can't remember what I did that night but eating Singapore hawker food was definitely on the list. We had dinner in Holland Village if I remember it right. I stayed at the flat of my SG-mate Leon in Ang Mo Kio while in Singapore.

September 13: For lunch, I met up with the family of my mom's classmate. They took me to this great Chinese restaurant which served chili crab. In the evening, I attended the reunion on board the ship. It was great meeting old friends and munching on Nippon Maru food again.

September 14: I spent the morning walking around Chinatown. I visited the Chinatown Heritage Centre. This museum is actually several old shophouses that were refurbished to show the early days of Chinatown. In the Philippines, we now have Bahay Tsinoy.

Anyway, walking around the brightly-painted colonial shophouses in Chinatown sure shows how much Singapore loves its architectural heritage. According to one account, "Singapore's Chinatown was slated for demolition. However the government, recognizing the people's desires and the historical importance of the area, canceled plans to raze Chinatown and are now in the midst of reconstruction."

According to the Visit Singapore website, "Singapore's Chinatown evolved around 1821 when the first Chinese junk arrived from Xiamen, Fujian province in China. The passengers, all men, set up home around the south of the Singapore River which is known today as Telok Ayer. Chinatown’s local name - Niu Che Shui (Bullock Cart Water) arose from the fact each household at that time had to collect fresh water from the wells in Ann Siang Hill and Spring Street, using bullock-drawn carts.

"Not all parts of Chinatown are Chinese though. The Al Abrar Mosque along Telok Ayer Street, and the Jamae Mosque and Sri Mariamman Temple along South Bridge Road lay witness to the harmonious racial and religious atmosphere in Singapore."

Singapore has other ethinic quarters which include Little India, Geylang Serai and Kampong Glam. In the afternoon, we relaxed at the beach in East Coast Park. Located off the East Coast Parkway, the beach and landscaped terrains in the park are a weekend favorite for Singaporeans. I also got to visit CHIJMES, a heritage landmark of Singapore.

For dinner, we attended a birthday celebration and met even more PYs there. And for an evening snack, we went to Lau Pau Sat, another Singapore landmark, for some satay. Stalls open only at night when Boon Tat Street is closed from vehicular traffic since the stalls and tables occupy the street.

September 15: Lunch was with my SSEAYP host sister. The highlight of the day was a boat trip along the Singapore River. I paid SG$12 for the guided tour. It came with a great map which showed the highlights of Singapore River, from the restored shophouses and imposing colonial structures, the many charming bridges, to modern-day skyscrapers.

Of course, you couldn't miss the Merlion. A half-fish, half-lion beast, it is a fitting symbol of Singapore. The singa or lion is said to represent the animal that a Sumatran prince saw when he rediscovered Singapore while the fish is a tribute to Singapore's history as Temasek, the ancient sea town.

After the brief tour, I strolled around Boat Quay and Clarke Quay. Now that is adaptive reuse! The old shophouses and warehouses in the area were restored and converted to chic bars and restaurants which come alive especially in the evenings. If Mayor Atienza had some political will and love for heritage, he could do this rehabilitation and urban renewal in San Nicolas for example.

For the evening, it was a visit to largest fountain in the world at Suntec City. Made of cast bronze, it was built in 1997 costing an estimated US$6 million.

September 16: Traveling to Malaysia from Singapore is very easy since you can do it by land. I took a six-hour bus to Kuala Lumpur for SG$25. I was met at the Puduraya Bus Station by another SSEAYP batchmate and we had dinner for a while at KFC. But I was leaving for Penang on an 11:59 p.m. bus so not much time to chat.

Check out this song called
Singapore Town.

Heritage watch
More endangered fish found inside boat of arrested Chinese

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Looking back at SSEAYP 2002

Happy New Year to all! Time really does fly fast and I can't believe it's already 2007! Anyway, I was cleaning my room a few days ago and I got to look at some albums from previous trips when film cameras were still in style.

After my voyage on the Ship for Southeast Asian Youth Program in 2002, I tried my best to visit my friends in the various ASEAN countries every year. I remember in 2003, my trip was postponed several times due to SARS. It finally pushed through in September and it was a blessing in disguise since it coincided with the docking of the M/S Nippon Maru in Singapore and Malaysia. In 2004, I went to Hue, Vietnam but wasn't able to meet up with anyone. My mistake was I sent the e-mail message too close to the trip and my SG-mate (the 340 participants are divided into 11 Solidarity Groups or SGs) only found out we were in the same city, attending the same festival when we got back.

My blog was born during my trip in 2005 to Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia and Brunei. The very first post was actually in my Friendster blog which is still up and about. In April last year, I made a whirlwind tour around Southeast Asia visiting five countries namely Malaysia, Singapore, Cambodia, Thailand and Laos. I've blogged about all these post-SSEAYP trips already except the one in 2003. And thinking about it, I may never get to see again some of the cities I visited during that trip. It would be a pity if I didn't write about them, two of which are heritage towns of Malaysia namely Penang and Malacca. So for the next few days, I'll be looking back and writing about that trip.

Heritage watch
Enriquez antique mansion goes kaput
Yes people! The Enriquez Mansion along Calle Hidalgo, an 1890s house with Ionic columns and praised by Maria Morilla Norton in 1910 as the "the most beautiful house in the islands," the same one which became the site of the School of Fine Arts of the U.P., is now Acuzar property and has been transferred to Bagac, Bataan. And yes, Acuzar is planning to build a 20-storey building to replace this elegant house in the heritage street.
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