Lazing Languidly with Concubines in Ipoh, Malaysia

10/01/2018
Melvyn Teillol-Foo

A Marked Man

That got your attention!

Apparently, people enjoy this sort of thing as a form of massage – Gua Sha (Chinese: 刮痧) is a traditional Chinese medical treatment where the skin is scraped to produce light petechiae; believing that releases unhealthy bodily humours from stagnant blood within sore, tired, stiff or injured muscle to stimulate new oxygenated blood flow, thus promoting metabolic cell repair, regeneration, healing and recovery.

Concubines are an optional extra!

Concubine: c.1300 AD, from Latin concubina (fem.), from concumbere “to lie with, to lie together, to cohabit” from com (with) and cubare (to lie down). It is recognised in Law among polygamous people as ‘a secondary wife’.

Concubine Lane, Ipoh, Malaysia

British Malaya

Travelogues from the south-east Asian country of Malaysia usually focus on the capital city – Kuala Lumpur – or the street-foodie haven of Penang. Rarely, you may also read a piece about sea turtle eco-tourism from the beaches of Terengganu or orangutans in Borneo.

The “Silver” State

Let’s explore the real reason that the British staked out an outpost for the empire in Malaya between the 18th and 20th centuries. During British rule, Malaya was one of the most profitable territories of the Empire, as the world’s largest producer of tin and later… rubber. Therein lays “The Tale of Tin” that brought my forefathers to Malaya in pursuit of that silvery metal. The Chinese were experts at hydrology and techniques for extracting alluvial tin deposits. Most settled in the Malay state of Perak; that being the Malay word for “silver” – Hey! The Malays were farmers or fishermen and not geologists: one silvery metal is much like the next.

There were many “Firsts” in Perak – albeit in Taiping town – including the first railway line (1885) in Malaya to transport tin to the first industrial port (Port Weld 1885), first Government hospital (1881), first Anglican church (1883), first gaol (1879), first museum (1886), first golf course (1886), first Government Girls’ School (1889), and first aerodrome (1930).

Ipoh – “The town that tin built”

Ipoh – The Town that Tin Built

Eventually, the state’s commercial centre moved into the interior and the town of Ipoh, named after the terrible Ipoh tree (Antiaris toxicaria) – infamous as the source of blowpipe poison. When the Portuguese attacked the Malay state of Malacca in 1511, the native weapon they most feared was the poison dart. Allegedly, every Portuguese soldier hit by darts died except one.

Ipoh tree (Antiaris toxicaria)

By the way, did you notice Ipoh railway station (1917) in the background? It was designed by Liverpudlian architect Arthur Benison Hubback, who was also responsible for the old railway station in Kuala Lumpur. Both are in the Indo-Saracenic style with Moorish-inspired romantic domes, dreamy arches and spacious walkways. With its Moghul appearance, its nickname is ‘Ipoh’s Taj Mahal’.

Trivia: The first multi-story carpark in Malaysia was built in Ipoh, which was a boon as parking is a nightmare in the Old Town district. Ipoh was also the first Malaysian town to install parking meters!

The early Chinese tin miners were the tycoons of their day but the town residents benefited from their largesse as they set up schools, hospitals, orphanages and old folks homes. Believing that a show of wealth begets wealth, the tycoons literally lived large with luxury villas, imported sports cars, race horses and wives galore.

Of course, only concubines who produced sons were promoted to wife-status – my great-grandfather had four official wives who produced 7 sons between them – we never found out how many remained concubines or how many “great-aunts” were produced.

Traditional custom was for the wives and offspring to be installed in separate wings of the mansion, with the man moving from courtyard to courtyard each night. So, where do you house the concubines?
Necessity is the Mother of Invention: the best families housed their concubines on…..wait for it…..Concubine Lane!

Concubine Lane

Concubine Lane

Although everyone refers to the touristy Panglima Lima street or “Er Nai Xiang” (2nd Wife Lane) as Concubine Lane, there are two other such lanes in Old Town. Lorong Hale or “Da Nai Xiang (First Wife Lane) and Market Lane or “San Nai Xiang (3rd Wife Lane) are less restored. After the fire of 1892, parts of Old Town were rebuilt including those belonging to mining tycoon Yao Tet Shin, who gave houses on the lanes to his three wives, leading to their names – Wife Lane, Concubine Lane and First Concubine Lane.

We prefer another version of the story that claims rich men hid their concubines on those lanes.

Wooden Shutters on a Red World Inside

You can imagine certain ladies waving their silk handkerchiefs from those shutters…..

Concubine Lane

Concubine Lane, along Lorong Panglima, is the busiest among the three lanes today with shops, restaurants and a boutique hotel. Apart from Restoran Wong Koh Kee, all the other buildings are modern “restorations” since 2015.

Decrepit Heritage Building

It was no mean feat as most buildings were in a decrepit state.

Busy at weekends

You can avoid the weekend crowds by going there on quiet weekdays when some of the shops are closed but what is the fun in that?

Concubine Lane

 

Meaning of Red Lanterns?

The other two lanes still retain their original charm but go quickly before they also go down the same touristy route as Panglima Lima Street.

Kong Heng Square

Kong Heng Square

Perhaps, I’ve gone about this travelogue the wrong way as we should have started at Kong Heng Square nearby.

Kong Heng Square Artisan Market

 

Kong Heng Square Artisan Market

Named after the famous ‘white coffee’ shop serving Ipoh’s famous beverage, Kong Heng Square is now the hot hangout of youngsters with its cluster of restaurants, vintage stores and hip cafes entwined by vines from giant trees amongst aged buildings covered with ivy but renovated on the inside.

Kong Heng Square Artisan Market…er…”Facilities”

Everything in Malaysia revolves around food and communal eating. In fact, one of the heritage restoration project investors joined the scheme because a competing project wanted to demolish the old white coffee shops; Our investor did not want to lose his favourite shredded chicken noodles for Sunday breakfast!

White Coffee with Breakfast

White Coffee

The two coffee shops – Thean Chun and Kong Heng – serve the famous ‘white coffee’ invented by Chinese immigrants. The coffee beans are not really white as the name may imply but a blend of normal Arabica, Robusta and Liberica beans roasted only with margarine and without sugar for a paler and caramelised buttery blend that is tempered with condensed milk in the final brew.

Iced Kopi

If you choose to drink it black, it’s still ‘white coffee’ although called “kopi-o” (black coffee, just to confuse you). If you just order “kopi”, it will always be sweetened with condensed milk.

Hot White Coffee: notice that kopi-o is actually black

Both versions can be served hot or on ice. Stains on the traditional design coffee cup are de rigueur.

Satay

The sub-let food stalls do a roaring trade serving Kai-si Hor Fun (shredded chicken rice noodle soup, Satay, Popiah (Fujianese/Chaoshan-style fresh spring roll), Chee Cheong Fun (steamed rice noodle roll) both plain or stuffed, Char Koay Teow (fried flat rice noodles), and much more.

Popiah

 

Chee Cheong Fun

 

Char Koay Teow

You order the drinks from the coffee shop that you’re sitting in but food can be ordered from either shop side-by-side and they’ll bring it round: cash-on-delivery.

 

AlphaLuxe Comment

Immediately after independence, the early governments of Malaysia were hell-bent on erasing traces of British colonialism and “Malay-nising” everything. They changed the English names of towns and roads and embarked on grand modern constructions.

Roots

Today, many of the vestiges of heritage architecture are thankfully protected in towns like Ipoh, Taiping and Penang for it is not only the tourists but locals who benefit from the rich tapestry of history.

“The Man who Erases the Past has not Learnt About the Future…”

 

Useful Links

Ipoh City Council Tourist Information Centre

Ipoh Tourism Board

Tourism Perak Malaysia

Taiping WikiTravel

 


Author’s Biography: Melvyn Teillol-Foo (MTF)

Dr Melvyn Teillol-Foo is a contributor on AlphaLuxe web-zine.
He is also a moderator on PuristSPro.com horology discussion fora. He blends his scientific medical objectivity from the pharmaceutical industry with purist passion, in his musings about watches, travel, wine, food and other epicurean delights.
His travelogue ‘Lazing’ and feasting ‘Grazing’ series of articles have now passed into “mythic legend” on the original ‘ThePuristS.com’ website. Those were the halcyon days when he was “rich and famous” that he remembers with bittersweet fondness.

Dr Teillol-Foo is a quoted enthusiast on the watch industry, appearing in feature articles and interviews by Wall Street Journal, International Herald Tribune, Sunday Times (London), Chronos (Japan), Citizen Hedonist (France) and other publications. He has authored articles for magazines like International Watch (iW) – both U.S. & Chinese editions, ICON (Singapore), August Man (Singapore), Comfort (China) and The Watch (Hong Kong).