Day 18 of The Round Malaysia Road Trip 2020 | Travels with my wife

Travels With My Wife

Still talking after all these years!

Day 18 of The Round Malaysia Road Trip 2020





Today we take a look around the Taiping area and journey to Kuala Sepetang, once upon a time known as Port Weld. It is hard to imagine that this rather sooty and dilapidated old fishing port was once one of the primary ports on the Malayan peninsula. The tin from the mines around Taiping used to come down the eight and quarter mile long line and get shipped off to Penang.

Considering the amount of effort everyone was putting into digging up the Larut area, one would imagine that a convenient form of transportation would have been a necessity. But for years they merely relied upon bullock carts trudging down Captain Speedy's ill kept dirt track. Let us say that although his budget was adequate, his methods did not get the money on the road, but more into contractors pockets. A common theme in governance all round the world.

Even when the colonial authorities had finally decided to build a railway, the first in Malaya, it took them four years to build it because nobody in Malaya had a clue how one built a railway. This was 1880 when Britain was building railways everywhere. And also when the Chinese were banging in the spikes across America. So between them one would have thought they could have got some traction. But as it stood workers had go be brought in from what was then called Ceylon.

For five or so years the railway did well and Port Weld grew. But then Frank Swettenham contracted railway fever and started putting together his grand trunk lines and there were now lots cheaper and quicker ways of getting the tin to the market.

For a while Port Weld survived on being the quarantine station for livestock brought in for slaughter from Siam, but the Japanese invasion disrupted everything. They even pulled up the line to be used on the Burma Railway of Death. The lines were re-layed after the war but they were little used and the train passed into history leaving the little town isolated and dependent upon its wood, charcoal, and sea food enterprises.



As the tin mines in and around Taiping dried up, Taiping also declined. But it did acquire a magnificent park. The Taiping Lake Gardens were originally mining grounds but in 1880 Chung Keng Quee donated them as a public park. Apparently he was persuaded to do so by Colonel Robert Sandilands Frown Walker, whose statue one now finds in the Perak Museum.

Robert Sandilands Frown Walker's Perak Armed Police were now filling the role that Captain Speedy and his motley bunch had once filled.

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The man was, of all things, a professional footballer! Or that is, as professional as one could be in the 1870's. He played for the Clapham Rovers Football club. And also played for England in a match against Scotland, scoring the winning goal.

He was also captain of the Sandhurst cricket team, and a dab hand at hurdling and pole jumping. He was what one might call, a bit of a jock. But he was no joke! He was not a man to trifle with.

If you recall, the friction between the Hai San and the Ghee Hin Chinese societies had caused the British to get rid of the Perak sultan and take control. Well, ever willing to shoot themselves in the foot, in 1887 the Hai San and Ghee Hin were at each others throats again. A fight in a brothel set them off and our man with a force of Sikh's had to sort out the situation. Heads were cracked in the process and he was commended for his patience and understanding. Frank Swettenham would probably have hanged everyone, so it is all relative.

This seems to have destroyed whatever control the leadership had over their members, which does indicate that British police methods had removed the ring leaders from the scene. So, now there were roving gangs of free lance robbers spilling over into Pahang. And in 1892, Walker led the Perak Sikhs to quell those disturbances. Then he had to go off to Ipoh to give protection to the mine owners whose workers were less than happy with conditions. I assume Walker made the miners an offer they could not refuse and got them back to work again.

He said of this period, "No wonder that the crime has increased, as increase it must, with a mining population of Chinese, a race that knows no repose, that settles only for the moment where money is to be made with the greatest ease, that would rob their best friends if they themselves should have lost their savings at the gaming table."

As you can see, his form of cultural sensitivity was not judgemental in anyway. The three things of Money, Chinese and Brothels was bound to cause trouble. It was a law of nature.

And so the Perak Chinese Protectorate, as the government agency in charge of keeping the Chinese worker out of the control of the Triads, was moved from Taiping to Ipoh where the main action now was.

There is an interesting correlation between a reduction of crime and economic decline. As peace finally reigned in Taiping, the economy declined and all the action went over to Ipoh.

Remember what I said about Frank Swettenham not being a man one would have a drink with without being somewhat careful in one's choice of words? Well, apparently Walker was also known as a difficult individual. So putting the two of them in the same room would be an interesting occasion. The Perak Resident, Frank Swettenham, heard that Rob "Black Panther" Walker, as the Malays called him, had ordered some trees in the parade square to be cut down. Frank insisted that they should be spared. Our man Walker merely said, "Damn the British Resident!" and had the trees chopped down anyway.

Despite being a pain in the arse he did introduce cricket to Perak, though failed to teach anyone but the Indians to play. He did however introduce football, which did spark a bit of interest in the Malay population. The Chinese still preferred brothels and gambling. But I assume they approved of the Perak Turf Club of which Walker was a keen member.

So, what did the British ever do for us? Well, one would imagine that given the British spent an awful lot of time fighting the Chinese, the Chinese would have a somewhat jaundiced view of whatever it was the British did. But we find the following picture of "the Chinese Entry into the Taiping Lake Carnival." I assume this was in the 1920's or thereabout.



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The Chinese have a wicked sense of humour and there is always the possibility that there is a certain amount of irony here. But it should be noted that if one goes to the gardens today, one sees duck shaped peddle boats being peddled around the lake by various Chinese trying to impress their girlfriends. The Peddle Boat was introduced by the British and it appears to be very much appreciated. Go check them out.




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