old town

We didn't bring a camera with us on our trip back to Malaysia for Lunar New Year, so all I have are iPhone snaps.

My dad is from a small town in Perak called Kampar, once known for tin-mining, now known for the newish and very large Perak campus of the Tunku Abdul Rahman University that has brought new life to the town. It's the kind of place where the tallest building is a seven-storey hotel. There are crumbling old shophouses, some of them quite beautiful, and the market has some of the best hawker food - the kind of no-nonsense comfort fare (fish ball noodles, chee cheong fun, lor mai kai, char kway teow) our parents took for granted, but is getting increasing hard to find (good ones, that is). The town is fringed by mountains that sprawl through the state of Perak, and driving from one town to another is a scenic affair.


(composed using a panorama app)

Until the opening of the university in 2007, Kampar was quiet, with most of its younger population moving to the larger cities and overseas to study and work, coming alive only during festive holidays like the Lunar New Year, and Qing Ming (Tomb Sweeping Festival).

My grandfather had an import-export business that my second uncle, (my dad's older brother) now runs. He owned a shophouse that housed a traditional provision shop downstairs, a sprawling warehouse at the back, and home was upstairs on the second floor. Most of my childhood Lunar New Year holidays were spent here, playing my cousins and generally making a racket. The business moved to a spanking new office-warehouse years ago. My uncle still owns the shophouse, which is now rented to a drugstore/pharmacy chain.




Across the road, these decrepit old wooden houses will be torn down soon, probably making way for some hideous residential development.



Some food shots. Many stalls are closed during the Lunar New Year so I usually enjoy them in their full glory when I visit for Qing Ming (when we visit our ancestors' graves and clean up and make offerings).

The first one is Ice Kacang - it's basically shaved ice topped with gula melaka and evaporated milk drizzled over, on top of grass jelly cubes, red bean, sweet corn and chendol (those green strips, made of coconut milk and rice flour). Sometimes it's served with peanuts. This one also has mysterious bright red jelly balls.



Below, fried wontons on the left, and fried fish balls on the right. We also had fried bean curd and kway teow (flat rice noodles) in soup to go with it. Simple goodness.



Kampar is not as pretty as more famous Malaysian towns like Malacca or Penang, or even parts of neighbouring Ipoh, but I have always been fascinated by its small-town sleepiness, and the way its residents have travelled miles elsewhere to make a living, but they always come back for the traditional festivals. The locals are accustomed to their own returning from afar, bringing their foreign-born children with them. People recognise my father on the street after years of not seeing him. During Lunar New Year, you see more cars with Singapore license plates than you'd expect. I often think I will see someone I know.

I wasn't born here, but it feels comforting to be here, almost like home.

Comments

very interesting post. Your iphone takes better pictures than my camera!
Ammu said…
Lovely post - captures the bittersweetness of returning to places one knew so well as a child.
jennifer said…
Your pictures are lovely. That shaved ice looks DELICIOUS. There's a similar dish in Taiwan that I seek out every time I'm over there.
K. said…
Such a charming, old town - and the food looks absolutely delish!

x
Kate said…
amazing post. i would love to try the food! childhood places are so familiar yet still exciting - i moved to my favourite childhood place and it still feels magical every day.
lin said…
Pret a Porter P: Only in good light, and it's NOTHING compared to the iPhone 4. That is a truly remarkable phone camera.

Ammu: Thanks! I often wonder how long I will continue to return...

Trying to find time to reply to your email by the way! I'm so behind with clearing my mails...

Jennifer: Taiwan is all manner of shaved iced desserts I dream about! The variety is mindblogging.

K: I've always wanted to do a proper road trip through Malaysia. I think it will be fun.

Kate: That's interesting, do share about the experience some time.
If Jane said…
oh wonderful! nice feeling...
and you just made me super hungry! ;))
Vika K said…
What a humble, quaint town :) that food looks so delicious!
miss sophie said…
these local histories are really fascinating. i've never been to Malaysia, but would love to go sometime in the near future - there is so much of SE Asia that i'd love to see and explore (and so much yummy food to taste!). i totally understand your feeling of a place where you feel a sense of home even though you never grew up there or lived there for any significant period of time. Shanghai is like that for me...
lin said…
Oh, I vaguely remember your Shanghai posts while I was looking through your archive (did that sound creepy?). Reminiscing about past journeys are always welcome to me, so do share some memories, hindsights if you have any!

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