Malaysian road to Heritage

Posted on December 20, 2014

Date of arrival, one and half months later. The mission, a guide book to heritage, heritage buildings that people including myself might be interested in paying a visit

I have already spent a tiresome week  on the internet and reading hostorical books finding the best old building in East and West Malaysia.
I narrowed it down to over 350, ouch, from this, I and my client and friend Lillian needed to edit again to make the list even shorter, we need to edit down to 180 max.

How the hell do we chose which building is to stay and which is to go? well, the answer is simple, me being a tourist, if I think the building is aesthetically pleasing and I would actually be bothered to pay it a visit then it stays, if I think it looks like an overly made up fairy cake then it has to go, and believe me, a lot of the heritage buildings in Malaysia look like they have been painted by Rolf Harris on acid.

Lillian on the other hand, being an architect, chooses the buildings by “good indicators of the period” the material used, design and of course, not made out to look like a overly made up fairy cake… oh I almost forgot, another rule of being put in the book, each building should be accessible to the public, either by a tour or just a walk in.

We wanted a test run, see how it goes, mileage, time and costs, so we chose some place simple, well we thought it would be ha.

The Malaysian Flour Mill

A tedious drive of about 4 hours, pissing down with rain for most of the journey and to a dead end town mainly used as a ferry terminal. In the distance on the other side of the cove, the Mill, Totally amazing to see, this huge concrete structure set on the edge of the sea surrounded by forest, I’m sure in those days to construct such a building in the middle of nowhere must have been a major pain in the butt.

We Managed to find a factory which was facing totally opposite to the mill, the only thing in between  us was the  sea and the crap weather.

Perched under two concrete slabs like a giant concrete tent, I set up, the weather was awful, the Mill which wouldn’t look out of place if it was in the movie Metropolis now resembles something from a horror movie, the kids stumble across this lone building in the middle of nowhere, but as the weather is so bad, they have no choice but to enter.. need I go on?

Beer time, two choices of restaurants, one full of Irish who were digging into their steak and mash? also with the local “bar girls” hanging around or, a basic Italian restaurant, we chose Italian, looks safer.

As we walked in lillian asked a western guy how the food was, he just starred without even moving a muscle, here we go again I though, another horror movie moment.

We got to the Mill at 8am, took a walk around and I started shooting, the sky was still flat which was a shame as 1pm a ship delivering 65000 tons of grain was going to take up the whole length of the jetty. Standing on the pier talking to the engineers I saw a familiar face coming towards me in a hard hat, it was the horror moment guy from the Italian, he was Italian and could barely speak a word of English, oops, I feel bad now, funny though, he turned out to be a really nice guy, from then we would always bump into  him at the restaurant.

With some stroke of luck about 30 minutes before the ship came in, the sun came out, woo hoo , running back down to the pier with my equipment hoping the sun will stay out at least for another 5 minutes so I could get the shot.. got it, then the  sun went in.  hmph, that was the end of that day.

Next day, walking along the we decided to shoot the interiors just to be safe and made some plans for a return trip around February.  As there was a previous accident using the under pier conveyor belt the owner will be installing an overhead belt which will deliver grain through the front face of the building, sacrilege!

Time to leave lumut and recce Teluk Ansen

Pissing down with rain yet again, we got to Teluk Ansen about 2 hours later, windy roads and slow lorries make it a boring trip.

We thought if the weather clears, we could at least shoot the tower. The main reason for going on this trip in the first place was to shoot this, quaint wooden version of the leaning tower of Pisa.

Weather was too bad to shoot, we found some other buildings, listed them and will have to come back here another day, such a pain.

26th December 2009

First port of call, Singapore to buy film, can you believe it? not one bloody roll left in Malaysia, really, I have no idea what Fuji and Kodak do here, certainly not to supply the film photographers. Thank God for Singapore, at least they do something right, all Singapore has to do now is put up bloody road signs pointing to the city, every time I drive there I end up taking a different road in a different direction.. sigh.

Next port of call, Johor, the road trip begins.

I once traveled to Johor before during my last road trip for my book ‘Five Minutes’, what I remembered was a town full of prostitutes disguised as hairdressers, weird, all the salons were on the first floor and no women allowed. mmm
Well, this trip was totally different, I’m not here to photograph people, but buildings, pretty much similar though, direction, light and composition, just need to keep the verticals vertical.
The First thing I normally do once entering a town is to recce for  a decent coffee shop, this is top priority for me, I need at least two double espressos a day for me to feel remotely human.
Lucky for me Johor is a big-ish city,  Starbucks and wireless, thank God, Allah, who ever… oh, can I say that?
Right, Johor, a one way pain in the arse, It wasn’t only once I almost ended up in Singapore, thinking I’m just stuck in a heavy jam, when I’m actually in the que for immigration, Sigh!

There are surprisingly some nice old buildings in Johor but there are also the overly made up fairy cake, such as the Royal Museum, but be warned, if the sun is out, best wear sunnies, it is so damn white with an ugly refurbished blue roof. Another complaint, the hunting room, personally I thought this room quite sad, skins of Tigers, tusks of Elephants and their skulls, even a stuffed black Rhino,  all from the day when the Great Brits were showing  the East how life should be lived, drink tea whilst your personal Indian is fanning him, shoot anything that moves and stick its head on the mantlepice, smoke cigars and drink Brandy and brag about the day’s exploits to their wives.. some things just don’t change do they?

Well I hope these people are proud knowing that they have helped in the demise in these animal, but then again, where would all the real estate go?

Right, back to architecture. In the same gounds there is the most amazing building and may I add, the most derelict building.
Bukit Zaharah Palace was once a grand old palace, now left to ruin. Personally I think  this Is one of  the nicest looking buildings in Johor, but then again, maybe its the nicest because it hasn’t been “Ruined by Renovation”… yet!


Bukit Zaharah Palace

One other nice looking building is  the Church of immaculate conception, a little bit of an icing cake, but still has its charm, little did I know that the charm would be lost when I stepped onto the platform by the Altar, sirens wailing, all I needed now was a bolt of lightning, bloody hell, how was I supposed to know the floor had sensors.. so much for the charm, I came out feeling like I just got caught robbing a bank.

I think one of the weirdest things I came across, well, not sure if it’s weird, or just unnerving,  was at the English college. Whilst mooching around the grounds, I saw outside one of the art class rooms were some paintings that the young students had did, I think the age group is around 11 upwards.. anyway, I’m just going to put their art work up on here, I think it speaks for itself. Moral of the story is:  check out the Art teacher before you enroll your kids.

Art class

Next, Kuala Kangsar… dates unknown, too bloody many to remember.

Ouch!  Its been a long time since updating this story, I really should train myself to write whilst shooting, but really, after 14 hours of lugging my rucksack full of 35mm cameras and a hard case full of medium format cameras and two tripods, the last thing I want to do is write about what I have been doing, beer and a shower is top priority, then a trip to the local Japanese, Sushi and Sake.. mmmm

Kuala Kangsar

Victoria Bridge, Kuala Kangsar

To make life easier whilst shooting, Kuala Kangsar, batu gaja, Ipoh and taiping I have been staying at excelsior in Ipoh, purely cos Im lazy and cant be bothered to check out every day, so to date, I have been to Kuala Kangsar three times, shot 16 buildings, Batu gaja three times and 13 buidings, Taiping twice, but stil not completed shooting due to its always bloody raining and of course Ipoh, 21 buildings and the total of three days. I have now become a Familiar face in the hotel, the Chinese and Japanese restaurant, even the parking attendant of the hotel waves at me when I turn up, I’m practically a local-ah!

Kellie’s Castle, outside of batu Gaja, a lovely old building situated right next to a picturesque river and milo machine, can you believe it, why not add a KFC while your at it?  Message to the Malaysian councils, stop taking bribes and stop building badly painted cheap stalls right next to your Heritage.

Oh, while we are on the subject of bribes, who ever is responsible for the pillaging of the Ipoh Hills really needs to be imprisoned, what you did and what you are still doing is morally and environmentally wrong, and by the way, the mess you have created CAN be seen from the roads and to this day is still being mined but I suppose you will only be happy when its all gone so then you can take another bribe from a contractor and  build another bunch of ugly low cost apartments that no one even wants to live in.  Speak out Malaysians!!

Vent Vent Vent…


The pillaging of the Ipoh Hills

Cameron Highlands, famous for its tea plantations and strawberry fields was not what I expected.  I pictured rolling hills and a sleepy old town called Tanah Rata. Once we got to the hill road, it took us two hours to get to the town as It was raining so badly.

Half way up coming around a bend we saw these lights, thousands of them to be exact, it was like aliens had invaded Cameron.
It was so surreal, the twighlight zone all over again, but what it was, the strawberry farmers grow the strawberries battery hen style, 24 hour daylight, although, may I point out, they were using tungsten bulbs.. Doh!

battery strawberry

Battery Strawberries

We finally got to Tanah Rata, this quaint unspoilt town, NOT. It was like being in Phuket, what was I saying about ugly painted stalls?, my God, the town has been totally over run by bad commercialism, tackiness at its best, even the public parking seems to be on the main street, tourist coaches everywhere, it was a war zone.

Luckily  we was staying at The Smoke house, an old tudor style house which is now a 13 room hotel, low cielings, original old English furniture, even the smell reminded me of a farm house in Cornwall I stayed in  when I was a kid,  holidaying with my family. Strange how the house smells of England, time has definately stood still here.


Smoke House, Cameron Highlands

The other highlight of Cameron apart from hundreds of clapped out old Landrovers is the Boh tea plantation, but if you hate screaming kids, dont go on the weekend, the place if full of them and their oblivious owners. Wow, Now Im beginning sound like a travel guide, think I drifting away from the book and the whole point of the book.

Actually, there is a quite nice piece of architecture there, but its modern, so if I do a modern architecture book, I will be sure to add it. I dont have a picture to show you because its the platform where I was sitting drinking my tea looking at the plantation.

so here is the view.. enjoy.

Boh Tea Plantation

Boh Tea Plantation, Cameron Highlands

As Blind as a bat.

On my last journey to Ipoh, It was about 11.30pm, tired and in need of a cold beer I was driving down the highway when a giant moth his my windscreen, clonk, scared the shit out of me, I saw its wings flutter, then stop, poor thing. The next day, I was in Batu gaja shooting the old hospital, when I got back to the car, I noticed the wing of the moth, but it wasnt a moth, it was a bat, I couldn’t believe the I killed a bat, what happened to its radar?  It was so cute, all curled up, a small ball of fur. He didnt see that coming.


26th March 2010

After checking three different weather reports, two said storms all weekend, and BBC said sunny all weekend, normally I wouldn’t trust the BBC and their weather reports, but luckily this time I did, hot and sunny all weekend, perfect weather for the beach, damn!

So arrived Telok Ansen early morning, after a non eventful and boring drive in, non eventful, meaning I didn’t kill anything.

Rushed around shooting a Church, School and a Hindu Temple, although the main point of this trip was to carry on with my Flour Mill project and shoot this wooden tower, but yet again, circumstance prevented me to get the tower, it wasn’t the weather stopping me this time, it was the fact that BMW and friends had an event on which surrounded the tower with tacky looking marquees, will try to shoot it on Sunday after the mill.

Rushing to Lumut which is about an hour from Telok Ansen,  checked in to the hotel then drove to the mill to arrange the night shot, I needed all the spot lights from the pier and crane, turned towards the building, and all lights to be on at the magic hour, this was exactly 7.43pm. With both cameras set up and ready from 7pm, I was waiting for dusk to happen, taking a shot every now and then. Unfortunately my cable release for my medium format was broken due to being dropped and then run over by a lorry, so no cable release means I had to hold down the shutter with my hand,  any photographer with half a brain would know you can’t do this due to camera shake.
Dusk came, shots all look good, polaroid and digital, until I had to hold down the shutter for 30 seconds and longer.. as I was holding I was suddenly covered with about 30 to 30,000 bloody mosquitos on my arms, what the hell are mosquitos doing at the end of the pier and in the middle of the sea, surely there is blood inland?  The bastards wouldn’t bloody leave me alone, I tried fanning them and blowing them, it was just useless, I had enough, packed up and went home. Well, I guess the pictures could be classed as art?

A little Itchy, I went to the Italian, had a Greek salad??? and some beers, I didn’t see the Italian guy though.

Up at dawn I had to rush down to the Mill by 7am, needed the golden light shot, got it, a pretty easy shot, if only last night as easy.

Right, I was ready for tonight, I’m not gonna let mosquito’s hinder my shoot. 7pm came, I was back on the pier, determined to get this shot, everything was ready, even got my bent cable release working, that was until the head fell off, anyway it still can be used. A rumbling of thunder in the distance, then some flashes of lightning, still far away, so thought I would have enough time, 20 minutes to go, the storm getting closer, quicker than I wanted, then ten minutes before the time I wanted to shoot, the storm was right above me, lightning everywhere,  me and my tripod, the highest point standing at the end of a pier, waiting to be zapped by lightning, great, is any shot worth it?, bugger that, no way,  Time to go.

Tonight’s menu, sea food pasta and beer ;o)

1st April 2010

Penang, this is going to be tough, I have at least 60 buildings on my list and I’m sure there will be a lot more than that, I have given myself seven days to shoot, and being Penang the weather in generally pretty good, pretty good meaning very sunny, meaning bloody hot, well at least I will be able to work off all the pasta and beer from Lumut.

Catch 22, would you rather a ruin left in a state of nostalgia, or would you have it renovated, but ruined overly by renovation? Personally, I like the idea of a house after Miss Havisham dies, left in its original state with only our imaginations to what once went on there.

Take for example, The Suffolk House, originally built around 1800s. When I first came across the paintings of this mansion, feeling a bit homesick I couldn’t wait to see it, the vast grounds where this house is situated reminded me of Kenwood House on Hampstead heath.

But once I got there…  well, you could just say,  I was still homesick.
You can make up your own minds.





Time for dinner, lucky me, I already know of a cute little Italian restaurant, now, the question is, will it be wine or will it be beer?
How about both ;o)

7th April, 6.15am

Rudely awoken from my sleep by the creaking of the windows and banging of doors, I suddenly realized the hotel was rocking, shit! earthquake, got to go… scrambling for my clothes and trainers, I ran towards the lift, what am I doing, use the bloody stairs, luckily I was only on the 7th floor, took me less than five minutes from waking to running across the road. It was an earthquake, but not in Penang, it was in Sumatra, Indonesia, but still it was enough to give the bay view hotel a good shake. What made me laugh was the fact that most of the people who did evacuate the hotel just hung around the lobby entrance, do they honestly think they are safe just because they are 1 meter from the front door?

Oh, and another thing if you need to use the loo before you go to bed, do so, just in case you happen to be in a quake and have to evacuate, you never quite know when last nights beer, wine and pizza will want to come out. Pain in the arse is an understatement.

Back to Taiping to finish a few of the buildings that I couldn’t shoot due to un-foreseen downpours.

Luck, as it happens seemed to be on my side. I arrived in Taiping around 5 30pm, thick black storm clouds mixed with the famous golden light, the light that photographers pray for at the end of a day. Amazing as it was, I knew it wasn’t going to last, quickly got to the old Market, set up ready to shoot, waiting for the cars to get out of my way, when somebody decides to chat to me.. bloody hell, bad timing,  the guy was only trying to be polite, telling me the history of the Market, not that I didn’t already know, but trying to act interested- really, wow, is that so?  cars out the way, must shoot, click, nice chatting, byeeeee.

Off to the old wooden church..  my God, pardon the pun, but the church and the grave yard looked like something from a Hammer movie, the thick black clouds, golden light and the old church, all that was missing was some hot vampire popping out from all directions. Shame.


Kuala Lumpur July and August and  now September

All, I’m going to say about KL is bureaucracy, bloody bureaucracy.
You need permission to take a pee in this city, well, pay 2o sen at least but locals get to pee for free. Im sure if this was England that would be come under the catagory of racism.

Waiting waiting waiting… Merdeka day and now the new ‘Malaysia Day’ has put a spanner in the works, the whole country is covered in flags, hum, I wonder if the flags are recycled?

Going back to the beginning of the Heritage shoot until now, it has been nine months, what was It I said at the beginning?  one and a half months later, haha right, I started shooting December 26th 2009, today is September 26th 2010. If only I was being paid for waiting.

Latest update 23rd December 2017 – Unpublished waste of time.


Comments are closed.