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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Bert's Garden and Seafarer: A night out to remember

Bert’s Garden and Seafarer: A night out to remember  
by C S Wan

The sun was just beginning to dip behind the distant horizon when the car eased into the ample, sandy parking lot and came to a halt next to the entrance of Bert’s Garden.

Siew Leng, Amy, Siew Wah and KL Lim at the car park

KL Lim with the writer at the entrance to Bert's Garden

A dimly-lit wooden arch framed by the matted branches of trees  loomed before us and the moment we set foot on the restaurant ground we  were warmly greeted by Ron who guided us down a paved pathway. The many trees with spreading canopy as well as ferns and tropical palms which adorned their bases gave the place a rustic ambience.  As it was relatively early, the many tables under palm-thatched huts and on unpolished wooden decks were mostly unoccupied. Ron asked us to pick the table of our choice and so we made our way towards a table on an elevated wooden deck that overlooked the sea, hoping to catch a view of the sea and enjoy the cool breeze.
But,  I noticed with a tinge of sadness,  the wide expanse of water was now partially shielded from our view by landfills and all that we were left to gaze on was a  narrow stretch of murky waters.
The western sky was drenched in yellow and orange and in the lagoon-like shallows a fisherman with the aid of a torch was searching for fish, a lone figure in the deepening darkness.
The western sky drenched in yellow and orange

While others studied the menus I asked Ron,
‘Are there still fish in the water?’ 
‘Ah, only small fish and maybe some sembilang,” he lamented.
‘Is it like the badukang that are found in the Melaka river?’ I inquired, recalling the old days when  the rear section of the pre-war houses along the Melaka river extended well beyond the river’s edge and the river teemed with this particular  fish. 
‘Well, I won’t talk about it at dinner time.’ he whispered with a broad  smile.
And I beamed him a knowing smile.
By then the others   had decided to try out  the ‘Light and Easy’ listed  on the menu and from  the range of flexible options they had chosen nasi lemak, otak-oak, chicken wings and undon noodles with black pepper.
While waiting for the food to be prepared, I stole away to snap a few photos for the album and take in the surroundings. The once old, drab colonial building, just  across our table, had been given a fresh coat  of paint and a new wing had been converted into a bar where a few early customers were already enjoying their drinks.
The old colonial house

 I had just settled into my seat when the fragrance of pandan wafted towards our table and I saw Ron bearing plates of nasi lemak. I noticed the steaming fragrant rice flavoured with coconut- cream was served with the basic accompaniments - sambal, fried crispy ikan bilis(anchovies), hard-boiled eggs, fried ground-nuts and a few slices of fresh cucumber. I scooped  a spoonful of the fluffy, aromatic rice and savoured it. I found the santan in the nasi lemak was neither too rich nor too plain  and suited my taste buds and the sambal too was not pungent while the ikan bilis and groundnuts still retained their crispness.  Next came the chicken wings. I must admit I am not a lover of chicken wings, but after trying out a piece of the crispy and tender  wing I could not resist  a second offer. The other dishes arrived a few minutes of each other. The otak-otak we were told were sourced from the nearby town of Muar which is well-known for its otak-otak. The undon noodles was tasty, but with the extra spicy black pepper it  was  too pungent for our liking. 

Enjoying our meals
When the bill arrived I was pleasantly surprised to find that the cost of the meal with drinks for the five of us amounted to only RM65. The meal was delicious and the price was affordable. 
Night had crept in, unnoticed, and strategically placed muted lights now lit the darkness of the place, giving it a touch of romance.
Muted lights lit up the place

 Leaving the other patrons to enjoy their drinks in the peace and  tranquility of the night, we headed for the Seafarer  which was located just a few metres away. Against a dark sky, a brightly-lit signboard with the word ‘Seafarer’  in blue neon lights beckoned us.
The brightly-lit signboard

 The moment we stepped into the restaurant a  soft, sentimental country music filled the still night air. On a dimly-lit stage, behind a keyboard and massive speakers, a singer  was belting out a Kenny Roger’s number. With his wispy, white beard and dark glasses he could be  mistaken for a college professor.
Don at the keyboard

Don belting out a number

Captivated by his voice, we paused to listen to the song before ordering our drinks and desserts.  His next number,  ’What a wonderful world’ was well rendered with the same strong, raspy voice which is unique to Louis Armstrong’s singing style. Other oldies that followed like ‘The Gambler’, ‘Ruby’ and’Tennessee Waltz' done in Don's soothing baritone voice    left us tapping and humming to the tune and each number was greeted with appreciative applause from our table. 
Appreciative listeners

Lim jotted down the titles of his three favourite songs, somewhat  short of his usual ten requests,  and hesitantly passed the slip to a passing waiter  As one of the  song, ‘Apo nak dikato’ drifted to our table,  the word ‘Kuala Pilah’ caught my attention and it  brought back fond memories of my childhood days in Kuala Pilah _ of carefree days  spent in roaming the neighbourhood and of quiet, peaceful nights spent with our parents  on the veranda where we would join our dad in singing or humming the popular songs of the fifties.
During the break, Don strolled over and joined us at our table and we were surprised to find out that beneath the facade of a stern-looking professor was a much younger person with an affable nature.

Don(L) joined us at our table

Having a friendly conversation

Don informed us he was only able to socialise on Friday nights when there were less patrons. On Saturday nights when there were  more patrons he would   perform non-stop, especially when there were appreciative audience. We learned he used to perform  in Genting Highland, the Hyatt in Johore and at the Ramada in Melaka.   
“ Are you Portuguese?” I inquired.
“No, I’m British,” he replied with an amused smile.
We were soon discussing  the Portuguese and Dutch communities in Melaka and during the course of our conversation I discovered he was a close friend of the late Ivor  who was married to my cousin. Don told us that whenever Ivor came back from Perth where he had migrated in the seventies they would get together and he would always sing the song 'Back Home Again' for him. He said whenever he sang the song, his friend’s eyes would brim with tears, perhaps recalling loved ones and the many friends he had to leave behind in Malaysia. 
When Don took to the stage, after the break, the first song that rose and wafted from the stage was 'Back Home Again', the song he used to sing for his late friend. As I listened to the lyrics and the haunting melody, I  knew others too would certainly be stricken with nostalgia and overcome with emotion .
It was well past mid-night when  we finally bade farewell to Don and to the strains of ’Please help me I’m falling”, we dragged our reluctant feet towards the car.
An ordinary night out had turned into a night filled with unexpected memorable experience. We got acquainted with a singer, enjoyed a repertoire of entertaining oldies, savoured fine food and wallowed in the nostalgia of the good old days. It was indeed a night out to remember.

Below are some songs which the then resident singers, Don and Winston used to sing at the Seafarer. I wish to share these songs with the fans, the dancers and others who used to frequent the Seafarer and especially to KL Lim and family.

Woody Wright with the song ' Back Home Again'

Daniel O'Donnell _ Our house is a home

Isla Grant and Daniel O'Donnell _ Down memory Lane

Daniel O'Donnell _ I just want to dance with you

Kenny Rogers _ Coward of the county

Kenny Rogers _ Lucille

" The Tennessee Waltz " _singer Patti Page 1950


1. Bert's Garden is located at Jalan Kampung Pinang, Melaka, Malaysia.
2. Seafarer is located at Batang Tiga, Tanjung Kling, Melaka, Malaysia.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Trip to China: A random recollection

Trip to China: A random recollection
          as recounted by Siew Leng

 “ Like to join us on a trip to Xian?” my sis-in-law asked one morning. Having seen documentaries about the terracotta warriors on TV and having read Steve Berry’s ‘The Emperor’s Tomb’, I accepted the offer without much hesitation. 
The morning of 18th May 2012 found us on board a flight to Shanghai and from there we took a domestic flight to Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan province.

 After breakfast our tour group headed for the Yellow River Park where we experienced a hovercraft ride. As the craft skimmed its murky water, we caught fleeting views of communication tower and ferris wheel. Two colossal stone figures carved into the hillside loomed above us.

Boon Neo, Siew Leng and Teck Neo at the Yellow River Park

Long Xern at the Yellow River Park


Communication tower

A ferris wheel

Two colossal stone figures in the background

Kaifeng court complex

The Kaifeng court complex consisted of Song dynasty buildings. As we stepped into Kaifeng hall, the tour guide informed us that the hall was where Justice Bao who was known for his incorruptibility and uprightness used to administer justice without fear or favour. Perhaps, having followed the Cantonese TV series about Justice Bao, the name immediately conjured image of a judge with a stern demeanour and a dark face with a distinctive crescent birthmark on his forehead. Guillotines that were used to behead  criminals who were sentenced to death were also on display in the hall. The knife-shaped guillotines were decorated with different animal’s head _dog’s headed knife for the common criminals, tiger-headed knife for crooked and corrupt government officials and dragon-headed knife reserved for royal personages.     
Kaifeng court complex

Guillotines on display'

'Justice Bao' holding court

We then made our way to the iron pagoda which we found out was not really made of iron, but so-named because the colour of the pagoda had a close resemblance to iron.
View of the iron pagoda

Gulou night markets
Although twilight had not come the lights were switched on and the morning's drab and unattended stalls were transformed into a kaleidoscopic picture of garish neon lights. Bathed in the warm glow of the reflected light, we strolled past food stalls selling various food. Skewered meat sizzled on hot plate and spewed acrid smoke into the balmy evening air. From another stall wisp of white smoke emanated from large aluminium pots, tingling the nostrils of passersby with its savoury odour.  We were warned by our guide about the hygiene and   doubtful nature of the meat and so we gazed with suspicion at the food and  refrained from savouring the 'culinary delight'.    
Garish neon lights lit the night market

Skewered meat sizzled on hot plate

More skewered meat

Assortments of food

Wisp of smoke 

Dengfeng, Shaolin temples 
As the coach made its slow ascent, the rising road offered stunning vistas of ancient temples that nestled among blue mountains. When we reached the gateway to the Shaolin temples, we found the place was already teeming with camera-toting tourists.Then as dusk edged into night, the lights came on and the darkness of the place was magically transformed into a  blaze of colours. Where monks once used to pray, meditate and practise their close-guarded kung fu styles within cloistered walls, the place now resonated to the sound of pulsating music while novice monks displayed their martial arts skill in front of an appreciative audience.

Gateway to the Shaolin temples

The place was teeming with tourists

A stunning vista

Temples nestled among blue mountains

A blaze of colours

A blaze of colours

Shaolin kungfu show

Luoyang, Longmen grottoes 
Longmen grottoes is located to the south of Luoyang city. We were told that the grottoes consisted of more than 2,000 caves and niches and contained more than 100,000 statues besides being a treasure house for historical materials. A glance at the many steps leading to the grottoes and wooden walkways that seemed to hang precariously from the cliff’s surface made me realise the need for well-lubricated knees , a steady pair of legs and a stout heart. The largest grotto is the Fengxian temple where visitors can see an impressive statue of Vairacona Buddha with a serene face and elegant smile sitting on a lotus throne flanked by his disciples, Kasyapa and Ananda.
Entrance to the Longmen grottoes

The many caves and niches

Walkways hung precariously from cliff's surface

Statue of Vairacona Buddha in the background

At last we had reached the final leg and perhaps the highlight of our tour. We took a quick view of the city wall which we learned was one of the oldest and best preserved Chinese city walls before proceeding to the Bell and Drum Towers, an iconic landmark of the city. At the first light of dawn the strident clang of the bell would signal to the Xian residents the start of a new day and as the last ray of the setting sun dipped behind the city wall the deafening boom of a drum would announce the closing of another day.
 Our next stop was the Museum of Qin Dynasty Terra-cotta Warriors and Horses which housed a collection of terracotta warriors depicting the army of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. The hangar-like exhibition hall  is topped by an impressive glass panel arch fitted with neon lights. Rows of terracotta warriors with different poses and  physical features stood motionless in excavated pits divided by earth corridors. We were told that in 1974 some peasants digging a well had uncovered an underground vault which later was found to contain the life-sized terracotta warriors.It is not exactly known what was inside the original tomb, but legend has it that the Emperor employed artisans to decorate the ceilings with precious stones to represent the heavenly bodies in the night sky and to create underground rivers of flowing mercury.
It was late evening when we finally  made our way back to the hotel and left the terracotta warriors to their eternal duty of guarding the Emperor's tomb.
Zai Jian!

Xian city walls

Inside the Terracotta Warriors Museum

Rows of terracotta warriors

Among the warriors

Below is a slideshow of our trip to China: Zhenghou, Kaifeng, Dengfeng, Luoyang, Sanmenxia, Lingbao and Xian
18th May to 24th May 2012