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Monday, July 29, 2013

Batu Berendam, Melaka: Recollections of early kampung days

Batu Berendam, Melaka: Recollections of early   kampung days

By Wan Chwee Seng

The  early morning sound sent a ripple of excitement through the kampung ( village). Housewives, busy with their household chores, paused to listen. Attracted by the sound, two barefoot kids with catapults in hands were already hurrying down the dirt track that led to the main road. Other kids too had abandoned their errands and other activities and were heading  down the same path. 

The tranquility of the morning was filled with the sound of lively music from an unseen source. Then a gaily decorated bullock cart rounded a corner and it was followed closely by other decorated carts. As the carts  drew nearer, the kids could hear the rhythmic throbbing of  drums, followed at intervals by the sharp  cadence of  gongs and the resonance of violins. The strains of dondang sayang, with snatches of pantuns that were being exchanged by their occupants floated down from a few carts. The kids waved at the slow moving procession and  happy, smiling faces  waved back at them. They watched the procession  until it disappeared from view and then made their way home. 

A mandi safar procession

Later, they found out from the adults that the people were participating in the annual mandi safar festival and the  procession was most probably making its way to the beach at Tanjung Kling where the participants would take part in the religious cleansing of the body and soul.

In the small kampung of Batu Berendam, Melaka where I grew up in the early 1950s,  there was hardly any form of entertainment.  Any celebration, festival or even an unusual event would generate a lot of excitement and usually provide the villagers with a reason to rejoice. 
Another annual event which attracted much interest was the Hindu festival of Masi Magam with a procession which would start from a temple in  Melaka City and wind its way to a temple in Cheng. The kampung folks would usually wait under the shade of a huge tree which used to stand just before the present Taman Melaka Baru. Before the start of the procession the kids would be warned not to stand too close to the road or else the 'hantu tetek’ ( breast demons) would smother them with their pendulous  breasts. The 'hantu tetek’ were two tall, grotesquely decorated  figures who would walk ahead of the silver chariot. 

'Hantu tetek' walking ahead of the procession

Although, we were told the 'hantu tetek' main task was to drive away evil spirits,  they also helped to clear the way for the chariot and the devotees. There would usually be screams and shrieks as the ‘hantu tetek’ made a pretense of catching the few stubborn or mischievous kids who stood too close to the road. 
Every year on the 15th night of the 7th month of the lunar calendar the Taoists and Buddhists in the kampung would celebrate the Hungry Ghosts Festival. During the 7th month they believe the gates of the lower realm will be opened to allow the wandering spirits to wander the earth in search of food and entertainment.  In our kampung, prayers and various food offerings for the spirits were held at a temple which is located at the present Batu Berendam Chinese School. Sometimes, a  Chinese opera would be staged for the ‘special guests’ and kampung folks. 

A Chinese Opera held on the night of The Hungry Ghost Festival

We, kids, were usually not allowed to venture out during this particular night as we were told kids who were unfortunate to encounter the malevolent spirits could be lured to the netherworld. 

My brother and a cousin can still recall vividly the night they sneaked out of the house to view the night’s festivities at the temple. On their way home, they were walking along a dirt track when in the dim light of dusk they spotted hundreds of 'snakes', a mass of writhing and glistening bodies, endlessly criss-crossing their only path leading to the house. Both made a desperate jump over the murky, serpentine form. 

'Snakes' criss-crossing their path

They managed to escape unscathed from the incident, but my cousin fell sick and had to seek the help of Ali Mat, the kampung bomoh or shaman.

In our kampung the doors of the houses were usually left wide open and only shuttered at dusk. Neighbours and friends could move freely in and out of the houses.  However, on rare occasions, mother would ask us to close the windows and doors long before dusk and we were all told to stay indoors. Those were nights when some of the men in the kampung would perform the ’upacara menghalau hantu or driving away the evil spirits,ceremony  perform to protect the kampung from any misfortune. Huddled together in the silence and stillness of the sitting room, we would listen to the night wind carry the long lingering shout that sounded like the howl of a dog on a moonlit night.

Today, the mandi safar and the upacara menghalau hantu have been banned. The Chinese opera is gradually being replaced by the modern stage show known as Ko Tai. The Masi Magam and the Hungry Ghost Festival are still held annually, but with the  availability of television, computer games and other forms of entertainment, they have drawn less interest among the kampung folks. 

While some of the festivals have become a thing of the past, others we hope will stand the test of time.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Kancil the mouse-deer


 Kancil the mouse-deer
By Wan Chwee Seng

They stand among the shrubs and flowers, silent sentinels of our small garden. Unperturbed by the scorching heat of the tropical sun or  the torrential downpour of the seasonal monsoon rain, they keep a timeless watch on the garden.
The two guards are just man-made mouse-deer _ the  creation of a retiree, perhaps during a moment of inspiration triggered by a childhood memory. 
They stand among the shrubs and flowers

 Now, as I look at the two weather-beaten ‘mouse-deer’ they bring back fond memories of another mouse-deer. A live mouse-deer which was our family pet.
Silent sentinels of our garden

It was the early 1950s and we were then living in Kuala Pilah , a small town in Malaysia. Father was  working as a chief clerk in the State Forest Department and our family stayed in one of the government quarters in the Residential Area. 

Government quarters in the Residential Area

Our house was a semi-detached wooden house which stood on concrete stilts with a detached kitchen connected to the main house by a covered corridor. A high plank walls with pointed tips enclosed the kitchen and a spacious air-well.

Our house at 246 B, Residential Area, Kuala Pilah

One evening, as we sat at the raised veranda of the house, we saw father cycling home on his old Raleigh bicycle followed closely by a uniformed forest guard. When they approached the house, we noticed the guard was carrying an open box in his arms. Curious, we took a peep. Inside the box was a strange-looking animal which was slightly larger than an adult’s palm. 

Father told us it was a baby mouse-deer and we could keep it for a pet. We did not take an instant liking to it, as unlike the cute, cuddly puppy or kitten we used to see, the baby mouse-deer had mouse-like face with big bulging eyes and spindly legs.  

According to father, some forest guards who was on duty in the jungle had stumbled upon the  baby mouse-deer. They assumed its mother must have been killed by poachers as it was nowhere in sight. Knowing that the baby mouse-deer would not be able to survive in the wild on its own, they brought it back to the office and handed it to the District Forest Officer. The latter persuaded father to get the help of our family to look after the mouse-deer until it was strong enough to be given to the zoo.

Father with some of the forest guards

With eight children to raise, mother was now entrusted with the additional task of caring for a baby mouse-deer.  It had to be  bottle-fed  with milk as it was still too small to feed on vegetables. With careful weaning and proper care, we discovered it had grown into quite an attractive animal with big, bright eyes and  a sleek, reddish brown coat with a triangular white pattern that ran from the chin to the throat.

Having heard and read many stories about Sang Kancil, the wily mouse-deer who used to outwit its  bigger predators like the tiger and crocodile, we decided to name it Kancil.

 Kancil soon outgrew its box. A fairly  large space under the house was fenced off with chicken wire and turned into an enclosure where Kancil could roam freely within the security of its confines. To enable us to feed Kancil, the front of the enclosure was fitted with a low fence which overlooked the air-well. Kancil was now able to feed on greens, usually the leaves of sweet potatoes which we would place in the enclosure together with a bowl of water. Whenever we went to the nearby market, we would  remember to buy sweet potato leaves for Kancil. We like to hold the leaves over the fence and watch it nibbled the leaves while eyeing us with its huge, captivating eyes. As Kancil grew in strength, so did our love for her.

One day when we went to feed Kancil, we found the enclosure was empty. Had it escape or fallen victim to a predator? Worried, we made a long and frantic search for it. We finally found it ensconced snugly among a clump of banana trees behind the kitchen. We tried to pick it up, but it  bounded from its hiding place and scurried away. Shouting and laughing we gave chase, but it raced along the wall, leaped over a drain and ran circle in the spacious air-well.  Breathless and exhausted, we finally gave up the chase. Then from the corner of our eyes we saw it standing at the air-well with a forlorn and dejected look, perhaps, wondering why we had decided to end the enjoyable game. Later, we were  surprised and puzzled to find it had sneaked back into its enclosure. Since we could not find any hole in the fencing, we assumed it must have jumped over the low fence. 

One morning when we went to feed Kancil, we discovered it had gone missing again. Then we spotted it at the air-well, among the pigeons and house sparrows. Mother had placed a piece of bread for the birds, but Kancil was laying claim to it. It was obviously relishing its newly discovered delicacy as it was busy keeping the birds at bay. We did not try to catch it, as we knew it would eventually return to its enclosure. The next morning and on subsequent mornings, we would find it eating and sharing its bread with its  feathered friends.

Then one evening  father  told us that Kancil was big and healthy enough to be handed to the zoo. One day we watched as a truck slowly rolled onto the grass compound of our house and we knew the dreaded day had finally arrived. We all felt sad at having to part with our pet mouse-deer, but the thought of Kancil bringing countless joy and thrill to kids and other visitors to the zoo gave us some consolation.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

A squawk in the night

The Star


Wednesday May 11, 2011
Story and illustration by

Wan Chwee Seng

The rooster’s crow which heralded the dawn of a new day, has long been replaced by the drone of traffic everywhere.

AT THE first light of dawn, the long crow of a lone rooster broke the silence of a village slowly stirring to life. Other roosters picked up the call and soon the undulating crow of roosters heralding the approach of daylight, echoed through the village.
The afternoons were filled with the raucous cackles of the egg-layers and the evenings with the clucks and chirps of chickens foraging for food. Night was a time of peace and quiet, broken occasionally by a sudden squawk.
In the small village of Batu Berendam, Malacca, where I grew up in the early 1950s, all the families in our neighbourhood kept kampung chickens or free-range chickens for their eggs and meat. The cacophony of chicken calls that permeated the air from morn to dusk had become an integral part of the village life.
Mother, too, kept a few hens for their eggs and most mornings we would have two half-boiled eggs for breakfast. We did not worry unduly about hypertension or high cholesterol then.
My cousin, Fook, had discovered a convenient and expedient method of consuming eggs. At the first sound of a cackle, he would rush to the chicken coop. The moment a hen laid an egg, he would pluck the egg from underneath the sitting hen, give it a gentle crack and gulp the warm content with relish. Sometimes the hen would sound a false alarm and sometimes when he was in a hurry, he would give the hen a helping hand or rather a finger. Today, he still vouches for the raw eggs’ exquisite taste and medicinal value.
Rearing chickens in those days had its attendant risks. Besides succumbing to diseases, the chickens would fall prey to civets or chicken thieves.
Back then, we did not have supermarkets where we could purchase dressed chicken and the nearest wet market was miles away. To buy or sell chickens, the villagers had to rely on the itinerant fowl-sellers who would go from village to village to hawk their wares. The chickens were packed in a woven bamboo basket strapped to the bicycle’s rear carrier.
Whenever there was a chicken theft, the fowl-sellers somehow became the prime suspects as it was said that they would visit houses during the day on the pretext of purchasing chickens and having studied the location of the chicken coop and getaway route, would return at night to steal the chickens.
In our village, the kampung folks relied on Mat, the affable fowl-seller from a neighbouring village, whenever they needed to buy or sell chickens. The squeak of pedals and the crunch of wheels on the pebble-strewn compound would send excited children scurrying out of their houses, while housewives with purses in hands strolled leisurely to greet his arrival.
“Eh! Mat, ni ayam curi atau beli?” (Mat, is this stolen or bought chicken?) someone would ask in jest.
He had become the butt of their jokes since the day he had unknowingly sold some stolen chickens to their former owner.
“Tentulah, ayam beli,” (Of course, they are bought chicken), he would reply with a faint chuckle.
While the children gawked at the chickens, the housewives busied themselves with selecting the choicest chickens. Long after the purchases had been made, continuous chatter followed by intermittent laughter could still be heard as the womenfolk lingered to gossip and listen to the latest local news.
One dark and rainy night, my teenage cousin, Swee, was awakened by the fluttering of wings and the squawking of chickens. Not daring to venture into the dark night, he called out in his best stentorian voice: “Mat, saya tahu awak ada di sana!” (“Mat,Iknow you’re there!”)L to R: The writer, Swee and Sunny

The poor guy, if he had been in the immediate vicinity of the coop, would have got the fright of his life, wondering how someone could recognise him in the pitch dark.
The next day, in the grey hour of morning, Swee was already making a head count of his chickens and he heaved a sigh of relief when he discovered that except for the few dislodged feathers, all the chickens were accounted for.
Now my cousins and I have all moved away from the village and settled in towns or cities.
One evening, my sister appeared unexpectedly at our doorstep with five cross-bred chickens in hand.
“Do you like to keep these chicks?” she asked.
One look at the cute and fuzzy chicks and I knew I could not resist the offer. The chicks were housed in a hastily built coop placed behind the house. It was not long before the chicks had transformed into four hens with dark brown feathers and a magnificent rooster with feathers of iridescent hues.
One evening when I went to check on the chickens, an empty coop met my eyes. Driven by their primeval instinct, the chickens had taken to roosting on the branches of a rambutan tree. A hen had also gone missing.
One night, we were awakened by a big squawk from the back of the house.
“Ah, most probably a nocturnal predator,” I thought as I rolled over and drifted into a deep slumber.
The next morning when we strolled into the kitchen, we noticed the kitchen’s window was wide open and a few cooking utensils lay scattered on the ground in the backyard.
We realised an attempted break-in had been foiled by the squawk of the chickens. Although we were proud they had become a substitute watch dog, we felt concern at the sight of them scratching and foraging for food in our flower beds. Chickens foraging for food

We knew eventually they would invade our neighbour’s garden.
Early one morning as I looked out of the kitchen window, a slight movement among the tall grass caught my attention. In the dim light, a long murky shape was snaking its way towards the house.
“Sir Hiss,” the word instantly came to mind.
As the shape emerged from the grass, I saw it was our missing hen with 12 chicks in tow. I watched the home-coming with mixed feelings. Raising five chickens was already a problem. How were we going to cope with 12 additional chicks? We knew sooner or later, we had to let go of all the chickens.
One evening when our old friend, Awang, came to tend our garden, I asked him: “Awang, do you like to keep these chickens?”
“But encik, these chickens make tasty curry,” came the reply.
I could not imagine my pet chickens ending up in a cooking pot. After a long pause, I said to him: “Awang, can you help raise these chickens?”
Late that evening as the chickens came home to roost, they were quietly plucked from their roost and loaded into the front basket of his motorcycle. I watched sadly as the motorcycle roared down the narrow road and vanished into the gathering darkness.
I did not find out from Awang what became of the chickens and perhaps will never know as our friend, Awang, left us a few years ago.
Today, the once familiar chicken calls of my childhood days have been replaced by the incessant drone and hum of traffic and the occasional blaring of a horn.
In moments of solitude, I like to reflect on those good old days – of days filled with the bedlam of chicken noises, the boisterous voices of children welcoming the arrival of Mat, the fowl-seller, and the excitement of waking up to the sound of a squawk in the night

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Eastern Europe: A trip to popular sights and hidden attractions


 Eastern Europe: A trip to popular sights and hidden attractions
           as recounted by S. L. Lim

I packed and unpacked the hand luggage, still undecided as to which jacket I should take for my ten day trip to Eastern Europe. It was the 24th of May, the beginning of summer, but the weather report for the week stated that the temperature in Warsaw would be between 10 C and 26 C. At the eleventh hour I opted for the thicker, but much bulkier jacket. I was glad I made the  decision, as the moment we landed at Frederic Chopin Airport in Warsaw, our tour group was greeted by a gust of cold wind that made me shiver.

 A coach was already waiting to take us to our first destination. 


A camera clicked and I got the first snapshot of the tour.

                   Oops! Not too good.


                    Ah, this one is  better.

And here are more views of Warsaw as seen through the windows
of the moving coach.

We arrived at Warsaw Lazienki Park and the Royal Garden.

And as we stood to admire a statue,  I could feel the piercing cold, although garbed under layers of warm clothing.

Despite the bitter cold and discovering that the Royal Lazienki Museum was closed for the day, we were keen to see the park. 

One of the main attractions in the park was Chopin Monument

which was bordered with lush greenery.

 Another attraction in the park was the Palace On Water which stands on an artificial island in a man-made lake 

with fountains that spouted water high into the crispy air

and ducks that glided gracefully on the tranquil water, unperturbed by the presence of tourists strolling by.

And elsewhere, flowers in a profusion of colours provided a feast
for the eyes.

We paused to gaze at and contemplate on the many statues that graced the ground.  

Our next destination was Warsaw Old Market Square which is situated in the heart of the Old Town. The Square must be a popular tourist spot as groups of camera-toting tourists were already busy taking pictures of the Warsaw Mermaid monument (a mythical protector of the city) and the surrounding buildings.

Others were happy just to linger in the square, admire the architectural styles of the surrounding buildings or relax in the open terrace cafes while soaking in the atmosphere.

After the long walk in the cold, it was a welcome relief when we were finally allowed to return to the warmth and comfort of our hotel rooms. 


En route to Krakow we made a brief stop at the town of Czestochowa.

 We followed behind the footsteps of our tour guide who led us down a narrow road  to Jasna Gora Monastery.

Other tourists, worshipers and pilgrims too could be seen making their way to  the shrine of the Virgin Mary.

At the entrance to the monastery we  jostled our way through the bustling crowd.

A feisty and jovial nun, who conducted the tour, greeted us and showed us how to elbow our way through the teeming crowd.

Her comical demonstration left most of us smiling and laughing and I could not help suppressing a smile as it reminded me of the movie, Sister Act. 

She was soon flitting around the church which housed the Black Madonna, explaining and telling interesting anecdotes about the miraculous painting.  

One was about the story of a thief who tried, but failed to steal the painting as each time he loaded the painting onto his cart , it would somehow slip to the ground.

We bade farewell to the 'flying nun'  and threaded our way through the still streaming crowd to our waiting coach. 

The coach was soon humming its way towards Auswichz concentration camp

As it approached the concentration camp, we could make out the murky outlines of the drab buildings which used to hold more than a million prisoners during the Second World War.

As we walked past the entrance and set foot on its ground, we did not feel the slightest  fear about the place with its dark past, but could sense the oppressive sadness that pervaded the atmosphere 

A young guide showed us a plan of the camp and the locations of its various 'facilities'  

and how they were utilised.

Following closely behind  her footsteps, we stopped at various locations where she explained to us the different methods that were employed to execute the prisoners. 

The gas chamber where gas canisters were

dropped through chimneys to the room below.

The wall where the prisoners were lined up to face the firing squad.

The gallows where the prisoners were hung.

We were also taken to a museum which was set up in remembrance of those who died there and on display were hairs, shoes and other personal belongings of the prisoners.

The sights and display were all grim reminders of the horror and atrocities committed during World War II.

On our way out we spotted a plaque on which these words were boldly inscribed:

It was a fitting reminder  for future generation and  for those who are still sceptical about the holocaust.


Our next stop was at the Gothic Wawel Castle , a fortification which includes palaces and a Cathedral. It stands on Wawel Hill and overlooks the Vistula River.

The Cathedral features a statue of the Wawel Dragon which according to legend used to terrorise the local community, devouring livestock and virgins, until it was eventually killed by Krakaus, a Polish prince. He then built his residence above the dragon's den. 


We followed a narrow cobbled road leading

to the Old Market Square surrounded with historical buildings,

embellished with statues while 

  flower boxes filled with colourful blooms lined the edge of the Square.

With camera in hand, I took a leisurely stroll around the Square, as other than the usual pictures of buildings I wanted to take in and capture the sights and sounds of the city:

_the happy and spontaneous laughter of a child

_ the patient wait of a pretzel vendor

_ the performance of  buskers in front of a cafe

_ the clip clop of horses hooves on the hard cobbled streets

From here the coach took us to  the town of Wiellczka in southern Poland which is renowned for its salt mines..


We rested on a bench before the descent into  the salt mine.

Our tour guide briefed us before we started on the 3.7 kilometres  tour of the mine.

Keeping a careful watch on the 378 steps, we made our slow descent down a wooden staircase  to the depth of the mine.

Above us, the grey, granite-like rock salt glowed incandescence in the yellow light of a lamp.

Our eyes fell on two figures carved from rock salt and the guide told us that it was the figure of a man presenting a ring to a princess. She then related to us the story of a Hungarian princess, Kinga, who was betrothed to the king of Krakow. As salt was scarce in Poland, she asked her father for a salt mine as a dowry for her future husband. Before departing for Poland she threw her ring into one of the mine shafts. On arrival in Poland she asked the locals to dig a deep pit and on digging they discovered the princess ring wrapped in salt crystal.

The miners in and around the city, adopted her as their guarding angel. 

Thumb up  to the guide for the interesting story.

The mine also showcased the history of salt mining from the neolithic period up to modern time. 

Along the way we were surprise to see an underground lake.

Lenny, volunteered to operate the old wooden wheel used for hoisting the salt.

Soon we came to a cavernous chapel brightly- lit by chandeliers which were intricately crafted from reconstituted salt.

In and around the chapel there were holy statues and reliefs meticulously sculptured from rock salt.

We followed our guide through a dim and narrow passageway

which led to a  room filled with giftshops selling a wide range of souvenirs.

We exited to the surface via an elevator and headed for a restaurant

where we rested our weary limbs and enjoyed a welcome meal.

 Krakow/ Banska Bytrica/ Budapest

We drove past the  medieval countryside of Slovakia 
and arrived in Banska Bytrica city which is situated in the Hron valley and nestled among three mountain chains.
 Soon we found ourselves strolling in the spacious National Uprising Square which is located in the centre of the city. 

The Square is surrounded by well-preserved Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque buildings. 

  Among the many historical buildings and monuments that can be found in the Square are the leaning Clock Tower,

 and the Black Obelisk which was erected by the USSR to honour the Soviet soldiers who were killed during the city liberation in 1945.

As dusk set in, we made our way to a restaurant.

Two violinists were waiting to welcome the customers.

Huge barrel-like booths at one end of the restaurant gave the place a welcoming and comfortable ambience.

We made our way to another section of the restaurant which was already filled with the early dinner crowd.

A table had already been reserved for our Malaysian tour group, to allow us sample some of the Hungarian dishes, including its national cuisine, goulash which is a stew of meat, noodles and vegetable.

While we dined, we were entertained to a spirited gypsy dance accompanied with lively music.

Dawn the next day found us crossing the Budapest's bridge. 

We came to a stop at Castle Hill and then

 made our way to the viewing terrace of the Fisherman's Bastion.

 From the terrace and windows of its towers 

we had a panoramic view of the Danube and its surrounding.

We followed our guide to view the Royal Palace and Mathias Church.

After the long walking tour we headed for our hotel. As our coach was passing through a narrow road, we found our way blocked by a car which was not parked properly. 

The driver rang for the police who arrived to direct traffic and had the driver remove his car.

 After nearly one hour we were finally able to proceed to our hotel. 

After a short rest, the coach took us to the centre of Budapest where we boarded a boat for a cruise down the Danube river.

A waiter came to serve us drinks and as we sat at a round table

and sipped steaming coffee

we watched the kaleidoscopic view on both sides of the waterfront

Sometimes we would stand on the deck or relax in a chair and enjoy the cool breeze that blew in from the river.

The boat cruise down the Danube was perhaps the highlight of our trip.

Budapest / Bratislava

Half an hour after leaving Budapest, a member of our tour group suddenly realised he had accidentally left his backpack on the cruise boat. Our tour guide contacted her counterpart in Budapest and managed to get someone to send the backpack by taxi. Meanwhile we waited at a McDonald’s outlet for the backpack to arrive before proceeding to Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. The pleasant medieval city straddles the Danube river and has many narrow and winding streets. 

 Bratislava / Prague

An overcast sky, a harbinger of adverse weather ahead, greeted us on our arrival in Prague(Praha), the capital of the Czech Republic. Our first stop was at Prague Castle which is the world's largest ancient castle and within its sprawling complex is located  the Royal Palace and St. Vitus Cathedral.
We made a walking tour of the complex to view the Royal Palace

and  I stopped to pose for a picture with a guard at the entrance. 

After viewing the Royal Palace we proceeded to St. Vitus Cathedral.The Cathedral with its impressive Gothic architecture is clearly visible from most part of the city.

As soon as we set foot in the cathedral, we paused to admire

its immaculate interior embellished 

with statues


 and stained glass windows 

Slight intermittent rain had started to fall when we left the castle complex. 

With the rain and icy wind, it was a welcome respite when we were able to drop in at a bistro for a hot drink.

Sheltering under open umbrellas. we made our way across Charles Bridge

The rain started to escalate, so we took shelter under a bridge while waiting for it to abate.

Later, as we continued our walk across the bridge, I noticed the buildings and bridges below us were just indistinct shapes behind the curtain of slashing rain. 

My fingers, now numbed with cold, I was reluctant to dig for the camera hidden somewhere at the bottom of the handbag. So, I was happy just to take in the view while leaving the unenviable task of taking photos in the cold to Lenny. 
Our guide stopped along the way and pointed to us the blue line on the flood gauge that marked the level of the disastrous flood that struck Prague in 2002. 

Cold and hungry we made our way along a narrow and busy road  

and was glad to find ourselves at the entrance of a Chinese Restaurant where we knew a warm meal was waiting for us.

After we had had our fill, we boarded our coach which took us to Dorint Hotel Don Giovanni

We sat and waited at the lobby while our guide helped to check us in.

Then it was time for a brief rest in the comfort of our room and a warm shower. 

Overcome with weariness, we snuggled into bed and soon drifted into deep slumber.

Dawn, the next day found us in the Old Town Square and despite the cold and rain a fairly large crowd could be seen walking, conversing in small group or gazing and admiring the hodgepodge of architecture _  Gothic Tyn Church; Baroque St. Nicholas Church 

Sheltering under our small umbrella, Lenny and I mingled with the crowd.

One of the chief attractions in the Square is the medieval astronomical clock which is mounted on the southern wall of the Old City Hall

Four figures representing vanity, usury, pleasure and entertainment, and death are set in motion at the hour. Death which is represented by a skeleton strikes the time upon the hour. Every hour, there is also a presentation of the twelve apostles  at the doorways above the clock. 

While waiting for the clock to strike the hour and watch the presentation we walked around the Square to

look at the variety of food on sale

and the many stalls selling clothes and souvenirs.

As there was still ample time before we were due to return to our hotel, we ventured into some of the streets that radiated from the Square.

We came upon shops selling paintings, toys and jewellery.

Our steps took us along a tree-lined street flanked with   expensive shops and boutiques that were filled with a wide selection of world-renowned labels like : Cartier, jimmy Choo, Gucci, Prada and others.


We arrived in Wroclaw, the capital of Silesia and our coach dropped us at the Main Market Square or Rynek. The Square is the hub of The Old Town where we can see some of the city's splendid architecture. Most of the buildings were destroyed during the Second World War, but they were painstakingly restored after the War.

Perhaps, the most recognisable landmarks in the square is the Gothic Bourgeois Town Hall which features a clock on its east facade.

Another prominent landmark in the square is the Centennial Hall, a multi-purpose recreation hall, constructed of reinforced concrete.


On its ground is a huge pond which is partially surrounded by a concrete pergola. We walked under the shade of the pergola

and paused to gaze at the moving-dancing screen of water created by some 300 jets of the multimedia fountains.

One of the memorable and iconic attractions of the city is its legion of little people ( krasnale). The ubiquitous dwarfs are engaged in a variety of activities and can be spotted in the most unlikely places. 
Behind bars. Wonder, what crime he had commited.

What are they doing?

 Dwarfs are featured in many Polish folklores, but they  became popular when the ‘Orange Alternative’, an anti-establishment movement used them as symbols for their protests against the communist government.

It was raining slightly, when we made our way across Tumski Bridge or Lovers Bridge. 

We noticed several padlocks were affixed to the steel railings of the bridge. 

Our tour guide told us they were placed there by lovers as a sign of their everlasting love. The lovers would usually engrave their names on the padlocks and after having affixed the padlocks to the railings would throw the key into the Odra river. 

We stepped into a 'church' 

and was soon admiring the paintings mounted on the pillars, 

the statues that adorned the walls,

and the beautiful frescoes on the high ceiling

when our tour guide informed us that we were in one of the lecture halls of Wroclaw University

A  Catholic lady in our tour group sidled up to me and whispered coyly "I was just about to kneel down and pray."
I gave her a knowing smile. I too had mistaken it for a church, as the place had all the semblance of a church.


We bade goodbye to Wroclaw and departed for Warsaw where we would take our flight home. While waiting at the airport we learned that Prague had been hit by a major flood and Charles Bridge was under water. We were thankful that we had left Prague two days ahead of the flood.


The trip to Eastern Europe not only gave us the opportunity to visit popular sights, but also to discover its hidden attractions. Even the inclement weather could not dampen our spirits as we had some colourful characters in our tour group who with their witticism and sense of humour made the trip an enjoyable and memorable one.

Notes: Most of the photographs are courtesy of Lenny Wan