"Ipoh. I like the way that word sounds. Ipoh. It just feels good rolling off the tongue."
If you think that's something I would say, you're right. But I didn't say that. Neda was reading off the road signs as we were riding away from Penang and she made this proclamation over the communicator. That's weird. Normally I'm the one that's captivated by foreign words... but Ipoh is not foreign to me. It's where my uncle lives and we're dropping in for a visit this afternoon!
It's a short roadway drive from Penang to the neighbouring state, Ipoh. Even though we leave ourselves plenty of time in the morning to beat the traffic and the heat, we are instantly one hour late for meeting up with my uncle. Malaysia is in a different timezone than Thailand! We spent two days in Georgetown without even realizing that.
A frantic couple of hours later and we are only 45 minutes late as we pull up to the address my uncle sent me. It's a huge house with an even bigger carport. I peer in through the gates at the covered forms of several obviously antique cars. Are we in the right place?
Yes! My uncle saved us a spot in amongst his stable of antique and classic cars
The last time I saw my uncle was when Neda and I got married, 12 years ago. Back then I was a big car nut, so I think he remembers me from that time. We had a great time catching up, talking cars and I was eager to see what was under the covers in the garage.
This is his pride and joy, a 1954 MG TF, in British Racing Green
He belongs to an antique car club and every month, they all go out for a ride in the roads around Ipoh. He offered to take me around the corner to pick up some food for the day.
My uncle is 83 years old and still sharp as tack and very active
Although I last saw him 12 years ago, it really has been over 35 years since I saw him regularly when I lived here. Since all that time has passed, he is now almost the same age as my grandfather (his father) from when I remembered him in my childhood. Although he doesn't look exactly like him, so many things about my uncle remind me of him.
When you're in an antique British racing car, you get a lot of attention!
My grandfather was very good with people and knew everyone. His eldest son is exactly the same!
Grabbing some food from the local market
When we got back, he had another surprise for me. Quite a few of his cars were already uncovered, so I identified a mid 80s Jaguar XJ6 Series III, as well as an early 70s Ford Capri MK1. But in the corner was yet another covered mystery waiting to be unveiled...
1955 Sunbeam Alpine MK III Convertible - same kind of car Grace Kelly drove in "To Catch A Thief"
I'm pretty sure no else is allowed to drive this car, but for some reason my uncle offered me the driver's seat. Coool! I felt so honoured!
In my head, I was singing the Rush song, "Red Barchetta":
"Down in his barn, my uncle preserved for me an old machine, for 50 odd years.
To keep it as new has been his dearest dream"
I fired up the willing engine, responding with a roar. Tires not spitting gravel, because I was going to baby my uncle's prized possession. Neda clambered onto the passenger seat beside me and we drove slowly out of the driveway, both of us grinning like little kids. I was looking forward to wind in our hair, mechanical music... that adrenaline surge!
Instead, a tired, coughing sound crept out from beneath the bonnet somewhere far ahead of us.
With a shudder, the old girl sputtered and died. Neda's eyes grew wide, "WHAT DID YOU DO?!?". My eyes grew wider than hers. "NOTHING! I DID NOTHING!", I protested. "I didn't stall! It wasn't me! Look, my foot is still on the clutch". I pointed at my left foot planted to the floorboard. I don't even know why I said that. That doesn't even mean anything...
We hadn't made it 200 meters from the entrance of the driveway.
I stared at the mess of unmarked instrumentation on the dashboard. How do you even turn this thing back on...?!?
In the rearview mirror, I watched as my 83-year old uncle slowly walked towards his beautiful darling car that I had killed. It took forever for him to walk those 200 meters. He's 83. In that time, I was replaying the phone conversation he was going to have with my dad:
"How was my son? Was he a good houseguest?"
"No. He broke my car."
"NO! Not the Sunbeam! That's your favorite!"
"I'm so sorry. Just wait till he gets home... I'll deal with him"
(I'm thinking I'll never go back to Canada now)
I slunk lower in the seat dreading the moment I had to face my uncle's accusing eyes.
He finally arrived at the driver's side door. He leaned down and gave me a sheepish smile, "I forgot to put gas in the car."
OMG, SO relieved!!!! :)
This turtle belonged to my grandfather. When I saw it, I laughed with surprise
This is the first thing I've seen that reminded me of my childhood in Malaysia. When we used to visit my grandfather, I would play with this huge turtle statue on the floor. When my grandfather died, many items in his house went unclaimed by all his children. They were all going to be tossed away when the place was sold, so my uncle, being the oldest of his siblings, decided to keep most of the things. I guess out of a sense of duty or preservation of history.
That turtle is a lot smaller now than how I remembered it back when I was 8 years old...!
The turtle wasn't the only thing he kept. My grandfather kept binders of newspaper clippings and faded B&W pictures spanning decades before my uncle was born. I saw a picture of my great-grandfather for the first time, as well as several ancestors that my uncle didn't even know the names of.
He told me with a smile that he had now become the archiver of the family history. The duty of the eldest son.
Later on that day, my uncle and aunt took us on a short tour of Ipoh
There's not a lot of things to see in the city, the main attraction for tourists is the Ling Sen Tong Temple. It's claim to fame is that it's carved right into the limestone rock of a karst formation, similar to the ones we saw in Krabi province in Southern Thailand.
Chinese temples are very colourful. Lots of red.
The statues outside look like they are part of an amusement park! This place must be popular with kids.
There are a few cave temples in Ipoh, this is the most visited one. Despite it being so over the top with its colours and statues outside, there are a lot of worshippers inside who take this place very seriously.
Inside, you overlook the cartoony statues and marvel at how they've turned this cavernous space into a temple
It was nice to get out of the heat. My aunt and uncle have probably been here tons of times, so they waited for us as we walked around
These cave temples are a mixture of Taoist and Buddhist. Here are some Buddhas carved into this pretty lantern
Buddhism originated from the Indian subcontinent, while Taoism comes from China. Most of the cave temples in Ipoh are Taoist, but Ling Sen Tong caters to both.
The bearded guy on the horse is Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism
We asked my uncle if we could try some Ipoh food, so he took us to the city centre to try some local delicacies.
No, we didn't go to the place on the left. Although there is truth in advertising.
I can imagine the phone conversation with my dad:
"How was your visit with your uncle?"
"Awesome! He took us out to Yummy Tits for lunch"
"... I'm going to have to have a word with my brother..."
Ipoh is known for it's bean sprouts (Nga Choi in Cantonese), so we went to a restaurant and had a meal of chicken with bean sprouts (Nga Choi Gai). Or rather, bean sprouts with some chicken. We had a huge heaping plate of bean sprouts to share amongst the four of us and a smaller plate of chicken with some rice to wash our palettes with! :) Yummy bits.
Ipoh is also known for these huge citrus fruits called pomelos. Yummy... melons.
My uncle bought one for us for our journey. They're huge. About the size of a person's head. I'm not sure where we'll put them on the motorcycle, but we'll have to figure it out soon because tomorrow will be a long riding day.