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Proud of my Taiping roots

By Audrey Dermawan -June 9, 2019 NST

Despite having left Taiping more than two decades ago, the charming old, former tin-mining town continues to have a special place in my heart.

This was where I spent my formative years up to completing my secondary school years — a good 19 years.

Although I do not go back as often these days, everything in Taiping still reminds me of the good old days.

The neighbourhood that I grew up, first in Jalan Azizul Rahman and later in Taman Glenview, both in Kamunting, still stand strong despite being overgrown with lallang in some parts.

Back then, my siblings and I would secretly go to a back lane to catch tiny fishes and put them in glass jars. After a few secret trips, my mum finally got wind of our activities and gave us a good spanking. However, it did not deter us from continuing with our “fishing”.

Rain was considered part and parcel of gloomy Taiping. Almost every evening the skies would open up, hence it is aptly named “Rain City”.

But surprisingly, one hardly hears about floods striking the second largest town in Perak.

Apart from home, my schools — SK Convent Kota and subsequently SMK Convent — were where I spent most of my time during my formative years. The former has been awarded the status of a high-performance school.

With no home to return to in Taiping now, after my family moved from there, I only go there to visit my relatives.

I have had the privilege of witnessing many developments taking place in my humble hometown, turning the once laid-back town into a bustling place.

New condominiums have altered the landscape, from Crystal Creek Resort Homes to Cornerstone condominium. Who would have ever imagined Taiping having condominiums?

There are shopping malls such as Taiping Sentral, Aeon, Tesco and Taiping Mall. In the past, we had the Berkat Supermarket (later changed to Fajar), Taiping Supermarket, the Store and Larut Matang Supermarket.

With the large number of tourists visiting Taiping now, hotels are also mushrooming, namely Novotel, Flemington, Tune Hotel, Kama Lodge and the latest, the Grand Baron Hotel.

Even the timeless cinema, the Lido, had made way for development, with several businesses changing hands at the old cinema grounds over the years.

I visited the cinema often during my school days, not so much for the movie screenings, but more for its laksa and ais kacang. I wonder what happened to the aunty trading there ?

Despite the new developments, some things remained unchanged such as the scenic Taiping Lake Gardens — the first public gardens in Malaya — established in 1880.

I would often go there for my evening walks, for a breath of fresh air. These days, with the crawling traffic along the route, which worsens during long weekends and public holidays, I try to avoid the place.

A little distance away, is the Taiping War Cemetery, the final resting place for the Allied personnel who were killed during World War II, particularly during the Malayan Campaign and the Japanese occupation of Malaya. It is the only cemetery where I dare take photographs.

Taiping also boasts the oldest hill resort in the country — Bukit Larut — also known as Maxwell Hill. Visitors had to take old rickety jeeps to the top to enjoy the cool breeze although there was nothing much back then. I had been there for a bungalow stay with a few friends during my schooldays despite being warned that the bungalow was haunted. None of us dared to sleep that night, hugging each other at the slightest sound.

The once laid-back Taiping town is today a bustling place.

I understand that the old rickety jeeps have been upgraded. And there are tens of thousands of tulip bulbs illuminating the hill. I haven’t been there recently, so perhaps, it is time to pay a visit.

Another famous highlight around the Lake Gardens is the Taiping Zoo and Night Safari, the oldest zoo in the country, which continues to attract an endless stream of visitors.

The zoo is a must-see, covering a site of 14ha, with more than 1,000 animals, representing 180 species of amphibians, mammals, and reptiles.

Early this year, the zoo welcomed the birth of a male baby elephant after seven years. Almost at the same time, the Taiping Lake Garden was gazetted as a national heritage.

The old Taiping railway station and a row of eateries stand unchanged, although the facade has since undergone major renovations portraying a more modern look.

A new station was built in 2014 as part of the Ipoh-Padang Besar electrification and double-tracking project.

There’s the Antong Coffee Mill nearby — the oldest coffee mill in the country — which is still in operation. The aroma from the brewed coffee is tantalising.

A short drive away was the Cashier/Casual Market food court. My favourite was the hu wan koay teow (fishball koay teow). The taste today is the same as what I had back then. One was spoilt for choice when visiting the food court, which is somewhat rundown today.

Many of the old-time hawkers are still in business. The rojak uncle remembers me as the nurse’s daughter (my mother was a nurse at the Taiping Hospital). There’s the laksa aunty and the couple selling the ang tow kar (blended red bean juice) or the fried oyster. They don’t seemed to have aged.

What is even more amazing is the taste of their food has not changed for the past 20 years. It is a must-visit place whenever I go back to Taiping.

Taiping was recently named the Town of Everlasting Peace and judged the third best city in the world, behind Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, and Vancouver, Canada.

The recognition was given during the Sustainable Top 100 Destination Awards 2019 at the International Tourismus-Börse show in Berlin, Germany, in March.

I may have travelled to many parts of the world. However, Taiping is still the best place to return to at the end of the day. I will always be proud of my roots.