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  • Writer's pictureRick

West Malaysia Day 13: Meeting Concubines in Ipoh

I set the alarm to go off at 7am but I was awaken by the guest next door leaving the room with a loud closing of the door at around 6am. I lazed in bed until I felt ready to get up.

Another place to have breakfast with coffee in Chinatown was Lai Foong Restaurant (丽丰茶冰室), which I spotted the day before when walking back from the Central Market. It was not crowded in the early morning.

I had a mixed beef kway teow soup, from one of the stalls, and kopi-o kosong. The noodle soup had a clear broth with natural tastes of the beefy ingredients, except cow stomach with a peppery taste — it was prepared separately. I had not tried a beef noodle before that would not use strong flavours to cover up the natural beefy flavours. It was either like or dislike for many people but I found this to my liking.

I checked-out from SCC Gateway Chinatown Hotel at 9:15am. I could have stayed in the room for another hour but since it was my first time using Easybook’s direct boarding e-ticket at Kuala Lumpur TBS, it might be better to arrive earlier in case of any issues that may arise.

I did the reverse of the chain of events that I went through on the first day I arrived in KL. I walked to Pasar Seni (LRT) Station, bought a fare token, go through the gantry, and followed the signs to Pasar Seni MRT Station. Seemed like I had exited via the LRT station unknowingly two days back.

I took the MRT train towards Jagang, alighted one stop later at Merdeka Station, walked to Plaza Rakyat LRT Station and took a train towards Putra Heights at 9:45am. It reached Bandar Tasik Selatan Station at 10am.

I had 2 hours to waste so I checked out the KLIA Transit Station between Bandar Tasik Selatan LRT Station and Terminal Bersepadu Selatan (TBS). Both the KLIA Transit and KLIA Ekspres would start at KL Sentral and stop at both KLIA1 and KLIA2. KLIA Ekspres would not stop at any other stops, including Bandar Tasik Selatan.

I planned to have early lunch at TBS, but I was still feeling quite full. I combed the terminal looking for something good and light but nothing aroused my appetite, so I settled for two breads and munched them for an hour.

And Murphy dropped by to say hi.

All boarding passes would be allowed to go through the gantry to the departure hall within one hour of the boarding time. I went to Gate 5, as indicated on the booking slip, at 11:10am and flashed the direct boarding QR code on the reader. The indicator above the gantry changed from a green “arrow” to a red “cross”. I thought there was an error and did not proceed. When I realised that it meant “no scanning” for the next person in line, the gantry had closed. I tried to flash the QR code again but the gantry would not open. It was for one-time use only.

I seek help from a security personnel and was told to go to “Counter A”. I spent 10 minutes looking for “Kaunter A”, found it, saw the god~ forsaken queue, cursed and joined behind it. There were some 20 pax ahead. But I did not wait for long. A staff came directly to me (maybe I was holding my phone, carrying a big backpack and wore a t-shirt printed with “Taiwan”), asked about my issue and referred me to another “Centralised Ticketing System” counter. I simply showed the booking slip on my phone to the counter staff and she printed a new ticket for me. And it worked!

The direct boarding QR pass from Easybook was working fine. It was the misleading indicators on the gantry that resulted in unnecessary confusion. I was right to be at the terminal early despite having direct boarding. Be prepared or Murphy would toy with you!

I was in the departure hall by 11:40am and boarded a Butterworth-bound GJG Express bus en-route to Ipoh at 12:05pm. Finally, I was getting out of Kuala Lumpur. I had never liked staying in capital cities when travelling.

The GJG bus stopped at Ipoh Amanjaya Terminal at 3:08pm. I alighted and saw the bus schedule for myBAS T30a/b pasted on the glass panels near to the exit. The drop-off point was also the place to wait for the public bus to Medan Kidd Bus Terminal. It seemed like the service no longer en-route to Ipoh Train Station. But Medan Kidd Bus Terminal was just 5 minutes’ walk to the train station.

Based on the schedule, the 3pm bus had just left and the next bus would be an hour away. I could have used Grab car to get to the hotel, but I decided to wait for the service and experience it. A Bus T30a came at 3:35pm, started boarding at 3:45pm and left Terminal Amanjaya at 4pm. The fare was RM1.70 (cash only).

The bus took 30 minutes to reach Medan Kidd Terminal and I took a 15 minutes’ walk to Brick Box Hotel. Now that I had learned the hard way, I would use Grab car next time.

A quick check-in and I got the single room that I wanted. The very same room that I had stayed in before. It had been 7 years since I was last here when the hotel was still brand new. There might be some wear and tear but the room and linens were very clean and all amenities were working properly.

An interesting thing to note was the use of water dispenser for drinking water in placed of bottled water in the rooms. From Kluang to Kuala Lumpur, except for Malacca where I stayed in guest houses, bottled water were provided. In Ipoh — and later in Penang, Taiping and Cameron Highlands — hotels used water dispensers.

A shower to cool down, rested for a short while and I hit the streets. Some 60 metres away, I did a quick look around Kong Heng Square, where Restoran Plan b was. There was an artisan market with some stalls but they were closing for the day.

Followed by the not-so-interesting Wife Lane (大奶巷) with a couple of murals hidden behind some corners.

The main draw was the Concubine Lane (二奶巷) and it was pretty crowded with stalls on both sides of the lane, selling souvenirs and handicrafts.

However, the feeling was not the same as before. Walking down the current Concubine Lane felt like I was out of place, or rather, the vibes along the lane was strange. There was no sense of being in a Chinese old town, no cultural feel, no originality to it. It did not feel like the Concubine Lane that I had experienced in 2017. Traditional foodstuffs, like pastries, soya beancurd, Chinese food, etc, and Chinese handicrafts were gone and replaced by a "pasar malam" — why would anyone travel all the way here to see another pasar malam? I exited the lane in less than 10 minutes.

Finally, the 2nd Concubine Lane (三奶巷) with some shops. It was a rather quiet lane.

In summary, wife was boring, concubine was lively and second concubine was trying to get attention.

Ipoh Old Town was changing. It had more shops, restaurants and cafes than before and they could bring new life to the old town. But, the cultural aspect of the town seemed to be diminishing. It probably was not trying to become another Melaka Old Town, but a business district since it was already a famed tourist spot.

Despite more shops opening up in the old town, most of them closed by 6pm, including the whole Concubine Lane. All that remained opened after 6pm in the old town were a handful of restaurants and cafes. There would probably be nothing to do after dinner.

I crossed Kinta River to the new town and came to Gerbang Malam (or Night Gate Market) where many eateries gathered here. Restoran Tauge Ayam Lou Wong (老黄芽菜鸡沙河粉), where I had ate their chicken rice and bean sprouts several times before, was here too. I was considering to give it another go when I saw the “Cash only” signs outside the restaurant. Although it was a little lame, but I used this as an excuse to give it a miss and try something else.

After walking one round, l came to Restoran Sun Tuck Kee (新德记炒粉小食店) which specialised in stir-fried noodle dishes. There were few customers so I went in.

I looked for their signature dishes and ordered the yue guang hor (月光河), or “moonlight” kway teow, and a dish of bean sprouts (油豆芽). The noodle dish came with a raw egg for mixing into the kway teow and made the noodle smooth and slippery. It was nice and not salty. The bean sprouts, added with some spice, were fat, crunchy and juicy with nice flavour from the spice. It was a great meal.

On the way back from the new town, I walked past a pub called Kiki Lalat, housed in an old shop with an old signboard. They had certain event going on, some guys setting up a stand with charcoal for grilling, some preparing a portable swim pool and water guns. They were going to have water-splashing activities as it was the Songkran festival in Thailand.

I found something that I could do after dinner — a drink.

At 8pm, it was still early with few tables taken up.  I saw “Todi” and “Tuak” on the menu and asked the lady behind the bar counter the difference between them. She told me “todi” (toddy) was coconut palm wine, which I knew, and “tuak” was rice wine — argh! I had believed they were the same.

I got a cup of toddy for RM15 (180ml) — no choice, pub price. It had somewhat similar taste to Nachi Toddy that I tried in Malacca, again without the faint fermentation taste that I experienced in Kluang. Similarly, the alcohol content seemed to be very low — I believed the sourish fermentation taste, as experienced in the toddy shop in Kluang, was probably due to a longer fermentation period thus resulting in slightly higher alcoholic content.

I wanted to try their tuak too but the pub was becoming crowded with young people and the water-splashing was about to start. I hightailed. I would be back again for the tuak next day.

Be it the windowless room of Brick Box Hotel or the effect of the low-alcoholic wine, I had a darn good sleep — 13th night into the trip.

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