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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Alor Setar Festival time - Kedah

THERE’S no time like the present to visit Alor Setar, capital of Kedah. From today till the end of August, more than 20 exciting events have been lined up to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Sultan Abdul Halim Mu’adzam Shah’s accession to the throne of Kedah. Among the exciting events held in conjunction with the Golden Jubilee are the public presentation and Kedah Exposition (Stadium Darul Aman) today and July 17 respectively, a dinner party in Stadium Sultan Abdul Halim on July 23 and 100th Anniversary celebration of Sultan Abdul Hamid College (next to the railway station) on July 26.

Next month, there’s the river sports festival (Ampang Jajar, next to Mardi Complex) on Aug 2, decorative float procession (Dataran Tunku, opposite Pekan Rabu) on Aug 8 and tattoo demonstration (Stadium Darul Aman) on Aug 25. Historical Sights Apart from the excitement, visitors should also take the opportunity to take in the interesting sights around the State capital. Founded some 300 years ago, Alor Setar is one of the oldest settlements in the country and tourists only need to go to the historic Padang Court or Medan Bandar to see the many historical buildings that are still standing today. Even locals enjoy taking a leisurely stroll around this area, considered the oldest part of town, in the evenings to reminisce the past and to enjoy the architecture of some of the finest buildings in the country. An added advantage to visiting the Padang Court in the evenings is listening to the Nobat or the Royal Kedah Orchestra. The Nobat musicians assemble every evening at the Balai Nobat (Nobat Hall) to play during the maghrib and isyak prayer times of the Muslims.

Among the other interesting buildings at Padang Court are the Balai Besar (Grand Audience Hall), Sultan Abdul Halim Galleria (previously the High Court Complex), Masjid Zahir (Zahir Mosque), Bangunan Jam Besar (Big Clock Building), Balai Seni Negeri (State Art Gallery), Wan Mat Saman Building and Istana Pelamin. Sultan’s Alma Mater Outside the city centre, tourists can walk through the corridors of Sultan Abdul Hamid College where the Sultan spent part of his school years. Holding the record as the State’s first English school, Sultan Abdul Hamid College was established in 1908 as the Government English School (GES). Its current name was only adopted in 1935 after the name of the Sultan’s grandfather, Sultan Abdul Hamid. It celebrates its centenary this year.

The Sultan studied here after the end of the Japanese Occupation and Second World War (1946 -1949). Sultan Abdul Hamid College is also credited with having produced many famous personalities, including two former prime ministers — Tunku Abdul Rahman and Tun Mahathir Mohamad. Peek Into History After all the walking, it may be a good idea to take a break and the best place to do this is at Merdeka Gardens, the city’s green lung that was established in 1957 to commemorate the country’s Independence. Here, look out for the Emergency Memorial, set up in memory of those who died during the tumultuous communist insurgency that lasted 12 harrowing years from 1948.

Then, walk across the road to the State Museum Complex for a comprehensive history of Kedah, one of Malaysia’s oldest States with an unbroken royal lineage dating over 1,000 years! Sultan Abdul Halim ascended the throne on July 14, 1958, upon the demise of his father, Sultan Badlishah. He was subsequently declared the 28th Sultan of Kedah on Feb 20, 1959.

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Villa Sentosa A Kampong History -Malacca

Abdul Rahim Haji Hashim, son of Haji Hashim Datuk Demang Haji Abdul Ghani, is the primary caretaker of Villa Sentosa. He looks typically Malay though and this is also reflected in the beautiful house built by his father 88 years ago in Kampung Morten, the only Malay village at the heart of the city near the Malacca River.

Listening to Abdul Rahim, 72, talk about Kampung Morten is like taking a walk back in time to when the British ruled this land. He will tell you how Kampung Morten, on the banks of the Malacca River, came about, how his father, who was the village headman, built Villa Sentosa, which is now a “living museum”.

He will also tell you how he studied under some of the best teachers in Malacca during the British rule, which explains his command of the English language.

Colonial Character Not a single day goes by without tourists coming to Villa Sentosa to experience what it was like to live and grow up there during colonial times. Inside the house, nothing much has changed, not even the cups, saucers and glasses used to serve drinks. There are tea sets from England too, which the family uses occasionally. Sometimes, these are laid on the beautifully set tables for tourists to see and admire.

Indeed, time seems to stand still at Villa Sentosa, except maybe for the plants growing in the front yard. “This was how we used to live when my late father and my 11 siblings stayed in this house,” he says. He and his family still live in the house and he has turned it into a museum of sorts.

What’s so remarkable about Villa Sentosa is that the mainly timber house was constructed without a single nail. There are four rooms and an equal number of halls, a long kitchen, a beautiful porch and a well maintained backyard that faces other traditional Malay houses there.

Abdul Rahim guides guests around the house, telling them about the intriguing collection of costumes, embroidery, furniture, muskets and an interesting array of Malay items. Among these are a 500-year-old Majapahit keris, a 100-year-old Quran, Mign Dynasty ceramics and family photographs.

He says Villa Sentosa offers four things — Malaysian culture, history, architecture and hospitality. There are more than 100 traditional Malay houses in Kampung Morten but all are smaller than Villa Sentosa and definitely not as grand though each house and its occupants have their own stories to tell about life in the village.

Heritage Village Kampung Morten was named after F.J Morten, the land commissioner of Malacca during the British rule, in 1920. At that time, there were already some 100 houses there, of which Villa Sentosa is one of the oldest. The Malacca State government has declared Kampung Morten a heritage village. Villa Sentosa is open to visitors from 9am till 1pm, and from 2pm till 5pm, everyday except Friday when the opening hours are from 2.45pm till 5pm. Entrance is free. For details and appointments, call 06-282 3988.

Come and Visit Villa Sentosa ! The friendly Pak Rahim will greet and welcome you!. How To Get There Malacca is accessible via the North-South Highway with exits at Ayer Keroh and Alor Gajah. Many bus and taxi companies offer scheduled trips to the historical State. It takes about two hours to drive to Malacca from Kuala Lumpur.

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