I HAVEN'T seen and touched her for an eternity. I had stopped thinking of her in the daytime and dreaming of her at night.
A three-hour journey on a passage made by clever men, with towering limestone hills on both sides watching me curiously, takes me closer to her.
I am trembling. It grows as I approach her presence in the sultry afternoon. The sun is at its zenith.
When my eyes fasten upon her frame, I am amazed.
Behind the adornments, there is a nakedness that astounds. Soul and scent envelop me.
She is on the road. She is in the air. Then she slips into the restaurant selling chicken rice. I give chase, but she eludes me.
Who is she?
Forgive me, I am being vague. And naughty. Her name is Ipoh.
If you are wondering what makes me describe the old city in a sensual manner, wonder no more.
I am drunk on the Concubine Lane, on the Han Chin Pet Soo Hakka Miner's Club and on lots of 'original' Ipoh chicken rice.
Ipoh has many more to offer, to be sure. But I have only four hours to date her, after 20 years of separation and deprivation.
The Concubine Lane is an alleyway with shop upon shop on either side. And, a theatrette too! No more concubines, though. They are in the dusty history books and in endless Google pages.
But it is still fun. Touristy foods and goods notwithstanding, there remains a sense of oldness in the present, when our thoughts and footfalls find union with the watchful spirits of the past.
I like Han Chin Pet Soo Hakka Miner's Club the best. There’s so much to be said of the building, a repository of what once was, the foundation of what is.
Much of Ipoh’s story can be found in this museum. The collection of exhibits is amazing. Old photographs and narratives of migrants leaving a desperately poor China, especially, draw me deep into a different age. A young man writes in his diary about how his ship rolled as storms roiled the sea. People were vomiting everywhere.
Particularly revealing is the fact that Indians, too, were brought in to work in the tin mines. And a number of Japanese women, driven out of their homeland by poverty, fell into prostitution in brothels in the city.
The museum’s guides are excellent. Great it would be if all our towns and cities have exciting places like this. The physical presence and the engaging contents are what we need in a world blinded to history and by speed.
I would write more, on the food and on the people. But my ‘concubine’ wants me in the ‘flesh’, not in the ephemeral word. She wants you, too. Don’t wait too long like I did to go to her, yah.