Tuesday, May 12, 2009

狮城萬里望 - beyond the lion city shores

This stretch of the railway is not far from the Tanjong Pagar railway station, or more precisely the KTM – Keretapi Tanah Melayu – Singapore Station. It’s located next to Jalan Kilang Lama, off Jalan Bukit Merah. The yellow marker reads 779.75, and it’s possibly that distance in kilometer from Kuala Lumpur.

Twenty years ago used to cross the pedestrian bridge over this stretch over to Depot Road. With the office shifted back to back to Depot Road, it’s back again to crossing this railway line, each morning to work.

Though the city has undergone tremendous change physically over the past twenty years, if ever something that has not change in time, it would be this KTM railway and the Tanjong Pagar station. As they say – 五十年不变 – wushinian bubian – with hardly a change half a century.

Having grown up commuting on the KTM railway in the younger days, there is always a sense of fondness whenever one get to see the KTM railway line.

Traveling 985km north from this vantage it would take me back to my hometown – 家乡- jiaxiang – in Menglembu. - 萬里望 – Wanliwang. Though naturalized and this island has been home for the past 20 years and if home is where the heart is, then 家乡 – jiaxiang – will always have a special place in the heart.

What does the KTM railway line evokes?

Looking yonder - 狮城萬望 -shicheng wanli wang - literary meaning – looking a ten-thousand li - 里 - from the Lion city, will recall some of the rides on the KTM:

1960’s - Ipoh to Malim Nawar
- The earliest train ride - from Ipoh to Malim Nawar in the 2nd half of 1960/s.

The youngest paternal aunt just married to Malim Nawar, a small town off the trunk road from Ipoh to Kampar. Though the town is off the main trunk road, it is connected to the Peninsula KTM railway grid – with a railway station in the center of the town. There was a important power generating station build during the colonial days, and this station provide electricity to the vicinity – a tin mining district of Kinta.

After the visit , Dad would sometimes let us to wait to take the train back to Ipoh, while was about a half hour or more away. To us kids, it was a memorable & fun ride.

At the railway station – Dad would point to us the holes in the lamp posts and said they were bullet holes left behind by the Japanese fighter planes while attacking the railway station during their conquest of Malaya and Singapore.

Early1970’s: Ipoh to Tanjung Malim -
- Towards the end of 1960 and thro to mid 1970/s

Dad went to work in Tanjung Malim, towards the end of 1968 and would used to visit him & occasionally with Mum. We would take the south-bound Morning Express from Ipoh. The Tanjung Malim Railway was just outside the town center town center. Dad would come down from his abode in the rubber plantation to meet us.

Tanjung Malim is a border town and is on this side of the Perak Stated with Selangor. It is growing to be the Proton City.

2nd half of 1970/s - Ipoh to Kuala Lumpur –
- From 1977 to 1980.

During the college days, KTM was one of the regular mode commuting from Ipoh to KL during the term break. The journey would take 3 hours or so, if there is no delay. And compared to the express bus plying the trunk road – as the North-South Highway was not ready yet, the railway was a viable alternative.

2nd half 1980’s into early 1990’s – to Singapore

These journeys were especially memorable – going down to Singapore for job interview, and would take the over- night train leaving KL for Singapore.

In the early 1990’s would continue to take the train to and from Ipoh-Singapore occasionally till the service stopped. It’s a long ride starting in the morning and if there was not delay would reach the destination on time in the evening. However, punctuality was not a pride of service of the KTM, as with the Japanese railway system.

With the much delayed completion of the dual track link between KL and Ipoh, and since December 2008, there is a regular daily shuttle service between the two cities. However the south-bound over night train direct from Ipoh to Singapore has been withdrawn and commuters will now have to transit in KL to catch the southbound train for Singapore.

Perhaps the dream track would be a shinkansen line between Singapore –KL-Ipoh-Penang.

However, with budget airlines flying to Ipoh from June 2008, it would perhaps it would take another 50 years.

Postscript –

1. 萬里望狮城

Punning on the Chinese name for my hometown 萬里望 – Wanliwang - town with a ten thousand li view - 萬里望狮城 – wanli wang shicheng – means viewing the Lion City from 10,000 (ten thousand) li.

Or, inverting the phrase - 狮城萬里望 – shicheng wanli wang - it literary means - to look a 10,000 li from the Lion City - that is, looking far and wide from the Lion City -

Instead of - 狮城萬里望 -it is - 狮城千里望 – because hometown - 家乡 - jiaxiang - Menglembu - 萬里望- in 5 km south west of Ipoh – is closer to 1,000 km north.


1. Menglembu

2. 里 - Li
The li (里,) is a traditional Chinese unit of distance, which has varied considerably over time but now has a standardized length of 500 meters or half a kilometer (c. 1640 feet).


3. Tanjung Malim

4. KTM - Keretapi Tanah Melayu
- Malaysia Railway Authority