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Saturday, February 25, 2006

Will you still love me... Posted by Picasa
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FMS - Malaysia's Oldest Bar & Restaurant

FMS Bar & Restaurant
2 Jalan Sultan Idris Shah.
Ipoh, Perak
tel 05 2540591
open 7 days a week
12:00 noon – 9:30 pm

The Hong Kong Bar in Chulia Street, Penang that burned down in a fire in September 2004 was 85 years old. KL’s famed Coliseum Café is 87 years old. The FMS Bar & Restaurant in Ipoh celebrated its 100th anniversary recently on February 22nd, 2006 with an exclusive party for a limited guest list of 50 people. Yes, I was one of the privileged few to receive a call from the owner.

Founded in 1906 by a Hainanese immigrant, "The F.M.S", an acronym for the Federated Malay States, was the archetypal European miners' and planters' bar, where the starched-shirt colonial types could get real western food and whiskey stengahs back in the day when a big bottle of Anchor Beer was sold at 65 sen. It was also popular with senior government servants and the who’s who of Perak. The oldest bar and restaurant in Malaysia was founded in 1906 and it has occupied the present premises since 1923, with a hotel upstairs.

FMS grew as famous for its curry puffs, baked crab, inche kabin and lamb stew as it did for its belly fighting contests amongst the white miners and planters and the raw egg gulping contests where everyone tried to beat resident champion Dara Singh. Every Thursday was ANZACS night, with singing and dancing and trishaw races. Nephew says a few couples met and married through the bar’s activities as well, and some still keep in touch with him.

Today, it is operated by fourth generation proprietor Pang Chee Ein, 72, popularly known as "Nephew" of the late "Uncle" Cheam Yeow Toon, as they are known to regular clientele. A new heritage cafe serving Hainanese food has replaced the hotel above the bar.

There are two levels to this place - the bar and restaurant on the ground floor and the sit down dinner place on the first floor. The first floor serves mainly Chinese dishes. You come here not only to dine on their food but also to lap up a bit of history in the pictures and paraphernalia from Malaya, which all add to the ambience of a bygone colonial era. There are 60's advertisement posters from F&N and the most interesting one is the first set of Cabinet Members in Malaysia with their names written in Jawi. FMS is like a mini museum and it displays a lot of the antique stuff in glass cabinets.

FMS is definitely worth a visit for its ambience and decor. Despite the many items hanging on the wall and stored in the cabinets, you don't feel the clutter. It is not air-conditioned, preferring to retain the old ceiling fans which whirl sluggishly overhead. It doesn’t have piped in music either, and it was quite amusing to see the Emcee using a loudhailer to address the crowd at the anniversary bash.

This hard bitten, cynical, sob-of-a-bitch journalist was swigging Tiger beer and interviewing ageing Orang Puteh with white moustaches who had flown in from various locations across the globe to attend the FMS bash when I came across a poignant love story.

While talking to CB, (not his real initials) he revealed that he had a torrid love affair with a local Chinese girl, ML (again not her real initials – to protect her identity lah) in 1959/1960 and he used to rent the rooms in the hotel above for RM6 a day for their trysts. Her family vehemently objected to the Kwei Loh and they eventually broke up, with both getting married to other partners. He confided to me in a low whisper that he had flown back from Australia in the slim chance that she would attend the party and he could meet her again after 46 years.

“Fat chance” I thought, although I kept my thoughts to myself. I decided to keep an eye on the randy old bugger anyway. You could have knocked me down with a feather when I saw an attractive looking woman of sixty plus with her daughter in tow enter about an hour and a half later. She scanned the room and I saw the sparks fly when her eyes met CB’s eyes. Sheesh! Somebody get me outta this Hindi movie sequence and get me another Tiger beer. CB immediately left his friends in mid-sentence and walked to her in a daze, his face frozen with an ear to ear grin.

The last I saw of them they were huddled at a cozy corner table far away from everyone else, holding hands and animatedly chatting away in their own world. The daughter, in her 30’s, and obviously the mother’s alibi, was seated alone drinking a whisky water.

So there you have it – a reunion love story within an anniversary story very much in keeping with life’s mysterious ways. Who knew?

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Saturday, February 04, 2006

St Valentine’s Day - What a massacre!

It’s not that I’m unromantic; I can say “I love you too darling” through clenched teeth and a cheesy grin as well as the next man, but for the life of me I can’t get to emotional grips with all the paraphernalia which surrounds Valentine’s Day. I swear if receive one more Valentine’s card depicting a mischievous-looking cherub wielding a bow, arrow and alarmingly small fig leaf covering his nether regions, I will send it straight back to my mother with a very curt note and a request for a copy of my birth certificate.

Why do we do it? I ask myself. Why do we conform to the mores thrust upon us by florists and chocolate manufacturers? Does anyone really like heart-shaped confectionery containing strawberry fondant and wrapped in pink foil? If they do why do they not buy it at times in the year other than February 14th?

What would poor St. Valentine think, I wonder, if he were to witness what strange and unusual customs are invoked in his name these days? Just to recap, he was a 3rd century Christian martyr, renowned for having absolutely no sense of humour and legendary for his dislike of anything sweet. His association with the romantic events of February 14th is, in fact, nothing more than a historical accident, one for which the saint himself may well have expressed a pious disapproval.

As for the cards themselves.. . well, I can’t think of anything more guaranteed to annoy the crap out of the individual than receiving one that is signed - anonymous. It’ll probably say something like, “Be My Valentine Tonight” or “Let me Tie you up with Silken Cords and play Beethoven to you until dawn,” and then be blank where the details of the person to whom you should make application for the above services should be.

There is the possibility, of course, that anonymity could be depriving the recipient of the opportunity to embark on a relationship, which could have led to happiness and ultimate fulfillment. Imagine actually being admired by somebody, and never finding out who it is. The frustration would be excruciating - I expect.

But what could be more irritating than a Valentine’s Day dinner in which every course adheres to the theme of pink kitsch, from the molded cranberry terrine pierced haphazardly with toothpicks masquerading as arrows, to the heart shaped chocolates waiting impatiently to explode with synthetic fruit flavouring? Here’s your answer – nothing.

Interestingly enough, as tradition would also have it, Valentine’s Day in a leap year provides women with a series of potentially lucrative opportu­nities. Did you know that this is the one day in each four-year period on which a woman may ask the man to marry her? Ok, it’s a bit old fashioned as women have been asking men to marry them for years, with varying degrees of success, but in the event that the man declines the offer, he is obliged, by lore, to compensate the proposer with a gift.

This used to be a diamond ring, I’m told, but in this day and age, perhaps that may be asking a bit much. A small Rolex or a lifetime’s membership to California Fitness would do me just fine. Be forewarned ladies: calling people’s bluff can be dangerous. The guy with the Vacheron Constantin and the Porsche, who looks like a bullfrog after a road accident, may actually say “yes”.

Then there’s underwear. Men like to buy lingerie for their lady friends, be they wives, girlfriends, mistresses or a combination of all three. Actually this is not strictly true. Men buy lingerie for
themselves, not for their lady friends. Most girls I know would plump for a good pair of comfortable cotton knickers, not the type of under garment which gives the wearer the impression that she is about to go in two different directions at once. But what do men know ? They go instinctively for what they imagine will look raunchy. A toweling robe, however practical, just doesn’t quite have the same allure as something frilly and red.

So we’ll all happily thread ourselves through the mangle of another Valentine’s Day, measuring our popularity by the number of cards received and the number of flowers waiting to quietly rot in stagnant water. Just remember guys, if you don’t quite measure up in the Valentine cards department, don’t worry. You can always try a little do-it-yourself, but don’t forget to type with your left hand (if you are right handed), and make sure you express just the right amount of surprise when you open your email cards in front of a gath­ering of your peers.
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