Picture Daze #6 – Sitiawan & Pangkor

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My Dad passed away in May 1971. For the Christmas holidays that year (which ran for 7 weeks) I was sent packing off to the hamlet of Sitiawan in the state of Perak. My uncle Mark lived there and sending me away provided my mother a much needed break to recover from the traumatic events of the year.

This was hardly my first trip there (and far from my last.) I knew the place well. The town itself was built on the junction of two roads. One could walk around the entire town in 10 minutes. It was also 7 miles away from the resort seaside town of Lumut (now a Naval base) which in turn was a 30 cent ferry ride from my favorite island, Pangkor. The gentle, pace of life was so different from the “big” city that I grew and lived in. Don’t get me wrong, I love the city but only in a place like Lumut could I witness a malay boy slap the lapping sea water to summon a wild dolphin which he would swim and play with every evening.

Uncle Mark (my Dad’s cousin… in the pic above at his 25th wedding anniversary) was like a second father to me. He was a man of respect in town… sort of an Andy Griffith in a Malaysian Mayberry. Rights of passage I would have missed with my Dad’s demise were supplemented by time spent with uncle Mark in Sitiawan. Some of these included: my first inebriating taste of “toddy” at the tender age of 13, digging for cockles in the mud of the Sitiawan river, “kopi ganja”, a coffee blend that included marijuana served at a local coffee shop (or so I was told), line fishing for squid and prawns, picking sour mangos off a tree and eating them with salt, seeing my first dead person who had committed suicide by hanging himself in front of the local movie theater and of course trips to Pangkor.

The journey there was an adventure in itself. My favorite route was taking a train to Michelle Yeoh’s hometown of Ipoh. From there it would be a bus or cab ride to Sitiawan where you hopped on to another (local) bus to Lumut. From there one would get on to a ferry across to the fishing village on Pangkor. Half the village was built on stilts over the water and teeming with all sorts of fish trading activity. You can see some of the village in this pic of me on my last visit there in 1981. Then you either walked or took one of the 2 cabs to the beach on the other side of the island.

Earlier visits were mostly family affairs often including my cousin, Anna, (pictured on the left) who was like a sister to me as I was growing up. We usually stayed at the government “rest house” and frolicked by and in the warm, salty sea for most of the day. Often the fishing boats came to shore and we would buy fresh catch for dinner. On one of these trips I learned a hard lesson in the local belief in “animism”. I was warned time and time again not to “kenching” (pee) by a tree lest the “datuk” (spirit) of the tree should become upset with me. I of course disregarded these warnings and that night my little boy penis painfully swelled into an ugly mushroom. My dad brought over a “pawang” (the local shaman) who while laughing at me performed a ritual and gave me an ointment of vinegar and tumeric to be applied 3 times a day to my tender nether region. I also had to go “apologize” to the tree spirit. So, there was no swimming for me the next 2 days which was torture for an 8 year old vacationing by the sea.

It was on another trip there where I last ran into my cousin, Lelly. We were both 9 or 10 years old at the time. Mind you, we have not seen each other in over 36 years. She now lives in Brighton, England and we only reconnected a short time ago through the internet. She claims that her last memory of me was of me swimming out and driving off the roof of this fishing boat. Now, through our blogs we have been getting reacquainted… and I have since discovered such a cool person who I’m proud to call my Cuz!

When I was old enough to travel on my own (I started at 12), trips to Pangkor became my escape to sanity. There was always a stop in Sitiawan to visit with Uncle Mark… then off for R&R on the island. I would usually stay at the “hotel” which was a collection of attap huts that were rented out for $1.50 a night. These rustic huts usually slept 2-3 comfortably and were frequented by backpacking Aussie student tourists. Here is a pic of my friend, Aziz in one of those huts. Nights included swims and sitting around the fire on the beach trading stories, food and joints. Kien and I also made several trips to Pangkor together… once with a troop of Girl Guides. We’ve shared lots of adventures there that we still smile fondly at.

I hear the place has developed quite a bit since I was last there. It’s no longer “relatively untouched” and is now a much sought after resort area. I guess time and development marches on. For me, Pangkor and Sitiawan will always be the places I went to regain my sanity in the gentler days of my youth.

And so ends another edition of Picture Daze. Check out the sidebar for other editions.


  1. okay! sign me up! Each week this is sounding more and more like a place I gotta go see.

  2. Respect the datuks of nature, dude.

  3. So..I suppose one could say you “pissed off the tree spirit?”…oww..it hurt just writing that!


  4. APJ – You should go… it’s a great place to vacation.

    trashed – yup learned that lessom the hard way when I was 8.

    mustang – hope it heals.

  5. Looing at the old photos of yours is really interesting. Pity that when I was little and growing up in Ipoh photography wasn’t something available to amateurs without serious money. I think it was no until I was in form 5 that I managed to persuade my father to give me enough money (I think it was Rm30 oor something. A princely sum in those days) to buy a Kodak Brownie. Anyone remember those? A simple black box with a hole at the top which was used as a basic viewfinder. Even after getting the camera feeding it was an expensive affair. And developing and printing the B&W pictures was expensive too and it took a long time. You had to take the roll to the shop, the fler would have to send it to KL and await the return of the photos which usually took a week or so. And then….the pictures were only little ones measuring 2inch by 2inch I think. LOL…I still have a couple of them somewhere.

    My first visit to Pangkor was on a school trip when I was in Form 3. It was a memorable trip. Straight off the bus, into swim gear, jump into sea…….AAAARRRRRRGGGGGHHHHHHHH!!!!!
    Jumped straight into a bunch of razor sharp coral. Got a 3 inch gash across left rib cage. About 2 cm deep. Strangely not much blood. The sea water had something to do with that I guess. Didn’t affect my enjoyment of the day at all. Still bear the scar today.

    Malaysian Thomas Cup Doubles champion, Tan Yee Khan operates a resort hotel on the island, The Sea View.

  6. Between your story and the pictures, I feel like we are seated at a campfire on a beach… my hands curled under my chin, listening to wonderful tales of growing up in such a beautiful place!

  7. Fantastic story Cuz! I loved going to Pangkor…we used to hoilday there, for 10 days or so, at least twice a year (stopping off at Uncle Mark’s en route) when there were only two hotels, and Pangkor Laut and Emerald Bay were uninhabited. We always stayed at the same place, it had chalets on the beach… probably the resort hotel that Patrick mentions above? I remember it was run by a guy who was a fantastic water-skier…his party piece was skiing bare-foot! Mum, and especially dad, got to be pretty good skiers themselves under his tuition. I have such a vivid memory of you, me and my brother Tony diving off the roof of that fishing boat! And further down the beach some local boys had a tame sea-otter. I wish we’d gone back there when Steve and I went to Malaysia in 2001 (first visit back since leaving in 1969!)but we were staying on the East Coast…would probably have been shocked at the changes in the place, though. Our Auntie Rosie went a few years ago and said the place was covered in hotels – with swimming-pools!! – and the beach was covered in litter…maybe best to keep the memory!

  8. im speechless that was just wow! yeah i do feel like im around a campfire. all im missing is the smores.

  9. thank you so much for sharing such a wonderful place! i can tell it is deeply a part of you. how wonderful that you and your cousin have been able to reconnect too.

  10. patrick – Yeah, I remember the brownie… inherited one from my cousin Arthur. Actually, I’m amazed at the quality of the pics that those took.

    addict & blue1aqua1 – Campfires on the beach (anywhere really) are the best. With the balmy weather we would very often dig shallow “graves” to sleep in the sand next to the fire… instead of going back to the huts. It’s beautiful waking up at dawn on the beach with the gentle waves lapping only 5 or 10 feet away.

    lelly – I think it is so special that we both share great memories of Pangkor. Yes, the Sea View was the place you stayed at while we stayed at the government resthouse on the north part of the beach… that was the other hotel. I do remember the boys with the pet otter. Do you remember the small fresh water waterfall that emptied into the sea south of the Sea View? When we went on camping trips… that was our source of fresh water.

  11. what a wonderful place you live.

  12. lime & kfarmer – yes, it was a wonderful place… can’t speak for it now though – haven’t been back in over 15 years. It’s been interesting remembering back… which is part of the intent of the Picture Daze project. It’s facinating how much detail a picture can bring back. Glad you’ve been enjoying it.

  13. That was an awesome story—i felt like I was there (and I’ve never been out of the USA)!!! What a great childhood you must have had. Those are some great memories–thanks for sharing!

  14. From paradise to ::cough:: Fres… well, you know. Why oh why did you ever leave such beauty?

  15. jenny – my pleasure,

    ms.bees – severe brain damage that would only be tolerated (and often celebrated) in the U.S.

  16. God, I love Picture Daze.

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