Time for a Tiger in Kuala Kangsar

One of Kuala Kangsar’s more famous former residents was the novelist Anthony Burgess (1917-1993), who was employed as an English teacher at the prestigious Malay College from 1954 to 1956.  His first published novel, Time for a Tiger (1956), drew on his experiences at Kuala Kangsar, which in the book goes under the fictitious name of Kuala Hantu.

Since I was visiting Kuala Kangsar I thought it would be fun to try to find some of the places which would have been familiar to Burgess and the characters in his novel. 

The Long Day Wanes by Anthony Burgess
My battered copy of Burgess’ Malayan Trilogy of which ‘Time for a Tiger’ is the first novel. The sequels ‘The Enemy in the Blanket’ and ‘Beds in the East’ are set in Kota Bharu, Kelantan where Burgess worked after Kuala Kangsar.

One of the main characters in Time for a Tiger is Victor Crabbe, who shared many of Burgess’ own characteristics and, like Burgess, was in the Colonial Education Service and a resident master at Malay College (or Mansor School as it is called in the novel).

Malay College Kuala Kangsar
Malay College (Mansor School) was known as the Eton of the East and reserved for Malayan boys of ‘good family’. Crabbe (and Burgess in real life) could not get on with his boss, the headmaster, and requested a transfer.

Burgess and his wife were accommodated in a second floor flat at King’s Pavilion which was once the grand residence of Sir Hugh Low, the British Adviser to the State of Perak, but by 1954 served as the prep school to Malay College. During the War, the Japanese had used the building as a torture and interrogation centre and Burgess’ bathroom was still stained with dried blood which was impossible to remove. Burgess houseboy and others claimed the house was haunted. The grounds were infested with snakes while scorpions used to get into the shoes and beds of the students under Burgess’ care.

King's Pavilion, Kuala Kangsar
Burgess (and Crabbe) lived in a second floor flat in this building which today is a girls’ school. The flat was located on a low hill overlooking the Perak River about twenty minutes’ sweaty walk away from Malay College. Burgess had to walk because he could not drive (and Crabbe would not drive after a nasty accident in which his first wife died).

Burgess was not the most faithful of husbands. He had an affair while at KualaKangsar with a pretty Malay divorcée called Rahimah who worked as a waitress in a Chinese coffee shop. In the novel, Crabbe too had a mistress, a dance hostess with the same name. Kuala Kangsar today does not seem the sort of town to have hostess bars but I could be wrong.

My favourite character in the book is Nabby Adams, a six-foot eight policeman from Northamptonshire who was in charge of the police transport pool, though he was seldom sober enough to drive. He was an alcoholic who liked to start off the day with three large bottles of Tiger (or Anchor, or Carlsberg) though he was known to polish off a full bottle of gin before breakfast (not that he ever ate breakfast). Nabby’s unquenchable thirst caused him to rack up unmanageable debts at all the dingy Chinese-owned drinking kedai-kedai that he liked to frequent.

Postcard of a 'Kuala Kangsar' coffee shop but is actually in Taiping.
I spent some time in Kuala Kangsar trying to find this kedai, thinking it the sort of place that Nabby Adams might have liked.
Peace Hotel in Taiping
I eventually located it, not in Kuala Kangsar at all but in Taiping (40 km away) which would have been too far for Nabby to go to just for a drink since it was the time of the Emergency and this would have been a dangerous journey.
Kedai Kopi in Kuala Kangsar
Most of the coffee shops in Kuala Kangsar these days are of the sort which do not serve alcohol. Nabby Adams would have died of thirst!
Yat Lai restaurant in Kuala Kangsar
This place certainly looks old enough to have been around in Burgess’ time. Perhaps they still serve beers, if they ever open, to go with the ‘Western Food’.

One place that still exists that Burgess and Nabby Adams would certainly recognise is the Idris Club (in the book it is thinly disguised as Iblis Club). This was the social hub for the Europeans living in Kuala Kangsar and still today has the elite of the area among its members, though now virtually all Malaysians of course.

Idris Club, Kuala Kangsar
The Idris Club in Kuala Kangsar is named after Sultan Idris I. In Time for a Tiger it went under the pseudonym of Iblis Club.

For Nabby Adams  this was the drinking hole of last resort because had to keep his bar tab within reason and also he would not like to get drunk in front of his fellow Brits in case word got back to his bosses. But still, if somebody else was paying, Nabby would have a Tiger or six here.

Idris Club interior
The somewhat drab interior of the Idris Club has probably not changed much since the 1950s. There’s still a bar which was unfortunately padlocked when I visited but then it was nine o’clock in the morning!

While doing my research for this article I found that a gentleman called Geoffrey Grigson has travelled extensively in Burgess’ footsteps and has produced a series of entertaining You Tube videos called In Search of Anthony Burgess. If you are a Burgess fan I recommend you take a look.

Ubudiah Mosque, Kuala Kangsar

Ubudiah Mosque, Kuala Kangsar
Ubudiah Mosque in Kuala Kangsar is widely recognised as one of the most beautiful mosques in Malaysia.

While in Kuala Kangsar recently I took the opportunity to peek inside Ubudiah Mosque since it was early in the morning and no prayers were going on.

This mosque is thought by many to be the most beautiful in Malaysia, even though it was designed by a British non-Muslim. The government architect was Arthur Benison Hubback who was also responsible for KL railway station,  Ipoh railway station and many other famous Malaysian landmarks. The architectural style is said to be Mogul-Gothic, drawing on elements found in Mogul mosques around India. It was built during 1913-1917.

Bulbous onion dome of Ubudiah Mosque.
The mosque features a bulbous onion dome and four main 126 feet high minarets each topped by an Indian style ‘chatri’.

The main prayer hall is octagonal and surprisingly small, about 20 yards across. In common with all mosques, there is no furniture inside other than a carved wooden screen, segregating the women’s section, and the minbar (pulpit). The space is air-conditioned.

Interior of Ubudiah Mosque
Interior of Ubudiah Mosque.

The recessed mihrab (the niche designating kiblah, or direction of prayer) is lined with naturally patterned Italian red marble.

Woollen Persian carpet at Ubudiah Mosque
This Persian carpet covering the interior is probably not the original from Hubback’s time.

There is a fine wall-to-wall Persian carpet and a chandelier hanging from the intricately decorated ceiling.

Intricately decorated ceiling of Ubudiah Mosque
Intricately decorated ceiling of Ubudiah Mosque.

The mosque’s guardians found that it was too small for modern day purposes so new verandahs were added in 1993 to accommodate additional worshippers.

Spacious verandahs were added to Ubudiah Mosque in 1993 to accommodate additional worshippers.
Ubudiah Mosque was extended in 1993 by adding verandahs. These have matching red, black and white marble floors to complement the original design.

Next door to Ubudiah Mosque is the Royal Mausoleum where Perak’s Sultans and family members going back to the 1800’s are buried. It is built in similar style to the mosque.

Non-Muslims are welcome to visit the mosque provided they are appropriately attired and visit outside of prayer times.

Victoria Bridge, Karai, Perak

At the small village of Karai, about ten kilometres from Kuala Kangsar, is an old railway bridge called Victoria Bridge (also known as Enggor Bridge). It is the oldest railway bridge in Malaysia and one of the most impressive.

Victoria Bridge, Karai, Perak
Those Victorians knew how to build bridges!

Construction started in 1897 and, after some delays caused by flooding, it was officially opened in 1900 in a ceremony attended by the Sultan Idris Shah of Perak and the British Resident General, Sir Frank Swettenham. In his speech, Sir Frank said that this was the largest bridge in Asia, outside of India.

The single track railway truss bridge is over 1000 feet long and rests on six brick piers which still look in excellent condition despite the frequent severe flooding in this area.

Victoria Bridge, Karai, Perak
Colourfully dressed Malaysians participating in the bridge’s 115 year anniversary celebrations.

On the day I visited there was, by pure coincidence, a celebration going on to commemorate the bridge’s 115 year anniversary. It was hosted by the Minister of Tourism and Culture whose department has made efforts to promote the bridge as a tourist attraction.

115 Year Anniversary Celebrations for Victoria Bridge
Provide free food and Malaysians will come.

There was an army bagpipe band and various stalls and attractions.

Bagpipe band equipment at Victoria Bridge

Army bandsmen

The Ipoh Climbers Community was providing the opportunity to abseil from the bridge for those who were brave enough.

Abseiling from Victoria Bridge

Just walking across the bridge was brave enough for me given the gaping holes with drops down to the Perak River forty feet below.

Victoria Bridge is 40 feet above the normal river level
Mind the gap!

The bridge is no longer used by trains since it has been replaced by a new concrete bridge wide enough to handle double tracking for the electric train service which is expected to be extended up as far as the Thai border some time later this year.

Footpath on Victoria Bridge
Pedestrians and motor cyclists can still use the footpath running alongside the rail track.

At each end of the bridge is a stone sentry post, a hangover from the days of the Emergency when strategic communications links such as this bridge would have been prize targets for the Communist Terrorists.

Pillbox at Victoria Bridge
Pillboxes guard both ends of the bridge.

Now in more peaceful times, the bridge has become a venue for pre-wedding photo shoots.

Wedding photos at Victoria Bridge
This intrepid bride-to-be poses for wedding snaps while taking care not to plummet into the river below.

It is good that this relic of a bygone age is being valued by the Malaysian Government but some maintenance work will be required if it is to survive another 115 years.

Celebrants taking part in the 115 year anniversary for Victoria Bridge on 31 May 2015
Friendly girls welcoming guests (me) to Victoria Bridge’s 115 year anniversary celebrations on 31 May 2015.

Bukit Chandan Military Cemetery, Kuala Kangsar

Bukit Chandan Cemetery, Kuala Kangsar
Entrance to the cemetery

In the royal town of Kuala Kangsar, on a rise overlooking the mighty Perak River, lies a small Christian cemetery. It contains 16 British military graves dating from the Perak War of 1875-77 together with some civilian graves, including more recent ones from the town’s tiny Anglican population (mostly Tamils). As a war cemetery, it comes under the care of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) and on their website it is shown as Bukit Chandran Cemetery (should be spelt Chandan).

View from Bukit Chandan cemetery
View from the cemetery overlooking the Perak River at Kuala Kangsar.

The Perak War was one of those small wars that Britain was rather good at. It followed the murder of James Wheeler Woodford Birch who had recently taken up the position of Resident as advisor to the Sultan of Perak. Britain had discovered during its time running India that the practice of appointing Residents to assume all the real power, while leaving nominal control in the hands of the local chief, was a very effective way of acquiring an empire ‘on the cheap’. But poor Birch rubbed the locals up the wrong way and paid for it with his life. You can read more about his assassination on my Malaysia Traveller website.

Inscription on the memorial at Bukit Chandan cemetery
The inscription on the memorial at Bukit Chandan gives an overview of the Perak War.

Britain could not allow its officials to be murdered so a military expedition force was rapidly put together to punish the perpetrators and stamp out any smouldering rebellion in its newest protectorate. The force comprised sepoys from India, Gurkhas, some Sikh police and a Naval Brigade. The Malays put up a fight but eventually were overwhelmed and the assassins, including Maharaja Lela, were captured and hanged. The Sultan was exiled to Seychelles and replaced by a more amenable relative.

List of casualties at Bukit Chandan cemetery
The reverse side of the memorial lists 15 British names who died in the Perak War and who are buried in this cemetery. One other casualty, a Capt. Walters, is not on the inscription but is included on CWGC’s database.

Casualties on both sides were light and, from the British point of view, were a small price to pay for securing Malaya as one of Britain’s most remunerative colonies. Of course, for these poor 16 individuals who perished it was not a small price at all, to say nothing of the many sepoys killed in action who have no known grave (unlike in later wars where Indian soldiers received the same burial honours as other British war dead).

Major Henry Lumsden Hawkins, killed at Kota Lama.
Major Henry Lumsden Hawkins, killed at Kota Lama.
Memorial at Bukit Chandan cemetery.
Memorial at Bukit Chandan cemetery.
Kota Lama (2 miles from Kuala Kangsar) was a hotbed of insurrection and was burnt down by British forces.
Kota Lama (2 miles from Kuala Kangsar) was a hotbed of insurrection and was burnt down by British forces.
William C Sone
Bad handwriting probably caused the name on this headstone to be wrongly transcribed as William C. Sone. I believe this should read William J. Soul. According to The London Gazette article dated 23 February 1876, the list of killed from the Naval Brigade, Her Majesty’s Ship Philomel, during the assault on Kota Lama were as follows:
William J. Soul, Leading Seaman and Seaman Gunner, spear wound on the right side of the spine, transfixing the chest, the aperture of exit being about 5 inches below the right nipple.Killed.
Jasper Ball
Jasper Ball, Private Royal Marine Light Infantry, two spear wounds in the epigastrium. Spear wound of left fore-arm, and several of right hand through grasping the spear. Death in about 18 hours.

It is a credit to the CWGC that this far-off and largely forgotten cemetery continues to be beautifully maintained 140 years after their burial, even though most of the descendants of the deceased are probably not even aware of their existence.

Well maintained cemetery at Bukit Chandan.

Kuala Kangsar

GRAND TOUR – continued.

Kuala Kangsar is a lovely little town.

Being a royal town, home to the Sultan of Perak, it contains three palaces, two of which have been converted to museums.

Istana Iskandariah

Istana Iskandariah is the more modern one and is the actual Royal Palace.

Istana Kenangan

This quaint old palace, Istana Kenangan now serves as the Perak Royal Museum but on my visit today was unfortunately closed for upgrading works.

Galeri Sultan Azlan Shah

The third palace, Istana Ulu, is now the Galeri Sultan Azlan Shah. It is tastefully laid out and displays personal and official possessions of the Sultan and his wife including crown jewels, costumes, photos, medals, gifts, kris, and mementoes  from his educational, working and sporting life. I liked his collection of Mont Blanc pens.

Ubudiah Mosque 

Just down the road is the Ubudiah Mosque, one of Malaysia’s most famous and attractive mosques. Construction started in 1913 but was delayed when two elephants had a fight and completely wrecked the marble which had been imported from Italy for the project.

Malay College Kuala Kangsar

Kuala Kangsar is also home to the Malay College Kuala Kangsar, an all-boys and all-Malay boarding school founded in 1905 – Malaysia’s equivalent of Eton. The Latin motto means ‘Manliness Through Wisdom’.

Pavillion Polo Tower

Opposite is the Pavilion Square Tower, built in 1930 for the Royals and VIPs to watch polo matches.  The structure is now unsafe to enter.

First rubber tree in Malaya.

In the same street is what is said to be the oldest rubber tree in Malaysia, having been one of the original nine seedlings brought over to Malaya in 1877.


Kuala Kangsar is known for its gourd shaped earthenware jars called labu sayong. They are used to keep water cool. Some say water stored in these jars acquires healing powers. I bought one to take home – RM12.