A return to Ipoh and the past

A return to Ipoh and the past

Over the long weekend last week, I made a long overdue trip - by accident.

As part of a birthday surprise, one of my best friends showed up at my doorstep, blindfolded me, pocketed my passport and whisked me to the airport, where she announced that we were going to take a plane to Ipoh.

"That's where my mum is from!" I exclaimed while in line at the check-in counter.

"Actually... we're going there because everything else is quite expensive," she confided, checking off a list of Singaporeans' favourite South-east Asian haunts - think Bangkok, Malacca and Penang.

But while our countrymen were descending on those perennial hotspots, hardly anyone was headed to the sleepy town of Ipoh.

When I was little, my parents would make the long drive from Singapore to Ipoh once or twice a year. The journey usually took about eight hours (or more) due to a constant need for their trio of young daughters to pee, eat or fend off boredom (cultivated from staring at one too many oil palm plantations).

My mother's side of the family, dispersed across the globe, would head back to Ipoh because of my late maternal grandmother, the glue binding all of us to this quaint location that just barely qualified, population-wise, to be called a "city".

But as we grew up, I stopped visiting Ipoh. Other commitments seemed to get in the way. After all, there was hardly anything to be done in that city - or so I thought. I had never felt particularly inspired to explore it, and all I knew from our car trips were several familiar spots: my grandmother's musty house, my uncle's vegetarian restaurant and one or two shabby shopping malls.

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