Monday, September 24, 2007

The Secret Base of Dr. Sun Yat Sen

"Hey, let's go ask that newspaper seller; 'Where is Sun Yat Sen's base?'"

Sze Yin, after milling about the neighbourhood for nearly an hour

The quote lost something in its translation from Cantonese: 'Cheng man Sun Zhongsan ko 'base' heong pin dou?'

The finale bit of Day 2 of the Great Penang Road Trip.

The sole guide of our sojourn on the island of Penang was a road map booklet I bought from the convenience store of the first Shell gas station I spotted after we past the toll plaza into the province of Seberang Perai, the mainland (and less popular half) of the state of Pulau Pinang. It cost a stomach-wrenching RM20, but I have to admit, it was worth every cent.

On every page, the map was dotted with these labeled yellow stars that signify the locations of notable tourist spots. It's precisely what three total Penang noobs need. After every stop, we would whip the booklet out and plan our next star, and home in on it like flies on garbage. Bad analogy, I know.

Maybe it was too much sun. Maybe there was something in our bottled water. But something like a small burst of excitement popped in our brains when we spotted one particular star;

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Our map.

Dr. Sun Yat Sen's base. The Dr. Sun Yat Sen? He was in Penang? He had a base here?

The decision to see his secret lair base was unanimous. Already, we had visions of a tall, imperialistic white building with flags of the Kuomintang flown from every window. A pair of fearsome Chinese stone lions would grace its large, dark-wood double-doors. Canons would be placed five feet apart on its battlements and pointed at KOMTAR. There would be gargoyles adorning the waterspouts, all carved into the likeness of creatures that are half-dragon and half-Mao Zedong...

The shortest route from Fort Cornwallis to Dr. Sun Yat Sen's base would be through Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling. Once we turn into Jalan Kampung Kolam, we ought to see his base on our left. We ought to.


We drove reeeally slowly along Jalan Kampung Kolam when we got there, eyeing each and every building we passed with the hopes of seeing something which would clue us in on which building it was. A great dirty neon signboard with "Dr. Sun Yat Sen's Secret Base" emblazoned on it would be real helpful. Or maybe a cardboard cutout of Dr. Sun. Or shifty-eyed Chinese men in Zhongsan suits whispering conspiratorially to each other congregating at some nondescript doorstep (we have already given up hope on the stone lions). Anything. We just need a bloody indication!

Absolutely nothing. Zilch.

"Dr. Sun Yat Sen's secret base wor. You think it'll be so easy to find meh?" said Sze Yin.

I started scouting for tunnel entrances and scrutinising every man-hole cover we drove past. No luck there, either. So, we parked our car a block away and got on our feet. Walking several times up and down Jalan Kampung Kolam proved equally futile though. Every door in the row looked as unassuming as the next. We were hoping for something small we might have missed - maybe a plaque of some sort declaring one of the many old townhouses to be a site of heritage or something.

"I think we walked past Dr. Sun Yat Sen's base several times already-lor," said Sze Yin, laughing.

Then we realised that we were looking at the back ends of the houses.

We circled around to Lebuh Armenian excitedly. Aha! Maybe the stone lions were at the front! And the flags. And the Mao gargoyles...

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Or maybe not.

It turned out that the front of the houses were rather unremarkable as well.

We did find the Syed Alatas Mansion though;

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... which was refurbished into the Penang Islamic Museum.

According to the map, Dr. Sun Yat Sen's base should be on the same row of this mansion thingy.

There's an inordinate amount of people congregating in front of Syed Alatas Mansion at the intersection of Lebuh Armenian and Lebuh Aceh for some reason. All of them were quietly conversing amongst themselves.

"What are these people doing here?" asked Sze Yin.

"Communists," I hissed softly.

A signboard, erected in front of the Syed Alatas Museum by the city council, recounted the history of the site.

"There should be a signboard which looks exactly like this in front of Sun Yat Sen's base," I said, without even reading it. Frankly, we were all so caught up with looking for Dr. Sun's secret base, all the other tourist attractions did not interest us the least bit.

We began walking briskly down Lebuh Armenian, peering into every house in turn till we reached the end of the street. We spotted Yap Kongsi, the clan temple for Penangites with the surname Yap, also a tourist attraction of sorts - but no Sun Yat Sen's base. According to the map, we must have walked right past it. Again.

"Oh my god, think, think! If I got a secret base, where would I hide it?!" I groaned.

Next, we backtracked and reexamined the two house which we suspected to be the likeliest candidates. The first was an art gallery. Archvillains Revolutionaries like Dr. Sun Yat Sen would definitely enjoy fine art right?;

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Candidate #1

And the second was the clubhouse of the Mor Hun Club. The Huns invaded China in that Disney retelling of Mulan - and Dr. Sun Yat Sen's from China! Coincidence? I think not;

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Candidate #2

It was getting dark and the communists random civilians which loitered outside the Syed Alatas Mansions have dispersed. It didn't take us long to figure out that standing outside that two houses waiting for Dr. Sun Yat Sen to pop out or something isn't working out for us at all.

"Let's go ask someone," one of us suggested at last.

I entered an already closed restaurant and indeed, in spite of earlier wisecracks, asked someone in Mandarin where Dr. Sun Yat Sen's base is located (My command of Hokkien, the preferred dialect of Penang, begins and ends with how to say "toilet paper").

"House no. 120," was the answer I got.

"House no. 120!" I hollered excitedly to my road trip buddies as I exited the restaurant.

We then proceeded to run back up Lebuh Armenian, counting houses as we jogged breathlessly. The adrenaline was peaking a screaming high. We were actually shouting the numbers out loud as we passed them;




"116, 118!"


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Dr. Sun Yat Sen's very secret base.


After we got closer, we noticed that there really was a signboard proclaiming this humble indigo-blue shophouse to be the place we were hunting so hard for. Because the way it was angled towards the street, we didn't notice it at all during the times we walked by it! It was hidden in plain sight!

And what more, it was wedged right between no. 122 and 118 - namely, the art gallery and Mor Hun Club - that two place we suspected to be it. I bet the good doctor is having a good laugh at our expense, wherever he may be now. The evil overlords in movies and literature can learn a lot from this guy, especially when it comes to picking hideouts.

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The back of the base facing Jalan Kampung Kolam which we totally ignored.

No. 120 was the Southeast Asian chapter of Dr. Sun's little club, the Tung Meng Hooi, and the venue for the Penang Conference, held on the 13th of November, 1910. During the meeting, he proposed the launch of another uprising of a bigger scale in Guangzhou - in view of the previous failed smaller ones. However, due to the many previous flops which led to heavy financial losses and pawnage, most of his disillusioned supporters were reluctant to sacrifice more of their resources.

In desperation, the teary-eyed Dr. Sun besought them to finance the revolution one last time. He promised them that if this last uprising did not succeed, he would retire into oblivion forever.

Moved by the doctor's passion and sincerity, his Malayan comrades went "Aww, don't cry, Sunny," and donated 8000 Malayan dollars on the spot. After the Penang Conference, fund-raisers were conducted throughout the peninsula (how fund-raisers for rebellions were carried out, I have not a bloody clue), leading to the launch of the Second Guangzhou Uprising - as was initially masterminded in this small house.

This uprising sputtered and crashed too (haha) but it was supposed to be the precursor that sparked the success of the Wuchang Uprising which led to the collapse of the Qing Dynasty and the birth of the Republic of China.

Also, the oldest Chinese newspaper in Malaysia, the Kwong Wah Jit Poh, was founded here in 1910.

There is suppose to be some sort of exhibition inside this house these days but it was already closed when we got there. But no matter - we were so flippin' happy to finally see it that we didn't care at all.

Anyway, we went here afterwards;

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Gurney Drive, a nationwide-famous esplanade.

And had dinner here;

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That famous hawker centre there.

Right after dinner, we get to watch Penang's finest waa-waaing up and down Gurney Drive warning people to bugger off due to a tsunami scare. Sumatra trembled apparently, but we didn't feel a thing. Of course, the only effect the coppers warning had was to make people (like me) stick around and wait for the impending wave of doom. I mean, we want the complete Penang experience! Not a single ripple, I am sad to report.

Thus, I conclude the story of our Penang adventure. The end.

The end for Day 2, that is. There's a heck of a lot more travelogue-ish posts for you to read. Stick around for more!

I have been to Dr. Sun Yat Sen's base,
k0k s3n w4i

Other posts in my Great Penang Road Trip series:


John Doe said...

Seems like you've been busy criss-crossing the country! Lol!

InnShan said...

it appears that the place we had our dinner is a famous place too.

Zzzyun said...

omg im from penang and i dun even know the existence of this sun yat sen hide out. LOL

AhPau said...

born and bred in penang and have never heard of Sun Yat Sen base! it was just a waste of time

btw...can you STOP blogging about penang already?! makes me homesick =( *i think i speak on behalf of every penangite who is away from home*...

pinksterz said...

sun yat sen's what?!

i never knew the existence of that place. :S

k0k s3n w4i said...

@john doe
Didn't know how awesome Malaysia is till I left it :)

I suppose so. It had Mahathir to rasmikan mah.

Thank me! We Malaccans are awesome that way.

The place itself isn't much, but the hunt for it was the best fun I had in a very, very long time. It's a special kind of joy to find something you've been trying to hard to look for. Makes one feel incredibly accomplished.
There's still *looks at photo gallery*... about 3 or 4 posts left on Penang pending xD

Now you do :D
Stay tune for more educational waffle on k0k bl0k xD

Calvin said...

next time when you pay a visit to penang again, make sure you get a hokkien-speaking people along.

k0k s3n w4i said...

I was supposed to be the Hokkien speaker, seeing that I'm Malaccan. But I can't even speak Mandarin very well.

SuFang (Careen) said...

I don't know about this.. COol =D