The Life and Times of Bruce Bramson


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Malaysia Penang

The arrow points to the island of Penang

Sunday, 20 October 1968

Checked out a little history today. The Japanese bombed Penang and Kuala Lumpur for 3 days early in 1940, after which the country capitulated & was occupied for 4 years until liberated by the Commonwealth. That explains the fortifications. And I haven’t left Buddhism behind—it’s just changed from Indian-style (more or less) to Chinese, so the temples look a lot different. Visited the “Pagoda of a Million Buddhas” today, & while it was a bit “touristy”, rather interesting. But the spectacle was the Funicular railway up Penang Hill, which ascends 2200 feet in 2 stages; from the cars and the top of the hill fantastic views are to be seen, & very pretty walks. There’s hotels and other facilities, all the material for which was either taken up on the railroad or dropped by Helicopter (in modern times), there being no auto road at all. Trails abound, of course, & one can take the railway up & hike 8 miles down to Waterfall Gardens, another lovely spot near town. The rail was crowded today, but later in the week I’ll go up once more, after I get some film for the camera; shops are closed today (Sunday) & tomorrow (New Year Holiday) so it will be Tuesday or Wednesday.

Assessing my accounts the other night, I find that, not counting the photo work and the Honda repairs, 10 days in Bangkok cost me just a bit under $200.00; whereas I had exactly $50.00 worth of Bahts when I left BK, which carried me through the whole 10 days traveling to W. Malaysia. You see why I say Bangkok was expensive!!

This letter will be delayed a couple of days by the holiday—sorry about that!

Picked up the Penang Sunday Gazette tonight: Jackie & Aristotle? No doubt she’s lonely, but surely… oh well, everyone else has abandoned the JFK image and ideals, why shouldn’t she?
Cave of a thousand Buddhas

This may be the cave of 1000 Buddhas

But then again, it may not. If anyone recognizes it, let me know where it is. At this point all I know is, I went there!

Monday 21 October 1968

Another lazy day. Planned to go swimming, but the north beaches were all rather rainy all day, so I went around the other way & took in the Snake Temple and Reservoir Park. The Snake Temple is just a Chinese Pagoda where for reasons known only to themselves they keep a hundred or so snakes lying around! They’re a harmless variety of pit-viper, rather pretty, & growing to 4 feet or so. The place is filled with incense, which makes the snakes groggy—visitors, too, if one stays too long! The reservoir park is just that, very pretty & a nice place to sit & relax a while, which I did. Later went back to Waterfall Gardens, which has some nice foot-paths into the surrounding jungle that I explored. And of course the monkeys here are famous; semi-wild. They come down from the jungle in large numbers & get food from the tourists & visitors who enjoy their amusing antics. Since they are not caged at all, they are much healthier and prettier than the specimens one usually sees in zoos; and many of the she-monkeys carry their child monkey along with them, an amusing sight.

Well, time to close this long letter. Before sending it tomorrow I will try to ascertain an address in K. Lumpur that you can write me at; if I find out one, I’ll add it below.

Hope everyone continues well–I’m having a fine time of course & hope you all can come & see some of these same lovely places someday.

PS: Better skip K. Lumpur—not enuf time. But you can write to Singapore c/o Post Restaurant. I should get there in a month or less; better mark return to sender if not claimed by 15 December.
Love to all~

BACKSTORY: On my first trip around the island, I had noticed a large parking area behind a seawall at the north end of the island. Later that evening I rode over there and saw a number of couples seated on the wall: it looked like lovers’ lane to me. I was putting along at idle when I heard a voice say, “hello”. I turned to find a youngster riding his bicycle beside me. I stopped: he stopped.We chatted briefly; would he like a ride on my motorcycle? Yes. He ditched his bike in the front yard of a house not far away, climbed on behind me and I took off. I drove back along the route I had done earlier. At a nice deserted beach we stopped and watched as night fell, standing hand-in-hand, listening to the surf. Then back to the bike, and as it was now dark, he was able to put his hands around me and into my pants. I drove on up the mountain, recalling that at the top was a bus-shelter where we could… The faster I drove, the harder his hand worked, and by the time I drove into the shelter, parked the bike, I was wound up tight. I threw the fellow over the seat and parked my car in his garage—about as violently as I ever screwed anyone in my life! He loved it. He remained my guide and boyfriend for the rest of my stay on Penang.


The chief glory of Penang for me was the Penang Hill Railroad, mentioned in a letter above. I rode it a number of times and took many photos. From the net I learn the funicular is still there, but it has been modernized. In 1968 it was really two funiculars, which meant changing cars at the (more-or-less) half-way point. I understand it has now been converted into a single cable-run, and modern photos show operators in the car, so the motive-power seems to have changed. There is a lot of information about it on the web. My photos are below.

Penang Hill Funicular 02

One of the two winding-houses

As originally built, there were in reality two funiculars: it was necessary to change from one to the other. Each had a winding house—I don’t recall which this one is, but they were essentially identical. The operator sat high up where he could look down the line; he responded to the bell over the window, which was rung by the conductor on each car. The dial pointer showed him where each car was located, something he had to know since there were intermediate stations between top and bottom.

Penang Hill Funicular 01

The view down the line and to the flatland below

Note the passing-track on a curve! This funicular was an engineer’s dream. The poles along the track carry two bare insulated wires. Each conductor carried a wooden pole one end of which was clad in brass. To signal a change, he only had to touch his wand to both wires, completing a circuit which rang the bell in the engine-house. The codes were the same as steam engines, cable-cars and streetcars: one ring to stop, two to proceed, three to back up.

Penang Hill Funicular 03

A car approaching the (bottom) end of the line.

Intermediate stops allowed people who lived on the hill access to their homes. A particularly nice time to ride was in the afternoon when school-kids were on their way home. So much eye-candy!

Penang Hill Funicular 04

The approaching car in the passing zone.

Each car had a box used to carry freight or luggage. Empty sheaves to the right will pick up the cable as soon as the car passes downwards. As in all funiculars, the outer wheel-sets of each car had flanges both inside and outside the rail: the inside wheels had no flanges at all. Thus, each car followed the outer track at the passing zone, preventing collisions.

Penang Hill Funicular 08

Get your partners for the tunnel!

This is one of the stopping-places along the line, located just before the tunnel (if you are on a down-car), or just after the tunnel (if you are on an up-car). Close inspection of the picture shows there is someone on the path, walking away, so he has probably just gotten off an up-car and we are continuing on up.

Penang Hill Funicular 09

On the first lift section

Photo is taken from a car going up on the left track; the balance-car is descending, as can be deduced by the cable lying behind it. The down-car will rejoin the single line just beyond the curve.

Penang Hill Funicular 10

Passing track on the upper flight

My car is going up: the cable in the sheaves is attached to the balance-car going down. The weight of the cars, and particularly that of the cable, is so large that the system would never know whether there were people aboard a car or not.

Penang Hill Funicular 05

Lower end of the upper flight, and change-station

Approaching (or perhaps departing) the change-station. Winding house for the lower flight is at left, gantry-crane for lifting cars for maintenance is overhead, and repair shops to the right. I understand that the system has been rebuilt fairly recently, and the change-station eliminated. This makes this funicular the longest in the world.

Penang Hill Funicular 07

The main departure point at the bottom of the funicular

A pathway, possibly a road passes under the right-of-way, and a crane can be seen used for lifting cars for maintenance. Just visible in the distance are small souvenir shops and a parking-lot.

Penang Hill Funicular 06

On our way to the top

An engineering marvel! I hope at least one of the original sets of winding machinery has been preserved. It was 46 years old when I was there, and functioned perfectly. It was approaching 100 when replaced.

Penang Hill Funicular 11

Looking out of the tunnel

No way to know if I was ascending or descending when the picture was taken, but either way the ride was spectacular and great fun. I rode at least once each day I was on Penang, and on several occasions twice or more. The views at night were breath-taking.

Penang Hill Funicular 12

Funicular with curves!

The British engineers who built this thing knew what they were doing!  The modernization was done by a Swiss mob. In this day when everyone is in such a hurry, I suppose the delay at the change-station had become intolerable.

New controls

Modern cars passing

Each car now has an operator: my guess is the propulsion system is now regulated by telemetry, and there is no operator in the winding-house. But there MUST be a winding house: just how the system is controlled now I’m not sure, and I’d love to have someone tell me.

View from Penang Hill

Looking down from the change-station

This view and the next were taking in 1968.

View of Georgetown

Georgetown seen from the top of Penang hill, 1968

Modern Georgetown

A fairly recent view of Georgetown

Much has changed since 1968!

View from Island road

Somewhere along the round-the-island road

This snapshot was taken somewhere on the road around the island of Penang. No doubt the road has been improved: it’s likely now a 4-lane highway. Time marches on, but I will always remember my stay on Penang with great fondness, and I’m particularly glad to see that the Penang Hill Railway is still operating.

My next stop was Ipoh, Malaysia.



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January 28th, 2010 at 3:14 pm

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