Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Johor and Pahang road trip

Okay, this is going to be a long one, mainly because it's two weeks worth of pictures. Instead of breaking down into a few post, I'm just going to put everything into one post. Long story... here goes.

 

As I wrote earlier, I was in Johor and Pahang for two weeks. The first week was spend in Johor. We left PJ at 11AM and after 5 hours of driving and sitting in the company's uncomfortable van, we finally arrived at Johor Baru. I haven't been to JB for years. I think the last time I came to JB was to pay respect to my grandfather's altar.

 

We checked ourselves into The Zon Hotel. It's an all-in-one free trade zone. It's got a hotel, shopping mall and clubs. It's got the usual alcohol and tobacco shops that you would find in a free trade zone. I think what's unique about this place are the nightclubs with their cheap booze. At night, the place are fool of young chinese kids partying away.

I wonder what they mean by 'exclusive KTV club'. I saw a lot of expensive cars driving up to it.

 

I like walking at the fountains at night. Quite breeze. Watching the young kids partying made me feel old.

 

 

 

The hotel itself is shaped like a triangle with all the corridors facing inwards. In the centre in the lobby, there is a band that plays every night until midnight. I could hear them from my room even on the high floors.

 

I'm afraid of heights so when I walk along the corridor, I walk as close as possible to the wall. I try not to look down.

 

The first day of shooting, I saw something interesting. A bird had build it's nest right next to this mansion that had been converted into an office.

 

It was a little yellow bird and it had made it's nest out of twigs and some cotton.

 

Besides taking pictures of birds, I also have a fascination for taking pictures of ants. That's mostly because they're everywhere and attack me mercilessly.

 

Staying in Petaling Jaya, I tend to forget we're a country infested with all sorts of ants. In Taiping I was attacked by huge red ants that literally took control of a hill I hiked up. I tell you, if I had it my way, I would come back to that hill with a few litres of kerosene and set it on fire.

 

In the palace grounds, I spotted these ants in the above pictures. The picture on the left is a large black ants with small black ants hitching a ride on it. The picture on the right is a group of workers transporting what looks like food.

 

Our next stop in our shooting schedule took us to royal palace grounds. I was standing around this old palace that hasn't seen any care for a long time.

 

The main hall. The wooden floors are all rotten so I didn't dare walk up on it. You can imagine it's splendor in it's heydays. It used to be a school too for awhile...

 

The plants are trying to take over the building now.

 

Someone had scribbled graffiti on the building. I found it amusing that the graffiti was all in english, unlike the graffiti you commonly see elsewhere where it's in crude Malay. This one was the most amusing. On the top it says "I love Kian Forever, 26-12-2005" and at the bottom it says, "I still love Kian forever 4-2-2007". I was going to scribble at the bottom "Kian don't love you anymore" but that would just encourage more graffiti.

 

 

I ran into a couple that was taking their wedding photos in the building. They seem quite surprised to see us shooting there. I was just as surprised to see them picking such an odd location to do their shoot!

 

There was a row of these trees at the back of the palace. I didn't know the name but I could guess they were pretty old. It was the strangest tree, I've never seen anything like it. It had wild branches shooting out of it's lower part of it's body with flowers at it's end.

 

The flowers were quite fragrant. With a whole row of them, the entire street was sweet smelling when a slight breeze blew.

 

The flowers turned into this cannonball sized fruits. It's exterior was hard and I didn't see anyone plucking the fruits or half eaten remains on the ground so my guess was it wasn't edible.

 

This is the royal mausoleum. It was on top of a hill in a peaceful cemetery. In the day time it looked serene, but I bet you wouldn't want to wait around until it got dark there.

 

Another unique place we stopped at was a stall called Warong Saga that had old pictures of Johor personalities. One of the picture sets caught my eye. It was a row of pictures of the former and current Chief Minister of Johor. Check out the picture right after the current Chief Minister.

 

The stall owner sure had some weird sense of humor. All this while the press was still trying to guess if Ghani was going to remain as the Chief Minister then.

 

Well, since the stall owner has a sense of humor, I decided to add my own picture...

 

Hrmm... how about this one, care to guess who would be the next prime minister?

 

All the time I was the hotel, my phone reception kept getting cut of even though there was a full bar. It wasn't until after making a few calls then I discovered the reason for this. The hotel was so close to Woodland in Singapore, the phone kept disconnecting and reconnecting to the Singapore telco side! I think I might have made some international calls to Chui Yan instead of using Maxis.

 

One of the stranger things I saw in JB was the Freemason Hall. Not many of the locals know what it was, they all referred to it as the 'Rumah Hantu' as the members were all secretive.

 

Notice the Freemason logo at the top of the building. Did you know that the former Sultan of Johor was a freemason?

 

On the post box, it said "Johor Royal Lodge". The building itself faces south (facing Singapore), as Freemason tradition requires their lodges to face south.

 

So this is the body of water that supports two rival nations. My father and his brothers used to swim across it from Johor to Singapore when they were young. The distance between the two is a lot shorter now that there is more reclaimed land.

 

After a few days in JB, we finally left the place to travel to a smaller town in Johor, Kota Tinggi. This is a town that was once flooded out in two great floods. A lot of the residence still fear the rain.

I took this panorama picture from our hotel, Mayres Hotel. The water level during the floods was lapping just below the second floor of most of the buildings in the town centre. That's almost 2 metres of water. There was a lot of damage financially and also emotionally.

 

I took a walk around the town and at first glance, you wouldn't have noticed that there was any flood at all. However, I took a closer looked at some of the closed down shops and you could see through the locked doors that there was extensive water damage. One clinic I saw never opened again, it's inside was a mess with the water level marks at it's ceiling.

 

The furniture and electronics store in the town centre is thriving, most probably from people trying to rebuild their life's.

 

 

The hotel we stayed in operates from the 8th floor of a tall building in the centre of the town. The ground floor is an abandoned supermarket. Staying on the 9 floor, that gave me a sense of security against the flood. It was only a 2 star hotel I think, judging from it's service and room.

 

The hotel had a dodgy key card system. The keys came with a plastic or metal dog tag. You had to insert the tag into a slot in the elevators while pressing the floor button at the same time. The same goes for the main power switch in the rooms. The tag on my room key was the piece of plastic that was held together by tape and was way pass it's retirement time.

 

I had to improvise and Macgyver my own key card since the hotel didn't offer much help in giving me a replacement key card. I fished out the old key card I kept as a souvenir from the The Zon Hotel and cut it up.

 

 

I didn't have a scissor so I badly butchered the key card. At least it works.

 

Anyway, I took a river cruise from Kota Tinggi heading downstream. A lot of Singaporean tourist visit this town in the weekends, the biggest attraction is the river cruise. There are fireflies to be seen by the river. There are also a lot of historical sites along it.

 

This picture was taken at the main jetty in town. The tall white building in the background is abandoned, I believe it's now a swift hotel. A lot of bird's flying around it. The guy who runs the boats, Ah Fook is a local hero himself. During the floods, he used his 5 boats together with the MCA to rescue trapped flood victims. His boats were the largest and carried the most people to safety. He himself lost a boat as it was stolen during the floods. Someone also broke into his house during the floods and stole all his life jackets. If you ever wanted to take his river tour, give him a call at +60137785999.

 

Our trip down river was pleasant but also very hot. Before we started the journey, even our boatman complained about the heat, as he never cruised down the river at noon before. He made a dash to a store nearby to buy a straw hat. I followed him and bought two umbrellas and a straw hat as well. Since the hat was only RM3.50 each, I paid for his hat as well.

 

There were a lot of people fishing on the river. In a small town like this, I guess that's the biggest entertainment here. It's peaceful and quite rewarding too. The guy in the picture above caught a very large prawn the length of my forearm.

 

I spotted two temples along the riverbanks. The one above looked like a meditation centre. It had a small peaceful park by the riverbanks. A serene place to go and contemplate the Dharma for locals.

 

After cruising for an hour, we finally stopped at a small jetty to have a drink. There wasn't much available at the stall but I did spot kids jumping into the river. At a closer look, I saw what they were catching, Horseshoe Crabs or better known as Belangkas to the locals. It's a species that is very rare. It's blood is prized in the pharmaceutical industry for viral detection. There is a malay saying, "macam Belangkas" which means a pair of lovers who are attached to each other. This is because the horseshoe crab mates for life. The male will be attached to the top of the female. When they are caught, the male is usually discarded.

 

 

It's about RM4 for a KG of Belangkas.

 

The locals prize the eggs of the female Belangkas. In the picture above, if you press near the two nodes in the centre of the picture, you would be able to squeeze out their eggs. It's a little larger than salmon eggs. There's not much meat on the crab itself.

 

I saw this jelly fish swimming as we left the kids. That would be a very painful encounter for anyone!

 

As we headed back to town, dark clouds started to loom over us. It started to drizzle a little as we passed under the clouds. Luckily, it didn't last for long.

 

The odd looking building painted with red stripes in the centre of the picture is a British build World War 2 pillar box. There's quite a few up along the river. The British had feared a sea invasion and had guarded the river. Little did they know, the attack came from up north.

 

For lunch, we stopped at this restaurant called Mahkota Belangkas. It's specialty was Belangkas Sambal tumis.

 

This is the restaurant owner, the Tunku Mahkota of Johor loves cooking the Belangkas.

 

 

The locals say don't drink coffee after eating Belangkas or you would get sick. So what did it taste like? Well, let's just say I won't eat it again. I would try all sorts of weird food at least once.

 

I remember a joke I read once, it reminds me a lot about this belangkas. "A forest ranger was walking in the woods and he stumbled upon a man who was cooking a bear over an open fire. The ranger was astonished and shouted at the man 'hey, that's a protected species, you can't cook the bear!'. The man replied, 'oh, I didn't know that... I've been living in the woods all my life, no one ever told me that'. The ranger let him of with a warning and out of curiosity asked, 'so what does the bear taste like anyway?'. The man replied, 'oh, it taste a bit like a Bald Eagle".

 

Belangkas eggs taste just as awful as turtle eggs.

 

I woke up one morning and from my hotel room I could see this. A group of BN supporters were marching down the main street of Kota Tinggi... only then did I remember it was nomination day. Kota Tinggi's incumbent was Syed Hamid Albar, the Foreign Affairs Minister. Johor itself is a BN stronghold. So no treat to him there as of this time of writing. I await to see how he fairs after the election.

 

I took some pictures in the local museum. It was quite well maintained, luckily it was build on high grounds, so the floods did not affect it.

 

I always find the mannequins they use in our local museums amusing. The locals all look like caucasians. This one is supposed to be the Dutch meeting the Sultan of Johor.

 

This is an interesting wedding poem I saw in the museum.

 

more pictures of ants. This type not so aggressive.

 

A panorama shot of the old fort at Johor Lama. This used to be the front of the fort facing the river. Across on the other side of the river is Johor Baru. It's peaceful here, looks like a nice place to have a garden wedding actually.

 

Through out the trip, we ate mostly Malay food. Not too fond of it. So when I spotted a chinese restaurant next to our hotel, I had dinner there one night on my own. All these food for only RM13. Quite cheap compared to prices in the Klang Valley. This would have cost me at least RM20.

 

It was finally time to continue our journey onwards to Kuantan, Pahang. By then, the election campaign period was already in full swing. We stopped by in Rompin to have lunch at a small shop. The food had a fly trap door but on closer look, all the flies were trapped inside with the food... gross. I didn't want to eat initially but in the end, I only ate the veggie. Good thing I didn't get sick.

 

I saw one of BN office of another minister. He had a huge balloon floating over head.

 

The rest of the journey was scenic. There were a lot of beach stretches that didn't have anyone on it. It looks like there are many potential sites for beach resorts along this area.

 

There weren't many election flags flying this year. I think the new election rulings has clamped down on the flags and poster clutter which is great. Check out the Kelisa above with the flags flying on it. I think the guy at the BN office told him to distribute the car flags but instead, he stuck it all on his car. I would like to see if his car is still like that after the election.

 

 

There was massive road construction going on from Pekan to Kuantan. They are building a new road. They suck sand out of the rivers and place it along the current road but the rains have washed most of the sand away already.

 

A portrait of the Sultan of Pahang I saw in the museum in Pekan. This museum is currently under renovation. The lower ground level was flooded out, so it's still quite a mess.

 

This is an ornate carved wooden chair that was a gift from Korea to the Sultan. It has extensive termite damage on it's back.

 

I saw this advertisement hanging on the wall of a stall we had lunch at. I found the name of the coffee really funny. Check out it's slogan "Tak minum, insteri marah...". A testament to it's virility.

 

I saw a squirrel running around in the trees above me in Pekan. When I looked on the ground, there were a lot of coconuts with holes in it. My colleague told me the squirrels had gnawed a hole into the coconut and eaten it. Smart little buggers. "Kelapa ditebuk tupai".

 

 

A strange fruit tree. The locals say it's edible. It was too high up for me to have a closer look.


Another more common fruit, the Starfruit. When I was about to get down from the van, something dropped on my head. We had parked under a starfruit tree and one had dropped on me. My crew picked the unripe green ones of the tree and started eating it. I've never seen people eat the unripe ones before.

 

A beautiful mosque in Pekan.

 

A flock of hornbills were resting in the trees in the Pekan museum. First time I've seen one up close.

 

Over the next few days when we were shuttling back and forth between Kuantan where we stayed and Pekan to do our shoots, it rained heavily.

 

Our hotel room in Kuantan at the Grand Continental didn't have TV3. So I ended up watching a lot of RTM and NTV7 news. It was mostly propaganda and heavily sided towards the government. It was blantantly biased so I stopped watching after a few days. The RTM reports were so biased it was comical. I saw one report where the Information Minister attacked Anwar Ibrahim. It had inserted pictures of Anwar singing and dancing. It just looked so bad for the minister.

 

I woke up one morning and saw the morning headlines on Berita Harian. Just another example of blantant yellow journalism. Their excuse for the headline would most probably be "The deputy prime minister said so, so we just quote him". Right... I can probably quote anyone of the streets who can say "Berita Harian tak adil dalam laporan" and run that as a headline too. Good thing I didn't pay any money for this paper.

 

Anyway, one of the higlights of Kuantan was an old camera shop. The guy had old cameras on that he showed us. The cameras from the early 1920's that his father had used to take early pictures of Kuantan.

 

The picture two cameras and a picture of it's owner.

 

The lens was by Carl Zeiss, which is still used by Sony today. Amazing.

 

The cameras don't work anymore. In the above picture, the main picture is the view from the Graflex camera. The insert picture is the picture I took from my camera from the same view point. For an old camera, the lens were still quite sharp. The image on the old camera's look down viewfinder was a mirror image.

 

I saw this on snuck away in one corner of the shop. I googled it and found out that Sakura Color is actually the brand name of a Japanese pen company.

 

Another wierd food I tried, coconut pancake or better known as lempeng in Kuantan.

 

I also got to watch some Gamelan dancers. Very graceful.

In the old days, the dance was performed at night for the Sultan so he could pick and choose a 'companion' from one of the dancers at night.

 

More rain clouds. This one almost flooded out the road.

 

I also got to visit the Istana Abu Bakar in Pekan.

It was next to the Royal Pahang Polo Club. Is it just me or does it looks like the two horses just shitted out it's tail?

 

We had lunch at the royal dinning room. It was a very grand room.

They served us this royal banana pudding that only was served for the royal family. The black pieces in the bowl are actually fermented small bananas. It was very sweet but too odd for my liking.

 

official cup

 

The Balairong was impressive. Very regal. It would make any man feel humbled when walking up to the throne.

 

I saw a few houses in the low lying areas of Pekan flooded out. They already had boats tied to their front doors. It's a good thing the election campaigns are going on with Najib around to offer aid instantly.

 

We also stopped by Pantai Chempedak. It was raining heavily, otherwise it would have been a perfect day by the beach.

While I was standing in the shade, a large Malay family had stopped by. Two very young kids from the group ran out to the beach in the middle of the heavy rain with the parents just watching. I think Chinese parents are very different, they wouldn't have let the kids just run of like that. The picture above is a picture of the two kids standing in the rain by the beach. I was standing just next to their parents who didn't seem to care.

 

I spend a lot of time in the shopping mall next to our hotel in Kuantan too and I noticed the same thing. Kids, mostly Malay were running around without any parents supervising them. Once when I took the lift, I spotted two teenagers trying to help two young kids to find their parents. It was a bubble lift and they looked out and suddenly pointed out and shouted that's their mother. We stopped on the ground floor the two kids ran of. Turns out it wasn't their mother, so I waited to watch what would happen. They two kids just ran all over the place up and down escalators without any adult supervision. I don't think it would be the same in the Klang Valley.

 

Just yesterday, I was buying bread at the One Utama bakery and a small Malay boy ran by crying for his mother. Everyone quickly stopped what they were doing and took notice. The lady serving us in the bakery ran out to lead the boy to the info counter. Everyone stood around him concerned for his safety. Everyone in the Klang Valley is now more aware ever since two kids when missing.

 

While in Kuantan, there wasn't much to do but to watch movies in GSC cinema nearby. I watched 3 movies in a week... more than I normally would.

 

The one thing I noticed about small towns are that services and goods are sometimes cheaper than larger cities. In Kuantan, I got a hair wash, shoulder massage and a face wash all for Rm36. In PJ, a hair wash itself is already RM15.


I also saw really cheap toy miniature remote controlled helicopters in Kota Tinggi. They were about RM50, the same model would be about RM90 in PJ. I regret not buying one.

 

Anyway, I'll continue this post another time. This is way too long.

 

1 comment:

xmocha said...

you are right, that tree is a cannon ball tree.. there are many of them in the Spore botanic garden
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cannon-ball_tree