Fiery Sky (#55)

I just could not resist posting some photos of this absolutely brilliant sky captured with my mobile phone from the 15th floor balcony of my elder daughter’s apartment. Surprising moments like these make me wish I had come better prepared with a DSLR and tripod.

On a slightly different note, I leave tonight for Japan. A taxi will come to pick me up at 4:15 a.m. and drive me to the airport. I have been under some stress for the last couple of days, trying to make sure that life will still go on smoothly in my absence and my home is still standing when I get back! I know, I know. Don’t flatter yourself, I hear you say. Every one of us is dispensable.

As luck would have it, I discovered this morning that my automatic gate is not working. This has definitely added to my stress level. I need to get it fixed before I fly off. Can’t have my younger one getting in and out of her car to open and shut the gate. I’ve heard one too many horror stories about robbery and kidnapping when one leaves the car for just a few seconds.

Young people these days have an aversion towards the slightest thing you ask them to do. Take my younger daughter, for instance. She tells me I am nagging when I requested that she waters the plants and feeds the Koi while I’m away. I remember the last incident with our fish all too well. I returned from South Africa to discover that all four Koi that we had raised since young had died!

I will share some photos and details of my trip after I return. Cheers, everyone!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Outside Japan: Bon Odori 2017

In Japan, the period between July and August is when people pray for the spirits of their deceased relatives and ancestors to be able to obtain Buddhahood without suffering. It is believed that the spirits of the ancestors revisit their family’s household alters and shrines during the three days that Obon traditionally lasts.

Two nights ago, I join three other friends to attend the 2-day Bon Odori 2017 festival held in the township of Gelang Patah in Johor, Malaysia. “Bon-Odori,” as the name suggests, refers to a dance (odori) held during Obon. The dance is performed all over Japan to receive spirits and send them off again.

The celebration of Bon in Malaysia started as a small affair over 40 years ago, with Japanese expatriates stationed here wanting to immerse their own children into their native culture. It has now morphed into a huge and much-awaited event, attracting crowds by the thousands. Presently, the religious aspect of Bon has been mostly lost, and the dance is held as an event to liven up the summer festival.

In Malaysia, Bon Odori aims to promote and strengthen cultural ties between Malaysia and Japan, as well as showcase to locals a part of Japanese custom that’s been around for the past 500 years. The celebration in Malaysia is believed to be the largest Bon Odori festival in the world, outside of Japan.

The carnival-like atmosphere is made all the more merrier with stalls selling a variety of Japanese food and drinks, lively dance, martial arts and taiko (drums) performances, Japanese karaoke, games and even a lucky draw. This noisy and colourful event also attracts Japanese companies to participate and promote their products.

As Obon occurs in the heat of the summer, participants traditionally wear colourful yukatas, a traditional Japanese robe, or light cotton kimonos.

Then, there’s also the attire worn by today’s youth, where any style and combination goes…!

The typical Bon Odori dance involves people forming a circle around a high wooden scaffold made especially for the festival called a yagura.

There are many instances where the hand movements are made to coordinate with the lyrics, describing actions like “harvesting the rice” or “scooping the mud”. This makes the dance easy to follow so that everyone can join in and dance round the yagura.

In Sight Johor: Parit Jawa, Muar

Since I’ve not posted anything for the last three months, I thought I’d share some photos of my day trip to Parit Jawa, a river town on an estuary that opens out to a seemingly endless sea.

The majority of its residents are engaged in fishing and other related activities. You can see lots of fishing boats moored alongside the quay.

A short walk around this river town will take you past seafood restaurants, old shop houses, boat repair workshops, a mosque and two Chinese temples. There’s even a Fishermen’s Association established in one of the old buildings.

What I like about this place is that it has remained largely untouched and retained its rustic simplicity. Visiting Parit Jawa brings back the nostalgic feeling of being transported back to the 1950s. Life here appears to be relaxed and easy-going. During hot afternoons, it’s not unusual to find some senior residents chit-chatting and enjoying a game of Chinese chess in one of the restaurants. The younger folk, on the other hand, prefer to get on their motorcycles and round the vicinity for a bit.

Migratory birds like egrets and swallows scour the area in the evenings when the tide is out and the weather cooler. They compete for food with the many wild monkeys who seem to be everywhere – by the road side, on top of roofs, mangroves and exposed sea rocks.

Parit Jawa is known for its seafood, and in particular, a dish called Asam Pedas. Translated directly, it means “sour and spicy” where the method of cooking fish is not by frying or grilling, but by boiling the fish in spicy, sour broth.

There is little doubt that this fishing village is a haven for fishing enthusiasts and bird photographers. It’s a nice getaway from urban life and makes for a great nature outing with the children.

On the Edge of The Blue Lake

The weather here has been unpredictable lately – with sweltering mornings turning very quickly into heavy showers and thunderstorms in a matter of minutes. This makes planning for an outing difficult and frustrating. Three weeks ago, however, I felt that I had had enough of waiting for the weather to improve and decided to check out a mysterious lake  that I had read about on the internet.

I was feeling pretty disgusted with myself for not knowing that this lake is just a 33-minute drive away from home. Notwithstanding the fact that many residents who have lived here all their lives are unaware of the existence of this lake sitting in their backyard.

Better known as the Seri Alam Blue Lake, it is not a natural lake but an abandoned granite quarry – with the bluest water ever! While a lake with blue water may not seem a big deal, it is certainly not a common sight here. In fact, I’ve never come across a blue-coloured lake in Malaysia, let alone get to know that one has been practically outside my doorstep all along!

The trip was fraught with obstacles from the beginning. It started to rain heavily just as I was about to drive off. The downpour set me back by an hour but did not dampen my resolve to check out the lake that same evening.

Finding the lake was a bit of a challenge. There were no road signs to indicate that there was even a lake in that area! You would not expect to find a lake hidden behind a hill, with a university campus and a residential development project nearby. This quiet stretch of road transforms into a racing track in the evenings for Mat Rempit, the term used to describe local youths who race on their modified motorcycles at daredevil speeds with dangerous stunts thrown in.

Upon arriving, I was taken aback to see that metal barriers had been erected at the entrance to the car park, effectively sealing off access and rendering the Blue Lake off-limits to visitors.

I certainly had no intention of turning back without satisfying my curiosity about what was behind those barriers. We drove a little further down the road, trying to figure a way to circumvent the barrier. We spotted an opportunity where the barriers ended and joined up with the road railings. In the end, I decided to lie flat on the ground and wriggle my way under the railing to get to the other side.

We then made our way across the uneven, sandy slopes and continued uphill…

….until we spied what appeared to be a chasm in the distance.

On reaching the edge, I was greeted by a stunning blue-green body of water cradled by granite cliffs and green foliage. It felt unreal, overwhelming and sad to see this beautiful, quiet lake in such a forgotten state. I made my way carefully down a protruding rock to get a closer view of the blue water and its surrounds. The damp ground was narrow and slippery, allowing enough space for only one person at a time to take in the scenery. One false step would have meant a one-way ticket all the way down to the beautiful but toxic waters of the lake.

Photo credit to CY Lim    Panoramic view of the Blue Lake.

The fate of the lake looks uncertain. The water level appears to have dropped considerably, reducing the size of the lake and exposing the granite rock underneath. If left to the elements, it’s just a matter of time that the lake will dry up and disappear forever. With all the building and construction taking place in the surrounding area, I am hoping that the lake will be retained as another attraction within a recreation area in the vicinity. The worse thing that can happen is if all that water is drained out for land reclamation.

The Blue Lake is certainly a fetching sight. I am waiting for clear day to sneak back in to catch the sunset.

In Sight Johor: On the Water’s Edge – Kukup Village

Sitting on the south-western edge of Johor is the small fishing town of Kukup that’s built on stilts. An entire community, comprising mostly Chinese fishermen, live behind the row of shophouses fronting the main road that ends at the town’s ferry terminal.

Kukup is known for its fresh seafood, kelongs (fish farms) and houses built above the water. The houses are connected by a series of concrete walkways above the muddy mangrove shoreline. All services that support a community are also be found here – schools, temples, shops and restaurants.

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When strolling down the narrow walkway, it is easy to forget that you are actually walking along a “main” road for motorcycles and bicycles. In Kukup, everyone seems to know how to ride a motorcycle or scooter. Not only the men, but also the women and even children as young as 12 years old! They seem to enjoy riding fast, sounding their horns at any pedestrian that blocks their path.

While we were sitting under the shade in someone’s compound and waiting for the sun to set, a middle-aged lady on a motorcycle sped right in front of us and made a sudden turn to the left without slowing down. She lost control and fell off the bike, stopping short of rolling over the side and into the mud below. We rushed to help her, together with four or five other villagers who seemed to appear from no where! After she was back on her feet, she dusted herself, got on the motorbike and sped off, without so much as an acknowledgement or “thank-you” to those who had come to her aid! Maybe living in a close-knit community like Kukup means never having to say thank-you!

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The ferry terminal found here links Kukup to Tanjung Balai in the Riau island of Indonesia. It departs every hour and the journey takes an hour and forty-five minutes. 

There are many floating fish farms (kelongs) in the channel between Kukup and Kukup Island National Park. For a mere USD1.25, visitors can take a boat ride to these kelongs to get a closer look at the sea critters being reared here. 

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The shops at Kukup specialise in selling dried fish products like keropok (crackers) and belacan (shrimp paste). The restaurants nearest to the main road are the biggest and busiest, serving a full range of fresh seafood at reasonable prices. My favourite dishes are crabs in salted egg yolk, buttered prawns and deep-fried baby octopus served with piping hot rice. 

Over the years, the number of tourists to this town has increased. Some enterprising owners have seized this opportunity to convert their stilt homes into resorts, chalets and homestays. So finding a place to stay for one or two nights in Kukup is a piece of cake if you’re game for the experience of living like the locals and watching the sunset from the kitchen or backyard!

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In Sight Johor: The Sungai Johor Link Bridge

Three weeks ago, J and I made a trip to a town called Kota Tinggi to hand a pair of customised 2017 desk calendars to a food stall operator. This friendly old man had sportingly agreed to pose for some portrait shots during our last trip there. Needless to say, he was thrilled to see his photo on print and started to show the calendar to his customers.

After a quick meal of char siew and chicken rice at his stall (incidentally our drinks were complimentary), we proceeded to drive around a bit to explore the surrounding area. There was really not much to see along the trunk road except rows and rows of oil palm trees. By and by, we came to a handwritten sign pointing in the direction of a rumah rakit (raft house). We hesitated. Checking out the place meant doing a 7-kilometre drive inside a vast oil palm estate. Deep, dark, deserted – pretty scary, on the whole. After some deliberation, however, we decided to venture into the plantation. After all, no pain no gain, right?

There were some pretty anxious moments as the car made its way deeper into the thick, undulating forest. As the minutes ticked by, we became increasingly doubtful about where the road was leading us. The whole place was so remote that internet reception became erratic. The quiet, winding road seemed never-ending and we began to wonder if the sign seen earlier was out-of-date. To make matters worse, the petrol gauge showed that we were down to one bar. Earlier on, we had stopped by the only petrol kiosk at Teluk Sengat to fill up but guess what? All petrol had been sold out! A local resident told us that the next available kiosk could only be found on the opposite side, requiring a 26-minute drive to get there. As we couldn’t be sure about getting to top up even in the next town, we decided to continue exploring with the optimistic hope that there would be sufficient petrol to last until we reached home.

We drove uphill along the meandering road until we came to a slope cutting through an expressway tunnel. We found ourselves inside another oil palm estate but on the opposite side of the highway. I began to understand the actual meaning of the phrase, ‘So near and yet so far‘. Civilisation was right in front of us but the car could not get across as there was a shallow ditch and fence separating the estate road and the highway. By then it was already too late to turn back. We pressed further up until we were about to reach the highest point of the hinterland.

It was during that moment of approach when the Johor Bridge revealed itself, rising out from the lush green valley and river below. Woo hoo!  🙂 🙂

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Did we make it to the raft houses on the river? Yes, we did, walking around the jetty area before hurrying back up to our newly-discovered spot to catch a glimpse of the sunset.

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It would have been ideal to get a shot of the sun going down behind the bridge but that didn’t happen. From where we were standing, the bridge was a few degrees off from the sun.

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All in all, it was a successful day trip. Who would have known that such a pretty view can be found within the deep recesses of a dull oil palm plantation? And now that I know that the sign did not lie after all, I hope to visit Kampung Tanjung Buai again and spend a night in a raft house.

 

In Sight Johor: Teluk Sengat

In one of my earlier posts, “A Twist in Sungai Rengit”, I related how I sprained my ankle when I unwittingly stepped into a big crack on the concrete walkway. It was just punishment for not paying enough attention to where I was walking and ignoring an off-limits sign! What I did not mention was that after the incident I did not go home immediately, thinking I was suffering more from shock than anything else and that my leg would recover if I just allowed it to rest until we got to our next destination.

So we drove to another town called Teluk Sengat and stopped at a sloping rocky outcrop overlooking the sea. To the left, we could see a long jetty and J suggested that we make our way there to check out the view. By that time, however, the pain had become downright unbearable so to cut a long story short, we decided to leave the place and come back again when my leg was much better.

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Fast forward two years later…we made our way again to Teluk Sengat in the hope of catching the sunset.

Teluk Sengat is a quiet seaside town on the bank of the Johor River. You know you’ve arrived when you see the long jetty, as well as a row of open seafood eateries along the river bank. It’s a nice place to dig into an array of tasty seafood offerings while watching the sky change colour. The abundance of marine life here makes it a popular fishing spot, giving rise to a number of raft houses (rumah rakit) where fish, shellfish and crustaceans are bred.

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From the jetty at Teluk Sengat, you can see the Johor River Bridge in the distance. This 1.7km bridge is the the longest single plane cable-stayed bridge in Malaysia connecting Kong Kong Village in the west to Teluk Sengat in the east. It pales in comparison with the other bridges around the world but nevertheless, it makes for quite a pretty sight at night-time when the bridge is lit.

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Sadly, the appearance of heavy clouds that day dashed any hopes of capturing a brilliant sunset. We could have stayed back and waited for the Johor River Bridge light-up, but that would have meant driving on a rural road with little or no street lighting for most of the journey home.

Oh well…guess I will have to make another trip to Teluk Sengat. Who knows? I might be third time lucky!

In Sight Johor: Air Papan

While cruising along the east coast of Malaysia I came across this beautiful 3-kilometre stretch of beach, hidden away from the main road. Naturally, I had to stop to have a closer look. The tide was low and I managed to walk quite a distance out to sea. It was a good day to catch a glimpse of some of the surrounding islands in the vicinity. I did wonder if the water was shallow enough to get to the nearest island but didn’t attempt as there was nobody nearby to call in case I needed help!

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A little further up the road…

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In Sight Johor: Tanjung Balau

If you would like to get away for a day from the hustle and bustle of city life, then Tanjung Balau is a good place to visit. Just an hour and fifteen minutes’ drive away from the city centre, this rather laid-back village on the east coast has a nice beach for swimming, fishing and relaxation. Established more than a hundred years ago by fishermen from the north-eastern Malayan states of Kelantan and Trengganu, Tanjung Balau is the oldest fishing village in Johor, Malaysia.

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For those who are keen to know a thing or two about the livelihood of traditional fishermen and its historic legacy, there is a Fishermen’s Museum right by the beach. Artefacts on exhibit include fishing nets and tackles, and traditional tools used to fish. Visitors also get treated to a dose of local seafaring superstitions and techniques to determine a good catch.

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The entire seascape at Tanjung Balau is especially beautiful during low tide as this is when the hidden marine life are revealed. There are lots of seashells in various shapes and sizes, small fish trapped in shallow pools of water between rocks and sandbars, and tiny crabs skittering across the sand, then disappearing just as quickly into unseen holes.

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However, the most unique feature about Tanjung Balau are the wind-stressed rock formations seen only during low tide. The rocks are believed to be from the Permo-Carboniferous age, which is more ancient than those of the Permian period that began 275 million years ago!

It is possible to have a closer look at these prehistoric formations if you take the cement walkway that extends out to sea, circling round a little bay on another side of the promontory, before crossing a small bridge that joins up with the mainland. A number of shelters have been built along the walkway to allow visitors to take in the lapping waves against the rocky surrounds.

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Wild monkeys are a common sight in Tanjung Balau. The family of monkeys living inside the forest next to the car park are rather mischievous. When they see a car approaching the parking area, they start chattering among themselves, as if deciding as to whose turn it is to prank the car driver. By and by, one of them walks to the middle of the road and lies down, pretending to be dead. This forces the oncoming car to stop. The “dead” monkey then gets up and starts to usher the rest across the road. The other monkeys take their time to cross, running back and forth before finally disappearing into the bushes. Usually, I would get out of the car and start taking photos. However, after my last experience in Chiangrai, Thailand, I decided to give this one a miss!

There are toilets, shower rooms as well as a food court for day trippers. However, I wouldn’t bet too much on getting a meal and drink at the food court. I thought a glass of iced coffee would be a good way to cool down and keep awake during the ride home. As it turned out, only one drinks kiosk was open and there was no one manning the place. I made my way into the kitchen, placed my order, then went outside and waited…and waited…and waited for ten minutes! There was no sound or activity from the kitchen! That was when I concluded that the residents at Tanjung Balau must be earning such a good income from fishing that they are not interested in any other trade to supplement their income!

I left Tanjung Balau without coffee.

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For those who wish to stay overnight, there are chalets nearby as well as tents for camping on the beach. Just remember to bring along your drinking bottle and fishing rod!

 

 

 

 

Chasing the Sunset at Pengerang (#51)

Pengerang is a small customs and immigration post lying on the south-western tip of Johor, Malaysia. There really isn’t much to do in this sleepy little town, except binge on inexpensive seafood.  Changi Point Ferry Terminal in Singapore is right across the sea, so eating places in Pengerang and nearby Sungei Rengit enjoy a fair number of visitors from Singapore, especially during weekends.

Bum boats operate between Changi Point Ferry Terminal and Pengerang on a daily basis. There’s no fixed schedule. The bumboat operators will only leave when there are twelve passengers. If you don’t want to wait for twelve passengers, you can pay the boat operator for the vacant seats and you are on your way to the other side.

I managed to get some sunset photos in Pengerang. They were taken at an isolated stretch of beach, well-hidden from the road. There was no brilliant sunset on that day as it had rained quite heavily a few hours before. The weather was overcast and I was resigned once again to going home disappointed. As I made my way towards the car, I turned to have one last look and that was when I realised that the blue, pink, yellow, orange and red hues had decided to come out of hiding, throwing a distinct silhouette on all those that dared stand in front of it.

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Meiji – Over The Rainbow

This is a farewell to Meiji, who came into our lives for a brief period and left us in the wee hours of 7 April 2015.

Meiji was a spirited black rabbit – full of life and vigour. She behaved more like a cat or dog instead of a rabbit. In Meiji, we had the best of both worlds without the annoyances of either, because rabbits are generally clean critters with limited vocal chords.

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Meiji first came to stay with me when my daughter had to go away for two weeks. She needed someone to look after her two baby rabbits that she had just bought from a pet shop. Meiji had not found a forever home because of her colour. My daughter, on the other hand, has a penchant for the underdog…and so, Meiji became a part of our family.

 

We kept Meiji and Pocky in a nice pen in the living room, complete with a 24/7 supply of rabbit hay, pellets, vegetables and the occasional rabbit treats. Meiji was always the more active, inquisitive and greedy bunny of the two. During the time she was with us, she chewed everything she could get her teeth on – cardboard boxes, sofa corners, curtains, slippers, shoes, wooden legs, lamp cords, phone cords, mobile chargers, computer chords, TV and printer wires. The damage done to my digital organ’s power cable was so thorough that it became more cost effective to just give it away rather than having it repaired.

Meiji was always on the move, seeking out new spaces to explore and different wires to chew. She was discerning in her tastes, targeting only those new chords that she hadn’t yet tried out. She loved to play hide-and-seek. She would remain silent and still until I was just about to give up looking, and then she would resume exercising her teeth and make noises to attract attention. I would subsequently find her behind the clothes rack, behind the computer table or under the bed. She would pretend to look pitiful and crouch meekly while getting an earful from me, then suddenly make a wild dash for the staircase, skidding on the polished marble floor in her hurry.

Thankfully, it was easy to toilet train Meiji. Even when she was free to roam around the house and garden, she would make it back to her litter box in the enclosure to do “her thing”.

One idiosyncrasy about Meiji was that she absolutely hated being carried. After learning the hard way with scratches on my hands and belly as proof, I realised that the best way to get Meiji inside her pen was to look fierce and point at the direction of the enclosure. Meiji would take my cue and make her way back into the pen by herself.

I admired Meiji’s determination when it came to coming out of her enclosure. Meiji was an adept escape artist. She would push her nose against the metal bar of the pen to dislodge the top and bottom hooks that held the corners together. If she succeeded in dislodging only the bottom hook, she would use Pocky as a stool, climb on her back and stand on her hind paws to unhook the cage. Meiji was also intelligent enough to deduce that her pen cage had four corners. Even after tying up two corners of her enclosure with string, Meiji remained undeterred, directing her escape plan on the other two corners. I vividly remember one morning seeing Meiji stretched out on the staircase landing outside my bedroom, when she should have been inside her pen. Meiji had gnawed off the additional chord used to hold down the hooks and let herself out of the cage. She partied all night in the living room with Pocky before crashing out on the staircase landing. 20150125_093408a

I felt that something was not quite right when Meiji did not want to come out of her pen. She was unusually docile and sitting upright, refusing to move. She had not touched her vegetables from the previous night. At first I thought she was just sulking but later in the day, I noticed that her poop was less than half their normal size. I phoned my daughter and we rushed Meiji to the animal clinic. The vet told us that she had a contracted a rabbit infection that affected her respiratory system.

That same evening, we moved Meiji’s things to the guest room upstairs so that she would not infect Pocky. My daughter stayed up with her to make sure she got her two-hourly feed by syringe. Sadly, Meiji did not make it through the night.

We miss you, Meiji. I hope you are living it up and feasting everyday on pak choy, coriander and carrots on the other side of the rainbow bridge!

Sunset Over Kampong Teluk Jawa (#50)

Kampong Teluk Jawa is a very small settlement in the state of Johor, Malaysia. It has a very small Orang Asli (Aboriginal People) population whose residents make a living from fishing and selling their catch to the local market and restaurants nearby. Every evening, this quiet fishing village springs to life with visitors journeying here to eat on wooden platforms built at the edge of the sea.

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Kampong Teluk Jawa has changed a lot over time. I remember my first-ever visit to Kampong Teluk Jawa some years back. My office colleagues and I wanted to satisfy our curiosity and experience the “aborigines restaurant on stilts”. There were only two open-air restaurants at that time.

Little did I know that getting there would be so difficult. The place was so isolated that I couldn’t find it in the street directory. Apple Maps, Google Maps, Waze and GPS were non-existent at that time. The restaurant that I was heading for was situated deep inside a rubber and oil palm plantation, away from the main road. The only way in was to follow an obscure dirt path and drive through a thick plantation for 1 kilometre to the end. I lost my way a few times before finally spotting the nondescript turning leading to Kampong Teluk Jawa!

If you have never driven along an estate road before, you might not realise that everything suddenly becomes dark the moment you exit from the main road. It may still be daylight outside but darkness simply takes over when you are in the forest. The narrow and bumpy path was squeezed between rows of rubber trees on both sides and the entire area was pitch dark. The place was quiet, except for the sound coming from my car engine. While cautiously making my way along what seemed like a never-ending track, I started to become anxious. I had no idea of where I was. What if a car came along from the opposite side? The road could not fit two cars. What if my car broke down? What if it was the wrong turning? 

After an agonising one kilometre drive (it seemed more like 10 kilometres!), I came upon a moonlit clearing and was relieved to see some colourful lights dancing around the water’s edge. Civilization at last! Made it!… albeit two hours later!

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In recent years, the road leading to Kampong Teluk Jawa has been paved and widened. There is a proper signboard to mark the exit from the main road and street lamps have been installed all the way to the seafront. The crowds continue to come, especially during weekends. There is just something magical about having seafood under an orange-blue sky while being serenaded by the soothing sounds of lapping waves.

The uniqueness of the restaurants lies in their prices and freshness of their produce. All seafood are sold live and customers can select their fish, crabs, prawns, lobster, stingray, squid, sea snails, clams and oysters from huge plastic tanks. Customers can even specify how they want their seafood cooked.

 

Today, the livelihood of the villagers is under threat due to modernization. But for the time being, the thought of having dinner with family and friends at Kampong Teluk Jawa is always something to look forward to!IMG_9694a

“The journey of life starts from the sunrise of our birth, it shines through path of uncertainties. The ability to keep up with the brighter ways is the key to life satisfaction. Live your life but leave a mark in the sands of time”

                                                                                                                                                                                                                           – Anon

Happily Ever Afterlife (#48)

Two weeks ago, I attended the wake of a friend’s father, who had passed away at the ripe old age of 92 years old. In Chinese custom, living beyond 80 years old is a testament of a person’s longevity. The passing is mourned with lots of red decorations to denote that the deceased had led a long and full life on earth.

This old man must have been someone quite important and influential in his village during his younger years. His 4 sons and 4 daughters (my friend is the ‘baby’ in the family) spared no effort and money in making sure that their father would be comfortable and well-accepted as a ‘rookie ghost’ in the afterlife.

After a two-hour drive and contributing towards the funeral expenses by way of a ‘white packet’, I heard the loud beating of metal and went behind the huge white tent to find out what the din was all about. A ritual of burning ‘money’ was going on under the intense heat of the afternoon sun. The burning of ‘money’ (made out of rice paper) equates to making advance deposits into an afterlife bank account in heaven for the deceased. His grandchildren were beating on empty metal buckets, empty tins, iron rods and anything they could lay their hands on to frighten away evil spirits, lest they came to hijack the ‘money’ while the ‘funds transfer’ was taking place. The beatings only stopped 45 minutes later, after all the “money” had turned to ashes. So you can imagine how much money was deposited in heaven!

In addition to burning ‘money’, other miniature items like houses, cars, houses and TVs are also burned to make sure the deceased continues to enjoy the same things in the afterlife. My friend and his siblings didn’t just buy their father a house – they bought a mansion made out of wood and paper. The entire structure was about 7 feet high, reaching all the way to the top of the tent, and flanked by a silver mountain on the left and gold mountain on the right. Accompanying the mansion were many servants, a luxury car complete with driver, a motorbike, a fan, a music player with speakers and a garden with lotus leaves made out of  ‘money’. I was told that a total of US$11,000 was spent on this funeral, and this is not referring to paper money!

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The 4Ms necessary for a good afterlife – Mansion, Money, Maids, Mobility!
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Maid cleaning the main entrance to the mansion
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Prayers and offerings are also made to the many gods in heaven.

Attending this wake actually set me thinking about what kind of funeral I would have after departing from this world. I’ve come to the conclusion that I am ill-prepared for death. There is a need to sit down and detail in writing how I want things to be at my own funeral, since I don’t subscribe to any specific religion. Sometimes, I wonder how those who have attained an advanced age view death. Is there Acceptance? Nonchalance? Fear? Turmoil? Denial? Serenity? I’ve not had the courage to ask in case the question is considered inappropriate. Guess I’ll just have to wait for my turn to get an answer.

Pulai Waterfall (#47)

I made my way across some rocks to have a better look at the downstream waters from Pulai Waterfall. The path beside the stream that leads to the main waterfall is paved with huge rocks, rendering it inaccessible to the general public. This is due to a tragedy that happened some years back. A thunderstorm brought about a major landslide of mud, rocks and sand, claiming the lives of three village children whose bodies were never found. Until today, the path has not been cleared and the best way to reach the waterfall is to walk in the river and head upstream.

It goes without saying that I didn’t make the attempt as I wasn’t quite sure about what dangers lurked beneath, other than the knowledge that there were leeches screaming for my blood! However, I did manage to get some morning shots of the sun’s rays coming through the forest canopy.

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Mount Pulai Revisited

Last weekend, my friend, H, called to find out if I was interested to go to Mount Pulai again. For those who read my post about my first hike there last year, you would know that I suffered from terrible muscle cramps for both legs while three-quarters of the way to the summit. Since then, I have become wary of long, uphill walks. A few weeks after, I managed to sprain my ankle at Sungai Rengit and had to be home bound for a couple of weeks. It appears like I am prone to mishaps whenever I go on a day trip, and my poor legs at the receiving end! So you can understand my hesitation about revisiting Mount Pulai. However, I was given the reassurance that we could take our time, with no undue pressure to hike all 5 kilometres to the peak!

This time, I was better prepared. First, I decided to go light – no telephoto, wide-angled and macro lenses. I only brought my standard 18-55mm lens. Admittedly, my mind was plagued by a number of “What ifs”. What if I want to get a shot of a bird, or giant spider from a distance? What if I want a close-up of a flower or insect?  However, sensibility prevailed in the end. When the pain extends all the way from the legs to the hips rendering you temporarily paralysed, the last thing you want to do is to take a picture of the pretty butterfly that’s landed on the rock next to you!

I also made sure that I ate something before leaving home instead of packing sandwiches like the first time.  When you are inching your way downhill, hoping against hope that the next corner is going to get you out of the park, the thought deviating from the road and heading for the waterfall to eat sandwiches just makes me want to throw up!

Just to be doubly sure, I massaged both my legs with Tiger Balm cream and gulped down a muscle relaxant before leaving the house.

So at 6:15am on a Sunday morning, with the moon still in sight, we set off for Mount Pulai – my second visit to this recreational rainforest.

Even at that very early hour, all the car parks were full. Everyday of the week, come rain or shine, there are people here. The waterfall and the road to the peak attracts nearby residents to take a dip in the water or enjoy a good walk. Mount Pulai also attracts a fair number of Singaporeans, especially during weekends. The good thing about Mount Pulai is that while there are many visitors here, there is still enough space for everyone to enjoy the natural surroundings without getting in each other’s way.

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This morning hike turned out to be enjoyable. Walking light had a lot to do with it, and also not fooling myself into thinking that I still possess the energy of a 20-year old who can make it all the way up the 5 kilometre road in under 2 hours! I got to take photographs, smell my green surroundings and tune in to the shrill cicada calls coming from the forest.

On our way down, we saw three white gibbons swinging from tree to tree. At road level, some dog owners were trying to get their pets to stand up. The dogs were flat out on the road, refusing to budge despite their owners’ coaxing! One or two just decided to pick up and carry their dogs for the rest of the way!

We were down at the park’s entrance by 9:45am! Declaring it a successful morning, we headed towards the nearest town for breakfast!

2015 – Year of the Goat

Chinese all over the world celebrated Chinese New Year on 19 February 2015, ushering in the Wooden Goat. With the galloping away of the Horse, this New Year is expected to be much calmer; opening up new windows for reflection, compassion and appreciating what has been accomplished in the previous year. Combined with the regenerative characteristics of wood, creativity is expected to be at its optimum.

Below are just some photos of how I would like to remember this Lunar New Year. After all that feasting that has taken place the past fifteen days, it’s about time I got down to doing some exercise!

A Twist at Sungai Rengit

In mid-November last year, it became apparent that we would have to send our help back to her home country, as she was unable to obtain a working visa to remain with us. Being all too-aware that I would have to spend more time at home after her departure, I made plans with my friend, J, to go to Sungai Rengit for one last photo walk before the end of the year.

Sungai Rengit is essentially a collection of fishing villages on the south-eastern tip of Johor, Malaysia. This quiet, laid-back town is well-known for its seafood, especially lobsters. No wonder it is nicknamed Lobster Town!

After an hour-and-a-half on the road, we arrived at Sungai Rengit town. We decided to eat at the nearest food stall to get lunch out of the way. The place we picked was located right next to the beach. It was nice to eat under a breezy attap roof with the sand under our feet, while enjoying an uninterrupted view of the seaside and fishing boats.

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After sharing some of my food with the resident cat, we went to check out the beach and surrounding neighbourhood.

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We decided to drive further in to see what else Sungai Rengit had to offer. By and by, we came to a big seafood restaurant. However, it wasn’t the thought of tucking into a generous serving of delicious lobsters that caught our attention. We had spotted a walkway extending out to sea just behind the building.

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We drove up to the walkway. It turned out to be a concrete path curving out into the sea and disappearing behind some rocks. However, our joy was short-lived when we saw a barrier with the sign: VISITORS ARE NOT ALLOWED BEYOND THIS POINT The walkway appeared to be in good condition. The tide was low, exposing the rocks that formed the base of the path. No danger of strong waves sweeping us away. So we ignored the sign and made our way across the concrete walkway to see what was on the other side.

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As we came to the end, I began to understand why the sign had been put up. The daily beating of waves had undermined the rocky base, causing a huge crack to develop right across the concrete path. I could see the rocks, broken steel and sea water underneath where I was standing. I carefully stepped across the uneven cracked surface and made my way towards the end. The dull, grey landscape in front of me was really nothing to shout about, but to my right and hidden from the general public, were huge rocks covering the shoreline, making this an ideal ground for lobsters to thrive.

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After taking a few photos, I started to make my way back towards the restaurant, while viewing the pictures I had just taken.

Then, the unexpected, the untimely, the inevitable happened! I had forgotten about the crack across the path. I missed a step and twisted my left ankle in an effort to keep my balance!

I was more in shock rather than in pain. With J’s help, I even managed to reach the car with only a slight limp. However, as the minutes and hours went by, my leg became red and swollen, and the pain got worse and worse. By the time I reached home three hours later, I was almost crawling into the house! In retrospect, I was very lucky that my foot didn’t get in between the crack. The situation could have been a lot more severe!

I didn’t tell my family what had happened. I wasn’t too keen on the idea of having my leg treated by a TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) practitioner, commonly known as a singseh. However, you can’t keep a sprained ankle under wraps for long and when my husband found out, he chided me for not going to see a “singseh” immediately, citing that the longer I delayedthe longer it would take to heal.

I said something about being skeptical about the singseh’s method of treatment, preferring to allow time for the ankle to heal on its own.

My protests at self-healing went unheeded. My husband immediately made some phone calls calls to find out if anyone could recommend a good singseh. Just when the general consensus pointed to an old singseh who had treated me some decades ago for the same injury, I received happy news!

One of my husband’s friends told him that nowadays, Western-trained doctors are as good as singsehs in treating sprains. It is no longer a ‘must’ anymore to visit a singseh for my ankle. Awesome!

So first thing the next day, I visited an orthopaedic and trauma clinic. Cost me about six times more than what I would have paid the singseh, but I didn’t mind. Anything is better than having the singseh massaging my swollen ankle, applying extra pressure on the swollen parts and gathering his inner chi to push my injured foot back to its correct position with a piercing “Eeee“!

So, while making sure my ankle is well-rested and taking on the housework, you now know why I haven’t posted anything for some time!