Wednesday, 2 March 2011


“A good traveller has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.” - Lao Tzu

Today we decided to visit Malaysia, just like that, on the spur of the moment. Singapore, the island, is situated to the South of the Malay peninsula with a short causeway connecting the two land masses, ensuring there is road and railway access to and from each country. The small size of the main island of Singapore (remembering the whole country is only 704 square km) is apparent when one travels from one end to the other. In fact, the area of Singapore is about the same as that of New York City. Travelling from the CBD in the south to the north, where the causeway that joins the island to Malaysia, takes about half an hour and there are excellent bus and rail services that connect the two countries.

We took the MRT (the very efficient underground train) from Orchard station and got off at Woodlands station. Then a short bus ride and we found ourselves in the immigration halls, first of Singapore, then of Malaysia. This was the most inconvenient part of the trip. Getting of the bus, trudging up and down escalators and endless corridors to go where is most convenient for the immigration officials, not for the travellers. This is a huge time waster and a great disincentive for doing the trip at all. Nevertheless, we finally negotiated the halls of officialdom and kept the petty bureaucrats happy, while inflating the egos of the nationalists by traipsing through vast, resplendent halls designed to impress and awe the visitors entering each country…

The main city in the southern part of Malaysia is Johor Bahru (JB in short), which hugs the coastline facing Singapore. It is located at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula and is the state capital of Johor Darul Takzim. JB was established in 1855 by the late Sultan Abu Bakar (the Father of Modern Johor) and now serves as the administrative and commercial centre of the state.

Its population consists of a diverse ethnic mix of races, and offers the visitor heritage attractions, colourful culture, spicy local cuisine, and many recreational activities. It is also a major port, a manufacturing, trade and export centre. The city is popular with Singaporeans, and has many landmarks, such as The Grand Palace with its distinct Anglo-Malay architecture, which houses the museum where priceless treasures of the Royal Collection are showcased. Unfortunately this was closed for renovations and we did not get to visit it.

“Ghazal” music imported from India, is unique to Johor, and is usually performed during cultural shows and weddings. Another famous performance distinctly Johorean is the “Kuda Kepang” dance, which is spun from tales of Islamic heroes. Dancers imitate the movement of horses to the music of a traditional orchestra.

Shopping opportunities abound in JB. Modern malls, arcades, handicraft centres, bazaars and markets offer international and local products. Local craftwork makes good souvenirs of a trip here. The JB Duty Free Complex located at the JB International Ferry Terminal offers all sorts of merchandise for the international traveller. Known as “ZON”, it is a large duty free department store encompassing 163 retail outlets and a hypermarket. The complex offers a variety of goods such as branded designer wear from London, Paris, New York and the likes. Glassware, confectionery, and other items are also to be found on sale.

Another interesting side of JB can be experienced when night falls over the city. A vast array of food stalls and vendors appear and the adventurous tourist can try out the taste of popular local dishes such as the famous Laksa Johor, flake fish and gravy cooked with coconut milk and served with noodles and vegetables. The smells and aromas of this city can best be described as a full gamut – they range from the noisome to the delightful. While walking through the streets, one is assaulted by the malodorous stench of sewers and drying rotting fish, while the next step confronts one with the smell of jasmine and tuberose from the vendors of devotional garlands, while further down the street the delicious smell of frankincense burning on charcoal and joss sticks being offered in Chinese temples caress the nose.

We visited a Chinese temple and saw Hindu temples, mosques and Christian churches. This is another cosmopolitan city of over a million people and its multiracial population appears to be living in harmony with one another, just as is the case in Singapore. We enjoyed this side trip to Singapore’s northern neighbor and in the evening we caught a different bus back, which took us to the Bugis area of Singapore, very close to the CBD. A short taxi ride later we were at our hotel for cocktails at the club lounge. Definitely worth the effort of the travel, and despite the rigmarole of the passport checks and immigration lounge odysseys, this trip is an easy and worthwhile to do if staying in Singapore for a couple of days.

As it is Poetry Wednesday, here is an apt offering from the pen of Charles Beaudelaire:


WHEN with closed eyes in autumn’s eves of gold
I breathe the burning odours of your breast,
Before my eyes the hills of happy rest
Bathed in the sun’s monotonous fires, unfold.

Islands of Lethe where exotic boughs
Bend with their burden of strange fruit bowed down,
Where men are upright, maids have never grown
Unkind, but bear a light upon their brows.

Led by that perfume to these lands of ease,
I see a port where many ships have flown
With sails outwearied of the wandering seas;

While the faint odours from green tamarisks blown,
Float to my soul and in my senses throng,
And mingle vaguely with the sailor's song.

Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867)

No comments:

Post a Comment