I never expected to spend this long in Johor Bahru. The city is basically overflow from Singapore, the border ooze of all those taking advantage of Singapore’s strong dollar. It wasn’t even deemed an official city until 1994!
I can’t imagine why it was neglected for so long. With a population of 1.8 million people, Johor Bahru is Malaysia’s second largest city, a major manufacturing area, and probably the source of Singapore’s janitors, maids, and construction workers. It’s like Singapore’s Tijuana, without all the drugs (Okay, okay, I’m kidding. It’s home to a lot of professionals, too).
We’ve been here since Monday, staying in a slightly dumpy hotel called Ghazrin’s Budget Hotel. We’re hanging around because we have an interview scheduled tomorrow with Mr. Tan at Top Fruit factory, the very first durian exporter to China!
We know what we’re doing here, but weren’t sure what the one other white dude we saw climb the moderately dodgy staircase was doing here. Sure, its the cheapest and cleanest thing close to Larkin Bus Station, but most tourists seem to go straight to Singapore. Turned out he was a German ex-patriot who now lives in Indonesia and was just biding his time somewhere cheap to renew his visa.
I’d like to say something exciting about this city, but I can’t seem to come up with anything that isn’t a reverse negative. Like, its NOT a complete hell-hole. It’s NOT polluted. There’s really nothing bad to say about it.
There’s really nothing much to say about it at all. People live here. Johor Bahru (at least the part of JB we’ve seen) is a place where people live, and ride motorcycles, and are very friendly and curious about the random westerners who fill up their trashcans with rambutan shells. Actually, that is the best thing to note about Johor Bahru: the rambutans are awesome!
Even saying so, I consider our time here worthwhile. I was able to catch up on writing up the interviews I did in Kuala Lumpur and the time we spent with the Malaysian Nature Society over the weekend. I did our laundry — meaning that I walked across the street and handed over our dirties (which was everything not currently on our bodies), and went back 6 hours later to receive the stack of neatly folded clothing. All for 5.6 RM ($1.77 USD)!
I also found the post office, a hole in the wall upstairs of the bus station. Mr. Vincent Chow generously gave us a copy of one of his photography books, a poetic look at the birds of the Panti Bird Sanctuary. It’s a beautiful piece of art, and I absolutely love his careful use of quotes intermixed with prose, and of course, the gorgeous images of the birds themselves. But our lifestyle doesn’t allow lugging around a coffee table book, so I sent it home.
|Mr. Chow did all the photography|
Sending it home could have been easy, but it wasn’t. The upstairs of Larkin Bus Terminal is a clusterfuck of women’s headscarves, books, c.d.s, tunics, stationary, gold watches, and more. Finding the post office was the easy part. The hard part was collecting the materials necessary to send a package – the box and wrapping paper. The lady at the post office assured me I would find packing boxes and envelopes at one of the book stores. None of the six bookstores had any idea what she was talking about. Finally one guy gave me a large cardboard box, and armed with scissors and tape, I made my own package.
One thing that Asia has taught me is to be creative. You make what you have work. Sure, my package looked pretty ghetto, but wrapped in brown paper and swabbed in plastic tape, I feel confident it will make it to the US. In situations like this I always think about the study on functional fixedness where people were asked to attach a lit candle to a wall using a box of thumb tacks and a book of matches. Most people over the age of five failed the task because they didn’t consider the box as a tool in the endeavor, just something for holding the thumb tacks. I think by now I would be good at tasks like this.
|This is one of the largest durian stalls we’ve seen|
Of course we did find durian. There are a few small stalls spread around the city, although more typical is the roving car-trunk stall, which is in operation only as long as they have durian.
We lucked out by spotting Johor’s largest durian center on our way to meet up with Vincent Chow. The S-Mart Pesta Durian (Durian Festival) is the place to go in Johor Bahru to sit down and enjoy various varieties of durian. It’s a about a 9-10 RM (15-20 minutes) taxi ride from Larkin Bus Terminal, depending on traffic and whether your driver takes short cuts. Just tell your taxi driver you want to go to the McDonald’s near the Carrefour and S-Mart.
We returned twice, each time trying a few new varieties. All the durians were good, but my very favorite thing is the red and yellow rambutan sold for 3 kilos/10 RM ($0.50USD/pound)! Wow, these things are juicy sweet! Delicious! We loaded up on 3 kilos each both times we visited, one bag of red and one bag of yellow.
I’ve had a nice enough time in Johor Bahru, and am appreciative of its not-hell-hole nature and the friendly staff at Ghazrin’s (and its yellow rambutans). But I sure am looking forward to moving on! Next up: weekend in Singapore!
The drool-worthy photo of the day is:
|A luscious D101|