It was time to get motivated. A photo of early dawn, and the grey bluish sky was changing lighter shades before my eyes. It inspired me, and reminded me, time waits for no one.
A few hours later, the tropical sun was shining brightly. I lapped up the rays like a sluggish brown snake, and decided to take stock of Johor Bahru and explore .
Steady steps, a walk isn’t going to kill me but the bright sun might. Singapore is just across the road, literally, and it’s on the equator. Apparently sunshine is good for you, I tell myself, as I walk over the overpass. Here, I get a good view of the area I’m staying in. High rise hotels that cater to the Singaporeans
The train station is framed by another overpass that leads to the the futuristic immigration building that looks like, um, a prison. To the left, is a quarter mile of the malls. The views of Johor’s from here is of endless buildings, most of them hotels, some over 40 stories high.
At the train station, an ingenious cleaner is using tongs to pick up rubbish. It’s too good not to return and take a photo of her. And a native crow sits on the railing and gives me a stoned look. It’s more easy on the eye than it’s relative the crow. They are the roguish and scavengers of Johor.
The town is divided by a canal under construction. The Malay supervisor tells me they’ll pump sea sea water around the city. Will Johor be the next Venice of the East, I ask. He doesn’t get me.
A middle aged lady from Jakarta is grunting it hard with the mostly Bangladeshi migrant workers and she throws me a big smile. Not all Indonesian women working in Malaysia are maids, waitresses, or whores. The workers are wearing gum boots and are sloshing around in the knee deep muddy water, securing the frame work that will eventually be filled with concrete.
It’s really hard to get over to the other side of the town, with the canal construction in the way.But it’s worth getting over there and exploring. I find a Wantan Mee shop and order some noodles and a coffee. The chef is sweating over the cauldron boiling water as he scoops out the mee noodles while his wife is making coffees and serving tables. The coffee was so good, I order another one in Malay, “Satu Lagi.”
‘You want another coffee?” she asks in English. At least I tried. Traveling is always about integration and immersion.
They are much more friendly over this side of town. I go into a mall and check out the mobile phones. I’m in and out of the shop like a yoyo. Do I buy the phone or not. The Malay salesman called me an IT-holic. I said I’m a sad fuck , and value gadgets over women. “Oh, are you still single?” he asks. He really knows I want the phone, and he’ll throw in a computer bag. “Be good to yourself,” he says,” and buy yourself a late Christmas present.” I’m still thinking, I tell him.
I’ve just wasted an hour of this lovely guy’s time and now it’s time to hit my local convenient store. Hassein offers me one of his contraband cigarettes.
“This is smoother than Canyon.”I ask him where do the cigarettes come from. “A Chinese man delivers them around the area. If you are caught with them, the police can demand a 1000 Ringgit fine on the spot.”
He says most of the cigarettes, including the Canyon brand I buy, are smuggled in from Indonesia. “Mostly by ship containers,” says Hussein.
The police station is just down the road, and it doesn’t look like they are too busy raiding little Ma and Pa shops for illegal cigarettes. “That’s right,” says Hussein. “They make more money from Singapore number plates.”
Why go for peanuts, when you can go for little gold nuggets on wheels.It makes perfect sense.
The baby screamed… I was warned by the message on the contraband cigarettes. It kicked and screamed again, as if to say liberate me from this ridiculous health warning.
Oh no, prickly heat.It could have been worse. No stabbing pains in the groin region, I guess I don’t have appendicitis after all. “No you don’t, it’s all in your head,” said the owner of Swami Corner who recommends Snake Brand powder. How could I question the guru shopkeeper. He said it was fine to take a picture of him, and the prickly heat powder will work wonders. “But don’t forget to take a shower and wash your clothes.”
I love Johor. It’s probably what Singapore was like 30 years ago.