Thursday, 7 March 2013

keningau , a bustling town in the interior of sabah , malaysia.

Keningau is a town located in the district of Keningau. A beautiful township deep in the interior of Sabah with Crocker Range as part of the backdrop. Wonderful thing about Sabah is the pluralism of ethnicity. Population of Sabah is around+-3 million with multi ethnicity, comprising of 17% Kadazan, 14% Brunei Malays, 13% Bajau, 13% Chinese and others as the rest.

There's few routes how to reach Keningau. For those who prefer scenic drive through mountainous road, one can use old road passing through Penampang, climbing upwards to Gunung Mas and experiencing scenic, cooling and sometimes foggy mountain drive. For those with car sickness, better in advance inform the guide  to have some fresh air while enjoying the blue green panoramic Crocker Range and crucially to avoid the delicious breakfast out of stomach.

This time around, we try another alternative road through Kimanis. The journey from KK (Kota Kinabalu) to Keningau using this new road takes about+-3 hours. Through the journey I was so intrigued by the God's creation. How beautiful and rich is our tropical rainforests. Everything is so green as far as eyes can see. Beautiful low clouds and blue sky add the drama to the scene.

Actually my purpose of visiting Keningau this time is to accompany a friend, Dato O (DO) also a Sabahan who's staying in KL (Kuala Lumpur) to look for an alternative healing practitioner. DO got some back pain while I got some problem with my left foot fingers. This morning before boarding the plane, I accidentally knocked on a chair. Part of my foot fingers were swollen. The pain is unbearable. After touching down, I went to a GP in KK for a check up. Luckily according to the doctor there is no fracture but only swollen. The doctor gave me some medication, painkiller and anti biotic. Asmawas, DO's manager, a guy from Penampang advices me to look for a bone Dukun (dukun is a Malay traditional doctor). Since he knows a good Dukun in Keningau, there off we go.

I first came to know and actually stepped a foot down in Keningau somewhere back in 2007, as a consultant on a bio diesel project. During that period I made some acquaintances with Sabah State Officials. My visit to Sabah continues till today. I become obssesed on anything to do with Sabah. Something that really calms and enchantingly nourish my soul partly due to a long gestation period of city life. A break to the interior like this means a lot.

As  town planners, we are not only involve in place making. Its rather we are holistically responsible for anything to do with the livelihood of human it physically, socially, economically, spiritually-its a holistic approach. As people used to associate us planner only doing development plan studies, doing physical layout plan and a popular trademark of jack of all trades, master of none. A good thinking planner can dwell himself in any field beneficial to human life. We are not only concern on a single dwelling but on a much more sphere on an entire cobweb of human pedigree. 

Other professionals like architects, engineers, surveyors, QS are all important contributors in their own way, but one cannot detach from one another. We planners come into scene as part of the collaborative efforts. More minds will create a better cohesive products. That's why I took the offer and challenge in involving my self in bio diesel project. People are wondering what's the heck this town planner doing in this so called bio tech business. After they knew my existence is beneficial to them, only then they slowly accepted me in the core team.

Doing bio diesel project is not only involves in producing oil but rather involves the whole spectrum of processes leading to the down stream. That's where plantation is a crucial factor. Talking about plantation there again involves land clearing, holding nursery, workers quarters, a hamlet comprising of commercial and all ancillary community facilities. Who's job is that? Of course a town planner has to come in for a rescue. Without proper and far sighted planning and management, the environment will become as an art of devastation.

So much on town planning. We revert back to our main concerns here. Asmawas is such a careful driver. I feel at ease sitting at the front passenger seat. DO is at the back wondering some heavenly things may be or trying to cope with his back pain. Travelling during fasting month to some people might be troublesome. To me, that's the test on your faith and self fighting spirit. One of the many reasons why fasting during ramadhan is a must in the five pillars of faith (rukun islam) is to actually feel and experience how the poor go through what hunger is all about. This fasting experience will make us more humane to the needy and realising that there's a lot in life that we have to pass through a test and sacrifices before we can be called a responsible human being. We are so fortunate that God still loves us. We human beings as God's servants are the same in the eyes of God, so we have to compliment each other, be it rich or poor just as both our left and right hands need each other in order to function.

Talking about bio diversity, our tropical rainforests with million of years in formation through bio processes that is unimaginable to human thoughts is really bio diversified. The Amazon's, South East Asian and parts of African tropical rainforests are the guardian of earth ozone layer. People around the globe are talking and desperately trying to control the ever increasing emergence of carbon foot prints at an alarming rate daily. Global warming is a nothing new phenomena nowadays. Tsunamis happen everywhere in uncontrollable manner. Glaciers and ice melting in the north pole are really hitting their targets. Tornado is what to America as earth quake is what to countries in the ring of fire in most Asian cities.

Day by day in every way, sea levels are rising, soon some islands in the pacific and everywhere else will be another Atlantis. And later on our grand children,  if there's anymore left will be very busy excavating for another clue on lost human civilisation. Yet human never learnt from all these warnings. Fighting, simply creates war and human slaughtering are nothings as what human have done to animals. It's really very confusing. Some quarters try to champion human rights and at the same time, the same groups are the champions of human slaughtering. This world is really unfair to the faithfuls. Life becomes so cheap and has no meaning nowadays .

Malaysia is known as one of the largest producer of palm oil. Sabah is one of the states that constitutes large estates of palm oil and one of the biggest in the country. The Sabah government by the way, through the planning of her 'development corridor of economic regions', has addressed  the environmental issues as one of the fundamental concern. FMU (forest management unit) has been set up to oversee all issues related to reforestration. Some forest areas have been gazetted under FMU scheme. Forest clearing without supervision and done unstatutorily will affects the environment. Malaysia is one of the nation that has taken part actively in RIO Declaration on sustainability program. 

This new road was built in a couple of years. Some parts have to cross mountain ridge. Due to the steep gradients lots of cars have to crawl slowly before reaching the peak. Asmawas suggested we take a rest for a while giving some air for the vehicle to breath. I saw the temperature on the speedometer already crossing the red mark. Most areas in this Crocker Range are still unspoilt by development. I guess this is part of the permanent forest reserves.

There's a popular stop over along this so called "highway". On a wet day, views of Crocker Range will be obstructed by heavy fogs. We are lucky today to have a full panoramic view over the valleys and mountain range. Although at this hour, about noon, it's breezy, cold due to high altitude. A coffee shop serving hot meals is waiting. This coffee shop is managed by a Dusun family. You can try one of  the most famous Sabah delicacy here, Tenom Coffee originated from Tenom, a neighbour small town to Keningau. Back in 2007, when I was first time here, there's no Travellers Lodge yet. It is just recently been in operation. We miss Tenom Coffee. If not for fasting I will hang around with a cup while enjoying the marvellous scenery.

It's time for muscle relaxing. The body needs some stretching. While having some limb exercise, I can feel the cool breeze all over my body. So refreshing. In the far distant on the hill top, I can notice the mist formation. We are going to cross that hill once our vehicle is ready to climb. Nothing can challenge this panoramic view.

After a while and the car temperature is back to normal, Asmawas is again at the driver's seat to steer us around towards the hill top. I wind down the window screen so that I can  get a full view of the mountain and valley. We don't need  an aircond after all this area is so cooling. Negative ion is everywhere. Psychologically eyes are more at ease with green and blue. That's why we are encouraged to always visit sea side and mountainous area. After all we don't have to pay anything for the vitamin of the air. Its all for free.

Along the way to the hill top lots of cars stopping by due to temperature rising, I guess. If cars are not properly service and maintain, then they are looking for troubles. Luckily Asmawas has just service his car about two days ago. I just don't know how to imagine buses and trucks that were commuting from KK to Keningau vice versa on daily basis. The vehicles must be screaming for help.

After almost one hour plus crawling on the mountain ridge, now we are descending downhills, negotiating steep gradient. On a one steep bend, I saw lots of cars stranded and all the drivers came out with pails of water. I asked Asmawas the reason for doing so. According to Asmawas those drivers are cooling the brake discs and pads with that pails of water. Now I understand and realised why there's few containers of water in the car boot. 

This is a new life time experience for me. I've been driving for more than three decades, but never do so. It's hardly we can find Merz, BMW, Audi travelling on this road. Most people in Sabah prefer four wheel vehicles. The most popular are Ford Rangers, Toyota Land Cruiser, Nissan, Datsun, Isuzu Trooper, all are Japanese made vehicles which actually more suitable to this kind of terrain. It's low maintenance, cheaper petrol and also fetch high second hand value.

At last here we are, Keningau. I was surprised to see the town is so quiet. Is this a normal phenomena? Asmawas told me that today is friday so most people here who are muslims are now in the mosque performing friday prayers. At first I thought this is some sort like a zombie town. What a sigh relief. Upon reaching the mosque people are already queueing out. We miss our friday prayer. As a traveller, according to islamic principles, we are allowed to compensate the friday prayer with dzohor prayer. It's not against the rule. DO has a good nap all along. I can't or in fact I don't want to have a nap because the whole journey and all the beauty of the environment are more important than having a nap. You cannot buy an experience but you've to earn it. Thankful God I'm still awake.

It seems the town is so clean, well kept and with lots of landscaping to cheer up the tired traveller. I was amazed at the ability of the Local Authority in keeping the town clean and neat. I've been travelling to most parts of Malaysia and some towns that I've visited were not comparatively to this standard on landscaping and townscape features. Hats off to Keningau Local Council. A good attempt despite being a remote township in the interior. Hardly  can see any rubbish on the roadside. Its hygienically taken care off. The Public Art at the round about resembles the town that producing timber, a Logger's township.

I think part of the reasons why the Local Authority can spend the budget on beautification program is due to the assessment and quit rent collection plus the taxes from logging and plantation activities.
Some other Local Authority is only enough to pay the emolument for the staff, hardly left for other spending. In order for a town to flourish, a catalyst must be  created and acts as one of the contributing factor. Lots of townships survive on Industrial Estates, Higher Institutions, Army Camps, Ports, Sports related activities etc. Demands for commercial premises, housing, educational activities will create an active economy due to the catalyst that provide a "constant" population not like a tourism based economic booster which heavily relies on "ghost" population.

I think it's a fruitful effort from the authority. The leader of this stature should be an example on urban planning, development and management. A visionary leader and hardworking employees will make things happen. It is a concerted effort of all involve in making a dream into a reality. I love the townscape very much. It's simple, practical, matured trees inter spaced with flowery shrubs makes the scene so soothing, shady, as a provision of cooling lungs, congregation and interactive venue. The whole scene translates into the greening of space. This is the kind of environment which suits the urban folks. More green means less thermal heat and less carbon footprint. If shown these images to friends may be they won't believe this is a town in the wilderness, in the interior of no where. Cleanliness should be one of the top most agenda for every township.

I presume there's a lot of timber tycoons and planters in this district. A town cannot survive without good economic activities. Along the way to the CBD (central business district), I saw lots of business premises and mid range supermarket selling ordinary items consumables by the people here. There are also numerous hotels sprung up in the town centre. This town really amazed me . It's hustle bustles with business activities from eating stalls, restaurant, shops selling local merchandise, banking, educational institutions and so forth is really happening.

Hotel Juta is one the biggest two hotels in the town. I used to stay here way back in 2007. Within five years there's  a lot of changes that has taken place in the face of urban images. Notice all the vehicles here. Nothing than all four wheelers. A town with mixed ethnicity who lives in harmony. Being almost detachable from other settlements, the people here have a close knit society bonded together. Nothing compares Keningau to other areas.

It's 2 pm. Feel very thirsty. We cannot do anything since all of us are fasting. Four more hours to go for breaking of fast. If we can stand the whole day, what is there just another four hours to go. Keep your cool bro. 


 " this is just a plain opinion from me as a town planner , a designer, an artivist , an imagineer and an ideator. I've not been influenced by anybody to write on this. Only my personal perspective."

Architecturally this town is not out of design modes. Witness through the photos here, design wise it's a combination of old and new. The 3 storey shop houses portray the post mode or contemporary architecture. The new building utilises lots of glass facade interface with contemporary materials in a boxy form and clean lines. The flat roof is a norm in contemporary design. 

Some people like it and some don't approves the system due maintenance problems especially in our tropical weather with heavy torrential down pour. This building here is some sort of iconic office cum business blocks. I hate the exposed air condition compressor. The beautiful design is tarnished by the unscrupulous act of ignorance. Louvres will enhance the beauty as well as functioning as the cladding to the compressor.

Even the newly built 2 storey shops make its presence felt. A simple form but functional. Facade treatment is minimalist. The access corridor on the top floor is a thoughtful design giving convinience of the overhang with supporting pillars. The deep overhang provides sunshading as well as  a rainshield protection. I love this simple yet very practical design. Flat roof becomes the D theme of nowadays design. Mind you this is in the middle of nowhere. Salute to who the owner is and whoever is the visionary designer.

DO is somewhere meeting his friends. Asmawas and me wandering around the busy supermarket. All the shop houses are tenanted, none is empty. I guess the demand for business premise is sky rocketing. No wonder more and more blocks of business premises are making their way into the Town Centre. It has turns into a bustling township. People from all over coming here for business purposes and has to spend few wonderful nights in this enchanting town. Other nearest towns are miles apart. That's the reason why this place is really making a mark as  one of the most  flourishing town in Sabah. 

Sometimes making a good decision in setting up a business is the location, location, location. According to DO, any new promotion of business such as MLM/multi level marketing is actually starting in Keningau. If Keningau fails then it's as an idicator that the business will never make it in Sabah. This place is as a testing ground for new business especially those coming from outside such as from KL, Sarawak for that matter. Now I believe in that theory. I remember, a teacher from KL who's at that time teaching in Keningau first opened a restaurant here by the name of Seri Keningau Restaurant and now the business expanded to Klang in Selangor and few other outlets in Sabah. The one in Putatan KK makes the most sales.

Servay supermarket is one of the brand name in Sabah and Sarawak. It has outlets everywhere even in Miri, Bintulu, Sibu, KK. Servay in Keningau already makes its presence few years back. In fact Servay is one of the pioneer and the biggest in Keningau.

Notice how busy and packed with customer doing shopping at Servay supermarket. According to Asmawas people of Keningau is cash rich. They are partly one of the biggest depositor in Sabah. The location and timing plays an important part in business. For this people to go out of the cocoon, they have to spend time travelling 3-4 hours to KK. Only if anything urgent only then they will surface in KK. Otherwise all the time, the spending will be done in Keningau. At least I learn something new in regards to business management. Keningau was formally not a planned township. It started as a logging interim depot and naturally grows incrementally to be what it is now. It's more of a natural growth. be continued in part 2...please hang on...