Wednesday, 25 September 2013

MALAM PENUH BINTANG..... a fiction (4)..

Dahan-dahan bourgainvillae penuh dengan bunga-bunga yang baru berkembang. Terpancar warna kemerahan oleh pantulan cahaya dari lampu yang menyinari sebahagian ruang kaunter reception Puncak Borneo Resort.

Saya seakan tenggelam bersama panorama malam yang sungguh syahdu.

Bahu saya di pegang orang. Saya menoleh.

"Encik, minta maaf, kami nak tutup lampu di bahagian ruang rehat kaunter ni."

Seorang pengawal yang sedang bertugas mengejutkan saya dari lamunan.

"Ohhh...maafkan saya kiranya mengganggu."

"Tak apa, encik masih boleh duduk di sini tapi kena bergelap lah."

"Terima kasih ye."

Rumah-rumah dan pinggiran hutan di lembah Bundu Tuhan  sedang bermandi cahaya bulan dan seakan bersedia dengan kedatangan musim sejuk tak berapa lama lagi. Udara makin sejuk dan kadang waktu dingin menusuk. Malam seolah-olah makin panjang dan bulan terus bersinar. 

Di pinggir jalan kelihatan sebahagian peniaga di gerai-gerai berderetan sedang mengemaskan barang dagangan. Sambil mengemas mereka saling berbicara dan bergurau senda dengan kebebasan yang barangkali mereka saja mengerti erti keindahan bermuafakat.

Saya melihat gelagat mereka dari kejauhan bersama dingin malam yang menghiburkan. Teruja sungguh saya dengan pentas kehidupan yang terpampang di depan mata. Terbuai rasa rindu untuk ingin bersama mengecapi suasana.

Dalam malap sinaran lampu dan dalam kesaraman saya terlihat kelibat wajah seseorang yang saya kenali. Tapi saya tak pasti kerana kurang jelas oleh sinaran lampu yang malap kelihatan dari kejauhan.
Dia sedang sibuk melayan pelanggan yang kebetulan singgah untuk membeli barang dagangan di gerainya.

Sedang saya asyik terfikir samada mahu pergi atau tidak ke gerai tersebut, tiba-tiba...

"Uncle masih belum masuk bilik lagi ye...buat apa kat sini sorang2?"

Emilia menyapa saya.

"Ooh saja saya berehat di sini..udara nyaman sekali..kalau balik bilik pun mata belum ngantuk lagi", balas saya.

"Ye ke ni..atau dok mengendap anak dara orang yang kat gerai tu." selamba saja Emilia perli saya.

"Anak dara orang, siapa dia?" tanya saya kehairanan.

"Tu..tu..yang pakai baju merah menyala tu, tak kan tak kenal kot."

"Betul ni, saya tak nampak dengan jelas, tak cam la saya."

"Jom, saya pun nak ke sana."

"Bukankah kamu tengah kerja sekarang ni?"

"Waktu begini, pelanggan hotel dah tidur, tak ada guest lagi kat coffee house, jadi kami di benarkan untuk santai-santai, lainlah kalau ada guest datang kami kena layan la"

"Oooh macam tu rupanya."


Wednesday, 4 September 2013

felda...a site visit (2)

It's 12.30pm.


Whether to proceed to the next site at Jengka or head for lunch. The journey to Jengka from Kuantan will take about 45 minutes through the LPT/Lebuhraya Pantai Timur/ highway before exit at Maran toll. 

Some team members want to proceed but Surea is quite hesitant on proceeding with the journey because he doesn't want to miss the lunch at Temerloh. Actually Khoo and Chong do not know what it's all about...on our planning and program. We keep this as a secret. 

While waiting for the decision as to where to go, I throw some topic for discussion to Chong and let Surea and Khoo make the decision.

"Chong, do you realise or not that in Malaysia everything is called 'highway' regardless whether the road is on the higher ground or on the lowland area?"

"Yes, it's true, I don't know if there is a difference."

"In overseas, especially in Europe, there is a different term of highways, the one on the higher ground or hilly areas, they term it as 'Fitted Highway' and on the lowland area they call it Autobahn, is in German language, meaning Federal Expressway, no speed limit in general but advisory speed limit is 130km/hour. I don't know whether it's applicable to our region or not?"

"That's interesting, I have no idea about all these."

"Don't be surprised that the longest highway in the world is found in Asia. The longest is the National Trunk Highway System(NTHS) in China with the total length of 97,355km, followed by Interstate Highway System(IHS) in USA with 75,932km, The Spain Highway with 16,204km and fourth longest and one of the most advanced in the world is the Autobahn with 12,845km." 

"I don't know that the Town Planner is knowledgeable about road systems."

"It is part of the syllabus in Transport Planning. We need to know as a basic, as a foundation in drafting Master Plan for any big development that involves transportation mode. The detail design of course will be done by the so called expertise on the subject matter."

"I don't know that, all these while I thought a Town Planner is mostly involves with subdivison of lots like what we the surveyor used to do."

"Conversion/change of use/Subdivision of lots is one of the many branches of Planner's work."

"How do you define... Boulevard?"

"Boulevard is a French term for large road running through the city, with  tree filled median and above average quality of landscaping and scenery. But nowadays people associated this with 'avenues'."

"What about our East West highway, is it a highway or just a normal one lane road each side, something like state or federal road?"

"Please don't confuse me. Some highland highway like this is known as 'Okuk' highway, a kind of highland road in Papua New Guinea, as the inter town connector. In USA this kind of highway is called the Mountain Loop highway.  I'm also in a dilemma when comes to this. Our people like to copy things without knowing the meaning, that's how all sorts of terminology has been used blindly lately...look at Putra Jaya...there's the words 'precint', 'souk', 'boulevard' and so on..."

Actually Chong comes from Gerik district, a part of hilly area of the Main Range in Perak, bordering Jeli district in Kelantan. That is where the East-West highway is running through connecting the two states. To me the standard of East-West highway is just like the normal Federal Road of 100' width reserve. Nothing much  of a difference. Why it is called East-West highway, only those in the Ministry of Works knows better. I reserve my comment.

After lots of convincing then every body agree to head for lunch. 

So there it goes, proceed to Temerloh, which takes about one hour plus. We hope to reach there at least by 1.30pm. It is still drizzling. Lots of on coming vehicles flashing the headlamps as a signal that something is happening in front of us. This is the usual 'manners' of Malaysian drivers. I do not know whether it's a good or bad practice. 

Now we know why lots of cars are giving flash lights. 

There's a lot of accidents on both sides of the highway. The stretch of this highway/Maran area is the common accident place. There's a warning sign for cross wind. The area is situated in the valley between hills thus forms  the wind tunnel. This could be the reason of the accident besides the road surface is quite bumpy due to poor finishing/the base is on pit soil. Some people use to relate this area as 'kawasan keras'. Few months back my friend rammed his MERZ onto the divider damaging the whole car, luckily he escaped unhurt.

Surea slows down keeping the speedometer safe at 120km/hour.

After the Temerloh exit, we proceed towards the town area. I lost bearing, normally we use different road. But today we enter the town area. As far I'm concern, this is not the road to reach the intended place. So I told Surea to look for Hospital Besar Temerloh, just proceed and from there I think I can locate the 'place'.

Since this is during the lunch hour, the town is quite jam. It takes us about half an hour to the place. Upon reaching the destination, we saw lots of cars, mostly exclusive cars like BMW, MERZ and Alphard parked at the compound. The place is not a posh restaurant but a humble structure under the rubber trees. Sometimes the best food can be found not in an exclusive area but in a normal place where the quality of cooking and originality are the keys as opposed to the commercialization.

I used to come to this place whenever I got some jobs to settle in Maran and Temerloh. I was first introduced to this place by one friend. Normally we landed at the  riverside food court in the town area for 'ikan patin tempoyak', the most famous stall there is the one belong to Pak Usop family, the end lot stall.

Pak Usop only serves 'ikan patin sangkar'. It's nice and cheap but the one we are coming for today is of different class. For the head part it costs RM38, the tail RM30 and the body part is RM18-20 depending on sizes.

The Sultan of Pahang used to have lunch here and today we saw the Sultan brother's entourage is here having lunch. The place is three quarter full, so I asked Surea to make orders, because it's almost 2pm and the 'patin' is not much left.

Khoo and Chong are not familiar with this kind of cooking so I suggest to Surea to look for alternative. Luckily there's udang galah/prawn and other dishes besides 'ikan patin tempoyak'.

While Surea is busy ordering the food, I went to the kitchen looking for the owner. She still recognizes me. 


"Waalaikum mussalam"

"Lama tak nampak?"

"Ada, tapi jarang-jarang sampai sini, kerja dah habis."

"Datang sini dengan Tengku ke?"

"Tak, kami dari KL, tadi pegi Felda Bukit Sagu ada kerja sikit. Lepas ni nak ke Jengka."

"Masa datang dulu pun ke Jengka juga,"

She still remember my last visit here when I was from Jengka having a site visit for Mydin superstore project. Her memory is superb. I think she's in early 70s but still look healthy. According to her, the grandparents were actually from Kelantan and settled down in Temerloh while doing some business and now all the later generation claim they are Pahang people. According to this lady, lots of Temerloh residents were originally from Kelantan and some from Terengganu. Not only in Temerloh but those areas like Raub, Kuala Lipis, Jerantut and Felda areas are mostly Kelantenese by origin.

"Oo masa tu saya pergi Jengka fasal projek Mydin. Sekarang dah lulus tinggal nak bina saja."

"Sebelah tanah makcik ni pun ada 5 ekar dengar khabarnya Mydin nak beli, entahlah, harga RM5 juta."

The petrol station next to this restaurant is actually belong to her family and leased to one China man as the operator. The big chunk of land behind this restaurant is also belong to her family. She's quite well off in terms of physical property.

The patin sungai that is serves by this restaurant is actually the 'wild fresh water fish' which cost her RM200 each/alive, it's the famous 'patin muncung' the most sought after species and the most expensive.

It's really worth and value for money. You don't regret having lunch here.

"How was it?" I ask Surea

"I think this is the best patin so far." he gives a thumbs up.

"To me, the patin at sek 17 Shah Alam and Pak Usop cannot match this, but of course every place has their own uniqueness."

"I think today my mission is accomplished."

It has been Surea's dream to come to this place when I told him I've found the best 'patin muncung'. Surea is considered a hard core food hunter. Almost every type of famous and unusual eating havens he has visited. So it's a challenge for him that I've found some eating haven which he has not yet visited. I'm not a hard core food hunter but just a mere follower. 

I used to bring my family, travel all the way from KL just for the patin at this place, but sadly it was closed. Actually the owner told me that whenever it's close, it means the supply is not available. This restaurant will only serve the wild patin, if there is no supply, she will not operate. I love her policy and style. Quality and originality are the prime concern.

Surea used to bring me to one restaurant at Taman Melawati, Restoran Ikan Sungai. According to the operator, all the fish come from sungai Pahang. They have varieties from Kelah, Sebarau, Patin, Tapah and all the exotic fresh water fish are served at that restaurant. The price is unimaginable, it goes by per 100gm...the lowest price is RM50/100gm, so just imagine 1 kilo, it will be RM500. I used to have lunch there, 6 of us and the bill was RM2000. To me it's too much and not everybody can afford it. Now the place is closed for good.

It's 2.40pm.

Our next destination is Jengka 6.


Tuesday, 3 September 2013

felda....a site visit (1)


I heard the  buzzer from my alarm clock. It's 5am...29th aug. 2013. 

I wake up, wash up and after performing subuh prayer, warm up the engine. I have to be at Surea's office by 7am. If I miss the toll at 6.30am, there'll be a lot of highway jam as people are rushing to the office for clock in before 8am. Recalling back my experience when I was with the government department years ago, I've to leave my place by 7am using the Federal Highway and normally will reach the office 5-10 minutes before 8am for clock in. Being a routine activities for almost 14 years is really what an experience. If you're a kind of 'not' a morning person then better look for another job. Lots of disciplinary actions been taken on staff for late clock in but I was lucky as I used to be the attending officer for punch card, so by hook or crook I've to be an early bird in the office.

It's been a long time I never travel in the morning facing the jams and all sorts of mad morning drivers, speeding, undertaking at left lanes, emergency lanes and light flashing for slow driving on fast lanes. I think since 1992, I was safe from all those road maniacs since my office was just a stone's throw away from my house. That's the beauty of being your own  boss. 

What a beautiful day today is. It is drizzling and the NKVE Highway is still smooth with not much traffic and I am happily steering my Preve at 110km/hour, a highway speed limit. Reach Surea's office few minutes before 7am. It is still dark and the street lighting is still on. Park my car at the entrance of the office. Nobody seems to be around. Wind down the window screen and listening to the morning chatting of Era's DJ radio. 

I saw two cars just arrived and parked two bays away from me. I have no idea who's the team coming for site visit today. The clock shows 7.30am and I made a 'sms' to Surea. A minute later Surea responded that he'll be arriving in a few minutes time. I saw two Chinese gentlemen were chatting at the car park next to my car. 

Surea is staying at  Kampung Warisan, a posh area just 3-4 km away from his office. He's been operating at this office since he became a 'professional architect' few years back after splitting with his former partner. A very nice and soft spoken guy. I've been introduced to Surea by Kamil, his schoolmates few years back over a project in Sabah. Since then we become close friend and most jobs we collaborate together as a 'town planner/architect' team.

I saw a white Alphard stopping by at the office entrance. I can't see the driver over a dark tinted window glass and the morning is still dark. Suddenly I saw the two Chinese gentlemen approaching the car. The driver comes out and from my car's window I see a gentleman stepping down from the driver's seat. 

"This is Mr. Khoo." Surea introduces me to one of them.

"Hi, I'm Sam."

"This is Mr. Chong." Khoo introduces me to Chong.

We exchange greeting.

While waiting for Surea to collect document from the office, the three of us have a light morning chat.

'I think we've met sometimes before, but I can't remember where and when." that's my first word to Khoo.

"Yes I remember we've met, if I'm not mistaken you were with Surea at Nikko hotel."

"You are the guy from Malacca who loves drawing and paintings."

" still remember that."

"Yes, that's it, that was the time you all were doing projects in Nigeria."

Chong is listening to our conversation as he's new to me. In fact this is the first time we met.

"So are you still engage in Nigeria?...I mean busy with works there."

"Not for the time being. It's a different concept now. When I was there last time it was on sell and build but now it's the reverse, so you need to pump in lots of capital, so I feel, it's not advisable to do that for the time being."

"I respect your courage and determination. Without any connection and networking, you dare to explore the soil of the unknown territory."

"It's a challenge and I passed the first hurdle."

We are all laughing while Surea is at the door locking the office grill.

"So gentlemen, shall's almost 8am already." I caution Surea.

"Yes, everybody's ready." Khoo, confidently assures us all.

Suddenly we realised Chong is somewhere missing.

"Anybody knows where is our bro Chong." Surea demands an answer.

"Oh..I think he's at Mamak restaurant for the call of nature, morning flushing."  Khoo replies while his eyes are looking towards the Mamak restaurant, may be just to make sure that his guessing is correct.

Chong is happily walking towards us.

"Anyone has breakfast already?" Khoo is asking, just to make sure not to miss the breakfast.

"We can stop by at Karak highway, there's one good restaurant at Petronas station there." I suggest.

Surea is at the steering. He used to have a driver before but that guy is now working for a Dato. Now, everything he has to do it by himself. It's a little awkward after years of having a driver.

I feel very sleepy because last night I don't get enough sleep. 

"Can I have a back seat. I feel quite sleepy." 

At first Khoo wants to have the back seat and offering me the front seat besides Surea.

"Ok, I'll occupy the front seat while entertaining Surea, hahaha." says Khoo joyfully.

Chong occupies the right while I take the left seat. I have a difficulty closing the door. To my ignorance it's an automatic door.

At this hour the road is pack and jam with vehicles. After 8am this is known as private sector rush hour because the public sector rush hour is before 8am.

We reached Gombak toll somewhere around 9am. It is drizzling, the road surface is quite slippery. With lots of corners and bends the driving could be dangerous at high speed.

"Last few weeks there was an accident, my friend, a M&eE consultant, passed away on the spot." Surea suddenly breaks the monotony.

"I've read in paper about the incident." I reply to Surea's statement.

"It was on weekend, they were going for a breakfast somewhere in Karak, he's the marshall of a superbike convoy." Surea explains over the accident.

"Now, lots of people, the well to do started to get involve in superbike activities like the 80's when Harley ruled the highway." Khoo joins in the conversation.

"Since it was slippery in the morning, he skidded and rammed the divider, broke his neck." Surea is explaining while I feel a little sleepy. Chong sits quietly while reading the newspaper.

I don't know what happen after that. I fall asleep and  only wake up when we stop at the Temerloh R&R. Everybody is hungry for breakfast. I take mee goreng and milo. Not much of a choice, it only serves mee and nasi lemak.

"Why don't you stop at Karak just now? 

Wondering why we do not stop by at Karak Petronas just now.

"I just don't want to disturb your sleep," that's the answer from Surea.

Our first destination is Felda Bukit Sagu. Actually our mission today is to have a site visit on a plot of land that has been earmarked by Felda on a settlement scheme for Felda 2nd generation.

The government is building thousands of units throughout Malaysia. The first generation Felda is a success story. The idea of Felda scheme was the brainchild of Malaysia's 2nd Prime Minister, Tun Abdul Razak, the present day PM's father.

Felda scheme became a world icon on rural transformation programs and Malaysia is the largest producer of palm oil for few decades before been taken over by Indonesia in terms of acreage. But in the palm oil related technnology, Malaysia is still supreme and the most advanced in the world.

Most of the second generations are spread out all over and only  a little percentage still remain with the scheme. The rest are already migrated due to employment outside the scheme. Some of the Felda 2nd generations are already well off and hold good top rank posts with the government and private sectors. Some of them are good and well known professionals in the field of Engineering, Law, Architecture, Town planning, Business and Corporate world. There's a vacuum in workforce in the plantation sector. The government comes out with the idea of restructuring the whole programs of Felda settlers by giving aid in handling the issues of 2nd generation.

We stop by at the BHP petrol station waiting for Chong's friend who's going to show us the site. Chong is actually working for a contracting company who is bidding for this project and so far the company has a good track record with Felda.

While having a puff, both Chong and me comfortably relaxing besides the hardware shop and talking about our experiences. Surea and Khoo do not smoke. There's a lot to talk about since this is our first time meeting each other.

"Of the places that I've been , I mean in Malaysia, to me Sabah is the best." I break the conversation when both of us are enjoying the cigarette. We don't smoke in the vehicle as a respect to others who are non smokers.

"I used to work and stay in Sabah for quite some times when I was involved in survey jobs few years back."  Chong replies with a smile.

"To me the assimilation and integration is the best example. Nothing can beat the Sabahan on that matter."

"Yes, I... very much agree with you."

"They can happily stay in one house, one compound regardless of  religious belief."

"The best thing is that they communicate using a singular language, Malay. They speak Malay regardless of ethnicity. Everybody's chatting, laughing, eating and drinking, all are conversing in Malay language." That's according to Chong. I feel the same.

"Actually, to what I've read, Malay language is the 4th largest spoken language in the world, but ironically it is not given a highlight at the international level, for eg. if we buy a product from Japan which needs a translation, there'll be no instructions in Malay but you have instructions in all other languages even the language of people of Luxembourg, a small country with only few hundreds thousand population compared to Malay language which are used by almost 300 million's funny right."

"Actually Malay people comprises of people from the regions of South East Asia and some parts of India and Taiwan. There's a tribe on  a highland part of Taiwan who is of Malay root and some are found in Sri Lanka. The Philippine people/Filipinos is also actually Malay by origin."

I wonder how Chong is so knowledgeable on this. 

"I agree with you Chong. I've read somewhere that the Maoris, Polynesians, Hawaian and even Red Indians are  actually Malays. There were times when the King of Hawaii had a very close relation with  Malay Sultanate back in those days."

"Do you realise or not that there's no poor Indian in Sabah. Most of them are well of and some got married to local especially Kadazan and they form part of the business community there."

"I remember that there's an Indian family from Bentong Pahang has settled down in Kota Kinabalu and operating a restaurant. They are doing very well. Another one I've met in Penampang doing business in fish head curry restaurant and married a local Kadazan."

"Actually there's plenty of opportunity in Sabah and that's the best place to retire. People is still friendly and the natural environment is superb."

"Yes, I think doing eco kind of business activity like eco-tourism is  a good potential."

" Especially  for people of our age, we need some kind of activity that is stress free, slow pace, some form of leisurely kind of activity."

I saw a green Ford Ranger approaching the compound at where we are standing. Chong walks to the car and I see a guy stepping down from the driver's side. After talking to the guy, Chong cautions us all to follow his friend. 

The site for the proposed project is located just opposite the existing secondary school, covers an area of about 30 acres and to be planned for landed property ie. terrace units. The landform is really suitable for development. It's undulating hence less infrastructure on cut and fill is needed.

The subject area is an orchard planted with tropical fruit trees such as duku, snake fruit, banana and some coconut trees.

Based on the terrain, it's a little bit in the valley which is to my estimate is about 1 meter drop from the road level.

From my observation, I don't see any commercial area/centre in the vicinity except the cross junction commercial premises on the main trunk road leading to Kuantan. So I think it's suitable to have a commercial/shops for the immediate use for the residences in the interior. The concentration of housing areas are located in the designated zoning or known as gugusan/ residential blocks of 1/4 acre for house and orchard.

This is the back portion of the land. As we can see, the land is flat and there is already an access to the site.

There is an orchard on the left hand side fronting the muslim cemetery. From observation the cemetery is still active.

Any properties/houses/buildings which are facing the cemetery will not fetch good prices and it's an omen to some to purchase a property where there is a cemetery in the vicinity. I got some idea on how to deal with's a design secret...hahaha.

As we are walking along the earth road towards the boundary end, I notice someone  at the orchard. This is an orchard of tropical fruits like duku, snake fruit and nicely maintained. I peep through the fence and see someone inside a hut. 

"Assalamualaikum." I give a greeting to a man in the hut.

"Waalaikum mussalam, please come in." Someone replies my salam.

It's our pleasure to be given entry to the orchard. 

The man I think in late 50s greets us with a warm welcome. He's actually the Imam of this village. Now is the fruiting time and he's busy collecting the fruits for sale.

It's highly demanded especially the fresh fruits which fetch high prices. From the accent I know he's not a local. 

Traditionally when Felda first started opening the schemes, settlers were invited from all over Malaysia to join the scheme. Most settlers came from Perak, Kedah, Kelantan and a minority from local area. It's a good system recruiting settlers of multi cultural background hence breaking the traditional way of normal social structure. Some of the settlers are of other ethnicity like Chinese, Indian and others.

"How big is this orchard?" I break the silent. 

"It's about 6 acres altogether and I've been doing this for almost 13 years."

The land belong to the government/Felda and was given as lease/TOL(Temporary Occupation of Licence) for anybody interested in doing orchad farm.

We are invited to see and take photos of the orchard which is partly grown with duku and snake fruit.
I see lots of containers full with duku ready for distribution. We are given the pleasure to have some for a taste. Sweet, juicy and full of freshness, nothing compares.  

According to the owner, the snake fruit is a special breed from Bandung known as 'salak madu/honey' type which fetch high prices at international level.

This plant can last for 20 years, but if properly look after it can grows up to 30 years. Now this Imam is doing a commercialised plantation of snake fruit overseas and he just came back from Cambodia last week.

Now he becomes a consultant for farmers in Malaysia as well as abroad on snake fruit plantation. He received a 3rd place in the national level competition on agro-based product in 2012. He's been travelling a lot especially in South East Asian countries learning new techniques and giving tips and training on snake fruit planting, the most recent is as mentioned earlier is Cambodia.

Before parting off Surea persuades the Imam to sell some duku and snake fruit. Actually he never sells this ex-farm because he's already got the middle man coming to collect the produce every 2 days. But as a form of appreciation and good gesture for outsiders, he's willingly picking the fruits fresh from the tree. It's so sweet and juicy. For 2 kilos of duku and 2 kilos snake fruit he only charges RM20. This is ex-farm and friendly prices, of course we can't get this price in KL. It's 2 times more.

Who says kampung people is behind time in terms of technology. It was before...yes...but not anymore nowadays. I am really surprised to see the Imam using the type of handphone to calculate the prices of the fruits that Surea is buying. He is proudly scrolls the info on the screen to proof us that he's actually the winner of the competition at the agro expo. I am not as up-to-date as this Imam because I am only using the old Blackberry and CSL phone/Malaysian made, that I really love very much. Know what this Imam is using?...the latest Samsung S4....I dare not show mine in front of him.

Chong's friend/the one who is accompanying us today is from Gombak but now he's doing some contracting works in Rompin. He's not following us to the next destination but rather heading back to Rompin. I think it's a two hour drive from here. He solely comes here just for the site visit. Salute him. 

Where are we after this?