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."

"Oh...you 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 we...it'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 people...it'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 this...it'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?