Category Archives: Travel

Images of Water : The Fresh Cool Streams of Ulu Bendul

Images of water, be it of waves rushing to meet the ocean shore or images of fresh cool water running down a stream has always had that calming and soothing effect on people viewing these images.

Ulu Bendul Water 6 - 31 Dec 2015

The cool streams of Hutan Lipur Ulu Bendul (Ulu Bendul Recreational Park), Negeri Sembilan (@ all rights reserved)

Ulu Bendul Water 1 - 31 Dec 2015

Hutan Lipur Ulu Bendul (Ulu Bendul Recreational Park), Negeri Sembilan (@ all rights reserved)

 

Ulu Bendul Water 2 - 31 Dec 2015

Hutan Lipur Ulu Bendul (Ulu Bendul Recreational Park), Negeri Sembilan (@ all rights reserved)

 

Destinasi Malaysia : Air Papan / Mersing

For my wife and I, it has been quite a while since we took off on one of those spur-of-the-moment lets-get-the-hell-out-of-here-and-recharge-our-battery trips. Since life has been rather overly hectic recently, what with unexpected illnesses in the family, moving house and of course, the Eid Fitr celebrations on top of our usual workload, we were more than ready for one of those trips again.

Map of Johor State
North East of Johor – Mersing / Air Papan

It was a Sunday morning when we got into our trusted Malaysian-made car and made a beeline to ‘somewhere’, exactly where that ‘somewhere’ is happen to be in the general direction of the east coast of Johor. It wasn’t til later that ‘somewhere’ became Mersing and the white sands of Air Papan, via what was initially planned as the Tanjung Sedili-Jemaluang route but later became the Tanjung Sedili-FELDA Tenggaroh palm oil plantations-Jemaluang route.

It must be said that it’s definitely not our first time to Mersing (having passed through on the way to Kuantan, Pahang many times before) nor was it our first time to Tanjung Sedili or the FELDA Tenggaroh plantations (the first time was because of a wrong turn somewhere, and exactly where, to this day, I have absolutely no idea) or Jemaluang (no choice this!) but for Air Papan, it’s definitely our first time. At this age, you say? Well, better late than never, I’d say.

‘Downtown’ Tanjung Sedili with Jetty in the Background
(@all rights reserved)

Since we were making good time, we decided to make a pit stop at Tanjung Sedili for a bit of brunch. Brunch was at ‘downtown’ Tanjung Sedili, where the jetty is located.

I must say that whenever we are at ‘downtown’ Tanjung Sedili, I can’t help but feel transported back to the Sixties, when I was still a child, accompanying my late father to wait for the fisherfolk coming in with their catch. Fresh fish was in abundance then. So were crabs, prawns and what have you. And at what looks to me, the same jetty as it was then. Call it absurd if you must but it’s a feeling I could never shake off.

After brunch, we continued with our journey and again, I made a wrong turn and again, I could not figure out where that wrong turn was. But as they say in this part of the world, all roads either lead you to Kota Tinggi or to Mersing. Since we had already fill up the tank and that you can still get a signal on your mobile, I felt safe enough to be lost. Again. It helps that I didn’t tell my wife that I took a wrong turn. Again.

True enough, we found ourselves back on our planned route and soon, we reached Jemaluang. Anybody who has made their way to or from Mersing, can confirm that Jemaluang is one place you just want to pass through ASAP and not hang round much. Not that there’s anywhere to hang around much unless there happen to be another side to Jemaluang we were not aware of. And secondly, Jemaluang is not a place I’d want to be after dusk. It is unnaturally dark as you approach Jemaluang after dusk and it always gave me the creeps.

Oil Palm – Lifeline of the Malaysian Economy
(@all rights reserved)

But Jemaluang does tell you one thing and that is, Mersing is not far off and true enough, we got there even before we knew it.

By all accounts, Mersing has become more and more unrecognisable these days, what with the new Institut Latihan Perindustrian (Industrial Training Institute), a MARA Junior Science College (MRSM) as well as a Sekolah Menengah Sains (SMS) now calling Mersing home. It used to resemble a sleepy deadbeat of a town, with not much happening. But not anymore.

Fishing boats and trawlers can still be seen at the main thoroughfare of Mersing and fisherfolk still make up the bulk of the population. ‘Downtown’ Mersing still hasn’t changed except for maybe the presence of a few cafes and souvenir shops, catering to the holidaying folk waiting to make their way to the islands for their much-anticipated sun-kissed holidays or those who just had their share of sun, sand and water, with a tan to show for it all.

Tourism is fast replacing the traditional revenue generating activities in Mersing. The boats and trawlers still go out to sea, but on most occasions the ones doing the fishing are fishing enthusiasts from out-of-town, chartering the boats for a three-day, two-night orgy of fishing (and barfing, if you are unlucky enough to be out at sea when the seas go rough on you). What used to sell salted fish are now selling printed souvenir t-shirts. Homestays and chalets can be found easily, with a few hotels to boot. Good then for Mersing and its folk.

Mersing Town
(@all rights reserved)

As for us, we made our way to the beachfront at Air Papan, famed locally for their white sand, via the coastal road. Enroute, we became disappointed with the beaches of Mersing, where the grass grew long and wild, and rubbish were strewn everywhere. The local authorities had better do something quick to rectify the situation IF they are serious in promoting Mersing as the main gateway to the holiday islands off the coast of Johor, EVEN if it’s not just for the sake of keeping Mersing neat and tidy.

But to blame it all entirely on the local authorities is not fair, for equal blame must also be placed at the doorstep of the visitors to the beaches. After all, not all the rubbish came from the passing ships seen on the horizon, nicht wahr?

As a matter of interest, the sands of the beachfront in Mersing resembles that of Tanjung Balau ie dark in colour.

Upon reaching Air Papan (easy enough and barely 10 minutes or so from Mersing via the coastal road; just follow the signboards), we were surprised to be charged RM3 (circa USD1), just to enter the area. For maintenance purposes, it was said and with a receipt to show for it as well. We thought we were being fleeced but any misgivings were quickly dispelled when we saw the beach. It was actually CLEAN and WELL MAINTAINED and for me, very important that and alone worth the RM3. No arguments there.

Air Papan Beach
(@all rights reserved)

And as you make your way to the water to watch the waves chase one another as they rush ashore, you can’t help but to feel tickled by the fine sand in-between your toes, the heat passed on from the fine sand to the soles of your feet, massaging them, whilst the strong cool breeze give your face a gentle work-over with the natural elements of salt and water. So altogether now – Aaaahhhhhhhh!!!!!

Is this what they call the process of rejuvenation? Reinforcing the feeling of being alive? To be alive? To be eternally grateful for life’s little pleasures and to look ahead to the future anew? When all the aches affecting the limbs and the cobwebs that clouds the mind get ‘washed’ away?

It did not take long before we began to act like little kids on a beach, not that we got into the water anyway, inviting though it was. That we’ll save it for the next time. Of that we are certain and this time with the boys in tow, as a reward for keeping the house intact all this while. Maybe. Just maybe.

But for the time being, we wanted to enjoy it while it last.

When making our way up and down the beach, you can’t help but notice small holiday resorts coming up, lining the beach front. We made our inquiries and were surprised to discover that the quoted rates were reasonable by local standards. We sincerely hope it stays that way for as long as it possibly can, for it would be a shame AND a tragedy if Malaysians can’t even afford to enjoy a holiday in their own country.

View to the right of Air Papan beach
(@all rights reserved)

We also saw a lifeguard tower but we didn’t see any red shorts, be it on a person or being left out to dry. Maybe they wore brown in these part of the woods. But whatever colour it may be, it was comforting to note that there was a lifeguard tower. Now if only there was somebody manning it, that would be great.

Lifeguard Tower at Air Papan Beach
(@ all rights reserved)

It had to end, our little escapade. With batteries recharged, and cobwebs swept away, we began to make our way back to JB. Funnily enough, Jemaluang did not look that bad after dusk.

We’ll be coming back to Air Papan, that’s for sure, even if it means taking a wrong turn (again!). In the meantime, our sincere hope and wish is that the beaches of Air Papan will remain as it is for as long as possible, before the big boys come into the picture resulting in the beach falling victim to uncontrolled commercialization. Sincerely.

To the Johor State Government and the Mersing District Council, commercialise Air Papan if you must, but PLEASE, plan for it and managed it well so that we can all AFFORD and ENJOY what Air Papan has to offer for years to come. That would not be bad, would it?

Destinasi Malaysia : Teluk Sengat / Johor Lama

If you a history buff like me, one of the places that you must visit in Johor has to be Johor Lama (loosely translated as Old Johor), one of the seats of government of the old Johor Sultanate who were descendants from the Melaka Sultanate. And as in the case of the Melaka Sultanate, it was again war with the Portuguese which made the then reigning Sultan move his seat of government elsewhere shortly thereafter.

Locations of Significant Historical Sites in Johor Relating to the old Johor Sultanate
(source : super325.com)

It was just a few week ago that my wife and I went for a trip to Tanjung Balau and Desaru. It was the start of our journey to visit and discover as many historical sites and places of interest in Johor, a journey that, deep in my heart, I know I should have made many, many years ago.

senai-desaru expressway berhad

The Senai-Desaru Expressway (SDE)
(source : e22.com.my)

Admittedly, the new Senai-Desaru Expressway (SDE) was one of the ‘pull’ factors that had helped make it easier for me to make the journey to these places of historical interest. That plus the fact the house was still standing when we got back from our trip to Tanjung Balau and Desaru. Thus we felt safe enough to go on another adventure (sounds a bit like Bilbo Baggins, corny isn’t it?)

This time around, we both agreed to make it a point to go to Johor Lama, having read about it since our school days. Since I am not one for maps nor am I one for asking for directions (it’s a man thing, I guess), we filled the car with a full tank of petrol and began to make our way to Teluk Sengat.

Teluk Sengat – A Small Idyllic Town by the banks of Sungai Johor
(@ all rights reserved)

Teluk Sengat is a small town on the bank of Sungai Johor (or Johor River, in English) and is about 40 km from Kota Tinggi and is en route to Desaru. Judging from the busloads of tourists that we saw passing through the main thoroughfare of the little town, Malaysians and Singaporeans, Teluk Sengat is apparently quite well-known for its seafood offerings.

A small and idyllic town, not much hustle and bustle here, as can be expected except for the buses of gastronomy tourists. One of the main features of Teluk Sengat is the array of eateries by the river banks with a long jetty stretching out to the river. From the river bank, you can see a few ‘rumah rakit’ or river houses, where the owners not only breed fish and other forms of seafood eg ‘kupang’ or mussels, prawns etc, but also offer the angling enthusiasts the opportunity to use the ‘rumah rakit’ for fishing as well. Mind you, to fish and try your luck with the fishes swimming wild in the river, NOT breeding in their nets.

Just what kind of fish you can actually reel in here, this fishing enthusiast can’t say. But give me a few months and I may perhaps be able to tell you. But whatever it is, I have been reliably informed that a fishing competition is held every two weeks when its high tide, and along the jetty.

The entrance fee is a princely sum of RM3 (about USD1) and the prizes are hampers. But as any fishing enthusiasts can tell you, it’s not the prize that matters (UNLESS it’s a cash reward) but its the ‘Pull’ factor as you reel in the fish that is the main attraction. Literally. The fight and the pull. That’s what it is.

senai-desaru expressway berhad

The Senai Desaru Expressway’s Sungai Johor Bridge (At Night)
(source : e22.com.my)

From the jetty at Teluk Sengat, one can view the Sungai Johor Bridge in the background. Forming part of the Senai Desaru Expressway, a sight to behold especially at night, I was told. This we have got to sample but would entail us staying overnight, coupled with a bit of fishing I suppose. No big hotels here, that I can see. Not even a medium size one. But a few homestays, yes. It does seem to me that another trip would be required, one that involves fishing and sampling the homestays available in Telok Sengat. But not for the moment, despite our penchant for doing trips unexpectedly. Unfortunately.

There is also a crocodile farm nearby but as my wife wisely pronounced, the only crocodile (on four legs that is) that is allowed anywhere near us are the ones either in the forms of handbags or belts or what-else-have-you, thank you very much.

After taking in what Teluk Sengat has to offer, other than the fishing that is, we made our way to Johor Lama, which actually is about 3km or thereabouts from Teluk Sengat. We found our way easy enough to Johor Lama via all the road signs available and we reached there in good time, ‘there’ being the Johor Lama Historical Complex.

Alternative entrance to the Kota Johor Lama Historical Complex
(@all rights reserved)

As a matter of introduction, the Johor Lama Historical Complex is managed by the Department of Museums of Malaysia, and its design is a replica of the palace that used to grace Johor Lama centuries ago.

Portraits of Sultans of Old
(taken before the guard told me ‘sorry, no pictures allowed’)
(@all rights reserved)

Johor Lama, which housed the seat of government of the Johor Sultanate under Sultan Alauddin Riayat Shah II (1528-1564), is essentially a fortress. The Sultan was a descendant from the last Sultan of the Melaka Sultanate, Sultan Mahmud I, who, in 1511, fought and lost Melaka to the Portuguese forces led by Alfonso d’Albuquerque. This was during the period when the Portuguese decidedly began to expand their influence to India and to this part of the world. After losing Melaka to the Portuguese, Sultan Mahmud I established the Johor Sultanate and became its first Sultan, reigning from 1511 to 1528.

From the Johor Lama fortress overlooking the mouth of Sungai Johor.
Any unannounced visit is virtually impossible.., sound military strategy
(@all rights reserved)

On the grounds of the Kota Johor Lama Historical Complex.
(@all rights reserved)

Johor Lama is placed atop a hill overlooking Sungai Johor. Even today, with a bit of imagination, you can visualise the military thinking in picking out the spot to place a seat of government. On top of a hill, with steep slopes and a clear view of Sungai Johor, any unannounced visits by friends and foe alike would be virtually impossible with mounds marking the old fortifications can still be seen til today. I have read about the Johor Lama fortress but to be here at Johor Lama, actually taking in the whole scene, you can’t help but feel the history of the place.

After taking in the scenery, we made our way into the museum located within the complex. The museum or should I say, mini-museum is dedicated totally to the history of Johor Lama, with portraits of the Sultans of old adorning the walls as you make your way into the museum. Artifacts, portraits and Malay weaponry of days gone by form a major part of the exhibits.

For me, I have always been a history buff (History was a favourite subject of mine when in school, believe it or not) and so reading all the narrations accompanying the exhibits is a must for me. Its time-consuming, I know but hey, it’s not everyday you get to be in Johor Lama.

The Grounds of the Kota Johor Lama Historical Complex (managed by the Department of Museums, Malaysia)
(@all rights reserved)

Reading who’s who and when and what happened during that period of time, you can’t help but be transported in time, back to the time when the Sultan received dignitaries and holding court at the palace, discussing matters of state, matters of diplomacy as well as matters of trade and back to the days when kingdoms of old battle it out with each other for supremacy or influence or even to right a slight.

When the Portuguese came, the same warring kingdoms joined forces to battle the muskets and cannons of the Portuguese with the best of what Malay weaponry has to offer, after which the very same kingdoms would then resume fighting each other again. Some even joined forces with the common enemy to wage war on their Malay brethren and after succeeding, not willing to pay the heavy price demanded as reward and thus go to war with their former allies.

Taking all this in, it dawned on me that nothing has significantly changed to whats happening today. But that’s another blog and for another day.

We left Johor Lama with a heavy heart, to say the least, with Desaru our next port of call. The history of  Johor Lama does leave an impression on you, of the blood spilled, of the lives lost and of the glory that once was the old Johor Sultanate.

It would be nice if the Johor Lama Historical Complex can be enlarged with a replica of the fortress built on the current locations with the surroundings depicting as closely as possible to the Johor Lama that once was, thus making it a living museum. That would be feat, if it can be achieved, what with land acquisition being part of the equation. Maybe the authorities can get together to make it happen.

The Main building of the Kota Johor Lama Historical Complex
(@ all rights reserved)

After all, if done and managed properly, it can attract another form of tourism to the area ie history tourism. Coupled with gastronomy tourism and four-legged crocodiles, proper places to spend the night and a spot of fishing, this part of Johor DOES have something to offer.

As for us, in the words of Arnold Schwarzenegger, we’ll be back. When? Only time will tell. But in the meantime, where to next, my love?

Destinasi Malaysia : Tanjung Balau / Desaru

My wife was pretty stressed up recently. So tired and stressed up was she that we decided to make a drive up to the east coast of Johor that very weekend. To Tanjung Balau and Desaru, to be precise, where the white sandy beaches and swaying pine trees awaits you. Or so I have been told.

Desaru map

Map of the Southern East Coast of Johor (Desaru / Tanjung Balau)
(source : malaysiasite.nl)

We drove up on a Saturday, from our home in Johor Bahru (JB), leaving it to the mercy of our four sons, much to their delight. Leaving the house with a little prayer that it remains intact when we get back, we took off and decided that since it was going to be an easy drive, we were going to take the Kota Tinggi route instead of the new Senai Desaru Highway.

We stopped over for brunch at Kota Tinggi, noting that it didn’t take us that long to get to Kota Tinggi as we thought. Maybe the new highway from Senai to Desaru got something to do with it, taking on traffic that would otherwise be on the roads heading in and out of Kota Tinggi.

Brunch was briyani and nasi lemak. For a layman like me, a briyani is a briyani is a briyani. The only difference between the briyanis of the world, for me, is whether its chicken briyani, mutton briyani or beef briyani and whether it taste good, or not at all or something in-between. Either way, whats left of the briyani on my plate will be dependent on whether I was hungry or otherwise.

Briyani – Take your pick
Indian / Arabic / Malay?
Lamb / Beef / Vegetable / Chicken?
(source : xcitefun.net)

But for food connoisseurs, like my wife for instance, a briyani is not just a briyani. The rice, the texture, the method of cooking, whether it is Indian briyani or Malay briyani or Arabic briyani etc etc etc. Many a time, she would take just a taste and she could tell the herbs and spices used, how it was cooked, what went in the pot first etc etc etc.

Nasi Lemak – A Meal for Any Occassion (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner or even Late Night Supper)
(source : wikepedia.org)

The same goes for the nasi lemak. The way the rice was cooked, how much coconut milk was used (and whether they actually used coconut milk), the taste of the sambal (cili sauce) and its ingredients etc etc etc. Well, since the verdict was a thumbs up for both the dishes, so I guess the restaurant has a pretty good cook in their kitchen. After brunch, we continued with our journey, with Tanjung Balau planned as the first port of call, and Desaru thereafter.

We reached Tanjung Balau in pretty good time, and I did not know that I too was in need of a break as well until we reached Tanjung Balau and saw the open sea. The sight of the open sea that is the South China, does give you the feeling of expansiveness and you could almost feel the weariness of life’s daily rigours slowly leaving your body. Something about the salt in the air, I think. That and the sway of the palm trees and the sea breeze and the heat. Oh My God, the heat. But then again, it was about noon time when we got there, so it comes with the package.

Fishermen’s Museum Tanjung Balau
(source : thestar.com.my)

There is a museum at Tanjung Balau, little known until and unless you been to the place. The museum is part of the chain of museums under the management of Jabatan Muzium Malaysia (The Museum Department of Malaysia) and is called Muzium Nelayan Tanjung Balau (Tanjung Balau Fishermen’s Museum). Even though I have been to Tanjung Balau once before, there never was any urge or interest on my part, to actually walk into the museum and check out what the museum has to offer.

After paying the RM2 entrance fee, the first thing that hits you as you enter the first of the museum’s four halls of exhibits was the air-conditioning. My word, the RM2 was well worth it, even it was just for the air-con. A respite  from the prickly heat outside, indeed.

The museum is a small museum and focussed mainly on the lives of the local community who, in the days of old, were mainly made up of fisherfolk. Plenty of old photos adorning the walls re-inforced that fact. The main attraction at the museum had to be the artifacts found on a wreckage nicknamed ‘The Desaru Ship’, for want of a better name, discovered in nearby waters. Name unknown and Chinese in origin, it sank in the 1840s with Chinese ceramics and jars amongst its cargo.

ceramic artifacts salvaged from the wreckage of the ‘Desaru Ship’ (@ all rights reserved)

It suddenly dawned on me that Chinese ceramics and jars must have been big business back then, judging from the many discoveries of the same from most of the sunken ships salvaged in the region.

However today, the once-upon-a-time mainstay of the local economy ie the fishing industry, has given way to tourism as its main revenue generating activity, what with chalets and homestay accommodations readily available and widely advertised judging from all the signboards that we see in Tanjung Balau.

The beach front at Tanjung Balau. Needs sprucing up? (@all rights reserved)

However, if that is to be the case, then there is an urgent and vital need to take the situation up a notch in Tanjung Balau. From what little I have seen, Tanjung Balau needs serious sprucing up to attract more local tourists. It needs more public facilities and amenities, and what is currently available needs upgrading and serious upkeeping. That is, if the authorities that be (KEJORA? The Federal Ministry of Tourism? The Johor State Government?) are serious about developing Tanjung Balau and its surrounding areas as a worthwhile and affordable tourist destination, to complement the nearby resorts at Desaru.

view of the Lifeguard Tower from the Fishermen’s Museum Tanjung Balau (@all rights reserved)

But affordable doesn’t necessarily mean that it cannot be well maintained and clean, does it?

From Tanjung Balau, we then made our way to Desaru. Being fairly new to this part of the state, we took the ‘long’ way to Desaru, taking us first to Bandar Penawar and then to Desaru. If we had been a regular visitor to this part of the state, we would have taken the short cut to Desaru by turning left at the first roundabaout as you leave Tanjung Balau.

But as fate would have it, we found ourselves heading towards Bandar Penawar, with its famed school of excellence for sports. Formerly known as the Bandar Penawar Sports School (BPSS), it has been re-named the Tunku Mahkota Ismail Sports School (TMISS), after the current Crown Prince of Johor, Tunku Ismail ibni Sultan Ibrahim ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar.

TMISS has done the state proud and has developed quite a good CV with regards to the development of athletes, challenging the more established Bukit Jalil Sports School (BJSS).

Upon reaching Desaru, we had trouble finding the beach. Having grown up hearing of the famed sandy white beaches and pine trees of Desaru, it was rather perplexing until we realised that the only way for us to get to the famed sandy white beaches was to go through one of the hotels lining the beach front. The Pulai Desaru Beach Resort and Spa to be exact. (Nope, they did not pay us to mention them cos they didn’t even know who we are.) And thats exactly what we did. (Well, we did actually planned to have coffee or tea at one of the hotels, and so giving us a very good reason to walk into one.)

The Pulai Desaru Beach Resort & Spa. (@ all rights reserved)

And so, in we went into the lobby and after admiring the view of the hotel from the inside, we made our way to the beach. Passing by the swimming pools, and the gym and the garden, we finally reached the beach and it was all it was made up to be, with one or two exceptions.

Desaru is a fine tourist destination with a long stretch of white fine sandy beach to stroll to your hearts’ content. It still has lots of potential to be developed into a premier holiday destination. Just ask the hordes of Singaporeans and Malaysians who make their way there to spend a weekend away from city life, as it were. It’s a joy to be able to stroll along a long stretch of white fine sandy beach, with the waves of the South China Sea crashing onto the beach and pulling at your feet as it flows back to the sea.

But in so saying, something has really got to be done about the rubbish on the beach BEFORE it really spoil things up for tourists, both domestic and foreign (and that goes for Tanjung Balau as well), IF that has not happened yet. I am not so sure as whose responsibility it is to ensure the beaches are kept free from rubbish.

Admittedly, you can’t do much about rubbish washed ashore from passing ships on the horizon but surely, the hotels lining the beach must bear some, if not all, of the responsibility in ensuring the beaches stay clean. After all, the beaches do form part of the attraction of these hotels and surely they have benefitted from that very fact.

one for the ladies……
(source : wikepedia.org)

Despite the many people swimming and fooling around among the waves, for the life of us, we could not see any lifeguards. Well, we don’t expect them to sport red shorts or a red bikini, or a David Hasselhoff (for the ladies) or a Carmen Elektra (for the guys), but I do think lifeguards are essential in this case. Afterall, those in the water are the hotels’ guests and their well-being is of importance. Surely that must count for something.

We promised ourselves coffee at the hotel’s coffee-house but since we were also hungry instead of just thirsty, it turned out to be early dinner instead. As the buffet spread was not ready yet, Ala carte it was then.

After finishing the food that we had ordered, and enjoying the last rays of the evening sun, we made our back to good ole JB. This time, via the Senai Desaru Highway. God bless the Senai Desaru Highway. It makes driving home so much easier and makes the eastern parts of  Johor so much accessible.

It was a well worth trip. Enjoyable, fun, and one to be repeated. And guess what? The house was still standing when we got back.

Kimchi Anyone? – Part 2

In November 1986, I was sent to Korea together with a colleague for a month-long stint at the Korea Institute of Economics and Technology (KIET). To be precise, our destination was Seoul, the capital city of Republic of Korea or South Korea, as it is more popularly known.

Map of Korea (North & South)
(source : infoplease.com)

Our job was to observe and study how the Koreans implemented the use of information technology in their efforts to upgrade the Korean economy. Upon our return, we were required to come up with proposals and recommendations with a view to implement the same within our own federal government agency, at the very least.

Our month-long stint was an eye opener. We learned a great deal from our Korean hosts. We had the regulatory field trips, not that we mind, taking us to places outside Seoul eg Taegu, Taejon and several others, where we also observed that the lifestyle was slightly different to that of Seoul. Slightly slow-paced, but then again hey, life is always slow-paced outside the capital city in any country you go to.

When we returned, we forwarded several recommendations and proposals, some of which or elements of which, I was made to understand later, were implemented. If that were to be the case, then the objective of our trip to Seoul has been fulfilled.

However, it need to be remembered that this was in 1986. Korea had just hosted the Asian Games several months earlier and were to host the Summer Olympics two years later, in 1988. The significance, you might ask?

In retrospect, Korea’s hosting of the Asian Games and later the Summer Olympics could be said as the country’s ‘coming of age’ on the international scene and ‘coming out party’, claiming its place on the world stage, saying ‘Here we are. We are Korea’. Something else to remember Korea by, instead of the age-old story of the Korean War.

Even then, the Koreans knew that all eyes will be on them. Their way of life, their chaebols, their fashion industry, and of course, their history and culture – all were to be put forward for international consumption and comment. And they did present themselves quite well, I’d say.

Today, the world has realised that Korea has more than just kimchi to offer, and more than the Korean War to remember it by. Names like Kia, Samsung, LG, Hyundai, amongst others, began to be part of the international industry, marketing and product vocabulary, as it were.

Korea’s success in the international scene was not only in the field of manufacturing. They are now quite big in the international sporting arena notably in football / soccer, field hockey, badminton and taekwando, amongst others. When I was a child, field hockey was dominated by India and Pakistan. Not anymore though.

The current Secretary General of the United Nations is a Korean. Dare I say it, this is no accident. The Koreans planned for it, and executed the plan. And now the UN SG is a Korean, only the second Asian to hold the post after the much admired U Thant.

HE Mr Ban Ki-Moon
Secretary General, United Nations
(source : patdollard.com)

So, looking at the current fascination with everything Korean, one can only conclude that it is not an accident. But then, it shouldn’t be a surprise. The achievements of the Koreans today are so prominent, that whenever Asia is being mentioned, the international community do not only think of Japan and China but also of Korea.

But how did this came about? The way I look at it, the key to the Koreans’ success is that they have a strong sense of identity. And in their culture, education ranks very high in their lists of wants. They honour it and they respect it.

Discipline, a very focussed mentality and a strong sense of purpose also helps, and these they have in abundance.

Korea national football team
one of Asia’s powerhouses
(source : football-wallpapers.com)

Just look at the way they play their football (or soccer). They never know when they are beaten. They run til they literally drop. What they may lack in skill, they make it up with sheer determination. As a result, today you can find most of Korea’s footballers plying their trade in the European football leagues. They are doing quite well, despite being slight in build compared to the Europeans, thank you very much. What does that
tell you?

Coming from Malaysia, where there is a mixture of many races, languages, cultures and religions, I have been exposed to Malay, Hindi, Cantonese, Mandarin, Indonesian, English and what-have-you movies. We have movies from Hollywood, Bollywood, Kollywood and whatever ‘-wood’ you have, all in their original languages, to which our only aid to understanding these movies are the subtitles normally placed at the bottom of the screen and lately , in the middle of the screen.

Lately, I must admit to being a fan of Korean movies. With titles like ‘My Wife is A Gangster (1, 2 & 3)’, ‘She’s On Duty’ and ‘Marrying the Mafia (1, 2 & 3)’, you can actually say they are bound to attract your attention. Of course, there are also forgettable ones as well as their fair share of ‘Boy meets Girl’ movies but with a twist, one is from the North and the other from the South.

Marrying The Mafia 3  Korean Movie  Image

Marrying the Mafia (3)
Korean humour at its best.
(source : dramacrazy.net)

But on the whole, the scripts do include a heavy dose of the Korean way of life, its humour, its insecurities, its relationship with their Northern brethren, and what else have you. It’s about having a laugh at their expense, for Korean society, from my observations, is a very macho society. What better way to show off your new-found confidence then to joke and laugh about issues that the traditional Korean society is so hung up about.

Yes, they have come a long way ever since those days when the peninsular was divided into two. They yearn to have the two Koreas unite as like Germany, but that may not be for a long time. But rest assured, having observed them, that will happen one day for they will have planned for it.

When that happens, good luck to them. Maybe then we will know which kimchi tastes better, the Northern version or the Southern version. Trouble is, knowing the Koreans’ competitiveness, this might lead to what will be then known as the Kimchi Wars.

But better than missiles, don’t you think?

 

Kimchi Anyone?

There’s a new phenomenon in town and its called the K phenomenon. The K, if you don’t know, stands for Korean and its ranges from music to food to fashion and TV.

My 5 boys got bitten by the K-Pop bug although I do wonder whether its because of the music (huh?), the dance moves (reminds you of the boy bands of the 90s plus the make-up) or whether its because of the skimpy outfits the girl groups wear. Since my boys are basically teenagers, I guess it must be the last reason listed.

My wife seems hooked on Korean TV dramas, as my aged mother and my sister. I sat through one of the series and I got to admit it can get quite addictive. But with more than 120 episodes per series, I must check myself fast before I get hooked any further.

As for me, I prefer K-movies and K-food. There have been quite a few memorable Korean movies that I have watched over the years. Titles like ‘Married to the Mafia’, ‘My Wife is a Gangster’, ‘My Girlfriend is An Agent’, ‘Ricky Vampire Cop’ and many more are good for a laugh.

And I am proud to say that this was before the K-movement became the K-movement.

I can’t understand the language though, so thank God for subtitles. It helps and you do get to learn a few words here and there.

As for K-food, thanks to my wife, I have widen my horizon from Kimchi to Seoul Garden. With an eat-all-you-can buffet meal on offer, I have learnt when the best times are to go to Seoul Garden. I can’t help notice though that the Seoul Garden we have in Johor Bahru has been slightly Malaysianised, ie to suit the local palate. But then again, its a business right!

But as my wife and I talked the other day, the K-phenomenon began with music and for us, it all began with that man, Rain. Don’t really know his actual name but I heard that he is now doing national service in Korea. Wonder whether he’ll be asked to teach the army men a dance move or two.

His music accompanied with the dance moves made Korean music palatable and visually exciting. And that always help.

Personally, without him I doubt the K-wave would be anywhere near where it is now but then again, knowing the Koreans, once they get going they get going and they persevere. A bit like the Japanese I’d say.  But I also heard that it is not on to compare them with the Japanese. Something to do with ancient history. I may be wrong. If I am, my apologies.

But when we talk about Korea, we must never forget about their football. Playing in consecutive World Cups, with their players playing in the European leagues and actually doing well in the top flight. Malaysians can actually a thing or two here.

Branding also helped. Names like Kia, Hyundai, LG and Samsung roll off the tongue, just as easily as the Japanese brands eg Toyota, Honda, Sharp, Panasonic etc used to. The only Malaysian brand that I can think of at the top of my head is Petronas, Proton, Pensonic and Khind. But then again I am Malaysian. Anybody else can think of any other internationally recognised born-in-malaysia brands?

The question, how long will this K-wave last? The last wave to hit Malaysia was the J-wave with J-Pop at the forefront. It lasted quite a while, so it be interesting to watch.

So til my next rendezvous with my wife at Seoul Garden, can somebody pass me the kimchi?