Friday, September 11, 2009

Kota Tinggi: Tourism Haven Sans Haircut.

In one of today’s newspaper, the Johore Menteri Besar (chief minister) was reported as calling for more investment to boost tourism in two towns, namely Kota Tinggi and Mersing. I know these two place well, since Mersing is right next to my birthplace, Kluang and is gateway to Tioman Island and Kota Tinggi as our family was based there for a few years. Despite the fact that I have grouses about the whole money for tourism thingy, I have in my heart special place for one of these towns.

I hardly remember Mersing except for long narrow winding road where if you are not careful would be in a ditch probably face to face with a wild boar and trust me, at that moment, you will not be thinking of it prepared with dry chilly. Since Tioman is enough an attraction I would like to talk about Kota Tinggi.

My dad was and still is a plantation Field Conductor. No, he does not go to the field and sell buss tickets. Actually it’s an underpaid supervisory role in plantation where you get up five o’clock in the morning and face underpaid workers and sort out their underpaid chores and then report to the overpaid assistant managers who are a generation younger than my dad and are about as smart as the rhino beetles.

Anyway, we stayed in a plantation called Ladang Balau, later part of it was renamed Ladang Siang. This was about 40km from the Kota Tinggi town and it bordered various Felda plantations, where you have Felda Air Tawar 1, Felda Air Tawar 2, Felda Air Tawar 3: Revenge of The Sith, etc, I forgot some of the other ones. And everything there, almost, is about oil palm plantations.

Aside: Oil palm is the tree. Palm oil is the oil. Confuse this in front of my dad; the mild mannered man will become a raging bull. You have been warned. End of aside.

But let’s talk about tourism. It is probably the only place we lived and yet acted like tourists in most of the weekends. So much fun we had. For one, there was this beach, Tanjung Balau just few kilometres away which also had a fishing village. Tanjung Balau coastline actually extends to the famous Desaru beach resort.

Speaking of which, when we moved in, we heard that a Japanese tourist was killed by a shark in Desaru. It could have been rumour for all we knew, till one day we come across a shark caught by the fisherman in Tanjung Balau. It happened to be a combination of the most goofiest looking fish and the most dangerous shark of them all – the hammer head. So there story about the Japanese could have been true. As a matter of fact, that could be the very shark that gobbled up the Jap.

So, we’d have picnic and swim in the beach now and then. Our estate (plantation is known as “estate” here) would organise beach side parties. Freshly caught sea creatures are grilled, barbecued and the memory of a live, clawing crabs lowered to a boiling pot of sea water is still fresh in my mind. And so does that goofy looking hammer head shark. Brr...

Here’s what my younger brother, Shubash, who has a memory of an elephant, unlike me, who have a memory of a gecko lizard, has to say about the beach which he visited recently:

“There are now a lot of chalets and resorts at Tanjung Balau. The Fishing village doesn’t exist anymore. Now they have laid tar road and the journey now only takes 10 minutes from the main road (Kota Tinggi to Bandar Penawar road). Previously it took 20 minutes …A lot of food outlets are opened to public. Last time there was none. Yet we still have some fisherman families living nearby and we had the chance to get fresh fishes there.”

That will give you a good picture how it was then. Raw. Untouched. And we were privileged to experience the beach before the invasion of tourists. Shubash also reminded me of the half sunk ship that used to linger sometimes near the beach and sometimes in the distance. It’s no longer there it seems. How I would have loved to see it now? Then, I was a kid and I’d have preferred a half sunk Fighter Jet and would have tried to find out the aircraft type (F16?) and where from (preferably Singapore). Not only no sunken ship now, I also haven’t heard of reports of tourists eaten by sharks. Usually they are ripped off by retailers, but not by sharks as of recent.

Moving on. Kota Tinggi is also the home of that famous water fall. We have been there few times, though not as often as the beach. I recall my dad warning us to be careful as to watch out for “floating Goreng Pisang (Banana Fritters)”, if you know what he means. Nature is not limited to excremental rights.

The Kota Tinggi town itself is not as huge as that dark, evil dungeon called Johore Bahru, nearby but is pretty complete as a supplier of human needs, as we used to go there once a month to buy our groceries and for us boys to get haircuts. I highly recommend it for any of your needs…except haircuts of course which I recall was done by some ancient Indian barber who once got me back in the chair again after I was done, because he got my sideburns shaved wrong and blamed it on some astrological bodies. Really, not kidding here. So, Kota Tinggi sucked in hair-trimming industry.

Now do not confine yourself to the Kota Tinggi town and Desaru. You also have smaller towns like Telok Sengat and Sungai Papan which I recall were known for their seafood. I am sure there seafood restaurants are still around offering fresh seafood like claypot hammer head shark. Kidding.

Recently it was prominent in the newspaper headlines for the wrong reason: flooding. It really suffered heavily about a few years back, but they managed to get back on their foot. Poor folks must have had many “floating Goreng Pisang”s to manage. So, please visit Kota Tinggi and visit those towns and don’t forget the Tanjung Balau beach. While frolicking be sure to say hi to Mr. Hammer Head.


ஜோ/Joe said...

கோத்தாதிங்கி ,தெசாரு இரண்டு இடங்களுக்கும் சென்றிருக்கிறேன் ..கோத்தாதிங்கி அருவி ரொம்ப பிடிச்சிருந்தது.

Rakesh Kumar said...

Joe, thanks for dropping by. Yeah, you have mentioned it to me. Try to find out about Tanjung Balau beach the next time, should be a cool place. The plantation before you reach there was where we lived.

Anonymous said...

Nice writing, bro. I like the underpaid and the overpaid part.

Yes, the fuit, the flesh (sabut with most of the oil), the kernel (can squeeze some oil) and the isi (also some oil). One of the most confusing fruits.

Have you heard the multi-names fruit - buah gajus in Johore, buah janggus in Selangor, buah jambu golok in Pahang, buah ketereh in Trengganu - there's a town by that name even. The most confusing name of all fruits. And it's about the only fruit where the seed is outside.

I used to panjat the gajus trees in the sandy area near my kampong on the way to school, walking 3-4 miles. On the way home, hungry like mad, ravenously walloped the ripe fruit flesh, until 1-2 other boys learnt about it and became competitors!

I makan even the not-so-ripe fruits, kena gtah buah gajus, blistered the mouth a bit. Lucky youngsters these days don't have to walk miles to and fro school.


Rakesh Kumar said...

Thanks for reading, Wan.

Yes, aware of buah gajus...can't recall the taste, if not mistaken almost like Jambu batu kan?

Anonymous said...

I tell you man, if you are hungry like mad, 1 hour after all children have makan tengah hari, tired and still 2 miles to reach home, it tasted like manna from Heaven.

In later years, bila sudah sombong sikit, ada 4 kaki to ride below mine, the taste is ... well, manis, tapi sikit kelat (not quite bitter but my English not good to explain it).

But the seed is expensive, bro. Cashew nuts. I like it only as cocktail tidbits (chehhh, sudah tahu cocktails la, konon) and as Nasi Beriani ingredient. Watch out, high cholesterol.

Rakesh Kumar said...

Haha, yeah cashewnuts. Those days, yes, the lunch at 2.30pm god how awesome they were, no matter how simple it was.