Tuesday, June 29, 2010

island hopping in kota kinabalu

from the high mountain, we moved on to the blue sea. the day after our having successfully scaled the highest mountain in south-east asia, we chartered a boat from jesselton point to explore three of the islands in the tunku abdul rahman marine park - sapi, manukan and mamutik - located off the western coast of sabah.

we paid rm$330 - a special rate - for a 12-seater powered boat to take us from one island to another. those of us who wanted to snorkel had to pay extra for the equipment. there is a one-time charge of $3 (malaysian) or $10 (non-malaysian) for visiting the islands. this fee is paid at the first island of visit.

the first island we visited was sapi, a small island about a 20-minute ride from the ferry point. with bits of bread, we managed to attract a lot of marine fish. they swam around us, close to the surface in the clear azure water.

we had our lunch on manukan island, the most popular of the islands in tunku abdul rahman marine park. the water was not as clear although the island seemed to receive more visitors than the other four islands. we paid an average of $7.50 for a decent meal. the decision to eat at the cafe came after some of us were put off by the exorbitant price for a buffet lunch....$110 per person.

the third island we had planned to visit was sulug but we had to settle for mamutik because the tide was too low to allow our boat to beach as there was no jetty on the island.

however, we did not regret visiting mamutik because the corals and marine creatures were more plentiful than at manukan. most scuba diving activities are carried out at the dive sites close to this island, the smallest of the five.

when we got back to the hotel it was almost six, about time for the sun to set. i had read in my lonely planet travel guide that kota kinabalu was remarkable for its sunsets. a malaysian couple who shared the boat with us mentioned that our hotel afforded a good view of the setting sun.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

climbing mount kinabalu

our mt kinabalu conquering group of nine - 8 from melbourne and 1 (myself) from s'pore - made it to low's peak, the summit, before 6.00 a.m. on 21 june 2010. the youngest in the group was 26 and the oldest was myself at 62.

in terms of profession/occupation, the group comprises four engineers, one software developer, one doctor, one wedding planner, one marketing researcher and one retiree.

we had begun the second and final part of our assault at 2.00 a.m. quite a number of us had gone without much sleep because of headache, resulting from altitude sickness. breakfast, or supper as they call it, was at an unearthly 1.45 a.m.

all nine of us - four women and five men - shared a dormitory at laban rata. except for two, the rest had left the trekking poles behind so as to free our hands to grasp the damp ropes. it had rained non-stop in the early part of the night.

the eight, being from melbourne, and myself, having been through two winters in melbourne, were adequately prepared for the freezing temperature at low's peak, the highest point on mt kinabalu. each one of us had gloves, beanies, thick woollen socks and at least two layers of clothes. however, the socks did not provide much comfort because they were damp because of the wet shoes.

in kota kinabalu, prior to the climb, we had stayed at the promenade hotel located at the city's waterfront. a mini-bus was arranged to take us on the 2-hour trip to mt kinabalu park where we would stay the night before starting on the climb.

at the park, the group members stayed in three well-furnished and spacious chalets. there was even satellite tv in each of the chalets, so we did not miss out on the telecast of the world cup matches that night.

we met our guides, one of whom doubled as our porter, at kinabalu park. a shuttle bus took us to timpohon gate, one of the two starting points for the climb. we covered the 6km rocky and mountainous trail from timpohon to laban rata, in slightly over 5 hours.

i would list team-work, team-spirit, perseverance, pacing and encouragement and assistance from the guides as factors contributing to our accomplishing the feat.

the two fittest men in the group, paul hii and robert, kept the weaker ones going by relieving them of their loads (backpacks) and staying with them as they laboured along.

edward, 90kg and without much physical training for the climb, was the epitome of grit and determination. he was the slowest in the group and he made the most stops, yet he made it to the top. elaine and kam chan were also remarkable for their perseverance and never-say-die attitude.

we took small steps and followed the path of least resistance. there was no urge to overtake or to stay ahead of other groups. i think the slow and steady pace saved us from severe attitude sickness which afflicted some climbers.

elaine and kamp would have given up if not for the encouragement and assistance provided by their respective guides. the guides literally held their hands and dragged them along.

the unanimous verdict of everyone in the group: it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience but none of us would want to go through it again. we only realised after the climb, the kind of risks we had subjected ourselves to. for the rope climb, both ascent and descent, there was no safety harness and the guide could not be with everyone. the descent put great strain on your knees, ankles and even, your toes.

as i have mentioned in an earlier posting on mt kinabalu, any reasonably fit person would be able to make it to the top, provided you were not incapacitated by altitude sickness. you might also need steely determination and support and encouragement from your team members and the guides. it really did not help when it rained a lot and you felt cold, tired and hungry.

now that i have accomplished the feat, i am in a position to give some advice and tips. (1) condition yourself for this prolonged strenuous activity. (2) it is not a competition, so go at your own pace. (3) you are responsible for your own safety; don't be rash and impatient. (4) poncho, proper trekking shoes, gloves, warm clothings and headlight are essentials. (5) take small steps and follow the path of least resistance. (6) hydrate yourself - drink enough plain water. (7) carry energy snacks with you. (8) persevere.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

upgrading at macritchie reservoir park

another park, which is into its second phase, is the macritchie reservoir park. whereas it is the construction of a park at woodlands waterfront, here, at macritchie, it is upgrading. when completed in 2011, visitors to macritchie reservoir park will be able to walk in shallow water, across a submerged boardwalk.

the hill-top refreshment kiosk is also undergoing renovation. this was the only place where light meals and refreshment were available before the new amenities centre was built. i seldom eat here because i did not find the food appetising. at most, i would have a drink after a good run along the lornie trail.

in the past, the ziz-zag bridge would lead us to the start of the cross-country running trail. now that we are older and heavier, we do not run or jog. we walk instead, nevertheless our rendevous point, until recently, was still the zig-zag bridge. in the past, the park wardens did not bother about visitors feeding the tortoises and fish from the bridge.

i had thought that they would dismantle the whole structure and put a new one in its place but it seems that they will retain the pavilion for heritage reason and the changes that will be made will be mainly cosmetic. new timber flooring will be put in place.

Friday, June 18, 2010

where does the 'opeh' leaf come from?

the light yellow fibrous sheet that is making a comeback as a food wrapper comes from the betel nut palm, the areca catechu. hokkien mee or whatever food, apparently, has an enhanced flavour when wrapped or served in an 'opeh hak'. in the past, chye tow kway - the fried version - chwee kway and chee cheong fun used opeh leaf for takeaway purposes.

although the betel nut palm is not as common as the macarthur's palm here, you can find it growing in different places in singapore. i had searched the island to take some photographs of the palm, little realising that there are some in my housing and development board (hdb) housing estate.

the areca catechu is not as slender as the macarthur's palm but, given the right conditions, it normally outgrow the latter. it can reach a height of nearly 25m. the tree bears fruit when it is around 10 years old and after that it can continue to provide fruit for another 50 years.

actually it is not the leaf that is used for the wrapping of food; it is the leaf-frond or the main stalk of the leaf. this is the part that is attached to the slender trunk of the palm.

the unripe fruit of the areca catechu is green. it turns orange when it is ripe. there is also a species which is maroon when ripe. within the fibrous husk is the seed. the seed is the main reason for the areca catechu being commercially cultivated.

my blogger friend, chun see, who blogged about traditional food wrappings here mentioned the opeh leaf.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

woodlands waterfront (phase one)

i had been waiting for woodlands waterfront to open but when it finally did open officially, i was away in melbourne. like its neighbour, the admiralty park, it is being opened in two phases. in the past, this normally quiet stretch of road - admiralty road west - would see a sprinkling of walkers and joggers along the footpaths. in the mornings, especially on working days, it can be abnormally noisy when the malaysians entering s'pore on motorcycles via the causeway are channelled onto this road.

until two years ago, you could see people openly feeding the monkeys near where sungei china drains into the straits. today, the monkeys are still around, so are the feeders who are now more discreet.

where this playground now stands, there used to be some run-down warehouses. among the old buildings were some motor vehicle repair and service workshops as well as a spray painting workshop. the transformation of this forsaken place to a high-tech playground with a two-storey structure called the 'sky walk' is truly amazing.

the picture below shows the jetty before it was refurbished

an old jetty, built in the 1920s, has been refurbished and it now can lay claim to be the longest jetty in singapore. the old jetty was used by the malaysian navy (kdm) when they were housed in this part of singapore. the former malayian navy base is now the admiralty west prison, which is next to admiralty park.

however, the sad thing about our having first world infrastructure and amenities is that some of our habits are throw-back to the cave-dwelling days. although there are enough trash bins around, some visitors still choose to litter. after the weekend, the place is a sorry sight not just for the poor cleaners but for the week-day visitors.

i had assumed that parking was free until i saw the display signboards when i was walking back to the car. i wonder why they would want to charge for parking when the nearest housing and development board (hdb) block is more than a kilometre away. nevertheless, those who want to save on parking charges, you can park at admiralty park (north entrance) which is less than 200m away, across the road from the playground.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

can you get samsu in singapore, today?

photos from national archives of singapore

in the 60s and 70s, i often came across reports on "illicit samsu distillery smashed" or "mash seized in samsu swoop" in the straits times. i had guessed that samsu was some kind of cheap liquor but i did not really know what it was made from. today, if you try to google for 'samsu', you may not get the answer you want.

samsu is distilled from fermented rice mash. samsu was a poor man's drink. it was also used as an ointment and an offering during prayers, mainly by the chinese. pregnant (chinese) women used to bathe with it. like toddy, it was popular with those in the low-income group. however, it was cheaper than toddy and the kick, which was twice as strong, came quickly.

many of the illicit samsu distilleries were hidden in the rural farming areas like tampines, yio chu kang, lim chu kang, upper thomson, upper serangoon and potong pasir. these 'factories' were usually located near some streams or ponds because a lot of water was needed for the production of the samsu.

although there were licensed manufacturers of samsu, illicit samsu was preferred by most drinkers because of the higher alcohol content, around 60%, and, of course, the cheaper price. up to the 70s, there were still illegal dens all over singapore selling samsu. for between 30 and 50 cents, you could get a samsu drink served with titbits.

the authorities, especially the police and customs people, were determined to stamp out the illegal production of samsu because of revenue lost through the non-payment of duties on the liquor and more so, because of the health hazard posed by the consumption as the samsu was usually prepared and distilled under unhygienic conditions.

chun see, my fellow blogger, may be able to provide us with more information on the making of illegal samsu because where he used to live, lorong kinchir, there were some bootleggers.

can you buy samsu legally today? maybe, not in singapore but i have read about school-boys consuming samsu in west malaysia.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

how do you interpret this sign?

this afternoon, i travelled to one of the suburbs in melbourne and, as i came to the end of a path, i spotted this unusual sign. it is unusual because i do not think that such a sign exists in singapore.

what do you think is the message behind (or below) this sign?

could it be...

a fork in the road?

paths merging ahead?

divided lane ahead?

watch out for tree roots!?

scroll down to see the words below the sign








Sunday, June 6, 2010

school boy hurt in mount kinabalu

"a secondary 2 boy on a school trip to sabah's mount kinabalu fell on the descent on tuesday, fracturing his hand and injuring his head."

it is never comforting to read such news, more so when you are about to embark on your first trip to mount kinabalu in two weeks' time. however, i was not alarmed enough to the point of considering aborting the trip. this is not the first time i have heard about climbers having to be stretchered out and carried down the mountain by porters or by their own companions.

one of my balestier walking 'kakis' who went with a group of 28 in march this year reported that one of the climbers in her group also suffered the same fate. another friend also cautioned me because the same unfortunate thing happened to someone she knows.

so, it seems like falling and getting injured during the descent - yes, most of the accidents took place on the way down - is not big news. if you look at statistics, the descent is more dangerous than the ascent when it comes to mountain climbing. take the case of the matterhorn in switzerland. it has claimed more than 500 lives and most of them were lost during the descent.

although climbing mount kinabalu is not a technical climb as no special equipment or apparatus is needed, one still needs to be suitably prepared for the activity.

one has to be reasonably fit and one's muscles must be conditioned for the task ahead by doing a lot of climbing, up as well as down. a good training ground is the bukit timah nature reserve. my 'adviser' took me on a route that included the rock path, rengas path, dairy farm loop and northview path.

a good pair of trail shoes is preferred to track shoes. the rocky surface can get wet and slippery after a rain and a pair of shoes with good grip will reduce the risk of slipping and falling. the shoes should not be too tight, neither should they be too loose. thick woollen socks will help to keep the feet warm.

to prevent injuries to the hands, climbers should wear gloves, preferably the woollen type. gloves will protect your hands from rope burn and cuts as well as provide some comfort from the cold.

descending the steep gradient, the pressure on the knees will be tremendous. a trekking pole or
walking stick will help to reduce the pressure and improve your balance somewhat. once you have reached the summit and watched the sunrise, there is no need to be in a hurry to get to the rest house at laban rata.

Friday, June 4, 2010

jells park in melbourne

whenever i visit melbourne - which is getting more frequent these days - i continue to pursue one of my main interests and pastimes, that is, walking in the nature park. the one huge park - about 127 hectares - nearest to where ian and ivy live is jells park. the park is about 3km from their house at waverley park drive. although it is named jells park, the main entrances are at waverely road and fern tree gully road. i normally enter the park via the side entrance at jells road.

opened in 1976, this 127-hectare (for comparison, east coast park is 185 hectares) park attracts 700 000 visitors a year. within the park are 9-km of shared paths; cyclists and walkers share the same path. there is not the kind of problem we face back home where cyclists or walkers get annoyed where there is intrusion into their respective territory. generally, there are fewer cyclists than walkers at any given time. both types of users look out for each other.

there is a restaurant-cum-cafe in the park. it is called madeline's @ jells. it is an all-weather eatery with floor-to-ceiling windows, a gas log fireplace and a licensed bar. although it was a chilly autumn day, when i was there, many people were enjoying their light meals alfresco at the balcony. the restaurant-cum-cafe shares the building with the visitors' centre.

like some of the parks in singapore, there are adventure playgrounds for children. there are at least three adventure playgrounds catering to children of different age groups.

there are also areas specifically set aside for picnics and barbeques. there is one difference though. here, you do not have to pay for the use of the bbq pits. they are available on a first-come-first-served basis.

there is a wetland within jells park. it is home and stopover to native and migratory birds. native birds seen at the wetland include swamphens, darters, cormorants and pelicans.

the area occupied by jells park used to be a piggery, grazing pasture and, during the second world war, an army storage base for the americans.