What's good business etiquette?

Before shopping centres were opened here in the 1970’s, Johor Baru residents used to frequent emporiums and department stores across the causeway.

Organisers of events at the Expo Hall, Danga City Mall are
oblivious to how visitors park irresponsibly by the side of
a busy expressway and even halfway up the ramp!
As JB transformed into a modern metropolis, department stores and supermarkets opened in shopping centres and malls.  Modern malls were also designed with a range of specialty shops for goods and services as well as food and beverage outlets.  Locals who used to buy their necessities from sundry shops and bazaars, adjusted to a new lifestyle and started to enjoy one-stop shopping in air-conditioned comfort.

JB has always been a popular stopover for visitors and with the favourable exchange rate, the city is attracting shoppers from across the causeway and beyond.   Now it’s the reverse as shoppers are instead, coming to JB regularly! 

Every weekend, the malls are jam-packed and by the end of the day, most of the supermarket shelves are almost bare.  Grocery shopping is also an opportunity for the family to dine out and this phenomenon is now the norm especially during school holidays and public holidays.  So if you did not make an advance reservation for a table, be prepared to join a queue into some of the popular restaurants in the city.

Each shopping centre soon gained their own regular clientele and established their own identity as popular destinations for specific products and services.  For instance, the former Plaza Angsana, now rebranded as Angsana Johor Baru Mall, is a favourite destination mainly for Malay food, fashion and family needs.  This is definitely the place for all the festive needs in the Hari Raya season!

There is no enforcement against vehicle owners who
persist in parking in tow-away zones!
The city is rapidly developing under Iskandar Malaysia and while there are modern malls and shopping centres, weekly night markets and farmers markets in various suburbs remain popular with local and foreign shoppers. 

Shopping fairs are often organised in event halls in 3-day or week-long fairs.  And when products from many vendors offering the best bargains are found in one destination, it attracts shoppers to browse around for the best deals. 

Besides the book fairs and fairs in various themes, one of the top favourites held at the Expo Hall of Danga City Mall must be the Indian Shopping Fair where vendors offer the latest fashion and household products from India.  The event halls of the Persada International Convention Centre are also popular venues for home furnishing and electrical items as well as branded fashion fairs. 

While there are plenty of parking spaces inside the building, many shoppers who go to these fairs, are too lazy and stingy to park inside.  They choose to park haphazardly outside and cause traffic congestion on busy roads.  Fair organisers cannot ignore this errant behavior because these vehicles are not only an eyesore, it is also hazardous for other road users!

The favourable exchange rate also saw a rise in hotel occupancy where travel agencies choose to book their tour groups in hotels here to enjoy lower costs.  Very often these groups check-out from JB hotels to head for departures from Singapore’s Changi Airport and save on higher hotel rates across the causeway.  This practice is evident from the number of coaches often parked outside hotels at night.

To cater to these brief visitor stopovers, new businesses like spas and restaurants as well as local snacks businesses for local food souvenirs, sprouted near local hotels.

The car-wash business also saw a boom because visitors who drive to JB usually factor in time for their vehicle to be washed before filling up their tank and heading for home.  This is clearly a matter of supply and demand because in Jalan Dato Abdullah Tahir alone, there are more than 30 different car-wash options to choose from!

Too much rubbish, too small bins and a collection system
at the International Kite Festival that does not separate
recyclable materials?
Meanwhile, affordable down-payment rates allows locals to own their own cars and these new vehicle owners add to the already heavy traffic in the city.  With mobility and a modern lifestyle that involves choosing places to dine or shop from smart-phone applications (apps!), people are crisscrossing the city especially during meal times, to get to their destinations.  

From breakfast, lunch, tea to dinner and even supper, it’s now quite the norm for people to be out in search for food and entertainment at odd hours.

Locals and visitors also enjoy going to the JB Bazaar, one of the city’s night attractions that started at Jalan Segget and spilled over to Jalan Tan Hiok Nee.  This weekend market was originally designed for visitors to shop for local products and souvenirs but now the bazaar is on every night and many vendors are resellers of poor quality brand imitations.  

While this bazaar brought back some activity into the city centre at night, the indiscriminate parking of cars on both sides of the roads, is a hazardous habit.  Every night, these parked cars create a narrow gauntlet just wide enough for one vehicle to pass through. 

Attempts were made to organise the parking into designated areas but recalcitrant vehicle owners simply refuse to comply and the authorities also fail to implement any penalties.  This vicious cycle is cause for serious concern because in case of fire, such road obstructions will prevent emergency vehicles from reaching the affected spots!

Pre-war shops at JB’s exciting heritage quarter opened as chic cafes and boutiques, are often featured in the media but businesses on Jalan Tan Hiok Nee is limited to only day time because at night, access to these shops are blocked by the Bazaar stalls.  So it only made sense to close up every evening before the stalls are opened.
A closer look at the conditions around this area reveals that some stallholders are using electricity which is tapped from the shops.  In the light of day, these low hanging cables are not only an ugly sight, they are also a physical danger to unsuspecting pedestrians and a definite fire hazard. 

Congested by carelessly parked vehicles,
Jalan Tan Hiok Nee is not a pedestrian friendly road
The JB Bazaar organisers are probably aware that there are no public toilets in the city at night but the bazaar is open into the wee hours of the morning.  So does anyone ever wonder where the bazaar vendors and their customers go for comfort?

With a vision to develop JB into an international city by 2020 the Johor Baru City Council cannot overlook such small but significant issues in public places.  The city council certainly has its hands full, saddled with issues on indiscriminate parking, poor rubbish disposal as well as cleanliness and hygiene issues.  While it’s exciting to see how the council is trying to develop JB into an economically vibrant, cultural and heritage city through ambitious initiatives, many issues need to be tackled and urgently rectified.

On top of this, we heard the recent announcement that Johor will soon ban the use of polystyrene and plastic containers to protect our environment.  To this end, vendors, consumers as well as students must be educated before this ban can come into effect. 

Such are the traits typical of a rapidly developing city and positive results can only be achieved with the concerted effort of the partnership among the public and private sectors, with the support of Non-Governmental Organizations and non-profit agencies.

A version of this was published in The Iskandarian.com on 2 June 2016

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