Let's go to the zoo!

Directional signs to the various exhibits at
Singapore Zoo
Since the 1970s, the award-winning Singapore Zoo has been attracting millions of tourists to enjoy day-long visits in their “open concept” zoo.  Opened on 27 June 1973, Singapore Zoo celebrates its 40th birthday this year.  The Zoo is an evergreen destination which I discovered years ago and have been back again and again with friends and family members.  We, who live in Johor Baru, have a distinct advantage because we can take a short drive from the causeway to Mandai, just off the Bukit Timah Expressway (BKE), and reach the Zoo in a matter of minutes. 

In a recent visit to the Zoo, my friends and I rediscovered the world-famous zoo set in a rainforest environment and enjoyed ourselves watching the animal shows as well as visiting the exciting exhibits.  One of our boys volunteered to take part in an animal show and I’m sure he had a splashing good time! 

Look out Singapore Zoo, here we come!
It was interesting to watch Inuka, the first polar bear born in the tropics, during feeding time in his new Frozen Tundra home.  He truly is a show-bear, repeatedly climbing up onto the “ice-berg” and diving for his food, to the delight of his audience.  Can you spot Inuka, the polar bear, being watched by such a large crowd of fans?
His majesty, the King of the Jungle, chilling out on a hot afternoon

Waiting for the show by the talented Elephants of Asia to start

A section of the audience at the Elephant show – can you spot anyone that you recognize?

The elephants and their mahouts taking a bow at the close of the exciting show

Young volunteers at the Rainforest Fights Back animal show making a big splash!

A bevy of elegant pink flamingoes!
Visitors can also tour the zoo on a hop-on-hop-off tram ride like this

Slurping down refreshing fruit drinks from fancy bottles!

A visit to Singapore Zoo is not complete without an ice-cream treat… Yum!

There’s so much to see and do at Singapore Zoo!  Just grab a map and follow the trails to the various exhibits and don’t forget to check out the times for animal feeding and shows to arrive on time to catch the action and excitement.  

Singapore Zoo is located at 80 Mandai Lake Road, Singapore 729826.  Visit website: www.zoo.com.sg for more info.


City Parking Woes

It's common to see cars parked right
next to signs like this!
I’m not surprised that many readers nodded their heads in agreement when they read my article, Stick to your own lanes (NST, Nov 5) because they are often hapless victims of inconsiderate drivers.  Law-abiding citizens here join me in gritting our teeth and impatiently waiting for the authorities to enforce the law not just to nab errant drivers but to educate them for the safety and comfort of all road-users.  They are also concerned that foreign investors and visitors in Iskandar Malaysia must also be wondering, how Johor Baru can be a progressive city when their locals behave so lawlessly? 

As city roads are widened with broader road shoulders, we see cars boldly parked across single white lines and even double yellow lines.  Every driver must study the theory part of the driving test but many must have forgotten that just as double white lines in the middle of the road means no over-taking, the double yellow lines on road sides indicate that parking is prohibited.  Town-planners everywhere create road shoulders not for parking but to provide comfortable leeway for cars to move in case of emergencies.

Narrow roads in older parts of the city are supposedly beautified when they were bordered by walkways in wide pavements.  This however, eliminated the linear parking spaces in front of the shops and because most people are too lazy to park in the proper places and walk a few steps, they boldly park on the pavements.  Yes, they park haphazardly right across pavements in these narrow streets and this obviously defeats the city’s grand plans for any beatification!

Cars are parked on both sides of the road in JB city!
Parking on pavements not only destroys the city council’s idea in preserving the charming landscape in the older parts of the city, the parked cars are an obstruction to tourists on walking heritage tours.  Take a look at Tan Hiok Nee Heritage Walk and the sight of carelessly parked cars on both sides of the narrow road is enough to put off any tourists trying to explore the place.  The city council ambitiously created the Meldrum Walk but there is no fun in walking the network of roads around Jalan Siu Nam, Jalan Siu Koon and Jalan Siu Chin in historical Kampung Wong Ah Fook because the pavements are not only full of parked cars and motorcycles, they are also spoiled by hawkers who have set up tables and chairs there!

A reader, who was once a traffic officer, gave me an earful about the appalling traffic issues in the city which is getting worse because of the lack of enforcement.  I share his frustration because we know that in spite of clear signs put up by the city council, warning of towing away of illegally parked vehicles, the cars are still boldly parked right next to the sign every day.  By continually ignoring the rules and parking there without penalty, they are making a mockery of the authorities!

These motorists clearly ignore the double yellow lines!
Motorists who have been abroad are aware of the traffic enforcement in cities like Singapore, Australia and other international destinations.  They know that the Police mean business and there is a price to pay for any traffic offence so they abide by the rules.  But in Johor Baru errant drivers openly disregard traffic rules and have no regard for the Police and city council authorities because these rules are not consistently enforced here.

I agree with this retired traffic officer who said that the only way to educate and eradicate such inconsiderate attitudes on the road is through stringent enforcement.  We know there are parking facilities in multi-level car-parks and small parking lots in the city but because there is a cost and some walking involved, people just refuse to use them.  Also with flexible payment packages to own a car now, there are just more vehicles on the road than the number of parking spaces available in the city.

With Visit Malaysia 2014 just around the corner, we should make constructive decisions to take control of the traffic situation in our city that Tourism Malaysia dubbed, the Southern Gateway into Malaysia.  The city council must work towards providing sufficient parking facilities that are safe, clean and fairly priced to encourage more drivers to park their cars in proper places.  They must study how busy cities around the world are dealing with parking in the city centre and suburbs, and quickly adopt practices that are already efficiently working elsewhere.

Football fans carelessly park across driveways,
obstructing the homeowner's path!
It is a shared responsibility between the authorities to enforce rules and the motorists to revive our tradition in courtesy and civic consciousness in order to educate and change the mindset of young people and even hard-nosed seasoned drivers. 
If we want to progress as a modern and developed city, we cannot continue setting poor examples on the road and develop new generations of drivers with bad attitudes.  It is most damaging if young people observe their parents and elders blatantly flouting logical traffic practices because they will just learn by example.

Fans of Harimau Selatan, Johor’s slick football team, can start by practicing common sense courtesy rules like never to park across someone’s driveway because your car will obstruct the path of the homeowner who needs to enter or exit his driveway.  The Police and authorities must step up to the plate and enforce obvious traffic rules while showing their humane side by advising obstructing cars to move along instead of slapping them with a summons.  It’s time for Johor Baru authorities to earn the people’s respect for the right reasons.

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Streets Johor on 21 November 2013

Distinctly Japanese

Japanese sunset at Fushimi during our
Jyukkoku boat ride tour
People traditionally think of Japan as the Land of the Rising Sun or Cherry Blossom Land but recently while I was travelling around Osaka, Kobe and Kyoto, I only caught sight of the setting sun one evening.  While it’s not yet cherry blossom season, I still enjoyed seeing a beautiful palette of autumn shades in reds, orange and yellows against a green backdrop.  

My earliest connection with anything Japanese must have been my pair of Japanese slippers.  These were common rubber slippers or flip-flops made with a white base and blue thongs that I used to wear around the house when I was a kid.  When the threads on its soles wear out, the slippers can be ever so slippery on wet floors and I remember falling clumsily (and painfully!) because there was no grip from my old pair of Japanese slippers.

Beautiful autumn colours at the grounds of Kinkaku-ji
or Temple of the Golden Pavillion
In the early days of Black & White television, my brother and I used to watch a popular Japanese TV series, Ultra Man.  The dialog was dubbed in Malay and I remember being irritated because the mouths of the actors were never in sync with the words.  But we still enjoyed watching the superhero, Ultra Man being summoned (a light will flash in his chest!) to fight those horrific monsters.  In every episode, there will be some horned, fire-breathing, plastic-looking dinosaur or gigantic creature – generally called a raksaksa (Malay word for ogre or giant!) – that will inevitably be defeated by Ultra Man.  Monsters are always destroyed, not just by Ultra Man’s powerful punches and karate chops but also by the super powers that will radiate from his crossed forearms!  If you are smiling now, you know exactly what I mean.  But in our young minds, this was the heady stuff that superheroes are made of.

Ultra Man collectibles in the showcase - Don't miss
the part of the model of a raksaksa at far right!
The final stop of our itinerary in Osaka, before we headed to the airport for our return flight, was Rinku Premium Outlets [same brand as our Johor Premium Outlets!] in Rinku City.  In the short trek from the railway station to the mall, I passed a McDonald’s and my attention was caught by a showcase that displayed Ultra Man collectibles, complete with figurines of raksaksa monsters!  I’m just fascinated that Ultra Man is still very much alive and being enjoyed by the current generation of youngsters.  This certainly brought back a flood of memories of how my brother and I used to enjoy watching Ultra Man on TV!

Young men wearing kimono on the
street to Kiyomizu-dera Temple
Another early Japanese influence must be from “The Samurai” TV series that was also dubbed in Malay.  I cannot forget how he was hero-worshipped by a youngster who often chased after him yelling repeatedly, “Shintaro!  Shintaro!”  I remember watching with fascination, how this kimono-clad master swordsman could defeat armies of ninja antagonists, without breaking a sweat or messing up his neat costume.  Those black-clad, fleet-footed ninja warriors can rain a series of darts at Shintaro but with his swift reflexes, he can nimbly escape being a target.  I can still picture his stealthy look wearing a dark kimono with a top-knot pony tail and how he sometimes wore a large straw hat.  Sadly in the few days I was in Japan, I did not see any Shintaro look-alike and the only kimono-clad men I came across were several school boys, probably on a field trip to the shrines. 

In school, I was introduced to a popular Japanese brand that I’m still using to this day.  My friends know that I don’t leave home without it because since receiving free samples of it in school, I have trusted this product to ease any itch caused by insect bites.  If you guessed Mopiko, you’re right!  Since I’m a favourite target of hungry mosquitoes, I keep a tube in my bag so that each time I get a bite, Mopiko can always come to my rescue!

The iconic Glico Man in dazzling neon lights among
others at the Shinsai Bashi-Suji shopping area
During our schooldays, Glico Pocky was a popular snack.  These pretzel sticks coated with chocolate were a coveted item among other favourite snacks like Smarties chocolate buttons and Mentos mints.  I can still remember one of the clever TV ads that featured cute Japanese girls with good teeth and bright eyes, holding the uncoated end of the pretzels and chewing into the crispy chocolate-coated Pocky sticks while they winked and exclaimed, “Pocky!”  You will agree that something like this is quite unforgettable.  And then one cool night in Osaka, when we stopped at the Shinsai Bashi-Suji shopping area to look at the dazzling neon lights, I saw a giant-size billboard of the Glico Man emblazoned in neon lights and fond memories of the Pocky Japanese snacks came rushing back.
The Green Tea Kit Kat presented by Matsumoto-san
One evening, after an especially eventful day, we finally arrived at our hotel for the night.  While we were in the lobby waiting to check-in, I was pleasantly surprised when Matsumoto-san, host representative from New Kansai International Airport, presented each one of us with a Green Tea Kit Kat.  After such a taxing day, a kind gesture like this simply sweetened my day!  I was among four other media representative from Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia who incidentally, will each share our Japanese experiences in Thai, Indonesian, Mandarin languages – while I will write in English.

Delicious Green Tea Cake [Left] on welcome tray!
Matcha or Green Tea is distinctly Japanese and I’m glad that Green Tea is one of their Kit Kat flavours.  I must confess that when I closed the door to my hotel room, I dropped my stuff and started to take photos of the Kit Kat box!  On its reverse side, the box even has a gift tag with “To and From” printed around a space left blank for you to write a message.  I later learnt that there are 15 flavours in a limited edition pack but with such an eventful itinerary, I didn’t get around to buying any varieties so this only means that I must return to Japan to sample more Kit Kat!
Japanese Green Tea Ice-Cream!
I prefer green tea as a beverage but in Japan, green tea ice-cream is very common and I discovered that I can also appreciate green tea in a delicious soft cake packed as a hotel premium item.  I found two pieces of green tea cake on a welcome tray, presented with a pot of tea [sachet of Earl Grey Tea alongside!] complete with a posy of real flowers – blossoms of rose, hydrangea and orchids – in a low crystal vase!  It was a nice gesture and I did not hesitate to taste the green tea cake and before I knew it, I have finished all of the two pieces!

I find the distinctly Japanese custom in bowing and greeting both courteous and charming.  I’m impressed that even hotel staff, who obviously do not speak English, will greet me with a pleasant Ohaiyo Gozaimasu when we meet in the corridor or lobby.  After the first day, I started to adopt their habit of bowing low from the waist each time we thanked the hosts or left an establishment.  I know that this can’t be wrong because they only reciprocated with more bows!

A group of Japanese girls we met in USJ posing for us!
Two things I discovered about Japanese young people: One is their passion for cosplay (short-form of “costume playing”) i.e. dressing up in outlandish costumes with outrageous hair-dos to look like anime or manga characters and the other is their automatic reflex to put up two fingers in a peace sign whenever they pose for a photo!  Their “auto-photo-reflex” became so apparent that we curiously asked our Japanese friends about it but they don’t have any logical explanation.  At all the tourist spots and particularly in Universal Studios Japan (USJ), there was plenty of photo-taking and everyone invariably made some hand sign while most perpetually had two fingers up with every cute smile and animated pose!

The Japanese are not only friendly and courteous but also very animated in their expressions.  This was especially apparent in USJ because here’s where fun is a serious business.  The animated excitement around us was so terribly infectious that it was not long before I was swept along into a carefree and crazy mood. 

Caught on camera with Hello Kitty in our warm embrace!
I was particularly keen to experience USJ because I wanted to see the similarities and differences between USJ and Universal Studios Singapore.  I was thrilled to discover that one of the animated characters in USJ was Hello Kitty – a familiar friend to me because Sanrio Hello Kitty Town is opened in the Puteri Harbour Family Theme Park, Johor Baru – the first to be established outside of Japan!

Having met Hello Kitty and Dear Daniel in Sanrio Hello Kitty Town, it was like going to meet an old friend in USJ.  By then everyone was hyped up with excitement and when the team in the Hello Kitty attraction gave me a warm welcome, I responded with equal enthusiasm.  In the final part of the Hello Kitty’s Ribbon Collection walk-through, the door opened to the photo studio where I finally met Hello Kitty again.  It was rather dramatic because when I rushed towards her, we fell into an emotional embrace, greeting each other warmly like long-lost friends …

Friends [Left to Right], Ann [Thai], yours truly, Japanese comedy character, Suang [Malaysian Chinese]
 and Sika [Indonesian], outside the Namba Grand Kagetsu Theatre, Osaka

This is just a glimpse of all that’s distinctly Japanese but there’s much more that’s both familiar and so uniquely Japanese to share in separate posts.  From train rides, boat cruises, tower views, mountain ropeway and cable-car rides, shopping malls, heritage attractions to the fresh fish market and elegant Japanese meals, among other interesting things.  And when it was time to leave Japan, my friends and I agreed that the one thing we will miss most about Japan must be their clean, dry and oh so comfortable toilets!  


Who's the Hungry Hog?

A wall plaque in The Hungry Hog
At the thought of tasty pork ribs, I recall with much fondness, the ribs that I enjoyed at the Lone Star, Taupo and especially at the Pig & Whistle, Rotorua.  I can almost taste the delicate flavour of ribs blanched in honey and spices, blasted in flames and served smothered in hoisin and orange sauces.  I’m not an expert in pork ribs but having savoured some of the best in a recent trip to New Zealand, I’m ready to sink my teeth into some local recipe pork ribs. 

For some time now, I’ve been hearing about the exciting menu at The Hungry Hog in Subang Jaya from my brother and his family.  They have brought almost all our relatives in Subang and any visitors to Subang there – except me.  In fact, my niece tried to take me there for dinner but they happened to be closed on that particular Thursday [they are closed on Mondays!].  Since I was in Subang Jaya last week, it was an excellent opportunity for my own porky experience and to avoid disappointment, we phoned ahead to make a table reservation.

A section of diners in The Hungry Hog
Negotiating our way through the evening traffic on a Tuesday is no mean feat and we arrived moments after a text message was received from the restaurant to inform that our table was released to another group! 

We were just two minutes late but the waiter was apologetic and assured us that the next table will be made available for us.  There were also a few tables in the non-air conditioned dining area outside and even here, all the tables were occupied. 

Another section of diners in The Hungry Hog
So we joined the queue waiting along the pavement outside the restaurant.  A glance through the glass walls showed us that it was absolutely packed with people.  As I stood there waiting and watching the diners slurping down their meals, I couldn’t help smiling because this was reminiscent of the situation outside Ciao Italia, a popular restaurant in Perth, Australia!

The wait was certainly worth it because our orders were served promptly and accurately, and the portions were simply generous.  The casual vibe in the compact restaurant coupled with efficient service to satisfied diners made for a very pleasant dining experience at The Hungry Hog. 

Assorted spare rib cuts marinated in Char Siew sauce in the Char Siew Ribs served with a side of fresh salad topped with cherry tomatoes and pineapple bits

The Hog House Salad made with romaine lettuce, sticks of French beans, avocado slices, boiled egg wedges, cherry tomatoes, streaky bacon, homemade ham and drizzled with French dressing

Traditional meal of Bangers & Mash created with homemade fennel Italian sausages, a side salad and mash drizzled with onion gravy

Juicy Porky Chops – pan-fried shoulder loin chops flavoured with honey mustard sauce and a side of watercress greens and mash potatoes

Fa├žade of The Hungry Hog in Subang Jaya
As I licked my fingers, savouring the delicate flavours of my Char Siew Ribs, I made a mental note to return again to sample more items on their menu.  There are Smalls & Sides, Salads, Rice dishes and Burgers to Bigs [main course meals!], not to mention their interesting desserts that feature pork ingredients.   Ah!  So much food and so little space in my stomach…

Hungry Hog, a non-halal restaurant, is located at 71, Jalan SS15/4C, 47500 Subang Jaya.  Open Tuesdays to Sundays from 12noon to 3pm and from 6pm to 10pm and closed on Mondays.  Tel: 012 – 225 0877.  Website: www.hog.my


Message from Hungry Hog dated 27 Nov 2013:
Hi Peggy!

So sorry for the late reply! Many thanks for the write up and kind words. I'm really glad that you had an enjoyable time at the restaurant and that you liked the food. 

We look forward to see you again soon. :)

Warmest regards,
Yeng Yee
Head Hog

Demon Drivers

Evening weekend traffic along the KL Federal Highway
Making use of modern technology, my cousins created a WhatsApp group with my siblings and I so that we can stay connected with our current happenings.  Staying in touch with this group means that I know the weather in Wimbledon, what was for lunch in Sydney and how the morning or evening traffic is building up on Kuala Lumpur’s Federal Highway.  The heated exchanges between my brother and a cousin to update each other on the traffic congestion in Kuala Lumpur expressways, gives me such a headache that I will turn my phone to silent mode.

I can picture the typical traffic snarl in our capital city and how people have to cope with it just to get to work on time and when to leave the office to reach home at a reasonable hour.  That’s because we in Johor Baru have our own share of horror traffic experiences particularly in the morning and after-office hours.  In fact, we have our own unique traffic experiences when we cross the border into Singapore and return to Johor Baru.

This impatient driver is switching lanes for the second
time while queuing on Woodlands Road, Singapore
For those who frequently travel across the Causeway or use the Second Link, it is understood that everyone wants to reach their destination quickly and on time.  But if traffic is heavy, we are familiar with the inconvenience of waiting in a queue and will inch along slowly but we will eventually reach our destination.  And if each driver joins a queue and remains in his lane, patiently following the traffic flow, everyone should get through it feeling at ease with the wait.

I have unfortunately, come across impatient drivers who think they can get to their destination faster if they cut the queue.  Some drivers cannot make up their minds on which lane to follow and they switch lanes at random, thinking the other lane is moving faster and they irritate other drivers who are patiently inching along.  Everyone is tired and wants to get to their destination too so I always wonder why these drivers are so inconsiderate.  It just takes one impatient driver and another driver who does not want to give way to cause a collision and this will result in a worse traffic congestion where everyone suffers!

Every Sunday evening, all the roads in Johor Baru leading to the Sultan Iskandar Customs Immigration Quarantine Complex are chock-a-block with traffic heading back to Woodlands, Singapore.  With a favourable exchange rate, we can expect visitors from our neighbouring country to visit Johor Baru more frequently and help boost our economy through shopping, making use of car wash services and enjoying good food here.  With the coming year-end holidays, there will be an influx of tourists but we should be able to deal with more cars in the queue if the Traffic Police deployed more personnel to control the drivers and the Immigration Department opened all the booths at the checkpoint every day. 

If the management of Danga City Mall and the Traffic Police worked together, we should also be able to deal with the horrific traffic situation along Jalan Tun Abdul Razak when there is an event at the Expo hall.  This mall has both indoor and outdoor parking facilities but stubborn drivers still prefer to park along Jalan Tun Abdul Razak.  These recalcitrant drivers not only double park along the road but some even boldly park on the road divider as well as on the ramp leading up to the Inner Ring Road!

Cars illegally parked [Left] along Jalan Tun Abdul Razak
near the Expo event hall, Danga City Mall in JB
Those parking on the roadside narrows the path leading into the mall’s parking areas and the cars parked on the divider and ramp create a bottleneck on the expressway.  Jalan Tun Abdul Razak is a busy road and other road users are compelled to squeeze into a single lane because of the many cars that are illegally parked along the road.  I have observed that many of the illegally parked cars are not ordinary cars but big cars whose drivers not only can afford to spend money at the event hall but also pay the paltry parking fees!

From the looks of those illegally parked cars, their owners should be educated and upright citizens but when it comes to a basic thing like being civic minded they fail miserably.  People learn by example and if they see another driver getting away with illegally parking their vehicle, they will follow suit because everyone else is doing it.  Because of their selfish wish to walk a shorter distance and not pay any parking fees, a lot of other road users suffer.

Since the Expo hall started holding events, drivers have been parking illegally along Jalan Tun Abdul Razak even though the mall had free parking but when the mall started to charge for parking, the cars are now causing greater obstruction because they are parked as far as half-way up the ramp.  But why do they illegally park along the road when it is so obvious that their cars are obstructing other road users?  I guess they keep doing it simply because they can.

The same goes for drivers who illegally park along Jalan Abdullah Ibrahim, Jalan Salim and the surrounding roads just to avoid paying parking fees when they go to events held at the Persada International Convention Centre.  It’s not only unsightly in the city centre but they cause unnecessary obstruction when they inconsiderately park at every available space on both sides of the road.  I’m not going to discuss the indiscriminate parking by fans of the JB Bazaar and Harimau Selatan because that’s another story but by now, the authorities concerned should get an idea of what I’m urging them to do.

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Streets Johor on 5 November 2013