Return to Masai-chusettes

Modern street in Masai now
One of the earliest stories I shared in My Johor Stories was, Going back to Masai-chusettes, with memories of Masai, the district where my parents were transferred for their work with the Government Health Centre.  This was way back when Johor Port was yet to be developed and Pasir Gudang was just kampung Pasir Gudang with a beautiful sandy beach where I learnt to swim.  At that time, Masai was like a “cow-boy town” with just one main road that was bordered by ramshackle shophouses.

My sisters and I used to commute to school by school van and we travelled almost 26 km or 16 miles each way on the old road between Johor Baru and Masai.  I remember our driver, Ah Tek, and his family also ran a coffeeshop in Masai and on our drive back from school, he often stopped at a supplier in Pandan to collect trays of steamed pau to ferry back to their shop in Masai.  I will never forget the mouth-watering aroma that filled the van and how my stomach growled as I fantasized about sinking my teeth into those freshly steamed pau!

Road sign for Jalan Sekolah in Masai
Later when we were in secondary school, we often stayed back for extra-curricular activities and it made more sense if we took the public bus instead of the school van.  In those days, there was no bus terminal in Masai and so at night after the last trip back to Masai, the driver would park the bus on the grassy verge at Jalan Sekolah by the Post Office.  

Sometimes the driver of this Alec Bus No. 39 may forget to shut the windows and when we boarded the bus in the semi-darkness early the next morning, we would be accosted by swarms of mosquitoes that had come to hide inside the bus!

Another view of the main road in Masai
Jalan Sekolah was also the road that led to the Pusat Kesihatan Kechil or Health Sub-Centre where my parents used to work.  In my story, My mum the midwife, I shared some of my mum’s adventures as a midwife among the families who lived in and around Masai, as well as in the nearby estates and Felda settlements.  While my mum was allocated a terrace unit of staff quarters in the health centre compound, my dad – the Hospital Assistant or “doctor” and dresser – was assigned a single storey bungalow. 

Mum however, never occupied her quarters because as family, we stayed in dad’s bungalow next to the health centre.  My parents were based in Masai for 13 years and as they became part of the local community, my siblings and I were fondly referred to as anak mee-see, mee-see or missy being the local phrase for nurse.  The house next to ours was a semi-detached unit with each unit occupied by the families of the Assistant Nurse and the Staff Nurse.

Sign for Pusat Kesihatan Kechil at the health centre
My parents enjoy gardening and they used to spend a lot of time weeding and tending to the flower beds around our bungalow and next to the Health Centre.  At one time, dad started growing vegetables and the grassy space between the health centre and our bungalow was their vegetable patch, neatly cultivated with cabbages, chillie, eggplant or brinjals and ladies fingers plants.  I shared this in Green Fingers, my story about my parents and their organic farming experience in our own little garden in Masai.

When my younger brother was old enough to go to school, my parents decided that it was better for us, school-going children, to live with our grandparents rather than spend time in the daily commute.  Our Ah Kong or grandfather’s house was at Jalan Ngee Heng, just walking distance to our schools, a most convenient location particularly for my brother who went to St Joseph School.  During this period, our term holidays were always extra special because we spent them in Masai.

The sorry state of the former health centre now
My siblings and I visited Masai recently and we saw that it is no longer a one-road town but has a network of roads and lanes with new blocks of buildings and a much wider main road.  The Chinese temple is a familiar landmark but there is now a bus terminal and the town was teeming with cars and pedestrians.  I asked my brother to drive around to have a look at our former home next to the health centre and he drove up the back road from the town.  

When I saw the doctor’s quarters – last occupied by Dr John Daniel when mum and dad were still based there – with an overgrown garden, I suspected that things have drastically changed.  The two rows of terraced staff quarters have been renovated but they were all shut and there was nobody around.  Then when we rounded the bend to drive up the slope where the garage was situated next to the Health Centre, we realised that the whole compound was abandoned!

Facade of our former home in Masai
The gates of the health centre were thrown wide open and the building, with its doors removed, seemed forlorn and plants were even growing inside.  While the dilapidated interior is typical of an abandoned building, a section looked bright and I guessed that it was because the roof was broken and natural light was pouring in.  It was a sorry sight, especially as the banner with the barely visible words, Di larang masuk, was also torn and fraying – and I wondered how long have this place been left to rot and fall apart!

I figured that the Government Health Centre has been rebuilt at another site but it was sad to see how the entire compound here had been carelessly abandoned.  The roof of our former home have been changed and it looked like it was recently painted, and it made me wonder if there are plans to use those buildings again but the wide open gates are an invitation for intruders to get up to some mischief in Government property.  As we left the site, I was filled with sadness for the sorry state of this place that we once called home and where we made many fond memories.

The Masai Health Centre has relocated to a bigger site at the top of Jalan Sekolah

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