Off Walls Off Pedestals

Rediscovering Our Own Malaysia 1: Kuala Pilah – Segamat – Bandar Muadzam Shah – Pekan (Part 1)

Posted in With Friends by tsabri on February 28, 2010

‘Let’s go for a weekend drive and see Peninsular Malaysia.’

‘A good idea, I say. Let’s get to know our lands better. There will be interesting things to discover… or rediscover.’

There were Hanafiah, Naim, Nizam and myself. Hanafiah studied with me in ITM and is also a working colleague of mine at MMU in Cyberjaya. Hanafiah practices painting and is currently into photography. Naim and Nizam are two younger friends who are interested in video and photography. The four of us share similar interests in investigating the multicultural life of the Malaysians. We held discussions on various cultural aspects and eventually started plotting several small projects like visiting towns, talking with people and documenting places, hoping to develop all of these into much more matured and meaningful projects.

Following is a journal of a journey starting from Kuala Pilah, through Segamat, through Bandar Muadzam, to Pekan, that we did on 16th & 17th January 2010.

Saturday, 16th January 2010

About 1130a.m

Started from Puchong, through Bandar Baru Salak Tinggi, Nilai, the North-South Plus Highway, Senawang and Jalan Kuala Pilah. We arrived the Kuala Pilah district, stopping at the Ulu Bendul recreation spot at about 0100p.m.

Waterfalls. The paths. Rocks. Trees. And the man-made pool for children – how badly designed everything were! And surprisingly the pool’s area is a WI-FI free area! Then the Majlis Daerah Kuala Pilah’s page http://www.mdkp.gov.my/home said:

Hutan Lipur Ulu Bendul Hutan Lipur ini dibangunkan pada tahun 1971* oleh Tuan Tulis dan dijadikan sebagai tempat ibadat. Pada tahun 1920an, tempat ini dijadikan kawasan riadah iaitu rumah rehat dan ladang kuda. Hutan lipur ini terletak di KM 20 jalan Seremban – Kuala Pilah di dalam Hutan Simpan Angsi. Ia mengambil masa kira-kira 20 minit dari bandar Seremban. Terdapat Gunung Angsi setinggi lebih kurang 825 meter dari aras laut dan ia boleh didaki dengan menyusuri Sungai Batang Terachi. Landskap semulajadi di sini menjadikannya unik untuk mandi-manda dan sesuai bagi aktiviti lasak, berkelah, berkhemah dan bersiar-siar.

The date published was confusing as it was stated on the same website that Tuan Tulis was a name given to a known Negeri Sembilan’s ulama that lived from the 1840s until 1923! Tuan Tulis was described on the Majlis Daerah Kuala Pilah’s page as follows:

Tun Tulis atau Tuan Tulis adalah gelaran kepada seorang ulama Negeri Sembilan yang bernama Haji Ismail Bin Hussein. Beliau berasal dari Kampung Kuala Talang, Kuala Pilah, Negeri Sembilan. Beliau dilahirkan pada 1840an dan meninggal dunia pada tahun 1923. Tun Tulis adalah seorang anak muda yang miskin tetapi penuh semangat untuk menuntut ilmu agama. Kerana kemiskinannya, beliau tidak mampu untuk membeli buku. Oleh itu, beliau meminjam buku dari rakan-rakannya dan menyalin buku itu dengan tulisannya sendiri. Dari situ rakan-rakannya mengelarkannya dengan gelaran Ismail Tulis. Selepas perguruannya, beliau tidak henti-henti menulis kitab sehinggalah orang kampung menggelarkannya Tuan Tulis. Selepas beliau meninggal dunia, Yang Dipertuan besar Negeri Sembilan mentitahkan agar dibina bangunan di makam Tun Tulis dan bangunan tersebut kekal hingga ke hari ini.

The place was crowded with weekend picnickers; families with their children splashing in the man-made pools, teenage couples sitting on the rocks, people having lunch at the small food court, and a row of stalls selling deep fried sausages, kerepok lekor, banana fritters, burgers and other fritters, and assorted souvenirs which we may find at almost every tourists’ spots in Malaysia – key chains, batik, t-shirts, shorts, hats, caps and etc.

Most of the crowds were Malays (we saw only two Chinese families). The place was crowded only on weekends and almost deserted on weekdays, said one stall keeper. After lunch of nasi campur we left Hutan Lipur Ulu Bendul.

Some findings at Hutan Simpan Ulu Bendul:

Rocks and Trees in Ulu Bendul

Making Fun to Nature?

Rocks and Trees in Ulu Bendul. Perhaps it was somewhere near here or around this area that Tuan Tulis established a ‘tempat ibadat’. Now it is a ‘tourist spot’ popular to locals for recreational activities.

Making Fun to Nature: A Lesson to the Children? An image captured to denote perhaps the failure of good education amongst the society: was it mere playfulness of the picnickers, or was it a conceptual art work?

Approaching Kuala Pilah town: tanah terbiar with bushes and forgotten rubber tress are the landscapes of both sides of our view. Nizam, a native of Kuala Pilah, remarked:

No young people are around to do the lands. To tanam padi not anymore. They prefer to work in factories in Senawang or Seremban.

Megalithic Sites of Kuala Pilah.

A quick reference on the Majlis Daerah Kuala Pilah page:

Perkataan ‘megalitik’ yang berasal dari perkataan Greek ‘mega’ yang membawa maksud besar dan ‘lithos’ iaitu batu, boleh didefinasikan sebagai batu besar yang didirikan di atas tanah secara bersendiri dan berpasangan. Penemuan batu megalitik di sekitar negeri ini merupakan tanda perkembangan penempatan masyarakat awal yang menjadikannya sebagai tempat pemujaan, selain menaruh pelbagai kepercayaan yang diyakini mampu mempengaruhi ekonomi (pertanian) serta kebudayaan masyarakat ketika itu. Pada ketika itu juga, masyarakat yang bergantung terhadap pertanian sebagai sumber ekonomi utama mempercayai bahawa penyembahan serta pemujaan batu megalitik mampu membantu mereka untuk memperoleh tanaman yang subur,” katanya ketika ditemui di sini hari ini. Katanya, batu-batu megalitik yang merupakan monumen bersejarah itu turut digunakan sebagai tempat masyarakat dahulu berkumpul dan mengadakan persembahan tradisi untuk tujuan riadah. Antara tapak megalitik yang dikenal pasti di sekitar negeri ini ialah Pengkalan Kempas, Kuala Pilah, Kampung Ipoh dan Pulau Sebang di Tampin, Lembah Terachi, Kuala Pilah, Kampung Gedang, Kampung Padang Lebar, Kampung Kundangan Kiri, Kampung Masjid, Kampung Parit Tengah dan Kampung Talang – kesemuanya dalam mukim Terachi (Tampin-Kuala Pilah).

We stopped at a small site by the roadside. It was right in front of a compound of a house, but at the time nobody was seen around. We were alarmed to discover that the site was in somewhat a sorry state, though it seemed there were some kind of a restoration work going on but no traces of anything official from some museum or any establishment and the stones were left unguarded. We almost could lift some of the small megaliths into the car’s boot!

Then we wondered whether if they were originals or just replicas, or even make-believe structures merely to attract curious tourists on the road?

Approaching Seri Menanti, the Royal Town of the Negeri Sembilan’s royalties: patches of green fields with young padi plants. Nizam commented:

This area is always with padi; perhaps to make the landscape looks beautiful and green. This is the Royal Town.

We stopped at a place called Perkampungan Budaya Terachi, which was situated by the roadside junction adjacent to an uphill road to the Royal Town. The greening padi field also surrounded it. The big place was almost deserted safe for the restaurant, the Restoran Warisan, and one or two craft stalls selling batik wares and other usual products for tourists.

The uphill road towards Seri Menanti was decorated with buntings congratulating the Yang di-Pertuan Besar of Negeri Sembilan for his recent 62nd birthday, 14th January 2010. And so did the Seri Menanti town, flags of various colors were in the air and parts of the padang was crowded with people. Music was in the air. People were still celebrating the Yang di-Pertuan Besar birthday. It was about 0400 in the hot afternoon. It reminded us of the kenduri and temasya 40 hari 40 malam whenever the Malay rajas were celebrating whatever celebrations in the Malay hikayats and folklores.

The Seri Menanti Royal Museum. A page from http://www.tourism.gov.my read:

The Seri Menanti Royal Museum was built in 1902 – 1905. It was originally a palace for the Negeri Sembilan Royal family. It is situated in the Royal town of Seri Menanti, about 50 km from the capital, Seremban. This five storey wooden palace was built using no nails or screws. The carpenters at the time used wooden pegs so that the palace would be able to withstand the times. It also uses 99 solid timber pillars, soaring 65 feet. Black in color, the palace also has intricate flower motifs beautifying the regal palace. Visitors can find costumes, weaponry, bedchambers as well as documents on the royal lineage on display in the museum.

There were visitors. But I supposed there were security problems  – visitors could easily put away the cutleries on display into their bags.

Towards Kuala Pilah town. A page from http://www.journeymalaysia.com read:

Kuala Pilah is one of the main towns in Negri (as the locals call Negri Sembilan). It is a nice old valley town with many of the pre-war Chinese shop-houses still fronting the main streets. This is one of the better places to savor Minangkabau food and there are a few Nasi Padang food-stalls that serve piping hot rice with a variety of savory, spicy dishes you can choose from.

Kuala Pilah town itself is a main stopover for transport routes. It is made up of a sizeable Chinese community that has been around since the mining days during the early British rule. The Sim Tong Chinese Temple is the oldest temple in town and is worth a visit if you have not been to one before. Behind the temple is a large hexagonal shaped market place with lots of food outlets selling local food from chicken rice to fresh water turtle soup. Turtle soup is a delicacy here. The slaughtering of these turtles is most horrid. This was once witnessed at a market some years ago where the vendor used a turtle, usually of the same sex to entice the chosen turtle to stick its head out of the shell. The sight of a rival aggravates the chosen turtle; it sticks its head out and locks its jaw on the other in a battle. The cook then chops off their heads with one fatal blow of the cleaver!

On the main road is a Chinese-styled arch dedicated to Martin Lister who was the first Resident of Negri Sembilan. If you have a chance to stay over, you have a choice to stay at the old Kuala Pilah rest-house. Although there have been some changes to the old government built rest-house, many English folk who had lived here during the British occupation return to these rest-houses to rekindle fond memories of their days in Malaya. In the early years, rest-houses were the only available motels and where everyone from businessmen to travelers stayed. The Kuala Pilah Rest-house whips up some pretty good seafood dishes and is a popular place with locals and out-of-towners.

Compare this quote from http://en.wikipedia.org.

… On the main road is a Chinese-styled arch dedicated to Martin Lister who was the first British Resident of Negeri Sembilan, commemorating his effort in ending the intermittent violent conflict between Chinese secret societies then rampant amongst the migrant Chinese populace. Lister was killed by his enemies in the nearby hills at Ulu Bendul.* The old Kuala Pilah Rest-house was a government built rest-house during the British occupation. In the early years, rest-houses were the only available hotels and where everyone from businessmen to travelers stayed.

* Apparently the two pages were almost the same. It was interesting to note that the underlined sentences were absent in http://www.journeymalaysia.com

We made a few around the town drives before landed at the Kuala Pilah bus and taxi station. Nizam showed us the cendol stall that he frequented as a school boy waiting for the bus home. Not many people were around.

Waiting Bus

Chinese-styled Architecture

Waiting Bus. A bus waiting for passengers and the departure time at the Kuala Pilah bus and taxi station.

Chinese-styled Architecture. A building with colorful pasts opposite the bus and taxi station.

Next stop was the Kuala Pilah Market. We agreed that the marketplace is an important place to visit, as it’s where the town’s food should mainly came. Nizam was excited. It’s where he followed his father as a boy to buy vegetables and other foods. And how delighted one old Chinese vegetable-seller was, when he recognized that the photographer who was photographing his wares was this little boy who used to come to his stall.

Looking at the Photographer's Pasts

Foul Smelling Debris

Looking at the Photographer’s Pasts. Capturing the Kuala Pilah marketplace’s interior. It’s where Nizam met his childhood’s vegetable-seller.

Foul Smelling Debris. Like most traditional marketplace in Malaysia, Kuala Pilah Market was also dirty. It made us to wonder what sort of food that came from such place as the Kuala Pilah Market. Poor boy, Nizam. Rubbish was everywhere. Hanafiah parked the car in front of a sleeping stray dog, which later we found out that it was not sleeping but dead!

We chose to have coffee and roti bakar at a kopitiam called Sinaran before making our way to the next destination, Segamat in Johor. A quick check on the Internet proved an interesting found.

Acknowledged for their culinary skills and specialty dishes, the Goh family, like their peers from Hainan Island, started the Foh Heong Kopitiam in Kuala Pilah, Negeri Sembilan. Popular in colonial times, the restaurant was favored and patronized by the British and also catered for the parties and official functions of the Negeri Royal Family. Together with Tunku Kudin, they set up the Sinaran Restaurant Cafe in 1944. (From http://www.hailam-kopitiam.com)

While waiting for coffee, and with the towkay’s permission, Nizam and Naim went photographing the patrons and the kopitiam’s kitchen. There were many patrons of various race-groups: the Chinese, Malays and Indians – together sipping coffee and munching roti bakar amid teatime conversations. One Chinese-man from a group of middle-age patrons asked Nizam where we were from and why we were taking pictures. After some explanations, he asked Nizam not to show the photographs of the group to the police! It reminded us of the underlined quotation aforementioned.

The road to Segamat was smooth – not many traffics. Landscapes of palm plantations, a few rubber estates and bushes of tanah terbiar. The Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org page read:

Segamat is a town and district located in the north of the state of Johor in Malaysia, bordering two other states of Malaysia (Negeri Sembilan on the west and Pahang on the north). It is located roughly 172 kilometers from Johor Bahru, the capital city of Johor State. It is 95 km travel distance via North-South Expressway from Johor Bahru to Yong Peng. It is another 77 km via Federal Route 1.

Strategically situated between Kuala Lumpur, Johor Bahru and Singapore, Segamat is a fast growing agricultural oil palm and rubber district, famous for its delicious durians, and the recent slogan used to attract tourists to Segamat is Selamat Datang ke Segamat – Tanah Raja Buah-buahan (Welcome to Segamat – The Land of King of Fruits). Segamat town is a typical medium size town with a blend of old and new cultures. A mere 45 minute drive from town offers a variety of hiking and swimming sites namely the famous Gunung Ledang, Air Panas Waterfall and Bekok Waterfall which make an enjoyable weekend getaway.

Some reflections from the past found on the same site:

According to a local historian, Hassan bin Muhammad, the area used to be known as Rantau Panjang. In around 1511, a Bendahara (Prime Minister) of Melaka (Malacca), Bendahara Tepok and his troops were retreating to Johor after the fall of Melaka to the invading Portuguese forces led by Alfonso de Albuquerque. The Bendahara and his troops stopped and rested by a river in the area and drank water from the river. After the drink, the Bendahara exclaimed, “Segar amat! or “Very refreshing!” in Malay, and named the river Segar Amat, which over time evolved into Segamat. However, initially the name Segamat only applied to the river. The settlement, which later became Segamat, was originally called Rantau Panjang. The town assumed the river’s name only at the turn of the 20th century.

By the end of 19th century, the four original districts have several minor districts, for example the previous Muar District has 4 minor districts – Parit Jawa, Chohong, Lenga and Segamat. The first District Officer of Segamat Minor District was Encik Menthol bin Haji Ahmad. In 1933, the district of Segamat was formed after a major district boundary realignment was made by the government of Johor to split the original 4 districts (Muar, Batu Pahat, Johor Bahru and Sedili) into 8 districts (before the 2008 realignment which added the Kulaijaya and Ledang districts to form 10 districts in Johor).

After the formation of Segamat District, the government began to develop Segamat, mainly with agricultural activities to boost the economy of Segamat. This included the construction of the national railroad system passing the town of Segamat and also the construction of the main road known today as Federal Route 1.

In 1970s, Tun Razak Highway was constructed to boost the economy of Segamat as an agricultural hub, to shorten the traveling time to Kuantan and to speed up the development progress of the poorly developed areas in southern Pahang.

The Johor branch campus of Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM) was constructed at Jementah in the end of 1980’s and started its operation in 1991. The construction of UiTM campus in Segamat district turned Segamat into another important educational hub in Johor besides Skudai, which houses Universiti Teknologi Malaysia.

In 1996, Segamat Land Port was constructed to make Segamat an important transportation hub, like Nilai in Negeri Sembilan. By constructing the land port, manufacturers may just transport their goods to Segamat Land Port and then the goods can be transported to the nearest seaports such as Pasir Gudang by train and this will increase the transportation efficiency.

In 1999, the second bridge of Segamat, funded mainly by private developers was constructed to reduce congestion at the main bridge. The second bridge was included as a part of Segamat Inner Ring Road package consisting the road upgrade to 4-lane road at Jalan Pemuda, Jalan Hassan, Jalan Pee Kang Hai and Jalan Chia Chin Koon, which was completed in August 2005. The inner ring road package is useful to divert the traffic flow when the main roads at the town center are closed for special occasions and events such as National Day.

Further surfing landed us at the Laman Web Rasmi Pejabat Daerah Segamat (http://www.johordt.gov.my/pdsegamat) that noted:

Segamat merupakan sebuah daerah paling tua di negeri Johor yang kaya dengan sejarah silamnya lalu ianya digelar “Daerah Lagenda“. Sejarah silam daerah Segamat sering dikaitkan dengan kehebatan kerajaan Malim Dewa yang kononnya pada suatu masa dahulu pernah wujud di satu kawasan luas merintangi Kuala Muar hinggalah ke hulu daerah Segamat. Menurut cerita orang tua-tua Putera kepada Raja Malim Dewa iaitu Raja Malim Deman pernah mencintai seorang Puteri yang bernama Puteri Santan Bertapis. Malangnya, Puteri yang digilakan oleh Malim Deman itu telah dibawa lari oleh seorang Putera dari kayangan. Kegagalan untuk mencari Puteri tersebut telah menyebabkan baginda membuat satu sumpahan iaitu selagi Puteri yang dicintainya itu tidak ditemuinya maka daerah Segamat akan dilanda banjir. Dengan demikian, daerah ini telah dikenali sebagai “Daerah Sumpahan Malim Deman“.

Dari perspektif Sejarahnya pula, kira-kira 500 tahun yang lalu, peristiwa Bendahara Tepuk iaitu Bendahara Melaka yang terakhir berserta rombongannya telah melarikan diri ke Segamat apabila Melaka ditawan oleh Portugis. Tempat yang mula-mula didatangi oleh Bendahara Tepuk dan orang-orangnya ialah di satu kawasan berhampiran sungai Segamat. Kawasan tersebut berbukit-bukau dan terdapat sebatang anak sungai yang penuh dengan lubuk dan tebingnya pula batu-batu kecil putih berserakan. Justeru Bendahara Tepuk pun menamakan penempatan ini sebagai “Kampung Lubuk Batu“.

Dan di pengkalan Lubuk Batu, kononnya terdapat 2 peristiwa penting telah berlaku. Pada hari Bendahara sampai ke Lubuk Batu itu cuaca sangat panas. Justeru, Bendahara Tepuk yang telah uzor dan tidak bergigi serta kakinya yang lumpuh terpaksa diusung ke pengkalan untuk mandi. Airnya yang jernih lagi sejuk betul-betul menyegarkan tubuh Bendahara lalu beliau pun berkata “Segar amat badanku ini”. Kononnya perkataan “Segar Amat” yang dilafazkan oleh Bendahara Tepuk itu lahirlah nama “Segamat”.

Segamat juga disebut sebagai “Rantau Panjang” dalam abad ke-18. Ini ada kaitannya dengan keadaan muka bumi sekitar kawasan sungai Segamat pada masa itu. Menurut orang tua-tua, pada masa dahulu kawasan tebing sungai Segamat begitu lurus dengan pasir di tebingnya halus. Apabila terkena sinaran matahari, sepanjang tebing sungai kelihatan seperti hamparan permaidani putih. Air sungainya yang jernih dan berkilau-kilauan menambahkan lagi keindahan kawasan sekitar itu.

Orang-orang Segamat suka berkunjung ke sebuah kawasan bernama Pasir Jenaling untuk berkelah. Ia merupakan sebuah kawasan yang airnya jernih and pasirnya putih berhampiran dengan Pengkalan Esah (sekarang terletak di belakang Pawagam Cathay). Orang-orang luar yang datang ke Segamat melalui sungai akan berhenti di Pengkalan Esah di mana terdapat pokok-pokok Jambu and Leban ditebing sungai. Keadaannya yang condong telah menamakan Segamat sabagai “Jambu Condong” dan “Leban Condong” .

We arrived Segamat, the Tanah Raja Buah-buahan or Daerah Lagenda or Daerah Sumpahan Malim Deman or Rantau Panjang or Jambu Condong or Leban Condong at about 0700 pm. After a few turns, we parked near the Dataran Segamat on Jalan Awang, near Jalan Aji, where Jakel Trading was situated. Jakel Trading is famous all over Malaysia for textile-related products and as such. A note from http://wikimapia.org/2516575/Jakel-Trading-Sdn-Bhd on Jakel Trading said:

Merupakan bangunan tekstil yang terbesar di Johor. Mempunyai pelbagai jenis kain dari sutera Korea dan lain-lain. Juga menjual langsir, tudung wanita dan karpet.

After strolled the Dataran Segamat and Jalan Aji, we found a pasar malam on Jalan Tengku Ahmad, mostly selling local delicacies and the usual pasar malam wares. Malay and Chinese traders seemed to work side by side.

We drove to the side of the river through Jalan Pee Kang Hai looking for a lodging place. Finally we found ourselves at the Villa Hotel Segamat in Jalan Ros. Dined at a nearby Mamak restaurant, roti nan with mutton curry. The Segamat Billion Supermarket was crowded with evening shoppers.

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