Monthly Archives: December 2011

Johor Bahru Zoo

Photo of Kuching batu

Kuching Leopard Cat (Prionailurus bengalensis borneoensis). There are 12 species of leopard cat, one is found on Borneo and another on peninsular Malaysia.

The Johor Bahru Zoo offers the chance to see quite a few animals but has an obvious problem with funding. In the last couple of decades small zoos are losing out as the costs increase and people’s expectation for the treatment of animals has been raised. Even very expensive zoos with lots of money and relatively nice enclosures have serious questions to answer about whether locking up animals for our recreation is acceptable. Small zoos have been closing and zoos that remain open have been increasing the quality of spaces for animals and funding research as a way to feel better about what we do.

photo of the chimpanzee Enclosure at the JB Zoo

Chimpanzee enclosure at the Johor Bahru Zoo. The Grand Palace is visible in the background.

The Johor Bahru Zoo is still small and obviously not very well funded. The enclosures are small. I talked to several of the people that work there and they were very nice and well intentioned, it seemed to me. But there is no denying the zoo has too little funding to provide what is expected in many places today (I didn’t talk to the people that work there about funding I just observed the conditions – also the entrance fee is only RM 3. The Singapore Zoo is hailed as a wonder and the entrance cost is about 40 times as much (and I wouldn’t be surprised if the attendance was 40 times as high). You can certainly make things look nice for 1,600 times (40 * 40) as much money (plus I would imagine corporate sponsorship, members… give the Singapore zoo even more).

photo of a lion cub at the Johor Bahru Zoo

Lion cub, Johor Bahru Zoo. The lion enclosure is the similar to the one for chimpanzees. All the photos are by John Hunter.

The zoo was built by Sultan Ibrahim in 1928 and was was opened to the public in 1962.

I can understand people feeling bad for the animals at the Johor Zoo. I also can believe kids may well very much enjoy it (many were as I was there). It does seem to me, if they intend to keep the zoo, they really should look at ways to increase funding by a factor of at least 50 – 100. And then look to decrease the number of animals and give those that remain larger and more interesting enclosures. But that is just my opinion, others are welcome to their own opinions. I am sure, some people know they wouldn’t want to see a small, older zoo. But if you don’t feel that way, I think the zoo is one of the more interesting tourist attractions in Johor Bahru and worth a visit.

Related: Tourist Stuff in Kuala LumpurVisiting Lizardphoto of the Johor Bahru Zoo in the 1970sSnow Leopard Playing in the Snow in Ohio Zoo

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Great Cheap Cell Phone Plan

I did a bit of research trying to find the right cell phone plan for myself in Malaysia. I actually was looking at different options. One was for a fancy smart phone (iPhone or Android) largely to use when I travel and to be able to stay up with some business. Both looking at the phone options and the plan options. And the also looking at a cheap phone with a cheap plan. The truth is it was quite hard to get to a decision with so many options. I used the soon to be iPhone 4s as a good enough excuse to wait on the fancy phone option.

I really don’t use a phone much. Frankly the biggest use I have for it is in getting taxis and ordering food – plus other errands but what I can do by email, I do. It is also convenient when you are meeting people somewhere to catch up with each other. Mainly I prefer email and other internet communication and don’t find most cell phone conversation of much value (it just seems like people think they have to talk since they can or some people seem to think they seem important if they ignore whoever they are with to talk on the phone). I would rather take in where I am, talk to who I am with, think, or just relax.

So I keep looking for the best plan for someone that hardly uses a phone at all. It wasn’t easy to find. Partially, I imagine you don’t make much money off such cheapskates so the service providers don’t waste much time marketing to them. Anyway I thought I found something good with Digi. And when I was talking with the person to buy my phone I thought I had it clear I could get the phone and pay some minimal amount and then just top it up and be charged for use.

But once I bought it they seemed to not understand such an option. Oh well, I sometimes seem to not quite communicate perfectly so I guessed I mis-remembered and didn’t understand what they said at first. So then essentially I needed to pay RM 30 a month for service and that amount would be charged against as I talked (or IMed). But I needed to pay RM 1 everyday to maintain the ability to make calls. This was annoying but seemed to be the only option. So I just kept piling on the RM balance since I don’t use close to 1 RM a day on average.

Well I found the offer again earlier this week and it is perfect if you hardly use the phone, like me. You pay just RM 30 for a year. Then you still get charged for all your calls but it isn’t much at all.

So if you want a low use, cheap, cell phone plan option in Malaysia, get the Digi Super Long Life plan: a feature where you can extend your talktime validity to 1 year for just RM30. That means your phone number stays valid, you can make and receive calls and texts (to make outgoing calls and texts you also need a balance, but you can add to your balance whenever you want). Remember the plan name, so when you go to buy your plan you can make sure you can get it setup right from the start. It is really a fantastic option for someone like me, that uses the phone very little. My guess is if you use it less than an hour a week, on average, this is a good option. I am really not sure the exact breakpoint, whatever it is, I am nowhere near it.

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I Can’t Even Hear Myself Think

Even after adding double panes to my window (making it triple paned) the noise that get into my bedroom is amazingly loud. For an hour this morning the noise of drums and bells (two devices designed to produce loud noise to carry over long distances – not the kind of thing designed for an urban environment), starting before 7 AM, was louder in my bedroom than any alarm clock I have used. Again for the last 30 minutes it has been that loud – other times during the day it is noisy but not as loud as those two times.

I really don’t understand the desire to have such loud noise so consistently (at a noise level obvious produces hearing loss). I am not a huge fan of the noise level: both the production of such loud noises in the city and the construction not designed to keep the noise out of living spaces. The noise is much too loud every day for me to even think of keeping my windows to my bedroom open at night. If it wasn’t for the noise that would be a lovely option.

But when the noise is even remotely as loud as today (which happens frequently, but not everyday so consistently and for so long) I really don’t understand it. I made every clear to my rental housing agent that reasonable quiet was critical, but that didn’t work, obviously. Loud noise in a city center is expected but the amount of noise seems very excessive to me.

I also am amazed at the loudspeaker levels in malls and walking along the street (from some shops). It obviously creates hearing loss which I guess then makes the extremely loudness less noticeable (when you have substantial hearing loss you can’t hear how loud things are). Maybe everyone is happy with the noise level except me, I am not sure. I know people care about different things. Most of the time it is tolerable (annoying but tolerable) but some days I really can’t imagine that this is what most people desire.

There are many attractive things about Johor Bahru, but noise level is not one of them. It really is much more attractive if you have significant hearing loss before you arrive. On the plus side, is pleasantly warm.

Related: Dealing with Noise Pollution in Your CondoWhere to Get a Voltage Transformer in Johor BahruTaxis in Johor Bahru

Balcony Vegetable Garden Starting to Produce Food

My balcony vegetable garden is starting to flower and I have been able to enjoy a few beans. A wrote about setting up my balcony to growing some food earlier. I am using several containers and all but one of the “crops” has done well. The sweet peas hardly sprouted and the few that did then died.

small green tomato on plant

The first tomato.

The Tomato plants have done very well, as you might expect – they seem to grow with no problems. How much food I get only time will tell though, a few tomatoes are started to show up. Mainly I planted cherry tomatoes (I figure with my small planters that would work best). But the first batch of seeds didn’t do so well, so I planted some seeds from the tomatoes I got at the store (full size) – some sprouted, so we will see how they do.

green bean flower and plant

Green bean flower

The beans are the first to have produced and I have enjoyed a few beans so far. They seem to be producing pretty well. I really do like being able to just pick a snack off my plants.

I needed to improvise something to give the beans and tomato plants some stability. I couldn’t find something designed for it at the store (I did find a couple smaller items to support tomato plants a bit later – so I have a couple of those in use).

flowers on a pepper plant

Flowers on a pepper plant

The pepper plants did not have a high percentage that sprouted but those that did seem to be growing fairly well. They are growing quite tall and are fairly lanky looking. The flowers started to show up maybe 10 days ago and the starts of many very small peppers are now visible.

We gets lots of rain, but the plants are largely sheltered from it (the rain has to be blown by a fairly hard wind to water those on the balcony – which happens sometimes but not very often to any substantial degree). So I have been watering them. The do get quite a bit of sun.

Related: Growing Lettuce in My BackyardGrow some of your own foodScience Sort of Explains: HiccupsEat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

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Manufacturing in Malaysia: Bahru Stainless Starts Production

Malaysia’s economic develop plans have been progressing well the last few years. Balancing the development of an economy is a tricky business and many countries slip up along the way. Good plans and policies are needed. And then good execution. Good execution requires 1) attracting investors, 2) infrastructure, 3) skilled employees, 4) the ability to get plan implemented, 5) managing the environment, 6) urban planning…

Malaysia has several key areas targeted for development, including: education, energy, health care, computer technology, finance and banking. One area of focus in the Iskandar area in Johor (southern Malaysia). Penang and Kuala Lumpor are also growing well.

Bahru Stainless (a joint venture between Acerinox Group [67% stake] a Spanish company, Nisshin Steel [30% stake] a Japanese company, and Metal One) has started production. This is exactly the type of thing that is going to determine how well Iskandar, and Malaysia do going forward.

Photo of employees inside Bahru Stainless

Employees of Bahru Stainless, Johor, Malaysia

On the 12th December the first coil in the annealing and pickling line was successfully processed, which completes Phase I of the project. The current production capacity amounts to 240,000 Mt (megatonne) a year, out of which 182,000 Mt will be cold rolled. USD 370 million has been invested so far. This event is the culmination of a long process started in 2007, with feasibility studies.

The construction of Phase II is proceeding at a good pace. This phase, which start up is scheduled for the first quarter 2013, will increase the production capacity to 400,000 Mt/year. Likewise, it will allow Bahru Stainless to produce special steel grades and thin thicknesses, which are products with more added value. The investment of the second phase is estimated in USD 310 million, including a cold rolling mill, a cold annealing and pickling line, auxiliary lines, a laboratory, and an electric substation, which in the future will also feed the electric furnaces when they will be in operation.

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City Square Mall – Johor Bahru CBD

City Square Mall greats you as you leave the CIQ and enter Johor Bahru CBD (Central Business District). You can take the over-street crosswalk from CIQ to enter the mall without ever going to street level. City Square Mall is one of 5 fairly large malls in downtown Johor Bahru. The others are Danga City Mall, KSL Mall, Plaza Pelangi, and Holiday Plaza Mall. The S1 bus will take you between all the malls and runs about every 20 minutes between 10 AM and 8 PM (and less frequently earlier and later in the day).

photo of the inside of City Square Mall

City Square Mall, Johor Bahru CBD

City Square is a large, 5 story, mall that is doing quite well – the proximity to the CIQ and causeway, I am sure, help keep up traffic and therefore stores. There are a large number of clothing and fashion stores, as well as beauty salons. There is also a movie cinema with multiple screen showing the latest films.

Food offerings include: Stonegrill, Old Town Kopitiam, Kinsahi, Papparich, Sushi King and Teh Sarabat Cafe. There is only one, small, grocery store.

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I find it somewhat amusing how un-user-friendly shopping mall website are, like City Square (it at least has photos of some of the stores). Though I would be more annoyed if I actually wanted to learn something from the site. They would be much better if they just had an RSS fee and a google search. Shopping malls spend a great deal of money providing an environment for shopping, I would certainly think they could do a much better job of providing virtual assistance with a bit of thought and effort. The internet might as well not exist, for how useless mall web sites are – that is not a good sign.

Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur

photo of a beautiful chess set

Beautiful chess set at the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia

I visited the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia while staying in Kuala Lumpor a few months back. It is a modern museum with clean lines and lots of open space.

The Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia houses more than 7,000 artefacts, as well has an exceptional library of Islamic-art books. The art objects on display range from the tiniest pieces of jewellery to one of the world’s largest scale models of the Masjid al-Haram in Mecca. The aim is to create a collection that is truly representative of the Islamic world. Instead of concentrating on works from the heartlands of Persia and the Middle East, IAMM also puts the emphasis on Asia. China and Southeast Asia are especially well represented. The third component of the Malaysian melting pot is India, which is also given special status.

View of gallery inside Islamic Arts Museum

The Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia has a open and attractive floorplan

I thoroughly enjoyed the visit, it did not seem as large as you might expect. If you are like me and enjoy visiting museums and learning I think it is worth a visit when you are in Kuala Lumpor.

You might also enjoy the bird park (which is nearby). The bird park isn’t really fantastic: in my opinion, it could be skipped without missing too much (but I like seeing animals and did enjoy it though it did seem a bit overpriced and under maintained).

Related: Tourist Stuff in Kuala LumpurDreams and Reality: Museum D’Orsay Exhibit at the National Museum of SingaporeHotels and Accomations for Travelers in Malaysia

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Taxis in Johor Bahru

photo of Johor Bahru taxi

Photo of Johor Bahru taxi near Zon (with the strait and then Singapore in the background)

Online I read a fair amount of people worried about taxi drivers not using the meter for cab rides in Johor Bahru. I have found that normally they do use the meter. Occasionally, taxi drivers do refuse to use the meter (even though I believe they are required to and the cabs are plastered with signs saying they must use the meter). I have noticed that if the taxi has to stand in a long queue, waiting for passengers, this problem is much more likely.

It would seem to me, that there is a systemic problem, if the taxi has to wait a long time for fares. It seems to me the best way to handle this would be to put a surcharge on those locations (there shouldn’t be too many). I have refused to pay non-meter fares, but will pay reasonable ones from now on, from locations with long queues.

Even when they want to charge a non-meter fare I think only twice have they asked for hugely unfair amounts (more than twice what the meter would be). Normally it is a maybe RM 5 above the meter, which isn’t ridiculously high (and they may be inflating it for me).

Calling the taxis usually will get you a taxi very quickly (within 5 minutes) which is quite convenient. I would imagine in some areas outside the Central Business District (CBD) it might be longer.

Photo of Natural gas tank in the trunk of a taxi

Natural gas tank in Johor Bahru taxi trunk

One of my driver’s stopped by the gas station and I noticed they were using compressed natural gas as the fuel. This is a smart move as globally there is a surplus of natural gas. Natural gas is also cleaner burning and contributes less to global warming than regular gasoline. The storage tanks are in the trunk for some reason.

The taxi drivers understand english to some degree. They are a bit less able to find places than I would expect, some are quite good but I have run into more than a handful that needed directions for pretty large places.

The cars are generally fairly old but decent. Normally they have decent air conditioning, but some are weak on this. Like Kuala Lumpor there is a “executive” class taxi that is blue and much more expensive – I don’t see them being worth it, myself. The cost of rides is 3 RM for the first 2 km plus 10 cen to every subsequent 115 meters. There is a RM 2 charge for calling a taxi for a pickup (Taxi Comfort number: 07 332 2852). There is a 50% surcharge between midnight and 6 AM.

In general people tip very little (like rounding up to the next RM). In general, I give a tip of 2 – 4.x RM. The taxi fares are reasonable and including a tip still results in a reasonable fair. Taxi drivers work hard for a living and giving a bit of a tip seems reasonable to me (for those who can easily afford it).

One note about taxis in Singapore – there really don’t seem to be enough. When I want one, I find large queues that hardly seem to move (so few taxis coming to the stand). And when it rains it is much worse.

Related: transportation between Johor Bahru and SingaporeBus to from CBD to Jusco in Permas JayaPaying bills over the internet