All posts by curiouscat

The Precipitous Fall of the Ringgit Shows the Economic Risk in the Malaysian Economy

The Malaysian Ringgit has collapsed in the last 6 months. This is largely due to the large amount of consumer and government debt (that I mentioned were problems for the Malaysian economy previously) with a large amount of that debt help by foreigners, the collapse of the natural resource prices (oil and gas and others) and dumping of Malaysian assets by investors losing confidence in Malaysia’s government and economy.

The economy is actually surviving better than you could hope given the problems listed above. The economy continues to grow, even if the rate of growth has decreased. The most serious problems remain the high debt level and finding some way to replace natural resource income. It also puts a spotlight on corruption problems which are easier to ignore when economic growth is strong.

chart of the Malaysian Ringgit v USD from 2005 to 2015

The chart shows the recent collapse of the Ringgit versus the US $ (the chart shows the 10 year history of exchange rates). The Ringgit has collapsed not just against the USD but also other currencies (for example reaching an all time low against the Singapore $).

Malaysia still has strong potential but the risks have increased greatly. The collapse of the Ringgit is an indication investors have lost confidence in Malaysia’s ability to address the long term issues with the economy. Part of the problem is natural resource income (including oil and gas and palm oil) have allowed Malaysia to not address issues and still prosper. Without very strong natural resource pricing propping up the economy the debt load and lack of confidence proved too great and the Ringett collapsed.

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Timeline for Extending Singapore’s MRT to Johor Bahru Slips Into 2020, or Beyond

I have mentioned before that the most important factor to the economic potential of Iskandar and Johor Bahru is the extension of Singapore’s MRT to Johor Bahru. I mentioned being skeptical of the claimed timeline years ago. And, in fact, that timeline has proven to be wrong.

Map of proposed Singapore to Johor Bahur MRT

Map shows the most sensible place for the first station in JB but that hasn’t been decided yet. Map by Seloloving

MRT link to Johor Baru unlikely before 2020

Hopping onto an MRT train and arriving in Johor Baru is unlikely to be a reality before 2020, as Malaysia has yet to determine a station site for its end of the line.

This Rapid Transit System link was first announced by Singapore and Malaysia in May 2010, and was initially targeted to be ready by 2018.

Rail construction experts said even if work started today, the line would be completed by 2020 at the earliest. But work is unlikely to start any time soon because no decision has yet been made on where the JB station will be.

And this article is only addressing 1 Johor Bahru MRT station. While that would still be useful. The discussion 4 years ago was starting with 5 stations in Johor Bahru which seems like a much more sensible starting point. Getting to 5 stations by the end of 2021 seems unlikely unless those responsible change the approach and treat this as a critically important project.

The importance of an MRT transportation system interlinking Singapore and Johor Bahru has only grown more critical in the last few years. Transportation issues are going to become increasingly annoying in Johor Bahru as all the luxury condos come online. And getting people into those condos that can afford them is still unrealistic without jobs in Singapore, for which the MRT extension is critical.

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Tanjung Piai National Park – the Southernmost Point in Asia

raised walkway in the mangrove forest

Tanjung Piai National Park is the Southernmost point in mainland Asia – located in Johor, Malaysia. The park is about 80 km from Johor Bahru.

The video shows my view as I walked through a mangrove forest and emerging onto the Johor Straits. The video zooms in to see part of Singapore (since Singapore is an island off of Asia this point is the southernmost point on mainland Asia instead of Singapore). And if some in Singapore try to claim that title, which some do, then why not Indonesia?

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Cheng Ho Cultural Museum, Malacca

Cheng Ho Cultural Museum is a small museum in Malacca dedicated to the memory of Cheng Ho (the more modern conversion to an English name calls him Zheng He). It is believed that the present Museum is situated on the original site of Guan Chang built by Cheng Ho, the Ming Grand eunuch, about 600 years ago. His fleet of several hundred ships sailed 7 times to the Western Ocean from China between 1405 and 1433.

Historic Timeline  of Melaka

Historic timeline of Malacca

Historical records reveal that Ming Dynasty’s Admiral Cheng Ho (Zheng He) visited Melaka at least five times during his famous seven voyages to the Western Ocean (Southeast Asia, Indian Ocean, Middle East and Africa).

Map of Cheng Ho's voyages

Map of Cheng Ho’s voyages

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Making the Streetscape Walkable

Response to Let’s do more for tourism in JB

I agree, JB has much to offer tourists and room to improve. Making locations like Jalan Tan Hiok Nee attractive to tourists is important. That location can provide a distinctive JB feel (not just one of 1,000+ malls all over SE Asia that really are all basically the same). Peppering it with small shops and art galleries and food and museum and street art is great.

And obviously what is desired is a nice walkable place that has history. JB is trying to do the same with the new “riverwalk.” But if you then allow people to park cars and motorcycles and vendors to block the sidewalk you severely degrade the user experience. You can retain those that hate malls and will put up with anything to avoid malls. But if people can’t walk without dodging all sorts of obstacles they will just go to malls and go to other cities. They won’t tell their friends about this nice old town they should visit.

Building up tourism often doesn’t take very brilliant ideas. What it does take is attention to detail; and continued effort to create a great experience. You see wonderful drawing of what new developments will be they always have people walking on clear sidewalks. Then go walk around downtown JB and you will find sidewalks are often blocked. Still JB is much better in this aspect than Penang. A big reason I decided not to live in Penang is you couldn’t walk around with ease.

Patience and a desire to make an effort to follow up and keep streets walkable is something most locations don’t have. And it is one big reason malls do well, they make it easy for people to walk around (though actually KSL mall has jammed in so many vendors in some narrow locations they even mess up walking inside a mall which is not easy to mess up). But if JB (or other locations) pay attention to making the experience enjoyable for tourists they will benefit.

The current economic conditions make tourism even more important for Malaysia. Tourists bring in foreign currency, buying the Malaysian Ringitt (and thus supporting the currency which has been getting crushed).

Related: The Present and Future of IskandarSalahuddin Bakery on Jalan Tan Hiok NeeUrban planning for walkable communitiesElevated Bicycle Circle: Innovation in Urban Transportation

2014 Make Malaysia My 2nd Home (MM2H) Statistics

Make Malaysia My 2nd Home (MM2H) is the program started by Malaysia in 2002 to encourage expats to stay in Malaysia by offering a long term (10 year) visa. The MM2H program is a very good idea to aid economic development in my opinion. It brings in foreign currency which is very useful: both from fixed deposits and spending by expats.

The currency help is especially helpful right now. The Malaysian Ringitt has collapsed in the last few months to just 3.57 MYR to the US $ now. It was stable at about 3 a couple years ago and slowly declined to 3.3 over a couple years before the recent collapse. The collapse is due to high government and consumer debt in Malaysia and the recent collapse of oil prices. Malaysia was running up large debts even when oil prices were high and the danger of doing so has come home to roost.

The MM2H program targets retirees and future retires and provides a relatively small but still consistent and useful inflow of hard currency which helps support the Ringitt (the recent collapse would be even worse without this support).

Since the program was started in 2002, 27,000 expats have been approved.

country 2014 total
China 1,294 6,219
Japan 362 3,546
Bangladesh 252 3,007
UK 93 2,169
Iran 23 1,312
Singapore 77 1,109
Taiwan 83 1,043
Pakistan 63 919
Korea 114 911
India 46 774

*data for 2014 is for 11 months, through November 2014.

China participation has exploded to 40% of the total in the last 2 years. From 2002 through 2012 China was granted 18% of MM2H visas.

It appears likely 2014 will finish with the 3rd largest number of MM2H visa granted just behind 2013 and 2012.

North America had 75 in 2014 and 1,017 total. South America has just 24 total. Africa had 31 in 2014 and 318 total while Oceana (which includes Australia and New Zealand) had 52 in 2014 and 743 total. Europe overall had 194 in 2014 and 3,553 total while Asia had 2,500 in 2014 and 21,212 total (which is 79% of all MM2H visas).

Related: Make Malaysia My 2nd Home (MM2H) Statistics (2012)Looking at the Malaysian Economy (2013)Iskandar Housing, Real Estate Investment Considerations

Rhinoceros Hornbills on Mount Santubong

My single most amazing experience during several years in Malaysia was watching Rhinoceros Hornbills fly around on my hike on Mount Santubong on Borneo in Malaysia. I stayed in a treehouse cabin at treehouse cabin, Permai Rainforest Resort (in Damai about 45 minutes from Kuching). From there it was a 15 minute ride to the trailhead.

3 Hornbill birds perched on tree branches

The hike of Mount Santubong was amazing itself, and I will post more about it later. It was the longest most vertical hike I have been on. At what I think was the first overlook I stopped and ate a snack and drank some water. And during my stop hornbills started flying around.

Close up of a Hornbill bird on Mount Santubong

I didn’t remember that Bornean Hornbills (Rhinoceros Hornbills) were huge and it was quite surprising how large they were. The Rhinoceros Hornbill grows to 90–120 cm long and weighing 2–3 kg. In captivity it can live for up to 90 years. It is the state bird of Sarawak and the National bird of Malaysia.

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White Box and Black Box @ Danga City Mall

During 11th Annual JB Arts Festival I stopped by the White Box which is on the top floor of Danga City Mall in downtown Johor Bahru. A few weeks later I listened to a talk on backpacking around South America and Europe at the Black Box.

JB sketchers display with drawings

JB sketchers display with some of the participants work. Join in their monthly outings and more activities.

These have become permanent spaces (for the time being anyway). Since the mall has many unrented spots this is a very wise idea; making use of otherwise wasted space and also brining in potential customers for businesses at the mall.

painting of a girl floating in space

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Hiking in the Forest Research Institute Malaysia – in KL

Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM) in Kuala Lumpur offers a nice location for a hike. I took the train to Kepong and then a taxi to the park. There is then a fairly long walk to the trail (from the entrance) but past interesting sites, so I found it worthwhile. You could probably get driven in further but you have to pay at the gate, so I think the taxi was reluctant to enter.

hiking trail

My guess is this isn’t high on tourists list of attractions in KL (more an education and research center and resource for those living in KL). But for people that like hiking (such as me) it is a nice location. And for those living in KL it is a great hike (those I saw hiking seemed like locals to me).

forest stream

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