All posts by curiouscat

Iskandar: Present and Future

The potential for Iskandar, and the extended Johor Bahru, region remains strong. But the lack of progress on transportation issues for getting back and forth from Singapore are a huge problem for anyone wanting to think about living in the area now. I also remain worried about the huge imbalance between a huge boom in luxury condo development and the lack of a similar visible increase in high paying jobs to afford the huge numbers of luxury condos coming on the market now, and over the next 5 years.

The imbalance between office buildings and the huge numbers of luxury condo high rises continues to be a big warning sign I think. Add to that the very poor job done thus far dealing with the very initial stage of what will soon be a flood of cross border traffic is a huge warning sign that investors should heed.

The cooling measures on real estate investment were wise, though late (I would have done it a bit differently but overall taking cooling measure was, and is, a good idea).

There needs to have been more done sooner on the cross border transportation issues – a 3rd link should have been operational last year. The MRT should be under construction now. And more focus should be on bringing in high paying jobs to fill office buildings and then getting those built.

Without much more progress on transportation and many more high paying office jobs the current number of luxury condo buildings should not have been allowed. The efforts on health care and education and the good jobs they provide, as part of the Iskandar initiative, have been good but those jobs don’t come remotely close to justifying even a small fraction of the luxury condo units under construction.

Several new big hotels are a good boost for the economy (and are great tax revenue sources). Retail efforts are good (and also good for providing lots of jobs and tax revenue) but how much more can be expected there without better paying jobs elsewhere in the local economy (basically I think this is a good focus but I think everything that can be hoped for is being done)? Theme parks are a good hope for bringing in tourists and boosting the economy (and filling up those hotels and bringing in tax revenue and providing jobs). It seems to me the very bad transportation problems over the last year in moving between Singapore and JB are a big problem for investors in this area though (if I were such an investor I wouldn’t commit more investments until the situation was much improved and there was reason to believe it wouldn’t be allowed to fall back into the situation we have been living with now). The manufacturing efforts have been decent but are not very significant thus far in producing high paying jobs.

One example of a mistake that is going to cause problems for decades is failing to install fiber in brand new luxury condo buildings. Even if developers don’t want to invest in the future I would not have approved building plans for luxury condos after 2010 that did not include wiring every unit for fiber. Fiber is the future of high tech living and not investing in it is not the way to become known as a future focused location. Economic development requires thinking of the future and not allowing shortcuts and cheap solutions today from capping the potential for the future.

The potential for Iskandar remains as strong as it is for almost any region on the globe. But the next 10 years can build a solid foundation for long term success or can result in a system that is difficult to build upon (such as a huge imbalance in real estate, toward luxury condos for example, or a bad transportation system – which are hugely costly to deal with). The next 10 years is much more challenging to do well than the last 10 years – the begging was very easy by comparison to the challenges faced now. If it is done well, I can see the Iskandar/JB region paired with Singapore in creating one of the most vibrant areas on the globe and creating great jobs and lives for those living here (Singapore will also benefit greatly from this being done well).

Related: Iskandar Housing Real Estate Investment Considerations (2011)Minimum Housing Prices for Foreigners Investing In Malaysia Rise to RM 1,000,000The Potential of Iskandar is Very High but Investing in Iskandar has Risks (2011)

Gianni’s Italian Restaurant in JB (Taman Pelangi and Permas Jaya)

photo of the interior of Gianni's Italian Restaurant in Johor Bahru

Gianni’s Trattoria has the same owner as Sweetwater Mediterranean Restaurant and both are excellent. Gianni’s in Taman Pelangi is two doors down from Sweetwater Mediterranean Restaurant and in Permas Jaya is over the pedestrian bridge from the Jusco mall.

photo of entrance to Gianni's Italian Restaurant

This is a photo of the exterior at Permas Jaya. All photos are from my visit to the Permas Jaya location. Both sites offer fixed price lunches at about 35 MYR (a bit over $10 with soup or salad, entrée and tea.

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Orangutans in Sarawak, Borneo

One of the things you have to do while in Borneo is see orangutans in the rainforest. I went on a river rafting trip that included a stop at Semenggoh Wildlife Center (national park) on the way. From my research I believe this was 1 of the 2 good options for seeing wild orangutans near Kuching.

Mother orangutan with baby and bananas

The orangutans are free in the forest. They stop by the viewing points because of the tasty food (many were also brought here for rehabilitation so they are comfortable seeing people – though the rehabilitation is largely moved elsewhere now).

Because the orangutans are free when fruit is in season sometimes few or no orangutans show up. They generally have feeding time in the morning at 9 to 10 AM (when I went) and in the afternoon (3 to 3:30 PM).

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Classic Inn Premium Hotel, Kuala Lumpur

Classic Inn Premium offers a very good location, in Bukit Bintang KL, with clean and quiet rooms and good wifi. There is a large mall right across the street with plenty of places to eat (along with some places to eat on right next to the hotel).

photo of bed Classic Inn Premium

Rooms are a bit small, but fine. The things they could do to improve the rooms are to put more small tables in to put things on, there is space for them and almost no other space to put things on. The showers are nice (good water pressure, hot water and high – 8+ feet, which is nice when you have some places you have to duck to get your head in). The bathrooms are the normal budget SE Asia toilet/shower combo which might seem odd to some but these are above average.

photo of signs for what you can't do

Signs with character for what is not allowed.

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Restaurant Rong Hwa in Johor Bahru

My favorite local delivery place closed months ago (or at least the phone number doesn’t work anymore): Gerai Makan Laut Chun Siang.

I found this new place that is good but I don’t have as many dishes I like. The Indonesian prawns are great. I like the samba sotong ok (in photo). Click on the menus to see larger images (so you might be able to read it). It seems to me it is Chinese food with maybe a bit of Malaysian style.

photo of Sambal sotong and bitter gourd

Sambal sotong and bitter gourd from Rong Hwa in JB.

They do have a couple nice vegetable side orders (though nothing I like as much as the fried broccoli at the old place), my favorite is baby kai lan. Bitter gourd (in photo) is strong (I like the bitter gourd in fried eggs better.

photo of Rong Hwa menu

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Sultan Abu Baker Mosque

The Sultan Abu Baker Mosque was constructed upon a hill overlooking the Johor Straits between 1892 and 1900 and is the state mosque for Johor. The mosque can accommodate 3,000 worshippers.

photo of Sultan Abu Baker Mosque

Sultan Abu Baker Mosque. All photos are by John Hunter.

I recommended taking a short trip to visit and walking around the grounds. You can walk to old town from without much trouble (I would guess it is less than 2 km from old town), obviously you can drive or take a taxi if you prefer.

building in the Sultan Abu Baker Mosque complex

This square building and two large rectangular buildings of the same style sit on the non-Straits side of the Mosque.

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The Spice Kitchen Indian Restaurant in Bukit Indah, Johor Bahru

The Spice Kitchen in Bukit Indah is yet another excellent Indian Restaurant in Johor Bahru. I would eat here a great deal if I lived in Bukit Indah township in Johor Bahru.

Indian food lunch a the Spice Kitchen

The food is great and the interior is nice. It has the exposed ceilings with duct work showing that my brother loves and overall is just a nice feel.

photo of the interior of the Spice Kitchen Indian restaurant

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Wonderful Hiking in Bako National Park

Bako National Park offers a network of trails through jungles, scrub environments and to beautiful beaches. The post includes spur trails which I took as part of a loop off the Lintang Trail. I slept in Kuching, hiked during the day in Bako National Park and returned to my hotel at night.

On the Pandan Kencil Path

photo of view from plateau on Bako National Park Pandan Kencil path

Great views from a plateau. And the plateau also had large numbers of pitcher plants.

photo of pitcher plants

Then there is a short spur off the Pandan Kencil path to this wonderful beach overlook (Besar):

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Air Pollution Returns to Singapore and Johor

Bad air pollution levels have returned to Singapore and Johor in the last month. So far the recent air pollution problem has been moderate compared to June of 2013 (or Bejing). The readings have been in the “moderate” problem area but those are noticeable visually and when you are outside breathing the air is obviously more polluted than normal. I don’t usually use my air conditioning but I have the last week due to the air pollution.

The air pollution readings are published by Malaysia and Singapore. Air pollution will get a bit worse at night (assuming everything else stays the same) due to air pressure.

Air pollution has dramatic health consequences. The World Health Organization released a study last month stating that 7 million premature deaths annually are linked to air pollution.

Regionally, low- and middle-income countries in the WHO South-East Asia and Western Pacific Regions had the largest air pollution-related burden in 2012, with a total of 3.3 million deaths linked to indoor air pollution and 2.6 million deaths related to outdoor air pollution.

The damage done by air pollution to health include respiratory diseases such as asthma, cardiovascular diseases, changes in lung function. There is mounting evidence that exposure to air pollution has long-term effects on lung development in children.

With effect from 1 April 2014, Singapore has moved to an integrated air quality reporting index, where PM2.5 (particulate matter 2.5 micros or larger) will be incorporated into the current Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) as its sixth pollutant parameter. The PSI will therefore reflect a total of six pollutants – sulphur dioxide (SO2), particulate matter (PM10) and fine particulate matter (PM2.5), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), carbon monoxide (CO) and ozone (O3).

The 3-hour PSI will take into account PM2.5 concentrations. In addition, NEA will also publish the 1-hour PM2.5 concentrations every hour.

From the Malaysian site today (their update was dated September 2013)

DOE is in the midst of finalising the new Malaysian Air Quality Guidelines to include the standard limit of PM2.5 in the ambient air which based on World Health Organisation (WHO) 2006 Guidelines.

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