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Published: January 13th 2012
Finally, for the first time in five months I managed to achieve my goal: to be the only foreigner in a town. I came close to it many a time in Cambodia and Vietnam but the entire time I stayed in Johor Bhayru we were the only foreigners (I base this on the fact we saw no other white people and we were out a lot). I should probably say white person as pretty much everyone in Malaysia is a foreigner at some level or so it seems. The thing I love about Malaysia is just that: the combinations of skin colour and religion. Johor Bhayru emphasises all of the colours and the religions in to tiny colourful streets compacting all those wonderful places of worship in to one street. Here you glimpse in to an almost united world, peace between all this wretched arguing over which religion is right is obtainable, almost. Here each religious building shares an adjoining fence with the next.
The travel guides glide over it as a place to crash going in or out of Singapore which is exactly what we did but decided to stay for a few extra days in a hotel with
a pool to make the most of the inexpensive accommodation and the sun since we were nearing the equator. In all honesty there isn’t much going on here; it’s promoted more as a business centre and until recently Johor was the place Singapore business men would come and get their prostitutes. However, the centre is colourful, thriving and a wonderful place to sit and watch people go by, especially in their miniature China town which was being decorated ready for Chinese new year as we were there.
The most incredible thing about Johor is the religion. It is everywhere. Brightly coloured laughing women shimmy down the street on their way to pray at their Hindu Mandir; Muslim women in black burkas or colourful hijabs sashay in to their mosques guided by an older woman or husband, turbaned men stride confidently in to the Sikh Gurdwara embracing friends outside before they enter. Further down the road families dressed in their Sundays best filter through the Anglican Church doorway ready to take their pew. All this in one street: just incredible.
One street dominated by sweet smelling freshly cut flowers and sari makers clearly represents the Indian and Hindu factions
of Johor. We watch men and women in their flower shops threading the heads of flowers on to string ready to sell as offerings to be placed around the necks of the Gods and Goddesses or the Murtis in the Mandir. Bollywood melodies boom out of vibrant poster clad shops which entice the young and their mothers in to dancing as they pass. The streets are overflowing as Hindu’s make their way to pray in the towering Mandir. Men, women and children remove their shoes and wash their feet in the basins before climbing the stairs out of sight. Above them Ganesh, Shiva, Vishnu, Brahma and a multitude of other Gods and Goddesses watch them as they enter the door lined with bells. The building itself is one I have seen in pictures and even had one lining my classroom wall as an example to my students but have never seen such a colourful pyramid myself. It’s a world away from anything I experience in England and it is beautiful. So much colour, love, passion and workman ship in every step as the tower narrows. The Neasden Mandir in London is a living and breathing monument of love and
out-does any other religious building I have ever seen and as I write this, I cannot decide which one is more beautiful; the colourful pyramid of Johor or the white intricate facade of the Neasden Mandir.
China town is also thriving, preparing for the New Year celebrations as men adorn the streets with brightly lit red lanterns which zigzag across the streets. Lanterns, energetic paper dragons and vivid gold hangings fall from the ceilings of shops. Heavy drum beats float through the air as animated shoppers fill their baskets with their New Year trinkets. A whiff of saccharine wafts past filling our nostrils and setting our stomachs rumbling.
Apart from the towering mall which overlooks an entire main street, the rest of Johor is completely un-westernised. Malay’s, Indians, Sri-Lankans, Chinese, Sikh, Christian, Hindu, Muslim and Jew fill the eateries and gluttonise themselves on sweet smelling delicacies. They greet each other in the streets, they eat with each other at street food stalls, they say their goodbye’s as they depart for their place of worship.
Jahor is a great little stop over for a few days if you have the time. It is worth observing the mixture of
culture and faith mixed in with the daily schedules of those who inhabit this place. There isn’t much to do here but watch, and that is the beauty of this little town.
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