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Published: February 19th 2015
My first stop on the JB Heritage Trail. It was built during colonial times, but is still in use.
Johor Bahru, usually just abbreviated as “JB”, is a city just north of Singapore, just across the causeway that connects Singapore and Malaysia. Everyone was telling me that there was not much to see and do, but I had wanted to go and get my own impression since I had arrived here in Singapore. Only so far I had always shied away from the hassle of crossing the border. In Europe we are so spoilt. We travel from one country to the other without even having to stop. But not until travelling in countries outside Europe you really start to appreciate the freedom we have in Europe.
I thought I would outsmart everyone because I had planned to leave for JB on a Saturday (not on a Friday or on a Sunday when all the commuters would cross the border) in the late morning (after everyone who would want to spend the day in JB would have crossed the border already). Well. Apparently I had not been as smart as I had thought. Crossing the border is really tedious. I caught the MRT not far from where I live and it took me about an hour to get to Marsiling
Old train station
Also from colonial times, but the new JB Sentral Train Station is bigger!
in the north of Singapore from where there is a bus connection that crosses the border. In Marsiling I had to wait for the bus for quite a while because the first one that passed the bus stop was so crowded that the bus driver did not even let anyone get onto the bus. The second one was crowded as well, but I squeezed in anyway. However, I stood so close to the door that I hoped the bus would not stop at any other bus stop. At the border everyone alighted from the bus, went through passport control, and then boarded the bus again on the other side. Needless to say that there were huge queues. The bus crossed the causeway, but we had to go slow because there was a traffic jam. Finally we arrived on the other side. We alighted from the bus again to go through immigration. Again, there were big queues and it took me about 45 minutes to clear immigration. The only good thing is that from the building in which immigration is you can cross over straight to JB Sentral, the central train station, and you are pretty much in the city centre.
... on Jalan Trus. Some rehearsal for a dragon dance was going on. Chinese New Year is coming up!
Not far from JB Sentral, close to the sea, the “Heritage Trail” starts, a walk that takes you past buildings from the colonial times and past some mosques. I followed it and first of all it took me past the old police office from the early 20th century that is still in use today. Then I walked along Jalan Meldrum, a one way road where there are hotels and restaurants on both sides, all the way to the old train station. From there I walked to a Chinese Temple from the 19th century, apparently the oldest one in JB, on Jalan Trus. It looked like there was a rehearsal for Chinese New Year going on: Some teenagers were performing a dragon dance. The dragon was attached to rods the kids were holding on to and it had a big huge mouth that they could open and close using a rod. More or less across the road there is a Sikh temple, Gurdwara Sahib. Like in KL, apparently quite a few members of the JB police force used to be Sikh, so this is why they have their own temple here. The third temple I walked past was a Hindu
Gurdwara Sahib Sikh Temple
... just across the road from the Chinese Temple.
temple, Sri Raja Mariamman Temple. From there I walked past an old cinema that reminded me of the 1920s and onto Jalan Dhoby. This street I liked because there are a lot of old shop houses and I enjoyed the atmosphere. I had a very tasty late lunch and a great coffee in a place called “Roost”. Service was very slow, but they were extremely friendly, food and coffee were just great, and they had decorated the place in a very nice and special manner. I sat there for quite a while. After that I walked past Masjid India, a mosque that was erected using painted glass for the windows and the canopy. Close by on a hill there is Sultan Ibrahim Mosque that looks more like a fortress than like a mosque. Consequently it was closed.
The mosque had been the last stop on the Heritage Trail. I still had time, so I walked towards the Botanic Gardens. Not far from the park there is a huge building in prime location, right next to the sea. It is called ‘Lot 1’ and I think it was supposed to be a shopping mall. However, it is closed and decaying.
Raja Mahamariamman Temple
... a Hindu temple on Jalan Ungku Puan.
It does not seem as if it is going to be put down anytime soon. I walked past the building and towards the sea when a guardsperson told me that I was not allowed to be close to the ruin. Amazing that there are no efforts of either refurbishing it or blowing it up to put something new into its place. Back in Germany – and this is what people from other countries told me as well – I think we are pretty good at maintaining everything. In Malaysia it is different. People build something, but then don’t maintain or adapt it to new needs. If the building is for some reason not sufficient any more they will simply build something new – which is pretty likely to start decaying before it is even finished. That’s what they did for the KL airport (there was KLIA, Kuala Lumpur International Airport, and when it became too small they just built a new airport, KLIA 2, which is not finished yet, but already decaying). And here was Lot 1 which was most likely simply replaced by another shopping mall.
I continued to the Botanic Gardens. They are far not as perfect
Jalan Tan Hiok Nee
Preparations for Chinese New Year going on...
as the ones in Singapore. Some of the buildings from colonial times are decaying and some parts of the park are inaccessible because of maintenance works. However, they are still very beautiful and very, very quiet. I enjoyed strolling past flowers and plants. However, it would have been boring without a bit of excitement. I walked around the patio of one of the buildings and when I turned round a corner I almost bumped into two soldiers with machine guns. I was in shock for a moment, then politely asked whether it was forbidden to be where I was. When they said yes I asked which way I was supposed to go to get out of the area as quickly as possible and then made sure I would follow their instructions closely.
It was getting late anyway, so I went back towards the border. On the way I got lost in a shopping mall – once again –, but finally made my way back into Singapore without much waiting this time!
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