Thursday, December 14, 2017

KL'S Hidden Hot Spot

This Hot Springs gave Air Panas its name, it is believed
IF you are new to Kuala Lumpur, chances are you probably don’t know that there is a hot springs spot in the city.

As a matter of fact, I have known of a few friends who had been in the city for years but were surprised when I told them that there was one.

Many have heard of Air Panas, off Jalan Genting Kelang, in Setapak, just 4km north of the city centre but few, except locals, know that there is actually an “air panas” or hot springs in Setapak.

As a matter of fact, this suburb that was also referred to as Hot Springs probably received the name from the thermal pool.

This watercolour sketch depicts what’s left of the thermal pool that was once the size of two badminton courts.

In the 1970s when I was studying at Setapak High Secondary School, my friends and I used to stop by here on our way home in the evenings for a hot bath.

At the time, the hot springs was merely a large hot steaming pool. There was a dilapidated hut at one corner and several run-down zinc-roofed baths at the other end. It was adjacent to a lalang grown field that was used by an Indian dhoby operator.

A caretaker at the pool charged 10 sen for the rental of a roped bucket used to draw water from the pool.

If you brought your own pail or bucket, you could bathe for free. The bottom of the pool was filled with a velvety bluish-green carpet of algae. Bubbles could be seen rising from the depths. When the algae died and floated to the surface, there was a stench similar to that of rotten egg.

On rainy days, the water was especially hot and wisps of steam could be seen gliding across the surface like ghostly apparitions.

Some people would lower eggs into the pool and boil them in a jiffy. Those days, the pool had its share of regulars who swore that the mineral-rich waters could rid them of skin ailments.

Womenfolk living in the area too preferred to wash their clothes by the pool as they swore the waters made their clothes whiter than white.

It was not known when the pool was discovered or who found it. It could probably be as long as the suburb itself. I found an old press cutting of the Straits Times dated May 20, 1891, which stated that two hot spring pools had been identified in Selangor as “having therapeutic values”.

According to the article, one was located in Hulu Kelang and the other in Setapak. The British government at the time had been urged to properly set up both sites so that their spring water could be used, separately, for bathing and drinking. It was a tourist attraction of sorts at the time, drawing people to have picnics around the pool or bathed there.

In a Dec 17, 1950 Straits Times article, however, the hot springs pool was said to have lost its appeal because of rumours that a ghost was spotted in the area. Partly abandoned, the thermal pool was used by a dhoby. I am not sure if the same dhoby operated right up to the 1970s. I recall seeing white bedsheets being hung out to dry on the long clotheslines at an adjacent field.


Today, what remains of the pool that gave Hot Springs its name is swallowed up by development in the area.

The pool lies in the compound of the Resource Springs apartment but it is still open to public, daily from 7am to 8pm. For a small fee of RM2 you can have a hot bath here. There is a bathroom with cubicles for men and women. The management has also provided a number of foot-baths around the pool and there is even a small kiddy pool fed by hot water from the main pool.

Regulars still swear by the efficacy of the waters and according to the security personnel at the gates, some people would come to collect the water for bathing back home. Some even used the water for drinking, the watchman told me.

The pool is quite clean and the water is still crystal-clear. People still throw coins into the pool probably in hopes of a wish fulfilled.



From the city centre, drive north towards the Tun Razak roundabout and take the Jalan Pahang turn. Drive until you pass Setapak Town and when you come to a fork in the road, where the Setapak Police Station is, take the road on the right. You should see Courts Mammoth after passing the police station. Keep right till you arrive at the traffic lights junction that turns right. Immediately past the traffic lights is Jalan Air Panas. The Resource Springs apartment is 1.2km from here.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Fired up over Tanjung Api

This piece was eventually translated into a large painting.

FLANKING the Pahang's Kuantan Rivermouth and facing the South China Sea are two idyllic fishing villages that are slowly being swept away by the waves of development. Located on the northeastern side of the estuary is Tanjung Api, and directly opposite it is Tanjung Lumpur.
  I have been to the Tanjung Lumpur fishing village many times through the years when visiting Kuantan. It is more famous for its seafood than Tanjung Api, boasting a number of big restaurants.
  However, I feel Kampung Tanjung Api, as it is better known, has more character, thanks to its wooden houses on stilts and makeshift fishing huts that dot its short coastline.
  The evening I was there, the good weather and blue skies allowed me to do a piece on fishing boats in Tanjung Api. They were moored at the edge of the coastal swamp land after the esplanade, separated from the beach by a thick line of flotsam and mangrove saplings struggling to gain a foothold.
A local fisherman looks for prey
  The sun was on its way down and the dissipating heat drew anglers to the concrete pier. Some distance away, children were seen diving in for a cool dip from boardwalks nailed to rotting bakau trunks.
  Tanjung Api is the destination of choice for anglers although a few eateries are also drawing loyalists to their premises. According to one angler, anglers like this place because the water is deeper than in Tanjung Lumpur and chances of landing a big catch is much better. The esplanade here is also quite large and can accommodate many anglers without their lines getting entangled at each cast.
  I was told that photographers and artists love this side of the Sungai Kuantan estuary simply because of its rugged geography. There are plenty of subjects in the form of wooden houses on stilts, debris from the sea, and rickety boardwalks reaching out to the boats moored at the water’s edge.
  If you are lucky, in the afternoons when the sea is too rough for boats to go out, you may catch sight of fishermen making fish traps known as bubu. I got acquainted with a couple who were also enjoying the outdoors painting that evening.
  At a small river at the end of the village, I met a local fisherman who was casting for fish. When I asked him what was he looking for, he replied that he was casting for a tilapia species that have adapted to the brackish water there. “Not big but enough for a decent meal tonight,” he replied, as his wife looked cautiously at my camera.
Inspired by the scenery, this artist puts her inspiration to paper
  From Tanjung Api, I could see that development is coming fast and swift to its riverine neighbour on the opposite bank. Two tall cranes were clawing at the skies on top of a huge complex; perhaps another hotel?
  As I left the place with a painting in hand, I was very sure that when I return again in a year or so, there will be fewer fishing boats to paint on either bank. I hope that Tanjung Api will not lose its charm.
  From Kuantan town, drive to Jalan Teluk Sisek towards Tanjung Lumpur. At the traffic lights, turn right but do not go up the bridge to Tanjung Lumpur. Instead, keep to the left and turn in at Jalan Padang Lalang. Go straight for about 1.4km until you come to Jalan Selamat and turn right.
  In about 500m, you will come to the junction with Jalan Tanjung Api. Turn left and look out for Lorong Tanjung Api 11 and turn in there. The esplanade is about 400m away. Look out for the Tanjung Api Mosque, which sits just at the entrance to the esplanade. You can use Tanjung Api Mosque, Kuantan, to approximate your search for its location on Waze.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Bagan Sungai Sembilang

The Bagan Sungai Sembilang beach is not as well known as its Pantai Remis counterpart
BAGAN Sungai Sembilang is a small sparsely populated coastal fishing village a kilometre south of the more popular Pantai Remis on the west coast of Selangor, near Kuala Selangor. It is accessible via Klang from the south or the Latar highway from the north, off the coastal Kapar-Kuala Selangor trunk road.
  I found this up-and-coming holiday spot quite by chance while exploring the area. The cluster of casuarina trees that were planted years ago on this stretch were a sight to behold the morning I was there. Their silhouette cast on the white sandy beach made the scenery picture-perfect.
  Bagan (or Kampung) Sungai Sembilang got its name from the river that runs through the area, which is also used by fishermen to advance inland by water. According to my friend Radzi, the coastal waters used to be teeming with the marine catfish known in Malay as sembilang. They are still found here but not as many as in years past.
This wet market is a recent development to boost
the economic activities in this enclave
  While painting this scenery, I noticed that many of the casuarina trees had been uprooted. Their trunks had been sawn off and the stumps left to rot. According to an army veteran (who watched me paint), the water-line was farther out at sea.
  "There were even more trees those days but over the years, the sea claimed more land," he explained as he pointed to a line of rocks that ran parallel to the beach, 50 metres away. "Those are what remain of a sea wall built many years ago to prevent erosion and they are now submerged in mud. Who knows, one day, the area where we are standing now might be under water."
  This stretch of beach is relatively unknown and is usually deserted on weekdays though there are some makeshift huts built some time ago. Come weekends or holidays, the shady stretch under the casu arinas will be occupied by cars. The beach is relatively clean, thanks to "No Littering" reminders nailed onto the trees by the locals, a troop of macaques were at the beach the day I was there. I saw about 10 of them scouring the ground for food scraps.
  The tide goes far out in the mornings, I was told, and the exposed mudflat is often filled with wading birds. The day I was there, a huge flock of painted storks and a couple of Lesser Adjutants were spotted foraging in the shallows, picking at morsels of food stuck between the barnacle-ridden rocks.
  Several weekenders were also seen looking for gerimis, a small yellow-brown coloured bivalve that gave the neighbouring Pantai Remis its name. Oysters have also been found here. But if you are not keen on looking for your own fresh seafood, you may want to check out the two eating stalls nearby.
Painted storks foraging in the shallows as the tide
  There are several holiday homes here, including a boutique resort.
  A shout's distance away is the wet market run by the fishermen of Bagan Sungai Sembilang. There are two or three fish and vegetable stalls at this market, which sits on the banks of the Sungai Sembilang.
  If you are looking for fresh fish or bivalves, this is a good place to visit. The prices are not much of a bargain if compared to elsewhere along the coast but the freshness of the sea produce is undoubtedly very good as testified by the number of cars waiting for fishermen to land their catch.
  The boats moored along both sides of the riverbanks also make for good photography, especially in the evenings. Just a stone's throw from the market is a marine fishing pay-pond. If you are itching to wet your lines and want to score some bragging rights, you can try your luck here for a fee.

  Sungai Sembilang lies a short distance off the Kuala Selangor-Kapar trunk road. If you are coming in from the south, Klang, keep a look out for the Petronas Sungai Sembilang fuel station. Turn left at the road a few metres after this station.
  The road is named Jalan Pantai Sungai Sembilang. If you miss this, the next road to watch out for is Jalan Khailani, just a few metres from Jalan Pantai Sungai Sembilang. Just go straight and you will first come to the Bagan Sungai Sembilang wet market. The road to the beach is at right of the wet market which sits on the riverbank.
  If you are using the Latar highway, it is about seven kilometres after the town of Sasaran (or Sungai Buloh, Jeram). The Petronas Sungai Sembilang should be on your right, and the two beach accesses will be just before the Petronas station. You can search the location on Waze or Google Maps.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Lure of Riverine Living

A CLUSTER OF traditional wooden houses on stilts in Pulau Duyung, Kuala Terengganu, is drawing a steady stream of visitors, mostly foreigners, to its doorsteps despite not being promoted much.

Awi’s Yellow House, as this back-to nature-rough-it-out accommodation is known as, comprises a cluster of 10 chalets of various sizes built by seafarer Wan Osman Wan Abdullah (or Awi as he is fondly known) and his wife Rohani Longuet in the 1970s.

According to Rohani, who is in her 70s, it was originally built to house those who came from afar to have their boats built by the local craftsmen.

The chalets were added as more people came, both to build their boats as well as to visit the island.
I was there recently for an artist residency programme and fell in love immediately with the Malay kampung-style riverine life.
The entire resort sits on a huge boardwalk

While painting this piece under a huge mangrove tree, known as the berembang, I was transported back to my childhood days when my family lived in Kampung China, Kuala Terengganu.
The back of our house was also built on stilts over the Terengganu river and when the tide brought in clear waters, a cool dip would never be missed. Children living on riverine houses were born to swim, we proudly told visitors.

Although Awi’s Yellow House is rarely promoted in tourism programmes, it is well known among foreign visitors to Terengganu. Strings of accolades have been showered on it by grateful travellers who have walked through its doors.

In recent years, it has also received rave reviews in travel portals such as Lonely Planet and Virtual Tourist. Awi, who is in his 60s, has been often praised for his friendly hospitality.  The rooms here are basic and the beds come with mosquito nets.

If you have not slept under one, perhaps this is one of the few places you can give it a try. Some of the chalet units have attached bathrooms equipped with basic facilities.
Rustic feel under the attap roof
There is a common shower and toilet, and a common kitchen area which have the basic utensils if you decide to cook. If not, a walk around the neighbourhood will take you to some stalls where you can have a decent and affordable meal rich in local flavours. There is also a sundry shop at the entrance to Pulau Duyung where you can get your supplies if you need some. 

The entire chalet area is a huge boardwalk constructed from tropical hardwood. It is built around mangrove trees that rose from the mudflats. When the tide is in, the water’s surface is just a few metres beneath the floorboards.

Mullets and small riverine can be seen darting off just below the surface when startled by human presence. I caught a glimpse of a family of otters foraging at the water’s edge during one of the mornings while I was there.

Inspiring moments amid nature
The foliage of the towering berembang trees keep the area decently shaded and cool even on the hottest of afternoons. The chalets are built is such a way that there are plenty of natural light for you to curl up with a book or sit and paint the riverine scenery.

There is certainly no lack of greenery here, both of decorative flowers in pots around the chalets as well as the indigenous nipah palms and more mangrove flora rising from the banks.
How to get there
AS the Yellow House is strategically located on Pulau Duyung, you can also check out the main attraction that made Duyung famous — the traditional shipbuilders who are famed for huge seafaring vessels based just on the experience imprinted in their minds. There are a few within walking distance of the Yellow House.

Call 09-622 2080. Awi will be happy to take your call. Ask why the chalet is named so and he will be more than happy to share interesting stories behind it.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Kampung Air Jernih’s hidden charm

A quick sketch of Kampung Air Jernih's entrance.

HIDDEN from the coastal thoroughfare that runs through Kemasik, Terengganu is an old Hainanese village where time seems to have stood still. Said to be at least a century old, Kampung Ayer Jernih was believed to be founded by a group of Hainanese migrants who made their way from Hainan island, China, to Terengganu in the early 1900s.
  During its heyday in the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s, the story has it that there were no less than 1,000 Hainanese families living here, making it possibly the largest Hainanese settlement in the country then. Today, there are only about 400 to 500 families left, according to a village elder I met while doing a painting of one of the old houses opposite the Hainanese Association.
  A gleaming steel arch carrying the village’s name greets visitors at the entrance, which is on higher ground. A police station and a Chinese primary school flank the single road that runs in a curve round the village.
  Two rows of quaint doublestorey shophouses, reminiscent of those in ancient China, some say, stand on both sides of the road just wide enough for two small cars to squeeze through. Many of the houses, especially those at the upper end of the road, appeared abandoned and dilapidated.
  When I was there, on a Friday afternoon, with a long weekend ahead, the street was deserted. The silence was broken by the distant strains of Chinese songs from the ‘60s. The doors of the occupied homes were either half-open or shut. Most of the coffeeshops, including the most popular one named Yeen Her, beside the Hainanese Association, were closed, or about to.
The owner of this house was wondering
what attracted my attention and decided
to close its doors

  A villager later told me that most of the residents had gone down to Kuala Terengganu to join the Mazu Festival, a celebration of the community’s patron saint.
  The early settlers were farmers who mostly cultivated pepper and other cash crops. During the 1950s and ‘60s, they turned to rubber and oil palm. Today, rubber appears to be the main income earner as can be seen from several scrap collection centres operating from the old shophouses. Two big ones are located at the back of the town, with sacks of stinking dried latex clumps awaiting transportation. There is also an oil palm fruit collection centre 100 metres away from here.
  “This village is in its twilight,” a 60-yearold tells me. “Most of the descendants of the original settlers have moved on to seek greener pastures in bigger cities. Many have shifted to the new village nearby to live in brick, instead of the timber, houses here. Only the older generation remains and some of the houses have been left empty for years or rented out to outsiders who came to work in the plantations here.”
  During my trip there last year, while taking a break at the coffeeshop next to the Hainanese Association, I learnt that life in Kampung Ayer Jernih has not changed much over the decades. I remember eating some local cakes, presumably made using recipes passed down over the generations. One was a steamed rice cake that I had not seen elsewhere and another, steamed brown tapioca cake. This time, though, I did not get the chance to try these delicacies.
  I also learnt that the Kampung Ayer Jernih has been identified as another tourism attraction for Terengganu but this being Visit Terengganu Year 2017, I did not sense any signs of the winds of change - save for the lanterns that were hung near the archway. I wonder if they were lighting the way to the village’s new beginning or were merely decoration left over from Chinese New Year. I will return again to enjoy the rustic charm of this quaint village.
This traditional glutinous rice cake
was made from hundred year old recipes,
I was told 
  Kampong Ayer Jernih is 8km from Kemasik town. If you are driving along the East Coast Expressway, exit at Kijal Toll Plaza. From here, Kampung Ayer Jernih is 9km via Jalan Jabor- Penghantar and T13. There are signages showing you the way. Drive slowly as some stretches are uneven and littered with pebbles.
  If you are driving from Kuala Terengganu in the north via the Jalan Kemaman-Dungun coastal road, locate Mesra Mall just before Kemaman town. Two kilometres south of Mesra Mall, turn right at the junction to T13. The village is 9km from here.
  Kampung Ayer Jernih, Kemasik, is well-positioned in Waze and GoogleMaps but access to the networks can be a pain, so switch on your GPS while there’s a connection.