Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Life in a Johor Bahru Suburb

It's been raining a lot since we've arrived in Johor Bahru, and last night was a terrific thunderstorm.  This is not a bad thing, because it's keeping the temperature down.  Bena's mom says this is "good weather."  There is air-conditioning in our bedroom but the rest of the house seems to be cooled with fans only.  So far it's been quite bearable.  If anything, the air-conditioning in our room makes it too cold, even when I had it set to 24C (75F?).  

Konrad and Bena live with Bena's mom and brother in the home Bena grew up in.  It's a spacious home for what I expected for Asia, with a living room / dining room combined, a small windowless room off the dining room and a small kitchen which they use very little, except to boil water for drinking.  Upstairs are three bedrooms.  We've displaced Konrad and Bena from the master bedroom with private bath and (never used) balcony.  They're using Boy's room (what they call Bena's brother) and Boy is sleeping on the couch.  He protests that it's very comfortable when I express concerns about how he's lost out because of our visit.

The bathroom is worth noting.  It is, in essence, a giant shower stall containing (Western-style) toilet, sink and a hole in the floor.  There is no bathtub, and I expect this is the norm here.  To have a shower, the hot water heater has to be turned on first by a switch outside the room.  Having the floor of the washroom being also the floor of the shower means that one's feet usually get wet walking in, even if it's just to brush your teeth.  Thankfully there is a small, heart-shaped rug at the outside entrance of the room so I can dry my feet when I leave.  

All the windows of the house have iron grating to stop unwanted visitors.  It's part of row housing, but that doesn't seem to pose a noise problem.  The front and back "yards" are fenced in with cement walls and iron grating, the ground covered with cement, not grass.  Large iron gates are opened to let the small, Malaysian-made car into the "yard" and then closed.  I suppose some might fill their small yard space with potted plants but there is none of that here.  When it's not raining, drying frames hold freshly-laundered clothes in the space.  There seems to be no inhibition in the neighbourhood about one's underclothes hanging out for all to see.

This is a two-car family, so the second car parks outside the wall.  It doesn't matter that it takes up some of the road space, as long as other drivers can get past.  On our first night here, I got out of the car, walked a step or two and saw a large, dark square in front of me, suspiciously looking like a deep hole.  Indeed, that's what it was (and still is)!  Yikes!  Good thing I was looking at the ground or I'd be sporting a cast on my leg(s).

We're in the suburbs of JB so at the end of the street, is a farmer's field--covered with netting like a roof, presumably to protect the crops from a sun that's too strong--a sun we have yet to experience.  Parking seems to be easy enough, at least in the vicinity.  At the local indoor mall, parking is free in a large, open-air parking lot, generously dotted with trees, bushes and flowering vines.  In the closer strip-mall, where we went for breakfast this morning, diagonal parking costs but there are no meters or parking attendants to collect the fees.  Instead, one buys a booklet of colour-coded pages.  Each page is for one time of parking and the colour indicates how long one is parking for.  Using a hole punch (so the markings can't be changed), one indicates date and time of parking and puts the page on the dashboard.  Police come sporadically to check and if you don't have proof of payment showing, the ticket is 30 Ringit (RM)--about $10 CAD.

The driving is something that will take getting used to.  It's all done on the "wrong side" of the road.  It's so weird, sitting in the back, looking to the front left seat and seeing no steering wheel!  Turns at intersections are breath-gasping too, because this wrong-sidedness of the roads.  Traffic seems to be very orderly, however, other than the motorbikes passing cars in impossibly small spaces and weaving in and out of traffic with little space for error.  During one downpour while we were out, we saw a collection of motorbikes and drivers clustered under an overpass.  I thought it indicated an accident or an impromptu gathering of friends but no, they were sheltering from the rain.  When the rain is lighter, some motorbike drivers wear their jackets with the opening at the back to help provide more protection from the elements.

Alongside the freeways are coconut trees with yellow coconuts hanging in clusters.  We have a mango tree with one mango outside the wall of "our" home and also a jackfruit tree with ugly, black fruit that looks very unappetising.  There are numerous stands selling durian, another fruit that is spiky on the outside and, apparently, very stinky inside.  Konrad says that it tastes like eating "poo," but some people really enjoy it.  Because of the stink, however (which one blog writer describes as a week-old, dead and rotting body trapped in a car), the fruit is sold only at stands isolated from all other shops.  It must be a lonely business, selling these things.

I want to go for walks while I'm here--and to go by myself when others are busy--but the one hindrance in my mind is the fact that dogs roam the streets unsupervised.  There aren't many of them.  In a day and a half I have only seen two, but I have always been terrified of lone dogs on the streets because of a childhood trauma when a large, black dog pinned me in the ditch for what seemed like hours.  I have been assured that, as a rule, the dogs just want to intimidate and won't likely hurt me, and all I need to do is intimidate them back.  It remains to be seen whether I'm willing to risk this.  I want to think I can so I will try.

Right now I'm sitting in the dining room with a fan trained on me.  Boy is at work, Konrad, Tom and Ma Mu (Bena's name for her mom) are upstairs in their rooms and Bena is teaching a music class to two little kindergarten girls in royal blue and yellow uniforms.  They're so cute!  She's playing a video of ballet for the girls, who are trying to mimic the dance moves when Bena leaves the room.  The girls are fascinated by this white ghost in the room and have actually been brave enough to dance for me, quickly running away in fits of giggles.  All instruction is in the Mandarin language.

I have yet to figure out how to transfer my photos from my camera to my laptop but once I do, I'll be sharing  the very many I have taken.  I also need to share about our eating experiences and the story of the missing luggage but those will be for another post.


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