Johor Baru (Malaysia)

Today I travelled across the Causeway from Singapore to Johor Baru, Malaysia. Johor Baru is a massive city right next door to Singapore. Since many people work in Singapore and live in JB it is probably one of the busiest border crossings in the world, so it was very streamlined. People actually ran through customs to get back on the same public bus  (fare, $1.50 to cross the border) they arrived on. I was too slow and had to wait 10 minutes for  the next one.

All of a sudden I feel like I am in real Asia, not “Asia Lite” as K called Singapore. And Malaysia, like Singapore, houses three major cultures – Malay, Chinese and Indian. But here they cultures are a little more obvious.  Street stalls featuring booming Tamil music and people making flower garlands for puja, carts selling Chinese claypot dinners down grimy alleyways, women in headscarfs and the occasional full veil.

I’m on my own now, having said a sad goodbye to my kiwi friend in Singapore.  The change is both enlivening and a little unnerving.

I’m ready for this journey.

The Singapore-Johor causeway, spanning across ...

The Singapore-Johor causeway (Photo credit: Wikipedia)



Life in Singapore has been easy,  in fact Singpore seems designed to eliminate drama. So instead of a story, I’ll make a list.

photo by edwin11 from flickr creative commons

photo by edwin11

Emotion: When I got out of the airconditioned Changi Airport and the warm and humid evening air hit me and I looked around at tropical vegetation thriving even among this somewhat sterile city, I felt a deep sense of ease.

Sight:  A “boat” on top of three skyscrapers (above). Fluorescent streamers adorning a small truck at the chinese funeral at the base of our apartment block.

Touch: Warm and sticky skin in the 33 degree heat, especially with my laptop on my lap for  hours at a time, marking philosophy essays.

Smell: That hot Asian city smell – a pungent blend of chilli, sweat, airconditioning, lightning, durian and incense

Sounds: The clanging cymbals of the chinese funeral at the bottom of the apartment block, the whirr  of a fan

Taste:  Sugar cane juice bought freshly crushed at Boon Lay hawkers market. Sweet, cool, fragant


Time spent as part of Malaysia since independence from Britain: 2 years (1963-65)

Percentage of population Chinese: 75%

Tax rate on 65K USD p/a income: <4%.

Highlight: Visiting the plush and vibrant Nanyang Technical University  (one of the three major universities in Singapore), hearing an experienced western scholar, Roger Aames, give a public talk on Confucian ethics to an engaged room of mainly young Chinese. He was an engaging speaker, pacing the room and quoting Kong3 zi3 (Confucius) in the original with ease. I can’t do justice to his ideas here, but my meagre grasp on wat he was saying is that, for Confucius, ethics rests not on any transcendental principles, but on the primacy of relationships in our life. As opposed to western philosophies that see us as individuals relating to one another, he argued that Confucius emphasised the way self is constructed as we engage with others. Thus sincerity, creativity and flourishing comes not necessarily through independence, but through appropriate functioning within our day to day relationships.

I’m about to travel on my own into Malaysia. I hope I can be open and appropriate to the people that come into my life on the road.