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Rustic hinterland of Pahang : October 24, 2019

THE engine strains, propelling the fiberglass longboat I am in against the current. Looking down one side of the boat’s low hull I can see tea brown waters churning; waters that are rich in organics and nutrients that nourish the lands and people nearby. This is Sungai Pahang, a mighty overflow that runs through the heart of the state. I am on the Pahang river near the town of Temerloh, 110 km from Kuantan, the state capital. I am somewhere near the riverbanks of Pahang’s second-largest town heading towards one of Temerloh’s many floating fish farms to visit what is arguably its most famous product: freshwater ikan patin or silver catfish.

Named Ikan Patin Madu, the farm is a roadside shop and series of floating cages tethered along the river bank. Here in the cages, juvenile patin or fry are fed and kept until they mature, which takes six months. The nature of Sungai Pahang itself also sustains the fish, which is said to impart a unique flavor to it. Speaking of flavors, no visit to Temerloh is complete without tasting the varied ikan patin dishes here. Temerloh is known as the capital for ikan patin not merely because of its fish farms but also its restaurants offering savory ikan patin dishes, including the ubiquitous ikan patin masak tempoyak (silver catfish cooked in fermented durian gravy).

 KAMPUNG BANGAU

Kampung Labu is also a gateway to Taman Negara, Kuala Tahan by boat

Along with other group members on a local cuisine discovery trip called Authentic Pahang Exploration organized by the Tourism Malaysia Eastern Region, we stop at Restoran Ikan Patin Bangau, a popular eatery secluded in the small village of Kampung Bangau. The restaurant operates from a family home and is less than a few hundred meters away from the roadside shop of the fish farm, which of course means it can offer the freshest catch. The dishes served here are traditional Temerloh delicacies, and the place is packed with diners coming from all over the country every weekend and public holidays. Also tucked away within the quiet village of Kampung Bangau is Ina Kraf, owned by the soft-spoken and humble Muhaimin Hasbollah. Visiting his serene-looking woodshop after a hearty lunch of ikan patin and fresh traditional Malay salads of ulam, I am surprised and quite proud to learn that Muhaimin is an internationally acclaimed master wood craftsman. Quietly and unassumingly, Muhaimin has been keeping the traditional Malay wood craftsmanship alive at his shop here in Temerloh. His dedication to his craft and skill has garnered many recognitions, among them the winner of the best craftsmanship award at the International Live Wood Carving Show and Competition 2012, China. Crafting items that range from small wooden boxes to traditional mancala or congkak boards and even large display pieces, each item is aesthetically mesmerizing and detailed. What also makes his creations unique and makes for collector pieces is the meaning behind each element of his carvings, such as how the flower stems intertwine without touching each other which signifies the respect youths have for elders in Malay society.

 KAMPUNG DESA MURNI

From the village of Kampung Bangau. we then head towards the village of Kampung Desa Murni, some 10km away. It is here that visitors looking for a modern resort stay with a village atmosphere will be pleased to discover Kampungstay Desa Murni, a resort that highlights the traditions and cultures of the surrounding villages. Although the establishment markets itself as a village homestay experience, I can only describe it as a resort since I have never seen a Malay village with a swimming pool. Kampungstay Desa Murni is a collection of modern and comfortable houses with traditional Malay village design, such as wooden balconies and wooden window shutters. In line with the local cuisine discovery aspect of the trip, it is here that the group members discover traditional Pahang desserts such as kuih pena and dodol kukus. Demonstrated by the villagers from nearby the Kampungstay, group members not only get to see the step by step preparations of these increasingly rare and hard to find desserts but also taste their unique flavours that made them popular in the villages of Pahang in times of festivals or celebrations in yesteryears. Interestingly, many of the group members invited to the Authentic Pahang Exploration are resort and hotel chefs, since Tourism Malaysia Eastern Regions hopes that they will be able to reproduce the recipes and highlight them at their own establishments as part of promoting the traditional cuisine of Pahang in conjunction with Visit Malaysia Year 2020.

KAMPUNG LABU

Kampung Labu is also a gateway to Taman Negara, Kuala Tahan by boat

At 459km in length, Pahang River is the longest river in Peninsular Malaysia and the country’s third longest. The mighty river begins with the meeting of two rivers, Sungai Tembeling and Jelai at the confluence of Kuala Tembeling. I find myself at Kampung Labu, one of many small villages found on the riverbanks of the Tembeling river before it reaches and meets Jelai river. Here, along the river and separated by time and distance, a unique dish was created and had evolved through the years. Perhaps out of necessity to use whatever ingredients available around them, the inhabitants of the district of Jerantut had created a unique sour tasting dish using the fermented seeds of the perah tree. The seeds of the perah tree are poisonous, and can only be consumed after proper preparations through peeling, drying and pounding. The resulting ingredient is then used to prepare Gulai Asam Rong, a sour and nutty tasting soup made with freshwater fish and vegetables such as eggplants. What is also interesting is how the villagers had adapted the dish to also supplement the perah seeds with the much easily found rubber tree seeds, due to the sometimes scarcity of the perah tree which can only be found in the jungles. Kampung Labu village elder Mak Wan tells me that many villagers now prepare the dish using rubber tree seeds instead of the perah tree seeds, reminding me of the adaptability of these small communities. Situated halfway by the main road that connects the town of Jerantut to the iconic national park of Taman Negara, Kampung Labu has also become a transport hub for tourists who want to take the scenic boat rides upriver towards the national park. Built in 2013, the Labu Sentral terminal cuts the boat journey to almost half, since a boat ride from Kuala Tembeling may take up to four hours and even longer of the river’s water level is low.

KAMPUNG KUALA MEDANG

Kuih Pena is a steamed traditional dessert with a delicate and light taste

In contrast to Kampung Labu that sits along the banks of the Tembeling river, Kampung Kuala Medang sits on the river bank of the Jelai river as it flows down to form the Pahang river. Located 51km away from the historic town of Lipis, the former capital of Pahang, Kampung Kuala Medang is perhaps one of the best examples of the state’s rustic and endearing hinterlands. So much so, the homestay programme of Kuala Medang that began in 2002 has even won numerous awards and recognitions for its homestay experience, offering activities with villagers such as tapping rubber trees, oil palm harvesting, bamboo raft-making as well as cultural demonstrations of traditional games, dances and cooking. It is at the cooking demonstration here in Kuala Medang that I learn about Nasi Kebuli, a rice dish said to originate from the royal palace of Pahang. Looking at the women of the village prepare the dish, I see that it is a tedious task, with them boiling the chicken in a richly spiced broth before deep frying it and then using the frying oil to fry the rice before finally simmering it in the broth. Although I am no cook and would be challenged to even cook rice in a rice cooker, even to my untrained eyes I realise this is indeed a dish reserved for special occasions and celebrations, and it would make perfectly good sense if it indeed originated from the kitchen of a royal palace.Another unique dish found here is Lemang Tepung, a sweet dessert of flour, palm sugar and coconut milk cooked in bamboo. Having only seen the more popular savoury type of lemang made with glutinous rice, it’s a reminder of how prevalent the use of bamboo once was in the rural communities of Pahang as well as around the country. Not only was bamboo used for food and construction, it was also extensively used for making tools, cooking utensils and cultural uses. Another interesting fact about the bamboo used here in Kuala Medang for preparing the Lemang Tepung is that it is of the Semeliang species, the same species of bamboo used by the nearby Semai Orang Asli tribe to make their hunting blowpipes.

AUTHENTIC PAHANG

The hearty spread available at Ikan Patin Bangau Restaurant.

Steeped in history and tradition, the hinterlands of Pahang are home to some of the nation’s most fascinating food, crafts and culture a visitor can experience. Although far from being a food connoisseur or foodie, even a person such as myself is able to appreciate the unique identities of the local delicacies discovered here along my journey. The varied landscapes of Pahang with its hills and valleys and rapid flowing rivers have shaped and enriched not only its cuisine but almost every aspect of the daily lives of the rural communities here. The Authentic Pahang Exploration is perhaps one of the best initiatives taken by Tourism Malaysia Eastern Region in its efforts to promote the state for Visit Malaysia Year 2020. Source : NST

Every state will benefit : October 13, 2019

KUALA LUMPUR: The Shared Prosperity Vision 2030 will push every state to the forefront, including the Federal Territories of Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya, as part of the Key Economic Growth Areas (KEGA), especially in tourism and border economy development and logistics. Eight states — Perlis, Perak, Negri Sembilan, Kedah, Pahang, Johor, Sarawak and Kelantan — have been earmarked as eco-tourism destinations, while Kuala Lumpur will serve as the Gateway to Asia in the tourism industry.

Besides eco-tourism, Shared Prosperity Vision 2030 will also highlight products from island tourism and the culture and heritage of Melaka, Terengganu, Sabah and Penang, the latter of which will also focus on health tourism. The tourism industry, placed under the Malaysia Truly Asia initiative, is among 15 KEGA Shared Prosperity Vision 2030 will focus on. Other areas that will be given attention include propelling the country towards becoming an Islamic fintech hub 2.0; the digital economy; the Fourth Industrial Revolution; Asean hub; halal hub; Commodity 2.0; and transport, logistics and sustainable mobility. The KEGA will focus on coastal economy and maritime; centres of excellence; renewable energy; green economy; and smart and high-value agriculture. Kuala Lumpur and Selangor, which contribute almost 40 per cent to the gross domestic product, will emerge as the Industry 4.0 hub and become key players in hi-tech parks; ports and logistics; the digital economy and disruptive technology; manufacturing, automotive and MRO; and, smart agriculture. Kuala Lumpur, as the Asian tourism gateway, will play a role as the regional financial hub and Islamic fintech 2.0 hub. Putrajaya will remain the federal government's administrative centre, on top of serving as a diplomatic hub.

Four states — Perlis, Penang, Kedah and Perak — apart from being at the forefront of eco-tourism and health tourism, will also be known as high-value agriculture areas and centres for modern agriculture and livestock. Although known mainly as an agricultural state, Kedah is set to be developed as a location for the aerospace industry, apart from sharing a role with Perlis in boosting the border and logistic economy. Perlis will also be transformed into a centre for renewable energy. The northern region's most developed state, Penang, will play a key role as a logistics and industrial hub, as well as a centre of technological excellence. In the south, among industries set to take flight are smart agriculture, Malaysia Vision Valley (Negri Sembilan), smart city and halal hub (Melaka), the Straits of Malacca gateway (logistic hub and transhipment), southern region education hub, food crop hub and downstream petroleum-related activities.

East coast states will play a role in border economy and logistics; cultural and rural economy and agro-tourism (Kelantan); commodity economy and downstream products; coastal economy and fisheries; secondary education hub; and, downstream petroleum processing (Terengganu). Pahang will take the lead in mining, and become a transportation and logistics hub, as well as in high-technology agriculture. For Sabah, besides tourism, it will also become known for border economy, commodities, downstream products, fisheries and downstream petroleum processing. Sarawak will focus on the commodity economy and downstream products, petroleum and LNG, eco-tourism, high-technology agriculture and livestock, as well as renewable energy. 

Source : NST

'Sungai Lembing fire a wake-up call' - September 24, 2019

KUALA LUMPUR: The fire in Sungai Lembing, Pahang, on Merdeka morning, gutted 32 century-old buildings in the settlement, destroying history and the way of life of the community in a place once known as the “Eldorado of the East”. An elderly couple died in the blaze, while the community’s 50-year-old library with books chronicling its storied past, a tome twice the facility’s age and out-of-print books are among treasures reduced to ash. While some of the ex-tin-mining town’s treasures are lost, cultural activists told the New Straits Times the fire could be a wake-up call. Cultural activists, including Perak Heritage Society president Law Siak Hong, said there were lessons to be learned. “Too bad the fire happened. I am sad because it destroyed the iconic shophouses. What is going to happen now?”

“This is a wake-up call not only to preserve our past but to also look to our future. We should not focus on what is lost. We must create something good now for future use.” Law, however, said there was a dearth in the documentation. “Documenting the history of a place is essential for future planning, but we are grossly undocumented. “How are you going to know about what to do and how to do it without any knowledge?” He said there was no basic registry of heritage towns and villages. “We can’t do an audit to gauge which town or village has heritage value on a local, state or national level because we don’t know where they are or what they are about. “This is because there’s no initiative to identify them. State authorities have to carry out population, economic and historical studies before they move on to community initiatives”

He said state Town and Country Planning Departments had the budget to get the ball rolling. He said overtures could be made to neighboring or local corporations and plantations to provide funding for the plans. Law, however, said if the efforts were undertaken by the authorities, they would be “lopsided and inadequate”. “They will choose vote banks or places that have higher economic or tourist ratings. “They will use public funds for hare-brained projects that no one asked for in the first place by getting a village committee member’s consent. They will claim it’s a heritage drive or community project.” He said state authorities should use public coffers to educate the communities to empower them to make decisions for themselves and take the lead.

He said while this was “massively ambitious”, the states had to get things moving. He said they must send a team of consultants to each town or village to carry out cultural mapping. “The towns and villages must be studied and documented via cultural mapping but who is going to do the work? We have to get locals to do this because of the history of your place and its conservation matter to you and not anyone else.

“We should get consultants to shake things up and spearhead the movement by gathering people and encouraging them to get involved and say want they want. “Sometimes, it helps to suggest what they can do. Then slowly the locals have to rise up collectively, lead the movement and tell the government what they want.” He said this was one of the suggestions made in a convention attended by village heads in Putrajaya recently, where it was found that many people had no clue about what they wanted to preserve in their settlements and way of life.

Law drew on his experience in Papan, Perak, where he set up the Sybil Kathigasu memorial. He embarked on a mission to convince a community of 200 to 300 elderly folk that keeping the village vibrant was crucial to its survival. But he said it was an uphill task. “It’s a slow and painful job. Its success depends on the people’s communication, freedom and education in choosing their path. It’s democracy in the process. “The right conversations, minds as well as independent consultants have to be involved. Even if it does not work, at least we tried something.” He said ultimately the people would want to conserve their towns, villages, communities, and way of life.

He said impressing the necessity of installing fire extinguishers and putting in safety measures in people’s homes to prevent a recurrence of the Sungai Lembing fire was complex. “You may think of a building as a heritage structure, but for the person living there, it’s his house. “He might use open stoves and firewood, or even smoke in the house. You can’t stop people from living the way they want. Even handling an extinguisher for the elderly is impractical.” Badan Warisan Malaysia president Elizabeth Cardosa said while the National Heritage Department did not gazette geographical places outside buildings or sites with national significance, local councils, and state Town and Country Planning Departments could make the push by inserting them in local plans. “In the case of the state and local authorities, if the people value it, they can do that.” Associate Professor Dr. A.S. Hardy Shafii said the government had to be sincere about conserving or rebuilding villages and towns.

“Everything is related. You can’t separate tourism from culture and politics. From one angle, it is difficult to sustain conservation efforts. From the other, if you want to build something that is just a façade or a replica for tourists, then the living and breathing aspects of the place or the site disappear.” He, however, said the common thread in the understanding of heritage was either gentrification of a place or community or upgrading with poor designs and architecture.

Hardy cited George Town, Penang, as an example of where Singaporean outfits bought pre-war shophouses to be turned into cafes for tourists. This resulted in the townsfolk’s culture and traditions being obliterated. Hardy, who is doing research on waterfront cities and cultural activities, said the government must consider the reasons for rebuilding Sungai Lembing. “You need to carry out studies and engage the community when you want to build, preserve or conserve. “At the end of the day, it has to be what is sustainable and what they want as they are the custodians. It cannot be the authorities’ agenda.” Hardy said all settlements must be conserved and not just those that were predominantly Malay.

“Different cultures and communities hold a treasure trove of knowledge and traditions. We cannot be ethnocentric or chauvinistic about one culture taking precedence over another in terms of heritage and conservation.”

He drew on the shrinking Portuguese settlement in Melaka that had fallen by the wayside. “The community is unique because people are mostly related and close-knit. People come from all over the world during the San Pedro boat festival. Their brand of San Pedro is unique to Melaka.” Hardy said many things could be done to keep traditions alive and settlements vibrant. However, he said, they involved political will and professionalism. “It boils down to whether the government is sincere. If you understand what is culture and heritage, then it all boils down to professionalism. “There are many instances where the authorities bulldoze projects even though people don’t agree, and when something bad happens, they play the blame game.”

Endau-Rompin National Park to reopen next year - September 29, 2019

ROMPIN: The Pahang State Forestry Department will reopen the Endau-Rompin National Park to visitors early next year after a two-year hiatus. Its director Datuk Dr. Mohd Hizamri Mohd Yasin said the park, which has been undergoing upgrading works since 2017, was ready to open its doors to both local and international tourists. He said the park of about 45 ha in size is located in the Endau-Rompin forest reserve and has its own attractions such as rivers, waterfalls, hills, and abundance of endemic plants and vibrant wildlife. He added that there is five new tourism infrastructure prepared by the East Coast Economic Region Development Council (ECERDC) worth RM15 million in a bid to attract more visitors.

“An 80m hanging bridge, a lookout tower and a gallery showcasing the types of flora and fauna in the national park are among the things that make it one of the best ecotourism destinations. “There is also a virtual gaming room where you feel like you are in the forest that adds to the uniqueness of this place. “Visitors at the new facilities will see animal replicas such as tigers, elephants and the tapir. Chalets are also provided for those interested to stay overnight,” he said during a tour at the park yesterday. Hizamri said more than 15,000 local and foreign tourists visited the Endau-Rompin National Park every year. He said he was confident that with the latest upgrades and promotions, the numbers would increase.

He said cooperation with the media, tourist agencies as well as the public were vital in promoting the national park as a tourist destination. He cited the hiring of members of the local community to become tour guides as an example of such collaborations.

Pahang's Menara Teruntum set for 2020 opening- September 23, 2019

KUANTAN: Menara Teruntum, the country’s second-tallest tower, will be opened to visitors early next year. Kuantan Municipal Council (MPK) public relations officer Norkamawati Kamal said since the state capital will obtain city status next year, the opening of the tower will probably be held at the same time. She said work on the 180m tower has been completed and is in the process of obtaining the certificate of completion and compliance (CCC)."Work has been completed and now we are waiting for the CCC. Mercu Teruntum will be the newest and tallest landmark in town and will be operational when Kuantan is announced as a city next year. "MPK is scrutinizing a list of potential operators and once everything is sorted out, the price of entrance tickets will be finalized," she said when contacted.

Norkamawati said Menara Teruntum will provide visitors a unique experience and offers a beautiful view of the town. Visitors to the tower would also be able to enjoy thrilling rides up to two glass elevator shafts to the 104m high observation deck for a 360-degree bird’s eye view of the state capital. A restaurant located 98m above ground level would also offer fantastic views of Kuantan and Sungai Kuantan. Meanwhile, State Tourism Committee chairman Datuk Seri Mohd Sharkar Shamsuddin said Menara Teruntum could emerge as one of the country’s top tourist attractions. He said images of Menara Teruntum would be printed on gifts and souvenirs to boost promotional activities.

Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Wan Rosdy Wan Ismail, who recently described the tower as the new landmark in the state capital in his website, WanRosdy.com, had said visitors could take the opportunity to dine at the restaurant while enjoying the town’s skyline. Menara Teruntum will be ranked second after Kuala Lumpur Tower (421m) which is the tallest tower in the country.

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