Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The king is dead. Long live the king ! (or rather sultan)

Almost every morning we walk a few miles around the new government buildings and construction areas near the marina. Last Sunday morning we happened upon a public bus stopped at the new unoccupied bus terminal. Bill had his wallet in his pocket, so we jumped onto the bus on the spur of the moment. Had no idea where it was going, but what the heck; we didn't have anything better to do that day. The bus followed roads we had not previously seen, and after 40 minutes we were dropped at the same mall that the marina shuttle takes us to each week. So now we have figured out a way to get to the mall -- if we can just find out the bus schedule. The driver did not speak English, but I did understand from him that the next bus would pick us up at the CausewayLink Bus/public bus interchange a half-block away.

We had not eaten breakfast and hit the food court first for a mango-yogurt ice drink for me and peanut butter toast for Bill. Thank goodness they had not yet started cutting up those stinking durians in the supermarket before we finished our breakfast. We strolled around the mall to waste time inside the air-conditioning before walking the half-block or so across a small field to the bus interchange. The attendants at the bus interchange had never heard of the bus number and could not tell us when it should arrive. This is a brand new bus route and no one seems to know anything about it. We decided we would wait up to 2 hours before hailing a taxi -- people watching would keep us entertained. An hour and half later, the bus drove up and we headed back to the marina. While waiting, I had walked around are tried to read the posted signs and found one indicating that there are now 2 daily express buses from that bus interchange to Kuala Lumpur. Hey, what a find!

We need to get to Kuala Lumpur next Monday for an early morning flight on Tuesday to Cambodia. We had not yet decided whether to take the bus or the train, but the information that we had found thus far indicated that the bus would depart from the Larkin main terminal, which is a good distance from the marina. Finding this new express bus that departs from the interchange near the mall makes getting to KL very simple. I purchased tickets for the 9 a.m. bus on Monday morning and we already have seat assignments. The marina shuttle will deliver us to the bus interchange for a very minimal fee. So easy.

While we were on this bus excursion through the villages and while in the mall we noticed that all the local people were dressed up more than usual and that most of the men were wearing small black hats encircled with white double bands. We thought maybe it was some muslim holy day or a national celebration day. When we got back to the marina we noticed a few of the men were wearing black arm bands on their upper right arms, so we inquired about this and were told that the king had died. Well, okay; which king?

Bill did a bit of internet research and learned that the king who had died was the sultan of the state of Johor Bahru. We had seen the sultan/king back in November when his yacht was docked here in Puteri Harbour Marina for a few days. He traveled with several nurses always walking a few paces behind him, even though he did not appear to be ill. His name was Duli Yang Maha Mulia Sultan Iskandar and was 77 years old, which explains why the nearby new government building complex is named Kota Iskandar.

Malaysia has a system of rotating kings. Each state has a sultan and the states rotate having their sultan serve as king. Sultan Iskandar had previously served his 5-year rotation as King of Malaysia; and I presume that once a king, always a king, because the marina staff always referred to him as the king rather than as the sultan. Duli Yang Amat Mulia Tunku Ibrahim Ismail ibni Sultan Iskandar (age 38) has now been appointed to serve as the new sultan for the state of Johor Bahru. I believe he is the son of the recently deceased sultan/king.

The king will be mourned for 7 days. State and federal flags will be flown at half-mast. People go about their normal work routines, although I have noticed that most of the women are visiting the female prayer room near the marina cafe several times daily. Normally the female prayer room is vacant most of the time. The men are more viligant in making their 5 daily required prayers. The local radio stations are playing the mourning chants all day long and the marina is playing this "music" on the sound system at the marina cafe for us all to enjoy all day and night, 24/7. All the women are wearing long skirts covered by long tunics and most are wearing white headscarves. The fabrics of these dresses and headscarves are beautiful. I haven't photographed any of them because I am afraid that would seem disrespectful.

During our walk this morning we took photos of some of the new government buildings. These are all state government buildings; the federal building haven't been built yet, although the infrastructure is already in place. The first building completed was the mosque, as required in this Islamic country. I am afraid our photos don't do justice to the size and beauty of these buildings.

Two other buildings in the complex intrigue me. One is a light-colored metal-clad building that curves. This is an unusually shaped building. And it has 29 lightning rods installed at various points on the multi-leveled roofs. Not taking any chances with the heavy lightning in this area.

The other intriguing building is more striking in appearance. It is basically a concrete block construction that has squared angles and patios on roofs. Except that this angular squared building is topped with very high slatted multi-level roofs. These slatted roofs are constructed of brown metal slats and I-beams. This provides shade and the large space between the actual building and the roofs causes the sun-heated breeze to flow in the shaded areas. This is an excellent method of cooling the actual building beneath; far more efficient than dead-air attic space that would just heat up and require ventilating. And the high slatted roofs are architecturally appealing. We walked inside one of the buildings and saw a table mock-up of what the area will look like once construction is complete. The aerial view of the slatted roof buildings illustrated how curved these buildings actually are.

The key hole effect of repetitive arches with multiple open air courtyards at varying levels at the entrances to some of the buildings is quite Arabic in appearance. As noted in some of our prior postings, this new city is being built by a Dubai company and the Arabian influence is very evident in the architecture. Our marina looked tiny on the city mock-up table. On the return portion of our walk we saw our marina from a different angle. The island of Singapore is in the background just across that narrow spit of water behind the marina (a/k/a Johor Strait, where current runs through like a river).

One thing that Bill has found interesting is the communications tower. Rather than leaving it as one normally sees communications towers (plain metal tower with small satellite dishes and antennaes pointed in every direction), this one has green branches attached randomly on it so that in the distance it looks like a tall narrow tree.

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