31 October 2016

Johor Bahru (Malaysia) - Zoo Johor

Date of Exploration : 15 Oct 2016

Taking a bite into the fringe of Johor Bahru's Taman Istana (Palace Park), Zoo Johor is that quick scratch to ease a hakuna matata itch with a collection of over 100 animal species native to Asia and as far flung as South America.

And the best part is, heeding the call of the wild at this zoo costs only RM2.00 per adult!

The new entrance facade of Zoo Johor. The zoo has undergone some renovation works in recent years and enhancements were still being carried out during the time of my visit.
Getting to Zoo Johor

The easiest way to get here is to take a cab. I took a cab here from Johor Bahru City Square shopping mall that is opposite the Johor Bahru immigration checkpoint. The cab ride took under 10 minutes (smooth traffic day) with a metered fare of RM6.00.

Con Cab...

The Indian cab driver that drove me was friendly but he tried to tell me some sob story so that I would pay him RM10.00, which according to him is the standard rate for short distance rides as taxis in JB don't use meters (that's not true as I've taken numerous cabs before and the drivers turned on their meters). The thing is, I've heard similar sob stories before... claims of being born with birth defect, having major diseases, have sick family members, etc, so that passengers would give more money to the driver out of sympathy. 

I gave more than what was on the meter a couple of times before but after hearing these stories repeatedly, I now doubt the truth in them. It seems like the cab drivers in JB are mostly sick and at the brink of death. Should they even be driving when considering the safety of passengers? Anyway, I told the driver I've heard similar stories previously and he fell into an awkward silence before asking what have I heard. So I related how one told me he had lung disease and seeking treatment while another has a very sick son and yet another had heart surgery. This driver told me he had heart surgery too and was born with defects in his left leg. What defect, he didn't specify. I think dishonesty is the disease.

Zoo Johor is located along Jalan Gertak Merah opposite the grand looking Masjib Jamek Sultan Abu Bakar mosque. Ticket is purchased at a booth behind the main gate at RM2.00 (adult) and RM1.00 (child below 12yo).

For the way back, I walked from Johor Zoo to Johor Bahru City Square and it took me about 35 minutes at a regular walking pace. So the zoo is pretty accessible and easy to get to in my opinion.

One of the Oldest Zoo in Malaysia

Zoo Johor started out as a private wildlife menagerie of the royal family when it was established in 1928 before being handed over to the Johor government. The zoo began receiving public visitors in 1962 and the once royal 'animal garden' is today the state zoo and one of the oldest in Malaysia. And the age shows. Not in a flattering way.

Rejuvenation works to Zoo Johor are evident especially for its entrance but beyond that, most of the zoo looks in need of a makeover to update its design, create more photo-worthy opportunities, and install proper information boards to enable learning and better appreciation of the animals.

This is the enclosure for the White-Handed Gibbon, which is a palace compared to disheveled enclosures some of the other animals are kept in.

For such a petite zoo, I'm surprised at the number of F&B outlets available here. So don't worry about being hungry or thirsty.

Top left photo shows a series of monkey enclosures. I think they've just been installed as they look new and closed to public during my visit. Contrast that with the ageing directional pole and that pretty much sums up the tug-of-war between the old and the new at JB Zoo.

Hippopotamus enclosure... will the wire fence hold if the two hippos in it decide to go full throttle and hurl themselves towards the gate?
I am not nitpicking, but conditions at Zoo Johor are rather abysmal. It looks more like a backyard animal shelter than a state-level zoo. Then again, entrance fee is only RM2.00 so can't ask for too much lah. At least the animals look well-fed and not begging to be put out of their misery.

Leather, Feather, Beak and Fur

Zoo Johor is not much of a looker, but the variety of animals found here is pretty commendable for its sparrow size. What I really liked is how close I can get to the animals because of the zoo's casual attitude towards safety. Most zoos have such a vast safety distance between people and animals that it is better to stay home and watch National Geographic.

That's why I heart Zoo Johor for the very rare opportunity to see the animals, some of them formidable, at close range with just a mere fence between us.

A wire fence separated me from the hippopotamus but no luck to see the river horse up close as they were content being submerged in their private pool.

White-Handed Gibbon... this fella was quite the acrobat during my visit. It hung and swung on tree branches like no tomorrow. Such a wonderful treat watching the care-free primate defy gravity. See video below...

If you know anything about this bird, the cassowary, this photo should shock you. Yes, I was THAT close to this prehistoric-looking bird! The cassowary is ranked the most dangerous bird in the world with the ability to slice and disembowel a human with its sharp, dagger-like nail on its middle toe.

Most cassowary enclosures would put a huge gap between animal and visitors but at Zoo Johor, I got face time with this magnificent bird that came right up to the fence. It has such beautiful eyes with perfect lashes that would make Maybelline cry. I was so thrilled to finally see the cassowary eye-to-eye... and survived!

Neighbours of the cassowary included an emu, a close relative in the same ratite family, and a couple of crocodiles (buaya in Malay).

Some see them as parent and child, others look upon them as wallet and handbag.

Open field zone for the watching and feeding of deers and ostriches...

... but first, a steak stake out at the gaur enclosure. This beefy bull is also known as the Indian bison.

Let's do the Macarena!

This is the ostrich and deer's version of conveyor belt "sushi" with visitors moving back and forth along the raised boardwalk to feed the animals raw kangkong (swamp spinach). A bunch of the vegetables cost RM2.00 and payment is by trust. You can drop the money into a collection box next to the basket if you took a bunch of the leafy feed.

Saw quite a few kids just grabbed the kangkong and fed the animals without paying so I dropped a couple of ringgits into the box to help keep the food coming.

Would've been more fun if the deers can be fed on ground level.

I fawn you! Now it's your turn to pah-sahng. I go hide and you come find me okay? :)

Spotted a Great Hornbill by itself and thought it is unusual as hornbills in captivity are usually kept in pairs because the birds are monogamous and mate for life. I thought this lonely one is either single or its partner had died...

... then I realised the partner is right up against the cage. Both birds are female. Female Great Hornbills have white eyes while the eyes of the males are red. Should they wave a rainbow flag?

The crowd puller at Zoo Johor is the White Ear Marmoset. Everyone wants to get a photo of it and every kid (and adult) wants to tickle them through the cage. They are fearless of humans and seem to like the colour red. A guy held a cold bottle of red 100 Plus close to the cage and the tiny monkeys stuck out their tiny tongues to lick the condensation off the bottles. Their cuteness is highly addictive!

Go nuts, no pun intended, over this Grelim-looking critter that is the White Ear Marmoset (a.k.a. Common Marmoset). Meeting this cutie made coming to Zoo Johor totally worth it.

Barking Deer (a.k.a. Indian muntjac or red muntjac)... it is considered the oldest deer species. I love its very tribal facial markings.

Is the fabled Madam White Snake really the Albino Python?

I've seen the fearsome King Cobra on documentaries but didn't realise just how big and long this nightmare is. Truly majestic.

"Need a hug?" asked the Reticulated Python.

Christmas is in the air.

Camel pretending to be a giraffe.

Another opportunity for a close encounter :)

My Chinese zodiac! From the missing face paint, it is obvious which tiger gets lots of heavy petting.

The tiger was pacing up and down the enclosure non-stop as if it was doing yard time in a jail.

The tiger enclosure looks like a gladiator arena doesn't it?

Finally the beast took a short rest after a failed attempt to mount the missus.

Around the lower wall of the enclosure are narrow slits through the concrete where you can peep in for a close-up of the tiger. I was really lucky to get this shot of it looking through the hole into my camera!

A rather interesting feature of Zoo Johor is a roof-top zone that links up the tiger, lion, cow, chimpanzee and bear enclosures. The big cats were napping away from the tropical heat. Definitely bring an umbrella when visiting the zoo.

Moo... They look so dorky cute.

Sun bear begging for a treat. Refrain from feeding the animals and if you're going with kids, ensure that they don't throw things into the animal pens. Saw a number a kids throw tissues and carton drink boxes at the animals and littering the place they live.

This chimp has the filthy habit of poking his finger into his nostril, dig around a bit, and then sticking the same finger into his mouth... *gag*

They may not be free, but they are worry-free.

What species is this behind a cage?

Although Zoo Johor is rather compact, I spent almost 3 hours here getting face time with the residents. I didn't think much about the zoo at first because of the rundown conditions but after I looked past the lack of aesthetics and focused on the animals, I began to enjoy the opportunities for close observations and encounters.

Besides, the zoo is located not too far from the JB checkpoint and easily accessible. Plus, may I mention again, it's only RM2.00 to visit!

03 October 2016

Tokyo (Japan) - Ueno Park & Akihabara

Date of Exploration : 28 Mar 2016

After Asakusa Temple, we continued our exploration of the northeastern districts of Tokyo with a visit to Ueno Park and Akihabara. As all these places of interest are rather nearby, planning to see all of them together as a day excursion would save a lot of travelling time.

Ueno Park - An Attraction of Attractions

From Tokyo's iconic Asakusa Temple, we took a short train ride to Ueno Park. Other than being a scenic green escape from the concrete of Tokyo, the park is also home to a zoo (Ueno Zoo), several museums (such as the Tokyo National Museum, Western Museum of Art, National Museum of Nature and Science, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, etc), shrines and themed landscapes.

With so many attractions within its grounds, Ueno Park makes for a very rewarding visit that could demand a full-day trip just to explore most of what it has to offer. But perhaps what the park is most famous for is its reputation as one of the best places for hanami (appreciating cherry blossoms) during the sakura season

I came to Japan specially for the cherry blossom season so Ueno Park was on my list of must-visit places to revel in the floral spectacle. Ueno Park is also a favourite choice for hanami parties for the locals because it is the only park in Tokyo where the consumption of alcohol is allowed.

Being a hotspot for viewing sakura, Ueno Park gets a lot of footfall with people numbering as countless as the flowers in bloom. To avoid crowds and have much of the park to yourself, the best time to visit is apparently before 10am during the sakura season.

We arrived late at Ueno Park (at around 3pm) but early for the sakura season. Most of the trees were still budding and the flowers were not in full bloom yet.

We passed by the quaint Kiyomizu Kannado (Goddess of Mercy Temple) sitting atop a hill. As we did not have a lot of time before nightfall, we rushed through our visit of Ueno Park and did not visit the various attractions and points of interest within its vicinity.

I can imagine how spectacular it would be when the floral canopies are in full bloom.

As different species of cherry blossoms with slightly different blooming periods are planted in Ueno Park, we were rewarded with these early sprays of pink so our trouble to get here wasn't in vain.

Sakura flowers are pretty alone and beautiful together.

Groups of people spread picnic mats along the paths lined with sakura trees for hanami parties and gatherings. Consumption of alcohol is permitted in Ueno Park so can you imagine warming up with some sake (Japanese rice wine) in the cool spring air amidst drifting petals of sakura? Ahh... it would be bliss! Except that the green hoarding destroyed any sense of beauty!

Silly jump shot at the vast plaza in front of Tokyo National Museum.
A brief time photographing the sakura blooms later, the sun began to set and we hurried off to our next destination. If I visit Tokyo again, I would definitely come back to Ueno Park to check out the zoo, temples and museums. And I would definitely start my visit much earlier so as to see more!

Akihabara - Plugging into the Anime Pulse of Tokyo

Departing Ueno Park, we had wanted to walk over to Bunkyo Civic Center, which has a free-access observation deck on the 25th floor, to catch the sunset over Tokyo. On a clear day, you can see Mount Fuji from the deck.

In my research, Bunkyo Civic Center didn't seem too far a walk from Ueno Park but because I was being cheap, I didn't get a local data SIM card so that I can activate Google map for way-finding and relied on asking our way to where we wanted to be. Thinking that Bunkyo Civic Center would be a well-known landmark, we asked the police at Ueno Park and several passers-by along the way but no one knew where the building was. We even showed them photos of the building only to receive blank stares.

We walked along Showa-Dori road, which is an arterial road next to the entrance of Ueno Park, and about 30 minutes later, we ended up at Akihabara! I've planned to go Akihabara after Bunkyo Civic Centre but unwittingly, we've arrived at Tokyo's famed tech district without knowing that we could actually walk to Akihabara from Ueno Park. Oh well, it was a pleasant surprise although we didn't get to see the sunset over Tokyo as hoped for.

Welcome to Tokyo's geekdom of tech and anime!

Other than electronics, Akihabara is also a come-to place for entertainment-themed restaurants and cafes such as the AKB48 Cafe and Gundam Cafe. AKB48 is the wildly popular girl band group which has 48 members! And 'AKB' is short for Akihabara because this is where it all started.

I came to Akihabara not because I'm a techie but for the area's famed maid cafes where diners are served by cute girls in maid costumes. Ok, I know what you are thinking... that I'm a dirty old man satisfying some BDSM fetish but I'm not. I'm just curious about this peculiar cafe culture that is every schoolboy's and horny men fantasy.

One of the most famous maid cafe is @Home Cafe. At the cafe, you are treated like a king where the maids will serve you, play games with you and even feed you! I was really psyched about the experience of being pampered but my companion didn't feel comfortable with the idea so the lift lobby was as close I'd gotten to @Home Cafe.

There are many different kinds of maid cafes in Akihabara. Some have games as part of their services while others engage you in handicraft or performances. I think it's a blessing that I didn't go into the maid cafe. I would probably take over their jobs since it sounds like so much fun! LOL

Since we gave the maid cafes a miss, we decided to check out Gundam Cafe, which is next door to the AKB48 Cafe.

Piecing together plastic robots was one of my favourite past-times as a kid and I had shelves full of Gundam bots and mechanised Zoids on display. Whatever ang pow money I got during Chinese New Year would end up on those shelves. So I was also pretty psyched to dine at Gundam Cafe. But luck wasn't on our side. The cafe was closed that day for a private event! *tear out my hair*

It was quite a string of non adventures at Akihabara but there's no denying that the district possesses a great potential for unusual experiences that is centered around the uniquely Japanese culture of manga / anime. And here's me trying to audition as the next anime star. Ooi... stop puking okay?!

From soaking in the religious traditions at Asakusa Temple to sakura viewing at Ueno Park to stepping into the future at Akihabara, we encountered 3 very distinct facets of Tokyo that are so very different all in a day. What can I say except that I'm totally loving it in Tokyo!
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