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? :)

... 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?
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...

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?
"Need a hug?" asked the Reticulated Python.
I've seen the fearsome King Cobra on documentaries but didn't realise just how big and long this nightmare is. Truly majestic.
Thanksgiving is in the air.
Camel pretending to be a giraffe.

Another opportunity for a close encounter :)

The tapir is has such a smooth and featureless face.

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!

05 October 2016

Tokyo (Japan) - Harajuku : Playground for Japan's Pop Couture

Date of Exploration : 27 Mar 2016

When it comes to outrageous styles and flashy fashion, Tokyo's Harajuku district is Asia's epicenter of all that is weird and wonderful. So a chance to visit this trendsetting enclave is not-to-be-missed during my virgin trip to the Japanese capital!

I'm not much of a fashionista but since we are visiting the hip Harajuku, have to put in an attempt at being trendy. This look can pass? :)

More than just the name of a place, "Harajuku" has evolved into a term that means a distinct, dramatic Japanese fashion style that is creatively expressive.

At the entrance to the famous Harajuku street that is the style mecca for teenage fashionistas...

... and this hip-hop grandma. I applaud her for not giving a fuck about what the world thinks and sashaying in those killer-height platforms!

Harajuku is an open outdoor playground for cosplayers who became the district's unofficial tourist attractions. Came across this "Strawberry Shortcake" who was a walking rainbow amongst the crowd.

Another cosplay apparition that proves everyday is Halloween in Harajuku. I think it is a fabulous idea to have an area where people who like to play dress up can go to any day in their costumes. It sure adds spice to life.

I came to Harajuku expecting to see a lot of outrageously dressed people and cosplayers but there weren't many. We came on a Sunday, which is supposed to be the day where cosplayers are most likely to appear, but saw only two. *disappointed*

If you are looking for clothes, Harajuku is the wrong place to come to as most shops don't sell clothes. They sell outlandish, theatrical, head-turning everyday garb that borders on being costumes.

Killer marketing with bad sign language.

Saw a lot of people queuing for this snack so decided to try. Pretty good but not queue-worthy.

The amount of people at Harajuku on a weekend is insane.

Passed the tight shopping street, I found myself at an area lined with avant garde boutique shops.

No idea where I am within the Harajuku district but laid eyes on this interesting piece of architecture.

A floral detox from all that fashion spotting.

The more subdued and less crazy side of Harajuku...

... but the overall crowd is still pretty insane at the birthplace of Japan's pop couture.
My visit was over sooner than I expected and even though I didn't come across as many as the fashionably liberated as I would like to, it was still pretty magic to have walked down the legendary fashion district that has revolutionised street style.

Now I'm inspired to be even bolder and more experimental with my choice of prêt-à-porter!
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