Monday, 5 October 2009

Johor Bahru

Permanent 25 - 50% Discounts on Everything for Singaporeans

sunny 33 °C
When Andy said he was coming to Singapore for the Aussie long weekend on the NSW Labour Day, Atta and meself were scratching our heads to come up with a good itinerary for him. The task was made more challenging because he had been to Singapore before (albeit a good many years, but Singapore isn't China; nothing much had changed during that time maybe except for the cost of living).

So the easiest way out would be taking him out of Singapore, and into JB - the Singapore-Malaysia border town. Since we also haven't been there either - 2 birds with 1 stone (well, 3 birds if birds refers to people).

JB (Johor Bahru) may not look much, but it's Malaysia's 2nd biggest city only after KL (Kulua Lumpur).

We took a train to Woodlands (costs about $1.40 SGD from memory), because on the map, it's the closest station to JB. But one station before Woodlands at Marselling, the MTR's PA told us that we should get off there and took a bus if we wanted to cross the border.

And so we took a bus, got off at the Singapore check point, went through the custom (which took only a jiffy), and then re-joined the same bus to go to the Malaysian check point. Boy, the traffic between the two check points was in a gridlock, and it took about 35 mins what should've taken about 5 mins if there's no congestion that arose from the custom processing of motorists. The bridge that connects the two check points (also known as Malaysia-Singapore Second Link), was built to reduce traffic congestion. Well, looks like we need a second bridge, in addition to the existing 2 links (1 bridge, and 1 Causeway).

Most days in the second half of the year (Jun to Dec) in Singapore is cool and overcast to cloudy. As soon as we got to JB, the sky cleared up. It was as if Malaysia and Singapore has separate skies even if they separated by a very narrow strait.

JB is a fave destinations for Singaporean, going by the long immigration queues and the traffic jam. Since this is weekend and about 10:30AM, all these busy traffic were tourist traffic, not business (not a suits in sight). True is, JB is a popular weekend getaways for Singaporeans. Surely they're not here for the sightseeing, which we covered in less than a day, and on Andy's insistence we covered most of the places on foot.

So what was the attractions? Surely this popular place for shopping for contraband like chewing gums and pirated movies can't account for all the huge traffic that keep these two links in such a chockablock? Well, Singaporeans have 2 passions that Atta shares: shopping and eating out. And what Singaporeans love more than these 2 things are doing them on the cheap. Who doesn't like a discount?

The taxi's flag fall/drop in JB is $3.2, which is identical to Singapore. Except that they're quoted in their own currency. 1 SGD = 2.3 MYR. So the cab-fare in JB Malaysia is less than half of that in Singapore. But not everything is such a steep discount to Singapore. Taxi is labour intensive, and the petrol in Malaysia is much cheaper as it's an oil producing nation. Most of everything is prized similar to HK, which is about 25 to 50% lower than that of Singapore on a currency conversion basis.
If you intend to spend the weekend in Singapore, you save a bundle by going across the border that costs about $5 SGD by public transport. Say, you do some shopping=$100, have a decent lunch=$10, get a haircut, then go to a health spa (or get a haircut at a fancy day spa=$100), then finish off the day with a dinner=$15.

Total spending = 100+10+100+15 = $225
Average discount of 30% = 225 *0.3 = $67.5
Your net saving = $67.5 - $5 = $62.5.

JB might as well stand for 'Just Bargains' for Singaporeans. We would make this a more regular weekend visits from now on.

Footnote: Atta bought 5 bottles of chewing gums (she can't live without chewing gum after a meal. It's part of her dental hygiene routine. I prefer flosses). The 5 boxes of chewing gum in her bag went thru a X-Ray scanner, it wasn't picked up by the operator. Or maybe they simply didn't bother with such a small quantity. The worse thing can happen is that they will keep your gums. There's no penalty. the government isn't making a fuss over it. They do, however take a dimmer view about capsicum or peppered spray, which they're taking more seriously with multiple warnings posted in many places on the walls of the custom area. Because unlike countries like USA where carrying sprays are good idea for women in some cities because of the crime wave. But in Singapore these things are considered offensive weapons rather than defencive devices because public sexual crimes are unheard of in Singapore.

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