Mon, May 24, 2010
New Straits Times
Growing pains for a gem of a city

JOHOR BAHRU, MALAYSIA: ONE will find it hard not to notice that the journey becomes smoother when one drives into Singapore.

The reason is there is hardly any pothole in the republic. You also rarely see anyone repairing potholes there.

That is why I can't help but envy Singaporeans when it comes to their maintenance culture.

In Johor Baru, things are quite different. Driving around can be an adventure, especially along main roads such as the six-lane Jalan Skudai.

Potholes and uneven stretches are everywhere. Being quite a veteran driver here, I have learned to slow down at some stretches or veered to the left or right to avoid a pothole.

I guess those from outside the city need to learn the perils of driving here the hard way.

Now, with the extensive road upgrading works all over the city, because of the Iskandar Malaysia project, driving here is even more challenging.

One needs to plan one's route carefully before venturing out. Otherwise, you will get caught in a massive traffic jam or you will have to negotiate your way through bumpy alternative roads.

There are also lorries ferrying earth and sand which one needs to give way to. Well, who knows, a gravel may fall off from the lorry and hit one's car windscreen, or worse, one's head if one is riding a motorcycle.

Personally, I have been avoiding the junction connecting Jalan Ibrahim and the Inner Ring Road for some time now. The roadworks are too intimidating for me, with cranes everywhere hoisting steel beams and other heavy things.

I don't go through such anxiety when driving in Singapore. Road upgrading works or other projects are always done in properly walled-off areas.

As many here will agree, everything seems to be spick-and-span in Singapore compared with Johor Baru.

Having said that, it would be unfair not to highlight what Johor Baru has which Singaporeans find lacking on their island.

The first thing that springs to mind is the sense of adventure one can feel in Johor Baru. Singapore is too safe and "sterile" that even the trees at its well-manicured gardens look as if they are made of plastic.

Then again, one may argue that it's another plus point for the republic. After all, many would prefer to be safe than sorry.

This city is also a cheaper place to live in and to have fun. Just look at all those Singapore-registered cars parked at the hypermarkets and seafood restaurants here, especially during the weekends.

This brings me to my next point: the World Cup in South Africa next month.

It was recently announced that Singtel and Starhub, the republic's cable networks, are charging between S$70.64 (RM162) and S$94.16 for the total viewing package of the football extravaganza.

Despite Singaporeans being financially more well off, I can imagine that many of their football fans will be adjusting their television antennas to get a better reception of our RTM1 and RTM2 which will be airing all the matches, live or delayed, for free.

Mamak restaurants in Johor Baru will probably be packed with ardent football fans from the republic till the wee hours.

Those in charge of tourism should come up with some packages to draw more football-crazy Singaporeans here next month.

Well, Johor Baru, warts and all, is not too bad compared with its affluent southern neighbour. The city has its redeeming qualities.

With the massive Iskandar Malaysia development corridor slowly taking shape, Johor Baru may be on par with or even better than Singapore or Kuala Lumpur one day. The way I see it, Johor Baru is like the middle sister who is struggling to establish herself and has not realised her true potential.

Once she discovers who she truly is, she will be better than her elder and younger sisters, which in this case are Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, respectively.

For now, she just needs to be patient and work hard for a better tomorrow.

- New Straits Times

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