Sunday, March 8, 2009
SEGAMAT: HOMETOWN OF MY CHILDREN
When I started my planter career in Pukin Estate, Keratong, Pahang on 18 July 1978, I and my wife decided to make Segamat our home base for our family. We rented a wooden house in Fong Jang Park, Jalan Buloh Kasap. My eldest daughter was then less than 2 years old. Our other 4 children, 2 boys and 2 girls, were born in Segamat in 1979, 1980, 1982 and 1984 respectively. To my children, Segamat is their hometown where they had grew up and received their primary and secondary education. There are also quite of number of planters and palm oil mill engineers who have settled down in Segamat and brought up their children here.
At one time, the timber industry was the main contributor of Segamat’s economy. The traffic was usually slowed down because of many timber trucks passing through the town to various nearby timber saw mills. However, the glamour faded in the 1980s as the timber business wrapped up. Nowadays, the traffic is slowed down by lorries transporting oil palm fresh fruit bunches (FFB) to various palm oil mills and tankers carrying crude palm oil (CPO) to the oil refineries in Pasir Gudang. There are many oil palm and rubber estates belonged to big plantation companies within the District of Segamat and also in nearby Keratong, Pahang. Just to name a few, they are IOI (ex-Dunlop), Sime Darby (ex-Golden Hope & ex-Guthrie), KLK, Ajijaya (ex-Socfin), Felda, Risda, etc. Agricultural commodities have now become the main contributors to Segamat's economy. The plantation owners and smallholders were ‘laughing to the banks’ when the prices of oil palm and rubber skyrocketed to the peak before the global economy tsunami beginning in September 2008.
When I was transferred to Segamat Estate from Swee Lam Estate in July 1992, my wife agreed with me to move our family from our house in Taman Indah, Bukit Siput to the Manager’s Bungalow. We stayed there for only one and a half year until I was told to move again to Regent Estate in Gemencheh, Negeri Sembilan, in January 1994. I believe it was quite an experience to my children and full of sweet memories for them staying in the estate. Nevertheless, they did come to visit and stay with me in other estates during the school holidays.
The Rock Garden has been the main recreational park in Segamat. We used to bring our children there when they were kids and had many photos taken in the garden in the good old days. When I came out from the estate during weekends, I used to jog there many years ago but now I prefer to go for morning walk on the green, green grass of the golf course in Segamat Country Club since I returned from Indonesia not long ago.
There is a popular legend telling how Segamat got its name. In around 1511 Bendahara Tepok of Malacca and his troops were retreating to Johor to escape the Portuguese invasion. While stopping and resting by a river in the area, he took a sip of the crystal clear water from the river which meandered through Rantau Panjang, a settlement north of old Johor. "Segar amat (so refreshing)," he exclaimed. From then on the river was known as Sungai Segamat, and subsequently Segamat replaced Rantau Panjang as the new name of town. However, the river water is muddy nowadays due to frequent flooding and erosion of the river banks during rainy seasons.
The Segamat River flows within the District of Segamat and also flows through Segamat town center. There is a concrete bridge built some 100 years ago linking Bandar Atas, the old town of segamat and Bandar Seberang, the new town center located at the other side across Segamat River. Most of the supermarkets, shopping centers, banks, hotels and new housing estates are found in the new town across the bridge. In 2001, the construction of a second bridge funded by private developers was completed to reduce congestion at the main bridge and to ease the heavy traffic. There is also a railway bridge running parallel to the main bridge across Segamat River.
Segamat had experienced floods during the 1950s, 1984 but the worst shocking flood happened suddenly in December 2006, despite better town planning and irrigation by the authorities. At that time, I was still working as expatriate planter in Jambi, Indonesia, and my wife told me over the phone that our house in Taman Indah, Bukit Siput, was safe and spared by flood, so was the opposite Segamat Baru. We moved to Taman Indah in March 1983 after we bought the house there.
As reported, among the most badly affected areas are Taman Segar and Kampong Abdullah, the shop houses near the second bridge and the town areas across the main bridge. From what I had read, this was due to a sudden overflowing of the Segamat River at an unimaginable speed and unexpectedly, many places were flooded in just a couple of hours. Those affected Segamatians were left hopeless, unable to save their belongings, trapped in their houses and some even had to climb up to the house roof in order to be rescued. Most of the trapped flood victims suffered without tap water or electricity for days. All roads out of town were cut off and both route to Kuala Lumpur and Johor Baru were badly flooded too. Both concrete bridges were submerged by rising water.
There was talk among the Segamat folks that it might have been caused by improper release of water from the upstream Bekok Dam. Nevertheless, Typhoon Utor was blamed for causing massive floods in southern Peninsular Malaysia on 18 December 2006, bringing heavy rainfall of up to 350mm with 24 hours.
Because of its location, the only set back of Segamat town is quite far off from North-South Highway. To go to Johor Baru, we have to drive to Yong Peng, about an hour journey, to exit into the highway. Whereas going to Kuala Lumpur, we drive either to Tangkak, also about an hour journey, or to Simpang Ampat near Tamping, about 1 ½ hour journey, to get into the highway.
Segamat is well known for its delicious durians, such as D1, D2, D24, D101, XO, Golden Phoenix, Red Prawn, Mao Shan Wang etc besides the good types kampung durians. Segamat durians are so famous that many travellers from near and far especially the Singaporeans usually drop by Segamat during the fruiting seasons. No wonder the recent slogan used to attract tourists to Segamat is Nikmatkan Keenakan Raja Segala Buah - ‘Durian Segamat’ (Enjoy the Delicious King of All Fruits - ‘Segamat Durians’). During each fruiting season, there will be many durian stalls sprouting along the roadsides near the junction turning to Tun Razak Highway which links Segamat town to the southern part of Pahang right up to Kuantan.
For those frequent visitors to Segamat as well as the locals who prefer eating out not in the restaurants, they know where to find the local foods and delicacies such as CHONG YIK KEE wanton mee, NAN YANG coffee and toast with butter and kaya (coconut-egg jam), NAM KWANG fragrant iced barley drink, YEO’S bah kut teh (pork bone tea soup), KAMPUNG TENGAH Chinese roti canai & TONG YUEN dim sum, SELVAM BANANA LEAF nasi bryani & roti canai,SANTHA CURRY HOUSE thosai & poori, WARUNG KG JAWA soto mee & nasi tempe and WARUNG USOP KETONG mee rebus. There are also open air food courts such as HOLLAND VILLAGE,GREENLAND, HAPPYLAND and NEWTURN where the customers can choose and order their favourite hawker’s foods.
Well, Segamat is not a big town where one can get to places within 15 minutes even though there are quite a number of traffic lights put up at various junctions along the main trunk road. Once settled down here, it’s not easy for us to move out again. Unlike the youngsters, obviously we, the senior citizens, have adapted ourselves well in Segamat and feel comfortably to stay on to enjoy our retirement life here.