Jan 24, 2013

Visit the Old Istana Negara

Finally we get to glimpse how the Royal Agung (King) in Malaysia live in the former Istana Negara now that they plan to turn it into a museum. Most of the time we only get to view the gates and the changing of the guards. And if you crane your neck and try to look through the bush you can see the royal palace facade.

Now that the King has relocated to their new residence in the Jalan Duta area, the old Istana Negara could finally be open to the public! It would be great to have a walk through and view the grand interior! However I wonder if the public would be allowed to snap photos. A few of the royal museums that I visited did not allow the public to take pictures, which was such a crying shame.

Anyway, in order to entice the public to come visit the royal palace, here are some photos from the local dailies giving you a rare glimpse on the inside interior of the old former Istana Negara!

Sep 23, 2012

Terrapuri Heritage Village, Penarik, Terengganu

Terengganu has always been a favourite seaside getaway for me. It has the most beautiful white sand beach with shallow seas in the Peninsular Malaysia. If not for its distance I would be frequenting Terengganu state for my tourism and travel! And now there is this Terrapuri Heritage Village at Penarik giving you a unique experience on cultural and heritage holiday stay! From this info, looks like a good way to give it a try too!

Terrapuri celebrates Terengganu's rich architectural and cultural heritage
Story and pictures by Andrew Sia
Monday September 24, 2012

Terrapuri is no ordinary conservation and restoration project. It celebrates the rich architectural and cultural heritage of Terengganu

A Chinese businessman has been collecting antique Malay houses for 20 years, and he has now turned them into a lovely heritage-themed boutique resort called Terrapuri, which means The Lan d of Palaces.

The location he has chosen is Penarik, an hour's drive north of Kuala Terengganu. This stunning site sits on a narrow spit of land sandwiched between a riv er lined with nipah sugar palms and the glistening sea graced by gently swaying coconut trees, all capturing the windy whispers from the South China Sea.

Serene: View of the pool at Terrapuri and the surrounding wetlands.
Serene: View of the pool at Terrapuri and the surrounding wetlands.

Just off-shore lie the island jewels of Pulau Redang, Pulau Lang Tengah and Pulau Bidong, each graced with necklaces of liquid gemstone in the form of luminous aquamarine waters.

The intrepid collector is Alex Lee Yun Ping, 44, a self-made entrepreneur who runs the state's largest tour company, Ping Anchorage Travel & Tours. Now he has created a little slice of paradise with 29 aged Terengganu ho uses which have been transformed into luxurious villas, as well as a spa, Malay restaurant, meeting centre, reception, library and art gallery.

Such is the weight of architectural treasure here that Terrapuri has been used to shoot the Malaysia Truly Asia advertisement, as well as the Malay epic film Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa. But this is certainly no ordinary conservation and restoration project. Rather, it's meant as a model living heritage used and enjoyed by guests every day.

The villas have many of the modern comforts one expects – air-conditioning, hot showers, mini fridge, kettle, etc – amidst a setting of real antiques such as woode n gerobok (cupboards), brass trays, earthen jars and wooden chests. I choose to switch off t he air-con and open the carved wooden windows, the better to feel the sea breeze from the nearby beach, while safely protected from mosquitoes inside my kelambu (mosquito net) over the bed.

Alex Lee prying open some live oysters as pre-dinner appetiser on a floating fish farm near Terrapuri.
Alex Lee prying open some live oysters
as pre-dinner appetiser on a floating
fish farm near Terrapuri.

Traditional Malay ho uses have a rumah dapur, the wet part of the house which is usually a bit lower than the main house. At Terrapuri, this has been cleverly transformed into a large and luxurious bathroom complete with a wooden bathtub. This is precisely where I opt to dissolve the stress I have carried over from KL.

Alex, as he prefers to be known, is an antique collector who just happens to gather whole houses! This has been possible not only because traditional Terengganu homes are made of extremely durable cengal wood but, more importantly, because they can be dismantled and reassembled.

"Not a single nail is used to build the houses, " he explains. "Instead, the beams are fitted together using pasak (wooden pegs). Even the walls are made of timber panels slotted into grooves (in the beams)." (You can see this being done in the iSnap video).

This portability has enabled him to scour the state looking for time-honoured homes, some with colourful stories. Take the t wo grand houses named Teluk Pasu and Teluk Rusa. They were built 150 years ago by one Haji Mohd Ali, a 19th century rags-to-riches merchant who made his fortune from making pelara (fish fermented with salt to make a sauce) along the coast and then sending boats upriver to barter it with rice, fruits, and other jungle produce. Now the twain are in the process of being converted into the resort's library and art gallery respectively.

It was back in 1988, after Alex had just turned part of his grandparents' wooden shop in Marang (a small town 20km south of the state capital) into a backpackers' inn, that his foreign guests began influencing him to better value local culture, arts and architecture.

"In those days, we Asians did not appreciate our own things much. Old wooden houses were allowed to rot away," he recalls.

Unfortunately, this included the state authorities which decided to demolish Marang's "old and ugly" wooden shops in the early 1990s to make way for "development" with new concrete structures. The backpackers simply stopped coming to what used to be one of the must-stop destinations along the East Coast.

But Alex saw the value of these age-old structures and bought whole kampung houses, some for merely RM7,000 to RM10,000 each, as well as an array of wooden antiques such as coconut husk scrapers, looms, ploughs, carpentry tools and carvings (some of which are on display at Terrapuri).

A cluster of antique Malay houses have been turned into a fabulous heritagethemed boutique resort called Terrapuri, which means The Land Of Palaces, at Penarik, Terengganu.
A cluster of antique Malay houses have been turned into a
fabulous heritage themed boutique resort called Terrapuri,
which means The Land Of Palaces, at Penarik, Terengganu.

He even bought half-decayed houses for the valuable cengal wood could be used as spare parts for his resort.

The classic Terengganu house, known as Rumah Bujang is built on stilts, has a steep roof, gent ly curved gable ends and rhomboidshaped terracotta roof tiles.

The level of conservation detail here can be seen with the intriguing white, red and black cloths placed at the top of several main house pillars ( which the roof beams rest on). These are the bunga halang charms which have azimat or special writings on them to ward off bad luck.

While the physical houses themselves may be over a hundred years old, they represent a much more ancient Malay culture. Alex cites the book Spirit Of Wood: The Art Of Malay Woodcarving by Dr Faris h A. Noor and Eddin Khoo, which postulates that Terengganu is heir to the rich cultural legacy of the ancient Langkasuka kingdom (2nd to the 16th century CE) which had trade and cultural links to Cambodia, Thailand, Champa (Vietnam) and Java besides China and India.

The traditional rumah dapur (kitchen) has been cleverly transformed into a luxurious bathroom complete with wooden bathtub.
The traditional rumah dapur (kitchen) has been
cleverly transformed into a luxurious bathroom
complete with wooden bathtub.

"Malay civilisation was here even before Malacca," says Alex.

The Terrapuri project has had perhaps a more powerful knock-on effect on heritage a wareness than any seminar.

"People can now see the (monetary) value of their old houses," says Alex. "From RM10,000 about 20 years ago, an old house can now sell for RM50,000. So, nowadays, you see people keeping their old wooden homes next to their modern concrete ones."

The whole undertaking has cost him some RM10mil so far. Some of his friends called it projek orang gila (mad man's project), while his accountant kept te lling him there is little return on investment, especially with the slump in the number of European visitors due to the economic problems there. But he kept ploughing on, raising money from different quarters, even selling his Mercedes.

"For RM10mil, I could have bought five shophouses and turned them into a midrange hotel as a cash cow. My wife has also been complaining and asking why I want to suffer. But it's not just about the money. I am passionate about these old houses. They are masterpieces."

Indeed when so many places in South-East Asia offer beaches and islands, Terengganu needs an extra edge to bring in tourists and Alex believes heritage is the key.

"We face stiff competition from Thailand and Bali where cultural tourism is stronger," he notes.

Despite having applied for financial assistance from the relevant authorities for his work in preserving heritage, nothing has been forthcoming.

---> Terrapuri Heritage Village is located in Kampung Mangkuk, Penarik, 22120 Setiu, Terengganu (09-624 5020 / e-mail: info@terrapuri.com / website: terrapuri.com).


Preserving Terengganu's botanical and culinary heritage
By Andrew Sia
Monday September 24, 2012

An oasis of luxurious kampung living, Terrapuri also aims to preserve Terengganu's botanical and culinary heritage.

APART from the hardware of the homes themselves, the Terrapuri project is also keeping alive the crucial software of carpentry skills needed to maintain heritage homes.

Alwee Abd Rahman, 44, the resident maintenance manager, has been a carpenter since he was 13, following in the footsteps of his father Abd Rahman Abdullah.

Homely touch: The service is warm at Terrapuri, and you can even enjoy breakfast on the verandah.
Homely touch: The service is warm at Terrapuri,
and you can even enjoy breakfast on the verandah.

"My father and grandfather were wood workers who made boats and houses," he says. "I learnt much from them, for instance, how to use wooden pegs instead of nails when joining wood together."

His son Alhuzaifi Alwee, 20, is, in turn, following his footsteps as an apprentice.

"As most of the kampung folks now want concrete houses, the old skills of traditional builders are being lost," says self-made entrepreneur Alex Lee Yun Ping. "Yet conservation can become a whole industry in its own right, like in Europe."

Alwee is not just preserving the past but also innovating new products. The anthology of antiques here includes many traditional Malay beds which are sized somewhere between today's Queen- and single-sized beds (requiring special mattresses to be commissioned for them).

The founder of Terrapuri, Alex (as he prefers to be called), says that since there were many more beds than needed at the resort, he discussed with Alwee how to turn some of them into benches.

An antique bed which is being converted into a bench. Alwee Abd Rahman (left) and his son Alhuzaifi Alwee are maintaining their family's living heritage of carpentry skills.
An antique bed which is being converted into a bench.
Alwee Abd Rahman (left) and his son Alhuzaifi Alwee
are maintaining their family's living heritage of
carpentry skills.

"The resort could easily have just bought benches from Bali for RM400," says Alex. "But we wanted our own Terengganu identity. You won't see these benches anywhere else."

This is the place to experience kampung living in style. From breakfast on your villa's verandah with the classic Terengganu dish of nasi dagang (spicy sweet tuna curry with rice) to dinners of sup bujut (local chicken soup), ayam masak merah (tomato curry chicken) and budu (fermented anchovies) at the high Rumah Tanjung overlooking the pool and surrounding forest.

Instead of parachuting in some hotel managers from Kuala Lumpur, Alex has chosen the approach of "community-based tourism" to ensure that some income from visitors will flow towards people who live in or around Penarik. Thus tudung-clad village women provide a most homely welcome as they act as receptionists, serve food or do housekeeping, while chatting about your day's activities, or about life in Terengganu.

Food is also sourced from nearby villages, and a must-do day trip here is out to the nearby floating aquaculture farms in the river. Here, I watch Alex pulling up a whole slew of live oysters and prying them open for consumption on the spot!

The idyllic kampungs around the resort are great for cycling, and I see fishing boats, orchards, a turtle hatchery and even a breeder of ornamental cockerels known as ayam serama. In fact, the Setiu Wetlands surrounding Penarik offer a host of eco-tourism delights, including trips out to the nipah and mangrove swamps. An even more magical experience awaits me at night as fireflies on the mangroves create flashing dots of light…

Penarik is just 20 minutes from Merang jetty, the jumping-off point for day trips to the islands of Pulau Redang, Pulau Lang Tengah and Pulau Bidong. There's nothing like some snorkelling to work up an appetite!

But for something more unusual, I visit the haunting gelam forests around the resort. Alex says the movie Bunohan was filmed here, and it's easy to see why because the trees exude a mysterious charm with their gnarled barks, spindly branches and draping leaves.

Indeed, it's not just architecture that is being preserved here, but also the state's botanical (and culinary) heritage. Alex is working to create a rich garden of herbs – such as kadok leaves (used for otak otak), kelsom (laksa), ulam (salads) pandan, lemongrass, ginger, galangal, turmeric, bunga kantan (all used in curries) and the aphrodisiac tongkat ali.

The idyllic kampungs around the resort are great for cycling, and you can see fishing boats, orchards, a turtle hatchery and even ornamental cockerels.
The idyllic kampungs around the resort are great for cycling,
and you can see fishing boats, orchards, a turtle hatchery
and even ornamental cockerels.

Apart from the normal mango and soursop, he is also planting more "kampung" trees such as sukon (breadfruit), kerkut (which has small cherries that attract birds), cermai and gajus (both can be mixed with belacan into a condiment) and melinjau (used to make a type of local crackers). Meanwhile, the flowers from frangipani, cempaka, melor, kenanga, gardenia and kesidang trees will (once the trees mature) impart a bouquet of natural fragrances.

The wetlands on one side of the resort are rich with jambu laut, gelang, pandan laut, paku laut (cycads rumpii), kerecut reeds (which can be weaved into mats) and, of course, nipah (the leaves are used for attap roofs). And if you ever wondered what inspired Terengganu's woodcarvers to create their gloriously intricate patterns, look no further than the surrounding plants such as pepulut, sesayap, ketam guri, bayan peraksi, bakawali, kangkong and ketumbit. Yes, the plants here can be eaten, and even inspire art, too!

Indeed, it's heartening that heritage at Terrapuri is being celebrated on a deeper level beyond architecture, by delving into ancient carpentry, traditional cooking, pristine wetlands and a rich botanical inheritance.

Source: The Star Lifestyle

Terrapuri Heritage Village at Penarik, Terengganu

Sep 3, 2012

Cherating Beach, Pahang

The last I've been to Cherating Beach in Pahang was many years ago. I enjoyed the trip very much as the beaches were wide and shallow, so you could walk quite far out. Apart from the many resorts like Club Med, there were also budget chalet. So you can stay and enjoy your beach stay without burning a hole in your pocket!

Now with the highway, it takes about 3 hours drive from KL to Kuantan and a short hop over to Cherating seaside. So let's see what Cherating has to offer!

Cherating beckons with lush tropical surroundings and exciting activities
By Muhd Basyar Mustapha
Monday September 3, 2012

IT WAS a smooth three-hour journey from Kuala Lumpur to Cherating, Pahang.

The undertaking was a three-day-two-night media familiarisation trip organised by The Legend Resort Hotel Cherating, a four-star resort where we stayed, situated about 45km from Kuantan.

Upon arrival, we were greeted by the resort's warm and friendly staff, not to forget the garland and welcome drinks.

Stepping into our deluxe rooms, we were pleasantly surprised by the handsomely furnished and decorated rooms.

The interior looked and felt fresh, offering a splendid view of the South China Sea. The welcoming space was definitely a good start for a getaway.

Spectacular view: The sunset, viewed from the resort.
Spectacular view: The sunset, viewed from the resort.

After resting a few minutes on the comfortable bed, I took a stroll around the resort and the beach.

Aug 3, 2012

Petaling Jaya History in Brief

Here's a brief history about Petaling Jaya. It was a satelite town to Kuala Lumpur but now has grown to be a little city (and getting rather congested too!) with many new buildings sprouting out office lots, shopping centres and brand new condos. This is getting to be a prime location to live in. I studied here, live here, work here and practically get most of my things done here. Though I grew up in KL, Petaling Jaya or PJ for short, is now my hometown!


PJ: The little town that grew and grew
By Priya Menon
Photos by Art Chen & Muhammad Syamil Johar
Friday August 3, 2012

ARTIST photographer Soraya Yusof Talismail tried moving out of Petaling Jaya once, but her love for the satellite town — declared a city six years ago — drew her back in no time.

The 44-year-old artist and photographer was born in Assunta Hospital, Petaling Jaya, close to where her family was living at that time in Jalan Kelang Lama. They moved to Section 14 in the 1970s.

A PJ girl through and through, she studied at the popular Jack and Jill Kindergarten before moving on to Sekolah Kebangsaan Sri Petaling and later shifting to Bukit Bintang Girls School in the heart of Kuala Lumpur.

After years of living in PJ, Soraya and her husband Ariff Awaluddin moved to Jalan Duta for a while but found that it was nothing like her "hometown."

Picturesque: The Taman Jaya Lake is an iconic lake for nature lovers and joggers who frequent it every day.
Picturesque: The Taman Jaya Lake is
an iconic lake for nature lovers and
joggers who frequent it every day.

"Our place in Jalan Duta was really nice, we had large grounds and a superb view but we just had to come back," said Soraya.

She then recalled her father's prophetic words on her wedding day.

"I remember my late father telling my husband, ‘This is Soraya's hometown', meaning that we should not move out.

Petaling Jaya was founded in 1952 to overcome the overpopulation in neighbouring Kuala Lumpur.

The new satellite town started with over 800 houses in what is now known as Old Town, made up of Jalan 1 and Jalan 2. These two roads have since been renamed Jalan Templer, after Sir Gerard Templer, and Jalan Othman respectively.

Soraya's love for Petaling Jaya is shown clearly on her face as she describes the best things she had while growing up.

Her family owns the house in Section 14 where she still lives with her mother.

Good old days: Soraya and her mother Rogayah Ismail reminiscing about their times in PJ at their home in Section 14.
Good old days: Soraya and her mother
Rogayah Ismail reminiscing about their
times in PJ at their home in Section 14.

According to her mother Rogayah Ismail, their house was surrounded by bushes and it was really a quiet neighbourhood.

Having large grounds was an advantage for the family, who often played host to their cousins, who turned up for the holidays.

Both of Soraya's siblings are still in Petaling Jaya; her brother is also living in the family home while her sister lives across the road.

Back then, the only shopping complex was Jaya Shopping Centre, best known as the Jaya Supermarket, which Soraya loved to visit, especially when shopping for Hello Kitty toys at the Sanrio Shop. There was Kathy's Toy Shop, a record store where everyone went to get the latest albums and the always sweet-smelling bakeries.

"Then there was the Asia Jaya Shopping Centre. It is no longer there but the LRT station has retained the name. The old mall had an ice rink as well as a roller-skating rink," she said.

Petaling Jaya was a small town then, with only a few development projects. The only tall building was the Jaya Puri Hotel, now Hilton Petaling Jaya.

As a child, there were a few thrills she indulged in. One of them was the only fast food chain available at that time — A&W.

She spent a better part of her teenage life there, meeting up with and dining with family while listening to songs on their casette players.

The A&W restaurant is still standing tall today, drawing a crowd during lunch, not just from the offices nearby during weekdays but also families and large groups of friends on weekends.

When not hanging out at A&W, Soraya loved eating at Medan Selera, a food court in Section 14 that had "one of the best" ayam golek with prawn crackers and satay.

There was also Gazebo near Jalan Gasing, which served her favourite mee Bandung.

She and her family still frequent Jackson's Burger in Section 14, a household name among PJ folks.

These days, however, she spends most of her time with her husband at their own restaurant, Kokopelli Travellers Bistro. Yes, it is also in Section 14!

"My husband and I love travelling and good food, and we always wanted a neighbourhood art gallery so we started one in Jalan Bukit, Section 11 in Petaling Jaya. After more than a year, we decided to relocate to this current place," she added.

The couple's bistro serves as a gallery as well, featuring new artists especially photographers since both she and Ariff are professional photographers.

They are also parents to a teenage boy, Ushuaia.

Soraya enjoys the morning walk as she accompanies her son to school, which is located next to the Taman Aman park.

"The view is beautiful and it is great to see so many people exercising or doing their tai-chi routine in the morning."

For Soraya, Petaling Jaya is a great place because it has everything and anything within easy reach.

Having said that, she said certain parts of the city could do with a makeover.

Looking at some of the abandoned houses along Jalan University and the run-down factories, Soraya believes that these places can be turned into something more useful to prevent them from becoming an eyesore.

She suggested that houses along certain main roads should be turned into commercial areas for hip restaurants, businesses and office units.

As for abandoned factories, she hopes an organisation will undertake the redevelopment but retain the original structure and renovate them into an arts centre comprising a museum, gallery, a place for performing arts and a library.

"There are so many universities in this area (Section 14, Section 13, Section 20) and with so many students, this corner of the city should be more hip.

"The arts centre will draw a larger crowd to Petaling Jaya and will serve the community as well," she added.

Soraya also hopes Petaling Jaya will become a more disabled-friendly city with sufficient wheelchair ramps and other facilities to aid those in need.

Source: The Star Metro

As we celebrate Malaysia's independence, StarMetro takes a look at the places you grew up in and how they have changed. In this first part of the series, we take a look at Petaling Jaya, which was established years before the founding of this nation.

Tune in to Astro's channel 318 for more My Hometown stories from Aug 31 to Sept 17.

Aug 2, 2012

Legoland Theme Park in Johor

The Legoland Theme Park in Johor will be open on 15th September 2012 and it would be an interesting Johor tourism destination. It took a long time with many lego builder making famous icons of Malaysia to be on displayed. Would certainly like to take a snap with the famous Petronas Twin Tower even if it was just a miniature legoland version!

Do note the entrance fee won't be cheap! It was reported the entrance fee for Malaysians were:
Adults = RM140
Child = RM110
Rebate of RM30 for MyKad holders.

This is certainly expensive and I will have to consider whether to visit with my whole family along for the ride...

Stylized map of Legoland Malaysia
Stylized map of Legoland Malaysia


Legoland theme park pays tribute to famous SEA sites
By Mohd Farhaan Shah
Photos by Abdul Rahman Embong
Wednesday August 1, 2012

NUSAJAYA: It only took a team of 15 Lego builders about a year to complete one of their massive projects for its theme park — the iconic Petronas Twin Towers.

The 10m high skyscraper is the tallest iconic building in all of Legoland theme parks throughout the world.

According to the Legoland designer Eric Hunter, who is the chief builder for the project, his team had to visit Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur to study the construction and detail of the two towers.

He pointed out that it took his team 5,500 hours to build, using more than 542,000 of normal Lego bricks to construct the Petronas Twin Towers.

The main attraction: Legoland Malaysia model builders Muhammad Khairul (left) and master builder Stefan Bentivoglio putting on the final piece of the miniature Petronas Twin Towers.
The main attraction: Legoland Malaysia model builders Muhammad Khairul (left) and master builder Stefan Bentivoglio putting on the final piece of the miniature Petronas Twin Towers.

"Inside the two towers there are eight metres of steel lines and a plate which holds the miniature Petronas Twin Towers together and it is weather proof.

"If someone wants to try his luck to build the Petronas Twin Towers by himself than it will take him more than three years to complete it," he said when met at the completion of the twin towers at Legoland Malaysia, recently.

The miniature Petronas Twin Towers is one of the 12 clusters representing 17 famous building and monuments found throughout Southeast Asia at the theme park Minilands.

One of the team-members is Taiping-born Legoland model builder Muhammad Khairul Zainon Noor, 27, who was given the honour to put the last piece on top of the twin towers said that this is his best achievement so far.

Historic: The Kuala Lumpur Railway Station.
Historic: The Kuala Lumpur Railway Station.

"This is the proudest moment in my life as I put my sweat and blood to complete the project," he said.

Meanwhile, Legoland Malaysia general manager Siegfried Boerst said the first ever such theme park in Asia was nearly completed just in time for its official opening on Sept 15, this year.

"The park is now nearing completion with most of the rides and infrastructure already installed.

"For the past few weeks, we have been in the process of putting final touches to the park by testing rides, fitting the 15,000 Lego models built out of 50mil Lego bricks," he said adding that 45,000 annual passes have been sold so far for the last three months.

Ticketing details can be found on Legoland.my


Building dreams at Legoland Malaysia
By Louisa Lim
Saturday March 31, 2012

Legoland Malaysia won't be just another brick in the wall. Their model builders will see to that.

IT'S hard to imagine that it all begins here, in an unassuming double-storey building located on a street like any other. Just like it's hard to imagine that 27-year-old Firdaus Rahiman is anything but an Average Joe.

You see, the bespectacled Firdaus is something of a Michelangelo of Lego, and this is his lair. With an artist's eye and a sculptor's intuition, he conjures up, and builds, whole cities and towns with his two hands.

When he's not working with Lego, he's talking about Lego.

Taking shape: Malaysia and Asia's first ever Legoland is still a work in progress.
Taking shape: Malaysia and Asia's first ever Legoland is still a work in progress.

"It's all about feeling. If the feeling's not there, you know you've got it all wrong," Firdaus says.

Those who know Firdaus know he's not referring to love, but something infinitely more important: the building process. This "feeling" ensures that the Lego replicas resemble the real thing as closely as possible, be it a building, a backdrop or even a person. It has to be, in Firdaus' words, instantly recognisable.

The pressure is on, however.

Legoland Malaysia is set to open later this year, and Firdaus and his team of 31 builders only have until June to create the perfect world from Lego — all 50 million pieces of them.

Reclined on a red sofa beside sidekick Khairunadia Kamarudin, 26, he twirls a life-sized ball made entirely of Lego in his hands. On the table in front of us is a Lego vase filled with Lego flowers.

"Anything that isn't straight is a challenge to reproduce. Organic shapes like these are the hardest," he says, and Khairunadia nods in agreement.

The 32 model builders of Legoland Malaysia have a lot to smile about!
The 32 model builders of Legoland Malaysia have a lot to smile about!

Nevertheless, these objects aren't as difficult to construct as the massive structures kept in the Lego-strewn workshop beyond, awaiting their debut on the big day. Chunks of the Prime Minister's Office and the Putra Bridge — both part of the Putrajaya skyline — lay partially completed in one corner, while the KL Railway Station, complete with tiny Lego Malaysians, takes up several square metres of another room.

Skyscrapers rise like monuments from the befuddling brickscape. Whether it's the Menara Tabung Haji or HSBC Tower, these replicas are architectural feats in their own right. "This would be our first time building skyscrapers out of Lego. It's not something that is commonly found in Legoland, except the one in California," says Firdaus.

The tallest among these are the Petronas Twin Towers and KL Tower. Measuring 9m and 7m respectively, these two KL icons will be the tallest Lego structures anywhere in the world.


First, a little bit about Legoland Malaysia: Managed by the Merlin Entertainment Group — which also operates Madame Tussauds, Chessington World of Adventures and Sydney Aquarium — Legoland will be the first internationally-accredited theme park in the country. It will span an impressive 31ha (or approximately 76 football fields), with seven themed areas featuring more than 40 rides, shows and attractions.

It's a theme park built for kids. Here, the little ones get to drive slow one-seater toy cars. They can steer boats and turn water cannons on each other. They can build and operate robots in one of the Build & Test Workshops. They can hop on different rides.

"Many of the rides are also interactive, and allows visitors to participate in the ride itself, rather than just sitting passively in a seat and letting the ride take its course," says general manager of Legoland Malaysia Siegfried Boerst, 49. "We want to reclaim the importance of play. Children should be able to play outside, instead of just sitting in front of the TV or computer all day. It's essential to development, and we want to provide a safe area for the kids to do just that."

Hard at work in the workshop.
Hard at work in the workshop.

While Legoland doesn't have heart-in-your-throat roller coasters or rides with compelling storylines or expensive cutting-edge visuals, it has several attractions that are guaranteed to thrill even the oldest, grumpiest parkgoer.

There's the boat ride on Dino Island, which passes life-sized brick dinosaurs and ends with an 8m-high splash; the Dragon Coaster, which winds and plunges through the depths of a castle at 60kph; also the iconic coaster carts of the Technic Test Track, which rises to 20m above ground level for breathtaking views of the city before zipping back down.

The most captivating, however, is Miniland. Featuring miniature dioramas of different cities in Malaysia, as well as some of Asia's landmarks such as Merlion (Singapore), Angkor Wat (Cambodia) and Taj Mahal (India), Miniland is the ultimate expression of the Lego art form.

This is where Firdaus and his team come in.

They begin by taking photographs of the object they're trying to copy. Next, model designers like Khairunadia will create a 3D image of the object using a specialty software. Finally, it's on to the model builders, who match it up as closely as they possibly can, creating the object's skeleton out of steel bars and assembling pieces of Lego together to form an "outer skin".

Each block is then reinforced with heavy-duty glue — just in case anyone thinks a piece of, say, the Great Wall of China would make a nice souvenir.

The time and effort taken to build each model varies, but the Petronas Twin Towers and KL Tower rate higher in complexity because of their relative size. Work on the former started in California, even before Legoland Malaysia began hiring for its workshop.

As for the latter, Firdaus, Khairunadia and another one of their colleagues took exactly 600 hours, 41,200 Lego bricks and an actual crane to build it. The end result, explains a flustered Khairunadia, needs to look and "feel" like KL Tower, when viewed by visitors during the day or night.

"Straight shapes are supposed to be easiest," she says. "But because the KL Tower is such a significant landmark and because this is the second tallest Lego model in the world, the model needs to live up to the hype as well. It's quite stressful."

General manager of Legoland Malaysia Siegfried Boerst and friends.
General manager of Legoland Malaysia Siegfried Boerst and friends.

Malaysia's blazing sun and frequent tropical storms will also pose a number of challenges in the future, says Firdaus.

"To be honest, we don't know how well the colours will hold in our climate. In Billund where the weather is milder, the colours last 10 years before they need to be replaced," he says.

"I'm giving it five years... or less," Khairunadia says.

So far, they've got the base tower and satellites in place. The pineapple-shaped restaurant at the top, however, is yet to be completed and "needs a few more tweaks."

"Malaysians have this perception that anything that is Malaysian-made is inferior," says Khairunadia. "But I don't want people to see my work and go ‘Alaa, Malaysia tak best'. I want to surprise them."

Take a brick!

There's nothing you can't do with Lego, given the right amount of time and bricks. That's the philosophy of most Lego enthusiasts, including Nathan Sawaya, New York-based artist extraordinaire.

Known for creating large-scale sculptures using only Lego, Sawaya has been described by one journalist as "a surrealist mash-up of forms and artists. Imagine Frank Lloyd Wright crossed with Ray Harryhausen, or Auguste Rodin crossed with Shigeru Miyamoto, and you start to get a sense of where Sawaya is coming from."

Khairunadia and Firdaus with a small-scale model of their workshop.
Khairunadia and Firdaus with a small-scale model of their workshop.

"We're jealous of him! He's so rich that he has more Lego bricks than what we have in our warehouse," exclaims Firdaus of his hero.

One of the 14 Lego-certified professionals in the world, Sawaya's sophisticated art pieces have made the rounds in museum and art circuits worldwide — an achievement that he hopes to emulate one day.

"At the audition, I built my first Lego model, a pyramid. Right now, however, if I could create anything, it would be a portrait of my wife Maria," he says.

There are other mottos to live by. First, while it's true that practice makes perfect, it also helps if you love your job. Otherwise, muses Khairunadia, it would show up in your work. Secondly, creativity can be nurtured and harnessed, but not forced.

"There comes a time when you feel like you just can't do it (build) anymore," she says. "It really drives me crazy. But instead of pushing myself, I take a break outside. It always helps me solve the puzzle."

The duo has come a long way; considering how Lego isn't a toy they or most other Malaysian children grew up with. In fact, Fridaus played a lot of video games, while Kairunadia preferred Barbies and Polly Pockets.

"It's not that we didn't like Lego; it's because they're expensive," says Firdaus.

However, all this changed when they were hired as Malaysia's pioneer model builders three years ago, after beating dozens of other job applicants in a three-part audition.

"We weren't prepared for it at all," says Khairunadia, chuckling. "There were other others who knew exactly what they were doing, but we didn't. To this day, we're still asking ourselves why they chose us."

They knew that having one of the coolest jobs in the world would earn them bragging rights. They did not, however, expect it to trigger a love affair with these multi-coloured mini bricks. It seems nothing can put them off their newfound hobby.

At home, Firdaus combines his obsession for video games and Lego by playing, you guessed it, Lego-based video games. Khairunadia, meanwhile, has started a collection of Lego sets.

"I'm also in the midst of decorating my Lego-themed studio so I can have a place to display them," she says.

Playtime has to wait, however. As the date for Legoland's soft launch draws closer, the duo can mostly be found in the workshop, designing, building and tweaking Lego models to be transported to the park.

"The KL Tower is due in April. To be honest, if we were given one year to complete it, it would be 10 times better. But right now, we need to do the best with what we've got," says Firdaus.

The Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) says these are exciting times for theme park operators worldwide. Some 189.1 million of us clicked through the turnstiles of the world's major parks in 2010, an increase of 1.9% on 2009. That's the best performance in half a decade, with steady growth being helped by a surge in the popularity of parks in Asia.

If successful — and the signs are looking good — Legoland Johor will herald in a golden era of theme parks. And they would have their 32 model builders to thank for it.

> Legoland Malaysia's Pre-Opening Annual Passes are on sale at www.airasiaredtix.com.


Legoland Hotel to open in Johor
Wednesday April 25, 2012

KUALA LUMPUR: Asia's first Legoland Hotel is to open in Malaysia in 2014 next to a theme park dedicated to the popular children's building bricks, the developers said.

Groundwork for the hotel in southern Johor state the world's fourth Legoland hotel began last month, developer Merlin Entertainments Groups and LL Themed Hotel said in a statement yesterday.

The 31ha park, which will offer 40 rides, shows and displays featuring the Danish toy bricks, will be one of the main attractions of Iskandar Malaysia - AFP


Johor tourist arrivals to increase after Legoland opens
Friday May 11, 2012

NUSAJAYA: The opening of the Legoland Theme Park in September and the Desaru tourism development in three years will bring in more than five million tourists to the state from the current 3.8 million.

State Tourism and Domestic Trade Committee chairman Hoo Seong Chang said that with the new attractions, he was confident that Johor would overtake Penang in the tourism industry.

"Johor is now on par with Malacca, Sabah and Sarawak in terms of tourist arrivals but is still behind Kuala Lumpur (12 million), Pahang (eight million) and Penang (five million)," he said at a press conference after chairing a tourism committee meeting at Kota Iskandar on Tuesday.

He added that in the first quarter of the year, Johor received 6.193 million day trippers compared to 3.981 million in 2011.

"Singaporeans are still the highest number of day trippers followed by mainland Chinese and Indonesians," he said.

Hoo also said that Johor received 3.785 million tourists who stayed in the state last year, compared to 3.618 million in 2010.

On another matter, Hoo said the deadline for the Johor Tourism Awards had been extended to June this year from December last year.

"We have received an overwhelming response for the competition, which offers 27 awards in nine categories. The presentation ceremony will be held in September," he added.


Legoland urged to lower entry rates
By Mohd Farhaan Shah
Thursday December 8, 2011

JOHOR BARU: The entrance fees for Asia's first ever Legoland theme park in Nusajaya are too high for locals, said Malaysian Tourists Guides Council president Jimmy Leong.

He said Legoland Malaysia should have a two-tier ticket system to cater to both locals and foreigners.

"Other places of interest, like the cable car ride in Langkawi or the Istana Muzium here, have implemented such a system," he told The Star yesterday.

Leong pointed out that foreign visitors are charged US$7 (RM21) while Malaysians have to pay RM5, with a RM1 discount for Johoreans for entry into Istana Muzium.

The charges for entry into Legoland Malaysia are RM140 per adult and RM110 per child with a RM30 rebate for MyKad holders.

"Even with the rebate, it is too expensive for locals considering the current economic situation," he said, adding that a family of four would have to cough up RM380 for a day at the theme park.

Leong said the high prices could have an effect on the middle or low-income earners.

"The management of Legoland Malaysia should discuss the matter with consumer groups or tour guide associations to set the right prices for the theme park," he said.

It was recently reported that works on the Legoland Malaysia is progressing well and the park was expected to open by the end of next year and offer over 40 interactive rides to the visitors.

The RM720mil theme park on a 31ha site is a joint venture between Iskandar Investment Berhad (IIB) and Merlin Entertainment Groups, the world's largest visitor attraction operator.

Source: The Star

Entrance to Legoland Malaysia in Nusajaya Johor