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I’m writing this from the comfort of my hotel room in Johor Baru, Malaysia where I’ve retreated to after crossing the border from Singapore earlier. I’m only staying here one night, it’s little more than a pitstop that allows me to catch the early morning train to Kuala Lumpur without any hassles.

Despite the fact I had a really god nights sleep last night my body clock is still all over the place. I was wide awake at 5am Singapore time so I cut my losses and spent a couple of hours picture editing, which means a fuller selection of shots are starting to appear on my Zenfolio website in this gallery. There’s plenty more to do. I’m hoping to get a few more done this evening as Johor isn’t exactly the most exciting place. As I still had several hours to kill as I was in no hurry to leave I went and had a coffe in a place in Little India and watched the world go by for an hour before showering and packing

Getting here was easy enough. I wasn’t bothered about faffing around with the KTMB shuttle train from Woodlands as I travelled the whole line to the former Singapore station many times in the past. Here’s how it used to look like when it was still the terminus. of the line all the way from Bangkok. The station’s been preserved and it’s being incorporated into one of the new metro route stations, so not all’s lost. Instead, I got the MRT from Rochor, on the downtown line which was around the corner from my hotel as far as Stevens, which is the interchange station on the new Thompson line that takes you to Woodlands, where buses run across the causeway to Johor Baru. The metro cost me a couple of dollars (less than £1.50) and the shuttle bus $1.90 (just over £1).

Woodlands itself is a fascinating place as it’s packed with food stalls with all manner of tasty treats. I treated myself to a takeaway of a mix of different noodles and breaded chicken for all of $2.60 (£1.63). Part of the the huge Woodlands bus station has been taken over to be used as a drop-in Covid vaccination centre, but it doesn’t affect the single-deck buses to Malaysia which run roughly every 10 minutes. You join a queue then get on the first one that turns up. They’re all pack of course. I was fascinated to see that the vast majority using them were young people/students, as you can see from this picture of the queue I was the head of. Talk about feeling like Grandad!

The bus takes you to the monolithic Woodlands checkpoint. It’s a modern building across multiple levels with an imposing tower which has a touch of 1984 about it. That said, once off the bus I breezed through the biometric passport check and was back on another packed bus within 10 minutes. Arriving in Johor Baru was much the same process, except no biometric checks. Instead I got my passport stamped than had to undergo baggage customs check from some very nice but impossibly young women customs officers.

And that was it. I’m now in Malaysia. I popped into the railway station to book an onward ticket from Gemas to Kuala Lumpur tomorrow, which was no problem. That cost me all of 32 ringgit (a few pence over £6 for a three hour journey). After that I wandered over to my hotel but the pleasent girls behind the counter (I’m starting to see a theme here) were adamant check-in wasn’t until 14:00. At least they agreed to look after my suitcase, so I went for a wander to try and rediscover places I remember from when I was last here in January 2017.

Sadly, the place hasn’t fared well. The town centre anyway. There’s vast amounts of Chinese money here that’s been invested in massive housing complexes, but the place has never really taken off as a destination. It’s tatty and dirty and the artisan coffee shops that were meant to be the brave new world are either struggling or closed.

Sandbrewed coffee? It’s a bit niche and this place faces onto a bypass along the Johor Straits, which is hardly scenic

One good thing about crossing the border is my smartphone’s restored to full functionality I’ve had this problem in Singapore in the past, they don’t seem to get on with O2 for whatever reason. I’d just got used to not having it although the lack of maps was sometimes interesting as I hadn’t any paper ones either so I was reliant on memory, which only caused one lengthy detour…

Whilst waiting for my room to be ready I discovered Jalan Meldrum and old guys like this. More of which later…

Beer, fags and the Malaysian version of the Racing Times, plus watching the gee gees live on smartphones…

Having relaxed for a little while, had a shower and composed this blog, I went out for a wander and headed over to the old Johor Baru station which nestles in the shadow of the modern station. The building’s still intact but it’s looking rough. There were plans to open it as a rail museum, and to that end a number of locomotives and other rolling stock were moved onto the site, but nothing ever happened and now they’re derelict and rusting away. The building seems to be used as a staff messroom at best, a car-park at worst. Such a shame.

Then again, the area around the station’s undergone huge changes as opposite there’s now a massive shopping mall that looks like so many of these beasts. Bizarrely, despite the huge sums spent on building the new, multi platform JB station, it’s criminally under-utilised. Apart from the Woodlands – JB shuttles, there’s just four trains a day in and out Northwards. Tomorrow, I’ll be on one of them, the 08:30 departure to Gemas (the junction for the ‘jungle railway’. I’ve fond memories of travelling between KL-Singapore on sleeper trains back in the 1990s. Now there’s nothing like that. Electrification should have spread South from Gemas in 2020, but there’s no sign of it yet. I’ll be interested to see hoe the line’s changed since my last trip in 2017.

As the weather was crap due to leaden skies and lousy light I gave up and came back to the room to resume blogging. I’ll nip out later when it’s dark and more photogenic as by that time I’ll be starving!

So, first impressions having crossed the border again? Obesity and smoking. Now, admittedly, Singapore has banned vaping so there’s more smokers because there’s no alternatives, but I was surprised to see a number of young Muslim women in JB smoking Admittedly, their religion doesn’t cut them much slack when it comes to vices and that one was never mentioned in the Koran, but even so…

Whilst JB will never be in the top 10 tourist hotspots it is an interesting place to people-watch as its a real collision of cultures, economies and social attitudes. I’ll write more about this later.

Happy consumerism! Inside the shopping centre across the road from the railway staion and entry port from Singapore. I’m assuming Malaysian prices are meant to attract Singaporean day-trippers.

It’s half past 8 Malaysian time and I’m putting my feet up back at the hotel as the weather’s been very wet these past few hours, which has put a damper on much of the evening. I’d intended to nip out, get something to eat, then have a mooch around and get some pictures, but unless pics of empty streets are your bag…

Anyways, here’s a few from this afternoon/evening – and this morning in Singapore..

Several buildings where I was staying had these classic old spiral staircases at the rear, but the shapes and colours of this one really stood out
Little India’s normally deathly at 10:00, but this one entrepreneurial shopkeeper was ahead of the crowd.
The former clocktower and centre-piece of the former Johor Baru station,
Thanks to the weather it was a quiet night for the food hawkers in the alley behind my hotel. Here’s where I ate, stuffing myself with curried fish and rice.

I’m literally going to call it a day now. Tomorrow’s another day and no doubt I’ll be awake early…

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