Friday, June 24, 2011

Malaysia Day Trip: Down on the Farm

Last weekend I went on a day trip organized by NUS. The organized tour was intended to be educational, and included visiting farms and food production places. Bryan was camping in Montana (lucky duck) and I was on my own. I was lonely, and I like farms, food, and getting away from the city, so I was in.

The day began with waking up to a storm at 6 AM, hitting snooze three times, and considering staying in bed all day and watching Harry Potter. Eventually I dragged myself out of bed, got a taxi in the rain, and met the bus in a carpark at NUS.

Once everyone was organized, we got on the road, stopped at the immigration checkpoints, and then stopped again for breakfast. Breakfast was yummy roti at a food stall in Gelang Patah. Apparently local authorities are thinking about changing the name of the town. It came to be called Gelang Patah through a mispronunciation by immigrants. The name means broken bangle and is considered unlucky. Can't have that!

After breakfast we got back on the bus and headed out into the country. It was nice to be away from the high-rises and surrounded by greenery, even if a lot of it was palm oil plantations. For awhile I had my nose buried in a particularly good book, but after I spotted some crop-raiding long-tailed macaques, I started keeping a keen eye out for wildlife. I was rewarded with sightings of kingfisher, ducks, and lots of unfamiliar birds, but we were moving too fast for photos. I was, of course, positively jubilant at an abandoned building sighting.
Overgrown and abandoned, just the way I like it

The day's first real stop was a tapioca chip factory in Layang Layang. The place was small and busy. Everyone was very hard at work, and I did not envy what appeared to be some exhausting labor.
Apparently tapioca looks like potatoes!
Giant deep fryer with super hot oil
Tapioca chips

After checking out the small factory, we were given samples in an adjacent shop. I'd never had tapioca chips before and was surprised by how much the tasted like potato chips! And they were so fresh! I bought some salt-and-pepper flavored ones. Yum.

Our next destination was a coffee factory in Kluang. The place produces the locally famous Cap Televisyen brand (so named because the founder of the company wanted to see every home with a TV and a bag of his coffee!). As soon as we walked in my eyes started stinging from the aggressive smoke. The smoke was kind of pleasant because of its coffee aroma, but it was a little acrid too. Once my eyes stopped watering I was able to take in my surroundings. I was surprised that the place was so small, but even so it looked like there was a lot going on.
Their logo is delightfully retro. I wish they sold t-shirts.
Coffee smoke = nicer than cigarette smoke, but apparently still blackens walls

Coffee beans were being roasted in a giant vat. Our guide explained that one of the secrets behind the deliciousness of the brand is that the beans are roasted with butter! I thought of what I call the Paula Deen Principle - Absolutely everything tastes better with butter. Awhile later we sampled the coffee, and I have to say: butter + coffee = pure, unadulterated awesomeness. The flavor was smooth and rich. It was the kind of stuff I'd love to drink on a dreary day.
Roasting the beans and butter
About how much coffee it took to complete my thesis

Smelling like coffee, we all piled back in the bus and roared off to our next stop, which was lunch at Guan Sin Restaurant. It was a Chinese restaurant, and they were expecting us. I sat with the other vegetarians on the tour and we were served a smorgasbord of colorful vegetarian dishes, many with mock meat incorporated. Sometimes I'm not crazy about mock meat, as it can be a little off-putting when it's overly chewy or too deep-fried. But all of the dishes we were served were so good. It's nice to get vegetarian Chinese food because I get to taste test things I can't ordinarily have because they contain meat. Things like tom yam soup, imitation prawn, and sweet-and-sour "chicken". Everything was great.

Next on our agenda was the UK Farm. We drove far out into the countryside and I was delighted when we started seeing green pastures and grazing cows. It reminded me of home (home sweet Ohio)!
Malaysia cows look pretty much the same as Ohio cows
Clearly not in Singapore anymore

Before long we arrived at the main building of the UK Farm. I hadn't looked up any information on the farm before going, because I figured that it was a farm, and farms don't have websites...right? In this case, wrong. The UK Farm bills itself as an agro-resort. You can book rooms there for a family getaway, there are activities for the kids, and big tram cars that look like thatched huts on wheels that will take you around and show you the farm. It's all much more sophisticated than I'd expected. As soon as we arrived I was intrigued by a sign that said simply GOOD LUCK GOAT with an arrow. I followed. Of course.
Good luck goat indeed. He looks quite proud of himself.

The giant goat was so awesome that we took a group photo. Did I mention that I was one of two white people on the tour? I was. It was funny. I looked like I was adopted or something.
It's like Where's Waldo! Spot the ang mohs!

Having had our fill of the Good Luck Goat, we ventured off to where they keep the real goats. The goats and sheep are kept together, and you could hear and smell them long before you could see them. SHEEP ARE LOUD! It's like they're YELLING all the time. Crazy.

In his own separate pen was this very unusual breed of goat. I've never seen anything like him.
*Ahem*  Uh..sir? Has anyone ever told you your ear looks a bit...uh...phallic?

And then someone handed me a heart-stoppingly adorable little lamb. SO SWEET. He should be the poster child (poster lamb?) for Cute Overload.
True love
Mom and baby

After communing with the goats and lambs for far longer than reasonable, I moved on. We walked down a dirt lane to a small herb garden full of interesting plants and heady aromas. I was more interested in plants than usual because I was in the middle of a book called Wicked Plants, about poisonous plants. The book had opened up a whole new botanical world to me, and I was looking at all the herbs with new eyes, wondering which ones had mysterious, life-threatening properties.

I liked the hearty roselles, which are a type of hibiscus. They have some medicinal uses and can be used to make a tasty tea as well. Plus they're pretty!
Apparently the bugs like them too!

I also spotted one of my all-time favorite flowers, the funky bloom of the passion fruit plant. All of its limp tendrils are reminiscent of a bad hair day! I see these on the ground at Bukit Timah occasionally.
So many facets!

I also saw this strange little fruit that I've seen a bunch of times in Singapore nature reserves, but have never been able to identify. I learned it's called a mengkudu. Now I just have to remember that...
Looks like a hand grenade

Other highlights included a huge natural beehive (not pictured because it looks like a big pile of dirt) and this lovely lavender-colored flower whose name I didn't catch.
I want a bouquet of these!

The stroll around the herb garden ended with a cup of freshly brewed, very refreshing stevia tea. Then we were off to visit the ostriches. Yup. They have ostriches! There were two adult females, one adult male, and lots of little ones.
What a lovable face!
If there's life on other planets, I think it might look like these guys

Pretty soon it was time to head back to the sheep and goat area to watch the sheep be herded into the  pasture. While we waited for the action to start, I stood off to the side and admired this random statue. Who is this chubby man?! Why was there a statue next to the sheep barn?! What does it all mean?!
He's been eating too much mutton.

Pretty soon the sheep were herded by a very beautiful sheepdog. The dog looked like he was having the time of his life, and it was fascinating to watch him and the sheep moving in sync. The best part was when one of the sheep broke away from the group and sneaked around behind the dog. The dog spotted the sheep and tore off after him, sprinting full out. The sheep's eyes got really big and she picked up the pace, valiantly attempting to get back to the group, all the while registering an "oh shit oh shit oh shit" look on her sheepy face. But no worries, she was reunited with her friends. After the dog had them all rounded up, they frolicked right past where I was standing.
Shear madness

The grand finale of the UK Farm visit was bottle-feeding some of the lambs. I stood back and watched the greedy little lambs nudge each other out of the way to get to the bottles. It was especially cute to see a 5-year-old boy who was so excited that he couldn't stop squirming long enough for the lamb to get a drink!
For real, these kids are driving me crazy.

Having completed our visit in the most adorable way possible, we boarded the bus again and headed to the Zenxin Organic Farm. I was super excited to see the organic farm because they supply vegetables to some of the stores I frequent in Singapore (like Cold Storage)! When we got there we all piled off the bus again (this is a feature of guided tours- on the bus, off the bus, on the bus, off the bus). Someone greeted us right away and we started the tour. Our first stop was organic dragonfruit plants! If you've never had a dragonfruit, you should.

Reasons dragonfruit are awesome:
1) They are PINK.
2) They have scales.
3) They're called dragonfruit. Dragons are cool.
4) They taste like summertime...and kiwi.
5) They're the fruit of a member of the cactus family, which is just weird.

Unruly dragonfruit plants
The flowers only bloom at night!
Unripe fruit
Ripe! Mmm...

I was clearly enamored with the dragonfruit plants, and was lagging behind the group as I snapped too many photos. I hurried to catch up with them in the organic herb garden. There were lots of interesting plants, including a bush that was growing far from the walkway. The guide said that the bush used to grow right up next to the walkway, but every time a menstruating woman touched it, it died! Now the gardeners only plant it out of reach of people. There were other neat plants too, and the whole place had an earthy smell that reminded me of Rice's Nursery in Canton. That made me feel right at home, just as the smell of cow dung had filled me with happy memories earlier. Everyone else had been plugging their noses and cringing. I was furtively smiling and thinking of Ohio.
Zigzag stems of the red bird cactus

The thing I liked best about the organic farm was seeing the creative alternatives they used for pest control. Intricate bug traps made out of recycled water bottles hung around the gardens, and screening enclosed a lot of the plants. At least, that was my favorite part until I saw DUCKS AND BUNNIES! YAAAAAAY BUNNNIES!
Duck on the roof!
He's a candidate for Disapproving Rabbits

Naturally, I stood there admiring the rabbits for far too long, mumbling about their cuteness and feeling a little like Lennie from Of Mice and Men. When I finally looked up, the group was turning a corner ahead of me. One of the farm workers grinned at me, nodded, and said, "Beautiful." Being my usual dense self, I replied "I KNOW! Aren't they so cute?!" obviously referring to the bunnies. He laughed and said, "No, I mean you. You're beautiful!" I glanced at my dirt-caked pants, laughed, said thanks, and trotted off to meet the group. As I hurried away, I saw a young Caucasian guy on a bench nearby. "HEY!" he yelled, "Are you with that group?!" When I nodded, he burst out laughing. Through his giggles he said, "You know, you don't really...mesh!" I shrugged and caught up with my group. I figured it would have been hard for me to really lose them. They could have just asked if anyone had seen a confused white girl, alone and muttering about ducks and bunnies. They would have had me back in no time.
Tell me about the rabbits, George...

We ended our time at Zenxin by browsing their extensive organic food store. I got a yummy dragonfruit juice, made from the ones they grew right there on the farm. As I sipped it, I admired their organic durians. I've seen plenty of durian since moving to S'pore, but I've never touched one before. Holy moly, those things are SHARP! Who knew?!
Tasty treat
Organic durian

After Zenxin, we drove down to Johor Bahru for dinner. This turned out to be the most disappointing part of the day. We drove the bus back down a dirt road, got stuck, spent 20 minutes blocking traffic as we tried to turn around, and then ate dinner at a really dirty seafood restaurant where the waitresses were barefoot and food preparation was being done on wooden pallets on a soaking wet floor. I ate some white rice and passed the time chatting with an Indian woman who alternated between lamenting the filth of the restaurant and giving me great Indian cooking advice (I make a lot of Indian food). I was especially glad when dinner was done with, because it meant that we got to head back to Singapore, where I got to meet Bryan at the airport!!! He'd been in the U.S. for two weeks and I was thrilled to have him back! What a fantastic way to end my day!

HEY! By the way! You should vote for me in the Singapore Blog Awards! I could win a trip to Australia! And then I could blog all about it!


  1. Hi!

    I saw you at the food tasting in 1-Caramel earlier this week but didn't get to fully introduce myself! Anyway, I'd love to visit the UK Farm. We do have a couple of animals' farms in Singapore but due to safety purposes, we are not allowed to get too close to the animals. :( The first and last time that I had such close interaction with farm animals was in Tasmania and boy, i have nothing but fond memories. Seems like i should make a trip down to Malaysia's UK Farm someday soon! :)

  2. Ah ha! I DO remember you. I felt like I met so many people all at once that it was hard to match blogs and faces! But your blog is fabulous! I highly recommend checking out the UK Farm. You don't get the opportunity to see much farmland in Singapore!

  3. The grenade-like fruit is actually the fruit of the Morinda citrifolia, which is more commonly known as the noni fruit that gives the tahitian noni juice its name

  4. Interesting! I didn't realize that juice was made from this fruit. I looked it up and it looks like "mengkudu" is the name used in Malaysia and Indonesia. The same fruit is called "noni" in Hawai'i and other places (

  5. Hi, do you know how I can contact the tour agent for this day trip? Was looking for something like this... thanks. :-) Fr. Carol

  6. Carol, because this trip was organized by the school that I work for, I don't know the tour company offhand. But I'll see if I can figure it out, then let you know!

  7. Hi Crystal, thanks! Hope to hear good news :-)

  8. Carol, I wasn't able to find a tour exactly like mine- I think it might have been specially organized for NUS. But Zenxin Organic does a tour of its own that looks pretty good:

    Hope that helps!

  9. Hi, very good post! Saw all the nice pictures and got a question: Are these animals all from a big farm? Are there any planting? Hope all the plantings are taken care with the weed control fabric.