Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Around Labuan Part 2

On my final day in Labuan, I visited the Labuan War Cemetary.

This is a Commonwealth World War II cemetary where soldiers from India, Australian, New Zealand and Great Britain who died while defending Borneo (including Labuan) from the Japanese Invasion were laid to rest.

There are a total of 3908 graves here, arranged in long neat rows bearing plaques of the Commonwealth Army.

Most of them are identified and bear the names of the deceased soldier, but those that are not, are but "known to God".

A pavilion erected in the centre of the field housed pillars of red brick. On each pillar is a list of the soldiers who died defending this land.

Every year on the first Sunday of November, a special memorial service is held in honour of the war heroes buried here, attended by friends and families who make the pilgrimage from all corners of globe.

Later, we went to visit the infamous water villages of Patau-Patau which looked like a squatter village at the edge of the sea.

The village is inhabited mainly by Brunei Malays, which is a loose collection of peoples from Brunei and coastal regions of northern Sarawak and Sabah.

They are mostly of the Muslim faith and speak a type of Malay language that is phonetically distinct from the Peninsular Malay.

It was low tide when we visited the place so the water village was, in effect, a mud village.

On our way back to town, we stopped by another water village, Saguking.

According to Mark, most households in the water villages own boats instead of cars.

Saguking looked a lot less 'prosperous' than Patau-patau but was no less colourful. The people here was perhaps a lot more friendly and waved happily at me at I took a picture of them.

Some of these dilapidated houses are also hideouts for illegal immigrants from Indonesia and the Phillipines. The leftovers stilts on the edge of the village is proof of governmental efforts to force them off the island but they just keep coming back and build new houses next to the old ones.

Before I knew it, my short visit to Labuan was over and I headed to Labuan's spanking new airport to head back to KL. And as expected, my Airasia flight was an hour late!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Around Labuan Part 1

I had about a whole day to see the sights of Labuan, with Mark, my personal tour guide, who ably showed me around the various places of interest on the island.

First up was the Chimney, a 30-metre red-brick tower, which was built in the early 1900's at the height of the coal-mining industry here under British Occupation.

No one really knows the actual purpose of the tower. Inside, it appears unused, and as it is not connected to any preexisting mine shafts underneath it, could not have been used as a ventilation shaft as its name would suggest.

There are some speculations that it probably was as a lighthouse due to its location by the sea, but till today, the tower remains a source of mystery and fascination for locals and tourists alike.

Next up, was a ride along the seaside highway. The beaches in Labuan are not exactly the most picturesque, but I couldn't help but feel a sense of serenity and contentment as I made my way along the sandy coastline.

The beach was deserted save for a few people fishing by the water's edge. It was 12.00 noon and I have to really admire their enthusiasm and tenacity in pursuing their hobby as it was FREAKING HOT out there under the cloudless and sunny Labuan sky.

Afterwards, we decided to get some much needed refreshments at a hawker centre next to the War Memorial Park, also known as Peace Park.

Peace Park was built as a symbol to renunciate the horrors of war. At its centre, there is a big white tiled memorial mound which is surrounded by Japanese style landscaped gardens and pavilions.

Next to the Peace Park is Surrender Point. This is the exact spot where where the commander of the Japanese Army surrendered to the Australian 9th Division on September 9, 1945.

All in all, Japanese soldiers occupied Labuan (and the rest of Borneo) for four years from 1941 - 1945 before the Allied forces headed by the Australian Army recaptured control of the island, signalling the end of World War II in Borneo.

Today, the town of Labuan (formerly known as Victoria) is a modern town that is growing rapidly due to its burgeoning ship-building industry and its status as an international off-shore financial centre.

As we drove across town following a rather heavy lunch, we stopped by this ubiquitous clock tower standing proudly in the middle of a field. Mark wants me to state it loud and clear right here: This clock tower, which cost RM4 million to build, is a white elephant. It doesn't even keep the right time!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Labuan Botanical Garden

Mark beought me on a leisurely evening stroll around Labuan's very own Botanical Garden.

The Botanical Garden, was formerly the site of the Government House which was built in 1847 but was completely destroyed during World War II.

Today it is a very well-kept garden filled with luscious greenery, shady lanes and small outdoor gyms for people to walk or jog and enjoy the fresh air and sunshine.

There were many flowering plants everywhere and I took the opportunity to test out the macro function of my new compact camera, the Canon G9.

I must credit Mark for being such a gracious host as he was waiting patiently while I took shot after shot of the beautiful plants and scenery.

This is a very popular jogging and exercising spot for many locals, and also a place where many a 'kereta rosak' can be found too. Wink wink.

On the grounds are a couple of graveyards that are believed to be the oldest on the island. These graves were transferred from Ramsey Point next to the beach, which was facing the threat of erosion by the ocean tides. One of them is that of Commander James A. Gordan of HMS Wolf, who was present at the handing over of Labuan to the British on December 24, 1846 and who assisted in the construction of the grounds.

The other one is a grave of a much-loved foxhound by the name of 'Jim' who dies in 1966.

There are numerous lakes and streams in the park. Quaint gazebos and cute little bridges were built along these picturesque spots which further added the garden's appeal as a lovers' haunt.

One particular lake has since dried up, and is now filled with patches of lily and the cement frame of a broken down bridge.

As soon as I finished taking this picture, a lady went down to the lily flower and plucked it right off its stalk to give to her little girl as a hair ornament.... which she threw away two minutes after! What a waste!

I think this is a very large bougainvilla bloom. Anyone care to correct me if I'm wrong?

Incy wincy spider climbed up the water spout....

Before we knew it, we had spent an hour and a half walking round the park. Dusk was upon us and my stomach was beginning to growl in protest.

Mark too was becoming a bit restless and hastened me to finish up my picture taking. Later I found out that he wasn't very comfortable loitering in the area after dark for some reason....

So, I took one last shot just as the sun was setting over the lake and made a promise to return again... maybe in the morning next time, eh Mark? ;)

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

On The Waterfront

During my short trip to Labuan, I stayed at the Waterfront hotel, a 4-star hotel located next to the Labuan port and shipyard.

The hotel was very nicely designed to look like a marina clubhouse and was surrounded by a well landscaped garden of shrubs, palm trees and flowers.

In front of the main entrance stood a huge fountain that, according to Mark, was placed there to improve the feng shui of the hotel.

As you can see from the pictures, it was a very sunny day in Labuan, perfect for sightseeing and sweating like a pig. :p

The hotel pool looked very inviting and it was a pity I didn't have enough time to take a dip as my itinerary was pretty full that day.

The room I stayed in was big and rather ordinary, but the huge balcony outside my room made up for it. Thanks to Mark, I got the 'seaview' room and man, did I get to view the sea!

This is a composite pic of the entire vista as seen from the balcony of my hotel room. I used Photoshop Elements to piece it together. Click on it to enlarge. This is my first time 'stitching', so be kind. :p