This happy scene is the Singapore Pipe and Cigar Smokers club relaxing after our day trip to Johor Bahru in Malaysia. Dinner was fantastic and I was contented, satiated and relaxed. Alan saw the perfect opportunity to sabo me. “Hey, I think Alec should write an account of our day trip on the forum!” The rest of the group added their support to the motion. I protested but there was little fight left in me, not after so much excellent food, whisky, tobacco and company. It’s not that I’m ungrateful, quite the opposite. I’m just not the right man for the task. I’m irredeemably verbose and an awful writer. I hate to make a reader suffer. I apologise in advance. If you have a pipe with a large bowl, I suggest that now would be a good time to fill it.
The Singapore Pipe Smoker’s Club organised the trip to Johor Bahru in honour of Bodo, our very good friend who visits us frequently from Germany. It may appear that we were doing Bodo a kindness, showing him some local scenery, however there were ulterior motives at work. Taxes in Johor Bahru are much lower than in Singapore. Shopping, seafood, petrol and pipe tobacco are at least 50% cheaper.
I was excited about this little jaunt so I made an effort to dress a little bit dapper for the occasion. My wife was quick to burst my ego. “Alamak! You are traveling through one of the most dangerous areas in South East Asia and you are dressed like a stick of candy.” The rest of the group were more appropriately dressed, although Mike, Helmut and Steve in their matching blue/white checked shirts could be easily mistaken for tablecloths at a neighborhood trattoria.
The sullen gentleman dressed like a character from the tv series Miami Vice is Kamal. Kamal, though the youngest, is doubtlessly the most organised off our motley group. With typical presence of mind, he equipped all our drivers with walkie-talkies to keep us in contact while driving through unfamiliar Malaysia. An ingenious plan but ultimately a failure. He packed incorrectly sized batteries.
Singapore is a small place so driving thirty miles, over a bridge and into a foreign country appeared, to us at least, an arduous journey. We stopped immediately for lunch.
Herbal Chicken Soup:
The chicken is wrapped in paper with herbs and steamed until the meat is soft. The herb infused juices form the soup. A delicious example of delicate, aromatic Chinese cooking.
Stir Fried Venison with Ginger and Spring Onion:
Classic earthy Chinese flavours
Squid in a piquant chilli sauce
Sambal Kang Kong:
Spinach with a fiery chilli/shrimp paste
After lunch, it was time for the serious business of smoking. We drove to Kamalah tobacconist in Jusco mall. Mike met with an initial disappointment. A pipe he had sent for repair was returned to him untouched. The pipe maker had died. Mike muttered a few uncomplimentary remarks comments about the deceased skills at staining briar. But you can see from the photo that he cheered up quickly enough after some tobacco shopping.Personally, I hadn’t visited a tobacconist in almost two years so I was like a young child on a visit to Disney World. Best of all, the owner provided us with some free samples. We passed the next three hours soaking ourselves in clouds of aromatics and English blends. Avril, ever the lady, brought us some coffees. The Singaporeans in the group snuck out occasionally, succumbing to the compulsive Singaporean need to exploit cheap Malaysian retail shopping.
By three in the afternoon we’d driven, eaten, smoked and caffeinated. It was time to start the process all over again. An hour of driving took us Kong Kong, a tiny fishing village peaking out of the rain-forest where the Johor river runs into the sea. The restaurant is part of an old weather-beaten fishing hut sitting on stilts above the river.
Lobster Sashimi and Soup
Steamed Grouper with soy sauce, ginger and cilantro
Steamed crab with salted egg
Mike treated us to large glasses of The Macallan (A limited edition bottling. I don’t recall which one). It was a delightful dinner whisky although I was a little far gone for nuanced tasting notes. Perhaps the most sherry influenced whisky I’ve ever tasted but the style was big and oily enough to carry plenty of other flavours. After dinner we lingered at the table to smoke and converse. Helmut needed to return to Singapore for an evening flight but none of us were in a mood for rushing. We gently reassured him that there was plenty of time for the short journey home. Once we returned to our cars my companions, who had been reassuring Helmut 5 minutes ago, commented that he’d need a bit of luck to cross the border in time. I just hope he got there in time.
Myself, I arrived home a little late. The rigors of the day took their toll. I passed out on the couch with a whiskey and dreamed beautiful dreams. My wife wisely decided to leave me sleep it off on the couch.
I’d like to thank Alec Ee for his fantastic photos http://www.alecee.com. We are lucky to have an artist in our group. I’d also like to thank Bodo. He took a great number of photos during the trip but this is the one he chose to send us.
I must also thank Freddie for driving myself and Alan throughout the day. He reacted very well when I admitted I’d smuggled three times my legal allocation of pipe tobacco over the Singapore border.
Lastly I’d like to send our regards to a key member of the group who couldn’t attend in person. Heinz you were with us in spirit throughout the day. With every dish, at every stop in the journey Bodo would comment “Oh, Heinz would love this.” “This is just what Heinz likes” . In fact, towards the end of the evening it seemed that Bodo’s enjoyment was two-fold. He relished each delicious dish but savored also the thought of Heinz being deprived. There is only one just revenge Heinz, you shall have to come visit us yourself.
By Alec Molloy, Singapore