Palm Plantation Tour


On a recent MCG (Malaysia Cultural Group) tour we visited a palm OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAplantation on the Jendarata Estate near the town of Telek Intan, in the state of Perek. We were met at the plantation by the Vice Chairman and Chief Executive Director, Dato Carl Bek-Nielsen. After introductions,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA snacks and coffee, Carl gave a presentation in the conference room. Afterwards he conducted a tour of all areas of the operation.


United Plantations Berhad is recognized as one of the highest yielding, cost-competitive and innovative palm plantation companies in Malaysia. In 2008 it was awarded the world’s first certified producer of sustainable palm oil by The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, (RSPO).


What started out in 1906 as the Jendarata Rubber Estate, moved on to coconuts and palm oil production when the rubber slump hit Malaysia in 1921. The founder was from Denmark and to this day the business is still run by Danes not only efficiently, but also in a green and sustainable manner.


United Plantations Berhad have a few properties in Malaysia as well as a OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAcouple in Indonesia. Overall there are over 6,000 employees but theDSC04111 Jendarata Estate plantation has 1,200 staff. 80% of these are foreigners from Indonesia, Bangladesh and India who work mostly as field workers. This job pays salaries above the minimum wage, but for some strange reason most Malaysians don’t want to work on a palm plantation in this role. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA(Malaysians make up the bulk of the professional technical and administrative staff. The 58,000 hectare plantation is self-contained and the employees live in well maintained homes. In addition to the accommodations they OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAreceive free water, electricity, medical care and education for their children up to 6th grade. There are two hospitals on the plantation as well as an ‘oldOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA folks’ home’ where Malaysian workers’ parents can spend the rest of their days in comfort and be close to their working children. Religious needs are met with a mosque, Hindu temple and churches on site. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere are aircraft runways and even a Danish Bakery here, which our tour leader, Carl was proud to point out. His father was responsible for bringing the bakery to the plantation after hearing complaints about terrible local bread.


Workers in the palm groves cut the ripe bunches of palm fruitlets from the trees and they are then loaded onto trailers pulled by tractors or water buffalo. Every two weeks a palm tree will yield 12 to 14 bunches of ripeOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA fruitlets. Once harvested, the palm bunches are then transferred to rail cars. The plantation has over 525 kilometres of railway track and uses a locomotive system for getting the fresh fruit bunches (FFBs) to the mill efficiently and with as few bruises as possible. Upon arriving at the mill, the rail cars full of FFBs are perfectly fitted to enter the boilers where the process will begin for the palm oil extraction.


DSC04073There are 16 types of vegetable oils and all are liquid except for one – palm oil, which is 50% liquid and 50% solid. A palm tree plant begins life in theOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA UP (United Plantations) greenhouses where it remains for one year. As seedlings they are planted and after 3 years they will begin to produce palm fruit bunches. The lifetime of a palm tree is about 25 years, after which time they are cut down,chipped and composted back into the fields. There is no depletion of the soil, so a new crop of seedlings will be planted as the cycle begins again.



At UP the quality of the soil is further enhanced through the planting of a leguminous ground cover to fix nitrogen. This leguminous cover crop planting during the early years also reduces the need for spraying with chemcials to keep the weeds down.


Integrated pest management (IPM) is an impressive part of the green credentials at UP. Companion planting of flowering weeds around the fields keeps pests away from the palm trees. Ingenious pheromone traps attractDSC04069 destructive adult rhinoceros beetles to a “bucket of no return”. Not only do human staff live in nice accommodation, but so do the barn owls! There are over 2,000 of these birds housed on the plantation who are expert and voracious rat catchers!


In reasonable amounts vegetable oils can be a healthy food. Palm oil contains no trans-fats and as an affordable food it is a necessity for the growing population in Asia, Africa and the poorer countries of the world.


The bio-gas reciprocating boiler and bio-gas plants will haveOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA reduced emissions by 40%. in addition the boiler and plants supply the steam and power for the Unitara Refinery, thereby cutting costs as well as emissions of CO2. UP does not produce any biofuel for sale.- they are primarily committed to producing food).


On the Jendarata Estate, 90% of the plantation is palm trees with 85% of the palm oil output dedicated to food production. Valuable organic fertilizer is made from waste products of oil processing and in so doing recyclesOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA 98% of the waste. 10% of the land use are coconut trees harvested and sold for use in the Malaysian coconut industry. A minimal side business is the production of tissue cultured plantlets of bananas. As well as the land assigned to palm and coconut trees within the estate, there are untouched areas of rain forest and jungle which UP is committed to preserving.


The day we visited the Jendarata Estate was actually a plantation holiday, but Carl as well as many of the workers agreed to come in and work at their diverse stations across the site in order to accommodate our tour group. We did not go home hungry, as an elaborate lunch was spread out in the dining area next to the pools. As well as not going home hungry, many if not all of our group of 30 left with a different opinion of palm oil.


Story and photos by Dennis Corrigan and Susan Sawyer

Construction City


I have never seen anything quite like it. No matter where you go in the city of 2013 Feb 04 - LRT const5Kuala Lumpur or outlying towns of Petaling Jaya, Kajang, Subang Jaya & Shah Alam, you will see cranes on the skyline and some sort of construction going on. It’s everywhere. In KL it’s the LRT as well as the new underground tunnel being constructed. In the outlying areas it’s the 2013 Feb 04 - LRT const1extension of the LRT and the MRT. There are new condos, office towers and shopping complexes going up all over the place. It’s hard to believe that regional populations will rise by thousands to fill these condos when they are built.   New condo and apartment high-rises means more people and additional vehicles that will be on the already maxed-out highways.


The workers are mainly foreigners who hail from Nepal, Bangladesh and India because Malaysians will not work for the meager pay. They work long hours from daybreak and into the evening hours, 6 or 7 days a week. They are out in the mid-30-degree heat sometimes wearing a straw hat over their hard had to protect them from the sun. Usually the foreign workers live right at the construction site in shacks and lean-to’s among squalid conditions because it’s convenient and that’s all they can afford.

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A mega project now underway in downtown Kuala Lumpur is the Klang Valley Mass Rapid Transit (KVMRT) system which will see a total of 51 kilometres of underground twin tunnels running mostly side-by-side. What makes this project extremely challenging is that 9.3 km of the tunnel will run under some of KL’s most heavily developed areas and through highly-weathered limestone on which the city sits.

Boring in the city - 3 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABoring in the city - 4Boring in the city - 2 pgs

Unfortunately our time in Malaysia will not be long enough to see the KVMRT completed and operational. Even the 15-storey condo being built in our back yard will not be completed by the time we leave. I think a trip back to Malaysia in five years time would be very interesting if just to drive on the new roads, fly-overs and tunnels and to see the finished projects.

The Star, 2013 Mar 15 - Tired of urban sprawl

This is the view that greets us every morning as we travel on the Federal Hwy

This is the view that greets us every morning as we travel on the Federal Hwy


Safety is not 'job 1'

Safety is not necessarily ‘job 1′

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Even dummies are put to work, earning not much less than the foreign workers

Even dummies are put to work, earning not much less than the foreign workers

A crane in the large blue frame atop the pillars hoists up the concrete sections for the LRT

A crane in the large blue frame atop the pillars hoists up the concrete sections for the LRT and sets them in place

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Iconic concerts on two continents

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band atOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA the Allphones Arena, Sydney, Australia, February 19, 2014

There was a double rainbow as I entered the Olympic Park and I knew I was in for a ‘golden’ show.  Bruce never lets you down.  I counted 15 band members on the stage, but I may have missed a couple.  A very guitar-oriented show with Tom Morello back in the band (for the tour and the new album, High Hopes).  Tom’s solo during the new version of ‘The Ghost of Tom Joad’ was nothing short of amazing, and he also shared vocal duties with Bruce on it.  Besides Tom, Nils Lofgren and Steve Van Zandt as well as Bruce handled the guitar duties.  Nils did a guitar solo that was a haunting OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAdance as he did spirals on the stage with a long ribbon tied to the neck of his guitar.   Bruce played his trusty Fender Telecaster for most of the concert.   Patty Scialfa occasionally picked up a guitar too.  The sax solos normally performed by Jake Clemons (nephew of legendary Clarence Clemons), were performed by Eddie Manion in Jake’s absence due to a death in the family.  Max Weinberg on drums, Roy Bittan, on keyboards and Garry Tallent rounded out the band.  If you’ve witnessed a Bruce & the E Street Band concert before you know it’s going to be a marathon extravaganza full of energy.  One song was hardly over before Bruce would count one,

A rainbow greeted me as I arrived at Allphones Arena in Sydney

A rainbow greeted me as I arrived at Allphones Arena in Sydney

two, three, four… to start off the next one.  Audience members, mainly girls, were brought up on stage to dance during ‘Dancing In The Dark’.  The lights finally went down after three incredible hours of an energized show.  The set list for the Sydney show was as follows:  Friday On My Mind, Out In The Street, Cadillac Ranch, High Hopes, Just Like Fire Would, Spirit In The Night, Badlands, Adam Raised A Cain, Something In The Night, Candy’s Room, Racing In The Street, The Promised Land, Factory, Streets of Fire, Prove It All Night, Darkness On The Edge Of Town, Darlington County, Shackled and Drawn, Waitin’ On A Sunny Day, The Ghost of Tom Joad and Land of Hope and Dreams.Feb 19 - Bruce Springsteen & E Street Band67Wait I’m not finished yet.  Here’s the encore:  Don’t Change, Born To Run, Dancing In The Dark, Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, Shout, Surprise Surprise and Dream Baby Dream.Feb 19 - Bruce Springsteen & E Street Band80

'Dancing In The Dark' under the bright lights

‘Dancing In The Dark’ under the bright lights

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'The Ghost of Tom Joad' with Tom Morello

‘The Ghost of Tom Joad’ with Tom Morello

Nils Lofgren (right) does his witchy dance

Nils Lofgren (right) does a haunting solo and dance with his Stratocaster

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The Rolling Stones at The Grand Ballroom, Marina Bay Sands, Singapore, March 15, 2014

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2014 Mar 16 - Singapore Sunday TimesThe Rolling Stones road show is well-greased after over 50 years of touring.  This concert was special because it is the smallest venue show on theirRolling Stones 14 on fire ticket current Asian tour.  Outside of the venue, two stages were set up where local bands alternated sets for an Mick's facebookappreciative audience.  Once the ‘big’ show started inside, those lucky enough to have tickets moved there and the remaining crowd got to watch the closed caption version on a large screen.  To make it even more special, Mick & the boys made a short appearance outdoors to say hello.

As the lights go down the audience goes wild in anticipation of what's to come

4 stonesThe Stones opened with Jumping Jack Flash and everybody was out of their seats from that point on.  A special guest for a few songs was former Rolling Stone, Mick Taylor.  I had seen Mick with the band back in 1972.Rolling Stones Sands Grand Ballroom  He replaced Brian Jones in the band in 1969 and left in 1975.  He was then replaced by Ron Wood.  The boys seem to be having a lot of fun on stage, and Mick Jagger only stopped moving when the lights went down after a song.  There was a corridor which extended from the stage out into the audience and Mick would prance out there every now and then.  He would move from stage left to stage right so that everyone got equal time with their hero.  Long time support band members, Chuck Leavell, keyboards, Darryl Jones, bass, Lisa Fischer, vocals, Bernard Fowler, vocals, Bobby Keyes, saxaphone and Tim Ries, sax/keyboards filled out the band.

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The Singapore set list was as follows:  Jumpin’ Jack Flash, You Got Me Rocking, It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll (But I Like It), Tumbling Dice, Wild Horses, Doom And Gloom, Live With Me (Song vote winner), Honky Tonk Women, Slipping Away (with Keith on lead vocals and Mick Taylor on guitar), Before They Make Me Run (with Keith on lead vocals), Midnight Rambler (with Mick Taylor), Miss You, Paint It Black, Gimme Shelter, Start Me Up, Sympathy For The Devil, Brown Sugar                                                 ENCORE - You Can’t Always Get What You Want (with the SYC Ensemble Singers), (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction (with Mick Taylor)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Celebrating St Pat’s Day in KL

It seems a wee bit strange but there is indeed a touch of Ireland in Malaysia, and we were OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAfortunate to be in the company of the Irish Ambassador to Malaysia, Mr Declan Kelly and his wife, Anne on this St Patrick’s Day.  The reception was held at the Sheraton Imperial Hotel in downtown Kuala Lumpur.  The grand ballroom as well as the hall leading to it were decorated in long flowing fabrics of green, white and orange – the colours of the Irish flag.  Ambassador Kelly & his wife greeted all the guests at the entrance to the ballroom.  When we arrived one of the waiters approached us with a tray of juice and cola. Arlene and Jim took a glass but glanced around the room for beer.  What would St Patrick’s Day be without beer?  It did not take them long to find the beer bar. With Kilkenney’s in hand (for Arlene and Jim) we surveyed the food displays in the rest of the large ballroom before the speeches began.  The welcome speeches initiated with the singing of both national anthems.  A minister from the Malaysian2014 Mar 17 - Irish Reception34 government spoke and proposed a toast to the Irish on their special day.  Ambassador Kelly warned guests that if they didn’t listen to his speech they would be denied the food and drink so teasingly displayed throughout the ballroom.  He is the ambassador to Thailand as well as Malaysia and so this is only one of many St. Patrick’s Day celebrations he has attended.  However, this was the only one held on the actual day.  He also offered a toast to Malaysia and thanked the minister for making an 2014 Mar 17 - Irish Reception82appearance despite being immersed in the on-going events of Malaysia flight MH370.    Then a chorus sang several gaelic2014 Mar 17 - Irish Reception85 songs a cappella.  Once the applause died out guests headed for the food and drink stations.   Hot food included OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAbreaded chicken cutlet, roast beef,  beer-battered fish with lime, calamari, all kinds of seafood and even Irish stew.  There was white and red wine as well as Guinness, Kilkenny and Tiger beer.    Interesting green desserts looked too good to eat.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  Two huge blocks of ice representing an Irish shamrock and a celtic harp served as centrepieces in the hall, and actually survived the evening still looking as they were supposed to.  Before leaving the reception we had a chance to speak to the ambassador and his wife again having met them over a year ago at a similar function.  We were surprised that they remembered us and part of our conversation.  The couple  spent 9 years in Canada and know the Ottawa valley well.  As we left they were approached by a colourful Irish-looking gal who through her slurred speech offered to sing an Irish ballad.  The ambassador’s wife graciously declined but we couldn’t help but wonder if the party was about to begin in true Irish form.

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Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig oraibh!

Rahmat Hari St Patrick kepada semua

Pray for MH370


The loss of the Malaysia Air Flight 370 has gained the attention and concern of the entire world.  If you didn’t know where Malaysia is before,  you certainly know now.

I first found out about the missing plane through a facebook message from my friend Miriam in Halifax.  Most Malaysians were asleep when the first report was released, while it was dinner time for our friends in the western world.  It was terrible news to wake up to and certainly reminiscent of 9/11.

2014 Mar 13 - The Star - Which way now?All of Malaysia is shrouded in grief.  Everywhere you turn, someone knows someone who was on the flight.  The standard ‘have you had your lunch yet’ greeting has been replaced with prayerful expressions of hope for MH370.  A huge public campaign to pray for the passengers, crew, and families affected has been launched.  TV, radio, and newspapers not only include regular updates of information but include prayerful messages and requests to continue to pray.  Most of the shopping malls have designated entire walls to the cause, inviting everyone to write their prayers and messages on them.  If there is anything that can be learned from this ordeal it is how a nation can come together in prayer.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It appears that prayers offer our biggest hope.  Malaysia has come under a great deal of criticism for the way that it has handled the situation.  Press conferences held have offered conflicting statements from officials who are clearly uncomfortable and inexperienced on the international stage. There are so many questions raised with very few answers offered.

You can just barely see the KL skyline in the distance with the haze

You can just barely see the KL skyline in the distance with the haze

There is other news in Malaysia that is not gaining international attention but certainly affects all of us who live here.  The country has been shrouded in hazethe Sun 2014 Mar 04  051 caused by the severe drought for the past several weeks.  The air quality is so bad that schools in Port Klang were closed on Thursday when the AQI (Air Quality Index) reached 350+.  Levels between 100 and 200 are considered unhealthy,  200-300 very unhealthy, and above 300 are hazardous. The government closes schools when the AQI exceeds 200. So just how bad is the air?  The smell of smoke is so strong it feels like you are walking in a forest fire. The haze itself is thick–like that of an early morning fog in Ontario.  Fog and smog may look the same but they certainly do not smell the same.

You have heard us complain about the haze in earlier posts but that haze was attributed to deforestation methods used here and in Indonesia.  Well actually, now that I think 2014 Mar 12 - the Sun  026about it, it is probably one and the same.  My knowledge of the eco system is limited but I suspect that the practice of burning down trees to clear land for agriculture likely has something to do with this extended drought.  There are some who don’t seem to get the connection though.  Last week during the thickest of (drought) haze, there were 138 fires reported–fires started to clear land or to burn garbage.  Go figure!  I wonder how many 350+ days it will take before we realize there is a connection.  And will it be too late for anything to be done?

I shall end my ramblings by sharing my prayers for the missing plane.  May God help the passengers, the crew, and their families.  May we find answers to all of the questions surrounding this situation so that it won’t happen again. My prayers are also for a cleaner environment here in Malaysia and everywhere.  God help us see what we are doing to our planet so that we can make significant changes to counter the destruction.  Amen.


Bazaar Baru Chow Kit

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Bazaar Baru Chow Kit, more commonly known as the Chow Kit Market, is in the Indonesian community in Kuala Lumpur just a stone’s throw from the Twin 2014 Mar 11 - Jalan KamuntingTowers.   It is the largest wet market in the city and definitely deserves a visit if you want to catch a  glimpse of the real Asia.  The market, which opened in 1955, is named after tin miner turned municipal councillor Loke Chow Kit.  It is a mixture of permanent structures and make-shift stalls beneath roofs and umbrellas in a dark, damp and smelly 2014 Mar 11 - Chow Kit Market107 suecamatmosphere.  There are well over 100 vendors selling every kind of food imaginable and some not so imaginable.  It is definitely not for the squeamish!  There are cow’s heads staring back at you from a table, beef hooves, chickens (dangling from stalls and living in cages), eels, mussels (maybe), and fish–some that looked like large slabs cut from marlin or other large sea fish. Catfish squirming and flapping on a shallow stainless steel sink,  chllies, grains, dried chips, fish and seafood, spices, eggs, all types of vegetables, and all kinds of fruit can be found in close quarters.  It’s very difficult to believe that they would sell all these ‘fresh’ products within a day.  After parking beneath the modern Petronas Towers,  we boarded the LRT for the short trip to the Masjid Jamek stop and then took a short walk to the market.  While the walk took only a few minutes, it sent us back in time about a hundred years.  It was chaotic, colourful, smelly, and exciting all at the same time. Definitely worth the trip.  Long live the Chow Kit Market.2014 Mar 11 - Chow Kit Market89lowres2014 Mar 11 - Chow Kit Market01 2014 Mar 11 - Chow Kit Market022014 Mar 11 - Chow Kit Market21lowres 2014 Mar 11 - Chow Kit Market38 2014 Mar 11 - Chow Kit Market43lowres 2014 Mar 11 - Chow Kit Market37 2014 Mar 11 - Chow Kit Market29 2014 Mar 11 - Chow Kit Market49 2014 Mar 11 - Chow Kit Market57lowres

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Kampung Baru with its low-rise homes is also near the Chow Kit Market and contrasts with the modern twin towers in the background.

Kampung Baru with its low-rise homes is also near the Chow Kit Market and contrasts with the modern twin towers in the background.

Walk this way – canal walk Bangkok

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Bangkok is called ‘the City of Angels’ which I really don’t understand, but it’s also known as the ‘Venice of Asia’ which now has meaning to me after having done a2014 Mar 03 - Bangkok Restaurant at Empire3 day cruise on the canals off of the Chao Phraya River.  A short distance from our hotel, but not marked on the map was an express waterway canal that took office workers and commuters to their jobs and home again, while avoiding the wicked traffic congestion of the Bangkok streets.  My friend, Chris came across the walkway that lines Feb 26 - canal25the canal by accident while out on his daily morning walk.  The wooden taxi boats must be about 75 feet long and fly down the canal making waves that lap against both sides.  They only slow when meeting another boat or stopping at the stations dotted along the canal.  The walk is very interesting because besides being next to the canal transitway, you are walking past the humble homes of many local dwellers.  Often we got a glimpse through open doorways of someone eating, or wrapped in a towel headed to the shower or children sitting on the floor watching television.  Sometimes the route took us embarrasingly  close to homes but the people were always friendly and seemed happy to see us walking in their ‘neighbourhood’.  The community is self sufficient with convenience stores.  At times the route took you up to road level at a bridge where you have to deal with 4-wheeled traffic or railway tracks to continue our walk on the other side.  Homes are built closs to the trail tracks and many use it as their path.  I can’t imagine trains actually coming through but I guess they do.

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These friendly guys put their beer down to take a picture of Chris & I on our walk one morning

These friendly guys put their beer down to take a picture of Chris & I on our walk one morning

King Bhumibol is respected and revered by everyone.  Having reigned sine 1946, he is the world's longest-serving monarch and head of state.  His picture appears everywhere on billboards, calendars, in taxi cabs as well as on the paper currency.

King Bhumibol is respected and revered by everyone. Having reigned sine 1946, he is the world’s longest-serving monarch and head of state. His picture appears everywhere on billboards, calendars, in taxi cabs as well as on the paper currency.

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