Thursday, November 10, 2011

Sunset at Miri River Mouth

[This is part of a series of drafted entries about Miri.]
Small boats speeding back home at sunset from the South China Sea - photo taken on 9 November 2011.

If you are in Miri Sarawak, one of the things that you can do is to enjoy the sights and sounds of the community living by Miri River. There are traditional village houses built on stilts on the river and also the modern shophouses that make up part of the Miri Waterfront Commercial area (located near the new river outlet) that houses several seafood restaurants. Sunset provides many photography opportunities as the sky and clouds turn into a kaleidoscope of colours that keeps on changing. The passing small boats and larger tug boats adds life to the scene.
The wooden houses built on stilts that stand on Miri River. Small fishing boats moored to wooded jetties line the riverside.
A wide view of the riverfront that facing the new outlet to South China Sea. I am standing at where the old river courses through to pass behind the fish market (no, I am not standing on water as the river has been filled up on this section). Notice the old on the left (wooden houses on stilts) and the new on the right (concrete shop-houses and buildings with garish signboards).

How to get there
Just walk in a westerly direction. No serious, you can't get lost in Miri, and even though the roads seem to go somewhere else, heading in the general direction of the river/sunset or heading westwards will get you there. If you walk from Miri City Fan/At-taqwa Mosque down Jalan Merpati towards Imperial Mall/Hotel, cross over to the next parallel road via Jalan Calliandra. Turn left at the T-junction and you are now in Jalan Permaisuri. Walk down the road you should see a signboard that says Miri Waterfront Commercial Area.

If you are coming from Jalan Merbau (Hotel Mega/Miri old Mosque), walk towards the Sarawak Plantation Building. At the junction, turn right into Jalan Permaisure/Jalan Indica and then turn left at the first turning on your left. That is Jalan Pala, and walking straight on will lead you to a three-pronged roundabout. You should be able to see the river from here.

So what's there at the river mouth?
The thing that got me confused when I first stood and looked at the river mouth is upon recalling what I saw in Google Maps before I came here. Google Maps showed that there were two flow path for the Miri River. One goes straight out after passing by the front of the shop-houses whilst the other goes on in front of the Miri Waterfront area and past the fish market and Tua Pek Kong Temple. Now, I only see the straight one, but the other path was blocked and in its place was a muddy ground, devoid of large trees. Then it dawned upon me that this was part of the reclamation that a shopkeeper told me about.

Above is the view of the new river mouth from the end of the road at the Miri Waterfront Commercial Centre (Jalan Pala at the three-pronged roundabout). The river now runs straight out to the South China Sea instead of going along past the sand spit and exiting way past Jalan Kubu). The old river path is hugging the shoreline behind the spit, passing by the fish market and the Tua Pek Kong Temple. Then the river mouth got too shallow and a second river mouth was created (the newer direct path which you can see from the roundabout). Now the old path of the river has been reclaimed and filled fully (on the left hand side of the river) for the marina resort project. At the time of writing this entry, Google Map still show the river as forking into two past the point of the Jalan Pala roundabout. Apparently a certain stretch of the old river that runs along the sand spit behind the fish market and facing the Tua Pek Kong Temple has not been completely  filled in and you can still see small boat jetties that stand out of the water.
View of the reclaimed section of the old river and the new river mouth (picture severely compensated in Photoshop).

As I was there to snap photos of boats passing with the sunset sky, I quickly took some shots as the sun was setting fast it was threatening to go dark rapidly. If I had more time, I would have walked along the embankment towards the coast and taken photos from there.
A large boat coming into Miri River from the open sea (no colour correction).
The clouds, sky and river bursts into vibrant colours at dusk.

Large boats coming into Miri River from the river mouth.
Same shot as above but with different colour interpretation.

The two boats heading upriver.

Besides the sights, what else is there?
There are many seafood restaurants here and some actually set their tables across the road by the riverside to provide a sort of alfresco dining with the added flavours of Miri River and smell of the South China Sea breeze.
As night falls, the neon signs for the seafood restaurants comes on, like a lighthouse for seafood lovers 'sailing in' to dock at the seats set by the river side. If you do take photos from this point, take note that this was formerly the river which has been filled and is now a muddy piece of ground held by a granite embankment and you will be swamped with mosquitoes should you stand here at dusk.
Seafood restaurants - The green arrows indicate the shops whilst the off white arrow indicate where some of the restaurants had placed their tables and chairs across the road by the river.

Tamu Lama Miri - Local Market at Miri

One of the spots in Miri that I personally enjoyed visiting was the old local market (Tamu Lama or Tamu Kedayan) located at Jalan Oleander. There are two sides to this market, an open air side and one that is under a roof. The open air stalls are facing the Centre Point Commercial Area block (on Jalan Melayu - this road is crazy as it goes round and round) whilst the roofed stalls are on the other side (on Jalan Oleander). You will see the roofed market area if you walk right to the end of the Tua Pek Kong Temple and looked across the road.
View of the sheltered side of the Tamu Lama at Miri.

Besides the usual stuff that you see like lemongrass, curcubits and chillies (the chillies here are colourful, from the brightly coloured C. fructescens (bird chilli) there are the reddish orange C. chinense (Scotch bonnets), wild mushrooms, wild honey and herbs. I spied a few chillies that looked like fruits from C. chinense - C. fructescens crosses.

From my experience of growing C. chinense, if the flowers gets pollinated by C. fructescens pollen, the next generation will have fruits that are very much more elongated unlike the bonnets or lantern shaped parents. However, these hybrid plants appear to unstable hybrids and produces little to no viable seeds. The fruit of such plants looks identical to that of the Naga Jolokia except that it is smooth skinned (and indeed Naga Jolokia is genetically a stabilised hybrid between C. chinense and C. fructescens, with unequal genomic contribution).
A lady with her produce at the market. Amongst the stuff that she is selling are the usual red chillies, the hot habaneros and scotch bonnets, pumpkins, betel fruit, ginger, unripe jackfruit, lemongrass and cucumbers.

As I could not resist the novelty of the various scotch bonnets sold here, I bought a 'colander' worth of chillies for RM2. Handling those chillies later in the hotel room when I was taking photos made me realise that they were really hot. No wonder the seller kept on reminding me that the chillies are hot. She was a nice lady, and she even prettied herself up and rearranged the stuff on the table before I took a photo of her stall.
Some of the chillies that I had purchased. A mixture of sorts of the Capsicum chinense and possibly hybrids of C. chinense and C. fructescens.

Some stuff sold here are rarely seen in West Malaysia, for example Asam kelubi (Eleiodoxa conferta), Buah dabai (Canarium odontophyllum), Buah Kechalak/Kantan (Etlingera elatior), Buah engkala/engkalak (Litsea graciae) and Pucuk midin (Stenochlaena palustris). You can also find the 'normal' pucuk paku (Diplazium esculentum/Athyrium esculentum) being sold at the market. The pumpkins sold here (and also those in the supermarket) have long, somewhat bent necks, reminiscent of the Cushaw Squash. But the skin is like that of a local pumpkin that is getting more common nowadays; coloured like the usual one-toned, tan yellow pumpkin (probably Cucurbita moschata) but with greenish markings like a kabocha (Cucurbita maxima).
Some of the local produce sold at the open stalls: 1. Asam kelubi  2. Bunga kantan  3. local pumpkins.
More local produce on sale at the open stalls: 1. Buah dabai lemak  2. Pucuk midin  3. Pucuk paku  4. Kacang botol/botor (Four angled bean - Psophocarpus tetragonolobus).
Even more local produce: 1. Catfish  2. Buah kechalak/kantan  3. Bamboo culm (as cooking container)  4. Buah petai (Stink beans - Parkia speciosa)  5. Shelled petai beans.

Curiosity got the better of me and I bought some buah engkala. The sellers told me that the ripe ones (those that are very pink/red) can be eaten after bruising the fruit, and consumed by adding some salt and eating it with rice. Those that are not that pink would have to be soaked in hot water before being eaten. I was reminded that you only eat the 'skin' and that if you eat the uripe fruit without soaking, you will get throat and mouth irritation (locals refer to that as pedar/gatal).
Buah engkala sold at the market by the plate. Each plate cost RM5. There is an empty plate at the back as the stall owner just emptied it into a bag for me.

I also spotted fruits that looked like Terung iban/asam/dayak/bulu (Solanum lasiocarpum syn. S. indicum, S. ferox? ferox meaning hairy - bulu) but didn't ask the seller what it was. Contrary to what many people put on the web, terung asam cannot be S. macrocarpon for the ripe fruits of S. macrocarpon are supposed to be bitter and not sour! (see Burkill, I. H. 1925. Solanum macrocarpon. Bulletin of Miscellaneous Information (Royal Gardens, Kew) 1925(8), 333-341.) Also S. lasiocarpum is native to S.E. Asia, unlike S. macrocarpon. If you think that terung asam looks a bit like naranjilla, well you are not wrong, for they all belong to the Leptostemonum clade.
1. Yellow rambutans (Nephelium lappaceum)  2. Cucumbers  3. Buah pinang (Betel fruit to get betelnut)  4. Tumeric  5. Okra  6. Green chillies  7. Calamansi lime  8. Terung asam (S. lasiocarpum)  9. Sweet potatoes  10. Ginger  11. Lemongrass.

Back at the hotel room, I had a go at trying the taste of the buah engkala. Those that was soaked in hot water was well, creamy in texture but tasteless. It reminded me of eating butter (or avocado but more creamy). There was only a thin layer of creamy flesh beneath the skin, and the centre was a large seed (stone). I also took one that was really pink and bashed it till it was somewhat bruised.
Clockwise from top: Buah engkala opened up showing the thin pulp and large singular seed, three seeds removed from the fruits, and two complete fruit with stem attached.

The flesh (not soaked in hot water) had a discernible lemony twang to it, thus making it more interesting to the palate. However, the fruit was probably not ripe enough or that I did not bruise it enough for there was the hallmark throat irritation after consuming the fruit that I was warned of if the fruit was not soaked in hot water or not ripe enough to be eaten without soaking. If asked if I would eat it again, I would probably say no. If you like avocadoes or stuff that has the texture of a creamy custard but is utterly tasteless, then you will probably like buah engkala.

The market was an eye opener for me with all the strange fruits and  local produce (I have not even touched on the various fruits of the mango family and the different shellfish available). I wanted to also take a look at another market, the Tamu Muhibbah, but since I was exhausted from all the walking earlier (going up Canada Hill under the midday sun), I gave it a pass.