“There can only be one captain on the ship”, my sister-in-law tells me wisely.
“And that captain is your brother. He makes all the key decisions for our family.”
On a warm Sunday afternoon here in Kuala Lumpur, I am enjoying a chat with my sister-in-law Wendy over a few icy cold beers at the golf club.
For many years, home for Wendy and my younger brother Brian has been a high-rise penthouse next to Kuala Lumpur City Centre where the convenience and glamour of city living are rather obvious. The mecca of shopping, trendy bars, cafés, restaurants, cinema and public amenities at KLCC are all within walking distance. On new year’s eve each year, the panoramic view from their balcony is the splendour of fireworks lighting up glitzy Petronas Twin Towers and the skies of Malaysia’s capital city.
A city pad with all the modern conveniences is exciting but with two young sons growing up so quickly, Brian started to sow the seeds for change a few years ago. Driven by a vision for green living, he began his search for residential land outside of the city to kickstart the tree change journey.
“I’m a city girl too like Mysaucepan so I have always wanted to live in the heart of the city” Wendy confesses. “But decisions that concern our family must take top priority.”
Healthy living comes naturally to Brian and Wendy, who founded a successful health business in the city more than a decade ago. Ten years on, Wendy oversees this operation while Brian runs an on-line business that allows time flexibility for family and a focus for the future.
Eventually, it is here in Tanarimba within the village of Janda Baik (literally meaning ‘good widow’ in Bahasa), a largely untapped rural area amidst lush tropical rainforests that he planned to build a home for the family.
Making the tree change
After a couple of years of planning and construction, Brian and his family are now living in a green and environmentally-friendly abode they are proud to finally call home.
The terrain of the land slopes downwards from the main road.
A flight of stairs is connected by a wooden bridge that leads to the main entrance of the house.
A library of books greet us as we enter the house.
Downstairs in the kitchen, electric cooktops are specifically chosen over gas for safety considerations.
A self-sustainable, green home means there is no air-conditioning with buzzing noise of outdoor compressors and the harmful effects of chloro fluoro carbon on the environment.
“We don’t need air-conditioning anyway because the air is cool around these hills” Brian tells me. “It only gets a little warm between one and three in the afternoon, then the temperature begins to drop.”
Energy-saving lighting and solar water-heating equate to a modest electricity bill of just RM75 or A$26 per month.
A flight of stairs takes us down to where the kitchen, dining and main living spaces are located.
The floor areas and kitchen bench tops are made of polished concrete that is cool under our bare feet in tropical climate.
My nephew JD (short for James Dillon) has taken on being green and makes his contribution to the self-sustainable journey by sowing vegetable seeds.
“We have lettuce, kai lan and kangkong growing here” this young vegetarian tells me enthusiastically as he waters the seedlings.
Rain water is collected from the main roof of the house and stored in two 750-litre water tanks for the garden.
It’s early days and Brian has yet to receive his water bill but it’s anticipated to be around RM40 or A$14 per month.
Brian has built a compost pit in the garden where vegetable and fruit scraps are collected and turned into fertilizer for his garden.
JD’s efforts in growing kangkong is bearing the first green shoots.
“There are many monkeys that come to our garden and they eat up the little papaya trees” JD tells me. “We need to put cages around the trees so the monkeys can’t eat them.”
“There are hornbills too” his younger brother Tristan says enthusiastically, not wanting to miss out on the conversation.
There are half a dozen Musang King durian trees, reputed to be the king of all durians planted in the front garden.
My favourite part of the home is an elevated patio overlooking the backyard.
The air is cool, crisp and all we hear is the sound of crickets and birds. Tranquility and a sense of peace come from the rustle of leaves amidst a whispering breeze in the surrounding greenery.
Living on acreage affords vast open spaces to roam and wander. Early morning walks in the cool, misty jungle paths have become an exciting ritual and a source of quality time for the family.
In the backyard, Brian has set up a zip line where the boys can slide from the top of the slope down to the bottom.
JD looks like a pro on the zip line going down to the bottom of the slope.
Not unlike Sydney where baby boomers find holiday homes in the north and south coast of New South Wales, city folks of Kuala Lumpur have elaborate holiday homes in this area too.
A mere forty-minute drive north-east from Kuala Lumpur through the Karak highway, fresh air and the serenity of lush greenery are an enticing escape from the ‘big smoke’ of hectic city life.
Remember One Two Six Restaurant
There are many restaurants in the local precinct of Janda Baik where local fruits, vegetables and seafood are used in their kitchens.
Remember One Two Six Restaurant is a local favourite with Brian and Wendy.
This restaurant is so named because “one two six” in English has similar phonetics to the phrase “finding food and livelihood” in Cantonese and this is seen as a good business omen among the local Chinese.
Diners can shop for fruits and vegetables when dining at this restaurant.
It’s a long weekend here in Kuala Lumpur and the dining room is filling up fast with the lunch time crowd at 11.30 am.
Marmite chicken is savoury with familiar goodness though the batter can be a lot more crisp and light.
Fried meehoon is a favourite with young JD and Tristan.
Sprightly fresh beansprouts and egg are wafting with a dose of smoky wok hei. We end up ordering a second platter of these fried noodles.
Thin slices of deep fried pork belly are crisp with a thick and spicy sweet sauce.
I am not a fan of spicy sweet concoctions but I will make an exception, especially when the crunch of deep fried pork belly makes me yearn for cold beer or chilled chardonnay.
My favourite dish is guangxi style tofu puffs stuffed with minced pork and fish paste, then gently braised in chicken broth.
The tofu puffs are pillowy soft with subtle flavours of braised meat and the comforts of hearty soup.
This simple family meal is not complete without the heady wok hei of stir fried local greens with bold chunks of garlic, soy and shao xing wine.
Food sustainability is being practiced by some local restaurants in the area. This particular restaurant is renown for its seafood, especially mud crabs, local clams, fresh water king prawns, patin and jelawat fish, frogs and catfish, some of which come from its cultivation fish pond at the restaurant.
But there is no elaborate seafood for our lunch today.
For our family is happy to embrace Brian and Wendy’s first steps towards a fulfilling life of greenery, self-sustenance, good health and happiness.
So dear readers, have you ever considered making a sea change or tree change and if so, what is the most challenging issue for making the change?
Janda Baik is approximately a 40-minute drive from Kuala Lumpur CBD.
Malaysia was recently voted by International Living magazine as the 4th best place to retire in the world in 2015.