Selangor Tin Dredge

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To my knowledge there are only two surviving bucketline tin dredges in Malaysia. One is the Tanjung Tualang Tin Dredge near Batu Gajah which I wrote about on this blog a few years ago. The other is located near Dengkil in Selangor.

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I have seen the Dengkil dredge many times from a distance since it is visible from the main road when driving to the airport. Today I tried to see it from up close.

Thanks to Google Maps it was easy to find the best way to approach the dredge which is surrounded by lakes created by the dredge’s excavations. A gravel road takes you part of the way. This road is busy with rubbish trucks as one of the lakes is being used as a landfill. 

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I parked the car next to a lake and walked the rest of the way, a distance of about 1 km each way. The path is not too overgrown and I did not see any ‘no trespassing’ signs. There was a barrier blocking the way to cars but again no ‘keep out’ signs.

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Finally I managed to get near the dredge which is an enormous piece of engineering. According to Liz Price’s excellent blog, this is the Sri Banting Dredge, built in Malaysia in 1974 (much newer than the colonial-era Tanjung Tualang dredge) and weighs 4,800 tonnes.

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It was not possible to go on board as it was moored a few metres off-shore and there was no gangplank. Anyway it is private property. There were a couple of vigilant watchdogs on the dredge to deter trespassers.

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No doubt this dredge is earmarked for sale at some stage. Many of the other tin dredges in Malaysia were sold off to foreign buyers such as this one which was towed to Bangka Island in Indonesia in 1987.

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If no buyer can be found it would probably be sold for scrap and that will be the end of Selangor’s tin mining heritage. At least the Tanjung Tualang dredge is being preserved as a museum by the Perak State Government and should be open to the public, long overdue, at the end of this year.

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Kokeshi Style Motorbike Helmets

Motorbike helmet designs tend to cater mostly for male tastes since men form the majority of the motorbiking population. In Indonesia however, where there are thought to be over 80 million motorbikes on the roads, with millions of women riders, helmet designs are emerging to appeal to the vast female biker market.

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Cute, cartoon character type designs seem to be particularly popular. I thought this design was quite good, based on the traditional Japanese kokeshi doll. 

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There’s No Macassar Oil In Makassar

The Indonesian city of Makassar may not be that well known in the West these days but back in the 1800s it was literally a household name, or at least Macassar Oil was.

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Macassar Oil was a product for strengthening and smoothing down hair and was popular with both ladies and gentlemen. The leading brand was Rowland’s Macassar Oil, marketed by a fashionable hairdresser called Alexander Rowland (1747-1823) and his son of the same name.

The son authored a book with the snappy title ‘An Historical, Philosophical, and Practical Essay on The Human Hair Combining a Full and Copious Description of its Growth – Analysis of its Various Properties – the Causes of its Varied Colours – Elucidation of the Different Disorders to Which it is Subject, and the Best Means of Eradicating those Diseases: Interspersed with Numerous Interesting Anecdotes.’

In his surprisingly interesting book he explained the origin of the name Macassar Oil:

The Macassar Oil is so denominated, because it is composed of vegetable ingredients produced from an exotic plantation, appertaining to the Island of Macassar.

He boasted that the Oil had gained the august patronage of the Princess of Wales, the Duke of Sussex and ‘His Imperial Majesty the Emperor of all the Russias’.

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Lord Byron swore by it.

Rowland’s book quoted a letter from a gentleman living in Macassar in 1809:

Macassar is the most beautiful of the Phillipine [sic] Isles. Its climate is delightfully pleasant, its natives harmless and peaceable, its soil luxuriant. Europe has derived, (through the meritorious exertions of Messrs, Rowland and Son) the benefits arising from the well-known produce of the Macassar Tree. I do not wonder that ignorant persons should doubt the virtues of the Macassar Oil, when they call in question the existence of such a place.

This tree’s scientific name is Schleichera oleosa and other common names include Kusum Tree and Ceylon Oak. The oil is extracted from its seeds.

The book contained a number of testimonials from grateful customers claiming the wondrous benefits of this follicular tonic, said to cure baldness, greying, scalp diseases, dandruff, ringworm and even headaches. One such testimonial read:

I have made use of Rowland’s Macassar Oil and it has produced so plentiful a crop that you have mistook my head of hair for a wig.

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In case the writing is too small for you the caption reads “An Oily Puff for Soft Heads”. Talking about Byron perhaps?

If Macassar Oil was so effective you have to wonder why it has all but disappeared from the market and why there are still so many bald headed people around. Could it be that some of the claims were exaggerated, or made up?

Personal hygiene was poor in those days. Bath night, and hair washing, was for many a once-a-week event. Ordinary homes did not have running water.  Cold water had to be heated on a stove and poured into a copper bathtub, placed in the living room in front of the fireplace.

People would have slapped scented Macassar Oil on their hair to disguise the hair’s greasy appearance and to improve its odour, remembering that nearly all men smoked in those days.

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One particularly dirty fellow who refused to wash following the death of his fiancée on their wedding day, was mentioned in Rowland’s book:

The truly eccentric character, the late Nathaniel Bentley, of Leadenhall Street, generally known by the name of “Dirty Dick”, was at one time distinguished for having his hair dressed in the extremity of fashion; but in his later days how altered! – his hair which was totally grey stood up “like the quills of the fretful porcupine,” forming at once a singular and almost frightful spectacle.

I used to frequent Dirty Dicks pub in nearby Bishopsgate many years ago which, inspired by Bentley’s filthy home, included decorations like cobwebs and dead cats.

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Antimacassars.

To prevent the greasy Macassar Oil from ruining the furniture, people used to place removable and washable covers called antimacassars on the backs and arms of armchairs and sofas. I remember seeing antimacassars in people’s houses when I was young but not surprisingly they are out of fashion now except perhaps on trains in places like China, Vietnam and Japan.

Macassar Oil has made something of a comeback in Britain in recent years as beard oil due to the current popularity of going unshaven but this stuff is made mainly from coconut oil rather than Macassar Oil Tree.

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Minyak Tawon is the top selling souvenir product from Makassar. This magical medicated oil is highly rated for relieving muscular aches and pains and arthritis, alleviating the effects of insect bites, acne and boils, curing cold symptoms and more. However it is not meant for hair and does not claim to cure baldness.

Since I was in Makassar recently and I am in need of something to restore my sadly depleted hairline I thought I would see if I could find any Macassar Oil. Nearly every souvenir shop and supermarket sold locally made oil but it was of the medicated rubbing variety (minyak gosok cap tawon) for relief of aches and pains rather than for promoting lustrous locks. It seems that hair oil is no longer a famous local product. I guess I’ll just have to wear a hat!

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Makassar Attractions

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I had been wanting to visit Sulawesi for a long time. When I was at school, aged around 11, I remember our teacher asked everyone to write a non-fiction essay on any topic we liked. Most of my classmates wrote about their pets or favourite football teams. I wrote about Celebes, which is how Sulawesi used to be spelt. Partly my odd choice was driven by practicalities. I had access to the volume of Encyclopaedia Brittanica which included the letter C, so here was my source of information in those days before the internet. But I was also attracted to the strange shape that Celebes made on the map, like some deformed sea creature or crocodile. I was also curious about the photos of strange houses with upturned gables. It wasn’t a great essay and I was probably told off for plagiarism but since that time Sulawesi has been on my ‘must visit’ list.

MakassarFifty years later, I finally made it to the southern Sulawesi city of Makassar and the surrounding area. I would have preferred to visit Manado in the more scenic north and the central highlands where the Toraja people have their upturned houses and unusual burial customs but they will have to wait for another day.

Makassar is not really a tourist destination. It is a major port and most foreign visitors are seamen but there are a few sights worth seeing.

Fort Rotterdam

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This Dutch-built fort sits in the heart of town. Behind its robust walls are a number of buildings which would look at home in Holland. One of them houses a museum called La Galigo, which sounds Iberian but is apparently named after an ancient book written in the local Bugis language. The fort has been well preserved but I felt that more could be done to turn it into a world class attraction.

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For me it was interesting to compare this Dutch East India Company fort with the English East India Company fort that I visited last year in Bengkulu. The English one looked more solid and better designed for defence but the Dutch one looked more comfortable for its occupants. Since disease was a bigger killer than invaders, the Dutch were probably right to concentrate on comfort and hygiene.

Dutch Era Buildings

Makassar has seen enormous urban regeneration but a few buildings survive from colonial times including:

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Makassaarsche Apotheek ( a pharmacy).

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Former Governor’s Residence (now a police station).

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Protestant Church & Vicarage

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Museum Kota Makassar (former town hall).

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District Court Building.

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Catholic Church.

Mandala Monument

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This striking monument commemorates the wresting of West Irian (Papua) from Dutch control in 1962 and its eventual integration into Indonesia.

Losari Beach

There is no longer any actual beach on this stretch of waterfront in the centre of town but it is a popular place for locals to hang out, eat and watch the sunset.

Fish Market

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Like all fish markets in this part of the world, a tolerance for strong smells and gory sights is required to visit this colourful and lively place, especially the fish-gutting section which is enough to put anyone off becoming a pescetarian. Everybody who works here is covered in fish scales.

Paotere Harbour

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My trishaw driver told me that this is the best place in Indonesia to see traditional wooden Bugis sailing schooners (prahus) being loaded and unloaded, though I do remember going to a similar place in Jakarta many years ago.

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I was told these boats belong to people from Flores.

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While these ones are the Sulawesi Bugis boats.

Street Markets

I passed a couple of street markets in Makassar.

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This street was lined with kambing stalls and even though the goats were not tethered they obediently stayed in their stalls, oblivious to the fate which awaits them, poor things.

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Similarly these chickens were patiently waiting to be bought.

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This banana vendor appeared to have enough stock to last for a while.

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Ukulele and tubers.

Benteng Somba Opu

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Since I did not have time to visit the Toraja Highlands the next best thing was Benteng Somba Opu on the outskirts of Makassar where they have examples of the amazing Tongkonan traditional houses with the curved boat-like roofs.

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There are also replicas of other stilted houses here and a museum.

Toraja Church

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Talking of Toraja, I noticed this Toraja Church decorated with tribal motifs. The steel towers, instead of bearing crosses, appear to be topped with a couple of parrots.

Vihara Girinaga

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I noticed this yellow pagoda away in the distance from the roof of my hotel and set off on foot to find it. Forty minutes later I arrived, rather sweaty, just as a couple of volunteer staff were commencing their duties and they very kindly gave me a tour around.

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This Buddhist temple is not quite complete but it has amazing altars, murals and displays on each of the eight floors of the pagoda, including one floor with a mini Angkor Wat model, very beautifully done at considerable expense.

Bantimurung National Park

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As mentioned in my last post, this national park is famed for its myriad butterflies. Other attractions include a couple of caves and a very lively waterfall.

I have marked all these places on this map, as accurately as possible, in case you would like to visit any of them.

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In Search of Wallace – Part 9: Celebes – Macassar

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Last week, after a break of several months, I resumed my efforts to retrace Alfred Russel Wallace’s footsteps in the Malay Archipelago, this time by visiting the area around Makassar in southern Sulawesi. (I’ll use the old spellings of Macassar and Celebes for the purpose of this post.)

Wallace reached Macassar in August 1856 on board the schooner Alma, brimming with optimism. He wrote:

I left Lombock on the 30th of August, and reached Macassar in three days. It was with great satisfaction that I stepped on a shore which I had been vainly trying to reach since February, and where I expected to meet with so much that was new and interesting.

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His first impressions of the town were positive:

Macassar was the first Dutch town I had visited, and I found it prettier and cleaner than any I had yet seen in the East. The Dutch have some admirable local regulations. All European houses must be kept well white-washed, and every person must, at four in the afternoon, water the road in front of his house. The streets are kept clear of refuse, and covered drains carry away all impurities into large open sewers, into which the tide is admitted at high-water and allowed to flow out when it has ebbed, carrying all the sewage with it into the sea.

Today Macassar is a city of around 1.5 million but in Wallace’s time it was a lot smaller:

The town consists chiefly of one long narrow street along the seaside, devoted to business, and principally occupied by the Dutch and Chinese merchants’ offices and warehouses, and the native shops or bazaars. This extends northwards for more than a mile, gradually merging into native houses often of a most miserable description, but made to have a neat appearance by being all built up exactly to the straight line of the street, and being generally backed by fruit trees. Parallel to this street run two short ones which form the old Dutch town, and are enclosed by gates. These consist of private houses, and at their southern end is the fort, the church, and a road at right angles to the beach, containing the houses of the Governor and of the principal officials. Beyond the fort, again along the beach, is another long street of native huts and many country-houses of the tradesmen and merchants.

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The fort, called Fort Rotterdam, still survives and is one of the town’s top tourist attractions. This, together with the church, the adjacent vicarage, and a handful of other colonial-era buildings are all that remain of the old Dutch town.

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There was no hotel in Macassar so Wallace stayed initially at the Dutch club, known as the Sociëteit De Harmonie, located close to the fort. The building still stands, though much altered in appearance, with a sign showing it has been used as an art centre.

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Wallace slept here.

Wallace’s initial optimism soon turned to disappointment and by September he was writing to a friend:

At length I am in Celebes! I have been here about three weeks, and as yet have not done much, except explored the nakedness of the land,–and it is indeed naked,–I have never seen a more uninteresting country than the neighbourhood of Macassar: for miles around there is nothing but flat land, which, for half the year, is covered with water, and the other half is an expanse of baked mud (its present state), with scarcely an apology for vegetation…. Insects, in fact, in all this district there are absolutely none.

Wallace wanted to widen his search:

Before I could move to any more promising district it was necessary to obtain permission from the Rajah of Goa, whose territories approach to within two miles of the town of Macassar. My friend Mr. Mesman kindly lent me a horse, and accompanied me on my visit to the Rajah, with whom he was great friends. We found his Majesty seated out of doors, watching the erection of a new house.

The Gowa Regency was abolished by the Dutch after Wallace’s visit but the area where Wallace and the Rajah may have met (Benteng Somba Opu) has been turned into a museum, with the remains of demolished fortress walls on display together with a number of replica traditional buildings from around Celebes.

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The Raja’s new house might have looked like this one.

Wallace didn’t think much of the local coffee:

Some wine was then brought us, and afterwards some detestable coffee and wretched sweetmeats, for it is a fact that I have never tasted good coffee where people grow it themselves.

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Nowadays the local coffee is quite drinkable. In fact the Gowa Regency has even inspired its own brand.

In the interior of southern Celebes the villagers were unused to seeing foreigners:

Not a single person in the village could speak more than a few words of Malay, and hardly any of the people appeared to have seen a European before. One most disagreeable result of this was that I excited terror alike in man and beast. Wherever I went, dogs barked, children screamed, women ran away, and men stared as though I were some strange and terrible cannibal or monster. …… If I came suddenly upon a well where women were drawing water or children bathing, a sudden flight was the certain result; which things occurring day after day, were very unpleasant to a person who does not like to be disliked, and who had never been accustomed to be treated as an ogre.

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The locals are more much accustomed to seeing foreigners nowadays. Instead of running away they ask to take selfies.

Wallace had much better luck in searching for species at Maros, which he visited during a second trip to Celebes from July – November 1857:

After much inquiry I determined to visit the district of Maros, about thirty miles north of Macassar.   ….    Passing over an elevated tract forming the shoulder of one of the hills, a picturesque scene lay before us. We looked down into a little valley almost entirely surrounded by mountains, rising abruptly in huge precipices, and forming a succession of knolls and peaks aid domes of the most varied and fantastic shapes.

This area is now a national park called Bantimurung.

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Bantimurung National Park. Wallace might have liked this treehouse.

The rare and beautiful Butterflies of Celebes were the chief object of my search, and I found many species altogether new to me, but they were generally so active and shy as to render their capture a matter of great difficulty.

They are not easy to photograph either, as this blurry picture shows. I must invest in a good camera and super-dooper lens one of these days.

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Here is one you missed Mr. Wallace. I’ll name it the Papilio Russel Bantimurung in your honour!

In these rocky forests dwell some of the finest butterflies in the world. Three species of Ornithoptera, measuring seven or eight inches across the wings, and beautifully marked with spots or masses of satiny yellow on a black ground, wheel through the thickets with a strong sailing flight. About the damp places are swarms of the beautiful blue-banded Papilios, miletus and telephus, the superb golden green P. macedon, and the rare little swallow-tail Papilio rhesus, of all of which, though very active, I succeeded in capturing fine series of specimens. I have rarely enjoyed myself more than during my residence here.

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There is a rather tatty butterfly museum inside the national park containing some fine butterfly and moth specimens caught locally and elsewhere in Indonesia. Wallace’s name appears under a number of the specimens for having provided the original descriptions.

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Wallace counted 250 species of butterfly at Bantimurung and dubbed the area the Kingdom of Butterflies. When a local university professor carried out a census in 2005 , only 125 species were identified. Given the number of stalls outside the national park selling butterflies I suppose we should be grateful there are any species left at all.

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Wallace is still remembered at Bantimurung. He even gets a prominent mention on the National Park’s official website.

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Dragon Fruit Farm – Sepang

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I visited a dragon fruit farm today near Sepang, not far from Kuala Lumpur’s International Airport. The farm is called Multi Rich Pitaya, ‘pitaya’ being another name for dragon fruit.

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Dragon fruit’s scientific name is hylocereus derived from the Greek word hyle (meaning woody), the Latin word cereus (meaning waxen). Woody and waxen doesn’t sound particularly appetizing but it probably refers to its cactus-like stems rather than the fruit.

The fruit is thought to have originated in Central America and was introduced into Vietnam by French missionaries in the 19th century.  Cultivation has since spread to all corners of the tropical world and some Mediterranean climates like Turkey and Israel, though Vietnam is still the world’s leading exporter.

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Types of Dragon Fruit

There are three varieties of dragon fruits grown in Malaysia:

  • Red skin with red flesh.
  • Red skin with white flesh.
  • Yellow skin with grey/white flesh

All varieties have edible black seeds, like kiwi seeds but softer.

The yellow sort is not common in Peninsular Malaysia, though it is grown in Sabah. The white flesh variety is still probably the most common but the red flesh sort are more sought after (and more expensive) as they taste better. The white flesh variety can often be rather bland and disappointing.

Multi Rich Pitaya only grows the red variety.

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Uses of Red Dragon Fruit

Best consumed raw, preferably chilled, either by itself or as part of a fruit salad.

Mixes well with plain yogurt to produce a fantastically coloured dessert.

Can also be made into juice, smoothies or sorbets.

They are easy to peel. The skin is inedible but can be processed to make food colouring.

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Reputed Health Benefits

  • High fibre content aids digestion and reduces body fat
  • Rich source of vitamin B, C, calcium and phosphorus
  • Improves eyesight
  • Controls hypertension
  • Helps control blood glucose levels in type 2 diabetes sufferers
  • Boosts immune system
  • Improves skin conditions
  • Rich in lycopene, thought to help prevent cancer
  • Helps prevent gout and arthritis
  • Reduces cholesterol
  • Low in calories

If even only half of these claims are true it would seem foolish not to eat it!

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Dragon Fruit Flowers

The flowers bloom briefly, for one night only. They are large and attractive flowers with a sweet tropical fragrance when in bloom. Unopened flower buds can be cooked like vegetables. Dried flowers can be processed to make tea.

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Multi Rich Pitaya Farm

This farm welcomes visitors. You can wander round the farm and buy some fresh dragon fruit in their basic shop. The ones you can buy here have been allowed to ripen fully on the vine and taste much sweeter than those you find in the supermarket.

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They also sell dragon fruit enzyme drink which is a delicious and healthy tonic.

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Multi Rich has a family of caged monkeys.  The large male monkey doesn’t look happy in that small cage and it would be better if they were released or rehoused somewhere more suitable.

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If you want to visit you can find the contact details and GPS co-ordinates on this photo.

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Dragon Air?

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Strange Bedfellows – Porcupine & Tortoise

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At Paya Indah Wetlands near Kuala Lumpur there is a family of porcupines who live in the same compound as a family of giant tortoises. In the heat of the midday sun they snuggle up next to each other in this shady shelter.

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With their armour-plated shells, tortoises are one of the few animal species that are immune to spiky porcupine quills.

Unlike this poor boa constrictor in Brazil which foolishly tried to take on a porcupine with painful consequences:

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