A hotchpotch of goings-on at Batu Batu

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted about where we’re at on Pulau Tengah. And then it all piles-up and there’s just too much to write about. So here’s a little list / synposis to get us up to date:

Since I last posted things have been moving and we’re hopeful that Batu Batu will be open (if not to everyone – at least to our guinea pig friends) in April 2012. Right now, we have a full work force on the island – Hashim, Sham and Rastam are moving to finish all the structures in the main resort – mainly finishing touches like the walls around each villa’s outdoor shower, steps up to the verandah, indoor finishings to ready the villas for the arrival of Su San and her concrete polishing team.

A big barge arrived about a week ago and brought with it tonnes and tonnes of material plus a big digger. The pool has been dug and is currently being worked on. Some coconut trees had to go – but some were transplanted and others will be used as bumpers for our jetty’s legs. Tee, Leong and his men are busy working on the interiors for our two mock-up villas. I’ll wait to show some pics when they are ready (hopefully within a couple of weeks).

Ian the BRISC architect from Arkitrek has visited us twice to place the BRISC buildings. Work on the Long Beach should start soon. Frank Wilson a sewage and waste water expert also visited us and is now designing a state of the art water system for Batu Batu – so that you can safely drink water out of all resort taps without needing to boil it, the grey water will be recycled to flush the loos and we’ll have plenty of good (and non-smelly!) compost for our vegetable and herb garden.

I visited Hugues and Roberto in Yogyakarta a few months back and they have been busy working on a furniture proposition for Batu Batu – lovely FSC-certified recycled teak furniture. Here’s a picture of their workshop with the old wood piled in the centre. I’ve also stuck in a rendering done by their designer Bayu – who creates amazing 3D images of Batu Batu from scratch so you can get an idea of what things will look like with the furniture in place.

Last week we had Hung from Ho Chi Minh City visit us on PT – a curtain-maker who has provided curtains and blinds for various Six Senses resorts in Vietnam. And we also announced that Evert Onderbeke will be joining Batu Batu as Executive Chef in the new year. We are very excited about this as Evert has excellent credentials – Executive Chef at High Tide KL – winner of Time Out KL’s Best Seafood Restaurant, himself shortlisted for Outstanding Chef of the Year 2010 and mentored by 2-Michelin star chef Roger Souvereyns. We are really looking forward to working together with Evert to create a great dining experience for our guests – conducive to the location and in the spirit of the resort’s aim to source locally and sustainably. Evert will join us in the new year which gives him some good time pre-opening to make friends with the local fishermen, source the best ingredients and create the right menu. We’re really looking forward to some great food!

Talking about making friends with fishermen, we have Simon Buckell – a volunteer from the UK with excellent birding experience – working with us at the moment, conducting some initial studies and creating observational logs on PT and the surrounding area’s wildlife. Together with Hakim, a Wild Asia intern, Simon has been having a taste of life on PT over the past weeks as well as experiencing life onboard local fishing boats with some local fishermen. We’ll get some of his stories posted on the blog in the near future – but here are some of his pictures so far.

On an entirely different subject, we’ve ordered some lovely bikinis for the BB Boutique from Mileti – a new Singapore-based swimwear company. It can be very difficult to find good swimwear out in these parts and we’re pleased to have found and to be supporting a local business. Here’s a sneak preview of the swimwear you might find at the BB boutique.

And last but not least, a couple of people pointed me towards Dominic Sio (thanks Niki and Mike!), a Penang-ite returned from years in Europe – described as a branding genius, a veteran of the fashion / creative / design / branding industry – Dom is helping us create Batu Batu The Brand. Here are a few inspirational ideas he has been feeding us with.

Until next time…

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Sam@Really Savvy joins us on a trip to Batu Batu

The internet is an amazing place that allows us access to all sorts of people that you would never otherwise meet. And thus I met Sam Tyers, fresh off a 15-hour flight, in an Australian bar on Robertson Quay one Friday evening to talk about Batu Batu and responsible tourism (we had emailed each other photos so that we’d be able to pick each other out amongst the Friday-night-post-work crowd). After a couple of drinks, I invited her to join us the next morning on a mish-mash trip part-family-holiday-part-Wild-Asia-reconnaissance-mission to Pulau Tengah. Three days of snorkelling, attempted reef-mapping, jungle-trekking and children’s entertainment ensued. Read about her experience and her thoughts on Batu Batu here.

Sam is the founder and owner of Really Savvy, a roaming responsible tourism consultancy. Describing herself as “location independent”, she has worked and lived in Thailand, Indonesia and China. Sam holds a masters in Advanced Environment and Energy Studies and is also a qualified dive instructor. “We were founded on the belief that travellers shouldn’t have to choose between sustainability, quality and fun when they go on holiday – they can have all three!” a sentiment that we share wholeheartedly. We hope too that our responsible / ethical aspirations can be realised. Thanks Sam!

Placing BRISC on the Arkitrek blog

Ian Hall – one of our two volunteer architects for BRISC – has posted on the Arkitrek blog about his last trip to Pulau Tengah when BRISC was placed amongst the casuarinas and groves of hibiscus… Read his post here.

On my side – I know, I know, I’m behind on my posts! To come: posts on FSC certified recycled teak furniture and gorgeous batik in Yogyakarta, about soap, fair trade and the renaissance of the tastefully done boutique hotel in Georgetown, Penang, about the Batu Batu logo design journey and I’m sure by the time I next write – about chefs and diving on Pulau Tengah over the coming weekend. Until then – enjoy the Arkitrek post.

BRISC in a nutshell

It all started with dad chasing Debs from Wild Asia around Suntec City’s Exhibition Hall last October at ITB Asia asking how he could speak to this rather austere and important-sounding figure – Dr. Reza (the head honcho at Wild Asia). After a few weeks of text stalking, we finally arranged a rendezvous and met the not-very-austere-in-the-end Dr. Reza for dinner. It’s all a bit fuzzy in my head from there on but one day several months later, we sat round a table in the shade of the bar pavillion on Pulau Tengah and drew-up the concept for BRISC – Batu Batu Reef & Island Study Centre – a partnership between Wild Asia and ourselves.

BRISC in a nutshell? Basically, we Batu Batu are building our resort on a lovely untouched island that we really don’t want to spoil. Wild Asia has the know-how and contacts to help us achieve that aim (being a social enterprise whose stated aim is to “inspire and create positive social and environmental change”). It occurred to us that a good way of going about it was to create a not-for-profit entity which offers revenue-generating nature-based activities on the island (diving, trekking etc.) and used those revenues with (fingers-crossed) some external funding to run projects to conserve, preserve and proliferate life in and around the island.

BRISC will be located behind the tree line on the Long Beach – the loveliest beach on the island – and is being designed right now by 2 architects – Ian Hall and Seng Kheong – who are volunteering their time for the cause. It’s a very exciting project and I cannot wait to see the updated BRISC plans. Here’s a photo of the first-stage BRISC layout. Will post updates as they come in.

For the official blurb on BRISC – follow this link:

https://batubaturesort.wordpress.com/brisc-competition/

Have a good weekend!

Bali Trip Part 2 – the things I forgot to mention…

The problem with starting a post after dinner and finishing it half asleep – is that you forget to put in everything you meant to. So here’s – Post 2 on Bali – the things I should have mentioned/shown and didn’t.

1) Pictures of Tony’s House/Shop – Naga Mas.

2) The lovely fabric / umbrella shop near Ubud. They have such a variety of fabric and it’s so attractively colour-arranged – I had to show you a picture.

AND – I also wanted to show you the parasols below. I’m not 100% sold on them yet – I’d thought plain canvas traditional parasols would suit Batu Batu’s style – but honestly – these are growing on me. Any opinions – let me know! I’ve included some pics of the Amans in Bali which use these very parasols (Amankila on top, Amanusa below).

3) I wanted to tell you about a dinner we had one chilly(!) evening in Soori with Jen and Mathieu – an Alaskan-French diving-and-much-more couple. They motorbiked all the way from Sanur (no mean feat in the dark on those roads) to meet and have a chat about BRISC (BB’s reef and island study centre). In the summer they dive, and for the past few winter seasons, they ran Morino Lodge – a ski lodge in Japan which had in fact been suggested to us by Hans – my ski-school classmate. Anyway, over a large but slightly too dimly-lit meal, we navigated our way around unknown but tasty food and talked diving and pranayamas and trees and organic vegetable farming and islands and boats and skiing and english lessons and more. Jen and Mathieu are currently working on liveaboards in Bali – but will hopefully make a trip out to Pulau Tengah in August to have a look-see.

One of my very favourite things about working on Batu Batu (staying in luxury hotels for the good of the job aside) has been meeting so many great people who pop-up from all over – through forums, random dive sites, FB, friends of friends. And with internet and social networking sites – it’s been so easy to make contact. When I lived in London and had no real need to network, I hadn’t realised how easy it was to find all these nice, highly competent people to potentially work with. It’s really been a revelation and a bonus…

A weekend on Pulau Tengah by Dada Bacudo

When I put out a call for volunteers for our reef and island centre project on Lonely Planet’s forum, Dada Bacudo, an environmental manager (recently back in SE Asia after a stint in Uganda) answered my call. A flurry of emails followed and 48 hours later, Dada was en route to join our expedition to hatch a plan on our little island…

I was in Bangkok recently, looking for information on diving sites on the internet when I encountered a call for volunteers to help out with a conservation project for a resort currently being built in Pulau Tengah, Malaysia. I am an environmental manager experienced in working with finances for national parks, and currently with time on my hands I decided to contact Cher Lassalvy, the owner of Batu Batu resort. Cher kindly extended an invitation for me to join a group of natural scientists from Wild Asia who were already familiar with the initial stages of the project. Without much knowledge of the location at first, I thought “Why is my plane ticket bound for Singapore? I thought we’re going to Malaysia?” Not knowing how exactly I could contribute, I set about with optimism and began my little adventure in Pulau Tengah.

A vision was planned

I learned later that Pulau Tengah is a tiny island located within the jurisdiction of Johor, a state in Southern Malaysia, which is next door to Singapore. Batu Batu occupies a good portion of the whole island, and to get there first entails a trip to Mersing, which is where the jetty to other more famous islands in Malaysia such as Pulau Tioman is located. From Mersing, it takes 40 minutes on a slow boat, and only 20 minutes on a speedboat.

As I caught my first glimpse of Pulau Tengah with its gleaming white sands, Reza Azmi, the ED of Wild Asia, pointed out a strip of long beach which he is proposing to be allocated for a research study centre. I agreed that it was a wonderful idea and suggested that we began focusing and talking about this project during the weekend. Reza and his team at Wild Asia have been on the island on several occasions to assess and suggest plans for the hotel’s environmental sustainability direction. I admire Cher and Dato Chua, her father’s commitment to build this place with environmental values in place.

On our first day, we were greeted with coconut juices and later sat down and put our heads together to articulate a commonly agreed vision for the resort. After a while, with more refreshments and lively discussions, Batu Batu Reef Island Study Centre (BRISC) was born. BRISC is envisioned to be a research centre that offers opportunities to study nature in a pristine environment in ways not possible in other areas. A big job ahead but extremely exciting!

We also discussed having volunteers to assist in reef and turtle population monitoring as these are the two concrete projects that need urgent attention. We also emphasized on BRISC’s biggest strength that is the commitment of landowners and resort owners to environmental protection, an issue some resort operators find challenging to grapple with.

Two days of nature trips

Among the Wild Asia team is an intrepid birder (aren’t they all?) named Dave Bakewell who went around the island to assess its biodiversity. Dave always came back with photos which are magical in their quality. As a non-biologist, all I can say is that where birds are abounding, other biological qualities thrive. Cher and I took to the waters by snorkeling, and I was quite happy to see a lot of marine life thriving underwater despite obvious challenges that the marine life in Southeast Asia face in recent years, such as the El Nino phenomenon.

What I marveled at the most in Pulau Tengah is the variety of beaches that the resort is bound to offer. There’s the long stretch of blindingly white beach, which will host BRISC, and where turtles abound and are oftentimes spotted. Cher’s family through the leadership of her dad hopes to start preserving the turtles by buying eggs off the poachers’ hands. The eggs could then be brought to a government hatchery project which has now run short of funds. Therefore, there exist opportunities for co-operation between the government and BRISC for continuous protection of the turtles. At the long beach, the family is committed to keeping it as pristine as possible.

The main activity hub will take place at another beach and where the freshwater pool will be built.

And the third beach where cottages are also constructed expands into shallow tide pools teeming with marine life. Dave who is an early riser reported back with beautiful photographs of sea cucumbers, starfish and crustaceans of all sorts.

Behind the beaches lies the jungle. Here, it is proposed to demarcate nature trails for guests to discover the wide range of unique flora and fauna and also to develop an organic farm where the resort’s restaurant can source its fresh vegetables and also an opportunity for tasting or cooking activities for guests.

Pulau Tengah and beyond

If it were up to me, I would just want to stay on as there are so many nooks and crannies waiting to be discovered. The island is also the location where the original version of Survivor was shot for many years and I fancied tracking some bygone celebrity trails!  But there’s more to the island than just the beaches and forest. Cher’s family packed us up in a speedboat and brought us all over the cluster of islands surrounding Pulau Tengah where wonderful marine and terrestrial structures flourish. Reza noted the GPS points for various rich coral and fish systems, all just within fifteen minutes away from Pulau Tengah. I also noticed some caves and would have loved to explore them if we just had enough time!

Alas, we ran out of time for exploration, and it was time to leave the island. Exiting Mersing, I was shown where the resort hopes to build its own jetty, which would spare most visitors the trip to Mersing town.

It was one of those moments which I am truly grateful to be a part of, and I hope that my involvement continues. Despite my cynicism of most CSR projects that give token advert for so-called sustainable businesses, I felt the commitment of the owners of Batu Batu resort to be very genuine. They have incorporated environmental considerations right from the start, and have reached out to environmental experts when they feel like they were treading in unknown waters. Plus, they truly love having the turtles beaching on their sandy shores, and they have thought up exciting ways to protect them while working with local authorities and volunteers. I can’t wait for the resort and BRISC to officially open early next year and it’s a promise to be an outstanding responsible getaway!

And not to forget a big thanks to Dave Bakewell for his great photos used here. See his post about this same trip on his blog.

This week it’s all about wood

This week, I’ve been forced to think about wood. Wood and trees. Did you know that we grew our own wood to build the resort? In fact, we built the resort because we had the wood… It’s a long story and I’ll post it separately one of these days.

So, back to the past week. Our BRISC (Batu Batu Reef & Island Study Centre) partners Wild Asia and architects Ian and Kheong made an excursion onto Pulau Tengah over the weekend to look at the site and plan out the space. One of my activities over the week was to prepare a design brief. We have logs ready (pinus caribaea) to build the structures and so I’ve been looking for images of open and airy raw wood structures and found a few lovely examples. The first from Danielle de Lange’s Style Files  (a great resource for lots of beautiful design ideas) – a holiday home in SW France.

And then I chanced upon Danielle’s new blog Travel Files and the most lovely Uxua Casa Hotel on Brazil’s Bahian coast. More ideas to play with.

The architects’ exploratory trip was fruitful and it’s been very exciting to see BRISC taking shape (conceptually). On Tuesday, I found these in my inbox – maps of trees on the site and a first draft plan showing how BRISC will be designed to occupy space around and between the trees. Unfortunately, a handful of trees will have to come down.

But then, yesterday afternoon I had lunch with some new friends – Mel and Natanel who had heard about Batu Batu and wanted to meet. Natanel (Gluska) has just arrived in Singapore from Zurich and is an artist who makes beautiful things from wood (often whole trees). An image of his studio in Zurich and work below.

Isn’t it uncanny that all of these things came together at the same time? I don’t know yet whether the to-be-culled trees will one day metamorphosise into pieces of art – but I’ll keep you updated!