High Fashion on Pulau Tengah – Photographs by Eric Frideen

Swedish fashion photographer Eric Frideen is hardly unfamiliar with exotic islands and beautiful beaches – travelling to beautiful locations to photograph beautiful subjects in beautiful clothes is part and parcel of his job. And so, we were lucky enough to have Eric point his lens at Pulau Tengah when he, his wife Niki and their large extended family spent a week-long family reunion on the island in 2009. Here is a selection of Eric’s beautiful photographs.

A little bit about Eric: Swedish born photographer Eric Frideen started out assisting several international photographers in his late teens before taking the step to set up on his own in Stockholm, Sweden. After establishing himself as one of his country’s leading talents he decided to move to London in 1997 and has since worked with many international clients. They include Banana Republic, Nautica, Burberry, Thomas Burberry and Gerard Darel and editorials for British Elle, British Marie Claire, Austalian Harpers Bazaar, German GQ, US Vogue and numerous other international magazines. He is currently based in London but travels the world extensively always keeping his cool, calm skandinavian style.

More about Eric Frideen here:  http://www.serlinassociates.com/#/ericfrideen/biography/http://www.eric-frideen.com/

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!

Some recent highlights… hatha yoga, polished concrete and refugee camps

It’s been well over a week since I last posted – I don’t know where time goes… We’ve been busy talking to and meeting all sorts of people over the last couple of weeks. Here are some highlights:

We met with a polished concrete supplier from KL who might be able to do our terrazzo flooring and gorgeous concrete rendered walls for our villa showers. Like this… And we get to choose the colour of the render – now to decide what to go for to match our cream terrazzo floors, amazing stone bath tubs and wood exposed roof (not to mention the turquoise sea views from the huge glass windows) …

I had a great email yesterday from Lang in Sydney. I hadn’t mentioned this in the blog as yet – but Pulau Tengah was home to around 100,000 Vietnamese refugees or the “boat people” from 1975-1981 when it was a UN Refugee Camp. Many Vietnamese refugees who landed up in Malaysian territories were sent to Pulau Tengah where they lived until they were allocated a new home country (mostly Australia, US, Canada, France). I had always assumed that Pulau Tengah must carry terrible memories for the refugees who spent time there – a part of their lives which they would rather not remember. HOWEVER, I have been lucky enough to be in contact recently with a few people who spent time there and realise that some have very happy memories of the place. It’s well captured in this post by “Bao” on this blog.

“I first stepped on Pulau Tengah beach with my bare feet. But I always think this island as my second bithplace. Now looking back I think the time I was on this island was the happiest time of my life – what I did all day was eat, sleep, swim, chase after the fish, rock crabs,study English, miss home ,and dream about life in America in my little tent at the northernmost end of the island.”

Do take a look at the full post – it’s so interesting. In fact, I will write more about Pulau Tengah 1975-81 in a post of its own. And add some more photos. But for the moment, here is one that Lang Lang sent yesterday and said I could put on the blog. Thanks Lang!

I’ve also been thinking about turtles this week. Well – turtles deserve their own post too (!) but to be very brief – there are 3 species of turtle (all either endangered or critically endangered) who live in the waters around our island and land on our beaches to nest. However, turtle eggs are a local delicacy (“sangak sedap” – or “really delicious” – in the words of a local boatmen when I asked him about them a couple of weeks ago) – and so they get poached – and the turtle population continues to decline. We’re scheming with our friends at Wild Asia to devise a plan to stop the poaching both on Pulau Tengah and the surrounding islands (all of which incidentally lie within the protected Johor Marine Park!). I’ll keep you updated.

And today, I spent an agreeable afternoon with two very nice gentlemen talking about coral reefs and dolphins and whale sharks and clear waters and desert island picnics. Bryan and Sha set-up their sea sports / land adventure company (wind surfing, kite surfing, sailing, snorkelling and all – here’s their website) just up the coast from Mersing and chanced upon our island when they took some clients snorkelling a couple of weeks back. Trusty Chew (our man on site) gave them a tour of Batu Batu, and apparently they fell in love with our tropical island. So we met up today to pick each others brains and think about ways of spreading the word that this very lovely corner of Malaysia is deeply undiscovered and well worth visiting.

Oh yes, and I also spoke to my yoga teacher today about the best kind of yoga to teach on a tropical desert island… Probably hatha (on a wooden open air deck with views out to sea) – but if anyone has any better ideas – let me know! Until next time.

Last Thursday on Pulau Tengah

I’ve been meaning to post some photos from last week’s site visit to the island with our architects, interior designers and engineers. We had blue skies and sunshine all day, the sea was mirror-flat, the waters crystal clear. We swapped in our wooden fisherman’s boat for a fibreglass fast one for the sake of time efficiency (15 minutes from Mersing jetty to Pulau Tengah!). The only downside was that I didn’t have a single moment to swim or snorkel all day – although we did get a chance to take a quick look at the coral through the water when we arrived as the tide was extremely high and the water extremely clear…

Nevertheless, the trip was very productive. We have now finalised the placement of our swimming pool, decided on the final layout for our villa bathrooms, worked out where to put our children’s playhouse, given our engineers the problem of designing an economically efficient yet ecological waste water solution (based on the lay of the land and the layout of the resort) and have – I think – finally settled on a design for our bar.

Our attempt to cultivate some indigenous island plants (as screeners) in our “nursery” is working well and I’m excited to have found that the builders have made some great home-made carts which can be used to move luggage and all sorts around the resort once we operate. They are now used for carting around construction materials but once that’s done, they can be spruced-up with some sandpaper and re-incarnated as luggage trolleys. PLUS they match the villas (as they appear to be made from off cuts from construction).

Here are some of the photos from the day.

We arrived at high tide (almost 3m) and were able to go all the way onto the beach on our boat...

...where we were greeted with some delicious home-grown coconuts

Transparent waters - perfect snorkelling weather...

Looking north-west from the restaurant. Prime views of the sun setting over mainland from this spot - imagine loungey sofas and a cold drink of choice in hand.

Follow this walkway and you get to the "long beach" or "pasir panjang" where you'll find our beach bar and island and reef centre.

YP (our architect) and Hashim (one of our contractors) discuss the best width for individual steps. I think they decided on 30cm.

Sham (ID) deliberates on where to position the bar without blocking the view.

The cart!

Nurturing the "green leafy plant". If anyone knows its proper name, let us know.

A home-made rainwater harvesting system at one of the builder's huts.

This sandy path heads through the coconut grove to the southern villas.

Views of Pulau Besar from the bar with mainland in the distance

Leaving the island at the end of the day