Before there was the North South Expressway (NSE), linking the northernmost gateway of Bukit Kayu Hitam to Johor Bahru at the southernmost tip of the peninsular Malaysia, the trunk roads linking one town to another was the way to go.
Travelling through the state of Johor, either from the north to the south and vice versa, or from the east to the west and vice versa, it is almost a sure bet that you will pass through the town of Air Hitam.
Stopping over at Air Hitam would definitely mean a pit stop for a meal break (and good meals can be had at very affordable prices), followed by a bit of shopping for pottery or porcelain or fresh veggies or even fruits (local and foreign but mainly local) from the many stalls lining the road.
Prices were comparatively cheap as the farm produce were being sold by the farmers themselves, whereas for the pottery and porcelain, there were so many stalls to choose from that you’d always congratulate yourselves for getting a good bargain.
The quality of the pottery and porcelain is as good as any, I’d say.
After all, Air Hitam was not known as the pottery capital of the south for nothing. And business was roaring for all concerned, for almost everyone made Air Hitam as their pit stop.
But today, with the NSE linking the north and south, most would make their pit stops at one of the R&R stops you would find along the way. It does not augur well for Air Hitam when there is such an R&R just minutes from the Air Hitam exit on the NSE ie the Macap R&R.
This despite Air Hitam being just a few minutes’ drive after the Air Hitam toll exit itself.
Today, Air Hitam is reaping the benefits from the many governmental and private sector efforts to reclaim Air Hitam’s commercial success of yesteryear.
Air Hitam still has that laid back feel to it as I remembered when I went there during my childhood days but the pace has picked up a notch or two.
The pottery manufacturers have gone upmarket, with their production facilities and marketing approach nothing to be sneered about, and in the process still provide jobs for the local populace.
The farmers too have gone sophisticated, with their farm produce now transported far and wide to cater to their customers’ demands, such is the benefit of having the North South Expressway (NSE) almost at your doorstep.
With these developments, the stalls they used to occupy have now been taken over by a new breed of entrepreneurs.
You will still find the odd one or two stalls that are still selling pottery or porcelain products or even the various farm produce from the local farmers, but one step into the newly occupied stalls will introduce a new breed of entrepreneurs, and with them an image of local snacks and tidbits (locals call them ‘jajan’) of all kinds.
What’s the big deal about these snacks, you might ask.
Well, for starters, these snacks are mostly made from the produce of the local farms. Snacks made from tapioca, yam, bananas (all types) and what-else-have you, packed in big airtight plastic bags, lined the walls of these stalls.
Prices are so attractive and coupled with the sight of all these snacks, you might find yourself unconsciously buying every type of snack that you lay your eyes on, so enticing and inviting they look.
Dried, smoked, fried, natural flavoured, spicy flavoured, curry flavoured, sugar-coated, less salt and what-have-you.
And to entice you further and seal the deal, they will offer you samples where one taste of these samples, you know you are going to buy.
That’s what happened to my wife and I, when we made our pit stop at Air Hitam. We had planned to get ‘jajan’ and that’s what we got. ‘Jajan’ of all types and ‘jajan’ for all occasions, especially when we guys at home get our weekly fix of football (some call it soccer) on the telly.
You name the occasion and there is a’jajan’ for it.
So should you stop by the stall that we went to, ask for Yazid, very likeable and very helpful, and be prepared to part with your money. But don’t fret, parting in this case, can be such sweet sorrows. Tasty even.
Date : 22 June 2016