Sunday, July 15, 2012

Family retreat at Pulai Desaru 18-19 June 2012

Desaru's first bird - a kingfisher

We have not joined the church's retreat for many years due to Pat's schedule and uncoordinated school holidays. But 3 weeks into the June holidays , I thought a family retreat was in order where  we can count our blessings and growing together in extended prayer times.

I had intended to travel to the western tip of Malaysia and experience Kukup, the sea hamlet. But when I realized that the 'hotels' were mom-n-pop kind of home-stays  with tour groups and 5 catered communal  meals, Kukup suddenly did not seem a conducive a place for prayer and bible study. 

Pulai Desaru Resort, our go-to place in Desaru
So it was back to Desaru, where we had many escapades in the past. Pat threw in a suggestion to visit Johor Premium Outlet in Kulaijaya that is en-route to Desaru and I was sold.  From blogs and goggle map, we were  made aware of a new expressway, E22, and a scenic bridge that connected E22 to Desaru without the need to route around Johor. Travel time would be cut by half, which we would use for shopping at JPO. 

I opted for Pulai Desaru Resort , and made booked a family room directly from for a hefty RM510 ( all inclusive ), since all cheaper rooms were taken up.

Our theme was 'Renewal in Christ', with 'intensive' prayers of thanksgiving and praise. Like a real retreat, work was mapped out : Pat was in charge of the road trip and the various pit stops, Hopey prepared the songs and I did the prayer lists for Thanksgiving and Praise and Bible studies materials. It was not a usual sort of family preparation but we were quite professional about getting most things up and running.

It was a leisurely Monday on  18th June 2012 when we drove up, armed with computers, e-bibles, songs and DVD from church.  We set off at 9.30am and reached JPO by 10.30am. The driving was a cinch as the traffic from the start was light and navigation fuss-free, despite no GPS and armed only with google maps.

JPO, retail outlet in Johor, is a mere 45 minutes drive from Singapore
 We got off the highway at exit 304 and then  302A where we made our first pit stop, JPO.  JPO was overrated and puny as 'outlets' go but we still managed to haul 2 polos, 1 vest, 1 blouse from Padini for RM200. Tea at CBTL was overpriced and even the strawberry shortcake was a non event. At RM50 for a cake, chicken pie and 2 drinks, it was very expensive.

The new Desaru Bridge - an imposing structure connecting Johor to Desaru
From E22, we were eastbound for Desaru and the uneventful trip took an easy 50 minutes or so. After paying toll on both sides of SecondLink and then some more for the short north-south highway drive, our last toll point was immediately after the Desaru Bridge. The Johor River flowed below, framed by endless mangrove  swamp. It was a beautiful sight. The Desaru Bridge , though no Golden Gate, rose majestically above and  announced the end of our journey.

E22 now became E92 as we turned south to Sungai Renggit , the southern tip of the peninsula. E22 ended and from there, it was a short drive along J52 west to the Chinese town.

Sungai Renggit main thoroughfare
Our first port of call in Desaru is the best pit stop ever
Sungai Renggit is a sleepy town that Monday noon. We looked for Jade Garden Seafood restaurant and saw a couple of Singapore registered cars parked outside the open air restaurant. I was afraid Jade was overrated but luckily was proven wrong.

Jade Garden's crispy squid in pineapple
Jade Garden's venus clam in sambal
Forget about Singapore style Sri Lanka crab. Salted egg yolk crab is better !
The food was exceeding tasty without the salt and flavor was varied. For a crab with salted egg yolk, venus clams, kang kong, sweet sour baby squids and coconut drinks, it was a cool RM150, barely making a dent in our budget. For the equivalent of SGD60, we would not get anything near that in Singapore !  

How can something so simple be so good ? Ask for the low sugar version to get the fullest satisfaction
Down the road, we had chendol , for RM2.50  each, pricey by Sungai Renggit standards but superbly delicious. 

Sungai Renggit one and only confectionery shop. I would skip this the next time round.
Across the street, we stocked up lots of baked Chinese confectionery which cost us RM20. no meal goes without fruits and I even managed to pick out 1 kg of ruby jambu that was freshly harvested that day for RM10. 

Jambu just harvested from the tree

We turned back , now taking E90 north-bound to Desaru. I had thought it was a coastal road and Batu Layar could be seen from the road but we were to be  disappointed. E90 was a longer road with many bends and void of traffic and E90 was more inland than imagined. H reckoned that it would be the perfect road for highway robbery and we obeyed instincts not to redo the route the next day.

Pulai Desaru family room. Here's only half the floor space. Behind the camera is a huge wash area and pantry.
Mr G needs looking after and tags along on our trips. Here Mr G basks in the late afternoon 'sun'.
E90 ended at a roundabout ( ! ) and we followed a Pulai Desaru hotel van to the hotel. Our check-in ( 3.30pm)  was a breeze and  room 353 was met with collective approval : a huge sea-front room with balcony ,  a king and twin bed, a living area, a bath and shower area and all the creature comforts of a full fledged hotel. Internet was priced  at RM12 for an hour and since we had prepared to operate offline, we did not buy the service.

We had our first thanksgiving session at around 4.30pm , a 20 minute exercise which we tried our best to give thanks with help from the bible. Pat and H were not accustomed to this but I thought it was a nice beginning to something great for the family. For a moment, I felt like the group leader I was in youth fellowship 20 odd years ago and the leading came rather naturally.

Private beach facing the South China Sea, though no Mauritius,  was well maintained and clean
One of our shots during the beach walk. Steep slopes leading to the sea makes swimming difficult for newbies
We enjoyed the beach for an hour just before dinner at Palm Brasserie. The beach like any reclaimed beach, had not much of a beach but slopes steeply into the sea.  Gone was the mild flat beach 20 years ago when I went with ORPC's young adult fellowship. Ah well, the good old days again.

Pizza with satay at the restaurant. I rate it a 3.5/5
Pat had this monster of a steak and declared it Very Good!
The predictable banana split dessert
At Palm Brasserie, we sat far away from a huge  group from Zion Bible Presbyterian Bishan church. Pat had the biggest tenderloin steak in years while H and I shared a satay pizza for the sake of our waistlines. We forgot the waistlines shortly and each had mudpie ice cream and Pat had banana-split ( because there was no Coit Tower * what? * )

Dinner ended at 8.30pm and we resumed our second program ( 9.30 pm ) for the day. We took H's suggestion to study the topic of 'Renewal in Christ' for the retreat and did exceeding well in discussions way into midnight. The outline from was well thought out and structured. We touched on the motivation and goal for the spiritual  renewal of the mind and the how to. In conclusion, we reflected on process of transformation to  renew ourselves and the hindrances to a 'proper diet' that is needed to feed our mind.  It was one of the best single study session for a long time.

By 1 am, all of us were bushed despite the lack of physical exercise. The journey and excitement were too much for us and we knocked off almost immediately.

19 June 2012

Morning has broken... the first morning
6.30 am. Desaru would be the perfect place to see the sunrise, especially when our room was facing the eastern sea. Unfortunately, despite waiting for a long time, we did not catch a glimpse of the sun because the horizon was thick with clouds. 

Sand was rather coarse for a beach
Zion BP youths were playing games on the beach and the activity sort of hyped us up a little.

We had buffet breakfast at Palm Brassiere again, beating the church crowd to the food, who were doing morning devotion all over the hotel grounds. We ate little, still stuffed from the night's dinner. Just as the church group poured into the restaurant, we left for the quiet of our room.

8.45 am. It was worship time and H led us in songs from her computer. Different vocal ranges meant a difficult time singing but the selection of songs, from  hymns to modern praise stirred  our inspiration. Pat read and praised God mostly from Job. We got the hang of things and the prayer session went on a good 30 minutes, a great improvement from the previous night.  Then it was a little beach walk for us, some photo taking time for Pat and sketching for H until 11 am when we pack up to leave.

We checked out of Pulai Desaru Resort at 11.30 am. The total cost of the stay was SGD239, excluding the dinner bill ( SGD60 ). It was money and time well spent and hopefully we can have many more such times together. 

Good Luck's wild boar was boring !
Oyster omelet with no outstanding flavor drew tears from my eyes
I-can't-believe-it's-butter-fried-lobster lobster
This place needed more than good luck to carry on
We got on south to Sungai Renggit again, by E92 and decided to try out Good Luck seafood , for comparison sake. Not as well stocked , Good Luck's service was not on par especially with a forgetful  employee who kept mixing up orders. We had 2 medium butter lobsters, vegetables, oyster omelet and wild boar and coconuts. Flavors were unspectacular and Good Luck could not hold a candle to Jade in terms of taste and service. I was not very happy to part with RM191 for the mediocre meal. It would have to be Jade Garden the next time I come to Sungai Renggit !

My jambu fruit stall
We left Sungai Renggit at 1.30 pm, after carting off another kg of jambu from the same fruit stall and 2 giant peanut pancakes  for RM3 from a mobile stall. From E92, we joined E22 westbound to Tuas. 30 minutes into the drive, Desaru Bridge loomed majestically from a distance, now our favorite symbol of Desaru.

After a droning hour on the road, fed by 92.4 FM, Pat took a wrong turn from the north-south highway and we landed on the wrong side of E3 and missed Bukit Indah, our next pit stop. A couple of u-turns later , which got me totally confused, we managed to reach Bukit Indah, where Aeon mall loomed large. We parked among Singapore registered cars and raided the mall. Our haul - 2 FOS shirts, 3 Ts for slightly over RM100, was a great bargain. It was a rare moment to see H so eagerly digging into the goods for the cutest T shirt.

Green tea donut at Aeon Indah
Spiky durian donut at Aeon Indah - the best durian puff ever
We carted apple flower tea, a bag of buns from Lavender and a huge bag of grocery from Jusco. What we could not take away, we ate. It was happy hour at Big Apple where we chomped  donuts ( durian, cinnamon, green tea ) and downed juices. It provided much fuel for the last leg back home.

Just before we left Malaysia, we spent the remaining ringgit on petrol, RM86 for half a tank, at the last petrol kiosk before the immigration check point. Traffic was thankfully  light at both sides of the Tuas causeway. Then it was back to the clogged AYE, where  our little trip came to a close, now happy and recharged for another school semester.

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