The Tangga Batu and its surrounding was the place where the commercial activities of Muar town was centered in the early fifties up to the mid sixties. The northern side of Muar town, separated by the Muar river is Tanjung Agas and further west is the present village town of Sungei Mati. The people of these two places were the frequent visitors to Muar town during those days contributing to the excitment of a lively and vibrant atmosphere at the Tangga Batu. Today Tanjung Agas is as busy as Muar town itself and its proud monument is the present mosque, which is the exact replica of the Sultan Ibrahim mosque of Muar town. When the two sides were connected by the bridge, the activities at the Tangga Batu became less vibrant serving only as a transitional point for light travellers but until that time arrived, Tangga Batu maintained its exclusive identity strongly felt as it had always been since the fifties when I was growing and I had the opportunity to observe those glory years.
A common scene in one morning sometime in 1960 at the break of dawn; Small fishing boats began to appear from the western horizon bringing back last night’s catch only to barter for some edible products to fill some stomach at home and a handful of cash. At the small wooden jetty could be seen some traders flashing their torch lights to signify their presence and from afar blinkers of dim light from these boats responded. It was still dark and the fresh dews that filled the air poured silently before its last drop dispersed at the sight of incoming source of heat and light. The dawn was awakend by the sound of azan from the nearby town mosque and the hooting sound of faraway boats frequently heard breaking the morning silence. The street lights providing the dark night with some glimpses began to take its turn to cool off and the day began to repeat yesterday’s scene.
Along the stretch of Jalan Petri stood many of the town’s pride, from the Tanjung Club, the Sultan Ibrahim town mosque, the Royal Istana, the town Library Hall, the Government Office, the Court House and the Police Station. Immediately next to the police station after the road stood rows of shophouses built sometime in the years between 1915-20. At the end of these shophouses is another road, Jalan Suleiman where the famous Wak Santano satay stood. Across the road fronting the sea was another row of shophouses of various trades situated along Jalan Maharani. Tangga Batu was situated right across these shop-houses.
6.00am to 9.00am : Tangga Batu was the point where the ferry service began its daily operation. I am not sure whether it was operated twenty-four hours as I seldom did my travelling or arriving from outstation trips after midnight. However, I would assume that the operation was twenty four hours. The two motor-boats carrying passengers began as early as 5am and began to gain momentum when it reached 6am. School children from Tanjung Agas with their school uniform lined up to get their tickets of ten cents per trip, a journey that would take about fifteen minutes. From the Tangga Batu to the Muar High School, most of these school children would take a stroll but for those whose schools were slightly further would use the ferry service bringing along their bicycles. The Office workers would soon join the crowd and by 7.30 am, the Tangga Batu would be full of activities. Traders of various trades, women with their children, employees from the private sectors and some others wishing to have their breakfast of Santano Satay, ‘lodeh’ and ‘mi jawa’ began to find their ways. Taxi drivers looking for passengers were always active walking around looking for four common passengers to a common destination and the buses lined up at their respective lanes ready to start their engine when at least a quarter of the seats had been taken. Cars using the ferry service had by now taken their position to go on board.
9.00am to 11.00am: The shops across the Tangga Batu where stood few restaurants began to receive customers with their empty stomach while many others would open for business around 9.30am to 10am. Newspaper vendors began their daily routine at one shophouse along Jalan Maharani ready to cycle to some housing areas for distribution. The Malay edition of ‘Utusan Melayu’ was printed in Jawi and for the masses, it was The Straits Times printed in English. Small sundry shops, taking a small portion at one corner of some shop-houses too began their operation. Operated mostly by those of the ethnic Indians, they sold cigarettes, news papers for the three major races, magazines, sireh (beetle leaves), sweets, social welfare lottery tickets and even some curry powder. Along the same row, lawyers with their legal attire walked along the road to the district court with some defending hard core criminals of blue and white collars memorizing some clauses to prove a point. The money-lenders too began to look at their books calculating the daily interests for the non-performing borrowers. One or two Mat Kampau (Policeman) stood leisurely at the road junction that would turn few to behave.
The road along Tangga Batu of my time was a busy stretch of vibrant ‘metropolitan’. Cyclists riding in both directions ringing their bells to avoid minor collusions and cars of black colours began to appear. The Morris Minor, Fiat 600, Austin Minor, Ford Prefect and the latest Volkswagen were driven by proud owners with their grin. Buses took the street with passengers and their baskets of vegetables and fishes. Small commercial trucks carrying goods stopped by to load and unload. At the Tangga Batu itself the crowd had increased in gradual with the boat passengers walking in all directions to their respective destinations. Small satay stalls producing their respective smoke could easily attract not only nearby pedestrians but those on the ferry having full view of the approaching scene could not wait for a minute to have their taste.
In the midst of this scene of energy and enthusiasm stood the legendary figure of a man greatly feared by young women. Wak Sadin was a common scene of Tangga Batu, a stout man with a tall black songkok displaying his cane hanging horizontally at the tip of his bulging stomach monitoring every movements of women that passed by. Those with their heads uncovered would surely receive disparaging remarks. Some having noticed Wak Sadin from afar would sneak quietly in the mingling crowd to enjoy some giggles after the escape. He shouted without any qualms to the deserving recipients “Perempuan tak pakai tudung nanti jadi mambang” (Women with their head uncovered will turn to ghosts). Few unfazed by such unwarranted warning would walk and pass by Wak Sadin without any fear. Wak Sadin would watch with a grumble.
11.00am to 2.00pm: As the sun began rising slowly and gradually, scores of people of various races kept moving attending to their needs. The two boats carrying endless passengers kept the Muar river lively while the ferries transporting vehicles to both ends complimented with ease. The ‘Kacang Puith’ seller and his assistant were busy as usual attending to customers and the ice-kacang seller waited for those to quench their thirst. By 12pm, students of the afternoon session took their turn to fill the boats and the scene at Tangga Batu became even more livelier. Wak Sadin returned home for lunch and for a short nap and would return tomorrow morning to haunt women without the kain tundung.
Across the road of Jalan Mariam experienced a bit of traffic congestion not caused by the drivers of the moving vehicles but by impatient cyclists fighting for time. At the pavement of these shop-houses, pedestrians took their strolls while window shopping stopping for a moment at Muar’s Robinson the “Husseini Store” where branded names for men were displayed. Three shop-houses away was another famous restaurant where its ‘Mi Jawa’ was second to none. By 1pm, restaurants and food stall owners had no time to chat as hungry customers kept on coming. Lawyers still with their attires returned from the court house for their lunch and later back to their respective offices situated quite nearby. Students of the morning sessions returned home and Tangga Batu continued its active environment. Buses with over loaded passengers arrived at their respective lanes greeted by almost the same numbers to go on board. Taxi touts were always busy chasing for ‘would be passengers’ to earn for some small commissions. Passengers boarding for the boats began their queue for their ten cents tickets while the ferries kept on sailing.
2.00pm to 7.00pm: The scene became less vibrant and trading activities too began to ease but the road along Jalan Maharani remained busy with endless cyclists moving in both directions. Restaurant owners began their lunch and chatting with customers. By 3.00pm, the Tangga Batu received fewer visitors and some taxi drivers took their nap inside their vehicles. The kacang putih seller moved on towards the housing areas with the other half of his unsold products. The Indian rojak seller took his turn to fill some space ready to serve some for tea time. Cars using the ferry service need not wait to board but the journey to the other end would only begin when at least half of the space had been used. Buses carrying passengers to some housing areas kept moving irrespective of the number of passengers. Outstation trip buses to Parit Jawa and Batu Pahat observed their hourly routine. Those going back to the northern side of Muar town like Tanjung Ketapang, Sungei Mati and Kesang town still need to use the boats and would have to take the buses from the other side.
By 5.00pm, the scene began to be lively again as office workers finished their works to return home and by 6.30pm, the afternoon session students too began to reappear after a long afternoon classes. Small stalls of Asam Pedas began to prepare their menu for those looking forward for dinner. Street lights were lighted as the sun set gracefully at the western horizon illuminating its colours of rainbow. The call for the maghrib prayer was heard and few Muslims cycled to the town mosque heeding the message with obedience. As the sun disappeared, the Tangga Batu took its turn to brighten its own. Neon lights were lighted at the ticket counter and the site where the ferries docked too were emitting some lights powered by the generators. The food stalls contributed to brighten the whole area of Tangga Batu and from afar, Tangga Batu was a spot of bright lights glittering with feeling of cheerfulness.
8.00pm to 12.00am: Cyclists along Jalan Maharani kept the road busy and cars bringing some for dinner passed by. The buses stopped their operation and headed straight to their parking yard along the same road where stood the Post Office. The two boats ferrying passengers began to have few empty seats and by 9.00pm only one boat was in service. Shops along Jalan Maharani had close every door and pedestrians began to look for their bicycles to ride home.
By almost midnight, the small boats arriving from the western horizon this morning sailed again along the Muar river hoping for some catch and would return tomorrow morning to trade. Only one or two cyclists could be seen peddling their way home and Tangga Batu was deserted but only for five hours, because by 5.00am the same small boats would be returning with some fishes they caught along the Straits of Malacca and Tangga Batu would awaken to repeat the same scene.
Until that time arrived, Tangga Batu was silent along with the population who had by now slumbered and while they were snoring, three young lads rode their bicycles to some spooky places for a night adventure.