Friday, April 13, 2012

Meanwhile, half a mile below the earth ...

A few weeks ago, I jumped at a chance to descend to the bowels of the earth ... and gawk at the state-or-the-art in tunneling technology!  Take a look at the map below.  (You can click on the two icons and the red line.)

The map is a topographic view of part of Kuala Lumpur (KL), and parts of the neighboring states of Pahang and Negeri Sembilan. The building icon on the left is the location of our Sinaran TTDI building.

Malaysia is building a massive tunnel to bring water in from a river in Pahang state (an "inter-basin transfer," as we hydrologists say) to quench the ever-growing thirst of the greater Kuala Lumpur area.  If you see all the development in the KL area, you'll see why!

When complete, the tunnel will be 44.6 km (27.7 mi) long, the 11th longest in the world.  It'll also be among the world's deepest (8th deepest), with parts of the tunnel running under 1.2 km (0.75 miles) under the mountain peaks.

The approximate route of the tunnel is shown in red in the map above.  The white icon along the map shows the approximate location of the tunnel boring machine (TBM) you'll see shortly.

It turns out in 1996/97, I worked in Indonesia with the same engineers building this tunnel (Shimizu Corporation of Japan)!  Soon after Pat and I arrived in Malaysia, we had dinner with construction engineer Takayuki Matsumoto and geologist Frank Pittard of Shimizu (pictured here).  I hadn't seen this crew for 15 years!  (We're all a bit older now!)  At dinner, they invited me to visit their project, and I gladly accepted.

So, along with Mun-wei Leong, a Malaysian engineer who's working in San Francisco but who was in KL on vacation to attend his sister's wedding, I set out to the construction site!  (Pat wanted no part of tunnels that day...)  Click on the photos to see enlargements.

Mun's Dad was passing near the construction site that morning so he gave Mun and me a ride to the site office.  Matsumoto-san gave us work boots and hard hats, and we were off in his pickup truck.  Here we are entering an "adit," an access tunnel to the main shaft.  The floor and walls of the adit are concrete, and equipment and supplies of all kinds line the sides.

After a short ride, we come to the end of the adit and into the main shaft.  This shaft progresses several meters a day when the tunnel boring machine is at work.  The white train will take us down the shaft.  The tubes above provide air circulation into the shaft, and the long conveyor belt above the train brings up the excavated material (muck), out to the surface.  The site is clean!

The graphic to the left is one I shamelessly lifted from Shimizu's presentation materials for the project.  It shows one of the tunnel boring machines (TBMs) in this project (there are three altogether) from fabrication to deployment.  Today TBM-2 is down for maintenance, so we can get pretty close.

We pile into the small utility train that will bring us down 750 meters under the mountain.  Several European TBM specialists are also on the train to do the maintenance work on the machine.  Other tunnel rats are also going down with us.

As the train leaves the station and proceeds downward into the shaft, I take a last look back.  I look for the proverbial canary in a cage, but I see none.  The giant ventilation tubes overhead must be doing their job... <fingers crossed>

We are sitting at the back of the train.  Pretty soon the shaft is dark except for vertical fluorescent lamps set at regular intervals.  Every tenth lamp is red.  Also, while the train station area was fairly cool, the shaft starts heating up as we descend deeper into the earth.  The noise of the train rattling its way down is pretty deafening.

On the way down, we pass gangs of tunnel rats doing maintenance work.  Rails are laid on the bottom, and the floor and walls are lined with concrete.  Conveyor belts, equipment of all kinds, and supplies also line the shaft.  We're sweating buckets by now.
We finally reach the end of the TBM's train.  The cutting edge you saw in the TBM photos earlier is just the head of a long train of equipment.  Besides the power plant for the TBM, equipment of all kinds follow the TBM to remove excavated material, to allow crews to spray shotcrete and erect steel ribs if required to reinforce the shaft, and to pour concrete and construct the rails and other support facilities.  There's also a control room as well.  The area occupied by the TBM train is air conditioned, making it much more comfortable at the cutting edge than in the shaft that we just traveled through.

We disembark from our train and walk past all the equipment toward the cutting head, with Matsumoto-san in the lead and Mun-wei following.  Note the concrete-lined walls of the shaft with utility hooks at regular intervals to carry cables and whatnot.

Things are a lot wetter as we reach the cutting head, much of which was hidden from view by a canvas sheeting.  Thankfully it's still a lot cooler (if also a lot damper) here than in the shaft.

We go from one side of the TBM to the other and crawl down to see the underside of the (back of) the cutting head.  Eveything is covered with rock powder and water.  Matsumoto-san tells us that we're about 750 meters below the mountain range (about half a mile) at this point.

The European techs we saw earlier have gotten themselves into a tight space to adjust and repair whatever it is they are maintaining today.  They, and I, are all covered with rock powder and rock dust.

Matsumoto-san and I pose for the obligatory "at-the-cutting-edge" photo at TBM #2.  Note how smooth the rock behind us is.  The granite formation here is very solid, and the TBM leaves a very smooth and solid shaft that, here at least, does not require immediate reinforcement by shotcrete.

As we head back to the train, we pass a crew taking what appears to be a core sample of the newly excavated granite surface.  Maybe this crew works for Frank the geologist.  The entire area is free of excavated material (muck), the stuff having been efficiently carted away by the 4 km-long belt conveyor system !  The whole tunnel construction system has an efficient wastewater circulation system that carries the murky water you see to the surface for treatment at the water treatment plant!

We stop by at the site control room located at the back of the TBM train.  The operator here is an Indonesian fella who was with Shimizu in Indonesia --- when I was there way back then!  He sees the status of all TBM operations on his monitor panels.

Now it's time to go back to the surface.  We walk back to the utility train that will take us back to the adit where we started.  You are looking at the "locomotive" part of the train.  The train will be traveling backwards, if you will, to go up.

We board the train and start on the half-hour journey that takes us up 750 meters to the surface.  As soon as we leave the air-conditioning unit of the TBM train, the shaft starts getting very hot and humid (and noisy, thanks to the train).

This time, we have an unobstructed view of the train driver.  His locomotive is pushing our carriage on the way up.  It's the same hot, sweaty, and noisy half-hour ride to the surface.

Bye and bye, we pull into the train station at the surface level where the adit meets the descending shaft.  Matsumoto-san's pickup truck is waiting for us.  Before we break for lunch, Matsumoto-san wants to show us another part of the system that's being constructed in a more traditional manner.

 This is the entrance to the NATM-4 portal, the system outlet tunnel where the water from Pahang will eventually arrive.  From here the fresh water  will be distributed to the Kuala Lumpur area's several water supply reservoirs and treatment plants.  This is a mucking truck backing into the tunnel.
This is a traditional drilling-and-blasting operation.  Charges are placed in drilled holes in the face of the tunnel and exploded (see blast doors in previous photo).  Here the muck is waiting to be hauled out by mucking trucks (above).  Tunnel rats then shotcrete the sides and install steel ribs to support the newly-blasted area, and the cycle starts again.

So our tour is done, and we head back to the waiting pickup truck.  The water tunnel is being constructed in seven chunks simultaneously: three are by TBMs, and four are by the drilling-and-blasting method.  Precision surveys are undertaken regularly to ensure that these separate pieces will eventually join perfectly to deliver water to the Kuala Lumpur area.
It's been a long morning!  We wash up at the site office, and we go to lunch at a nearby Thai (!) fish farm.  The Thais operating the farm do a fantastic job of cooking Thai-style dishes.  Mr. Takashi Kawata (right), who's the Shimizu project manager, was also at the site in Indonesia back in '96/97.  I haven't seen him since, so we have a great time catching up.

Matsumoto-san and Kawata-san will be on this job through its projected completion date in early 2014.  Seeing state-of-the-art tunnel construction was awesome!  And it sure was fun to see old buddies again after so many years.  Thank you, fellas, for the great tour!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Pasar Malam (Sunday Night Market)

One unique feature of our Taman Tun Dr. Ismail (TTDI) neighborhood is the weekly Sunday pasar malam (night market).  The vendors start setting up their stalls in the early afternoon, with a double row of tents sprouting up along the four streets around the square below our condo building.  This is the view last Sunday ...

We usually start counterclockwise around the square, starting with the street just outside our complex gates. That section of the market is clothing and dry goods interspersed with fruits and dried fish...  (No, really... you'll see!)
(As usual, clicking on any photo will get you an enlarged version for detailed viewing.)

In this section, can get footwear, plastic goods, and other goodies like this, and you can also get ...

 ... your dried fish (of every size and variety) if your menu calls for them.  Try deep frying the really small ikan bilis (anchovies) with peanuts, shallots, and sliced halapeno chilis...  great to munch on accompanying an ice-cold beverage!

And here's where you get the shallots, onions, and dried red chilis, conveniently located next to the dried fish stall.  Oh, you can get gubers too!

Pat and I usually look for fruits at the pasar malam.  The banana stall has its usual selection of a multitude of varieties.  Some are the tiny pisang mas (golden bananas, not much bigger than your thumb), and others are gigantic plantains, meant for cooking.  I was once told that there are more than 100 native banana varieties here.

Papayas and mangoes are also very popular... here a vendor displays her papayas in the foreground.  The green fruits further down are her mangoes. 

The nice thing about Malaysia is that we can also have our fill of fruits imported from more temperate climates: apples from Washington state and from Korea, oranges from Egypt and from Florida ...

At the end of the first street is my favorite stall, a pickup truck with sugar cane-crushing equipment (to extract sugar cane juice).  The lady's family does the crushing, and she bottles the juice (the green bottles on the left). The white bottles contain coconut juice with young coconut meat in them.  You drink it using straws of very large diameter!

Around the corner from my coconut-sugar cane stall, there are a lot of fish stalls and meat stalls.  Freshly-caught fish from the South China Sea and the Straits of Malacca are on sale here...

The market slowly transitions from vendors selling food ingredients to those selling food ready to eat.  Things start getting more interesting now.  You should never go to the night market with an empty stomach!  This lady is selling pastries and bakery items.

Across from her stall is an Indian fellow selling a huge variety of Indian sweetmeats.  To get an idea of what he's selling, check out this Wikipedia article.

The final stall before the food stalls start is the durian stall.  There's really no way to explain durian to you unless you experience the fruit yourself.  So please take a look at:, and
So now we come to the food stalls... some VERY good, some not so good.

This fella's selling giant spring rolls. He offers springrolls with a couple of different kinds of sauces...

This lady's selling fruit rojak, a spicy and tart Malaysian fruit salad also containing some interesting non-fruit ingredients.  For a more comprehensive description, please read

 Malaysian cuisine includes a multitude of Indian-style fried breads and pancakes.  These young fellas are making and selling roti boom (or roti bom).  This is a smaller-sized, dessert variant of the larger roti canai (pronounced "chanai").  Check out

 Your outdoor dining experience has to include satay, skewered beef or chicken, marinated and grilled over charcoal, and eaten with peanut sauce and cubed, compressed rice.  This stall has cooked satay in the far trays, and the nearest trays contain satay skewers waiting to be cooked.

 The field kitchen at the edge of the stall is busy grilling the satay skewers.  This SE Asian dish is done a bit differently in all countries around here.  Check out and

 Another variation on the Indian friend bread theme.  This fella's making murtabak.  There are usually eggs, onions, minced meat (mutton or chicken, usually) all folded into a dough and fried on a grill.  Check out . A very filling dish!

And don't forget to rehydrate yourself frequently in this hot, humid climate --- sugar cane juice, orange juice, iced Milo (a chocolate drink), and a host of local soft drinks.  Note that you can buy the drinks in plastic bags filled with ice!

This booth, run by an ethnic Indian family, sells a variety of Indian sweets --- apom (in the foreground) is a typical Indian pancake very popular here.

More sweets and cakes.  This fella's making putu bambu, a Malaysian/Indonesian sweet that's made of flour, sugar, grated coconut all steamed in a bamboo tube.  He's also selling a variety of western and Malaysian cakes.

These ladies are selling what the fella is cooking: apam balik, a large sweet pancake (turnover) with peanuts and peanut butter inside...

And now for the main dishes ... this fella and his wife are selling three types of fried noodles: the usual mee goreng, the flat kuey teow noodles and a more unusual fried laksa noodle dish, well interspersed with veggies, chicken, and seafood.

This is a fried rice stall.  The nearest giant wok features nasi tomato (tomato sauce fried rice) garnished with veggies and fried chicken.  The others feature fish and vegetarian fried rice dishes.

This stall sells a lot curried dishes --- various veggies, chicken, beef, and mutton, to be eaten poured over packets of rice.  They sell rice cooked in the many styles of the Malaysian state of Kelantan --- the state where I served as a Peace Corps volunteer over 35 years ago.  These were my staple foods then!

Malaysia is not the best place to go on a diet.  The food here --- Malay, Indian, and Chinese cuisines with all their regional variations --- is just too good.  I remember that in the late 1970's, the average female Peace Corps volunteer gained 10 lbs here during her tour.  I don't remember the stats for males, but they were similar.  I sure gained a lot of weight!

Finally, back at home, we unpack our modest haul of cakes and snacks.  A bottle of coconut water and the several types of Malay cakes and curry puffs serve as appetizers for our dinner that night.

I hope you enjoyed the tour of our weekly neighborhood night market...  sorry for the delay in posting, I lost my camera!  But never fear, and stay tuned!  We'll be back with pics of our short trip to Borneo!