‘Authenticity is looking into the soul of a place’

Cher Chua-Lassalvy

Cher Chua-Lassalvy

Co-founder , Batu Batu

Cher Chua-Lassalvy is co-founder of Batu Batu, a private island resort that funds a conservation non-profit to research and protect marine biodiversity.

“Islands are like a microcosm of the world. So if I chuck rubbish or sewage into the sea around Tengah Island, we’ll see the impact really quickly. We’ll see the coral reefs dying. And if that happens, we’ll see the fish population decrease. We might stop seeing turtles coming to nest.

It dawned on us that people in towns and cities need to care about what’s out here, or the environment is going to get destroyed really fast. That’s when we started to think about how we could reach out to Mersing, the nearest town to us.

So my team and I came up with the idea of opening KakakTua, a guesthouse and community space in Mersing town, where we can run programmes to upskill locals, and so on, so they can benefit economically from the tourism that comes through Mersing.

Currently, 500,000 tourists visit the Johor islands and Tioman every year, but Mersing hardly benefits from that. Tourists literally get out of their car or taxi at the jetty, look for their boat, and off they go. And that’s a shame because the locals don’t get why the tourists come here – and they don’t see the fragility of the marine environment.

Practically speaking, KakakTua is also a benefit to Batu Batu, as our guests who arrive later in the day can choose to stay a night at KakakTua – and we’ll give them a little guide on where to go around Mersing town. Where the nice seafood restaurants are, where they can eat nice ikan bakar, perhaps even visit a nearby kampung

And then the next morning before setting off to Batu Batu, they can have roti canai at Rasa Sayang or head to Sri Mersing kopitiam for homemade custard tarts, boiled eggs and coffee.

The more we spend time in Mersing and hear stories from locals like Mr Lim Poo Ker, the more meaningful the town becomes. For instance, I never noticed the old Chinese medicinal shop until he pointed it out. And there’s the goldsmith – which has been around since 1935!

We believe that increasingly, tourists are looking for authenticity. And what’s authenticity? It’s looking into the soul of a place. Looking into the lives and listening to the stories of its people.

So we hope to create a really nice ecosystem of people who actually want to protect Mersing’s heritage, and then start working together to protect it.”


Meet Zam of Batu Batu and Poo Ker of Clean & Happy Recycling

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