The cast of Think Big Big — Moon (seated left), Leng Lui, and Leng Chai (standing). (PICTURES BY NURUL SHAFINA JEMENON AND ASTRO)

It’s quiet and everyone’s asleep. It has been two hours since we left Sunway Lagoon in Selangor. The only sound is the crunch of the tyres on the gravel. Before long, the bus slows down and comes to a halt. Groggy from the travel, I stumble out only to be greeted by the gentle caress of a cool breeze. Ahead of me, mere metres away, I spy a steady flowing stream, the perfect backdrop to this rural idyll.

From across a narrow bridge, I hear an enthusiastic voice calling out: “Eh! Ah girl! Lei fan lei la? Fai di yup lei la. (Hey! My girl! You’re home! Come on in.)” With a huge smile on her face, Leng Lui (the motherly character played by Chew Swee Lee) waves for me to cross the narrow bridge to the floating structure it’s connected to. Steps wobbly, I make my way carefully across it and find myself rocking gently to the flow of the river below.

“Aiyoh! Ah girl fan lei la! Hou la, hou la! Tou tak sek fan la. (Oh my! My girl, you’re home! That’s good! We can eat now .)” exclaims the soft-spoken Leng Chai (the father played by Billie Chong) patting me on the back enthusiastically.

OK, this may be just a scene played out in my over-imaginative mind but certainly, this is how I’ve always envisioned my home coming during Chinese New Year to be if I were to have a set of parents.

There’s the mother in the kitchen dishing up my favourite home-cooked meals; food I miss as I slave away in the big city for my livelihood. And then there’s the father who brightens up instantly at the sight of his only daughter returning to his side.

This is precisely the kind of heart-warming emotions that famed local director Chiu is hoping to evoke in his viewers through his latest movie, Think Big Big, this festive season. The movie centres on Moon, a plus-sized girl who dreams of becoming an astronaut.

She leads a happy, carefree life working as a mascot until one day, debts force her to join a weight-loss competition, which requires her to share her fitness journey on social media.

In conjunction with the movie, Chiu’s fifth outing to date, the director decided to introduce the media to his beloved hometown of Bukit Pelandok in Port Dickson, Negri Sembilan.

So, with our guide Vivienne Oon, who plays Moon’s best friend and voice of conscience, we set off on a tour of the movie’s locations to see what we can unearth in the

beautiful state famed for its Minangkabau heritage.

Tang Kah Chai, the ferry driver with few words, tirelessly servicing the residents of Bukit Pelandok and Sungai Pelek every day.

Bukit Pelandok Jetty

Just a 10-minute drive away from the restaurant is a small slip road that leads to a mini jetty. A medium-sized white ferry, somewhat weathered in appearance after years of usage, plies the route across the Sepang River from Bukit Pelandok’s banks to Sungai Pelek, a small town in Sepang, Selangor. For close to 30 years, only one man, Tang Kah Chai, has been ferrying the residents of both villages. And just like Tang, Leng Chai in the movie does exactly the same. Every day from as early as 5am until late evening, he can be seen ferrying people across the river.

The owner, Tang, recalls ferrying the passengers with his father many years ago and eventually taking over when the old man decided to retire. It was his grandfather who started the ferry service which helped to cut the villagers travelling time between the two states by more than half.

Quiet family time for Leng Chai, Leng Lui and Moon on Sepang River.

It’s only a five-minute ride across the river and a nominal fee of 50 sen per person/ motorcycle and 30 sen for a bicycle is charged.

“It used to be more dangerous then when the pig farms were still around. There were a lot of rubbish and logs floating in the river,” recalls a passenger on his motorcycle who’s making his way home to Sungai Pelek after a quick lunch at a nearby coffee shop in Bukit Pelandok. He says: “Now it’s much better but you still need to be careful during rainy seasons.” If there’s one thing that you need to look out for it’s the cheeky monkeys that hang around waiting to snatch a snack or two from visitors.

Bai Ji Xuan, a hidden gem among the mangrove trees of Bukit Pelandok.

Floating Restaurant Bai Ji Xuan

This double-storey wooden restaurant has only been open a year and serves very simple traditional Chinese home-cooked dishes. The unique thing about this restaurant is that it floats on the Sepang River that borders Negri Sembilan and Selangor and is connected by some small steps from the mainland. In the movie, this mid-sized structure is Moon’s family home where her parents, Leng Lui and Leng Chai, still live. Owned by seven good friends in their fifties to seventies from the village of Bukit Pelandok, they aspire to attract people back to this tranquil and homely village.

Take a scenic paddle on the Sepang River.

“This place was once a booming town with the country’s largest pig farming business in the area. Everyone came here for jobs and began raising their families here,” shares Lee Sou Hong, the youngest of the restaurant’s owners. He adds: “But when the farms became uncontrollable and the government stepped in to shut them down, people slowly left for the city, especially the younger generation.”

Although he’s sad for the loss of population, Lee is quick to express his delight at the closure of the farms. Today, the environment is cleaner, he adds.

“The river is so different from how it was 20 years ago,” he says, adding: “Hopefully, the lushness and beauty of the environment here will attract people back to this almost-forgotten village.” To enjoy a closer encounter with the surrounding nature, visitors who come here can rent the paddle-boat, handmade by Lee, and sail along the river.

The astronomy room that was turned into Moon‘s little dream station in the movie Think Big Big.

Seremban Chung Hua High School

A quick 45-minute bus ride away from the village is Seremban’s Chung Hua High School located on top of a hill. Founded as a primary school in July 15, 1913 by the Hokkien Association, the school gradually expanded to include a high school as well. For many decades, the students are known to be active in a multitude of co-curricular activities in addition to being studious.

The school has an astronomy tower for their Astronomy Club and it’s the only school in Negri Sembilan to have a working astronomy tower that’s cared for by the club members. The tower was featured as Moon’s home in the city, as a nod to her fascination with space and her dreams of being an astronaut.

Four friends who‘ll stick together through thick and thin.

Up four flights of stairs and I find myself staring at rows of mid-sized telescopes and a wall lined with astronomy charts. Another short winding steel-framed stairs in a corner of the room brings me up to the dome-shaped tower that viewers will recognise from the film. This space used to house a large telescope with a lens that pointed out from an open panel in the roof.

A small square hole in the wall leads out to a spacious balcony that offers a panoramic view of the whole town with the big open sky as the roof. And Seremban being devoid of skyscrapers, the tower is the perfect place for students and their friends to sit and stare out at the great big blue, just like how Moon and her best friends do in the film.

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