02 January 2006

Malaysia - Land of Almost Nothing to Do

Finally, regular blogging continues today!

It has been an exhaustive experience, in good and bad ways. But the most tiring aspect of this trip was finding interesting places for my friend Sovatha to visit. He travelled around KL, Singapore, and Penang for a week, and that's a real long time to spend here. It is pretty frustrating to look for decent tourist spots, especially in Penang.

In the end, I took him to the usual tourist spots but they were somewhat disappointing as well. Chief among the disappointments was Khoo Kongsi. For RM5 per entry, only the main temple was open while most of the surrounding areas are undergoing restoration.

But the Penang part was still a relative ease compared to the nightmare that was KL. On my way back I dropped him off at the Salak Tinggi ERL line, but he hasn't been on KL's train network before so I had to give him a 5 minute crash course. Luckily he made his way to Chinatown where he got a basic room at a budget hotel. I felt a little irresponsible for dropping him off alone but I had no choice as I needed to enrol in my course and clean my room.

The next day I myself took a train up to meet him. But that was filled with delays and last-minute changes, all of which I caused. It was annoying as hell, but I knew I had to endure it. The main agenda for the day was to attend the New Year's Eve countdown at KLCC and witness the fireworks display, but I found out a couple of hours before that the fireworks will actually be fired from Dataran Merdeka, not KLCC. So I changed my plans accordingly, and it was for the better as Dataran Merdeka is within walking distance of the hotel.

But the worst part of the trip was the afternoon of the 31st. He had done some cultural walking tours as suggested by his Lonely Planet guidebook and had gone to KLCC twice, so I was hard pressed to find something more interesting for him to do. He has suggested numerous times that he would like to go to a theme park, either Genting or Sunway Lagoon. But Genting is too far and Sunway Lagoon is too kiddy, so I suggested the indoor theme park at Berjaya Times Square.

I brought him there and he liked what he saw, so I left him there for 2 hours to play the rides while I walked around the mall aimlessly. Yes, I repeat - I left him there by himself. He sounded a little disappointed, but the fact is I have been there before and spending RM25 again is not my idea of fun. Luckily the ride queues weren't very long or he could have taken longer.

In the evenings, heavy rain threatened to spoil the fireworks. We ran to the nearest 7-11 and got ourselves an umbrella each. We spent the early evenings going around Chinatown and Petaling Street before heading to Merdeka Square at 9.45pm. Even though it was still early, the field is already packed and we took a seat on the five-foot way far away. We chatted and passed the time. During that time, hundreds upon hundreds of people streamed into the area. By midnight, even we were crammed in a sea of humans.

The actual countdown itself was boring. I didn't hear any actual counting down, neither in Malay nor English. I kept hoping for someone to start shouting "Sepuluh!" "Sembilan!" "Lapan!" but all I got was sudden silence and then the fireworks show started amid applause.

And the fireworks! Oh, the fireworks! I suspect the government has been cutting down on the entertainment budget. I can forgive the fact that the fireworks look mostly the same, but I can't understand why they left so much smoke in the air. Below is a picture at the beginning of the show:

And within 5 minutes....

...Most of the fireworks were obscured by the thick smoke.

It was really annoying as it diminished my enjoyment significantly, and my enjoyment was the reason why I went all the way there. After the show it was almost pandemonium as everyone rushed to beat the traffic, thereby becoming the traffic. It was good we weren't in the middle of the field or it would have been worse.

Anyway, that was the main highlight of the trip. There were other things that happened on the trip that I would like to write about, but I'll keep that for another post.

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