Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Malaysia: the nation

I was still high on the smoking rubber, monstrous sounds of the F1 engines I had greeted the last evening. Now we were heading towards Johr Bahru: the border town in Malaysia. It took us almost 30 minutes to clear the immigration.

The GPS took us through the city and we blinded followed. However, this is not what I'll regret. I got to see the Johr city. The cities in Malaysia are a unique blend of classic and modern characteristics. There's a majestic town hall, city centres to take care of the classic part. Parallely, the cities are powered by a grand infrastructure. The highways, city roads, superstructures: you've got 'em all. We spotted an Indian restaurant just outside Johr and stopped here. Surprisingly, the only thing they had for vegetarians here was a meal with the main star as ghee rice. Nevertheless, after the meal we were singing about this.

We continued on the Kuala Lumpur highway and made a stop to switch the wheel. Mama offered me to drive. I was ecstasic! On a highway in Malaysia with the might of the Nissan Sunny. My excitement soon wore off as I neared boredom in a while.

2 reasons:

First, the highway was too good. I could have slept on the wheel and we would have reached our destination in the same time safely. I mean, at least give the driver a chance! At places, even the slight turns were banked in such a manner that you'll hardly need to turn the wheel.

Second, the Sunny: mighty as it may be was still automatic transmission. So while overtaking (one of the few tasks demanding the driver's brain here), I miss the sequence: Clutch, shift, release, accelerate. All this was compressed to a single step: press the accelerator.

However driving is a pain thanks to all the rules and regulated humans here. If you change your lane without announcing to the world you’ll create havoc. Rear view check, indicator, steer, indicator off. The driving method we're used to is: every man for himself; expect the worst from everyone. The game is fundamentally different here where every other driver depends on you and that thou shall never break the regulations or deviate from the text book rules. That thou shall not change lanes, thou shall stop from 100kmph just to let one pedestrian cross, thou shall not be reckless. Quite a challenging proposition for the Indian drivers.

The beauty of the countryside is just unbelievable. One of the big advantages the nation has is its population. The population density figures are absymally low. Credit also goes for the people and the government for conserving their resources and vegetation. I have seen endless green lands in some of the remote places I've been to in India. But out here, the sheer size and density of vegetation creates a different effect. Not a spot of brown or even a shade deviating from lush green was found in the 100Kms we covered. There are also several 'Rehats' spaced at appropriate distances on the highways. Imagine a structure with a well planned mall, fuel station and a food court every 50 Kms you travel! We reached the Melaca district in 2 hours (A few sign boards declared that we had; the scenery was still the same). After exiting the highway, a complicated set of roads took us to A'FaMosa resort. The resort is visible from a distance thanks to its size.

We checked into the 'room'. To my surprise, what they called a room was a fully furnished retreat with 2 rooms, a drawing-dining, a kitchen and picturesque balconies.

As the sun went down, we headed for the 'cowboy town'.

There was a 4-D movie. We managed to catch 'Horror stories in the office'. We then headed for the 'Red Indian' show. The performers were spectacular. Lots of fire breathing, a small play involving the audience.

This was followed by the carnival. This is something that is very very hard to put in words. The number of things that happened in the next 40 minutes is too much. The camera ran out of battery, my fingers might faint with exhaustion if I start writing. The highlights were the animals, Malay ladies in lovely attires, vehicles, planes, birds and everything else you can think of. The firecracker show was the grand finale.

But more than that what touched me was seeing the Malaysia flag at the event. Agreed, carrying a flag is not a decree of being patriotic. But talking to people, you generally get the idea that the people love their country. More than that, they are nice to you and tell you how tourism is important for their country and eventually for the people. Thinking from your country's perspective and then about yourself- that's something that needs a lot of deep thought.

Since we were assured that we won't get anything vegetarian here at this middle of nowhere resort, we headed for the Melaca town in search for food. The drive was somewhat scary since I'm so used to seeing traffic or people or some fool while driving. Out here, we were just a car, 2 headlamps and zillion trees around us lit by the moon in a spooky manner. We found a Pizza hut in this tiny town called Melaca and gorged all that was veg on the menu.

The next day, we had breakfast in one of the restaurants of Cowboy town and headed for animal world. Now the size of the resort found its true identity. It took us almost 15 minutes of driving at decent speeds within the resort to reach the place. We came across lovely lakes, golf courses (yes, there's more than 1), paintball, paragliding and other adventure sports area.

At animal world, we attended the elephant show, the animal show and the bird show. I do not very much enjoy this but they put up a great show. Though I am very much against such kind of training for animals but I have to admire the platform the people and animals get.. I can't help comparing the state in my country. I've read of the condition of the bhallu dance, bandar dance wallahs once this kind of stuff was banned. Of course, animals belong in the jungle but what if they can't be protected the outlaws or poachers? Here we have the second best option that comes into picture. The animals are protected and the people make a living. And yes, art or skill gets a stage, where it can be appreciated by the world.

We then went for the safari. They put us in a caged van and took us to the animals' habitat. The lions were shouting to their cubs- ‘who dekho aadmi, who dekho aadmi ka cub’. There were giraffes, tigers, bears, leapords but the cute girl sitting in front of me was interested in antics of some other creature. ME.

Lastly was the monkey island. We took a boat to this place and came across a humorous board.

Among other creatures, I noticed one peculiar kind. These monkeys are the most disciplined creatures I've ever seen. They were eating in a proper manner. Never did they attempt any mischief, just accepted food in an orderly fashion from us.

In the evening, we headed back for Singapore. I saw families driving cheerfully around in their tiny Perodua's and Protons. I recalled Proton motors as the company which recently bought the prestigious British Lotus cars. The Malaysian government is the majority stakeholder in Proton. Even I'm proud of the PSU's of my nation: DRDO, ISRO, BHEL, Coal India. But looking here, I see there could have been more. The government here had the hindsight to create highly competitive (export oriented as well) companies to create wealth and providing employment. This backed by rapid infrastructure development brought in investors as well. The result is right in front of us: A country that gained independence 10 years later than us, had a lot more to worry than what we had at the same time grew rapidly to be an industrial superpower.

Everybody has a car here, I mean everybody. Be it a nurse, shopkeeper, janitor. Difficulty in finding people to attend to at gas stations and restaurants led to the so called 'brainy' Indians to take up these jobs. The local people are happy working for their nation. Come on, you can't say you've never heard of PETRONAS (does Sauber- Petronas F1 team ring a bell) and I can assure you that you'll hear of Proton soon. Also, the efforts of leadership have finally paid off with investors lining up creating more jobs.

I could not help contemplating: While the Gandhi family was busy convincing people that infrastructure is meant for rich 'seths' and their motor cars, implementing schemes based on populist measures to take care of immediate problems and votes. Not far away, Mahathir Mohammed was working to give people what they deserved: a better future. I can't help saluting to this man who truly describes the power of human nature. One man can build a nation!!

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