Sunday, November 22, 2009

Mad Ram Piss - make my day!

You know they are coming, even with your windows wound up. A distant hum of a jet fighter, in a few instances the sonic boom rumbles nearer and nearer, and before you know it, a dozen full- face helmeted dudes in puny motorbikes sans the exhaust mufflers swarm around you like angry bees. You floor the pedal to shake them off but you find that this is actually throwing a challenge to them to a race. So you slow down again to let them pass. Then with blood curdling Red Indian's whoops they lift their front wheels and roar off. Congratulation, you have just been matrempited (root word: Mat Rempit, legendary Honda Cub rider, whose dare-devil stunts on Malaysian roads finally earned him a much-sought-after turf beside a Sultan's mausoleum). Yes, the scourge of the Mat Rempits on Malaysian roads had many of us in Parkinson's-like shaking spell on every unfortunate encounter.

This group of free-spirited roadsters are not to be confused with the Hell's Angels for the very simple reason that they are not astride Harleys, Honda Gold Wings, Kawasaki Ninjas or the likes, but are invariably the pint-size motorbikes pioneered by the popular Honda Cub of the 60s. Mat Rempits are spoilt for choice when it comes to their tools of trade, Honda,Yamaha, Suzuki, Modenas (a Malaysian marque, see? It catches on, isn't it?), all offer models suitable for matrempiting.

Do not be deceived by these humble looking machines, a "cub" is a born sprinter and woe betides the open-top coupe driver revving his machine comtemptiously beside a Yamaha speedster at a traffic stop, thinking he can out-race the two-wheeler. Even with a minuscule engine of 100 c.c., a cub can bolt from 0-80 kph within a fraction of what it takes a conventional engined car to do, leaving the coupe owner coughing in its fumes far behind. This, coupled with its extreme maneuvrability, means myriad ways to weave in and out of jammed traffic, both invaluable features of a bike in case they are under hot pursuit by the law. And under the skillful hands of a like-minded mechanic, the removal of the exhaust pipe's muffler can produce the kind of racket even Michael Shumacher would shed tears of joy on hearing while giving the thumbs-up.

Mat Rempits are your innocent-looking dude-in-the-street you see hanging out everyday and everywhere, in shopping malls, mamak stalls and dangdut joints. Many ply their trade as handbag snatchers in the day time and housebreaking at night. A few bolder ones inevitably graduated to become accomplished robbers. Smoking is compulsory among this tribe and tribal leaders usually sport pillion-riding girl friends who are equally gung-ho when it comes to matrempiting. Pillion riders are very useful to them when they are not doing their stuff, they just blend into the crowd of decent bikers. Didn't I tell you they are innocent dude-in-the-street? ( or on-the-road if you prefer) .

The antics of Mat Rempits are actually stuffs of circus, without the safety nets, of course. Lifting the front wheel and cruising along at breakneck speed is their signature act, and all self-respecting gang members are expected to perform this stunt expertly even when blindfolded. Rider standing on seat and look!-no-hands is a no-brainer for them. Pillion riders standing on seats is another favourite. Of course their repertoires include the usual rubber burning on highways and terrorizing motorists out of their wits. It's all in a day's work.

And what could be more spectacular than a horde of noisy bikers racing on a deserted highway (at midnight) on one wheel with the cops in hot pursuit and a cheering crowd? That these intrepid bikers thumb their noses at the law had been a regular fixture of such shows indicates their skill in handling these devil-spawn machines.

Mat Rempits are most happy when they have an audience, whether appreciative, disapproving or just plain curious, it doesn't matter. They move in stealthily after dark to busy night joints like open air watering holes and mamak stalls, and just when you are about to take a swig of your Tiger beer, a deafening roar starts suddenly and you know a matrempit race is on-going. Follow the surging crowd quickly or you'll only get the tail wind as the racket zooms by.

Traffic cops had long threw up their collective hands in the air in exasperation and can only hope to minimise the number of such races. Raids are conducted regularly, but after a quiet spell, the death wishers start their game again. Threat of death, maimed permanently, toothless, becoming vegetables, these are but hollow words as far as these brave souls are concerned. Well, the foolhardiness of youth, you can't override them, can you?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Lucifers at the wheels

We Malaysian often unabashedly award ourselves the title of the most hospitable and friendly people on planet earth. We bend over backward to accomodate every whim and fancy of visitors to our homes, and gesticulate ourselves silly when get stopped by lost tourists asking for directions. But the very instance we are put behind the driving wheels, Satanic horns grow from our heads as the ignition key is turned, scales-covered tails appear from our posteriors as we get off the driveway, by the time we hit the highway, a full-fledged devil with fangs, wings and a trident is sitting in the driver seat. On the road practically every car driver is Beelzebub incarnate.

You've seen it before. Two vehicles are stopped by the busy roadside, apparently the result of an accident as one of the cars bonnet folds like an accordion, fumes billow and radiador fizzle. The two motorists are involved in an animated war of words almost leading to blows.

Gender does not count, nor does race or religion. This is indeed one area where we Malaysians can proudly lay claim to be united! Whether it’s the pint-size Chinese grandma, the wily Indian postman, the Malay yuppie, Iban, Kadazan, labourers, professional, businessmen, car drivers, truck drivers, young or old, it doesn't matter. All the aforementioned only have one aspiration (beside wanting to go from A to B) when driving on the road: to give Road Courtesy a bad name.

Hostility is the order of the day (or everyday) and one-upmanship is the name of the game while you are on the Malaysian road. Just try slowing down on your approach to a traffic light junction as the light turns amber, chances are, a Lewis Hamilton wannabe will zoom pass you to take pole position. Amber lights have the same meaning as green lights, and Malaysians’ optical faculty needs several seconds to recognize an amber light just turned red. Changing lanes and turning corners without flashing signals? Why that’s perhaps the all-time favourite pastime in this part of the world. Scaring fellow road users out of their wits is almost an obligation because we have accepted driving to be an obstacle race long time ago.

And what could be more fun than parking our pride and joy, a battered wounded MouseDeer (with an assembly of dangling Pink Panthers, Snow White’s Seven Dwarf, Garfield’s pillows displayed at the rear windscreen. We call them Kancil here) in two slots of parking spaces? After all, we need to pay for only one space and it makes reversing out so much easier later. Blocking traffic flow by double parking? Hey, everybody is doing it! And don’t tell me you never do it. “I paid road tax too” and “Yes, it’s my grandfather’s road” seem to be the answers on their lips if you send telepathic messages of curses and death threats to them.. And tailgating is our most courteous way of tell people “Bloody @#$%&!, you know how to drive or not?”

And then there’s the punter/driver. You are driving along a road and suddenly for no apparent reason, as it is not rush hour, a traffic jam materializes in front of you.. What usually takes only two minutes to drive through now takes almost ten.

The reason? There's been an accident and half the road is blocked. They say curiosity kills the cat but say that to an rabid 4-D punter and he thinks you're just jealous he strikes it rich weeks after weeks; and accidents are his source of inspiration and lifeline to get more numbers to bet on, (of course he'll not tell you he's already six months behind in his mortgage payment and loan sharks just emptied a pail of red paint into his garage).

Thus these punters invariably slow down, salivating to get a eyeful of his fellow countrymen’s misery at the same time committing the victims' car plate numbers to memory as they pass by (and rushing to the nearest bet shop), thus jamming up the traffic even more. We Malaysians like to profit (more like lose) from each others' misfortune. Its like, today is your turn, tomorrow could me mine, so, fair and square.

Of course there are other minor issues like showering affections on their little ones by getting them to sit on their laps as they drive. Its quite evident parents nowadays want to give their children an early head start in learning how to drive, even if it comes to something that will not bother them until their little legs can reach to the pedals.

And then there is a category of drivers who, under strict instruction from their ophthalmologists, forbid them to look into bright sunshine, hence the heavy tinting of their vehicles windscreens and windows. Apparently a certificate to this effect is enough to placate the disapproving look of the traffic police. Coincidentally a cursory study of the people emerging from these vehicles (invariably black in colour too) shows that an overwhelming majority are not senior citizens but tattooed dudes with nubile companions in tow. And don’t get me started on their noisy exhaust pipes. But it is still an open debate why many crimes are committed by the owners of such roadsters.

Anyway, these are the reasons why baseball bats are selling so well even though there are hardly 10 batsmen in the whole of Malaysia, and I suspect half couldn't even hit a ball squarely but that’s another story. Have a nice day and take care.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Seriously, is budget airline for you?

In the bad old days when Air Asia had just two Boeing 737s, boarding for this budget airline was a free-for-all race to the waiting aircraft the moment the ground hostess touched the PA's microphone. The spectacle of flustered buck-tooth teenagers, backpacker with a paunch, granny with light-brown dyed hair all lugging an assortment of suitcases and cargo load of cardboard boxes of parochial cookies, guitars and spare BMX bike wheel and dashing helter skelter across the tarmac, clambering noisily up the aluminium staircases is still seared in my memory. No wonder Air Asia was the airline of choice for sports people especially 100-metre sprinters and head-butting footballers.

I remember in one of my trips, I squeezed through the melee in the aisle shouting inaudible profanities to fellow passengers who shoved their suitcases (invariably fake Santa Barbara Polo and Country Club) into my nose instead of the overhead compartments. I had to elbowed with a steely resolve to finally claim a microscopic aisle seat with a gusto that almost break the chair. As the mayhem swirled around me, I thanked my lucky star like as if some unlucky passengers may have to stand for the full duration of the flight.

Centre seats in a three-seat arrangement are always the last to fill up, and not wanting to sit beside a sumo wrestler or a hip-hop rapper, I plonked my laptop on it as if claiming the space for a friend, then pretending to be busy trying to read the laminated leaflet telling me how to escape in the event of an emergency. The plane was now beginning to fill up as more and more passengers boarded. A Ray-ban wearing dude with both ears plugged with ipod earphones, on seeing my reluctance to budge, vaulted nonchalantly over my lap to get to the window seat.

By then, most of the seats were filled up as the passengers settled down. There were still some empty centre seats at the back as I craned my neck to see. Suddenly a huffing and puffing gargantuan mountain of a man appeared at the entrance, no doubt a result of his inability to join the tarmac race. With a bewildered look and a sweat-drenched shirt he lumbered into the aisle. Oh no, I can't be that unlucky.... Please...please don't come near me, there are some more seats at the back.... please. guess it. All 200 pounds of fat and flesh stopped beside me while I was frantically checking on how to put on the life vests.. Can't you see I'm busy? Can't you see this seat is taken for my friend who's in the loo? No, he couldn't. I had to concede, but knowing his anatomy disqualified him to vault like Mr Ray-ban, I had to get up to let him in. And horror of horrors, he couldn't even get pass in between the seats!

Help came promptly in the form of a lithesome air hostess, baseball cap attired with the ponytail bobbing like a horse's tail.

"Sir," she volunteered with a most business-like tone "could you move to the middle so that this gentleman can sit here?". It was almost a decree.

For gawk sake, I didn't pay nine dollars ninety cents, put on my Adidas in lieu of my Gucci so as to be able to partake The Sprint, to be crushed between a blab of sweating fat and a hip-hop head-swaying junkie for two hours. It just ain't fair... it just ain't...

"Sir, can you move...." With visible indignation, I turned and suddenly found myself staring at the sweetest smile (whether genuine or sarcasm-laced, I don't know even until today) and the most perfect set of teeth since my college days. Damn, Tony Fernandes really knew how to pick a winner!

"Of course...." I spluttered as I swayed my neck like a hungry giraffe looking for more leaves to chew....I mean, other empty seat to escape to, but alas, it was too late. Some stragglers had just boarded and claimed all the empty seats. The plane was full. I pouted like a schoolkid, half hoping Smiley would give me a peck on the cheek (none come, not even a hug either) as I sidled up to the middle seat and sat down unaware my laptop was still there.


"Excused me?" A startled Fatty looked challengingly me.

"Oh, its my computer, I just sat on it" And if it's spoilt, its all your bloody fault.

"Well, thank you for your seat" Fatty puffed with a strong gust of hot air into my face, which was only two inches away from his. And if I get chicken pox, its all your fault too.

The seat creaked alarmingly as his massive frame settled in while his flabby love handles flopped on the arm rest. In the meantime, Mr Ray-ban was blissfully unaware of all my misfortune and continue to bob his head like Stevie Wonder on an overdose of Ecstasy. Let me describe this scenario in just one sentence: Two hours of hell at 30,000 feet.

This has got to be a nightmare, I told myself. I just read a recent survey about the most annoying characteristics of fellow passengers especially seat mates who are total strangers. Among the tops are obese passengers, arm rest hoggers, passengers with BO, loud talkers, the seat shakers, the incessant yakkers and the hyperactive two-year-olds with indulgent moms. Though Fatso scored only three out of seven, my overriding thought then was to get the hell out and sit in the toilet for the rest of the journey telling Miss Nice Teeth I've got diarrhoea.

P/s: The above anatomical features and demeanours of the characters have been grossly exaggerated for more graphical clarity and are not meant to disparage anyone, living or dead. Fatso was actually a retiree with a disproportionate pot belly vis-as-vis his body weight. Mr Ray-ban was actually a nerdy spectacles wearing teenager but was really wearing an ipod. Only Miss Nice Teeth was faithfully recreated except for the freckles on her nose. The writer had actually paid more than RM9.90 (as advertised) for the flight, an extra amount of RM25.00 was levied as "oil surcharge".
Director: N Salba.
This has been a Funnymayhem Production.
The End.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sprain your pelvis bone gyrating to the beat of "Hounddog''? twist your foot doing the Michael Jackson moonwalk? Fear not, go for the traditional treatment by a physician who know the problem with the utmost intimacy, for he a true music lover.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The road to Kampong Giam

It was 3 o'clock on a Saturday afternoon when I happened to bump into an old buddy Francis. Just when I thought I could slinker down on the kopitiam plastic chair for a nice cuppa when this kayaking crazy guy sweet talked me to joining him on a reconnoitre mission to an obscure sounding place...kampong Giam or something, for his next kayaking expedition.

The afternoon thunderstorm had just passed and the air was quite cool, I thought I could badger him for a quick plate of kolo mee before I went along with his plan but this old fox would have none of it, citing that time was of the essence. After much howling on my part, he finally relented but only for a cuppa.

It was already 3.30 when we set off. That the sky was still grey with menacing storm clouds did not worry this intrepid adventurer a tiny bit as he stepped on the pedal. Less than an hour later we were on the countryside along Jalan Padawan. Turning into a side road, we came to what passed as a Sarawak-style postcard picture of a lovely countryside. Francis, thanks to his keen eye for a nice picture dutifully enquire whether he need to stop the car by the road side for me to take a shot. Well, am I glad I did take the trouble to get out of the comfy car seat to squat on the grass and take the picture!

In short while, we reached what looked like a school with a large compound. As it was just after the rain, the sound of rushing water was getting closer and closer. We were near a river! Indeed, there it was just several feet down the road slope was a gushing stream. We got out of the car and carefully descent the slippery rock steps leading to the edge of the river which was only about twenty feet wide at the most. At 4.30pm in the afternoon with a heavy overcast, hope for taking great pictures faded as we both took out our cameras. But surprisingly it turned out to be acceptable. After a few more shots I made a mental note to come back again when the sun is shining for more dramatic photos.

Turning a few corners from this school, we finally arrived at Kpg Giam, a decrepit collection of wooden houses against the backdrop of a massive limestone hill. The villagers cast some curious glances at our direction as we parked our car nearby, otherwise everything seemed to be in order. No horde of kids running after us tugging our pants, the women folks didn't even smile at us. What happened to the stereotyped friendly Sarawakian? Our only inference was that maybe stranger in this village is not a very rare commodity after all. Whatever. (To quote a familiar word I'd often heard).

Farther down the road there was a newly built suspension bridge, much bigger and sturdier than the old one that gave way earlier. We crossed it over a swift flowing river, which Francis claimed to be Sarawak Kiri, the same river that finally flows pass Kuching's Main Bazaar before it empties itself to the sea. Another 10 minutes' walk pass some houses, we finally reached the bank of a wider river, presumably the same one that we saw while on the suspension bridge.

Again the current was rather swift, and the roaring waves crashed against the exposed rocks with great splashes. Some part of the river bank was sandy, not unlike a small beach, but most of it were rocky. There was a landing point where colourful longboats were tied up which provided great opportunity for self acclaimed accomplished photographers like yours truly. I suspect Francis was also of the same genre.

Suddenly out of the corner of his eye, he spied a piece of drift wood, marooned on a rock. Now it again takes the eyes of an art connoisseur like Francis to recognise that some drift wood are not just drift wood but nature's work of art, and indeed this curiously shaped piece of wood could pass off as coffee table sculptured by Henry Moore as commission by Picasso!

Only trouble is hauling a piece of 30 something kilograms of dead wood for quarter of a mile through a heavily populated kampong may make us look like bounty hunters, knowing that claiming that we want it for firewood does not hold water. What if the locals demanded a royalty payment? Worse, we could get a proper hiding for stealing their property.

Luckily a villager who had been observing us from a distance seemed to sense our predicament. We decided a careful approach so as not to raise an unduly alarm while balancing that with the look of casual disinterest at what we were carrying, each at one end of the wood. Our plan was to get as close to him as possible and then get pass him, now if he did not stop us, then we could assume that we were clear to go. Grunting audibly and grimacing pitifully we both managed a pained smile at the chap, who by now was looking elsewhere. Either he approved our souvenir hunting or he was sending a secret signal for fellow villagers hiding behind the bushes to help him nab us.

Fortunately it was a no-show. But the accursed piece of wood was too damn heavy to haul in one go. Even the euphoria of getting pass the "sentry" wouldn't power us all the way to the car, as we panted and panted like dogs after chasing cats. Occasionally we had to stop for rest in full views of many locals, while watching out for the imaginary pack of angry stick-wielding villagers to appear and apprehend us.

Mercifully after what seemed like tortuous hours of hauling we reached the car. We still had to stealthily lifted and plonked it into the boot. Finally after checking all the coast were clear, we both jumped into the car and roared off as if we'd just robbed the bank. I looked at my watch. It was almost six but the sky was darker than usual.

It certainly was a profitable outing for Francis and more so for me. I had gotten to see some of the more picturesque villages in their pristine state, waded knee deep in swift flowing river, picked up fist-size stones and shot putt them back into the waters. It was a childhood deja vu for me. While Francis got himself only a questionable "work of art" which detractors would only view as a piece of glorified firewood.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Bako National Park

The Park jetty at low tide can only be accessible by a few hundred metres walk through the muddy beach. We were lucky as the tide was high enough for us to land at the jetty. From this jetty point, it is a 5 minutes walk to the Park HQ and the chalets to check in if you are staying for the night. There is also a canteen nearby with a clear view of the park ground which macaques, wild bearded pigs and monitor lizards come to forage for food.

This is the icon of Bako National Park and can only be seen up close if you take an optional boat journey from the Park jetty to the Telok Pandan Kecil beach. The journey takes only about 10 minutes but passes through some of the most spectacular seaside rock formations in the park, and this sea stack is the most famous of them all. The boatman will normally oblige if you ask him to slow down and even circle it for you to get a better camera angle.

This boatman waited like a vulture at the Telok Pandan Kecil beach where only a few of us were splashing in the sea and beach, knowing very well we would be too exhausted to take the one hour trek through rocky jungle trail back to Park HQ. His patience paid off, as at the end of the day, we wearily asked to be taken back by his boat, but only after a few rounds of protracted negotiation. We even pretended to walk off, to which his reaction seemed to be "go ahead, have a nice trek". To save face the girls pretended to despair and grumbled audibly and thus we agreed to his asking charge for their sake!

Rocky outcrops like this dotted the coastline of Bako National Park, this one at Telok Pandan Kecil beach provides welcome shade and even some natural bath shower from the fresh water trickling down its rocky wall.

The beach of Telok Pandan Kecil is generally deserted except for a few stragglers. This is truly a secret corner of Sarawak and is off the beaten path. The beach is clean and the water blue in the distance, but not the crystal clear water like those of the Caribbean or South Pacific islands. Give it another 5 - 10 years, a five-star resort may materialize here with hordes of tourists and screaming kids. Visit it before this scenery is gone!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Photoblog - Scenes of Sarawak

On board the Express Bahagia No.8, mid-trip shopping spree is limited to three basketful of junk food and canned drink. Take it or starve for the duration of 5 hours for the trip from Kuching to Sibu. Mind you, business hours is limited to the time the vendor is awake from his catnap. When all transactions are done, he stows away the merchandise and continue his slumber!

This tug boat is rusting under the sun by the wharf of Sibu, with the Rejang River as the backdrop. Boats like this play important role in the transport of timber logs along the river.
Cut-throat competition among the cabbies would have been acrimonious in this lean times, but these taximen have the good sense to work on a roster instead of grabbing customers. Here the cabs line up near the Sibu boat terminal and the bus stations waiting for passengers.

A very common mode of hauling cargo is these tricycle, which is endemic only in South East Asia. Riding this vehicle with full load require extreme skill only attained by years of use! Steering the cart is by holding the horizontal bar in of the rider and turn according to the desire direction, but the weight of the cart may dictate going the other way, and beginners laways ended in monsoon drains! This tricycle is parked at the five foot way of Wayang Street, an old section of Kuching.

This is the Hong San Si Temple of Kuching, a popular "show-case" Chinese temple in the city, so much so it had to print brochures to curious visitors and tourists posing the usual questions of its origin, the name of the deity bla bla bla. But the temple welcomes visitors warmly and photo shooting sessions are permitted even in the inner court. Just don't start a religious discourse!