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More adventurous than the average bear

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Sunday, June 19, 2005

"I make no apologies that the PAP is the Government and the Government is the PAP."
- Lee Kuan Yew, 1982, Petir (in 'Parties and Politics,' Husin Mutalib)

So we finally have something to point to when asked mockingly by Defenders of the Faith for proof of the conflation of party, state and nation.


Yesterday I went to Ma-laysia as part of a Young Republic Expeditionary Force (with nw.t, Kok Heng and Jiekai), for the first time since Secondary School. Well actually I've been to KLIA many times since, but that's not really counted.

Thanks to Jiekai's being more than half an hour late, we got stuck in the peak hour jam across the Causeway, and got to Malaysia only around 1 pm.

Getting off the bus at the Malaysian side, the seedy, unclean odour of Ma-laysia immediately assailed my olfactory senses. Even the sun seemed to shine stronger, probably due to a mix of more diesel fumes, dirtier and poorer-maintained Proton engines, less greenery, narrower streets and more cramped together buildings.

The Malaysian immigration was a great contrast to Singapore. It was hot, poorly ventilated and had poorly defined queues. There was air con but it wasn't working, as only a tepid air flow (not even a breeze) could be felt; the concept of maintenance hadn't seemed to occur to the authorities yet. People were jostling around - Jiekai got scolded by some auntie because he wasn't aggressive enough in moving forward, and she warned that we would never get our passports stamped with his reluctance to press forward. The worst part was that arrival cards were nowhere to be seen, so nw.t had to hunt some down for us. Truly Asia indeed.

Despite the immigration authorities' limited resources, they knew just how to deploy them: on the side of the hall where the queues for Malaysians and those with foreign passports were, the fans were on and there were many wall-mounted supplementary air cons (though I'm not sure if they were working). On the other hand, the fans on the side of the hall with the queues for Singaporeans were either off or not working, the windows were mostly closed and there were no wall-mounted air cons. Fair's fair: on the Singaporean side the Malaysian passport queue seemed to move slower than than the one for foreign passports. But then at least the air con on the Singaporean side was cold, the place was not stuffy and the lines were better defined.

Oddly enough given the decrepit surroundings, Malaysian passport technology was more advanced than Singapore's; Malaysian citizens zipped through immigration with their smart cards. JK postulated, though, that the seeming inefficiency of Singaporean passport technology was a grand plot to prevent slaves going AWOL, a ridiculous suggestion that we (or at least I) rejected out of hand.

After we'd cleared immigration we meandered around looking for our native guide. Our wanderings took us through a modern shopping centre. A presentation/show was going on on the stage when we entered, and besides being overly loud, the reverb on the amplifier had also been turned up way too much (exactly the same as I remember from my trips to Malaysia last century), making it even more annoying than the shows in Singaporean shopping centres. And at the McDonalds there, the picture they had of their Oreo McFlurry made it look like there were dirty brown particles in it, as someone had dumped dirt in.

Once we'd liaised with our native guide, we went for lunch at 'Hock Heng Pandan Beef Ball' (I had pork). The food was indeed very tasty, but almost all of it was due to the excess of oil, salt and MSG. The meat was washed better though, resulting in less of a smell and greater tenderness. And of course the outlet wasn't in a food court, so the food didn't have the commoditised and franchised feel that the food court mentality brings about in both hawkers and customers.

After that we proceeded to another shopping centre, an older one like the sort Singapore had in the 80s, described by jk as 'Bedok New Town indoors'. The place was filled with the faint odor of cigarette smoke recycled endlessly through the ventilation system. Strangely, as with the earlier shopping centre, there were almost no Malays and Indians (even fewer than in Singaporean shopping centres, in fact).

When Kok Heng spotted a McDonalds, I realised he shared my passion for milkshakes, so we and Jiekai got one each. Unfortunately, even McDonalds was not safe from the corrupting influence of Ma-laysia. Perhaps they were running out of milkshake mix or something - our two strawberry and one chocolate milkshake were all adulterated with vanilla. Mine was the worst: 90% of my milkshake was vanilla, and it wasn't even good vanilla, having a limp, miserable flavour and without the rich and creamy base of a Real McDonalds Milkshake. Add insult to injury, I saw 4 McFlurry topping holders, but only 2 were being used (for Oreos and M&M Minis).

The audacity of the pirates was amazing: at least on the ground floor, it seemed that there was one pirated shop for every two normal ones. Furthermore, the really dodgy stuff was hardly concealed. Perhaps the police have stakes in the business, which is why the pirates are so daring.

Not content with delaying us at the start, Jiekai then decided that he wanted to look at clothes and shoes, so we spent more time wandering around. Some of the stuff was amazingly cheap, but you get what you pay for, especially with dodgy Malaysian brands, and this could be felt in the fabric of some shirts we touched.

Before leaving the complex, I made a detour to get some Seremban Siew Pao: at 1 for RM1.10, this was about half the price of the ones sold in Singapore's Chinatown, so I got 10 and ate 1 on the spot.

Making our way back to Malaysian immigration, we were daunted by the mass of vehicles and people, so we reposed at a roadside food outlet, where nw.t and Jiekai dined. Kok Heng and I ordered coconuts, but they were taking forever to come, so we had to have nw.t order them again in Malay, despite the staff's earlier enthusiastic response both to our initial orders and reminders; you need to know Malay to get anything done in this wretched country.

Seeing the jam, we decided to walk across the Causeway. However, we found ourselves in the car queue - on the wrong side of the road from immigration. Not wishing to backtrack all the way and spend another hour in a sauna, and with some quick talking (in Malay, of course) on nw.t's part, we cut in front of a car and had our passports stamped at a booth meant for cars. However, some idiot bumped into me with his hot bumper while we were having our passports stamped, annoying me greatly.

On our way across the Causeway, we were given cause to wonder about one of the great mysteries of the Universe: why is there a footpath for people to walk from Singapore to Malaysia, but none for them to walk in the reverse direction? Due to this oversight, we were forced to jostle among bumper-to-bumper traffic for a while, and then cross the road in the face of a never-ending stream of motorcycles. As a testament to the difficulty of this long march, we found only 3 people walking in our direction, in contrast to the torrent of people walking in the other direction. But at least the Singaporean authorities made it easy for us, with many signs at the side of the footpath directing us to the Bus Arrival Hall. Though it might say something that barbed-wire topped fences only appeared when we reached the Singaporean side of the Causeway.

Observing the Gurkhas on the Singapore side, we noticed that instead of nametags they had numbers. Maybe when you become a Gurkha, you give up your own identity in the pursuit of an ideal and a cause.


Pointy-haired boss: Our core values are service, integrity, respect, teamwork, responsibility, trust, diversity, value, honesty, fun, passion, fairness and excellence.

Wally: How should we deal with the inherent conflicts? I mean, what if I want to be irresponsible in a fun and passionate way?

Pointy-haired boss: You have to do all of them.

Wally: I notice that hygiene didn't make the list.

This reminds me of the SAF :)


A source: There is an article in today's FT [Ed: 16th June] about Kaisei Academy, a top high school in Japan whose graduates populate Tokyo University. Many of their graduates go on to Japan's corporates, or the civil service. But very few go to
politics. When asked why, the principal of the 134-year old school says this is because Kaisei boys are of "high intelligence".


Pig's latest project: Foodie Paradise

From the horse's mouth: "it'll be a blog which revolves around food, where I'll take photos of the food I've recently tried and gived my comments and ratings on it. It's some so-called "mini-project" that I feel like dabbling in this hols."
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