Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Day trip to Genting Highlands, photo gallery included - Malaysia

Cable-cars or, as they call them here, gondolas
This could have been one of those foolish posts describing what one did on a day-off. If there is a fool here though, that one is me, as per my posts...never! They have to be taken over by humanity, with its good and evil ones, cynicism, hope, irony, preferably aimed at myself. Otherwise after a few lines I get bored and I throw everything in the trash bin.

I've been in Kuala Lumpur for almost a month and I haven't enjoyed a day of leave yet. On weekdays I teach from 9:30am to 4:30pm. On Saturday and Sunday from 9am to 7pm. I believe I am one of the few people who can't wait until Monday to have the chance to relax a bit. Today is my first day off and I wanna go somewhere for a day trip. I have to choose between the Batu caves and Genting Highlands. I've already been to both places some ten years ago. Well, let's see: the caves...very hot, al lot of steps to climb and all those monkeys jumping around. Genting can boast a cable car gliding over the jungle and the green-mountain-cool-weather. I'm gonna go for the latter.
As I still don't know what time I want to come back, at the ticket counter they convince me to buy a one way trip. "You'll buy your return ticket over there, it's a mere formality." It might sound like a prediction full of dark implications, but let's not start to be paranoid.
The bus is half empty and the cable-car ride is pleasant. I enjoy the view on the jungle until the car is swallowed by a cloud, just before the arrival station. Malaysians, who are very fond of records, wrote on the back of the ticket that this is the longest cable-car system in S.E. Asia (3.4 km) and one of the fastest in the world (6 m/s max speed).
As far as I am concerned Genting is an armpit. All casinos, luxury hotels, expensive restaurants, exclusive clubs, membership only, platinum cards and crap like that. At the 7/7 stores (a ridiculous imitation of the 7eleven store chain) everything is sold at twice KL standard price. After half an hour the magic of the trip is gone. Moreover, the weather sucks: 17-18 degrees Celsius (at the tropics!), rain, fog (actually it's a cloud). I'm wearing a t-shirt, shorts and flip-flops, every time I walk past an open door or in a plastic tunnel I have to wrap my arms around my chest to retain my body heat. I decide to go back. It's not possible to do it by coach from here: I'll have to take the Skyway again. Noisy line, dive into the clouds, jungle gliding quietly under my butt. How many people, I wonder whether there will be any free seats on the bus. When I arrive to the station I jump out of what here they call gondola and rush to the ticket counter.
"A seat to KL Sentral."
"Sold out, Sir!"
"Sod out? How do I go back?"
The guy is fiddling with a drawer, then he looks at me, smiles in a sinister fashion, looks as delighted as a rabbit at the end of a sexual abstinence spell and replies: "Taxi!"
Taxi? I'm neither rich nor a sucker. We're an hour away from the city. I'm not gonna get a cab, I'll hitchhike instead. Then a middle-aged man next to me says: "You could go for the stand-by procedure..."
"Standby? How does that work?" I ask the ticket clerk. He is definitely annoyed, he thought he already got rid of me, then this busybody comes to give advice. Maybe he's even in league with the taxi drivers.
"You wait at the platform, if at the time of departure the bus is not full you can buy one of these last-minute tickets and get on board. Your chances are 50/50." In the meanwhile he keeps swinging the blue ticket-book that he's casually holding with two fingers.
50%? Considering that the tickets were sold out, it seems fantastic to me! And a bit mysterious too, by the way. Why should I be able to find a seat if they are sold out? Perhaps those who book them will decide to leave later, too busy wasting their salary on roulette and slot machines. It's going to be a mess tonight then. For them and not for me, I hope.
The man who gave me the tip walks me to the departure platform, going through all the details of the procedure.
"Thanks! Thanks a lot..." There is always a saint hanging around the gangs of assholes who try to mess with the quiet life and the movements of foreign visitors.
I got it: I need to wait for everybody to get on the bus and then ask whether there is any free seat left. Possibly by adopting the air of a gullible good-natured guy, one of the sort that, in case you help them, Jesus, Buddha, Allah, Vishnu or even Karl Marx will be grateful to you for that. I report to the conductor who at first is a bit recalcitrant but then is moved by my ingenuousness and my imploring smiles and invites me to sit down and wait. The situation is taking a turn for the better.
Those who hold a 5:30pm bus-ticket are not many, very well. There is a problem though: a lot of people who are booked for a later departure are already here and obviously ask whether they can leave on an earlier bus. They are on standby too, but it's a higher level standby position than mine, as I don't have a ticket at all. I am a pariah-passenger. Nobody wants to touch me. I'm not even given charity.
Finally the conductor calls me, takes me to buy one of those blue last-minute tickets and tells me to get on the bus. That was sheer luck: I took a look outside and this seems to be a terrible area for hitchhiking, leaving aside the fact that I would freeze. I even manage to get a pair of seats all for me, maybe it's because of that pariah-passenger thing. I count a dozen free seats altogether.
I remember that asshole's malignant smile. What is it that he was saying? Sold out, take a taxi, 50/50 chance...go to hell!

Some photos I took during the merry trip.

7/7, a pathetic imitation of the 7eleven store chain
Genting is an assemblage of crap like this: an old gondola-car next to a Transformers robot
The back of the ticket where Malaysia proudly boasts about its records
The improbable becomes official: the cable-cars here are called gondolas
The ever present set of prohibition, even in the gondolas
Gondolas in the clouds, it sounds like the title of a Thomas Mann's story
A list of Genting's hotels, complete with prices. All full!
More Genting crap: have a look at what they did to poor Santa
18 degrees C, at the tropics!
A very long hotel reception counter
More prohibitions
Stuck at the entrance of an Italian bar/restaurant

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