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Feel free to click and drag the map to see the horror that will befall anyone driving in KL. Malaysians have yet to find a patch of land in the Klang Valley that they don't think could be improved by a building a road, a series of roads, a stack of roads, or a highrise building. I can't properly describe the roadway scenario here without offending the more delicate readers, but it rhymes with "thruster duck."
So what I've learned -- rapidly -- is that when it comes to transportation, KL is roughly the Malaysian equivalent of San Francisco. Good public transit is available, but if you live, work, or play outside the specific areas served by those lines, you'd better have a car. So yesterday, I actually bought one.
It's a brand-new 2008 Proton Persona Special Edition. Gorgeous car... leather interior, integrated GPS, premium MP3/CD player, automatic transmission, power windows, dual airbags, and much more.
Except not really.
While that flowery description does in fact belong to the car in the picture, the piece of crap car that I actually bought is pretty much the complete opposite of all that, with the exception of still being a Proton car, which is one of Malaysia's two car manufacturers. Oh... and it does have power windows, too. Here's the little beast in all her glory:
It's a 1996 Proton Tiara, and I can only surmise it's called that because it's just about small enough to be worn as one. It has a 1.1-liter engine that, when all of the three gerbils powering it are well-fed and rested, cranks out a whopping 60 HP. Manual transmission, of course, and an actual carbureted engine. Usually the only time you see those nowadays in the States is when you mow your yard. I'm not sure I've ever had a car that wasn't fuel-injected. My first car, a truly craptacular 1980 Chevrolet Monza, may have been carbureted, but I'm not sure. To give you an idea of how small a 1.1-liter engine is, consider this: The average-size bottle of water is 600 mL. I'm currently drinking out of a large bottle of water here, 1.5 liters. We all know the size of a 2-liter bottle. The engine in my car has HALF that displacement. And yet, it still accelerates reasonably well, drives fine at highway speeds, and is really easy on gas. Plus, it was very cheap, just a bit over US$900.
Like I said, it does have power windows, along with power locks, an alarm system with keyless entry, a stereo, new tires, and really cold air conditioning. So far, the only potentially serious flaw is a non-functional gas gauge, so I'm working on the formula for that so I'll know what my range is with each fill-up. Oh, and the steering wheel seems to be on the wrong side, too. :)
... time passes ...
... time passes ...
So now it's about 11:30 pm here on Wednesday and I've been driving for two days, essentially. I've managed to not get hopelessly lost yet, but I do manage to get very misdirected on almost every outing of any actual distance. The worst drive was a sad attempt to get from Damansara Perdana to Damansara Heights -- the latter is about 10-15 minutes from the former, almost due east. It was a complete failure. I wound up clear down south in Subang Jaya, way off course. So I thought I'd just skip my 3:30 appointment and head into the city, so I found my way to one of the main perimeter roads, but didn't get there until nearly 5:00 and it was near gridlock. So I crept and crawled along for nearly another an hour, thinking all the while, "This is why I moved to the other side of the world? To sit in this intolerable tsunami of cars and motorbikes?" At least my little car has cold air conditioning. The picture, taken through the windshield of my car, doesn't begin to do justice to the parking lot I was stuck in.
So I veered off to park at one of the dozens of malls here called Starhill Gallery which is, I must say, very posh and impressive. Whereas many of the newer, swanky malls are bright and open and airy, Starhill Gallery has a more subdued feel... very chic and muted, with loads of water features and plants throughout. I definitely got more of a feng shui feel there than at Pavilion KL or Suria KLCC. (In case I haven't mentioned it, there is no shortage of malls in KL... one source counts over 60 in the greater KL area.) So anyway, I parked there, then walked to Low Yat Plaza.
Low Yat is a tech geek's fantasy come to life. It's a massive six-floor mall, haphazardly jam-packed with kiosks, shops, and larger stores, the vast majority of them dedicated to tech goodies, electronics, computers, mobile phones, and assorted gadgetry. I frankly hate the place, not to put too fine a point on it. It's crowded, noisy, and not well laid-out at all. And woe betide you should you choose to visit on a weekend, because the crowds double. However, I needed three things, and Low Yat was supposedly the place to go for them. I managed to find none of them, mostly because I was in a hurry, but also because of my lack of proficiency in Malay or Mandarin.
I escaped Low Yat and emerged onto the steamy streets of Bukit Bintang, an area in the heart of KL which is virtually always humming with activity. It was nearly 6:30 and the street food vendors were all grilling and cooking their foods. Unfortunately, I couldn't linger, because I had to be at KLCC at 7:00 for my tutoring gig. So I took the KL Monorail to the main hub in the city, called KL Sentral. (In Malay, "c" is pronounced "ch," so they spell English words according to their own phonetics, hence "teksi" and "seksyen.") From there, I caught the light rail train to KLCC and hoofed it to meet my student.
So driving will doubtlessly be a huge adventure here, but having a car gives me a freedom that would be otherwise missing, so I'll forgive the traffic jams and lack of a working gas gauge.
More later -- sorry for the epic length.