Sunday, November 23, 2008

Trip to Malacca, attempt #1

Today is Sunday, and I woke up to a really nice day... partly cloudy, blue skies, no rain in sight. So I thought I'd take a day trip down to the old port city of Malacca. It's about two hours southeast of KL and is a great day trip, by all accounts. I visited the city back in March, when I was vacationing here, but it rained the whole day, so I've been wanting to try again.

I didn't make it far... about 30 km away from home, the temperature light came on in the car... one of the very few indicators of any sort that this car has. So I pulled into a Shell station and bought some premixed coolant and added the whole liter to the radiator. After awhile, I set out again, thinking I had solved the problem... but alas, that was not the case. A few kilometers further, the light came on again, so I pulled over to the side of the highway and let the car cool down a bit and then added some water to the radiator. And proceeded on... Now, at this point, I was not stupid enough to think I was going to make it to Malacca and back. But I've already discussed on here how challenging the highways and roads in Malaysia, and it's not like there was a place to make a quick U-turn, so I drove onward until the light came on yet again, then coasted for awhile, then stopped under an overpass so I was at least in the shade. There was a spot of thick, dry grass under a small tree, so I figured that would be a nice place to relax until the car cooled off again. And it was... until the ants found me, which took about two minutes. *Sigh*

So after ensuring that all 83 ants were off of my body and out of my hair and out of my shirt, I forged onward, my sad little car going all of about 2 km before the light came on again. This time, I coasted into an "R&R" pit stop area... no gas station, of course, but a dozen little food stalls and, happily, running water. So I stopped, opened the hood, then went and got some chicken rice and iced tea for lunch. Surprisingly, I was still feeling pretty okay about all this, figuring I'd just get turned around and limp back to the city in this stop-and-go fashion.

Well, that didn't turn out to be the case at all. By this time, I was once again desperately looking for a gas station, not because I was low on fuel, but thinking that if I could just buy some straight antifreeze/coolant and add it, instead of that 33% pre-diluted crap, it might get me home. Once again, not a single gas station to be found anywhere in sight, nor a U-turn exit, and I'm slowly getting further and further away from the KL environs. At this point, I decided to just go a different route instead of looking in vain for a place to turn around, so I followed the signs that said "Kuala Lumpur" and began heading north again.

Somewhat unfortunately, however, this highway turned out to be a brand-new one... as in it just opened a month ago. So it was almost devoid of any traffic and the one R&R facility I saw -- the one at which my car finally just said, "Ya know, I think this is just about far enough!" -- wasn't yet opened. So here's the view in this picture. See any cars? Neither did I.

I guess a having a wide, smooth, new highway all to yourself is a really cool thing if you're driving a working car. I know I'd certainly have enjoyed it a lot more had that been the case.

Here's the really nice, new R&R center, or at least the more photogenic, not-blocked-by-a-sign one on the opposite side of the highway. Won't it be nice when it's actually open??

And here's my poor, dead little car... so sad. It's the first time it's ever given me any serious trouble. So glad it waited until I wasn't even in KL to throw a tantrum. Doesn't it look guilty? Can you feel the shame emanating from it? The barrier you see, by the way, is the exit route to the not-yet-opened R&R facility. Curses!

The saving grace in all this mess was this little orange "SOS" box very nearby. I pushed the button and someone answered right away, and within just a few minutes, two guys from the highway department came to my assistance, where they surmised, along with me, that the head gasket was most likely blown. Now, I've had this happen on cars before, but they've always been turbocharged engines. This is a crappy little normally-aspirated 1.1-liter engine! So the highway rescue workers took me to the nearby town of Semenyih, where I talked a cabbie into taking me all the way back home to Damansara Perdana, a fairly long way by taxi standards (about 40km/24 miles), but he agreed to drive me for RM60, which is a pretty good deal for that distance (not to mention the tolls). Now the real fun begins....

I have to have the car towed, obviously, and the shop I use is right near my house, so that'll be RM250 in towing charges, easy. I have no idea what the repair bill will be, but even if this all winds up costing RM1,000, it's still a cheap car (RM700-800 is a typical monthly car payment here), and if the head gasket is replaced, I may even see an improvement in performance.

I'll update the progress later and also follow-up with "Malacca, the 2nd attempt."

P.S. As a little addenum here, let me add that it's now about 10 p.m. it's and raining steadily outside here. So much for the rainless Sunday, although it really was very nice all day today. But this is just weird at this point... I arrived in KL on September 5th, and it has literally, literally rained every single Sunday I've been here, which is now up to 12 in a row. What's this all about? Does it mean something?

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