Oh, crappy little gray Proton Tiara, with your tiny little wheels, your sad excuse for an engine, and your single windshield wiper... you served me well. Everyone who's kept up with this blog has read about your exploits, and while there were a couple of pretty major incidents, the reality is, for a 3,000-ringgit car (less than US$1,000) you performed pretty admirably for nearly two years... fun to drive, easy to park, and only marginally humiliating to be seen in. I can't even really gauge how much driving I did in the Tiara because the speedometer didn't work all the time, so when it wasn't functioning, the odometer wasn't accumulating kilometers either. And there was an engine swap last year, too... but the car itself has a lot of mileage. (Yes, even though it's kilometers, it's still referred to as mileage, proving yet again that the metric system sucks.) The fuel gauge never worked either, so I just had to wait until the low fuel light came on, then I'd go put RM50 worth of gas (I just can't call it "petrol") in the tank and that would hold me for 2-3 weeks. So really, the only thing on the whole dash that worked reliably was the clock, and it was very accurate.
For the better part of three months, I shopped around somewhat casually for a car. I even looked at a used BMW 523i, and although it was very nice, it had no amenities at all! No automatic climate control, no power seats, no steering wheel controls, no power mirrors, no cruise control... honestly! What's the point of buying a luxury car with no luxuries!? I also considered the 2002-2004 Nissan Sentra and even looked at some local-made cars. In the end, though, I kept going back to the most-recent generation of the Kia Spectra (roughly 2001-2005, I think). Now, I have to say here that the whole "secondhand" oeuvre is viewed very differently in Malaysia than in the United States. Most Americans not only don't mind buying things used, they will actually brag about it when they get a good deal. In Malaysia, though, there's a bit of a stigma about buying anything used... like you're buying someone's castoffs (you are) or unwanted items (also correct). But hey, it's a different culture, and I'm fine with that. For my part, I have no issue whatsoever buying things secondhand. And with the recent release of Kia's newest model, the Forte, the Spectra—as a non-current model—took a major hit in market value. Good timing for me.
I've found that one of the best approaches to car shopping is to not actually need the car. That way, you can be choosier, more methodical, really take your time. I have bought a car before in a semi-desperate state and it wasn't pretty. So since I already had the trusty, if somewhat crappy, Tiara, I wasn't in a ferocious, need-frenzied hurry to buy anything else. For me, it meant about three months of fine-tuning what I wanted and looking at several cars before finding the right one. I knew I wanted the Kia Spectra, but it had to have the factory bodykit and spoiler—just looks like a totally different car without them. I also wanted full leather seats, black was my preferred choice for the car color, I had a specific preference for the wheel style, and after looking at a few cars, I mentally noted a few other minor things, too, like, "It would be nice if the gasket around the rear window wasn't completely rotted away like it was on those last two cars."
So one fine day (except not really, more on that soon), I drove out to Klang, about 30 minutes west of KL, very near the west coast, to look at a 2002 Kia Spectra. And just as I was driving up to the car dealership, it started pouring. So much for the fine day part. Rainy weather for car shopping is not ideal, but is certainly part of the package deal for living here. Indeed, this was now three times out of four where rain had marked my car shopping ventures. The one remaining time, on a sojourn to Kajang, also 30 minutes away, it was so scorching hot, I would have welcomed the rain, truly. Anyway, so fortunately, this dealer in Klang had a massive covered parking area, so they just drove the car under there, and in the midst of the storm, I checked it all out. It not only ticked all of my "required" boxes, it hit the "preferred" ones, too. Low mileage. Single owner—an older Malay woman (this is key here, because young male drivers in Malaysia are complete lunatics behind the wheel more often than not). Extremely good condition, inside and out. New black metallic paint. New GoodYear Eagle tires. Even had the factory-original Kia-branded floormats. Everything worked except the remote fuel door release, which would only be an issue if I ever needed to put fuel in the car, so the dealer went on ahead and fixed that. So kind. I gave them a small deposit, then went back the following week to re-inspect the car and take it on a proper test drive. Marvelous, so we negotiated a final price, a mere RM17,500 (scandalously cheap in a land where a new Honda Civic costs over RM100K), and they said it would be ready by the next week. (Cars here have to be inspected upon ownership transfer, and they wanted to detail it, get the insurance policy written, etc.)
Fast forward to the following week. I had planned on taking the train to Klang on Saturday to pick up the car and drive it home. The idea was that I would take cash to the bank here and get a cashier's check for the balance due on the car. However, due to my foreign-ness, the bank was unwilling to do this for me. (I've actually since learned that they're unwilling to do pretty much anything you would normally expect a bank to do, but that's a different rant. Curse you, CIMB bank!) So the dealer said that they could deliver the car to me on Friday instead, at my offices at Midvalley and we could just deposit the cash directly into the dealer's account (at a different bank). Cool. So that's how we worked it out, and on June 18th, I took delivery of my non-Tiara. My beloved neighborhood mechanics inspected it and couldn't believe it was a secondhand car at all.
So far, the Spectra has proven to be a good car, although I will say that I generally hate parking it when it involves backing up. Reversing is hard in the Spectra because it has poor rearward visibility and a fairly lame turn radius (i.e., you can't make super tight turns). Coupled with its larger size relative to the scrappy, crappy little Tiara, and it's made for some interesting parking moments. Nothing traumatic, though. I have to confess that, though the Spectra is unquestionably nicer to drive, the Tiara was more fun: it's small, nimble, stick-shift manual transmission, and since it was such a dismal piece of rubbish, I didn't really care about it being dirty or questionably parked. With the Kia, though—yikes. It's gorgeous, black, and shiny. Totally different kettle of fish with this one... now, it's no expensive, fancy car, but it definitely looks better when it's clean and shiny. With the Tiara, clean or dirty, it honestly didn't matter.
And that's the new car story. I now have four cars scattered across the world, which is a bit ridiculous, really. So I plan to sell the Tiara, and likely one of my vehicles back in the States, too, since it seems apparent that I'll be hanging out in Malaysia for a bit longer, at least. Feel free to enlarge that last pic of the car (or any of them). Not bad for an eight-year old used Kia, eh? I've since had the windows lightly tinted, which makes it all look even better. I also have a guy who comes to my condo's carpark and washes cars now taking care of mine. He does a great job, the car stays clean (always a challenge for a black car), and it's only RM40 per month for three car washes per week. Hard to complain about that price.
So right around the same time I was homing in on a car to buy, one of my friends came up from Singapore and visited, so we took a half day and spent it at the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia ("FRIM") and did some jungle trekking and, naturally, the canopy walk. It was every bit as enjoyable as the last time, maybe even more so because we didn't get pathetically lost in the jungle afterwards like my friends and I did last time. I didn't get attacked by a rogue leech like the last time, either. Not getting lost or eaten by leeches are always signs that you're having a pretty good day, I think.
Not much to show here since the jungle still looks roughly the same, but it really is always so cool to be on that suspended rope bridge up so high, looking down on the canopy and several levels of rainforest. It's never that hot at FRIM because of the cover of the jungle, but it's absolutely humid. Even walking through the jungle, nothing terribly strenuous, takes a lot out of you with the weather the way it is. So we got most of our trekking done before 1 p.m., finished up with the canopy walk by around 2 p.m., then headed off for a late lunch. FRIM is definitely a great way to spend a day in KL... highly recommended.
Coming soon, a recap of a really unique work-related event in Singapore plus some reflections on two years of life in Malaysia (as of September 5th). Also on the radar, I really want to go over to the east coast since I've not been there yet. I am planning to do a weekend getaway to Cherating Beach, which is supposed to be quite nice, about a three-hour drive from KL. And there's another trip to Bali coming up in about a week and a half. I'll be meeting friends from two other countries there this time, so although it won't be a long holiday (four days only), it should still be a good time, truly my first real break from work since I started in January.