Sunday, April 15, 2012

F1 in Malaysia

The E1 in Ipoh
Since Nilai was almost 300 miles from Georgetown, we got a relatively early start. After another roti and coffee breakfast, we hit the road. Instead of taking the ferry back to the mainland, we opted for the five-mile bridge. It was a still, hazy morning, and as we crossed the Straits of Malacca, the water looked like glass. Once we were back on the mainland, we hit the highway for the ride all the way to Nilai. The scenery as we began the ride was mainly industrial, but after we left Butterworth, it changed to oil palms and pineapples. About 120 miles south, near the city of Ipoh, the landscape changed to limestone mountains and very lush greenery. Then it changed again, back to oil palms, all the way to Kuala Lumpur. One of the real environmental shames of Malaysia is that the vast majority of its jungle and rainforest has been replaced with oil palm plantations, which of course has wiped out habitat for all the native wildlife. We did unfortunately see what must have been a dead leopard cat (small, beautifully spotted wildcats, not much bigger than the average housecat) on the side of the road when we exited the highway in search of fuel. I know animals everywhere get hit all the time, but it's still hard to see exotic roadkill. We made it into Kuala Lumpur, taking advantage of the motorcycle only paths and tunnels under the roadways through the downtown, and out the other side.

We arrived in Nilai at about 6:30 pm and, miraculously, found the Nilai Budget Hotel, where we had booked in for four nights, sight unseen. Oh dear. The hotel was in a strip of auto repair businesses and was located above a muffler shop. Yay. While I watched the bikes, Re went in to see what was going on. She returned a few minutes later with kind of a frozen smile on her face. I asked how it was, and she said, “Well, it's not as bad as Shea's Motor Lodge.” (Shea's is quite possibly the worst place we've ever stayed, and there've been some doozies in our travels) We decided that we would try it for one night and see how it would be. The people were very friendly, but the room was not very good. Unfortunately, I deleted all the photos from the camera, but it was bad. The highlights include: no sink in the bathroom, the room was the width of the bed, the walls were plywood painted pink, but the deal breaker was no wifi. I know they tried their best to silk purse-ify their sow's ear of a “hotel.” Although the bathroom had no sink, they did include toilet paper and soap (neither of which is often given without first requesting it), and the sheets and towels were brand new, good quality cotton. The bed was well-made, the pillows were nice, and the manager said if we needed anything, anytime, to please just ask, but, I was planning to go to the track tomorrow for Friday practice, while Re was going to work on blog posts in the room. We were not going to be without wifi for four days, not when we were paying more through Agoda than the rate card on the wall.  I went into the hallway/reception area to speak with the manager about our predicament.  We really aren't choosy, the place was clean enough, and they really did seem anxious to help, but I did need internet access.  I explained that the Agoda website shows free wifi, and that was one reason we booked there instead of a different hotel.  The manager was apologetic and made a phone call.  I waited, unsure what was going on, and when he got off the phone, he said he had called one of their other hotels in Nilai (they have three).  The New Wave Hotel, which had wifi, would have a room for us there at the same rate.
Since this hotel was not in my GPS, we navigated from the simplified map on the back of their business card, and after a few wrong turns, we found the New Wave Hotel. This was actually a much nicer hotel. The room was clean and new, the A/C was cold, there was a sink in the bathroom, and the wifi was reasonably fast. Yay. By now, it was nearly 8:00 pm, and we hadn't had lunch or dinner yet, so we hopped back on our bikes and rode up to the McDonald's I had spotted when we were trying to find the hotel. We got a burger fix followed by ice cream sundaes for dessert and then rode back to the room.

Before Colin got going on Friday morning to the track, we walked down the row of shopfronts to Al Nazim for breakfast, where we had...roti canai, curry, and coffee (mmm, our favorite way to start the day). The Friday of the race weekend is the practice day and it's possible to go virtually anywhere in the track, so Colin spent the day watching from the grandstands (which are too expensive for our budget- we got hillstand tickets for race day). I stayed in the room and wrote. Colin returned at about 5:00, having had a great time at the track. He hadn't eaten anything all day and came back talking wistfully about the smell of cheese wafting off the pizzas being sold. So we walked to Pizza Hut and got a pepperoni pan pizza with gobs of oozing cheese on it, which quite satisfactorily quenched our desire de fromage for the next while.

On Saturday morning, we both rode to the track to watch another round of practice, a couple of Malaysian Super Series races, a GP2 race, and finally, the Formula 1 qualifying for the race.They don't allow people to bring in food or drinks, even water, to the track, and yesterday, Colin chugged a 1.5 liter bottle before entering the track rather than pitch it. He said it gave him a funny feeling in his tummy, and I imagine that he sloshed when he walked for much of the day. Today, we decided to smuggle about 3 liters of water in one of our Dromedary soft water bags into the track. This morning we jammed it in the bottom of her daypack, leaving the black fabric side visible. We then put a number of small things on top of it and pronounced it good. Re also stashed a bag of peanuts under the water baby with her trademark, “Fuck The Police” sneer. It worked, nobody confiscated our water (or peanuts) at the entrance, and we went to the hillstand, where we spread out our tarp and got comfortable on the ground to watch the festivities. During the lulls in track action, we discussed our options for our future. It is really difficult to know what the right choice is, since what sounds good one week sounds not so good the next week. Our two basic options are to either return to the US in some semblance of our previous lives until we are financially able to get off the merry go round permanently, or muddle our way through, living and working overseas, trading financial security for the possibility of adventure. It's a tough call. At its root, it's a known vs. unknown question, but it's unfortunately complicated by familial concerns (such as, our parents ain't getting any younger). Once the action ended for the day, we rode back to Nilai and walked to the Chicken and Duck restaurant (yup, that's what it was called) for dinner. We had wonton mee, each of us trying one avian variety. It was good, but the pork version is still better. After dinner, since we both felt kind of antsy and weren't looking forward to sitting in our room, we walked to the Tesco to find some fruit. Re went into the Tesco to look for fruit and batteries for the GPS, and I waited outside and watched the crowd go by. Parenting styles around the world are certainly different, and I will say that virtually everywhere we've been, children are cherished. But they're also punished in ways that would raise eyebrows in the US. While I was waiting for Re, I saw two women pushing a shopping cart out of the store, and in and amongst the bags in the cart, were two small boys, maybe about three years old. As the cart went past one of those little rides you see outside grocery stores or Kmarts in the US, the one young boy pointed at it, and I honestly didn't hear him make a sound. What he got in exchange for pointing was a crisp smack across the mouth. Mom then looked up and made eye contact with me and must have seen my dropped jaw, because she immediately grabbed the kid out of the cart, put him on the ride, and put some money in the slot. He looked a little confused, but eventually, enjoyed the ride. I guess that was my good deed for the day?! After that little spectacle, we walked back to the room to find that the internet no work.

Sunday was the big Race Day. The internet still didn't work in the morning, and the woman at reception said that a line had apparently been cut, so their phones weren't working either. Oh well, no posting. Since we enjoyed our Al-Nazim roti the previous two days, we returned again this morning. A different young woman waited on us this morning, and she was very animated and spoke English extremely well. She offered us a different type of coffee, one which had some type of mushrooms in it (“very nice, and good for your health,” she said). Being game, we agreed to try it. It tasted a bit odd, vaguely musky, but good. While we ate, she came over to ask if we liked the coffee. It is apparently quite unusual to see farang in Nilai, so she was curious why we were there. We told her we came for the race and that we are riding round the world on our motorbikes. We explained a little bit about our trip, at which time she inquired if we had any kids. When we responded that we did not, she assured us that maybe we would some day. Not having children in Asia is usually seen as a tragedy. Re mentioned that we'd been married nearly 23 years, and that it hadn't happened yet. The woman leaned in close to Re, with bright eyes, and asked quietly, “was yours a love marriage?” Re assured her, it was, and the woman broke into the biggest smile we've seen in a while. In this context, I assume that love marriage means a marriage that is not arranged by the parents. In certain cultures, these marriages are kind of scandalous. After the young woman left, Re got up to pay as I waited near the front of the restaurant. A minute later, Re beckoned me to join her at the register, where the young woman took our photo with the package of coffee. As I stood at the register to pay, the young woman asked again whether we enjoyed the special mushroom coffee. I assured her, quite honestly, that we both thought it was very good. She beamed as she thanked me, and then she asked if it would be alright if she took our picture with the bag of coffee. I have no idea why, but I wouldn't be surprised if we appear on a billboard in Nilai or even in India somewhere advertising the increased vitality, vim, and vigor effects of Tiger Mushroom Ginseng Coffee. I'm just sorry we will miss out on the royalties... . I still don't know what it was all about, but some days are just like this. I didn't feel any major health benefits from my coffee this morning as we walked back to the room, maybe they'll come later. 

confidence inspiring...
After breakfast, we walked back to the bikes and got out the tools, a spare tube, and one of the new front tires we bought way back in Namibia. My front tire has been losing quite a bit of pressure every day, so we decided it was finally time to change the tire. The spare tube was unfortunately one that we purchased in India, of the Nandi variety, which let Colin down after only 2,300 miles when the valve stem ripped out (we put the original one back in, which for comparison's sake, now has over 20,000 miles on it). But it was what we had, so in it went. While I was examining the tire for a directional arrow or balance mark, I did notice that it said it was , “Specially made for hot wearther.” Confidence inspiring. Next, we refilled our batteries again, since Colin's was very nearly dry, and mine was also low. Maintenance complete, we packed up the tools and went to clean up ourselves. Since it was now around noon, Re cut up the watermelon we bought yesterday for a snack, and we watched a little TV. 

We headed for the track at about 2:00 pm, since the race was to start at 4:00. The traffic around the track was much heavier today, and we had to make one complete circuit of the exterior roads to finally find the one parking lot where motorcycles were permitted. From there, we jumped on the shuttle and rode it around to hillstand C2, where we unrolled our rain jackets and sat down. Once again, we smuggled our water baby past security and a roll of Mentos (queue Judas Priest's “Breakin' the Law”). 

Almost on schedule, the rain started seven minutes before the race. The cars completed a handful of laps before the safety car came out, and then the race was red flagged. The stoppage was less than an hour, and then the racing got underway again. It was a fantastic race, and Re and I had shouted ourselves hoarse by the end. The bummer of the rain delay was that it meant it was dark by the time we got back to our bikes. We battled our way through traffic and eventually back to Nilai. By now, it was well after 8:00 pm, and we were hungry. Unfortunately, since it was Sunday night, many things were closed. But not Al Nazim. We stopped in for some excellent chicken biryani before heading back to the room for the night.


  1. “Well, it's not as bad as Shea's Motor Lodge.” - I have the distinct honor of having actually shared this experience with these guys, and let me tell you all - this is actually saying quite a lot. Can you hear Banjo music in Malaysia?

  2. Shea's is still one of the best stories ever. Remember the lady in her KMart negligee with the cigarette stuck to her lower lip standing on the "veranda of her bungalow" when we rode up the hill? And the, "ayuh, I used to have me one a them 'Honda Davidsons'" guy? And the train, the TRAIN! AAAGGGH in the middle of the night!!!!

    How are you guys doing? It's great to hear from you!