Go Back  FlyerTalk Forums > Community > Trip Reports
Reload this Page >

Afterglow: Summer 2003 - SIN/KUL stopovers, Langkawi luxury, Kuching adventure

Afterglow: Summer 2003 - SIN/KUL stopovers, Langkawi luxury, Kuching adventure

Old Feb 10, 04, 3:57 pm
  #1  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Sep 2001
Location: SIN
Programs: DL,UA,SQ,CX
Posts: 154
Afterglow: Summer 2003 - SIN/KUL stopovers, Langkawi luxury, Kuching adventure

Afterglow: Summer 2003 - S’pore/KL stopovers, Langkawi luxury, Kuching adventure (SK, SQ, AK. LX)

This will be long and in parts. Some pics will follow later - mostly from the Datai.

The Flyertalk summary

Planned Itinerary:
Gothenburg – Singapore - Kuala Lumpur – Langkawi – Kuala Lumpur – Pulau Redang – Kuala Lumpur – Singapore – Gothenburg

Actual Itinerary:
Similar to above, except Pulau Redang replaced by Kuching

Airlines:
Scandinavian Airlines (SK), Singapore Airlines (SQ), Air Asia (AK), SWISS (LX)
All in economy / coach / tourist class

Hotels:
Singapore – 1. The Concorde; 2. Hotel 1929
Langkawi – The Datai
Kuching - Hilton


Flight: Scandinavian Airlines SK1437
Date: 12 Jun 2003
SchedDep: Gothenburg GOT 20.15
SchedArr: Copenhagen CPH 21.00
Ticket class: Economy
Equipment: De Havilland Canada Q400
Registration: LN-RDI



Scandinavian hop… and a few bumps


Check-in was swift and I was left with plenty of time to ponder the trip ahead. I wondered what Ralf was doing in Singapore already. It was his first time in the region. The original plan had been that we would arrive in Singapore on the same day, the 12th. That was before SARS forced Scandinavian to cancel its June 11th Bangkok / Singapore service.

This evening’s Scandinavian Direct flight was comfortably (decent legroom) unremarkable if not for the series of jolts endured by plane and occupants while descending into Copenhagen Kastrup. The quick snack of the Summerbird confectionery’s almond surprise (whole almond and marzipan coated with thin dark chocolate) plus a small box of juice was routine, as was the approach to runway 22L with the Öresund bridge on the port side. I craned my neck to view the port landing gear contact the ground while my window seat neighbour sat still, eyes closed, hands clasped just below her throat. She had not taken the turbulence very well.


Flight: Scandinavian Airlines SK973
Date: 12 Jun 2003
SchedDep: Copenhagen CPH 22.45
SchedArr: Singapore SIN 19.00 +1 (via BKK)
Ticket class: Economy
Equipment: Airbus A340-313X
Registration: LN-RKG


The best seats in the house


When I found my seat (21B, aisle) on the aircraft, I realized that the check-in lady in Gothenburg had been kind. Row 21 was the first row in Economy with two pairs of seats where the legroom is as good as in Economy Extra. The first center four seats (22CDEF) featured even more generous legroom, but that came with the hassle of fold-out personal TV sets. The cabin filled up rapidly and as it did I felt more and more grateful for my seat assignment.

Camera forward, down… forward

I acquainted myself with the touch screen features on the personal TV unit and was especially enthusiastic about the external cameras (forward and downward). Tuned into the forward camera channel, I watched intently as taxiway lights and the runway sign (22R) drifted past. After more than 45 seconds of runway lights racing by and the thrill of watching as the threshold approached, we lifted off into the darkness.

My personal screen froze while we were still climbing. I sought help from a kindly flight attendant who first repeated my attempts to coax some response out of the PTV by working the on/off button and changing modes on the controller unit, and then headed over to some central server panel. Within minutes, the screen flickered back to life. I thanked her profusely when she came by to check that it worked. I was going to have my first pilot’s-eye-view landing after all.

A postcard-size menu had been distributed before take-off, ultra-marine on one side with “Scandinavian Treat” printed in white on the bottom left, and the contents on the other side:

Dinner

First course
Herring salad

Main course
Chicken Provençal with potato wedges, tomato salad and red wine sauce

Dessert
Rhubarb cake

Drinks with your meal
- vodka, gin or Campari
- white or red wine, beer, still or sparkling water
- tomato, apple, orange juice or Mr & Mrs T Bloody Mary mix
- Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite or tonic water
- whisky, Drambuie, Baileys or cognac
Champagne is available at $4.


Sleep

Sleep came to me quite easily after a good dose of red wine with dinner. It was not until India that I finally lifted an arm to turn on the PTV.

Before landing – Breakfast

Ham and cheese, egg, tomato and hot rolls
Coffee, tea, water or orange juice

It was served approximately 2 hours out of Bangkok. I had slept up a reasonable appetite.

Bangkok Don Muang International

The BKK runway system consists of twin parallel runways 03RL/21LR separated by a row of fairly tall trees. The forward camera showed us crossing the 21L marker before making a smooth touchdown and taking the entire runway to slow down. Our aircraft then made a right turn and crossed 21R, passing a group of gentlemen enjoying a round of golf. Was it not here that a Qantas jumbo gatecrashed a golf party a year or two ago?

We were at least a half-an-hour early on arrival. I decided initially to stay onboard and watched as an army of masked cleaners spilled into the Airbus and attacked various corners with vacuum cleaners. There was no apparent system in the way they worked but amazingly they transformed the cabin within a half-an-hour. In the meantime, I kept busy dodging equipment and sneaking in a shot or two on my camera.

The last leg

There must have been little over 50 passengers on this final leg. Economy Extra was empty except for one passenger. The afternoon snack was a ham & cheese baguette delivered in a snack bag not unlike the Scandinavian Direct snack bags except bigger.

We flew into a rough patch of air (thunderstorm activity) over the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia. In his cockpit announcement, the captain asked for patience and understanding as Singapore was “on the other side of the storm and that is where this flight is supposed to terminate.”

We dutifully rode out the turbulence.

General comments on Scandinavian Airlines long-haul Economy Class on the Airbus A340:
Cabin ambience – Balanced pastel hues with subdued blue upholstery and tan bulkhead fixtures underline the contemporary mood of the cabin design; crisp pillows and soft red orange wool/acrylic blankets inject a measure of warmth. Rather studied. Very Scandinavian.
Seating comfort – The seat was firm. The reclining motion slid the bottom cushion forward a good inch or so. The headrest, with firm foldable wings, featured a fair height adjustment range. Disappointingly, the padding of the headrest was minimal, I needed to stuff the pillow behind my neck for support. Maybe that was what the designers had in mind, i.e. “make that pillow useful!”. I liked the “smart” seatbacks with the extra storage pockets, stowable mirror and cup holder, although I did not have the benefit of one as the seat in front of me was Economy Extra. Legroom in the regular rows was acceptable if not particularly generous for a passenger of my height (170 cm). Their brochure says seat pitch is 31-32 inches. The arrangement was the typical 2+4+2.
Catering – No choice of main course but quality was above average. Warm bread. It was easy to get drinks. Apparently, sandwiches and other snacks had been available upon request after lights out on the CPH-BKK leg. The sandwich on BKK-SIN was quite good and sufficient, really. It would have been more fun with a tray set-up though.
Inflight entertainment – Good enough entertainment with PTVs. All I really cared about was the external camera views.
Amenities – Nice soft cotton pillows and warm soft blankets. The surprise element was the colour-coordinated overnight amenity kit with earplugs, eyeshades, toothbrush and toothpaste in a resealable plastic pouch.
Cabin crew – A mixed bunch, seniority-wise and temperament-wise. Some appeared to enjoy human contact, some were like “chop-chop... I’m outta here.” Attitude was not correlated to seniority.


Ralf

The last time I saw Ralf, he was squinting, not half awake at 6.30 in the morning, handing me a metro coupon to get myself to Porte Maillot in order to catch the bus to Beauvais-Tillé. That was six months ago, during my first visit to Paris.

Back then I had already received my tickets for this 18-day trip. Then I figured that bringing a traveling companion or two would make my holiday a more dynamic and enriching experience. I asked a few friends, all of whom had never been to Asia before, and received preliminary positive responses. One by one they dropped out even before SARS hit the headlines, and after the dust settled, Ralf was the only one left.

There he was, just as he had promised, waiting at the arrivals area in Changi Terminal 1 in a crumpled white tee and faded blue shorts.


Flight: Singapore Airlines SQ114
Date: 14 Jun 2003
SchedDep: Singapore SIN 16.50
SchedArr: Kuala Lumpur KUL 17.40
Ticket class: Shuttle Economy
Equipment: Boeing 777-200ER
Registration: 9V-SRI


The stopover


We stayed over at the Concorde for the night. Ralf was impressed, and for a fleeting moment, a little self-conscious about his crumpled white tee and faded shorts as we walked into the lobby.

The morning after, I plunged myself into an intensive spell of shopping in the Orchard area. Gift for mother, gift for father, gift for brother. Ralf tagged along, looking at various items and insisting on helping to carry bags, but bought nothing.

The shuttle

SARS had reduced the Singapore – Kuala Lumpur flight frequency by at least 50%. What remained was a small block of flights in the morning and the rest starting from the late afternoon. We aimed for SQ114 and just managed to get on.

Most passengers had confirmed reservations so the shuttle queue number did not start rolling until 20 minutes before scheduled departure. We were checked in with 10 minutes to go.

They had begun boarding when we arrived, out of breath, at the gate but the line was long. Security was tight. Ralf pointed out the thermal camera (for scanning body temperature to detect possible SARS cases), which I would not otherwise have noticed. By the time they managed to pack everyone into the Boeing 777, the flight was 20 minutes late.

I sat beside a dark-skinned tiny wiry man of South Asian origin. He watched silently as I settled in. Then offered me my seatbelt buckle with both hands and motioned at me to buckle in. I muttered my thanks but he remained silent throughout the rest of the journey, either eyes shut or staring at the seat pocket. When he was offered juice he shook his head. The flight attendant, possibly presuming that he did not understand, gave him the juice anyway. It was the strangest vacuum in communication. We were in the same metal tube and yet there seemed to be no point of contact whatsoever between our worlds.

General comments on Singapore Airlines SIN-KUL shuttle Economy Class on the Boeing 777-200:
Cabin Ambience – Bright colours with a blue and purple theme for the seats; IMHO one of the most palatable cabins featuring more adventurous use of patterned fabric.
Seating comfort – They were new generation seats with cushy adjustable “winged” headrests, inflatable forward portion of the seat bottom cushion (an arrow on the cushion indicates the position of the button) and “smart” seatback with extra storage pockets. I noticed inflatable lumbar support control on the aircraft (9V-SVI; intercontinental configuration) that flew the subsequent KUL-SIN; I suspect this aircraft (9V-SRI; regional configuration) had the same economy seats. In fact, on 9V-SVI, I found a booklet introducing the seat. Legroom was among the best I have experienced in economy; I would put at it slightly over 33 inches of seat pitch. The seats were arranged 3+3+3.
Catering – Juice, coffee or tea on this 50 minute hop (the actual flight time is usually shorter). The hot beverage was served on catering ware consisting of a cup and a postcard-sized tray on which sugar and creamer sachets would have been placed.
Inflight entertainment – The PTVs were not in use. It was possible to play games. These aircraft might have AVOD but I did not explore.
Cabin crew – A young bunch. Surprise surprise. The crew on the return (KUL-SIN) was more relaxed, surefooted and hence personable despite the cabin being equally packed.

General comments on the Concorde Hotel (Singapore):
SARS had ravaged the hotel business in the region. Through the internet, I found a seemingly generous package for this business hotel offering room (with late checkout) and buffet breakfast. I found out later from friends in Singapore that there were better deals to be had. Sigh, never mind. The building was imposing with rooms arranged in a circular fashion; it was more or less a hollow cylinder. The elevators rose from the lobby and were of the glass capsule type; great if you love heights, bad if you suffer from vertigo. The outdoor swimming pool on level 6 had a nice rooftop feel to it. The standard twin room was spacious and well-appointed from the perspective of a leisure traveller. The breakfast buffet was an adequately extensive offering to cater for different tastes. The staff was great: the check-in lady was friendly and tried some of her newly learned French on Ralf; when I did not have any coins for a phone call, the porter gave me some and would not hear of reimbursement.



SARS screening, Malaysian style

SARS screening on the Malaysian side was considerably more conspicuous than its Singaporean counterpart. Just before the immigration counters, the arriving traffic was split into three lines. Each screening station was staffed by at least three individuals, one of whom was peering into a camera. One by one, passengers stopped, turned towards the camera, and waited for instruction to proceed. People hesitated, overshot, stood too close or too far away while the staff gestured and worked at aiming the camera. In the meantime, the lines grew.

We cleared SARS screening and immigration after 15 minutes. Our bags had not made it to the belt yet; another 15 minutes passed before they turned up. As soon as we made it to the arrivals hall, I hunted for a phonecard. After locating the only shop that sold them, I was told by the cashier that the phonecards cost RM20 and were only accepted by the public telephones within the airport. You’ve gotta be kidding me!

This was my sixth time arriving at KLIA. For the fifth time, it took over 30 minutes to clear arrivals. To the airport management: Congratulations on the gorgeous architecture! Your arrival experience has beaten those of a number of better-known airports such as Newark, Kennedy, Amsterdam, London Heathrow, Johannesburg etc. You are a great improvement over your predecessor. By the way, just a minor detail that might interest you... you know that older, more congested airport down south on that island? It almost always gets me out within 15 minutes. Like I said, just a minor detail. Not that you’re competing or anything. Have I complimented you on your architecture? It’s like... wow!


Bedtime story: The ugly duckling – all it needs is a makeover!

Subang was an ugly duckling, such an awkward little creature. Unlike the ugly duckling in the original tale, Subang was a real duckling that could grow into a healthy honest duck. But then its owner, Maha, decided that the process of growing up took too long a time, and that it had to be big and beautiful right now. Besides, since the bloke next door had a swan, Subang had to be a swan. So he lifted the duckling out into an adjacent freshly dug pond and stuck fancy white feathers onto it. Presto! He had a swan in record time. The “swan”, now taught to respond to the elegant name Klia, looked impressive, except it still sounded too much like the duckling and swam a little funny (“Is THAT really a swan?”asked the fishes, after they had been transferred to the new pond). It was lovely to watch at first, and even the neighbour took notice, but the novelty wore off after a while. Now it was just that thing in the adjacent pond.
to be continued...


...and soon after, the airlines left, one by one. The government hollered, “No more landing charges!” The government hollered, “We’ll even sponsor part of your advertising!” The exhortations echoed across the empty tarmac. A handful of newcomers tread forward and were embraced with fanfare. Meanwhile, the big old guys cast a glance, blinked, and then went back to their coffee.
*****************************

End of Part I
JetE is offline  
Old Feb 10, 04, 4:21 pm
  #2  
 
Join Date: Oct 2002
Location: Chantilly VA
Programs: HH Diamond,NW Silver Elite, UA Premier, Starwood Gold, Avis First
Posts: 154
JetE

Very good report. Attention to detail

Arriving in KUL KLIA back in Jan 2003, I wasted a good hour because my ATM Card would not work in the lone ATM in the arrival area. There was a long line at the currency exchange in the departure area. I will not make the mistake again of landing in a foreign airport with no local currency on me

Did you try the KL Express. I was impressed. I would rate it as good as the HK Airport Express. I think the KL Expres has lesser frequency though

The lounge facility of Malaysian Airlines was very good.

Looking forward to the rest of the Trip report

hsubbu is offline  
Old Feb 11, 04, 8:05 am
  #3  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Sep 2001
Location: SIN
Programs: DL,UA,SQ,CX
Posts: 154
The pictures:

http://photos.yahoo.com/jetter1177

Folders
- SAS-SK973
- Datai-Exterior
- Datai-Interior

Enjoy!
JetE is offline  
Old Feb 11, 04, 8:26 am
  #4  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Sep 2001
Location: SIN
Programs: DL,UA,SQ,CX
Posts: 154
<font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">Originally posted by hsubbu:
will not make the mistake again of landing in a foreign airport with no local currency on me

Did you try the KL Express. I was impressed. I would rate it as good as the HK Airport Express. I think the KL Expres has lesser frequency though

The lounge facility of Malaysian Airlines was very good.

Looking forward to the rest of the Trip report
</font>
Thank you for your comments.

My mistake this time was that I forgot to bring coins for making phone calls. I did not get the phonecard and they would give me change only if I bought something ("the cash till is locked" the girl said). I (for all my stubbornness) finally gave in and bought breath mints to break my RM10 at the KL Sentral 7-Eleven. I still haven't opened those breath mints.

Yes, I have taken the ERL. It has proven to be reliable and pleasant. Nevertheless, I felt that the HKIA express was a little better thought-out, e.g. baggage racks closer to the entrance, the interactive PTVs contained useful info about connecting buses/MTRs besides advertising.

I've heard good things about the Golden Lounge; never been inside. I fly in the back. I believe AH-64 (?) has some good pics in his RTW-westbound trip report. I'm going to check them out now, didn't have time before.

BTW, Kuala Lumpur is my hometown, although I'm rarely there nowadays. One day, I might even have to come (red-faced) to Flyertalk for advice on the city.

Cheers.
JetE is offline  
Old Feb 11, 04, 8:33 am
  #5  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Sep 2001
Location: SIN
Programs: DL,UA,SQ,CX
Posts: 154
Part II:
First experience on AirAsia + first part of the report on the Datai, Langkawi
The hotel website:
http://www.ghmhotels.com/thedatai/index.asp

Sometimes, the rambutans…

Ever since I came to know about the five-star Datai resort in Langkawi, I searched architecture and design coffee table books for pictures of this creation that integrated nature and architecture. It was the stuff of dreams. I am far from having made it in the world and as such had not imagined that I would be welcomed at hotels of such pedigree; at least, not this soon.

My late grandfather used to have rambutan trees in his garden. These trees were rather tall and the adults had cutters bound to the tips of poles that they used to harvest. As kids we generally had no hope of reaching the fresh red hairy fruits up there and had to wait. However, sometimes, the rambutans dangled just out of reach courtesy of a half-fallen branch. Sometimes, all we had to do was leap.

I was informed of a Malaysian promotion where Malaysians would enjoy 50% off the regular room rates at the Datai. Even then, at about USD 200 per room per night for a standard room, it was still expensive. When Ralf replied to say that he would join me and split the cost, the rambutan branch dipped a couple of feet. After a moment’s hesitation, I leapt.


Flight: AirAsia AK624
Date: 17 Jun 2003
SchedDep: Kuala Lumpur KUL 11.25
SchedArr: Langkawi LGK 12.25
Ticket class: Low-cost Economy
Equipment: Boeing 737-300
Registration: 9M-AAG


First encounter


It was not without uncertainty that I registered myself at the www.airasia.com website. I recalled horror stories I had heard from various sources. Major delays. Schedule changes that were not communicated to passengers. I hoped those accounts were from a long time ago when this low-cost Malaysian domestic airline was still trying to find its own feet. I hoped that the well-greased performance of the online booking engine reflected the airline’s current standard of flight operations.

Armed with various confirmation printouts, I approached the check-in desk an hour and a half before departure. The mood of the girl behind the counter was positively sunny. I watched as she worked the computer and the documents on her desk; a slim Malay girl most likely in her early twenties with lovely shoulder-length hair ever so slightly back-lit by the soft play of light reflected off the polished surfaces of the airport interior. With her open-collared white inner blouse and form-fitting blazing red zip-down outer jacket, she could not be farther removed from the brooding turquoise-veiled sister working a Malaysia Airlines flight a couple of counters away. Her manner and voice were unmistakably urban, yet there was a certain small-town dreaminess that co-existed alongside the sophisticated persona.

The aircraft arrived late from another destination. In true low-cost spirit, it was readied for boarding within five minutes. With free seating, the front rows were the first to go. It was not a full flight, so everyone settled down with minimum fuss and the flight departed essentially on time.

The AirAsia B737-300 aircraft are configured with 148 seats. Legroom, while not generous, was no worse than the most uncomfortable long-haul economy cabins I had experienced. The fasten-seatbelt signs were off barely minutes after lift-off and the blazing red AirAsia sirens began cabin service even as the flight still seemed to be climbing rather steeply. There was a menu card in the seat pocket illustrating the items on sale and also apologising in advance that some selections might be unavailable. As flight attendant Farah finally arrived at our row (just aft of the wing), all she had left was one unit of instant curry noodles. It would appear that they expected few to eat on this flight. We had intended to sample some of the offerings on the flight but were not really disappointed as it was a short flight.

The flight crew had been making good progress and were about to request a landing slightly ahead of schedule when a downpour at the Langkawi airport required us to hold just south of the island. The captain added that we had enough fuel to hold for 40 minutes. We were treated to enchanting views of the islands rimmed in various shades of blue and green sea and partially obscured by shrouds of rain. The weather gods gradually slid the velvety rain clouds off the hills just enough let us through. It took all of 20 minutes, and I whispered my thanks when the captain came on again to request that cabin crew be seated for landing.

It was still raining quite hard when the aircraft came to a stop after gracefully touching down on and exiting runway 03. The airport was not equipped with loading bridges. Their solution was to have staff hand out umbrellas to passengers as they reached the bottom of the hooded airstairs. Just before entering the arrivals hall, passengers deposited the wet AirAsia umbrellas in heaps. In another corner, stacks of Malaysia Airlines umbrellas lay in wait for the next rainy arrival.


Arrival at The Datai, Langkawi – the pickup

Upon exiting the baggage claim area, I spotted the man holding up a “Datai” sign. He knew that we were two of the guests he was expecting on this day and nodded in acknowledgement as we walked up. After we were addressed by name, the slim clean-cut Malay youth standing was introduced to us as Azhar, our chauffeur. Azhar immediately reached out a hand intending to help me with my bag, but instead received a handshake from me. He followed up the handshake with the standard Malay greeting, briefly touching his right hand to his heart.

We were led to a white Proton (Malaysian car) standing by the curbside not far away. The engine was started. Before pulling away from the curb, Azhar opened an icebox sitting on the front passenger seat, lifted out a small bamboo dish holding two tightly rolled white face towels and invited us to freshen up. The sun was making a comeback even as the rain had yet to tail off. It was starting to get muggy outside, but for now, we luxuriated in the air-conditioned ride and the refreshing towel.

Azhar drove slowly, staying mostly around 70 km/h. The ride from the airport (situated slight south of the west coast) to the hotel (situated in the secluded Datai bay in the northeast) was to take 40 minutes. We traveled past a great deal of development near the coast. It was mostly in the form multi-storey hotel apartments, the mark of the government’s drive to turn Langkawi into a major charter destination, Malaysia’s equivalent of Phuket. Azhar was mostly silent but did attempt to engage in conversation once I started asking him questions about the island. Every response was punctuated with “sir” and very cautiously formulated. Ralf was silent, I soon gave up trying to maintain the flow of conversation. Azhar offered to put on some music and during the remaining time, I sat back and unwound to the soothing clinking sounds of Balinese music.

At some point, we turned off the main road. For some time, we traveled along a paved road with nothing but trees on both sides. A little later, the trees thinned out to reveal a section of the golf course. Soon, I caught sight of a sign indicating The Andaman (a sister resort hotel) to the right. And not far away, a sign bearing The Datai marked a right turn among tall grass and trees. At the end of the greenery-lined winding driveway was a small square where a small number of cars were parked. At this point, where we would disembark, the view was dominated by a covered walkway.

Datai Hospitality – the welcome

Ralf and I stepped quickly onto the covered walkway just out of the light drizzle. We are immediately addressed by name and welcomed by three male staff, all dressed in white short-sleeve shirts and khaki pants. Taib, who appeared to be the leader, led the way and was at once familiar yet mindful of etiquette. He soon had both Ralf and me in easy conversation about the weather, the flight and all sorts of little things people talk about. During this distraction, one of the other two staff deftly gathered our bags and wheeled them out of sight.

The lobby itself was a small space with a few sets of lounge seats. The space was framed by two horse sculptures facing each other. As we walked in, there was a small reception desk to the right. We did not stop there but instead walked straight on, proceeding along the side of a square pond filled with lotuses and finally arriving at the far end of an open lounge. The lounge itself was on some sort of large balcony facing the north and looked down on a large swimming pool deck that was itself elevated as treetops filled the horizon just beyond it. Peeking out between the treetops was the occasional glimpse of the Andaman sea. It was at this point that I began to see the scope of the main complex and marvel at the skill of the architect. Looking back at the entrance from the lounge, I realized that the lobby was designed to be like the tip of an iceberg. The entrance is at the top level and the rest of the hotel cascades down onto the bosoms of a virgin rainforest. On either side of the lobby, long corridors with several turns and reaching down several storeys held mostly standard deluxe rooms. The undulating wood and stone structures of the east and west wings of this main complex was hidden at various locations by lush greenery, much of which kept the hotel from view as our car pulled up along the driveway.

Taib invited us to relax in a pair of lounging chairs and take in the view while he processed our check-in. He explained that the young man he had beside him was a trainee who had been assigned to him. As both men headed back to the lobby, a waitress greeted us and presented us with our welcome drink, a pleasant concoction of starfruit and melon with pretty cocktail garnishes, and a cold towel set.

After check-in, Taib, still with trainee in tow, beckoned us to follow him. He brought us to our room, describing on the way the various facilities at this resort.

Our room, a standard deluxe, was poetry – a harmonious composition of deep reddish wood, lucid and frosted glass, cool marble and crisp tightly woven fabric. I admired every precious little detail and the decorator’s restraint. Taib wound up his introduction shortly after and left us to explore the room in privacy, but not before issuing a warning about the mischievous macaques (i.e. not to leave the windows open and unguarded), It would strike me later how well thought-out the introduction had been; Taib had not kept us any longer than necessary and yet we always knew where to start searching for whatever we needed for the rest of the stay.

After Taib left the room, Ralf turned to me with a peculiar incredulous smile and slowly shook his head. “C’est dingue!” was his verbal expression, one that he would repeat several times throughout the stay. He was not at all used to this level of service and neither was I. For the 15 minutes that followed, we were too excited to do anything but take photos of the room.

Stepping out

After unpacking, the first thing Ralf wanted to do was to go into the water. We left the room, walked past the deserted swimming pool on the main complex, descended a hundred-something stone steps into the half-tamed forest, proceeded several hundred yards along a clearing, past an elevated wooden walkway and arrived at the beach club. Up until this point, we had only seen a handful of guests. There were more here at the beach club. The clientele appeared to be mostly sophisticated couples, thirtysomethings and older, and mostly Caucasian or Japanese. Although children were allowed at this beach club swimming pool, none were to be seen or heard. Both Ralf and I look our age (late twenties) or possibly younger, and so possibly attracted a few furtive glances. However, with no exception, all members of the staff that we encountered were unfailingly welcoming and respectful. They treated us as if we were regulars.

During late lunch at the empty beach club restaurant, we met Salmah the waitress. After sending our orders to the kitchen, she came back to chat. In between, during the natural pauses in our casual conversation, she kept our water glasses topped up. The 3 p.m. sun was beating down mercilessly. We kept reasonably cool under the straw roof while the glare outside warned us of the potency of the sun rays. Ralf looked at a couple of roasting bodies by the swimming pool and shook his head in disbelief.

The strangling fig and the glowing mushroom

After spending the rest of the afternoon hiding from the sun, writing heaps of postcards in the room, we joined the evening nature walk.

Murad, our guide, was a veritable vessel of knowledge on the species that thrive in the rainforest surrounding the Datai. He was tall, dark, built like a tree, endowed with a head of long thick curly hair and always had that little twinkle in his eyes as he spoke. He carried an illustrated handbook on tropical birds to show us the specie that we heard but were too slow to catch. He knew the names of many plants and animals in Chinese and Japanese. He also made the occasional attempt to name the species in French.

Our group of 12 this evening was generally reticent and had to be coaxed into asking questions and guessing answers. Murad had to work a little to get words in addition to the tentative ooh’s, aha’s and ahso’s. There was little exchange among the various parties and most of the scarce verbal traffic was directed at the Murad hub.

Even if the conversation was rather subdued, there were no long lapses of silence as Murad was quite the eloquent crowd pleaser. Besides, there were enough sights, sounds and smells in the forest to showcase. First up were the birds, and then came the sound of cicadas ringing through the forest like distant chainsaws. According to Murad, different species of cicadas called at different times: for example the seven o’clock cicada started calling at seven sharp, the eleven o’clock cicada started calling at eleven sharp. There was apparently a specie of cicada whose 27-year life cycle consisted almost entirely of hibernation, save one night when they would sing, mate and die. I wondered what amount of bad karma one had to accumulate to be reincarnated as that type of cicada.

I particularly appreciated Murad’s talk on the effect of deforestation. He showed us examples. As careful as they had been during the construction of the Datai, the mere clearing for a single road meant the sacrifice of a large number of trees that were several hundred years old. And the damage did not stop there. Murad pointed to several balding trees at the forest’s edge. He told us that when trees fell to make way for the road, the natural shade went along with them. The balding trees we saw now had since suffered from overexposure to sunlight, which destroyed the bark. With the wistful half-smile and gravity of a physician delivering bad news, he announced quietly that some of those balding trees would be dead within a year.

“Look over here!” Murad urged. “That’s what I call a hostile takeover.”
He was referring to a tree with what looked like slim roots dangling from the top. The roots were those of the strangling fig. The plant would germinate in a hollow at the top and, positioned where its leaves could benefit from the sunlight, it would grow. After a year or two, its roots would reach the ground, and that was when the strangling began. With its roots firmly anchored, the fig would grow more quickly and eventually kill its host.
“... like that one over there.”
In that example, the fig tree had supplanted its host. A tall and handsome, if a little sinewy, tree it had become. However, a glance at its base revealed a tall cage of roots. Within lay the dead host, a charcoal black skeleton. Ghastly.

“The strangling fig... one of my favourite species,” proclaimed Murad with his most beatific smile, where I had half expected a cruel twitch. He later volunteered the explanation. The fig species, he explained, was a valuable source of food for the various creatures in the forest. Just a matter of renewal – the eternal cycle of growth, death and rebirth, he said. I walked alongside as thoughts about my own mortality awoke. Will I be ready to let go when it is my time?

We proceeded down a stretch of road and as darkness crept upon us, we left the road. There had been mention of fireflies and I was excited. I had never seen them before. Minutes later, we still had not found any and I was about to mentally write off this opportunity when Murad found one. Yes, just one, but it was glorious. The light came on and off; it looked like a speck of live cigarette ash, bouncing amongst the now invisible leaves. As an added bonus, Murad found a glowing mushroom. He shone his torchlight on it for a moment, and it glowed, a mysterious pale blue. I held it in my cupped hands and marvelled at the mushroom lighting up the creases of my palms. We reached the end of the tour, arriving at a dimly lit alley running between well-spaced rows of Datai suite-huts. Murad led us up to one of the empty suites and pointed to the door light. We then spent a couple of minutes “admiring” the 7-inch blue-spotted geckos; they made my skin crawl.

Murad added, “You know that barking you sometimes hear in the corridor outside your room? It’s them.”
*******************

End of Part II
JetE is offline  
Old Feb 11, 04, 12:36 pm
  #6  
 
Join Date: Sep 1999
Location: SF Bay Area
Programs: UA 1K MM, Accor Plat, Htz PC, Natl ExEm, other random status
Posts: 2,859
<font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">I watched as she worked the computer and the documents on her desk; a slim Malay girl most likely in her early twenties with lovely shoulder-length hair ever so slightly back-lit by the soft play of light reflected off the polished surfaces of the airport interior. With her open-collared white inner blouse and form-fitting blazing red zip-down outer jacket, she could not be farther removed from the brooding turquoise-veiled sister working a Malaysia Airlines flight a couple of counters away. Her manner and voice were unmistakably urban, yet there was a certain small-town dreaminess that co-existed alongside the sophisticated persona.</font>
This is not your average trip report.

Fantastic - can't wait for more.

Greg
greg99 is offline  
Old Feb 11, 04, 1:29 pm
  #7  
 
Join Date: Nov 1999
Location: Los Angeles, CA, USA
Programs: AA PLT, SPG GLD, PC PLT SPIRE
Posts: 4,531
Great trip report so far.

Waiting for the rest...
onedog is offline  
Old Feb 11, 04, 10:38 pm
  #8  
 
Join Date: Jul 2002
Location: Seattle
Programs: Alaska Airlines
Posts: 1,569
This was sooo good...

------------------
Patrick A. Inouye, LMT
volunteer trip reports moderator
pallensf is offline  
Old Feb 12, 04, 4:39 am
  #9  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Location: HEL
Programs: Star Gold
Posts: 4,235
Great report you have written, I especially like reading experiences on *Y which I mostly fly myself..
Gnopps is offline  
Old Feb 12, 04, 8:22 am
  #10  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Sep 2001
Location: SIN
Programs: DL,UA,SQ,CX
Posts: 154
Thank you all for your kind feedback. greg99, I wish I had not been too lazy to pull out the camera during check-in at the airport. The AirAsia check-in girl was sweet; I almost wanted to buy her a drink from the nearby Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet but I figured she'd probably not trust me enough to drink it. I wouldn't have if I were she. PappaG, cheers to Y-class travel, although I do aspire to sit in the premium cabins someday too.

************************
Part III
More on the Datai. I am actually still writing parts of this trip report that I have worked on in fits and starts since last summer. I loved the Datai so much that, I see, I am being a little over lavish with words. By putting in more details I would remember it better myself.

Morning Nature Walk – Murad again

Ralf did not get enough of the evening nature walk. After retiring to our room later that evening following a sumptuous Malaysian buffet, he pored over the service binder and then announced that there was an 8.00 a.m. nature walk. Probably seeing me hesitate a little, he told me I did not have to follow if I did not feel like it. I said I would consider.

We awoke shortly before eight and, after a few minutes of frantic brushing and throwing on clothes and shoes, we sprang to the meeting point. Murad was, again, the tour leader, and seemed glad to see us.

Three months ago I was a woman

Ralf and I were the only ones from the tour the evening before. The group this morning was, apart from Ralf, entirely Asian. There was a quiet young Japanese couple and a Singaporean family with three kids (all boys) aged between 6 and 12 (I guessed).

Once we got on to the main road, we walked in the direction opposite to our tour the previous evening. Murad went through some of the same things – such as the birds, the strangling fig and the collagen-like substance-producing herbs. This morning he also pointed to a species being looked at as a possible antidote to the HIV virus; scientists were trying to derive substances (enzymes?) from the leaves.
Murad had fun with the kids, but was very stern when forbidding them to touch certain things. The two older kids had a bit of a destructive streak. I hope they learn to cherish the delicate treasures of nature in the years to come.

We were shown the Malaysian Viagra – the plant called “Tongkat Ali” (which means Ali’s walking stick). The one we saw was about 2 metres tall and reminded me of an anorexic papaya tree. When taken, it produces large amounts of testosterone, which, in addition to heightening sex drive, also served as a contraceptive for women. He pleaded half-jokingly with us not to come and steal it. He told us that a professional cyclist stole some to use as a performance (I believe he meant cycling) enhancing substance after joining this nature walk while on holiday; the said cyclist was last heard suffering from liver malfunction due to overdose.

I sensed the Singaporean parents mentally writhing in discomfort at the sex talk. I heard a slightly flustered “Mommy will tell you later.” Of course, the kids who did not get their answers started to get a little cranky and whiny and wanted to end the tour.

Murad kept talking through all the whining, and brought his story to a climax by announcing, “This Tongkat Ali is more potent than Viagra. I’ll let you in on my secret... three months ago, I was a woman!”

His little joke was greeted by a chorus of laughter. He then looked at the little one and winked. I watched the little face register horror. Now mommy and daddy just got a lot more explaining to do.

Into the forest

The scheduled one hour was up. Apparently on impulse, Murad said he wanted to go into the forest and that we were welcome to join him if we wanted to. Ralf nodded earnestly. My stomach was crying for breakfast, but I, too, decided that it was an opportunity not to be missed. The Japanese couple took up the offer as well. The Singaporean family decided (wisely, in retrospect) not to follow, and so mommy waited with the kids while daddy went to fetch the car.

I, the city boy, had no idea what I was getting into. The forest soon became thicker than I had ever imagined it to be. Murad disappeared very quickly but we heard his voice warning us to look out for this and that, both the exotically beautiful and the exotically vicious. We were warned about the rattan hooks – a series of very sharp hooks at the tip of the rattan palm. Had I bungled through the forest without guidance, I would have probably emerged (if at all) blind and severely lacerated. We picked our way through the damp undergrowth, navigating around giant creepers (lianas), climbing over fallen tree trunks, hopping over crawling carpets of forest termites; I had an arm out to shield my face at all times and was infinitely thankful for having decided to come overdressed (shirt, pants and leather shoes). Ralf had put on sandals, and thus had to hop a little more over the termites. In between the frantic moments there were also instances of calm where we sniffed at aromatic plants, listened for woodpeckers, learned about how some leaves serve as natural blood-clotting bandages and ooh ahhed over the story of how a military officer escaped from a tiger by climbing a liana.

The blinding mangrove leaf

After spending over an hour in the forest, Murad led us out through the mangroves and finally left us at the beach about a couple of hundred metres from the Datai beach club. We were shown the mangrove roots and their breathers, the long seed pods that were designed for long distance drifting and subsequent anchoring in suitable terrain and the leaves. Murad cautioned about the Berbuta (meaning “blinding”). He carefully tore a Berbuta leaf and showed us the white sap.

He said, in an ominous voice, “One drop in your eyes, you go blind. One drop in your food, you die within three days from massive internal haemorrhage. There is no antidote. That’s what the evil witch doctors used to kill people.”

Murad said something about the size of this blinding mangrove leaf being different from other mangrove leaves. It disturbed me a great deal that I could not tell the difference; there were no other visual clues. Murad dropped the innocently looking cool green leaf into the water; I took a step back.

As Murad left, I wondered if it would be excessive to tip him again after Ralf slipped him some the evening before. It amused me how discreet some were about tipping – a couple of notes folded between the fingers and changing hands in a handshake, almost like a card trick. I wondered if ever tipping would constitute an insult?

The little brown sucker

Murad vanished during my hesitation. I felt a little awkward but was soon distracted by the discovery of a sated leech on Ralf’s right ankle as we were heading back to the hotel. Since it was bloated, it was relatively easy to pick off. We watched it shuffle and somersault over the edge of the elevated wooden walkway. Ralf chuckled, “I hope you like French wine.” The Japanese couple was just behind us, and saw that the wound was still bleeding. The lady looked at it and finally broke her silence with a pitch perfect “Ça vous fait mal?” Ralf did not seem the least surprised; he shook his head, not even looking up from staring at the wound. The couple nodded lightly, smiled their goodbye, and went on their way.

I beckoned Ralf to follow me to the beach club where I immediately went in search of Salmah the waitress for small bandages. I left Ralf outside while I went in to ask. It took a few minutes, but when I returned, I discovered that the guy manning the watersports hut had brought Ralf to the hut and taken care of the bleeding.
*******************

End of Part III
JetE is offline  
Old Feb 12, 04, 10:12 am
  #11  
FlyerTalk Evangelist
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Location: somewhere north of London, UK
Programs: HH Gold, BA Silver, Accor Silver
Posts: 15,243
Just to add my thanks here for an excellent report - a pleasure to read!
Swiss Tony is offline  
Old Feb 14, 04, 4:53 am
  #12  
 
Join Date: Oct 2002
Location: Stuttgart, Germany
Programs: Too many...and an Amanjunkie
Posts: 1,599
An excellent report! Bringing back great memories from my stay at The Datai in September 1997. And makes me feel pretty jealous until I have returned to this great resort again next month. Have to do this guided nature walk for sure...
ngfan is offline  
Old Dec 30, 04, 7:05 pm
  #13  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Sep 2001
Location: SIN
Programs: DL,UA,SQ,CX
Posts: 154
Dear folks,

My apologies for the long delay in between the installments. This will be my final stab at completing the trip report, pretty much my last bit of unfinished business for 2004. Hopefully it all gets uploaded before the year is out.

The first new installment is the rounding out of the Datai experience, which I remember fondly and clearly; though I cannot reconcile the memory of the tranquil Andaman sea with the images of furious sea swells and scenes of devastation witnessed over the past few days.

*****************************************
Part IV

The lyrical Datai

The guided nature walk was the main physical activity during our brief stay. The rest of the daylight hours were spent lazing around the clubhouse pool, the beach and the indoor hot and cold plunge baths. We ate no more than two meals a day; I suppose the heat was to blame for our lack of appetite. Nevertheless, when we ate, we ate well. And we dined late. Ralf looked at his watch as we entered the Pavilion (amongst the treetops) at 10 p.m. on the second evening, glanced at me and declared, “Rich people dine late!” while tilting his head backward slightly to assume the air of snobbery. Then, we sat down and enjoyed a most delightful Thai dinner. Just past midnight and well past their closing time, as I reluctantly pushed away the remaining quarter of the most luscious ripe mango on coconut milk-infused glutinous rice dessert, our waiter stepped forward to offer us more tea, assuring us that we were welcome to stay longer. We stayed another ten minutes or so, steeping ourselves in the dreamy little world of a softly lit tree-level verandah, steaming fragrant tea along with whiffs of sea salt-impregnated fresh forest air, the memory and fading aftertaste of coconut, chili, lemongrass and lime leaves, set to the music of night creatures and the distant tinkling of piano keys emanating from the lounge playing soothing Norah Jones sheet music. We made sure the staff knew how much we appreciated the experience. On the way back to our room, I stooped a couple of times to better acquaint myself with some of the evening’s main musicians – the frogs, and also made sure I did not flatten those who lingered around the stairways and the corridors.

We found that our beds had been turned down for us, as they had been the previous night. I took off my shoes and slipped my feet into the slippers they had placed near the foot of the bed. As I cleaned up and got ready for bed, I looked regretfully at the beautiful marble bath set in red wood. I would not have the time to soak in it; it would have been nice.

The card sent by the reception to confirm my request for late checkout had arrived earlier today received only a customary glance when I first found it. I read it more carefully.

Your Late Flight Tomorrow

Your last day with us should be relaxed and calm
Enjoying many more hours of the Datai’s charm
So we’ve arranged a late check-in for your room’s next guests
To let you relax, prepare and feel at your best
Simple check with reception for your leaving time please
And experience your last day in comfort and ease


I could not help but smile at the earnest effort.

Even if rhymes like these can sound a little lame
The guest is touched and impressed all the same

Parting impressions

GOOD MORNING

Our Health Drink for today is

MELON MIX

Preparation
4 oz Watermelon juice
4 oz Orange juice
4 oz Honeydew juice
1 tsp Ginger juice

Melons
are perfect for dieters being mostly water. They move quickly and gently through the system, and are best eaten at the beginning of a meal rather than the end.

64 calories / 0.4 gm fat

ENJOY YOUR DAY


Before leaving the buffet table, I picked up this pretty bookmark-sized recipe. I had enjoyed the drink very much, along with the satisfying international breakfast spread (there was even bubbly!) in the Dining Room.

We had plenty of time to laze around some more even after packing at the most leisurely pace thanks to the late checkout. When we left, it felt as though we just had the right dose of a good thing. It had been fantastic, but we did not regret leaving. The experience seemed complete. It was just right.

I cast a parting glance at the lotus pond as our ride pulled away and just caught sight of a bird of some sort swooping down and back up again after barely grazing the gleaming lotus leaves, not unlike the finale of an exhilarating airshow. Thank you, and until the next time!


Flight: AirAsia AK627
Date: 19 Jun 2003
SchedDep: Langkawi LGK 17.40
SchedArr: Kuala Lumpur KUL 18.40
Ticket class: Low-cost Economy
Equipment: Boeing 737-300
Registration: 9M-AAD (logojet)


On this flight, I discovered a publication in the seat pocket dedicated to the description of Islamic lifestyles in the United States. The main objective of the magazine seemed to be to convince the readers that muslims do thrive in the American society. There was also a copy in the seat pocket in front of Ralf, which led me to assume that it was part of this aircraft’s inflight entertainment. Interesting programming indeed!

*****************************************
End of Part IV
JetE is offline  
Old Dec 30, 04, 7:10 pm
  #14  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Sep 2001
Location: SIN
Programs: DL,UA,SQ,CX
Posts: 154
Part V

Wild goose chase on the trail of the golden one

During this season, Malaysia Airlines (commonly referred to as MAS, which sounds like “gold” in Malay) was spearheading a drive to boost domestic tourism. The airline was offering fly-and-stay holiday packages at amazingly low prices under the Golden Holidays banner. I picked a 3-day-2-night package to Redang (island resort off the east coast) priced at just over RM400 per person for return flights plus hotel and transfers. My brother Vinny was in charge of making the reservation. He was told over the phone by MAS that the reservations were confirmed and that the tickets would have to be picked up from the MAS Golden Holidays ticketing office at the MAS headquarters in downtown Kuala Lumpur.

Despite a rumbling stomach complaining about an offending food item I must have consumed during the previous day, I went along to the MAS headquarters. We soon found the Golden Holidays ticketing office without much problem, but that was pretty much where the smooth sailing ended.

We found ourselves faced with roomful of waiting customers with no queue system. Moments later, a ticketing agent stood up and asked, “Who’s next?”

A lady briefly scanned the faces around her and approached the desk. People were looking at each other, wearing expressions of puzzlement and irritation, and there were rumblings of discontent although no one protested. I looked at Vinny and expressed my bewilderment at the absence of a queue system. The abovementioned ticketing agent overheard, shot me a disapproving look, tore up some paper into small pieces, numbered them and started handing them out in no particular order. This was met with a rush of bodies toward the desk, although everyone exercised a good measure of restraint. We received a sequence number that would require us to wait.

At some point, I felt the urge to visit the restroom. I found it after a couple of wrong turns and headed for one of the stalls. I quickly discovered that the slightly sunken floor of the stall was flooded with water and that it was a squat toilet. I cannot recall now if there was one with a toilet seat but all the floors were flooded. There was no toilet paper to be found. In one of stalls lay what looked to be an abandoned pair of crumpled light colored boxers, which I imagined to be soiled (I did not want to see). I cursed under my breath and willed my bowels to calm down.

I re-entered the Golden Holidays office as Vinny was approaching a ticketing agent. Let’s get tickets and out of here pronto, I thought. No luck. The girl said our flights were not confirmed and that we were on waiting list. Vinny argued that he had been assured it was confirmed; she disappeared briefly behind a glass door presumably to investigate, and returned with the same outcome. We left with the brochure to consider other destinations.

Hours later, I decided on Kuching. I called the Golden Holidays office and received a verbal confirmation and a reservation number. I then offered to charge my credit card and asked if they would mail us the tickets but no, they insisted on welcoming us back to the headquarters. As Ralf and I were to leave for Langkawi the following day, I asked Vinny to follow up on the bookings and have the tickets issued.

Three days later, having returned from Langkawi, I was informed by Vinny that, once again, confirmed reservations meant waiting list on flights according to Golden Holidays. We dropped them as if they were a piece of golden flaming turd. Vinny soon found a travel agent offering the same package at a marginally higher price and flying on AirAsia and that was that.


Bedtime Story: Maha’s Farm, chapter 2 --- A giant golden pomfret for Klia the swan

(continuation)

Soon after, a prolonged drought hit. The new pond was shallow to begin with, as it was dug in a hurry. The fish in the new pond began to panic; while some weaker ones died, the older bigger ones escaped. Maha shook his fist at the “ungrateful” “conspiring” fish. He noticed his favourite little angel fish Mas languishing in the shallow waters. He thought, “Klia looks a little odd floating around without any fish. The foreign fish are unreliable. I can’t let Mas die, for he is the only loyal fish. But what do I do?” He expressed his worries to his farm help.

The farm help, always eager to please, hatched his own plan. Using secret steroids, Mas was transformed from an anemic little angel fish into a giant golden pomfret, almost the size of Klia. Maha, though somewhat relieved by the survival of Mas, was uncomfortable with the association with steroids. The farm help was dismissed.

The rain returned, and the pond swelled with water once again. Now that the water had returned, it seemed even lonelier with just Klia and Mas, although Mas was certainly getting fatter by the day. Maha wondered why the other fish would not return. He thought,”Look... Mas is thriving in this pond... he’s eating well... why don’t the other fish join him?”



A chill in Kuala Lumpur

After a couple of days hanging around my parents’ house, Ralf was eager to get going again and was very enthusiastic about our trip to Kuching. I knew Ralf felt a little cooped up. I wanted to spend some time with my parents who preferred to stay at home and Vinny was busy. Ralf, who is used to walking around in Paris, asked to wander around the residential area alone but my parents would not hear of it. Dad told us about the recent spate of muggings in the neighbourhood. The city was haunted by the media reports on the grisly rape, stabbing and burning of a young woman named Canny Ong. She was abducted while walking to her car in the underground parking lot of a shopping mall; days later, her charred remains were found in the trunk of an abandoned car. Vinny’s girlfriend – Amanda, apparently knew a friend of the victim and heard through the grapevine that this was likely to be a twisted act of vengeance by a bitter ex-boyfriend (who supposedly hired someone to do the dirty work).

I was looking forward to Kuching because I had never been to Borneo. Vinny and Amanda would accompany us on the trip, which was great because I enjoy hanging out with my brother and it had been a while since my last excursion with him. In addition, I met Amanda in person for the first time and was hoping to get to know her a little better.

While I was there, I caught up on the local news. The family subscribes to the Star daily newspaper, which I recently learnt was considered by some to be the largest daily tabloid of Malaysia. So that is what they think of the journalistic integrity of the publication. It is hard to disagree with that view based on some of the reports I had read in this newspaper; I was beginning to see its comic relief potential. The serious stuff is still palatable, given a generous pinch of salt and thank heavens for the abundance of herbs and spices in Malaysia.

WAU!

I care about commercial aviation, and paid some attention to an article forecasting profit for the national airline. MAS had been saddled by debt and bleeding red ink for years. This was blamed on the large capital investment before the Asian crisis and the subsequent depreciation of the ringgit, as well as the burden of social responsibility, a. k. a. the unprofitable domestic network. At the turn of the century, as the losses deepened alarmingly, the ministry of finance intervened and the carrier was de-privatised. There was some public outcry over the use of national funds for the re-privatisation at a share price that was over double the market value; it was seen by some as a handsome payoff or bailout for the then-prominent chairman and majority stake owner of the airline. The next round was what the spin doctors named widespread asset unbundling (WAU), ‘wau’ incidentally being the Malay name of the kite design that inspired the airline’s insignia. This was lauded by analysts, notably the local ones, as a groundbreaking arrangement. Very simply, a big part of this transaction involved the creation of a special purpose vehicle Penerbangan Malaysia Berhad (PMB), through which the ministry of finance recapitalised the airline in exchange for ownership of the entire aircraft fleet. PMB would then lease out (no mention of the rates) the aircraft to MAS. In addition, the catering arm and some other property were sold off. Bingo! The first assetless airline. Really, wwaauu! The airline subsequently breaks out into full bloom, dripping black ink and embarking on full-blown capacity growth. In a parallel but less illustrious development, the Malaysian Airport Authority lamented the loss of foreign carriers and sometimes reportedly wondered if there was some conspiracy behind the decisions by major airlines to not take the offer of waived landing fees and airport charges.

What about the burden of the domestic network? The comparison of MAS to Singapore Airlines (SIA) is a cliché beaten to death and still undead, and a perpetual ulcer in the national pride. The contention is that MAS could be a better SIA than SIA, had it not been its duty to ensure national integration through maintaining monumentally loss-making domestic services. WAU took care of that too. MAS is now fully reimbursed by PMB the cost of operating the domestic routes, so that the carrier is now free to pursue its obsession of being a better SIA. Interestingly, since the emergence of AirAsia, the domestic network has rarely been described as a burden.

Ralf was a little taken aback by the forcefulness while I savagely dissected the national airline. He countered that bailouts are not uncommon and that it was not easy to argue on national interest. I figured that I would cease to be bothered by those dealings; perhaps it was the residual resentment from the Golden Holiday encounter. OK, ohhhmmm. Just then, Mom came out of the kitchen with a freshly steamed giant pomfret and set it down on the dining table no more than an arm’s length away. Ralf nudged me, pointed at the fish and said, “Regarde! C’est MAS!”

**********************************
End of Part V
JetE is offline  
Old Dec 30, 04, 7:11 pm
  #15  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Sep 2001
Location: SIN
Programs: DL,UA,SQ,CX
Posts: 154
Part V


Wild goose chase on the trail of the golden one

During this season, Malaysia Airlines (commonly referred to as MAS, which sounds like “gold” in Malay) was spearheading a drive to boost domestic tourism. The airline was offering fly-and-stay holiday packages at amazingly low prices under the Golden Holidays banner. I picked a 3-day-2-night package to Redang (island resort off the east coast) priced at just over RM400 per person for return flights plus hotel and transfers. My brother Vinny was in charge of making the reservation. He was told over the phone by MAS that the reservations were confirmed and that the tickets would have to be picked up from the MAS Golden Holidays ticketing office at the MAS headquarters in downtown Kuala Lumpur.

Despite a rumbling stomach complaining about an offending food item I must have consumed during the previous day, I went along to the MAS headquarters. We soon found the Golden Holidays ticketing office without much problem, but that was pretty much where the smooth sailing ended.

We found ourselves faced with roomful of waiting customers with no queue system. Moments later, a ticketing agent stood up and asked, “Who’s next?”

A lady briefly scanned the faces around her and approached the desk. People were looking at each other, wearing expressions of puzzlement and irritation, and there were rumblings of discontent although no one protested. I looked at Vinny and expressed my bewilderment at the absence of a queue system. The abovementioned ticketing agent overheard, shot me a disapproving look, tore up some paper into small pieces, numbered them and started handing them out in no particular order. This was met with a rush of bodies toward the desk, although everyone exercised a good measure of restraint. We received a sequence number that would require us to wait.

At some point, I felt the urge to visit the restroom. I found it after a couple of wrong turns and headed for one of the stalls. I quickly discovered that the slightly sunken floor of the stall was flooded with water and that it was a squat toilet. I cannot recall now if there was one with a toilet seat but all the floors were flooded. There was no toilet paper to be found. In one of stalls lay what looked to be an abandoned pair of crumpled light colored boxers, which I imagined to be soiled (I did not want to see). I cursed under my breath and willed my bowels to calm down.

I re-entered the Golden Holidays office as Vinny was approaching a ticketing agent. Let’s get tickets and out of here pronto, I thought. No luck. The girl said our flights were not confirmed and that we were on waiting list. Vinny argued that he had been assured it was confirmed; she disappeared briefly behind a glass door presumably to investigate, and returned with the same outcome. We left with the brochure to consider other destinations.

Hours later, I decided on Kuching. I called the Golden Holidays office and received a verbal confirmation and a reservation number. I then offered to charge my credit card and asked if they would mail us the tickets but no, they insisted on welcoming us back to the headquarters. As Ralf and I were to leave for Langkawi the following day, I asked Vinny to follow up on the bookings and have the tickets issued.

Three days later, having returned from Langkawi, I was informed by Vinny that, once again, confirmed reservations meant waiting list on flights according to Golden Holidays. We dropped them as if they were a piece of golden flaming turd. Vinny soon found a travel agent offering the same package at a marginally higher price and flying on AirAsia and that was that.


Bedtime Story: Maha’s Farm, chapter 2 --- A giant golden pomfret for Klia the swan

(continuation)

Soon after, a prolonged drought hit. The new pond was shallow to begin with, as it was dug in a hurry. The fish in the new pond began to panic; while some weaker ones died, the older bigger ones escaped. Maha shook his fist at the “ungrateful” “conspiring” fish. He noticed his favourite little angel fish Mas languishing in the shallow waters. He thought, “Klia looks a little odd floating around without any fish. The foreign fish are unreliable. I can’t let Mas die, for he is the only loyal fish. But what do I do?” He expressed his worries to his farm help.

The farm help, always eager to please, hatched his own plan. Using secret steroids, Mas was transformed from an anemic little angel fish into a giant golden pomfret, almost the size of Klia. Maha, though somewhat relieved by the survival of Mas, was uncomfortable with the association with steroids. The farm help was dismissed.

The rain returned, and the pond swelled with water once again. Now that the water had returned, it seemed even lonelier with just Klia and Mas, although Mas was certainly getting fatter by the day. Maha wondered why the other fish would not return. He thought,”Look... Mas is thriving in this pond... he’s eating well... why don’t the other fish join him?”



A chill in Kuala Lumpur

After a couple of days hanging around my parents’ house, Ralf was eager to get going again and was very enthusiastic about our trip to Kuching. I knew Ralf felt a little cooped up. I wanted to spend some time with my parents who preferred to stay at home and Vinny was busy. Ralf, who is used to walking around in Paris, asked to wander around the residential area alone but my parents would not hear of it. Dad told us about the recent spate of muggings in the neighbourhood. The city was haunted by the media reports on the grisly rape, stabbing and burning of a young woman named Canny Ong. She was abducted while walking to her car in the underground parking lot of a shopping mall; days later, her charred remains were found in the trunk of an abandoned car. Vinny’s girlfriend – Amanda, apparently knew a friend of the victim and heard through the grapevine that this was likely to be a twisted act of vengeance by a bitter ex-boyfriend (who supposedly hired someone to do the dirty work).

I was looking forward to Kuching because I had never been to Borneo. Vinny and Amanda would accompany us on the trip, which was great because I enjoy hanging out with my brother and it had been a while since my last excursion with him. In addition, I met Amanda in person for the first time and was hoping to get to know her a little better.

While I was there, I caught up on the local news. The family subscribes to the Star daily newspaper, which I recently learnt was considered by some to be the largest daily tabloid of Malaysia. So that is what they think of the journalistic integrity of the publication. It is hard to disagree with that view based on some of the reports I had read in this newspaper; I was beginning to see its comic relief potential. The serious stuff is still palatable, given a generous pinch of salt and thank heavens for the abundance of herbs and spices in Malaysia.


WAU!

I care about commercial aviation, and paid some attention to an article forecasting profit for the national airline. MAS had been saddled by debt and bleeding red ink for years. This was blamed on the large capital investment before the Asian crisis and the subsequent depreciation of the ringgit, as well as the burden of social responsibility, a. k. a. the unprofitable domestic network. At the turn of the century, as the losses deepened alarmingly, the ministry of finance intervened and the carrier was de-privatised. There was some public outcry over the use of national funds for the re-privatisation at a share price that was over double the market value; it was seen by some as a handsome payoff or bailout for the then-prominent chairman and majority stake owner of the airline. The next round was what the spin doctors named widespread asset unbundling (WAU), ‘wau’ incidentally being the Malay name of the kite design that inspired the airline’s insignia. This was lauded by analysts, notably the local ones, as a groundbreaking arrangement. Very simply, a big part of this transaction involved the creation of a special purpose vehicle Penerbangan Malaysia Berhad (PMB), through which the ministry of finance recapitalised the airline in exchange for ownership of the entire aircraft fleet. PMB would then lease out (no mention of the rates) the aircraft to MAS. In addition, the catering arm and some other property were sold off. Bingo! The first assetless airline. Really, wwaauu! The airline subsequently breaks out into full bloom, dripping black ink and embarking on full-blown capacity growth. In a parallel but less illustrious development, the Malaysian Airport Authority lamented the loss of foreign carriers and sometimes reportedly wondered if there was some conspiracy behind the decisions by major airlines to not take the offer of waived landing fees and airport charges.

What about the burden of the domestic network? The comparison of MAS to Singapore Airlines (SIA) is a cliché beaten to death and still undead, and a perpetual ulcer in the national pride. The contention is that MAS could be a better SIA than SIA, had it not been its duty to ensure national integration through maintaining monumentally loss-making domestic services. WAU took care of that too. MAS is now fully reimbursed by PMB the cost of operating the domestic routes, so that the carrier is now free to pursue its obsession of being a better SIA. Interestingly, since the emergence of AirAsia, the domestic network has rarely been described as a burden.

Ralf was a little taken aback by the forcefulness while I savagely dissected the national airline. He countered that bailouts are not uncommon and that it was not easy to argue on national interest. I figured that I would cease to be bothered by those dealings; perhaps it was the residual resentment from the Golden Holiday encounter. OK, ohhhmmm. Just then, Mom came out of the kitchen with a freshly steamed giant pomfret and set it down on the dining table no more than an arm’s length away. Ralf nudged me, pointed at the kite-shaped fish and said, “Regarde! C’est MAS!”

**********************************
End of Part V

Last edited by JetE; Dec 30, 04 at 7:24 pm Reason: Spacing
JetE is offline  

Thread Tools
Search this Thread
Search Engine: