The Other Side of Malaysia

by Audrey Lim, Jul 17, 2001 | Destinations: Malaysia / Kuala Lumpur

I'm quite familiar with the travel scene, having done work and research for it professionally for the last few years. Every travel brochure I have ever come across shows me good stuff - lovely postcard sceneries, friendly people, and reliable public transport (well, if you are in a developing or developed country at least). For once, how about something "not so nice" about a place? That would work as a nice warning for visitors to your place!

Malaysia is, by comparison, a reasonably well-developed country. It has all the amenities one could possibly ask for and, although some parts of the country are not as fully developed as others, the majority of the cities, such as Kuala Lumpur, are way up on the scale. While you can only tell visitors to your country how lovely it is, at the end of the day, if you don't live up to the expectations, you can only expect to be taunted and remembered as one big nightmare!

I'm a pure bred Malaysian and I have one such nightmare this morning. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention this. If there is one thing Malaysians have yet to accomplish, it would be its public transportation. It is right down at the "inferior" zone.

I had an awful cab ride this morning and I hope I won't see anymore of it. The clock showed 9:10 AM, so that basically means I am running late for work. When a cab finally showed up, I quickly waved for it to stop. However, an uncivilized lady jumped the queue and grabbed the cab. I was indignant but not one to argue, I decided to wait for another cab. However, the cab driver insisted that he'd pick me up since I was the first in line. He tried to explain to the lady that he won't be sending her to her destination (which is like less than 5 minutes away), but she insisted. She jumped into the back seat and planted herself firmly there and told the guy to send her to her workplace regardless of cost. Tempted or otherwise, he said OK and asked me to hop along since it was on the way. I was quite hesitant, but seemingly I was already running late, I thought, oh well, why not? It was on the way, anyway. Besides, it's a common occurrence in this country to share a cab if both passengers were traveling to the same destination.

When I got into the cab... I knew I made a big mistake. For starters, I had to take the front seat as the lady was at the back. Then I discovered that the front seatbelt was spoilt forcing me to hold on to it all the way to my workplace (it's illegal not to wear a seatbelt in Malaysia). Then, the car made this really horrible sound when the driver stepped on the gas. Naturally the car could hardly gather up speed. When I checked his speedometer to see how fast (or slow) the car was going, it showed me a reading of ZERO! Yeah, that's spoilt too. Next, he had the windows down, so I presumed either the air-con's dead or he would lose too much power with the air-con on. After all, the cab was almost falling apart. When I looked at the meter (for the fee), it was off and that's illegal too! Besides, there is no license/registration for the driver nor his name displayed anywhere on the dashboard (that's a regulation).

I live about 12 km from my workplace and the route to work was always reasonably smooth and pleasant. This morning however, the driver took me through another route, one that is full of roadwork, smog and traffic jam. When I finally reached my office, I was hot and irritated. After all, it was 34 degrees Celsius. Then, guess what? He had the nerve to charge me RM10 for the ride. Can you believe it? 10 bucks! I usually pay about 7 bucks max for a quick and comfortable ride straight to my destination and that is with air-con too! I told the driver that he could jolly well forget about that. I ain't paying 10 bucks for a crappy ride. He argued with me but I was adamant. He finally agreed with 7 bucks and even that, I felt cheated! He even had the nerve to tell me that he must make at least a hundred bucks before 1 pm each day. I wondered to myself, "Does that give him the right to rip me off?"

No, I want to reassure everyone out there that although this may sound bad to you, especially if you are a tourist, rest assured that this is an isolated case. I have many good encounters with cab drivers but if you are young, a woman, or "touristy" looking, then do be careful. No matter how good a country is, there will always be the little hiccups that make it look bad. Wait till you hear about the infamous Malaysian driving skills! Now that's another story.