Surviving those crazy long festive traffic jams

JANUARY 20 — So it’s Chinese New Year season again. ‘Tis the time when families reunite and usher in yet another year of good luck.

And everybody’s happy and prosperous — especially your mechanic when you get back.

During non-festive seasons, driving from KL to Ipoh takes about two hours but the week before the Chinese New Year reunion dinner the same drive will feel like you’re crossing two time zones. No, seriously.

On the day before CNY, if you take a sampan from Port Klang and row it all the way to the Kinta River you’d arrive quicker than if you took the North-South Expressway.

This week the entire bleeding highway will become the region’s biggest all-day parking lot.

That photo of the lady defecating on the Johor causeway? At least she could let it all out.

Consider those drivers who wait three hours to turn into a highway rest-stop between Melaka and Port Dickson, only to realise there’s no parking, no toilet paper, or — worse — no water.

Ask those passengers who were too shy to tell everyone else in the car they shat their pants because where else could the curry laksa go when you’re stuck between distance markers 361.4 and 340.7 for half a day?

I’m surprised Kimberly-Clark hasn’t released a version of adult diapers called “Highway Emergency.”

Of course, there are the usual folks who still believe that leaving the house at 3am makes any kind of difference whatsoever.

I recall a friend telling me he left Damansara around that time, hoping to reach Sungai Siput “before lunch.” I think he meant before lunch “the following day”, because as it turns out he needed nine hours to get there. Might as well have driven to Hatyai.

And all of the above assumes an accident-free road. It don’t matter whether there’s Ops Selamat or Ops Bahaya, there will always be that Malaysian who’s watched too many Fast & Furious reruns and think he’s Dominic Toretto speeding to save his girlfriend.

If by tough luck a truck 30 kilometres in front of you smashes into a Kancil, that’s it. The road congestions created by car crashes potentially stretch from Butterworth to Batang Kali.

We’re smack into apocalypse and nuclear fallout scenarios: Stop your car, grab your bags, walk carefully and watch out for zombies.

What can we do?

First, I think it’s a tribute to Malaysians that despite such psychotic jams, many families still make that trip to go home.

In the end, we’re willing to endure staring at the same licence plate number for six hours just to hug our parents whom we haven’t seen throughout the year. That’s beautiful.

So maybe this isn’t a “problem” per se; maybe it’s just proof that there’s nothing like family.

Having said that, it’s curious why folks who can afford flight tickets during festive seasons still often choose to drive.

A friend told me that he values his mobility during CNY, and I think that’s the main reason. Perhaps another reason is that most Malaysians just aren’t used to renting cars, don’t wish to rely on Grab too much, do a lot of driving back in their hometowns.

All of which — and tell me I’m wrong here — boils down to cost, doesn’t it? Most Malaysians would rather spend the time it takes to watch all seven Harry Potter movies on the highway, instead of spending the money it would cost to buy all seven movies in the original Blu-Ray on flight tickets.

Fair enough. We suit ourselves.

Furthermore, the number of family members in a typical household raises the total flight cost to an amount which may ruin the season. And taking the Electric Train Service (ETS) can help reduce costs, but you’ve got a better chance of seeing a Metal Rat singing heavy metal than a) figuring how the ETS website works, let alone b) getting the tickets you need.

So yeah. No choice but to brave the elements and, like the people on board the Mayflower, make that long hard journey across the ocean (of tar), a journey made even more treacherous because nowadays God tells some people to drive at nothing less than 180 km/h. That’s why they can’t help but keep flashing you to get out of the way even if you’re doing 120 km/h and felt proud of yourself.

Then again, during festive season, you’d be lucky to do 18 km/h so I guess there’s less danger of being bored down by the BMW behind you. You’re more likely to be bored to death by your own windscreen.

The best option, of course, is to drive on Day 1 itself. This day is like the eye of the storm in a tornado because everything’s clear and serene; it looks like the Biblical Rapture just happened and every car has been taken up to heaven.

I once drove to Penang on the first day of Hari Raya and the folks at the petrol station were extraordinarily chirpy and cheerful, like they had battled the horde and survived. Even the TNG terminals seemed happier.

Another alternative, if your senior family members are up to it, is to fly them in, rather than you flying out. Hey, why not treat your folks to Business Class even? #justathought

In conclusion, try not to drive. But if you do, try to either go way before the big day or the big night. But if no choice, then do avoid drinking like a fish or eating bad-ass sambal. But if you must, be prepared to “hold it” real long or use diapers. And bring pillows. And lots and lots of coffee.

Gong Xi Fa Cai, everybody. Drive safe.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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