JANUARY 24 — So it’s Chinese New Year again. Thousands of families will be looking forward to reuniting and usher in the new year.
Given the quasi-lockdown of CNY 2021, surely many folks this year will want to balik kampung.
The Ox was slow and disappointing; now we want to see the Tiger roar and run — but will it get stuck on the highway?
In non-festive times, driving from KL to Ipoh takes about two hours; during CNY it could feel like crossing two time zones. And, as everyone knows, this final week of January every inter-state road could look as if a million cars just decided to park themselves there (I suspect this is the reason why the Cabinet eased up on the RFID implementation).
Many years ago, there was a photo of a woman defecating on the Singapore-Johor causeway – well, at least she was able to let it all out — that was making the rounds.
Consider those drivers who have to wait 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.
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 drive. If by tough luck there is an accident, that’s it. We’re smack into apocalyptic scenarios: Stop your car, grab your bags, walk carefully and watch out for zombies.
What options do we have?
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, why don’t more people fly to avoid the crawls (always assuming there’s an airport in the hometown)?
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.
Having said that, there’s no doubt that a huge factor is the cost. 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 six Water Tigers doing synchronised swimming 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).
Another good 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 in the petrol station were extraordinarily chirpy and cheerful, like they had battled the horde and survived. Even the Touch ‘n Go terminals seemed happier.
A final 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 you have no choice, then do avoid drinking like a fish or eating bad-ass sambal before the drive.
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.