10th Wedding Anniversary, Festival Of Lights, And A Grueling Drive To Fraser’s Hill

Friday morning, I woke up feeling woozy.  Cynthia has been having this bad cough at night lately.  When we reached the bridge that connects Singapore to Malaysia, on a Friday late morning, I was not able to comprehend what the signboard said.  It said: A back-flow of traffic from [I can’t recall the village name].  What does back-flow means?  Have they reversed the flow of traffic?

Clearing the Singapore Customs was a breeze.  As we drove through the 2nd link from Tuas (the 1st being the one in Woodland), our spirit was high.  We love road trips.  For our 10th Wedding Anniversary, Cynthia has suggested to stay over at Fraser’s Hill – our favorite location to relax in Malaysia.  And then, we saw it!  I was hyperventilating.  I wanted to pee!  If someone from Singapore Customs was to stare westward, he or she would see a massive built-up of traffic flowing from Malaysia to Singapore.  That explains “back-flow”, probably.

Friday was a public holiday.  It was Deepavali.  The story is rather romantic.  And I shared it with Cynthia as we crawled through the three-soon-to-be-expanded-into-four lanes of traffic.  A story I heard from my Indian colleague.  It goes something like this.  Once upon a time, there was a titan.  A good titan who ruled over the world (or the Indian part of the world).  When the titan was given the power by the gods, he started to abuse his people, making them suffered.  The only person who could stop this titan was his mother – the goddess of mother earth.  When the titan was finally struck down by the goddess, before his death, he asked his people to celebrate his death in a festival of lights (hence Deepavali).  Legend says that the good titan was corrupted by power.  And with power, he lost his humanity.  I love this story.  It causes us to reflect on what the wielding of power can do to us.  After I finished my story, we were still stuck in a massive traffic jam.

I did a timing.  At worst part of the jam, it took us 40 minutes to move 500 meters.  The jam was 4 to 5 km long.  You can do the maths.  That was why I panicked.  We had no water and food in the car.  And I wanted to pee.  I read somewhere (or was it in a movie?) that someone was holding his pee for too long and his bladder exploded.  He died painfully of course.  What a horrible way to end one’s life!  Throughout the FOUR AND A HALF HOURS traffic congestion, I saw one driver opened the car door and emptied a plastic container of fluid onto the road.  I did not want to know what that was.  I also saw one kid holding out a plastic bag of fluid.  I also did not want to know what that was.  Some left the cars or buses and have decided to walk to the Malaysia Customs.  One Malaysian BMW broke down.  Engine overheated or out of petrol, I have no clue.  I felt for the young couple.  There was little chance that a tow truck could reach that Bimmer before dawn.  Every inch of the road was utilized by vehicles.  We saw one Malaysian driver alternated between pushing his car and driving it.  That was critical fuel saving mode!

By the time we got through the Customs, it was late.  Some cars raced pass us in some ungodly speed.  Maybe there was some real emergency trying to reach the toilets not too far ahead.  Before we could see the petrol station, we saw another jam.  There were some police labeled cones and there was a road block.  Since all of us have suffered through a 4.5 hours jam, I feel that it was really cruel for the police to set up a speed trap right after the Customs.  Who wouldn’t speed?  Fortunately, I have mind over bladder.  I stayed at 110 km per hour for that few minutes of short drive from the Customs to the roadblock.

Fraser’s Hill is about 500 km away from Singapore.  In a normal day, it takes between 6 hours to 7 hours and 20 minutes to reach.  The last 7 km was called The Gap.  The road is so narrow that it can only be a one-way traffic.  So odd hours to go up, even hours to come down.  The gate closes at the 40th minute so as to make sure that the last car enters is able to cover the 7 km (in worst scenario, one may need to wait for 1 hour and 20 minutes for the gate to open).  By the time we left the highway, it was pitch dark.  The road was wet due to raining.  Occasionally from afar, we saw the fireworks.  A celebration of Deepavali by the villagers.  It was a pretty scene.  Fireworks on our 10th anniversary!  That momentarily suppressed our supreme hunger and worries (did you know that petrol stations such as Petronas that do not have a higher quality fuel selection are not allowed to sell petrol to Singaporean cars because standard petrol is subsidized by the govenment?) and I muscled the car through the hilly and windy, wet and slippery roads.  I could hardly see what lied ahead but there was no time to waste.  Time to switch the car to sport mode (there is really such a mode, and not figurative speaking) keeping the accelerator floored.  When we reached The Gap, it was so late that it was free for all.  As we drove up, we had encountered 5 cars coming down.  That was the reason why we needed to press on and cover The Gap asap.  We reached Smokehouse before 10 pm.

On Sunday, when we came down via The Gap, it was a totally different scene.  Fraser’s Hill is now so commercialized that there is a huge tourist bus taking tourists up and down the highland.  It took the bus half an hour to cover the 7 km distance.  Emerged from The Gap, we were stuck behind a train of traffic.  It was real exciting to go wheel-to-wheel with the cars in front during our overtaking maneuvers through the non-existence straight lines and some really tight corners.  Some were more defensive than others.  Nonetheless, we were very determined to hit the Malaysia Customs asap.  Because I have a F1 race to watch on TV at midnight today.

We love to stay at the Smokehouse.  Cynthia said that it is her 2nd home.  As for me, I count Hong Kong as my 2nd home, Bandung as my 3rd, so Smokehouse has to be my 4th.  Over the years, Fraser’s Hill has become more and more commercialized.  Now, according to Henry, the man-in-charge (OK, he is not the boss but he is in charge when the boss is not around), there are budget hotels being built and new F&B areas being built.  In a way, Fraser’s Hill has lost a bit of the charm we initially fell in love with.  There were so many tourists visiting the Smokehouse for breakfast and tea.  Some only wanted to stop by and take photos of the unique British cottages.  We miss the serenity.  Perhaps we shall visit Fraser’s Hill on a non-peak period.

So what do we normally do in Smokehouse?  We love to read books in the garden, sitting on the swing.  We love to play Scrabble in the living room.  The tea and scone served between 3 to 6pm is divine.  We love the British bed-and-breakfast feel.  If they were to serve steak and kidney pie (the one at Cameron Highland does I think), that would be perfect.  Henry (and his team I believe) comes from Myanmar.  It is such a joy chatting with him even though he always remembers us as somebody else.  Four months ago, he had a bad motorcycle accident.  Lost a few teeth, has quite a few stitches all over his face.  But he survived.  That is good news.

We played the Spanish Scrabble this time.  Boy, it was hard!  As you can see in the snapshots above, both of us were referring to the dictionaries all the time.  We have learned a few new words.  I hope in time to come, this will become much easier.  In fact, it reminds me of the time when I first played English Scrabble.  I struggled no less.

You Should Know By Now We Love Fraser’s Hill

Two pretty hilarious pieces of conversation to share (and the link to our photo album is at the bottom of this entry).

When we arrived at the lobby of Smokehouse hotel at Fraser’s Hill, Henry greeted us warmly.  Like he did the last time.  “It is good to see you again,” I said.  “Me too,” he replied, “Your hair was longer then.”  I stopped and thought: It could well be.  Long or short, is subjective.  I smiled and said, “Certainly.”  He then looked at my car parked in front of the hotel and said, “What happened to your Porsche?”  My Porsche?!  And he continued, “And you were staying at our cottage, yes?”  Cynthia threw a funny look at me and I had to change the topic quickly.  Before Henry blurted out loud whom I was holidaying with.  Or the I who he thought I was.  If Cynthia was my new date, that would have been a disaster.  Don’t you think?

The second piece of conversation happened inside our hotel room.  How it happened, please don’t ask.  Accidentally, I have poured a sizable lump of hot wax onto my brand new phone.  So much so that I thought the front screen would melt, its case would melt.  If so, my heart … would melt.  OK, it took me a long time to take out the wax.  A very long time.  If you don’t believe me, feel free to pour some hot wax onto your phone the next you …

Anyway, after the act, Cynthia smiled at me and asked, “Did the hot wax manage to turn your phone on?”

Ha ha ha … very funny.

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Whenever I announce to my friends that I am driving to Fraser’s Hill in Malaysia, 9 out of 10 would say, “Again?!”, with that look of what-is-so-great-about-Fraser’s-Hill or shouldn’t-you-go-somewhere-exotic-instead.

In a way, Fraser’s Hill is not a destination.  It is a journey too.  Cynthia and I love road trips.  Destination seldom matters.  It could well be Kuala Lumpur (which we did stop over) or Cameron Highland (which we did consider).  Had our holiday been longer, we could end up in Penang instead.  For a short trip, Fraser’s Hill is a good destination, a familiar destination.  Familiar destinations have their merits.  For one, we know what to expect, where to go, and what to do.  And we enjoy lazing in the garden of Smokehouse reading books, playing Scrabble, or doing stupid things like trying to create a photo like the one below.  We have drawn quite a crowd, at night, mostly Westerners.

Ya, that was fun.

PS. To view our photo album (33 pictures), please click here.  Enjoy!