The day Kuala Lumpur stood still
SEPTEMBER 5 — All Malaysians know that the country has three seasons which last the whole year round. First, there is Political Bulls*** season, an almost daily affair which keeps our nation looking like a cross between a disaster movie and a slapstick comedy.
Second, we have Makan season which lasts 30 months a year and is immune to climate change. In fact, there are food vendors who will reprimand their guests for eating only three helpings. They’re like, what’s wrong with you? Are you a Malaysian or a loser with deep insecurity issues? These restaurant owners remind us that our message to Singapore is: When it comes to food, quit being “KIA”because you already “SU.”
Eating is a truly Malaysian wonder and, incidentally, is our best hope for an Olympic Gold.
The third perennial season is, of course, Traffic Jam season.
Occurring between Mondays to Fridays, this is the time when all the cars on the road decide to move at 0-3 kilometres per hour for about 50 kilometres. It’s as if there was a hive mind connecting all our roads to each other and every now and then they go, “What’s the rush, you serenity-challenged humans? Here, take a break. Meditate on the licence plate of the car in front of you for eight hours and see if you’ll feel better.”
Original chaos theory: Butterfly flaps its wings in Brazil, tornado in Texas. Malaysia’s version of chaos theory? A car kisses another car along the highway, traffic jam from Sunway to Songkhla.
I’m frankly surprised I still haven’t seen a McDonald’s open smack in the middle of Jalan Kuching. Why not, since so many cars remain stationary way longer than it takes to a) find parking b) wait in line c) hear the guy say “Bungkus atau makan sini” d) order a McValue Meal e) finish it and even f) spend half a day trying to connect to the restaurant Wi-Fi.
That fateful day
It was last Tuesday. Or maybe Thursday. Or maybe right now. Can’t be sure. When you’re stuck in a jam like the one on the Federal Highway last week, your sense of sequence goes awry.
All you think about is cars, cars, cars. You see cars, breathe cars, pee out cars, it’s cars telling you to finish up that report, cars sitting with you at meetings and cars asking you what you’d like for dinner.
7.30 in the morning and it was raining dogs and zebras. It was a storm with an attitude. It was so big, it was like 500 billion bowls of ais kacang joined forces with 600 billion cups of Chatime drinks to rain down holy torrential hell on the land. It’s like one of the clouds was grabbing a Syabas executive and saying, “Don’t you ever say I’m not giving enough, damn you!”
Twitter had some photos of entire roads becoming rivers. Suddenly we had a Sungai Damansara, a Persiaran Kebanjiran; every hotel had a lake view and every college was a lakeside campus.
Naturally, the Federal Highway became the Federal Parking Lot. It was the mother of all jams. Heck, it was the godmother of the father of the mother. Even my dog put down his glasses and asked me, “Did SkyNet override its security protocol, take over the United States’ weapons-of-mass-destruction system and launch all their nukes, and are those missiles heading towards KL this moment resulting in a region-wide failure of car batteries?”
The jam was so unique, it shouldn’t just be on the news—it should be in a museum. I expect my grand-kids will have their teacher explain this incident during a school field-trip 30 years from now. The congestion was so bad, you could get to your destination faster if you were handcuffed to a crippled tortoise going the wrong way.
It reached a point I thought maybe some bigshot in Putrajaya had a heart-attack and everyone was forced into a funeral procession. Seriously, the vehicles were moving so slow, we were going back in time.
But the torture on the Federal Highway wasn’t the lowest level of hell. That accolade belongs to the psychosis around the — drum roll please —Sunway toll plaza. Yeah. Hear the name and tremble: Sun…way….TOLL!! (ominous music blares).
On any given workday morning, if you’re driving into Sunway from Puchong, you have to get through this demonic Spartan hot-gates of traffic torment. It’s a slow slaughter, an ugly crammed way to expire.
The Sunway jam makes the jam on Subang’s Persiaran Kewajipan look like the final lap of an F1 circuit. It’s an unholy demonic crawl. If I owned the toll plaza and hell, I would rent the plaza out… and live in hell.
Even the fancy L.E.D. screens on the LDP will be saying something like, “BALIK LAH!”
Our highways are fragile. They’re like a potential stroke victim stuffing himself at a Sheraton hotel buffet: One major blood vessel gets clogged, the whole body gets choked and four-thirds of Damansarians, Puchongians, Subangians and other -ians reach their offices at a few hours past closing time.
So, options and alternatives to either a) reduce the number of cars on the road or b) quit wasting time in jams:
More flexible “work-from-home” policies (seriously, in this Wi-Fi age, is face time five days a week all that critical anymore?)
Bicycle subsidies (or, again, tax cuts) so more employees can cycle to work (and don’t forget to install showers in the office)
More adaptable office cultures which allow employees to, say, take half a day off and come into work only after the road (or the debris) has cleared
Tax cuts for companies who subsidize car-pooling for their employees
Shorter shifts (and free Mountain Dew?) for lorry drivers
Go the Vietnam way and encourage motorbikes and bicycles by the millions
“Hujan-time” discounts for LRT (and is there some reason why KL city-trains are the shortest in the universe?)
More ads (or school lessons) on the environmentally destructive impact of cars
Friday and Sunday sermons on the sinfulness of traffic congestion
Two-minute celebrity TV pitches; e.g. get Lisa Surihani to beam her million ringgit smile and say, “What makes me happy? Fewer drivers. And emptier roads? Makes me happy.”
Organisations or work-teams should have this understanding: When a jam this bad hits, it’s better for everyone to park themselves at the nearest Old Town White Coffee and work online. Got morning meeting? Gunalah Skype.
Someone should also get Accenture to do a pro bono study of the thousands of man-hours and fuel wasted because our highways are so fragile.
Bosses who complain about staff dodging work because they spend too much time on WhatsApp? They should be consistent by requiring staff to get off the road during an unblessed gridlock like the one last week.
Oh, and Malaysians: Can we stop buying cars like they were Omega-3 eggs? Thanks.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.