JANUARY 20TH 2002 - THE NORTH SHORE NEWS
TOURING MALAYSIA IN STYLE
To an Englishman, a car rates above a child, even a dog. On Sunday he washes, teases with a moist chamois, then polishes his metal steed to a high sheen. The mandatory drive in the country follows, down narrow muddy lanes for a high cholesterol cream tea. The whole operation must be lovingly repeated when he returns. A promotion brings a new car. It will be parked strategically, within full view of the neighbours. A car is all about status.
A Rolls Royce is the flag on the summit. The crown jewel. The ultimate. Always referred to as “The Rolls” unlike say a Ford, which would simply be “The car.” A vintage Rolls should be named, perhaps after a favourite ample aunt, like Bess, Geraldine or Jemima. A touch of sniffy inverted snobbery “They don’t make them like they used to!” A vintage Rolls with pedigree – ah well – that’s the cat’s miaow! “You know old Bess was shipped out to Calcutta for Lord Chalmondley back in 1910, he only used it when he was off to play a chukker. Rescued her from some dreadful bookmaker chappie in Leeds”. The owner of a vintage Rolls Royce views himself as the temporary caretaker of a legend.
The Rolls Royce Enthusiasts Club was founded in 1957. Owners of post 1933 Bentleys were permitted to join as they were also manufactured by Mr. Rolls and Mr. Royce. There are over 9000 members worldwide. Every 2 years an exotic jaunt is arranged to a far off land where both cars and owners will be appreciated. In 2001 the destination was to be Malaysia, a predominantly Muslim country with strong colonial ties.
Plans were 2 years in the making. There were Sultans to contact. All nine owe their titular survival to The British who “wrote them into” the Constitution at the time of independence. Each is permitted seven imported cars duty-free. The Sultan of Kelantan pushed the envelope. When his twentieth car, a shiny new Lamborghini, arrived by airfreight, tax-free status was refused. He leapt into the driver’s seat and burned rubber all the way back to the palace. There must be Rolls or two in the royal garages?
With over 80 cars and 230 participants, first class hotels must be arranged with lots of parking. Cellar space for vast quantities of Veuve Cliquot, a natural sponsor. Banquets, receptions, and photo opportunities for the locals. Finally, plans were cemented and deposits taken. Sea transport was arranged from Britain. On Sept 30th 2001 the ship sailed.
Oct 7th - all hell breaks out in Afghanistan. “Irresponsible, putting lives at risk” rages The Times of London. A few cancellations. “No coverage against terrorism” states the group’s insurers. A Dutchman hopes to pull his beloved “Phantom” off in Panama, but relents after a berating from his wife! Much scurrying between the British Consul and the Prime Minister, Dr. Mahatir. Assurances that “Nothing will go wrong.” Plans proceed.
A few cars remain on the dock at Port Klang. The cancellations. The Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress of London fly in. Delighted citizens line the streets of KL. A wondrous welcome for these eccentric people and their magnificent roadsters. “Dammit” – “Left my spats in the restaurant last night” swore John. “Had a beautiful actress beside me in yesterday’s parade and quite lost my mind” – “They belong to a chauffeur’s outfit I picked up at a garage sale 20 years ago.”
The country of Malaysia as it is today, was formed in 1965. It includes the peninsula which runs South from the Thai border to Singapore. The South China Sea separates two other states of Sarawak and Sabah in Northeast Borneo by around 600 kms. Kuala Lumpur, or KL, on the peninsula, is a modern bustling capital filled with “trophy” office and apartment towers.
Chinese and Indians were imported by The British to mine tin, harvest rubber, trade and administer. Malays, mostly immigrants from nearby Sumatra, preceded the British and along with aboriginals are constitutionally protected. Throw in the right of the Sultans to elect a king every five years and you have a complex situation requiring a cool hand at the reins. The controversial Prime Minister Dr. Mahatir has held power for over 20 years.
For almost three weeks this disparate group of bankers, aristocrats, undertakers, and tinkerers from 13 different countries drove their Classics more than 2500 Kms through the palms and kampungs of the Malaysian countryside. The oldest, a 1909 Silver Ghost and the newest, a 1999 Bentley Continental. They wheezed and steamed up the long winding hill to The Cameron Highlands, a tranquil teaplanting area that doubled as a hill station for Brits to escape the heat. Devonshire cream teas are available after a jungle trek. A lone red phone box - Sentinel to a colonial past.
With typical Malaysian hospitality, The Sultan of Perak threw open his magnificent onion turretted palace to the group. Photographs in the vast dining room of such dignitaries as the Queen, Yasser Arafat and the late Emperor Hirohito of Japan prove he still wields a lot of influence.
The Sultan and Sultana of Negeri Sembilan took first prize for dramatic entrances. They rolled up in a cavalcade of two Rolls, a Bentley and two Mercedes, then - they disappeared! Moments later, a golf cart – with a Rolls Royce grill and the words Royal Ride inscribed below the “RR” drew to a halt under the porte-cochere. Grinning from ear to ear, Their Majesties descended to the red carpet graciously shaking hands with all and sundry before taking a seat at the head table under the marquee. The old palace set in English formal gardens is for entertaining, whilst the newer, splashier pad is reserved for – Queens, Emperors or Yasser Arafat?
Yes, there was precautionary security – these are trying times and some cars are worth a million bucks not to mention the drivers! - But no one could have forced the delighted smiles on waving truckdrivers, hordes of schoolchildren, kampung dwellers or city folk who posed for that Kodak moment beside a 1921 Silver Ghost. Whether in Penang or Melaka, the islands, the cities, or the countryside, laughter, hospitality, and great food are just a way of life in Malaysia – and at bargain prices. If “putting lives at risk” includes obesity or sunstroke then I guess The Times had a point!
IF YOU GO:
VISAS: Not necessary for Canadians.
GETTING THERE: Cathay Pacific flies from Vancouver to KL via Hong Kong. Great train access from Thailand and Singapore.
ACCOMMODATION: Tourists at all levels are well catered to. Malaysia has been in the tourism business for a long time and has a great infrastructure. (See Helpful Info)
WOMEN TRAVELLERS/SECURITY: This is a tolerant multicultural modern law abiding society. You would be unlucky to experience problems here. BEWARE possession of drugs carries the DEATH penalty.
FOOD: Eating out is a national pastime and why not! With the influence of three different races, fabulous seafood, wondrous fruit and vegetables and reasonable prices it’s a gourmet’s dream plus you can drink the water. Booze of any kind is expensive in hotels and high-end restaurants. Max out your duty free!
WHEN TO GO: The climate is tropical. Hot year round with flash rainstorms. The East Coast is hit by monsoons November – January. You never need a sweater!
HELPFUL INFO: Guidebook – Lonely Planet now covers all price levels. Tourism Malaysia has an office in Vancouver. 830 Burrard St. (604) 689 8899. Tourism Malaysia website: www.tourism.gov.my