Here In My Home - Malaysian Artistes For Unity

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Low cost travel then

Long before Tune Air introduced the concept of low cost travel with their air and hotel service, Malaysian families have been doing it albeit with land travel. Even in the eighties, it was cheaper for a family to take public transport even though they had a family car as the cost of fatigue by driving in pre-PLUS highway era took a tremendous toll on the family so much so they may be too tired to enjoy their destination. Thus the relative luxury of travelling by express bus and train as compared to the car was very much evident. You have to remember that while there was no so-called executive bus service as such except for first class rail service, cars were definitely much smaller in passenger space compared to current cars. In fact when KTMB had their Rail Bus service between Ipoh and KL at one time, it was a very quick trip as once taken by my brother and I in our teens as it was the precursor to the intercity fast commuter service they have now. The only difference is at the time it was diesel railcars instead of the current electrified trains. So overall you arrived in much better condition and was well rested to continue your travel in-city. The thing was that the city taxi service at the time was great, reasonably priced with helpful drivers that usually do it with a smile. No profiteering surly drivers that pick and choose their passengers and destinations, just say where and you are on your way. The best thing is that this was really door-to-door service as you can hail the taxi from anywhere, without the hassle of finding parking space thrown in.

As for hotels, you did not need to go the way of TV8’s Destinasi Bajet show to stretch your hundred dollar for a three day two night stay, as you can get family rooms in a reasonable hotel well enough. This does not mean the shop house hotels that are now basically fronts for brothels, but bespoke imperial style service. This was available from the old Station Hotel and Majestic Hotel at reasonable cost, as somehow such service were no longer fashionable then as people were at this time flocking to modern hotel service as offered by Hilton Hotel and such. Ironic isn’t it that since then such service has come back with a vengeance with the rise of boutique hotels that now charge top dollar. Yet at the time large hotel rooms that you could play football in, poster beds, decorative plaster fittings and fine china room service were available at reasonable cost. As we preferred travelling by train as it was not as monotonous as a bus ride, second-class of course, the default hotel we stayed in was of course the Station Hotel but we did stay at the Majestic if my late father wanted to splurge a bit. Later when these hotels started to become run down and ultimately closed, we started to travel by express bus instead and this time we stayed at the Palace Hotel in Jalan Masjid India, a well run budget hotel before its time that has managed to survive to this day. This was because it also offered the convenience of a central location not only close to Pudu Raya Bus station and surrounded by the shopping areas of Masjid India and Jalan TAR but was also within striking distance to Benteng. At that time Benteng by the river in front of Masjid Jamek was the Bangsar of the day, a food haven for KL. More on this later but one thing that has always puzzled me is why my late father never chose to stay at the legendary Coliseum nearby, maybe because he disliked shop house type hotels.

As for meals, the first night dinner always meant Tiffin food packed by me mom for the journey. Favourites were fragrant fried chicken, veggies and rice. Fried noodles somewhat lose their lustre packed this way but somehow the aforementioned food when packed in a Tiffin seemed to absorb certain flavours and aromas from each other, and thus by pleasant permeation these dishes always tasted better. Mind you this was yet the age of microwave ovens so the food was eaten cold, but it was something to savour so much so that even now I prefer my rice to be served cooled down than hot. Even now I envy those families that you can still sometimes see picnicking with their Tiffin food at roadside rest areas, and I am sure their food is much better than the food sold at the stalls. Definitely a more economic but still good tasting meals for the families. We only went out for meals at night if it was an extended stay as hospital visits usually meant an overnight trip only though we did not lose out on a good meal as the hospital’s cafeteria at the time served great briyanis with luscious plump peas. This may be why unlike most kids I loved eating peas. Nighttimes then usually meant going to the Benteng night hawker stalls, where even though I had equated it with the current Bangsar food haven the prices are not as stratospheric. The main meal would be Sate Majid before it went upscale as Satay Aneka. Those who managed to taste this sate before the family chain restaurants went belly up must agree that it was the best sate in town, even better than any Kajang Sate that actually remained anonymous to me until my adult life. Other than sate, dinner would be the other hawker specialties, cheap but satisfying. Another place we frequented was the night hawker stalls in a large vacant area behind Jalan Masjid India that has since been demolished to make way for the existing shop houses. I still remember the stall people calling out to people to patronise their stalls, the more daring even went to the extend of pulling them to sit at their tables marked out as their territory. Dirty looks would be given if you dared to order something that the stall has to offer from a different stall if you are sitting at their tables, with the ruder stall keepers actually evicting you. So it made good sense to order only some specialties from other stores if you know what’s what. But I have to say that generally the standard of food was good and you really have to be extremely unlucky to not get a good meal as the competition kept the stalls on their toes.

Finally on the occasions that my mother did not follow us on non-hospital visits trips, as she actually hated hotel stays and preferred to room with relatives in KL that was also a norm for families at the time, my father would take the opportunity to order room service or dine at the western restaurant at the Station Hotel or The Majestic that my mom considered as wasteful. Since he was a gentleman of the old school, this was something he would love to do to satisfy his cravings since mother never deign to dine at such establishments. I was once non-plussed when mom claimed that father never dined out until I remembered that he only did it with the kids. Thanks dad for opening up our taste buds that have stood us in good stead till now. A memorable meal that I remember till now was when once for supper in our hotel room my father took out a foot long banger, which was the first time I had a taste of real western style sausage. At the time you could still taste a difference in the taste of the sausages, as the spice mix was different than now, European style I guess even for Ramly Burger sausages. I never had the chance to find out from where he bought it but I suspect it from the Majestic, across the road from the Station Hotel we stayed in.

All in all, travelling effectively as a family unit at that time was still a cheap and comfortable affair. It was also much more fun and adventurous than taking to the road by the family car or by air as is the norm nowadays, and it definitely reduces the fatigue of the driver, namely me. But looking at the high risks of accidents associated with express buses and the high cost of rail and air travel for the family nowadays, even by the company that claims that now everybody can fly, makes me stick to the self-driven highway trips for now.

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