Category Archives: travel

“I’ll Meet You Halfway”

You needed not be a member of The Partridge Family to sing this out in celebration of the climactic thrill generated when the upgoing tram met the downcoming one, and passed each other at the mid-point of the funicular railway – with passengers on one car waving and hollering at those on the other track.

Yes, Penang Hill had always been a favourite destination for family outings.  My first visit was made when I was around 5 years old.

Back then, the trams were of wooden construction and without airconditioning, but the natural ventilation was cool and refreshing, and the trams travelled at a tranquil, leisurely pace.

Sadly the trams today are too modern – fully enclosed, with aircon, and shoot up and down like express trains.  To rub it in, the Middle Station has also been eliminated – sorry, can’t meet you halfway.

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Of Side-Cars And Sidekicks

I wonder how many of us here remember, or have seen one, or have taken a ride on the “car side” of the three-wheel contraption ? I remember the last time I saw one was like 50 years ago – I think back then it was kinda chic with the better-off folks.

These machines had proper suspensions for both the side-car, as well as the motorbike itself, with creature comfort taken well into conideration. 

Well, in old war movies, this mode of transportation was popular with the German troops.  The side car of those times usually had a machine gun mounted in front, to take care of any unfriendly encounters.

Am not sure if present-day JPJ (Road Transport Department) approves of this kind of vehicle.   But never mind, let your memories flow….don’t forget to take your doggie along ….

Beyond Sound Agreement

In late 1962, the two European rivals, Britain and France, put aside their differences, and signed a treaty to jointly develop and produce a commercial passenger aeroplane that would fly beyond than the speed of sound.

The resultant aircraft — aptly named “Concorde” — was a magnificient engineering triumph and a showcase of mastery of aerodynamics.  It fired the imaginations of impressionable young techie-wannabes like me. 

But commercially, the project was an epoch failure – with the press calling it “The Fastest Flop”.  Skyrocketing oil prices especially in the years following the Arab oil embargo, made it economically unviable.  The rise of environmental concerns such as side-effects of the “sonic boom” also hastened its demise.

The crash of Air France flight 4590 on 25 July 2000 put the final nail in the coffin for this beautiful speedbird.

All Routes Led To Puduraya

Of course this is an exaggeration (not all roads led to Rome, even in its heyday).  But this was the base terminal from which many express buses from all over the country operated.

During the 4 years of my studies at UM (1975-79), I called at this “mother-of-all-bus-terminals” at least 2 dozen times, as I travelled between Kuala Lumpur, and home in Penang.

Back then, it was already a hive of hyper-activity.  The upper floor which housed numerous ticketing booths and eating spots was always swarming with travellers of all shapes, sizes and colours, as well as hordes of bus touts crying aloud the names of almost every major town in Peninsula Malaysia.

The lower floor roared with high decibels of engine noise and fumed with diesel smoke from the arriving and departing buses. 

Those were the days – I have not been back there since 1980.

Every Seat A Window Seat

Haha, this “ancient” piston-engined, propellor-driven, 9-seater Britten-Norman Islander BN-2 had something to offer that no modern airliners can!  And best of all, if odds were in your favour, you could land up next to the pilot in the cockpit…and that is full frontal view.

Years back (I think in the 70s), MAS had 4 of these rugged flying workhorses plying the rural routes in Sarawak and Sabah.  I have heard of many interesting stories as well as some hair-raising tales about flights on this plane.  Folks originating from East Malaysia should have some fond memories to share.

I was told that all passengers (apart from their baggage) had to be individually weighed and allocated seats in order to preserve balance in the air.  Sometimes live animals would be among the payload together with the passengers.

Tunnel Visions @ Bukit Berapit

The last time I rode a KTM train on the KL-Butterworth sector was about 25 years ago.  In the early days, the journey took something like 9 gruelling hours with the train making umpteen stops along the way.

But as a kid, every trip was an adventure.  The most eagerly anticipated events were the encounters with the 4 tunnels of Bukit Berapit.   Two long and two short ones.  (The British were clever not have made it Three Long and Two Short, 三长两短).  If I remember correctly, the second tunnel south of Taiping was the longest of the four.

With the opening of the new twin-tunnel in conjunction with double tracking and electrification,  these tunnels (and tracks) would probably fade into history or else be reclaimed by the jungle. There are some proposals to preserve them…will there be new light at the ends of these tunnels ?

A Steamy Love Affair

The North Borneo Railways photo here shows the only surviving specimen of an operational steam-engined train in Malaysia.  Brings back fond memories of the days of travelling on KTM trains between Butterworth (from Prai, initially) and Kuala Lumpur in the 1960s.

Those were the days when every trip was filled with great expectations.  I was always peering out of the windows to catch glimpses of the locomotive in front, with black plumes belching from the top, and steam hissing from the sides. Not forgetting the frequent whistling (I believe was also steam-operated).

KTM has come a long way.  Now as more sections of the rail network switch to electric trains, raw steamy love affairs have evolved into more refined electrifying experience (hopefully).   (Well, the intermediate diesel-electric locos were totally boring).