Monday, July 16, 2012

In Transit: Kuantan-Kuching

I've been travelling like a motherfucker. This year was a year of travel, and we've just crossed the halfway mark. I have travelled to almost all states in Malaysia, a few cities in Indonesia and Bangkok.

Last week, I went to Kuantan and Kuching. Kunatan, to see my father's deteriorating health and stubbornness. The hard-headed old man still refuses to do what is logically the best for his health and go to the hospital. He's from the old school, which means he believes that people go to hospitals to die, not get better.

Oh well. Nothing I more can do there.

Talking about illnesses, I went to Kuching, in search of a girl. I did not see her, but experienced much of Kuching.

The first impression I got was that Kuching has many shopping malls, but very few customers. I was there on Thursday, and my hotel was connected to Sarawak Plaza, and just across the road from Parkson. Lots of shops, but only five customers in Sarawak Plaza. Granted, it was a Thursday, but if you go to a Kuantan mall on Thursday or Monday, say East Coast Mall, you would be among throngs of shoppers.

I imagine horror stories of people spending their retirement savings to set up shop in Kuching, only to face bankruptcy a few months later.

There are lots of KFCs, though. I count three within a 100m radius. But there's only so much fried chicken one can eat. And over 200 massage parlours. I went to several commercial blocks where 50% occupancy was all massage parlours. The scary bit? I was the ONLY customer I saw.

The problem lies, I believe, in a few things. First of all, it is very difficult to enter the Sarawak market. Only Sarawakians can own Sarawak land. Any non-Sarawakian wishing to enter the state would be issued a 90-day thingy - visa, is it? And that's for Malaysians. I have no idea what it would take to work there. Maybe something as messy as immigration whatever.

And then, if you were to go to Sarawak, what would you do there? What's the special? I found what I like - a seafood place which does the best crab dish in the world, and some girls in the Sarawak nightlife. Not as good as Sabah nightlife, but it will do.

And then what? Jungles? I got a jungle outside my house in Kuantan. I'm from the swamp, motherfucker! Shopping? Shop for what? And like the fried chicken, there's only so much mee kolok and kek lapis one can eat.

However, it is not all bad. I remember Kuantan facing the same thing years ago, in the '90s. My friends and I were the only people eating at the Kuantan Parade food court. But now, Kuantan is jammed every weekend.

The Pahang State Gov developed the satellite towns around Kuantan. Gebeng, Gambang, Muadzam Shah all became industrial towns, with many factories opening up. Pekan had UMW. Temerloh and Raub focused on agriculture. Fuck Jerantut.

Also sprouting up right now are dozens of colleges and universities, funneling the almighty student dollar into businesses. I imagine that a decent-sized college could get 2000 enrollments at any given time, not counting the staff - meaning there's a market for lodgings, transport, general services, food, entertainment, health and whatnot.

The point is, after developing these townships with diverse businesses and opening up colleges, Kuantan remained the commerce centre. The only place within miles with a decent cineplex is Kuantan - whereas the one I went to in Kuching told me I must purchase four tickets at a minimum to watch any movie.

So, the thing is, if Kuching developed the surrounding areas into satellite towns with their own economic activities, they can then channel people into Kuching, to eat Mee Kolok, watch Ombak Rindu or go for a massage.

With wide spaces, the Sarawak Gov can always continue tapping into oil-and-gas (which would not last) and I dunno, plant vegetables or palm oil or rear cattle (I met one rancher with a thousand heads of cows at a pub in Kuching. Unfortunately, he's thinking of moving his whole operation to Indonesia cause the girls are hotter).

Miri would be a different conundrum, as it is fed by the oil-and-gas industries directly.

Also, since Kuching has so many massage parlours, it is perhaps a good opportunity to introduce a 'Kuching massage'. I went to these massage parlours, and was rubbed oil by Chinese and Thai masseurs. I tried looking for authentic, traditional local massages, but could not find it. Imagine that - over 200 massage parlours, and not one with a Sarawak theme.

A Kuching massage could be a variation of the Swedish deep tissue massage, or even a variation of the traditional Malay massage. Use a bamboo, get an orangutan to massage people - I dunno, just do something.

And marketing, as always, makes or breaks everything. I have seen great products die because the marketing and sales were done by orangutans. NO! Orangutans - massage. Humans - go and market the hell out of that shit.

I found out about TopSpot only through word of mouth. That place, especially the Bukit Mata seafood stall, is one of my favourite seafood places in the world - bar none. The extremely sinful Crab in Buttermilk and Honey with Salted Egg is heavenly. They also know how to cook vegetables - not too long on the fire. But where's the marketing, man?

Thais market the shit out of everything, even stuff which are not so good. And they fucking smile a lot. I sense an undercurrent of cynicism in Kuching people. Nothing wrong with that, and most were generally helpful, but that doesn't get tourists at ease. In Thailand, I just wanted people to take my money away from me so I could get to the good stuff.

Oh well. Not my problem, eh? There are currently 12 daily Air Asia flights from KL to Kuching. One every two hours. But I believe that in order to score a happy ending, the Sarawak Gov might do well by focusing on developing the surrounding areas, which they might be doing anyway. I was just rambling. DOn't mind me.