Realizing it takes about a year’s commitment to fully grasp living in a new environment, Diane and I are about half way through and have just added New Year’s Day and any associated long weekend days to the list of times to get the hell out of Batu Ferrenghi. As the third entry to this dubious list that includes the horribly overcrowded Hari Raya holiday and the unlivable “haze season”, we’re experiencing the stupidest and most obnoxious event we’ve come across since moving to Penang. After a relatively quiet New Year’s Eve that featured a few minutes of fireworks at midnight, about 10,000 Malay teenagers came roaring into town on intentionally noise-modified Yamaha motorbikes in what’s obviously some ridiculous organized event clearly designed to disturb every resident, disrupt the most lucrative tourism season of the year and drive half the local businesses to close.
Naturally, 80% of them take over the Sri Sayang serviced apartments directly across the street from our window. Knowing there’s also annual motorcycle gang gatherings in the USA in places like Daytona Beach and Sturgis, South Dakota, I’ve got nothing against organized events and expats are visitors that shouldn’t judge local customs, cultures and events. Having said that, this event is so disturbingly loud and disruptive it’s ridiculous enough for me to write about. Unlike normal events where participants actually do something, the idea of this one seems to be:
Go out in unorganized groups of anything from 10 to 100 at any time of day or night, rev up the putt-putt engines as loud as possible, disrupt the already choked roads, spew countless amounts of poisonous exhaust fumes into a country already plagued by haze and daily bouts of never ending burning and not really go anywhere. Drive a few blocks. Stop and eat. Throw garbage on the street. Wait five minutes and repeat all weekend long.
Sounding like life on the NASCAR race circuit, living through this for three days is so annoying we’re counting down the minutes when they all go back to school and work. Scores of aimless youths obviously think this is fun. Unfortunately, all their parents forgot to teach them that civilized members of society don’t throw garbage everywhere. Setting up a tent that’s monitored by about two people, the streets outside our condo are a cesspool of festering food containers, plastic bottles, toilet tissue and mounds of other litter that’s creating a haven for rats, mice and who knows what else. Since the two or three adults at the little table by the tent appear to be wearing military uniforms, I guess they condone turning the town into a pig sty.
Realizing most Malaysians are law-abiding and very nice, this “festival” puts an enormous blemish on Malaysia in the eyes of western foreigners and they should be ashamed of this. Friendly with a local bar owner, our neighbors tell us the local business community hates this event and common occurrences include groups of kids ordering food and drink and then refusing to pay, using their large numbers as a defense mechanism. Strolling through town, you’ll notice lots of gated up restaurants and businesses because nobody wants to deal with thousands of unruly kids interfering with their daily commerce. Thankfully, their religion prevents them from boozing it up and there’s no guns in Malaysia. Seeming almost like what residents described to us as an election year tactic designed to cause trouble in the largely opposition state of Penang, the mostly Chinese state government can’t possibly approve of this so either there’s something suspicious or they all go away for the weekend. More likely they turn a blind eye like almost everyone does in Asia.
With no visible police presence, the kids parade up and down all day and night and apparently add little or nothing to the local economy. And nobody sees anything wrong. Excuse my snobbish overtone but speaking for my entire condo, this type of event will never attract foreigners and since this country builds nothing but million dollar luxury high-rise units despite less than 1% of its citizenry ever being able to afford one, this type of event clearly diminishes the chances of Malaysia ever becoming “fully developed“. Not a fan of Harley Davidson biker crowds, I can assure you when they hold large gatherings in the USA, they patronize the local businesses, try not to disturb the residents and other tourists and leave the town relatively spotless. If they didn’t they would no longer be welcome and law enforcement wouldn’t tolerate it. Clearly the opposite, this ridiculous gathering appears to be a rite of passage for bored Malay teens and it’s very disruptive, disrespectful and just plain annoying. Score one more for Thailand.
Hoping they end this putt-putt gathering some day, I’m sure it’s just another one of the many “inconveniences” of living in Southeast Asia and like the continuing destruction of habitat, never ending burning and everything else that makes Asia what it is, I guess “home for the holidays” is the what’s on tap for the 2016 holiday season. Plagued with two weeks of standstill traffic, stuck in town because of it and now being forced into air conditioning and closed windows like another haze season, we recommend skipping Penang and perhaps enjoying Phuket or Bali for your year-end vacation.
On the bright side, we leave for our work exchange in Australia in six days and hopefully spending four weeks in a G8 nation will make it easier to return to the never ending surprises we experience as expats living in Southeast Asia.