Readers of this blog will know that our favourite New Zealand seaside spot is Raglan, which is on the west coast of the North Island, south-west of the Waikato city of Hamilton. But last weekend we ventured over to the east coast to Mount Maunganui, known locally as the Mount. The two coasts couldn’t be more different. Raglan has waves courtesy of the Tasman Sea breaking off a series of points, black volcanic sand and a steep ridge line descending to the beach. Access to the beaches at the Mount is through gently undulating dunes and you emerge onto a wide white sand shore. There are some surf spots but generally the waves are small and placid as befits the Pacific Ocean. Raglan has kept its small surfer town feel whereas the Mount is all large modern houses, shopping centres and restaurants. Nevertheless we had a good day – Jim got into what surf there was and I took a long walk down the beach towards the mount itself and then followed the track that goes right round it. We got some tasty lunch from the food trucks that line the main beach before heading back across the Kaimai Range, which separates the Bay of Plenty from the Waikato.
It seems that almost every time I venture out into Ipoh I have some kind of adventure, mostly of the “heart in the mouth” type. After days spent indoors because of the haze, I went out at lunch time today to meet Jim and a colleague. They kindly invited me to join them for a delicious (though calorific!) lunch of chapati, biryani and dal. I parked my car at a row of shops that I am familiar with and they picked me up on their way to the restaurant. After lunch I suggested they drop me at the side of the road to save them some time. What I hadn’t realised was that a deep drain separated me from my car. I looked to the right for a place to cross and saw a dead dog. It couldn’t have been there very long because I hadn’t smelt it. I immediately veered to the left and found a rickety ramp across the drain. Driving back towards the golf resort I had to negotiate some road works that have closed down one side of the road. This means the traffic on my side of the road has to take over one of the lanes going the other way. This can be tricky because there are no cones or barriers dividing the two streams of traffic. One has to rely on everyone else’s good sense. The driver speeding up behind me didn’t possess any such thing. Impatient with the slow traffic in front of him, he swung over into the far lane and drove down the wrong side of the road at breakneck speed. Fortunately the only vehicle coming the other way was a motorcycle that hurriedly took evasive action. I will need some down time before I venture out again!
It’s happened! I was in a car accident in Ipoh last week, after having been told by several people over the last few months that it’s a case of when, not if. I was driving along minding my own business and listening to a Tchaikovsky CD when the woman who was driving in the next lane decided with no hesitation, no glance at her mirror and certainly no use of her indicator, to change lanes. She swiped the left front side of my car and then looked at me in amazement, surprised to see me there though I had been driving beside her for several seconds! After getting her details and completing my errands, I made my way to the nearest police station to report the accident. I was told in sign language (none of the police on duty spoke a word of English) I couldn’t report it there, I had to go to the central office of the traffic police in town. Not sure how I found my way there with their woeful directions and through masses of badly behaved traffic. One of the police at the front desk had some English and he proceeded to fill in the report, carefully noting that I was a foreigner, a housewife (!!) and a Christian (he deduced this without asking me). I refused to let him do the report in Malay because I had to sign it. He gave me a copy to take to the investigator who did not speak a word of English either. With the help of someone else, she ascertained what had happened and then organised for a photographer to take a photo of the damage to my car. Apparently they will let me know the outcome of their investigation. I gather, from the insurance company’s website, that I can get a no-claims repair if the police decide I was not at fault. We’ll see. All the police personnel I dealt with were unfailingly polite and wanted to help. But their offices were in a shocking state – dingy, filthy and run down. What a depressing environment to work in! People I have spoken to since tell me that the police are well-funded. If this is the case, none of the money is used on the maintenance of Ipoh police stations.
An update to this report (29 July 2016):
I have not yet heard back from the police. So my chances of getting a no-claims repair were nil. I got my car repaired and paid in cash for the cost of the excess on my insurance policy – go figure! The woman who bashed into my car got away without paying a cent. And so it goes, Malaysia style!
There is no proper monsoon on the western side of peninsular Malaysia but there are rainy seasons. The rain usually falls in heavy downpours in the afternoons and brings welcome relief from the heat, though the precipitation can exacerbate the humidity. Today was one of the coolest days I’ve experienced since coming to live in Ipoh. It was cloudy for most of the day and there was rain on and off throughout the day. This meant that the temperature was two to three degrees cooler than normal and it was wonderful! Driving in Ipoh during or just after one of these downpours can be challenging because the drains can’t cope with the volume of water and large pools form on the road surface. It is also dreadful for motorcyclists who get drenched if they can’t find a convenient place to shelter. They tend to congregate under bridges and motorway flyovers and wait out the storm.
… not always, not if you don’t feel like it, and almost definitely not if you’re a motor cyclist in Ipoh. When you approach an amber light as I did this morning on my way to the supermarket, you should check your rear-view mirror to make sure you won’t get bashed by the car behind you if you decide to stop. I stopped because there wasn’t a car directly behind me but the motorcycles to my left didn’t hesitate – they went through the red light at great speed – and clearly never had any intention of stopping. When the light turned green for me, I took a long pause because four cars came through the intersection after their light had turned red and mine had turned green. The photo above is of a warning sign (‘berhenti’ means ‘stop’ in Malay) at our local petrol station. It clearly has absolutely no effect (and is nicely ungrammatical as well!) I made it to the supermarket and back unscathed as you know because you’re reading this post.
I find driving in Ipoh challenging because of the general disregard for red lights, lane markings and right of way displayed by many motorists. Motorcyclists are completely cavalier regarding the rules of the road, probably because if you knock a rider off her/his bike, it’s always your fault, even if they’ve come through a red light straight at you! However, the way people decorate their cars provides some light relief. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of little Malaysian-made cars on the roads of Ipoh, many with their back ledges richly decorated with cushions, soft toys, fake flowers and religious paraphernalia. One of the favourites is a row of brightly coloured synthetic strawberry cushions, which you can buy from any number of stalls in the Cameron Highlands where actual strawberries are grown. Alternatively you can have a worm (as in the pic above) which takes up most of the ledge. I too drive a Myvi but its ledge is disappointingly free of decoration!
Motorcycles are the only form of transport for many Vietnamese families. To see a whole family (mum, dad and anywhere from one to four children) on one bike is not at all unusual. There are thousands of motorbikes on the road at any one time and they outnumber other vehicles by about 10 to one. And we were in Da Nang. I imagine that the traffic in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi is far denser. Even less notice is taken of red lights than in Ipoh and motorcyclists don’t even seem to slow down at intersections. Somehow they all manage to miss each other most of the time (we did see one collision) aided by enthusiastic and consistent use of horns. The photo above is a good example of the way in which motorbikes are used in Vietnam. Each member of this family is doing something other than concentrating on the traffic – mum is searching for something in her handbag, son is brandishing a sword (perhaps in an effort to keep other motorcyclists at bay) and dad has removed the mask that protects him from the polluted air to take a long pull at his cigarette!
I now have a little white Malaysian Myvi (see pic) in the carport. It means that theoretically I can go wherever I like around Ipoh and further afield. However, so far, I’ve only driven to the supermarket. Why so unadventurous? One reason is the traffic here – lots of it, particularly scooter riders, who come at you from all directions. For many families, scooters are their only means of transport, so you often see whole families on one scooter – Mum and Dad seated with the baby between them and the toddler standing up in front of Dad just behind the handle-bars. I am terrified of knocking into one of these and being responsible for injuring a child. I’ve decided that the best time for going out is the middle of the morning, when most people are already at work and schools have begun. The other reason for my reticence about driving is my lack of familiarity with the layout of Ipoh. That is getting better with time and I guess getting lost is one of the ways I will learn my way round. I promise that I will get better at this so that, by the time you come on a visit, I will be a competent and entertaining tour guide!