Saturday, 29 December 2007

Disappointing visit to Malaysia

Had the chance to visit Kuala Lumpur last week. Thought that would have been a reprieve as this was a much needed break, and Malaysia seems to be the country of choice judging from the way they've bent over backwards to attract visitors in their TV ads around the world. But it was not to be.

After clearing immigration, the wait for baggage to arrive at the carousel was 30 or more minutes. Customs was lax, but I was greeted by at least half a dozen taxi or private hire car touts when I got out of the restricted area. I missed the guy who was supposed to fetch me as he was holding up an A4-sized card with my name, only to be obscured by the same people picking guests up for the hotels, and, the touts.

Finally I found my guy and I pushed our trolley out to the pick-up zone while he retrieves his car from the car park. Where I was waiting is a stretch of area around 10 metres deep. A sultry airport worker (my guess as he was not in uniform) showed up to collect empty trolleys from the edge of that area where cars pull up to fetch the visitors. While I was standing at the edge, and looking out for my commute to the city, I noticed this airport worker gesturing for me to move off his path. I realised I was in his "immediate" path, not that the rest of the 10 metre deep waiting area was congested and he doesn't have an alternative way out with this sole trolley he'd collected.

There was room away from the edge of the road, but he chose to gesture. No "please can you move" nor a smile accompanying his gesture. Although he was not Malay or Chinese, surely they must speak some form of common language, or have had some basic training about how to make visitors welcomed before being allowed to work in the international airport of a country which has spent millions of dollars to attract visitors. Or is that too much to expect of the Malaysian bureaucracy?

The ride into the city was alright, except for the occassional road hoggers crawling in the extreme right lane of the expressway. Either their eyes were off the rear view and wing mirrors, or they simply didn't feel the need to move off that "fast" lane.

Then the check-in at the hotel. From the time I walked through the doors, it was at least 20 minutes later before I arrived in my room. I'd booked an executive suite room but have never stayed in this hotel before. The reception at the lobby level told me I had to wait as one of the guest relations was going to check me in and show me to my room. She finally showed up. She was "Chinese-looking", spoke very poor English, but did not respond when I spoke Mandarin or Cantonese to her (common languages in KL for the Chinese). You know what all the wait was for?

Well, I finally found out that being a guest of the executive floor, I was supposed to be checked in by staff from their executive lounge on some high floor. The receptionist who handled my check in didn't tell me I could go straight up tot he 20-something floor and be shown my room without the hassles of waiting at the reception like all the other guests. I've stayed at executive floors in hotels all around the world and have always had a pleasant experience. Either they check me in prompto on the ground floor, or someone would immediately lead me up to my room to be checked in. I never had to wait for someone to wait for the lift and descend from the 20-something floor just to lead me back up to my room on that floor.

More "amazing" things happened during my short stay in Kuala Lumpur. Throughout my stay, there were billboards about "loving Malaysia" and at touristy spots, signs of welcome and hospitality. But they all seem to be messages conjured by expensive advertising agencies which the Tourism board hired, but without the support and conviction from all (to be fair, most) levels of Malaysian society at all.

The only smiles I found were the sales people in the exclusive boutiques I walked into, perhaps eager to have me flash my plastic card so their cash registers go ka-ching! Even the staff at the clubs which charge US$12 for a glass of house wine were sultry and unfriendly. What's with this country, I wondered.

Why has so much money being spent on publicity to attract visitors while the rest of the nation isn't contributing to make visitors feel welcomed? Is it so difficult to smile or be courteous or otherwise interact in ways which make others feel like they're their money is well spent on their establishments, including airports charge fees for their use which are eventually passed on to us travellers? Perhaps they mistook my Chinese face as a local Malaysian. If that is so, how could Malaysians in the service industry treat their Malaysian clients and customrers in that way anyway? Is the money they spend different from that of a visitor of another skin colour? Didn't seem to be the case as I noticed the same sultry and unfriendly faces when they were serving Caucasians and Middle-Eastern looking people.

Quite a pathetic state, I thought. Malaysians don't seem to be happy at their jobs at all. Leaving the airport, the lady at the immigration counter took almost 15 minutes to process a family of three in front of me. She moved at a snail's pace, at times, she didn't even appear like she was paying attention to the passports and immigration cards filled up in front of her. In other words, she was day dreaming most of that 15 minutes while I waited in line. Even the immigration authorities in customarily slower Bali (Indonesia) work quicker. Of course Bangkok, Singapore and Hongkong are miles apart.

Malaysia, Malaysia.... Are you "Truly Asia" or still in the backwaters of civilised Asia?

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