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Destination Malaysia

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It’s our last full day on the island of Langkawi, as tomorrow all of us will disperse back to our corners of the globe…making close to 24hrs of travel in the process. Today is perhaps the first day where we didn’t have much to do, a welcomed sight on our itinerary, and finally the adoption of the slower pace that comes with island living.

We took to the mangroves via a powerboat, where we explored the stalagmites and stalactites that have taken a millennium to grow. Ducking low, so as to avoid an unintended souvenir, we also had to contend with a side of bats hanging from the ceiling. Langkawi is teaming with wildlife at this natural preserve, and we can spot mudskippers below, as well as small crabs scurrying through the mud.

The nature tour continues with the monkeys that greet us along our path (looking for a handout, those cheap bastards), and later we would watch eagles feeding off the fish skins we left them in the estuary. Our trip is cut short though, as we’re having lunch at another resort on the island, The Datai (totally staying here, if I ever come back).

Our official schedule ends there, and the unofficial schedule finds us at the pool the rest of the day. The ample time under the sun gives us plenty of duration to chew on the trip as a whole, and take in everything we have experienced in the past seven days.

Today is perhaps the day I have been looking forward to the most. Not that I don’t like a good MotoGP race, especially at a venue I’ve never been to before, but come on…a couple days on a tropical island? That’s tough to beat.

Our itinerary before we left the USA originally had us flying to Borneo these few days, but the aftermath of tropical storms there meant we would visit island of Langkawi instead.

While I had heard much talk of Borneo, Langkawi was an unknown to me. My worry was for naught though, as the once “cursed” tropical locale was just as decadent as we had been told — of course, staying at the five-star Danna Langkai resort helped in that regard as well.

Time of day is no escape from the heat and humidity of Malaysia, and it’s no different here at Sepang on race day. I could wax-poetic about how the extreme temperatures here at the track change the smell of the four-stroke exhaust fumes.

Or, how the humidity, which leaves you with a constant layer of sweat on your skin, changes the thunderous sounds of the 1,000cc MotoGP engines, but it would be a lie. It’s just hot here, and your body braves its exposures to the outside world only if you make it the future promise of air conditioning.

I have no idea how the fans pack the stands here at Sepang International Raceway on race day, but they do. They come in droves, and many ride here. Large convoys of bikers make the trek from nearby countries even.

Southeast Asia is rampant for GP racing, and it shows. Attendance on Friday is non-existent, Saturday is modest, at best, but the come Sunday, 80,000+ Malay, Chinese, Thai, Indonesian, Burmese, and countless other ethnicities line the track. It’s a spectactle, to be certain.

Sepang International Circuit is a short car ride from downtown Kuala Lumpur — under an hour, if the traffic conditions are right. It’s near the airport, which means it’s near the palm tree farms I saw during our plane’s approach to KLIA. If you look closely while driving to SIC, you can see that there are two kinds of palm tree plants lining the roadside.

The old palm trees have very long branches and leaves, while the newer palms are shorter overall in radius. This change in plant design is so that more trees can be planted per acre. Other changes to the palm trees mean less water required (palms require a massive amount of water from the ground, something Malaysia has no shortage of, thankfully), more liters of oil per tree, and quicker growing times.

Sitting in the car ride, listening to the banter of my colleagues, I can’t help but think that the noble palm tree is a metaphor for this country. Eager to provide, and ready to adapt to the realities of the world around it. Malaysia reminds me, in part, of a younger America.

Thirsty for the ingress of foreigners, accepting of a mosaic of cultures and religions, and a budding epicenter of the reginoal economy. If one thing relevant came from our hours of talks about Malaysian tourism and government goals, it is that this tiny country wants more from itself.

No one can deny the growing importance of Asia, in particular Southeast Asia, especially when it comes to the motorcycle industry, but it is of note that Malaysians are eager for a bigger seat at the table. To that end, the construction of looming towers, the building of new offices and houses, the shifting the economy from labor to services, all signal what Malaysia is willing to purse for…more.

It’s hard to tell if the jet lag is responsible for my almost hourly wake-ups at night, or if it’s the gallons of water we have been drinking, trying to stay hydrated in the oppressive heat of Kuala Lumpur. It’s also hard to fathom that Malaysia gets hotter than this, but it does — that’s the nature of an equatorial climate though.

It seems difficult to imagine, but this really is the most ideal time of the year to run the Malaysian GP. Sure there is the torrential rain that comes with the 90ºF temperature and its 50% humidity, but the summer months are even hotter. With track temperatures approaching 130ºF now already, we would have riders dropping like flies in June, July, and August.

It’s an attribute that comes with the track, just like how Qatar has its lights, Phillip Island has its mercurial weather patterns, and Laguna Seca has its Corkscrew turn. It is a part of what makes Sepang International Circuit a special venue, and part of what tests the mettle of the riders.

We wouldn’t know any of this first-hand though, as we have yet to be at the track so far in this trip. I have to remind myself that we are playing tourist for our Malaysian hosts, here more to experience the country than to report on the grand prix (thankfully, A&R has David and Tony for that job).

Instead Day Four sees us soaking up some more staples of KL culture, and of course us four American journalists singing for our supper…almost literally.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xhpO_WcR_jE”

Where have the days gone? Well, the international dateline is partially to blame, as today’s installment of my trip to Malaysia officially comes to you from Thursday, local time. In that timespan, I’ve been on four airplanes, two monorails, and a handful of taxicabs — which really just means that not too much has really happened worth reporting.

The first 24 hours were spent sitting on a plane. First, Delta to get me from Florida to San Francisco (via Atlanta), and then Cathay Pacific to get me from San Francisco to Kuala Lumpur (via Hong Kong). I endured 15hrs from America to Asia in the middle seat, between two lovely elderly Indian ladies, whose names I did not catch, so thus named them Fay and Doris, as it corresponded to their seat letters.

Fay enjoys Bollywood movies like it’s life’s greatest guilty pleasure, while Doris was a no-nonense kind of gal, who took a walk on the wild side this flight with her non-vegitarian meal choices. We became immediate friends during our journey, and promptly never spoke to each other once the landing gear deployed. Tyler Durden was right.

I’m off to Malaysia for the next week, to watch the Malaysian GP at Sepang International Circuit, and generally take in the touristy parts of Kuala Lumpur and the archipelago of Langkawi.

As close as I can get to paid vacation in this line of work, I will be the guest of the Malaysian government, which as far as I can gather, wants to make the Malaysian GP a sort of destination vacation for two-wheeled fans — a “come for the GP, stay for the beaches” kind of thing.