Destination Malaysia – Day Five: Palm Trees & Working Girls

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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.

Eventually our concentration on such esoteric topics is broken, as we have finally arrived at the track, finally ready to see a proper racing motorcycle, finally having a MotoGP experience. The paddock is a familiar sight, with familiar faces bustling by with short conversations and salutations on the tips of their tongues, as they hurry past us.

As we walk past the media debrief times on the way to the media center, there is a conscious mental switch that we must make, to go from full-journalist mode to quasi-tourist mode. Our handler is eager to get us a peak into the team garages, find us five minutes with a rider, or get us to an autograph-signing session — opportunities that fans would kill for.

I’ll simply speak only for myself that those kind of events hold little interest for me, in the present environment. For me, the switch to tourist is especially tough. On a race weekend, where I’m in attendance, I can expect to publish close to 10 stories per day. On this trip, I’m happy to get anything posted each day, as our schedule and internet access has been greatly limiting.

By the time we’re finally settled into the media center, it’s time for qualifying. Our day is nearly half gone at the track, and we are just now seeing a bike turn a wheel. It’s not all complaints though, time spent in the hospitality suite, seeing how the other 1% live, is certainly an experience well-worth living, if only once.

On the other side of glass, the space that isn’t air conditioned and stocked with cool refreshing beverages, the Malaysian masses are in attendance. Banners line the grandstand with all the usual riders’ names present. Rossi’s fan section is near the hairpin of Turn 1, with an impressive view of the final straight and first few turns that roll down the hill. This is on a Saturday, mind you.

Malaysia is intensely proud of its local riders, and with increasing frequency we are seeing the names of Southeast Asian competitors line the entry sheets. Locals still speak of Hafizh Syahrin’s Moto2 podium in 2012, and great hope is placed on Zulfahmi Khairuddin, who podiumed in Moto3 that same race day, two years ago as well.

Their rise comes with a great momentum behind them, as indeed an entire nation is backing these young men. Syahrin’s team is headline-sponsored by Petronas, which in-turn is a fully-owned by the Malaysian government. While America asks itself how the next World Champion will come from our ranks, Malaysia is showing us the way how. It is no small effort, to be sure.

The day’s on-track action lasts far too briefly, as we have to leave early to get to a dinner with a group of Thai riders who have ridden to Kuala Lumpur to watch the races. It was explained earlier in the day to us, by a local moto-journalist, that touring is an integral part of the Malaysian and Southeast Asian motorcycle scene.

Comprised mostly of Thai riders, but also Taiwanese, Burmese, and Indonesian motorcycle enthusiasts the group is predominantly riding Harley-Davidsons, though a smattering of Ducatis and large-displacement Japanese motorcycles can be spotted outside our rendez-vous point.

It is cliché to say, and thus comes as no surprise that the recreation of motorcycling, the quality that defines the use of a motorcycle beyond just efficient people-moving, is an activity that is enjoyed and practiced in a similar manner throughout the world. As cliché as it is to say that, it is refreshing to witness.

Bidding farewell to our hosts, we made our way to a Ducati-sponsored event for female riders. The premise sounded intriguing, and one perhaps that could be a benefit for the American motorcycle industry, which is forever spinning its wheels on an effective way to get women to ride motorcycles. The reality of the situation is a bit more muddled.

Our arrival was well-timed, as a group of punk-rock femme fatales (above) had just arrived on their Italian machines, ready to take the bar by storm. We followed them up to the VIP, pushing our way past the crowded entryway, where well-coined older gentlemen engaged in meaningless conversation with scantily clad younger Malaysian women.

Somewhere in that exchange, it was explained to me that this bar was notorious as a good place to find some companionship, provided you had the bank account for such a liaison. Short on the ringgits for such gonzo-journalism, I called it a night. Just in time to swear at the hotel internet before I passed out from the day’s long activities.













Day Five by the Numbers:

  • Water bottles imbibed: 13
  • MotoGP sessions watched: 2
  • Number of American journalists at this GP round, outside of our group: 0
  • Pretty Woman movie references made: 7

Dinner Conversation Topics:

  • Beard oiling
  • Crushing the buffet line
  • Singha beer
  • Touring Malaysia
  • Malaysian racers
  • Caffeine, sweet merciful caffeine

Photos: © 2014 Jensen Beeler / Asphalt & Rubber – Creative Commons – Attribution 3.0