Thursday, June 22, 2006

Malaysia, Knock-offs, the price of Beer and great Biryani

I am homeward bound early tommorrow morning. Malaysia has been interesting. The biryani (rice and spices cooked with meat with Indian - Hyderabad - origins) is absolutely fabulous here. If you are shopping, the range of knock-offs is huge, and if they don't have it, they will get it within a day. I went to one of the more popular markets one evening and was accosted by gangs of young men flogging the latest movies on DVD. They even have them categorised. For 15 Ringgit (about USD 4), you get a "retail copy", for 10 Ringgit (about USD 2.8) you get a "master copy" and for 8 Ringgit (about USD 2.20) you get a "cinema copy" - with bobbing heads and all! I am uncertain as to where the "retail copy" comes from for movies which have not yet been released on DVD. As I was looking at the selection one of the young men had (out of curiosity than anything else, as I cannot stand watching the pirated rubbish with poor vision and lousy audio) there was this sudden panic that seemed to run through the whole market. As I took a closer look at what was happening I realised that just about all the stall holders were equipped with walkie-talkies and a running commentary could be heard coming through these. Suddenly out popped large boxes and bags and all the wares on display were thrown in and within about 2 minutes more than half the stalls were empty and the stall-holders had disappeared, including the young man I had been talking to. What I had just observed was a police raid (well an attempt anyway). The stall-holders are so well organised that I doubt these "raids" do much to dent their business. After walking around for about 40mins or so I could see that the Gucci's and CKs were back on the stalls again, so it appears the police were gone and it was back to business as usual.

Earlier on, I had stopped at a Soft Drink seller in the same market to get a can of soft drink. As I was juggling with the coins to pay him, he whispered if I would like a beer instead. I looked up quizzically and he motioned towards a cooler box hidden behind the main one and said "good taste, good brand". I asked him how much, he suggested 6 Ringgit, but cheaper if I bought more. I said not right now thanks and took my soft drink for 2 Ringgit. The cheapest beer I had seen thus far was 15 Ringgit so this was a bargain. I am uncertain as to what the deal was here, perhaps it was smuggled beer from across the border. Later as I passed by towards the back of the "soft drink seller" I realised that he was not alone - there were at least 4 of them in total, with one rather rough looking individual sitting atop a large cool-box, so I decided to observe for a while. It turns out that "Rough-boy" was sitting atop the stash of booze to replenish the stock out front. I also noticed a steady influx of customers for the "good taste, good brand", so obviously this is also well run. Full points for entrepreneurship and meeting a commercial need!

I also did the mandatory visit to the Twin Towers, yep, its a set of tall buildings and the designer shopping centre next to it. Point to note, taxi drivers are an absolute rip-off in KL. Ask them to use the meter or find a taxi which will. The monorail and light train are also not bad, but unfortunately serve different parts of KL, so you really need to plan your trip, or keep changing from one to the other (and not all stations are inter-change stations).

Conclusion? Malaysia ain't half bad, next time around I would like to go outside KL to places like Malacca and Serawak. Haggle with the taxi drivers or they will rip you off, the markets have a better range of Gucci then a Gucci store (and whatever price is advised first, you should be able to bargain down to at least half or less - at the market, not the Gucci store!), beer is expensive (even from the soft drink seller), the biryani is great, the people friendly, and take a good camera if you have an interest in buildings and architecture.

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