…….The World Without Boundaries

Not in This Lifetime TOUR

Written By: jipp - Nov• 25•18

I have always been a super big fan of Guns n’ Roses. I’m not sure how exactly it started, but their songs were like all around me when I was at the university. I remember buying their famous Use Your Illusion posters and putting them on the wall of my tiny hostel room. Then I’d buy their albums, back then in cassettes, and I’d listen to their songs on my earphones over and over and over again until my ears hurt, usually while preparing for my upcoming exams. From their most upbeat songs such as Welcome to the Jungle and Sweet Child O Mine to the mellow(er) November Rain, Patience, Don’t Cry – you name it. They were super big back then and they definitely still are to certain extent.

I had always wished that someday I’ll have the chance to attend one of their concerts – be it in Malaysia or anywhere else. I would say, my biggest influences in music came from three rock bands – which were all super big back in the 90’s – namely Bon Jovi, Metallica and Guns n Roses. I was very very lucky when the first two came to KL, but of course I needed the last one to come so that I could complete the list.

My lifelong dream was almost shattered to pieces when two of the most iconic figures in the band – Slash the main guitarist who is known for his iconic hair that leaves his face to anyone’s guess, and Axl Rose the singer itself – fell out with each other in what was considered one of the most famous fallouts in the history of rock music world. They went separate ways, breaking the hearts of so many fans across the globe including me, and I had to come to term with the probability of – well – putting my dream of attending their concert behind and moving on with my life.

But when the news that they were reuniting on a world tour broke, I almost cried in relief. And when KL was listed in their tour schedule, I was ecstatic. I mean, who would have thought that something that I had almost completely given up on returned to me in a form of reality? It was almost too good to be true.

So November 14, 2018 was the day. The venue was Sunway Lagoon, which was opposed by quite so many people for reason that I myself could not quite understand. A friend of mine that I was supposed to go to the concert with decided not to come in the end, reasoning that it would not be worth it because we’d be too far from the stage, unless we bought tickets for the front rows, which would cost us a few times over. What he didn’t know was that – the lagoon is very wide and it gives a lot of space for the crowds to spread out and maintain a good distance from the stage. Even better was that, the ground is quiet slopey so it gives the audience a good view of the stage, even for later-comers who had to stay at the far back.

My only complaint was probably the way they handled the entry of the concert-goers. The queues were crazy long and Malaysians being Malaysians some of them would sneak in and jump the queue, dragging the queuing to even longer. Setting up more entrances would have significantly cut down the queuing time. Once inside, it was still quite a long walk towards the venue and quite true to one of their biggest hits, November Rain came pouring down even before the concert started. I decided to embrace the rain with open arms and I actually began to enjoy it before long.

Being there watching one of the groups that were so much a big part of my life perform, it was such a magical moment for me and the rain just made it even more dramatic. To tell the truth, it was my first time attending a concert on my own without any companion, and quite to my surprise I actually enjoyed it very much. I guess all the solo trips that I did in my years of travelling had resonated so well in me now that I am beginning to enjoy coming to a place or event on my own. I found myself smiling and singing along with Axl who at 56 still very much got it (my gawd!). Slash of course still shimmers with his amazing skills around his guitar so much so that one of the strings actually snapped off while playing an instrumental.

My only regret was probably my phone, which was not functioning well in the rain despite being so-called water-resistant. I was recording the moment when Slash was doing the (main) theme song for the movie The Godfather which happened to be my favorite movie of all time, and my heart was exploding in excitement because never had I ever thought that I’d get to see Slash perform the song, definitely NOT IN THIS LIFETIME but there he was, pulling it off right up there on the stage and in my presence! It was so damn surreal.

But then my phone suddenly restarted by itself, probably because it was confused with all the touches imposed by the rain on the screen. When I tried to play it again after the concert, the file was still there but it would not play. It was probably corrupted and damaged by the sudden restart. But then, I wouldn’t kill myself for that. Of course somebody must have recorded and posted in on youtube by now but just to think that I was there watching it live makes me cringe in sheer elation every time.

Despite enjoying the concert so much, I actually didn’t stay to the last song. It was a weekday so getting stuck in the jam and reaching home at 2 in the morning when I had to be at work early the next morning was definitely the last thing that I wanted to be. Guns n Roses definitely did not disappoint me. They performed most of their big hits and what amazed me most was that they did not even take a break, not a single one. It was the most continuous concert that I’ve ever been to and I really wonder where they got all the energy from when all but the drummer was well over 50.

I would say – without any prejudice – that it was the best concert that I’ve ever been to so far, probably rivalled only by the one by Linkin Park (the one in 2003, not in 2013 which I didn’t quite enjoy somehow). I loved every moment of it and most of all I’ve finally completed the list of attending the concerts of the three mega rock bands, namely Bon Jovi, Metallica and Guns n’ Roses, my biggest music influences in life. I think I can finally die in peace. Heh.

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A Road Trip to Betong

Written By: jipp - Oct• 14•18

So I’ve just returned from a road trip to the far North of the Malaysian Peninsula, to a small town called Baling in the Malaysian state of Kedah. It was my first time traveling to that corner of Malaysia, although the furthest I went last time was Lenggong to check out the latest site in the country to be inscribed on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Reaching Baling at night, we checked in at a hotel called Hotel Bayu where I had a full view of the beautiful Baling Hill from the window of my hotel room. The plan was to climb up the hill, which I was told would serve climbers with beautiful view of Baling town from the peak. Unfortunately, we woke up the next day to a heavy rain so the plan had to be scrapped. After doing what we were there to do, we drove over to Pengkalan Hulu before crossing over to Betong in Thailand. It would be my very first time driving into Thailand so I was quite excited. It was something that I had always wanted to do but never got around to doing it – not until this one.

The process was quite simple. You first need to drive through the gate on the Malaysian side – where you need to show them your car registration card (also known as car grant of course), and they’ll register your car plate number on a log book. Then later near the gate on the Thai side, you need to park your car and come to the counter to fill up forms – one for the car and another for your entry. Somebody is there to help fill up the forms for you – with a little bit of charge of course – and all you need to do is to hand over to them your passport and car registration card.

Then you need to bring the forms to the immigration counter where the forms will be stamped, together with your passport. Now mind to tell you that there is a little slip of paper that they’ll tuck in your passport and you really don’t want to lose this paper. They’ll ask for that paper when you return to check out, and they’ll charge you some RM1k (according to the Malaysian personnel that registered the plate number of my car) if you don’t have it with you. The Thai officers wouldn’t tell you that – and of course we all know why.

Done with the stamping, we drove on through the gate and voila – we were in Thailand. The change of environment was almost immediate. Even the air felt so different to my lungs (heh). There were suddenly the familiar Thai architectures everywhere – the fancy gates, the giant posters of the King and Queen of Thailand, the convoluted Thai abugidas and the most noticeable one is the motorcyclists not wearing helmets.

We reached the town center of Betong almost in no time and were surprised to see how quite the town was. Having lost the phone coverage by now, we found ourselves totally disoriented. Thinking that we couldn’t go anywhere without the help of Google map, we bought a sim card from some random tele shop for RM20. With the internet back in the phone, we were ready venture on.

The first place that I had in mind was the Piyamit Tunnels. It was a place that I had always wanted to go. Following the instructions on the Google map, we were led across rubber plantations, a series of beautiful villages with ancient-looking wooden houses, then further on into the lush greenery of a hilly forest. By then it was beginning to drizzle and by the time we arrived at the gate to Piyamit Tunnels, it was raining cats and dogs.

After buying the ticket at the counter for RM8 (Malaysian currencies are generally accepted all over Betong) per person, we ventured into the forest to see for ourselves the tunnels that were used by the Communist insurgents during their guerilla campaign against the British Malayan armed forces (which was later joined by a range of Commonwealth armed forces) – a campaign that lasted for 5 decades.

Walking along the concrete walkway towards the tunnels, I could see why the place was handpicked by the Communist insurgents to be their base for air raid shelter and storage of food supplies and probably weapons. Located on a hillside, hidden among the hills with lush forest (but a quick look at the Google Map shows that it is now surrounded by farms and the forest where the tunnels are is merely a sort of a left-over) with a steady stream of water coming down to it from the surrounding hills, the location and geographical settings of the place were just perfect for militant activities.

The fact that it was so well maintained and the forest was almost intact caught me by surprise. Going to the tunnel complex and back turned out to be a bit of a hike, but it really was a nice hike. The walkway was nicely roofed so I put my umbrella aside so that I could enjoy the hike even more.

At the main entrance of the tunnels is a mini-museum. A soft-spoken old man was there to explain a little about the tunnels – and I was so impressed at how he did it in Malay. It was broken Malay, alright, but very much understandable nevertheless. Inside the museum was a display of an assortment of clothes, tools, devices and even weapons used by the Communist insurgents while undergoing militant training and probably during their militant operations.

Pictures depicting the lives of the insurgents at the shelter are plastered all over and my attention was especially caught by the pictures of them building the tunnels. They looked very manual and they actually had beautiful ladies helping them out. That probably explains as to how they managed to stay hidden in the tunnels for so many years. Heh.

Even the tunnels are so well-maintained. I’m not sure if they are of the original sizes or have already been widened to provide easier access to visitors but for sure they are much more spacious than the Chu Chi tunnels in Vietnam. They seem to have just about everything down there. In fact they could go inside the tunnels without having to go out in the open for months provided they’ve got enough supply of food and water of course. They even have a quite sophisticated furnace system that minimizes the release of smokes so that they will not be detected by enemies.

By the time we had made it to the exit (one of the 9 exits), the rain had already worsened. In fact, it felt more like a storm. Since I already had mine, the old man handed an umbrella to each of my companions and we walked back to the gate on a different track (not roofed). I must have walked about 30 yards when I suddenly felt like running back to the old man and gave him a little bit of token of appreciation. He seemed genuinely surprised when I handed over twenty bucks to him even though I wish I could have given him more.

The concrete walkway led us past what is called the Thousand Tree. It is more like a stack of Strangular figs that have overgrown into each other, forming a giant cluster of trees. They look very ancient and it would only be days later that I found out that the ‘thousand’ is actually referring to their age. I wish I could stay there longer but the rain was going really mad and I couldn’t help but getting a little bit worried that the walkway might get flooded at any time now and I’ll be stuck in the forest – alone. Somehow I felt relieved when I managed to make it back to the gate where my two friends had long been waiting.

Still raining so heavily without any sign of slowing down, we pulled out of the Piyamit Tunnels park area and headed back to Betong. By then it was already dark so after parking the car at some random spot, we entered the first Halal restaurant that we bumped into. Overlooking a busy junction, the restaurant was at a perfect location from where we could watch the world go by in Betong. Since it was a halal food restaurant, I didn’t expect much from the food. Thailand may be considered the food capital of the world by many but I’m quite sure that refers more on non-halal food.

We wrapped up the night by doing a little bit of shopping. Unfortunately, shopping in Thailand for Malaysians are not as affordable as it probably used to be. With the Ringgit weakening for more than a year now, I found the prices of stuff to be quite expensive. Luckily I found some left-over of my Bahts tucked deep in my travel pouch – those that I didn’t get to spend during my previous trip to Thailand – so I used them to buy a few stuff.

Despite the less attractive prices on offer, even after hard negotiation, we actually found ourselves rummaging through things up until the very closing time. The best thing about Betong is the fact that most of the people there could converse in Malay so negotiating the prices should be much easier for Malay-speaking Malaysians.

Re-entering Malaysia was easy-peasy. By then it was almost 10pm so the gate was almost deserted. We parked our car at the now deserted carpark and walked over to the counter where a sleepy immigration officer was waiting to stamp any passport that probably comes his way.

The only time we got stopped was at the custom check where a group of all-female officers asked if we had purchased anything from Betong, or Thailand for that matter. One of them craned her head out to see what that was to see inside our vehicle. Of course there was nothing much to see but those clothes that we bought back at the shop in Betong. Later at the gate on the Malaysian side, the uniformed personnel didn’t even bother to stop us. We were back in Malaysia before we knew it.

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