Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Too Hot to Handle (Part 2)

I rode my mt. bike down Penang Hill again today. Penang Hill is the highest mountain in Penang. They have a train that takes you to the top which goes straight up the mountain. Last time I rode down, I got rear flat because my rim got too hot so this time I decided to try ride my front rim more to try to heat my wheels more evenly. Result: My front tire got a flat this time!

A front-tire flat is far more dangerous than a rear wheel flat. If you're traveling down a steep hill at 30 mph and your rear tire blows, at least you can still steer. If your front tire blows, you lose almost all ability to steer and brake. I'm talking from experience.

I was lucky. I passed the half-way point where you are supposed to stop and let your wheels cool. There were about 10 hikers there and it seemed like they all yelled to me as I passed. I didn't understand what they said and I kept going. My goal was to do this hill non-stop.

Then I heard a hissing noise. I stopped to see what it was, but I happened to stop next to a loud stream so I thought the hissing noise was simply the stream. I spotted this large turtle which also hissed at me. I hear there are a lot of King Cobras that like to lie in the road because the road is heated by the sun. They also hiss, I would imagine. I've heard stories about these large snakes in the road and how dangerous they are. Maybe that's what I heard? Naah.

After playing with the turtle for 10 minutes, I got back on my bike then I noticed my front tire was flat. Wow! I was quite lucky it went flat while I was playing with a turtle instead of while rounding a hair-pin turn.

This is the scary thing about rounding these turns ... you don't know if you can trust your tires. You might have sprung a leak and your front or rear tire could be really mushy so as you lean into the turn, it will won't hold you and down you go.

I've been wanting to get disc brakes but it was too expensive. My new brakes work so well, I figured I didn't need them but now I'm starting to justify the expense.

After replacing my inner tube, I continued down the hill. While I was repairing the tube, 5 hikers passed me on their way down the hill. Later I passed them but had to stop and let my wheels cool. Once again, my rim was too hot to touch, even with gloves. The hikers passed me back. Later I passed them but had to stop again and they passed me back and later I passed them again but this time I made it to the bottom so I just kept going and let my wheels cool as I rode.

With all those stops, I was descending down the hill at the same rate as someone walking down! The problem is my weight. I weight about 250 pounds. If I lost about 100 pounds, my wheels wouldn't heat up as much.

I wondered if maybe the heat was increasing the tire pressure increasing it from like 50 psi to 100 psi. I wonder if I started with like 25 psi, maybe the increase in tire pressure wouldn't blow my tire. I also wondered if it would help if I went slower. I probably get up to 40 mph then slam on the brakes to reduce to 10 mph for a turn, then back to 40 mph then back to 10 pm and so on, but I kept my speed at around 20 mph, it might generate less heat. I would generate the same heat but over a longer period of time allowing it to cool.

That's an experiment for next time.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Weird stuff I saw in Malaysia this week

Wooden slide with peeling paint exposing splintering wood. If this were glossed over with paint, it would be fine although it might leave a paint smudge on your butt but if you attempt to slide down it now, you'll be in a lot of pain.

I can't tell if this is a land-slide nobody bothered to remove or if they made it this way but the left lane disappears into one lane so watch-out for oncoming traffic as you go up and over.

Everything is on a different level in Malaysia. They seem to have no concept of flat. Even the brand new mall has levels as you walk the ground floor from one end to the other. Is it so hard to flatten it out first???

This reminds me the Terry Gilliam movie, Brazil. This is something you might expect to see in a poor area but this is a wealthy area and there's a huge pipe coming out of the side-walk. I've never seen such a thing in the US.

7 escalators all connected. Now this is cool. You get off one escalator and onto the next one so you go up 7 levels fairly fast.

This car has not moved in the 2 years I've been here. They actually removed all of the shrubs at one point but they are growing back. I think those two trees sprouting can do some serious damage. It would be cool if they grew on either side and lifted it into the air.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Malaysia Sucks

People in Malaysia often ask me "Do you like Malaysia/Penang?" They looked surprised when I say "No". They are obviously expecting a different answer.

Penang is beautiful but it is also ugly. It has a lot of tropical vegetation and some mountains but it is also over populated and polluted. This is the first third world country I have lived in so maybe what I've experienced here is common in most third world countries simply because people are poor and they must lie, cheat and steal to make a living.

Piracy is out of control. The government puts on a show as if they are doing something about it but I see nothing happening. I've been here 2 years and there has been no change and the amount of pirated movie, music and software you can buy and yet I hear about efforts to stop piracy all the time.

The Prangin Mall and the Bukit Jambul Mall both have movie theaters. They also both have a dozen shops that sell pirated movies and the movies you can buy are the same movies that are showing so when Spiderman 3 came out, you had the choice of paying RM 10 and seeing it in the theater or paying RM 3 right for a pirated DVD which you could buy right next to the theater.

I don't understand how a dozen shops can remain open. Simply do not allow them to open. The source of the problem is the owners of the malls allowing such shops to exist. Arrest the owners, shut down the shops and keep them closed. How hard is that? I don't understand what the problem is.

Everywhere around Penang you see open markets selling pirated movies, music and software. It's not like they're underground. They are easy to find and easy to shut down.

Companies pirated logos. I saw two cafes at the mall recently that had logos that reminded me of Starbucks. In fact I thought they were Starbucks until I took a second look. Pensonic sounds and looks way too close to Panasonic. Again, I have to look twice in order to know the difference. Twiggies look just like Twinkies. Cream-O's look just like Oreos. The list goes on and on and these pirated products are not as good as the original.

It is obvious to me that the Malaysian government and police dept. are corrupt.

90% of the taxi drivers refuse to use the meters even though it's the law. They increase the price 1.5 to 2 times what it would cost with the meter. Some taxis do use the meter but it's very rare to find one of those.

Malaysia is very dangerous. People don't buckle their seat belts, back seats often don't have seat belts, people don't wear helmets when riding motorbikes and if they do, they often don't strap them on which is the same as not wearing one. I saw a motorbike accident where the woman's helmet went flying off her head. I see small children on motorbikes without helmets constantly. I see tiny babies on motorbikes. I see children standing on the front seat of cars without a seat belt. I've never seen a child seat.

Open pits on the side of the road with no curb. As I ride my bicycle just a foot or two away from a 3 or 4 foot drop into a sewage drain, I worry that a motorbike may knock into me forcing me into the drainage ditch. These sewage drains really smell bad in places.

The buses are death traps. The metal chairs will snap you in half if the bus ever has a front-end collision. The chairs and ceiling straps are falling apart. Luckily they are getting new buses next month so hopefully things will be a lot better. Yesterday the bus stopped at the gas station to fill up on some diesel but they left the engine running. I was sitting right next to the gas pump where it clearly said "Stop Engine" before pumping. The guy might as well have been smoking a cigarette while talking on his mobile phone.

People resist change. A gang visited the lot of new buses and smashed their windows. It's probably some kind of taxi-mafia fearing loss of jobs or maybe this new bus company is replacing the old one. I don't know but people resist progress when it causes job losses. They don't see it as an opportunity to re-train and find a better job. It reminds me of the Luddites who smashed factory equipment when automation was replacing the factory workers. In order to transition into a first world country, Malaysia will need to pass through many stages of change. People will resist and perhaps slow progress, but progress will happen. You can slow it but you cannot stop it.

Building standards are really low. I was at the mall and I heard some thumping behind the wall which sounded like the something was about explode. This was an old mall and I figured it was just steam passing thru pipes but then I visited the new mall and I kept seeing massive cracks in support structures. Scary stuff. It's new and falling apart already.

They must not measure things carefully because levels are always changing. It's like they'll build two sections at the same time but they meet, they discover they don't match up so there's a step up or down. At a different mall you have to step up or down before getting on the escalator because it doesn't match up. Somebody goofed. I'm constantly seeing these goofs where they have to make minor corrections with a step up or down. It doesn't give me much confidence in their ability to build safe structures.

People pollute. You can rarely find a garbage can when you need one. People toss their garbage on the street. I see it often. They have no pride. They are used to others cleaning up after them. When you are finished eating at McDonald's, you don't dispose of your own garbage. You let someone else do it for you. This is the mind set here.

I see buses and trucks spewing thick black smoke, choking me while I ride my bike. The police need to seriously pull them over and ticket them so they get maintenance. People drive with their windows shut and air-vents on circulate because they don't want to breath the smoke from the trucks and buses in front of them.

The three main populations, Malays, Chinese and Indians, are very segregated. The Malays and Muslims get financial assistance to build their temples while no one else gets such treatment. My wife's church is in the pastor's own apartment. The government will not help build a Christian church yet they will help build Muslim temples all over.

The Muslim temples like to blast their prayers over loud-speakers 3 or 4 times per day. The non-Muslims resent this. It's noise pollution to the non-Muslim. 5:30 am we are awakened by the morning prayer. No other religion is allowed to do the same. If the Christian church blasted their prayers over loud speaker, they would be fined for disturbing the peace. The citizens of Malaysia are not treated as equals. Muslims get more benefits and everyone else a second hand citizen.

There is no separation of church and state. This is quite scary since the laws of Malaysia are dictated by the Quran. Movies are censored, even at the theater. Many movies are not allowed to be shown in Malaysia for example "The 40 year old Virgin". It's sexual content is too high for Malaysia. No porn is allowed in Malaysia also though I have been offered porn under the table when nobody is around. Prostitution is not allowed but I hear it exists. Drugs are not allowed but they exist as well.

This is one crazy messed up country.

The good news is that things are getting better. I have seen a lot of progress in Penang in the two years I've been here. They are getting new buses. They will have a monorail eventually. They check my bag when I enter a theater to make sure I won't record the movie. I frequently see PSAs about how bad piracy is. They are trying hard to make Penang a better place but right now it is far from the Pearl of the Orient. I'm sure at one time it deserved that title but no more.

Once all taxis are using a meter and it becomes really hard to find pirated movies, music and software, that will be the day Malaysia becomes a first world country.

Law breaking lying taxi drivers

I'm tired of the taxi drivers always ripping off the foreigner. They charge 1.5 to 2 times more than it would cost with meter. I saw an ad on TV that says if the taxi driver refuses to use his meter then call this number and report him so I decide to do this.

Tonight I was riding home after a long hard day of bike riding and I decided to take a taxi, but only if they use their meter. I hailed a cab and the guy said it would cost RM 40. I knew that with meter it would probably cost RM 20 so I said RM 30 and he said RM 35. I said that I only take taxi with meter so he said RM 30. I said no. As he drove away, I took a picture of his license plate with my digital camera and plan to report him later.

So then I bicycle to the mall knowing they have a line of taxis waiting to take people places. He only wanted RM 15 but I know that with meter it only cost RM 10 so he's increased the price by 1.5 times. I told him that I only take taxi that uses meter. He informed me that no taxi in Penang uses meter. He is obvious lying because I have taken many taxis that use the meter.

There was a line of 5 taxis and the 5 drivers were sitting and waiting so I asked if anyone will use their meter and take me? Nobody would, so I took pictures of their license plates. By the time I got to the forth taxi, they were yelling at me to go away.

So I rode up the road a bit and I knew a lot of taxis come to the mall so I waited there. I hailed a taxi and they pulled over but when I got close, they drove away so I hailed another taxi and the same thing happened. I will still in view of the taxi line so what I figure was happening was that they were calling this taxi and telling them not to pick me up.

So I rode further home and stopped on a major road with a lot of traffic and hailed another taxi. This time the guy wanted RM 12. I estimate that by meter it would only cost RM 8 so he was increasing his price 1.5 times.

This time I tried a different tactic. I agreed to the RM 12. We put my bike in the trunk and headed for home. He said that the chief of police of Teluk Kumbar (the city I live in) owned this taxi and he drives for him (probably another lie). Because of this, the police never stop him. I asked if he was Muslim and he said yes. Then I asked if it was OK for a Muslim to be breaking laws. Then he changed his story a bit and said that he never brakes the law. That's why he never gets stopped. A moment ago he was bragging about how he can break the law and never get stopped and now he claims to be a law abiding Muslim.

So then I asked if it was the law that he was supposed to use his meter. He says that he's been a taxi driver for 20 years and he's never used his meter. He claimed that no taxis in Penang use a meter (not true). He claims that taxis in the big city of Kuala Lumpur use meters (also not true).

Each time I confronted him, he evaded my question. I already knew the answer. I just wanted to call him a law-breaking lying Muslim taxi driver.

So I said, if it's OK for taxis in Penang to not use a meter then you won't mind if a I report you since you're not breaking any law ... right? I pulled out my camera and took a picture of his dashboard with all of his information … then his tone changed.

He got angry and said "How about I take you back to where I picked you up and drop you off?" I said that's fine. He said "I did you a favor and took your bicycle for you". I said that breaking the law does not seem like something a Muslim should be doing. It's wrong and a good religious Muslim should be obeying the laws. I asked if he was going to take me back and he said no.

We drove in silence for a long time.

I said that I appreciate him picking me up and taking my bike and that it is my custom to tip a taxi driver if he gives good service. I said that his taxi has great air conditioning and he let me sit in the front so I can be comfortable and buckle in (back seats in taxis never have seat belts). I said that I would give him RM 20 for the trip because of his great service but I would still report him for not using the meter.

Then he said that the trip is free. He says that he lives in that area anyway and he was just going home so it's on his way. It's probably another lie. These taxi drivers are expert liars. He dropped me off and I tried to pay him RM 20 but he said it was free and drove away. I'm still reporting him and the 6 other taxis that wouldn't use their meter.

The next day I took a short ride in a taxi. I accepted his price of RM 12 and snapped his info on the dashboard while driving but never mentioned anything about reporting him. This seems like the best approach. This means that I'll have to pay higher prices but there's no drama and no delays in getting where I'm going and I can still report them.

The taxis all have this sign on the window describing the meter fees and yet 90% of the taxis do not use the meter.

The claim that they cannot make a living if they use the meter and yet some taxis use the meter.

Obviously they can make a living on the meter but they are greedy and dishonest.

I told my Uncle Ron (here in Malaysia) about this and he said that it is close the 4 year election. At this time, the government does not enforce laws to make the people happy so they can get re-elected. After the election, they enforce the laws again. Now is the worst time to be reporting law breakers. I will also be calling about the movie/music pirates I see everywhere. I will post my results here.

Logo Piracy

Malaysia not only pirates movies, music and software but they also pirate logos.

I rode my bicycle to the mall recently and I passed this billboard and at first glance, I thought it said Panasonic but then I realized it says Pensonic.

Compare the Pensonic logo to the Panasonic logo.

As I'm walking thru the mall, I saw a Starbucks but at second glance, I realized they had simply copied the font.

About 20 minutes later I spotted Starbucks again, but I was fooled yet a second time by this café with a similar logo. That round sign totally reminded me of Starbucks.

About 10 stores later I came across the real Starbucks.

I went into a convenience store and picked up a pack of Oreos.

Upon reaching the register, I realized that I had grabbed a package of Cream-O's. The store didn't have the "real thing" so I bought these, but they were horrible.
A cheap knock-off. Low budget imitation. They looked nearly identical though in packaging, logo and cookie.

As of July 22, I have been in Malaysia for 2 years and I have never seen Twinkies.

But I often see Twiggies, yet another cheap imitation Twinkie which appears very similar in packaging, shape, color of cake but it tastes nothing like it. Just awful.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Too hot to handle (Part 1)

I got my bike repaired and now I have these really awesome brakes so I wanted to try them on the most extreme hill in Penang named Penang Hill. So today I biked to Penang Hill and took the train to the top. My goal was to ride down without stopping since before I had to stop many times because my hands and forearms were tired from squeezing the brakes hard. This time I would not need to squeeze hard.

At the top I adjusted my front and back brakes so they were always rubbing hard so I would have to do even less work. This meant that I would be breaking hard front and back the whole way down. This would also be a stress test for my brakes pads to see if they could take the heat.

Riding a bike with cheap-o brake pads would be suicide. Within minutes they would heat up and melt. You would either melt them down to the metal in about 10 minutes or the brakes surface would melt and go liquid and become like oil or ice and you would have no brakes essentially.

The hill is so steep, you can go from 0 to 60 in about 5 seconds with no brakes. The hair-pin turns are so sharp that you literally need to slow to about 10 mph to take them. It seems that they have designed it so that if your brakes fail you will either go into the woods, go into a pile of dirt or hit a dirt wall. There are 20 to 30 foot drop-offs but only if you can turn 90 degrees which you can't if your brakes fail. You're going to go straight and crash into a tree or a hill which is a lot better than launching off a 30 foot cliff.

After about 5 minutes of down-hill, I was rounding a hair-pin turn and my rear tire gave out. I was losing air fast! I had a flat! It was good timing because it happened right before the largest rest-stop so I stopped there. There were about 10 people there.

I discovered that my rear rim was too hot to touch, even with gloves on. I now knew why my inner tube failed. It got too hot! I actually smelled rubber burning. When I pulled the tube out, it was obvious where it had melted and failed along the rim. One of the men watching me repair my bike took a look at the tube and asked if he could keep it as a souvenir so I gave it to him.

One guy saw me struggling to remove my tire so he offered to help and ended up doing the whole repair for me. I kept trying to say that I know what I'm doing. He had as much trouble as I did removing the tire. It's a tight fit but I have 4 tire removal tools and lots of experience removing tires much tighter than this one so it wasn't a big deal but he somehow assumed I was some kind of newbie even though I expressed to him I'm an expert at this.

I'm glad that I got to talk with these hikers because I learned about the various trails down the hill. I only knew of this one road but apparently there are many ways down the hill so now I have a lot of new paths to explore. These motorbike paths or dirt paths will take much longer to get down. They said it will take about 2 hours by path so make sure you give yourself enough time before it gets dark.

They all left and I was alone. I was about to head down when a woman on a Mt. bike came riding up the hill. Her name was Zari (rhymes with Sorry). I told her that I had just gotten a flat because my rim over-heated. She told me that I must stop every few minutes and let my rims cool and that it is impossible to ride from top to bottom without stopping.

I followed her down and after a few minutes we stopped. My rims were too hot to touch even with gloves, once again! We waited 10 minutes and they cooled and we rode a few more minutes, then rested while our rims cooled. There were quite a few monkeys near the bottom. I skid to scare them away because they didn't seem afraid us and I was afraid of hitting one.

Finally we reached the bottom. I'm not sure what happened to my rear brakes but the spring on the left no longer worked so the brake pads were always touching and there was nothing I could do about it. The heat must have done something to the spring so I rode home trying to find a taxi. That turned into an adventure in itself but I'll save that for my next blog post.