"I think we should skip this Malacca holiday," said the wife, two weeks before we were going to go north for a short break with friends.
"Why? We've been planning this for weeks!" I said, rather perplexed.
"I think we should spend time with the kids lah. I might miss them."
I did not know how to reply to this kind of reasoning because either way you lose.
You can't just say, "Oh, forget the kids! We need this break!"
Nor do you want to say, "Sure! Let’s give up our long-awaited long weekend trip and just stay home!"
As a wise husband, I just let nature take its course. And on the weekend before the trip, the wife had to stay home with the three kids while I was out on assignment.
When I got home from work in the evening, she looked ragged.
"Kids gave you a hard time huh?" I said.
"I think... we'll go on that trip after all," she said with a tired laugh.
I must remember to buy some presents for the kids for doing such a fine job of turning my wife around. They did it without even trying.
We left the planning in the fine hands of our friend, Ben. He was a real trooper, doing all the online research and hunting for hotels. We had 12 people heading north in three cars on a Friday, plus another car with three people joining us on Saturday just for the day, so it was not a simple task.
Most of the hotels were fully booked weeks ago. Holiday Inn and Hotel Equatorial, full. There were a few smaller places left and they had jacked up their prices to take advantage of the holiday weekend (Vesak Day was a public holiday too, in Malaysia).
Fortunately, none of us had special requests for accommodations and let him book whatever he felt was best. mrbrown's Travel Tip 1: Always choose non-fussy travel companions for such trips. We were blessed with 12 of them.
In the end, the hotel we stayed in was a two-star gig that looked like it was stuck in a time warp. It reminded me of the per-hour places in Singapore, the kind you take your mistresses to (not that I have ANY experience in such matters). But no one minded as long as it was clean and had a working toilet. We were eternally thankful to Ben for even finding us hotel rooms on such short notice over a holiday long weekend.
The hotel issued us our digital card key and two remotes, one for the TV and one for the air-conditioner. We found that strange. Was remote control theft that big a problem in the Malaccan hotel industry? It's not like the remotes can be used for all brands of television or air-conditioners. Maybe some people were stealing the batteries inside the remotes.
The key card that opened our door was also special. You used it to activate the power in the room too. Now, I know that it is not new but with most hotels, you can just shove your business card or ez-link card into the power slot and it would work. Not this hotel – the power slot only worked if it detected the chip in the key card.
We were impressed they spent so much money on their key card technology but it looked like that was where all the budget had gone to.
The toilet was a basic affair with mosaic tiles I have not seen since HDB flats from the seventies. For a while, we were wondering why the shower head was so small and the hose so short. Then we realised that it was not meant for showering but for washing, er, a specific part of the body.
The real shower head was on the ceiling: A big fixed head, like the kind you find in prison showers. Taking a shower in this hotel toilet meant that everything else in the toilet gets wet, from the toilet bowl to the sink, because there was no shower stall, curtains, or any kind of glass panel separating the shower area from the rest of the loo.
The hotel did have some amenities, like the one lonely internet-connected PC with a 12-inch screen, in the lobby. There was free WIFI too. Some of us got a great signal from our rooms (the wireless router was outside their door) while some of us got nothing and had to rely on our 3G phones.
mrbrown Travel Tip 2: Always buy a local prepaid SIM card. We bought a Celcom prepaid SIM card for only RM18 with RM15 credit in it. You could choose to activate a daily unlimited broadband service for only RM6 or a 7-day one for RM20. Dirt cheap. When I asked the phone shop boss at the rest stop if the SIM card was 3G, he laughed and said of course, it is all 3G now in Malaysia.
He must have thought us silly Singaporeans for assuming that any country outside of Singapore must be a technological backwater. And he would be right about our misplaced arrogance.
There was also a shared ironing board and iron in the lobby. Yes, you heard me right, in the lobby. I presume the hotel expected us to iron our shirts, pants and silk underwear right out there in the open. Very thoughtful of them.
It was also a good thing we were traveling by car. That meant that we could pack our bulkier stuff like a hairdryer (nope, hotel did not provide one) and big bottles of shampoo and liquid soap. Normally, when you fly, you have to make sure all your liquids are in those tiny pain-in-the-backside bottles. Not this time – the wife threw in a 200ml bottle of Dove and someone else just brought her family-sized bottle of contact lens solution.
Having a car also meant you could buy keropok and Muar otak and not care if the airline will allow it.
I am totally in love with this kind of travel. Driving has its charm. But next time I do a road trip to Malaysia, I will remember to take along my ironing board, steam iron and hairdryer too.
mrbrown aka Mr Kin Mun LEE is the accidental author of the popular Singapore website, mrbrown.com, and has been documenting the dysfunctional side of Singapore life since 1997.
Affectionately known as the Blogfather of Singapore, his readers follow his writings closely, which these days range from current affairs, his family, and even his trips abroad.
Currently, mrbrown also hosts the mrbrown show (mrbrownshow.com), probably Singapore's best known comedy and satire podcast.
mrbrown is married to Ginny, his long-suffering wife for 12 years, and is father to three lovely kids, Faith, Isaac and Joy.