Holiday snatchers

It’s the promo season. And since the best way to outwit temptation is to succumb to it, we were off to Penang and Kuala Lumpur to experience Malaysia, ‘truly Asia.’ And some experience it turned out to be. Penang, the tropical island, was fun with parasailing, water sports, pubbing, hanging out at the night market, bargaining with local traders, checking out the heavy tropical air, lounging at the Bayview Beach Resort et al. Just the usual things that a tourist does. It was fun, yet uneventful. The highlight was that despite our protestations my 10-year-old daughter decided to do parasailing and she did it with such courage that it made us realise that she has grown up. Holiday as usual. So far, so good. The best was yet to come.

We were on our fifth day and walking the length of Jalan Kia Peng towards the Petronas Twin Towers, admiringly clicking pictures. And there, out of nowhere, riding the pavement behind us came a motorcyclist, and like an eagle swooping on its prey snatched the handbag from my wife’s right hand. He disappeared even before we could react. It was noontime and we were not on a deserted stretch. However, what followed truly showcased Malaysia at its best.

We walked to the nearest police kiosk and met with an indifferent policewoman who was clearly hesitant to come out of her air-conditioned cabin (can’t blame her, the tropical humidity can get your goat). She told us from her cosy confines to hang on there as she radioed to the tourist police headquarters. After an interminable wait of over 45 minutes, merrily trundled a policeman and his female partner.

After we sat down in the police car, the policeman comforted us with golden words: “Don’t worry, we will chase him”. Wow, such alacrity. However, we had to bring to his notice that they had arrived about an hour late and there was no way they could chase a rider who disappeared in the murky by lanes of KL. To this the relaxed-looking policeman readily agreed and so we all ambled our way to the police station. On the way, he confessed that the police station was just round the corner and it took them 45 minutes because they got caught in traffic. Creature comforts can be so addictive. It would have been funny if it weren’t tragic.

Snatch thefts are common in KL and most hotels warn the tourists about them. The best part is that the famous Jalan Bukit Bintang, the hub of shopping malls, plays captive to the motorcycle snatch-riders. And while they are as rampant as pest, it beats me why there is no police patrolling. In fact, the relaxed-looking policeman confessed that even his wife had been vandalised. Luckily, we only lost money, mobile and humour; our passports were safe in the room.

Showcase Malaysia gave us an insight into the insidious nature of Southeast Asia. And that doesn’t come gratis!

(28th August, 2003)