Romance of the highways

Azmyl Yunor

Highways have lost their romantic lustre as they have become merely a means of travelling in the Klang Valley. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, November 24, 2023.

AS someone who was born in the late 1970s and grew up in the 1980s, I was fortunate, like my generational peers, to witness Malaysia’s rapid modernisation.

While kids my generation spent a lot of time at the malls, I preferred to hit the road and was witness to the many  change was in our roads and highways.

I recall the development of PLUS (Projek Lebuhraya Utara-Selatan) from Sungai Besi until Seremban where the new, wide highway ended, and you had to continue via the trunk roads to Johor.

I remember peering in great awe through the car window at the end of the highway at the Seremban exit, wondering how the road would continue south.

Now as an adult, I often joke that I am an “investor” in the PLUS highway because I’ve been paying the toll since I received my driver’s licence in 1995.

I even immortalised the North-South Highway in one of my “hit” songs, “Makan Gaji”.

I have spent a majority of my adult life on highways, and naturally, I have developed a romantic notion of “the road”, like American authors like Jack Kerouac, American country music icon Willie Nelson, and road movies. “The road” meant freedom.

However, highways have now lost their romantic lustre as they have become merely a means of commuting in the Klang Valley. They are no more no more an instrument of wanderlust and transgression.

Nevertheless, I still enjoy long road trips – that’s why I tour – and I am sort of an amateur connoisseur of local highways. Here’s my top three favourite highways outside of the Klang Valley.

Bintulu-Miri Highway

Now consolidated into the new Pan-Borneo Highway, the Bintulu-Miri Highway in its pre-Pan-Borneo makeover was a rite of passage of sorts for a peninsular fellow like myself.

My girlfriend’s (now wife) family farmhouse is located right at the start of the Bintulu end of the highway.

It was essentially a trunk road that served everything: everyday commuters, logging trucks, oil tankers, delivery lorries, and motorcyclists to name a few that are the lifeblood of trade and industry in this part of Seremban.

In other words, it was in bad shape with potholes and uneven surfaces right up until the border into the Miri city limits.

For most of the two-lane trunk road, there was no mobile phone line nor street lights. All you had was either complete darkness on both sides and the serene yet uncaring night sky above.

So, in case of an emergency, you were alone. There were even bandits apparently so travelling alone at night was not recommended.

Yet, with the benefit of hindsight, my journey up and down this highway during my courting years built my character.

If you’ve ever spent time visiting relatives in Borneo, you know you never leave each home you visit sober. Add to that the fact that I also had the duty to ferry jolly relatives back from Miri to Bintulu at night, I feel I’ve earned a right to brag.

West Coast Expressway

I had my first experience on sections of this still-under-construction highway on my way back from a northern tour in March after my last show in Lumut, Perak.

The West Coast Expressway stretches southward from Perak and ends just outside Klang.

I became fond of this highway because it reminded me of how the then-completed PLUS Highway looked and felt when it was still pristine, new and not so busy. Albeit with a great sense of space since it is closer to the coast.

Parts of the completed sections of the tolled highway are free until January. While I can’t say much yet about the completed stretch, this is one highway I look forward to travelling to the north and back some day.

Sungai Petani-Kangar stretch of PLUS

Ok, I am cheating here since this is a part of the PLUS Highway but the northernmost leg.

What I love about this part is, of course, vast vistas of padi fields and villages the further north of Kedah you get.

There’s even a stretch where the electric train service on the KL-Padang Besar route runs parallel with the highway over padi fields – a cinematic experience. – November 24, 2023.

* Azmyl Yunor is a touring underground recording artiste, and an academic in media and cultural studies. He has published articles on pop culture, subcultures and Malaysian cultural politics. He adheres to the three-chords-and-the-truth school of songwriting, and Woody Guthrie’s maxim “All you can write is what you see”. He is @azmyl on Twitter.

* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight. Article may be edited for brevity and clarity.

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  • Willie Nelson is American.

    Posted 6 months ago by Malaysia New hope · Reply