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“It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn't feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.” – Neil Armstrong (1930-2012)

Fresh Reads from the Science 'o sphere!

Monday, July 31, 2006

Holiday @ Genting.
Day Three - Homeward Bound

I find it funny that the first time I play slots, I always win. When I try to play more to increase my earnings, I always lose. Bah.

After losing a grand total of RM10.90 (S$4.68) to the slot machines, it's time to head on home.

What, you expected me to lose my entire fortune there? You think too highly of me!

Anyway I got on the return coach and we began descending the mountain. I took this picture in the direction of Kuala Lumpur, but it was obscured by thick blue haze.

When we reached the foot of the mountain I turned around to take this photo of Genting. A photo possible only because of my trusty 3X optical zoom! (I'm hoping that Sony advertisers will read this blog someday.)

And I apologize for it's lack of sharpness. There is a limit to how steady you can hold a camera when twisting your neck backwards on a moving bus.

Next, it was time to sit back, relax and take a sip of water - whoa! I suddenly noticed that my nearly empty water bottle has collapsed.

When I last capped it, it was at 6000 feet. Containing air at 6000 feet. Now that we're at sea level, the higher air pressure outside has squashed the bottle.

An inadvertent demonstration of physics!

As we sped along the highway, I saw this cloud stuck to a mountain in Johor. I am always fascinated at how some mountains seem to "grow" clouds on them.

This photo looks like it was taken deep in the jungle on a tripod huh? Actually it was taken from the side window of a bus zooming past at 110 km/h.

After a few hours on the road - rest stop! Here is a familiar sight for travellers who stop at Yong Peng, the fish fountain. As you can see from the photo, evening is fast approaching.

We stopped at the older cafeteria in Yong Peng this time. I mentioned in an earlier blog entry that Yong Peng gives me a nice relieved feeling when I'm on my way home.

Partly because this rest stop has public toilets.

Also because it is only a few hours away from Singapore.

Finally at 9-ish pm, I arrived back at the Golden Mile Complex.

Holiday @ Genting.
Day Two - Evolution of Genting

Genting is different from sea-level resorts in many ways. Since it is situated on a mountain, the growth of Genting is constrained by the topography of the site. In addition, the resort today was not fully planned right at the beginning. Instead, when Genting began making money, it had to grow building by building.

But because each new facility must be built at a different height, numerous walkways, escalators and lifts had to be added to link them into a conherent whole.

The result is has a very organic feel to it, with some interesting resemblances to biological evolution.

Take this patch of nature in the middle of a carpark, for example. It wasn't planted there - it was just a piece of the original forest left untouched by development. The multistorey carpark on the left is connected to a ground carpark where I took this photo.

Thus the roof of that building is linked to the bottom of another building. Many times I noticed that the ground I am walking on is really the top of some building.

Of course if you had infinite money and infinite technology you could demolish everything, bulldoze the entire mountaintop flat and rebuild the resort with components all at the same height. It would be much more convenient. Also, it would resemble Intelligent Design.

However, this extreme measure is not necessary for the continued growth and survival of Genting. In fact, most of Genting should continue to function and generate revenue while other parts grow, shrink or are remodeled. Otherwise Genting would have gone extinct.

That old patch of forest doesn't affect the function of Genting, so it stays there. Similar to most parts of our DNA that are neutral with respect to our survival.

Did I mention remodeling? Here is video arcade for kids!

It wasn't designed for this function.

Actually it was once a cable car station, a part of the outdoor theme park. Perhaps this joyride wasn't making any money. Whatever happened, the cable cars and equipment were removed, the station sealed with windows and redecorated as a video arcade.

This happens in biology too. Fins that become limbs that become wings.

How about this derelict-looking helipad? Once it was a gateway for the rich and famous to arrive in style. Now, it doesn't look functional anymore.

The office is empty. All the steel parts of the helipad have rusted and the whole structure looks abandoned.

In biology, organisms have this feature too. We call them vestigial structures.

I have no idea how long this helipad stays abandoned. It can probably be remodeled into a restaurant or something. Or it may be demolished.

Next, the growth of the resort. New buildings are still being constructed at Genting, but space at the top is rapidly depleted. If I can make an analogy that Genting is like a single-cell organism, then I would predict that due to constraints on cell-size, the next growth stage will require multicellularity. Genting must grow a new resort offsite.

And what a coincidence! We are seeing this happen right now.

You might be wondering why this picture of a boring electrical substation is here.

Check out the grille design. Maybe this entire device was made by Mercedes Benz. Or maybe it's convergent evolution!

Ok it isn't.

Smarty pants.
Holiday @ Genting.
Day Two - Lim Goh Tong Museum.

After breakfast, I went to visit the Lim Goh Tong museum which was just beside the Coffee Terrace. Lim Goh Tong (林梧桐) is the Malaysian Casino King who founded Genting. He has a classic rags-to-riches story. Starting as poor migrant worker from China, he worked various odd jobs before entering the construction industry as a subcontractor. By 1965 he already made a lot of money from his construction business, but he decided to take a big risk and spent $20 million to develop Genting.

If you watched as many Austin Powers movies as I have, you know that there was only about $20 million in the whole world at that time. So it was a massive bet.

And boy did it pay off.

Lim Goh Tong once made Forbes list of billionaires with net worth of US$ 2 billion in 2002 and 2003. He also owns the Star Cruises company. The Malaysian government confered him the Federal title of Tan Sri.

Here's the giant wall poster at the entrance of the museum. Lim Goh Tong looks like a patient uncle. I think he prefers this photo of him taken when he was middle-aged, because it appears everywhere. The museum was quite empty apart from a few curious peeps, like me. All the regular uncles and aunties were way more interested in rolling a fast buck at the casinos.

Uncle Lim is not running Genting any more, since he is already 88 years old. When you have a billion dollar business staffed by thousands of able employees, who do you hand it to when you're too old to work?

He gave it to his son. Hah.

This feels like that Yang Zhenning story all over again.

Also on display was a book that Mr. Lim wrote, available in English, Chinese and Malay. He is definitely a super-successful businessman, but I wonder if his experience has any relevance for me. After all he looks really nice, patient and focused.

Very "normal-normal".

My role models tend to be a bit on the wacko side...

Like Paul Verhoeven for example. Totally mad.

Mr. Lim has received many gifts and awards over the years and displays them proudly in this set of glass cabinets.

I have almost that many Star Wars toys stuffed into my cabinet. All accumulating dust and a few are actually growing mold inside. But if I open the packaging, they won't be collector's grade anymore. Banish the thought!

These sets of charts show the growth of Genting in six performance indicators. Overall Genting has done very well, but if you look closely you can see a dip between 1998-2000 in some of the charts. I guess that corresponds to the Asian Financial Crisis. Malaysia suffered a recession during that time period and Genting appears to be affected as well.

At the back of the museum, there is a glass display case full of insect specimens, but there was no description as to why it is there. Mr. Lim likes collecting insects? These are insects common in the Genting area? Or endangered in the Genting area?

I see your lack of caring. I know, I'm not that much into insects neither.

There is a whole wall section devoted to photos of VIP visitors. Check this out! Run Run Shaw, one of the Shaw Brothers. King of the Movies in the 1970s and early 80s. He is still around today at a whopping 99 years of age!

Old uncle Lim with his son and the Prime Minister of Malaysia, Abdullah Badawi during a New Year Loh Hei. I put this picture up because I think Mr. Badawi is a nice uncle.

There are many wall panels that illustrate how Genting was built, stage by stage. This is the first hotel in Genting under construction in 1970. It was named Highlands Hotel then and has since been renamed Theme Park Hotel.

The flagship, Genting Hotel under construction in 1978. This five-star hotel with its prominent big-red sign occupies the central position on Genting complex of hotels.

And finally this model shows the overview of the resort city that Mr. Lim built.

The more I look at it, the more it reminds me of a eukaryote cell. Doesn't Genting Hotel (big red sign) resemble a nucleus? The previous "nucleus" of Genting was the old Highlands Hotel, which you can call a "prokaryote nucleoid" for all I care. Now it has been renamed Theme Park Hotel. Also known as "mitochondrial nucleoid".

If Genting is similar to a cell, then does it have analogous features to biological evolution? Boy oh boy let's go find out!

This sounds like high geek-ism.

*Update: Mr. Lim Goh Tong passed away this morning at 11.20 am, on 23rd October 2007.

Fresh Brainz salutes this nice uncle who had the vision and perseverance to create a beautiful mountain resort out of practically nothing.

Holiday @ Genting.
Day Two - Buffet Breakfast

The next morning, it's time to sample some of Genting's finest culinary delights!

OK it's just an all-you-can-eat-buffet.

I went to another buffet at Genting last year which wasn't any good. This time, that buffet place no longer exists. Figures.

So I went to the Coffee Terrace instead, right under the venerable Genting Hotel. It has a tastefully zen entrance I must say. Even the cardboard cutout of the waitress looks so... minimal. She had a flat expression and a facile smile. Her beauty was only skin deep. Her figure was too thin and her character lacked substance. In fact she had very little depth.

I just go on and on huh? I learnt that from Monty Python!

The interior design is quite neat too. I took this panorama to show you how long the buffet line was. You can see the different types of food on offer, for example Nyonya and Western. The panorama makes the place look even more elegant.

I also like their service which was prompt and courteous. And nobody stopped me from taking photos in the restaurant. Which is much appreciated!

To start I sampled some of the usual continental breakfast items - danish, eggs, sausages and pancakes. These were well-prepared and quite tasty. I also had a glass of guava juice which was excessively sweet - the way I like it.

For seconds, I had cheddar cheeze, potato wedges, more danish and a cold cut. These were all quite good, especially the wedges. I washed them down with sugary orange juice. I think I like their guava juice better.

Next it's time to try out some of their local fares - nasi lemak, kway teow and roast chicken. They taste rather flat and disappointing. Oh well, more guava juice!

To make it a complete breakfast I also took some greens and fruits, but I deliberately did not take any photos of those. This blog is not about healthy eating, my friends.

Oh, while I was happily munching on stuff I noticed this dangerous looking ceiling fan with drooping blades. It was spinning quite slowly, but I can totally imagine it used as an overly-elaborate-easily-escapable-device to ensnarl Austin Powers.

Dr. Evil:

"Mr. Powers. May I introduce you to the 'Decapitator'!"

*makes quotation marks with his fingers*

"An unnecessarily-slow lifting mechanism will raise your shackled body upwards until the deadly 'Decapitator' gives me head. Your head that is. Muahahaha. Muahahaha. MUAHAHAHA!"

Scott Evil: "Dad that is so gay."

Dr. Evil: "Yes Scott, I am happy too."
Holiday @ Genting.
Day One - Looking around.

After I checked into my room, I went to the First World Plaza to have a late lunch at Marrybrown's, which serves good chicken burgers. The first thing I noticed was that there were a lot of Middle East and mainland Chinese tourists. There were tour guides leading dozens of eager tourists who were dragging their luggage around.

Wasn't this the "low" season? Maybe only for Singaporean tourists.

When I was done refueling it's time to walk around. This is a panorama of Genting's Outdoor Theme Park, chock full of amusement rides. A place where kids get all excited and scream a lot.

I was more interested in this. A place where adults get all excited and scream a lot. I literally heard one group of punters scream when they were on a winning roll. Most people there were rather quiet though.

There are two main casinos in Genting, a huge one centred on Genting Hotel and a smaller one within the First World Plaza. Each entrance is guarded by two security guys and equipped with a metal detector gate.

No cameras or camera-phones are permitted inside the casinos, sorry guys, no pictures there.

Here's another casino entrance with signs to remind people of the rules and regulations. Dress code is smart casual, but they're really lax about it nowadays. When my parents came here years ago, people were required to wear batik shirts or long-sleeved shirts to enter a casino.

Oh did I mention the sheer number of uncles and aunties inside? It was really packed. Most of the casino customers were middle-aged folks, playing card games and electronic roulette on the tables. A good number were on the slot machines too. The only young people I could see were the casino staff.

How did all these uncles and aunties get so rich? To fritter away their money for hours like that?

Seems like when you're a grad student, everyone is richer than you.

Genting may call itself a City of Entertainment, but it is obvious that gambling is the major part of it. Regular casino-goers apply for a membership card called the Worldcard, which provides incentives and exclusive perks on a cumulative point basis.

The Worldcard can be used for discounts while shopping here, and there is a Genting Rewards shop where members can exchange points for gifts. The goodies don't just end there. In fact the entire Highlands Hotel is members-only. You can see by the ornate entrance of this hotel what a privilege it must feel like to stay there. There is even a VIP reception (up the escalators in the photo) for high-rollers.

I immediately imagined the God of Gamblers played by Chow Yun-Fat (周润发) strolling suavely into the VIP reception with his bowtie and slicked-back hair.

In slow motion.

I watch too many movies.

I think that the casino high-rollers are the most valued guests at Genting. Let me demonstrate that by showing you a comparison between the statues found in the Highlands Hotel and First World Hotel. You don't need to guess which is which. The contrast in quality is striking.

There are a few huge banners advertising the casinos throughout Genting. When I looked at this model I found that she looked somewhat familiar.

Then I saw this wall advert and suddenly realized that - she looks like Anita Yuen (袁咏仪)! Oh my, did Anita become a casino model?

Nope. It's definitely not her, but still quite a resemblance. Maybe she's an evil clone?

I like evil clones.

In addition, these adverts have a strong "Hong Kong" flavour to it, but I can't quite put my finger on it. Despite the large number of Middle East and mainland Chinese tourists passing through, I get a feeling that Genting values Hong Kongers a lot. Sort of like Macau.

So to make Hong Kongers feel right at home, Genting has restaurants with familiar sounding names.

Like "Causeway Bay".

Or a claypot restaurant with distinctly a Cantonese name. Translates literally to "Prosperity Come Claypot Little/Boy."

Here's another - "Good Taste", an eatery with Cantonese romanization.

Well who could blame them, everyone knows that Hong Kongers are made of money.

Especially the God of Gamblers, but good luck getting a cent out of that guy.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Holiday @ Genting.
Day One - Getting There.

As you know, I am a graduate student. Which means that I'm not made of money.

So just last week, instead of a holiday to Europe or some other uber-expensive location, I had to settle for somewhere significantly cheaper and nearer.

Like Genting Highlands (云顶高园 in Chinese) in Malaysia.

For good reason too. First of all, it has been insanely hot in Singapore lately.

30 degree nights? Madness.

Those of you who know me understand that my brain overheats easily. Probably due to faulty wiring.

Thus, Genting at 1 828 metres (6 000 feet) altitude gives me nice cool 20 degree days and chilly nights. Me likes!

Then there is the gambling of course. If you understood my Chinese blog entry earlier, I mentioned that I was itching to get my hands on some slot machines again. I went to Genting last year and it was good fun.

This year though, you get to come along for the trip. How cool is that?

I know, I know. You are asking "Genting? That is such a pedestrian place to go. I've been there a dozen times! What could possibly be so interesting about your trip?"

Relax dude. I'll show you some cool stuff you might not have noticed in your last trip.

Alrighty then.

That's me at home, 5 am in the morning. Actually I wanted to start my trip with a photo showing my "just-woke-up" face. Unfortunately it was so hideous that even thinking about it now makes me want to throw up. Ugh. To spare you the agony, here's the freshly showered version, all ready to go. Yippee!

Next, I arrived at Golden Mile Complex and parked my butt on a comfy chair in a 24-seater tour bus. I was going on one of them free 'n' easy tours where you get the coach ride and hotel room in a package. I chose Grassland Tours because they have a reputation for good service. The price was really cheap since that was the low season for Singaporean travellers. Therefore, I was expecting a nearly deserted Genting when I arrived, but boy will I be surprised.

The bus travelled to the Tuas Immigration Checkpoint via the Ayer Rajah Expressway. I was happily listening to my radio and looking around randomly like a stupid kid. My fellow passengers, on the other hand, all looked half-dead and were trying to get some sleep.

Yay! I'm getting a nice holiday-ish feeling!

Next we drove over the Second Link Bridge into Malaysia. The border lies in the sea between our two countries, so it has no visible marking. However, once we got over to the other side - BZZZZ! My cell phone alerted me that the Malaysian service provider Celcom was online.

Now you may not know this, but I use Geiger counters (which detects beta radiation) for a living. Since you can't see radioactivity, my counter acts as my eyes when I am doing experiments. After a while, I got so used to the counter's incessant clicking sound that I started to feel the radioactivity. Talk about connecting to your gadgets.

So when my cell phone buzzed, I felt the Malaysian border hit me.

Like a brick wall.

After we got through customs, the bus drove through a toll gate to enter the North-South Highway. I immediately noticed a smashed-up lorry ahead which was still driving along despite the fact that its cabin was twisted 45 degrees away from the front!


Then as we overtook it I realized that... oh it was towed by another vehicle.

That made more sense.

Poor lorry. It has seen better days.

As we travelled down the highway, I caught this sign that reminded me that Genting was still some 6 hours away. Genting is about 40 km north of Kuala Lumpur.

Okay the real reason why I took this shot is just to show off what my camera can do to a moving target zipping by at 110 km/h.


We arrived at a rest station in Yong Peng, which is approximately halfway to KL.

Yong Peng always gives me a nice feeling. It is the first stop, so I always have a happy holiday-ish feeling here on the outward leg. On the return leg, I also have a happy relieved feeling here, because it is the last stop before Singapore.

This time we stopped at a newer looking cafeteria which I haven't been to before. Not much business that morning. There were a number of Mainland Chinese tourists, some of them wearing Chinese flag pins.

After a brief stop we continued traveling down the highway for hours with kilometre after kilometre of oil palm trees on both sides. There were a number of construction vehicles along the way because some highway expansion work was going on. Eventually we reached Kuala Lumpur and passed through the city.

The most touristy thing to do here is to take a picture of the Petronas Twin Towers.

Which I did, of course.

Then our bus stopped at a petrol station for some passengers to take a pee. As I waited, a car drove up and its owner went into the minimart to get stuff. I stare in awe at this old, beat-up, rusty one-eyed dragon (独眼龙). I have to say that this car is purely a transportation tool only, as I can't imagine anyone considering this as their pride and joy.

Which is absolutely fine by me. I've never understood why people obsess so much over their cars anyway.

Finally, after a meandering, dizzying climb up the hills, our coach arrived at Genting. Yes!

That towering, monolithic building with bright, clashing colours is the First World Hotel. I don't think it will win any awards for its appearance, but it certainly looked welcoming after that long bus ride. Need a comfy bed!

The First World Hotel bus station maintains the same gaudy colour scheme as the hotel itself. Ouch my eyes!

It was quite sunny when I arrived, and certainly not as cool as I had hoped. I like the crisp mountain air, but I find it a little thin to breathe. Especially if I exert myself by climbing stairs or something. It doesn't seem to affect anyone else I know.

And I don't even smoke. I think I just suck.

Did I mention that the First World Hotel is the *radio announcer voice* Largest Hotel In The World? It has over 6000 frickin' rooms man. I have never seen a longer check-in counter than this one. My photo doesn't do it justice. It is really really really long.

And now for my room. It was actually bigger than I expected, compared to what I saw in the virtual tour at the Genting website. It was also very neat and clean. Plus I get TV with cable. Goody!

On the downside I don't get a view at all. You can only see somebody else's window from my window. The First World Hotel has two huge towers, and each of them is built like a sandwich with a narrow airwell between the two "slices".

Here, I'll show you what I mean with this vertical panorama of the airwell.

Isn't that neat? You can make cool panoramas like this using Autostitch. I think the arrangement of beams remind me of a vertebral column. There goes my inner science geek again.

Now that I have settled in nicely, it's time to take a look around. Oh boy oh boy oh boy.

To be continued... in my next post!