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Balik Kampung… Ooohh… Balik Kampung

Posted by on 29 September 2008

The exodus has begun.

Hordes of cars, buses and motorcycles now clog the North-South Expressway for people bound to the north (Ipoh, Penang, Kedah) and the south (Seremban, Malacca, Johor, Singapore).  You can see the same thing along Karak Highway for people bound for Pahang, Terengganu and Kelantan. Flights to Sabah, Sarawak, and even to Indonesia are all fully booked. The same goes for the trains and ferries.

North-South Expressway
The North-South Expressway on a normal day. Expect bumper-to-bumper traffic during the balik kampung rush!  [Side note: The highways are well-maintained and free of potholes the whole length, and lined with trees, shrubs and flowers all year round.]

With so much traffic on all major roads and highways, expect all designated rest areas and petrol stations to be filled with people. Prepare to queue at the toilets, squeeze your way into an empty spot in the surau, jostle among the crowd to buy nasi lemak or nasi ayam. And don’t expect to reach your intended destination in the usual amount of time it gets there. The two-hour trip to Ipoh, for instance, can take 4 to 5 hours. If you’re lucky! If a car breaks down or if an accident happens, it could take even longer.

This phenomenon is called balik kampung (balik: go back, kampung: village) , which peaks during Hari Raya Aidilfitri (Raya for short) and Chinese New Year but which also takes place on school holidays, a long weekend or a public holiday that coincides with the weekend.

Malaysians always go back to their kampung every chance they get — whether it’s a kampung house by a sawa padi (rice field) in Kedah, or an estate house within a palm plantation in Johor, or a semi-detached house in Kuala Selangor. They give a whole new meaning to the phrase “There’s no place like home.”

I can’t blame them. Before I married DH, I used to tag along with some friends to their respective kampungs so I got an idea of what it’s like. There’s so much cooking and chatting and so many other activities — kuih (cookies) to be baked, curtains to be put up, walls to be painted, dodol to be cooked — with the kids having the most fun of all,  running in and out and around (and sometimes, under) the house, big. Never mind if the house is so full that the children all have to sleep in the lounge and some of the men have to make do with the porch. Never mind if you’ve got to wake up at daybreak just to make sure you get to have your bath without having to queue. As they say, the more, the merrier!

Even the Indians and Chinese who do not celebrate Raya join the balik kampung rush because the week-long holiday is a good opportunity to go back to their hometowns, as well. Others simply take this as an opportunity for a holiday with the family.

The official Raya holidays are only two days — 1st and 2nd of October –but it’s customary for companies to either give one or two days extra holiday (cuti ehsan) to their staff or, as in our company’s case, everyone is required to file for leave. We’ve tried many times in the past to shorten the holiday, setting up some elaborate system where some people were supposed to take leave early and go back to work early, while some people take leave only on the eve of Raya and take their leave after Raya. But it never worked. Suddenly, the HR (Human Resource Department) would get employees taking emergency leaves and sick leaves in droves. Hence, this year, our last day of work was last Saturday, everyone had to file for leave for Monday, Tuesday and Friday (Wednesday and Thursday being the official holidays) and are expected to report back for work next Monday.

For couples who come from different states, they’ve devised all sort of ways of determining which kampung to go back to everytime. If the states are too far apart, they usually take turns (this year, Johor; next year, Kelantan) or, if their respective kampungs are not that far away (say, Seremban and Kuala Selangor), perhaps the first day of Raya will be at the husband’s kampung, then they drive to the wife’s kampung on the second day. Something like that.

I never had to deal with that situation because my husband is from KL and my family is now in KL, as well. How I used to feel envious with all my friends who had kampungs to go back to! But now that I have five children, I’m soooo relieved I won’t have to go through the whole thing. I can’t imagine being cooped in a car for five hours (or more) with five children who are bound to get more restless, hungry and cranky with every passing hour! I feel truly amazed with people who somehow manage the annual trip back to their kampung with their families, their cars crammed with bags and food and kuih and toys, so full that they might as well get themselves some moving pods ;)

Nowadays, I take long holidays as an opportunity to unwind at home. When I do go out, I enjoy driving slowly on the roads of KL as there is very little traffic, if any, even along the usual hotspots — Jalan Tun Razak, Jalan Hang Tuah, Pudu Raya, Jalan Cheng Lok (the usual roads mentioned in daily rush hour traffic reports!) .

But, whatever you do, stay away from KLCC and Zoo Negara (National Zoo). On holidays like these, those two places will be packed with foreign workers, mostly men, from countries like Myanmar (Burma), Cambodia, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, India and Indonesia.

Many shopping centres will be closed for half a day or one day (usually on the first day) but reopen on the second day. All hypermarkets remain open, like usual, which is great for last-minute stuff like tomato paste for your spaghetti sauce or santan (coconut cream) for your rendang.

Wishing all my Malaysian readers a safe trip home! When the traffic gets too bad, just sit back, relax, crank up the radio and sing along: “Balik kampung….ooohhh…balik kampung….

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