MAX ’95 – A Rally To Remember

WRITING ABOUT THE Macau Grand Prix (link) brought back memories of a rally (albeit a friendship rally) that I was a part of  – the MAX ’95 Friendship Rally in the Philippines, 30th June – 2nd July 1995.

Proton“Themed “Friendship Though Motoring”, the rally brought together more than 30 Malaysian and Filipino journalists on a historic 1,183 km journey through villages and major towns across Luzon Island. For three days, the convoy of a dozen Malaysian national cars – 4 Proton Wiras, 3 Proton Perdanas, 2 Satrias and 3 Perodua Kancils – made heads turn as they conquered the Philippines roads. Although a non-competitive rally, we weren’t least deprived of the thrills and excitement of a real rally adventure.

The first-of-its kind rally was the result of Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Philippines President Fidel Ramos’s desire to demonstrate ASEAN friendship. It also served as a curtain raiser for the Malaysian Automotive Industry Exhibition (MAX ’95) held in the Philippines that July, following the successful launch of the Proton Wira there early this year.

The organisers were Perusahaan Otomobil Nasional Berhad or Proton (the manufacturer of Malaysia’s national car), Edaran Otomobil Nasional Berhad or EON (the distributor of Proton cars), Usahasama Proton-DRB Sdn Bhd or USPD (the manufacturer and distributor of Proton Satria) and Perusahaan Otomobil Kedua Sdn Bhd or Perodua (the manufacturer and distributor of the second national car).

The group of 20 Malaysian journalists from the print and electronic media arrived in Manila on 28th June 1995 and checked into Edsa Plaza Shangri-La Hotel. That night we were introduced to our Filipino counterparts and briefed on the do’s and don’ts. Reminders like “do not overtake unnecessarily” and “do not drive recklessly” sounded simple enough to remember.

On 29th June, we took the domestic one-and-only flight daily from Manila down south to Legazpi City where the flag-off was to be held. After the 45-minutes flight, we checked into the Mayon International Hotel, named after the infamous coned Mayon volcano. 

Arrived in Legazpi City airport with Mt Mayon visible in the background; Group photo upon arrival.

Arrived in Legazpi City airport with Mt Mayon visible in the background; Group photo upon arrival.

We were taken sight-seeing to some popular spots, including the Cagsawa Ruins, from where we could catch a breathtaking view of the 2,400m Mount Mayon. History has it that the volcano erupted in 1814 and buried the whole town of Cagsawa in lava, leaving only the church steeple visible today. In an excitement to capture the scenic views, one of the journalists dropped and broke his camera. 

Left: The church steeple in Cagsawa Ruins; Right: Group photo against Mount Mayon in the background.

Left: The church steeple in Cagsawa Ruins; Right: Group photo against Mount Mayon in the background.

The tour also included a drive to a candy store (!) where both the Malaysians and Filipinos stocked themselves sweet with home-made candies and on to the market place where cheap handicrafts could be found.

Having relaxed and enjoyed the day, we were greeted with bad new during our briefing at night. The rally cars which were shipped from Malaysia much earlier apparently arrived at the wrong port in Manila. The slight setback was quickly solved by event co-ordinator Abdul Razak Dawood of EON, and his Philippines counterparts from Proton Pilipinas Corporation – the 30-odd members of the media were re-scheduled and packed into seven available Wiras instead, for the first of the three legs.

It was an early start on 30th June for a simple but meaningful ceremony. Malaysian Ambassador to the Philippines Datuk Zainuddin Abdul Rahman and Mayor of Legazpi City, Imelda C. Roces jointly flagged off the cars, one at a time. Also present was Albay province Governor, Victor S. Ziga. 

The cars being flagged off.

The cars being flagged off.

(L) TV3 crew with Malaysian Ambassador to the Philippines Datuk Zainuddin Abdul Rahman; (C) All set to drive? ... well, not quite...(R) Back in the passenger seat where I belonged!

(L) TV3 crew with Malaysian Ambassador to the Philippines Datuk Zainuddin Abdul Rahman; (C) All set to drive? … well, not quite…(R) Back in the passenger seat where I belonged!

Armed with a rally tulip, a road map, new partners and a load of enthusiasm, the journalists set off on their mission to conquer the Philippines roads. For the Malaysians, being unfamiliar with the roads and left-hand drive cars, some opted to be navigators and passengers instead.

Within minutes of being flagged-off, all reminders of not speeding and overtaking unnecessarily flew out of the windows. Everyone just sped out of sight!

The first leg, from Legazpi City – Daet – Lucena City – Manila, covered 560 km. No sweat, it was like travelling from Johor to Penang, or so we thought, except that we had not anticipated the road conditions.

As we drove on the two-lane “highways”, Abdul Razak’s warning came ringing into our ears. “The stage between Daet and Lucena is very dangerous. It’s winding, slippery with broken road surfaces. PLEASE be careful.” It was almost a plea. It had fallen onto deaf ears till we saw it for ourselves. Certain stretches seemed to be going nowhere, some roads were bumpy, covered with mud while others have big potholes. Several times we encountered one-lane road and were horrified to find ourselves coming face-to-face with an on-coming vehicle.

Throughout the journey, we were privileged to be escorted and led by Filipino rally drivers who are members of the Activity Asia Association (AAA), their rally club. And for safety purpose, two tow trucks travelled along with three service vans and an ambulance.

One of the rally drivers had continuously cautioned us, “Jeepneys are the kings of the roads, not you. The roads are also the children’s playground, please watch out for them. Oh, and watch out for the animals too!” The warnings came again at lunch time.

What a nightmare when we found out he wasn’t just paranoid. Every now and then, we came across native kids playing by the roadside and pedestrians crossing the roads without a care in the world. Pouring rain that afternoon made the roads more muddy and slippery, but thank god for the native kids, even as they played by the roadside, they helped direct the traffic especially on those one-way stretches, by waving sticks tied with a green cloth to indicate “clear” and waving a red one to indicate “stop”.

The journey was memorable as certain stretches were close reminders of the coastal roads along Tanjung Bungah, Penang and the scenic views of padi fields brought to mind the rice bowls of Kedah.

By dinner time, we made it to Lucena City, dirty and tired while the cars, dusty and muddy. The feast at Sulo Sa Quezon was a great treat. Feeling fat and contented, the participants travelled in a close convoy to arrive safely back in Manila by 10pm. While some hit the sack, others found the energy to check out the night spots. And I still had deadlines to meet, being the only one in the group who sent stories and visuals home daily via feeds while the others wrote special reports only when they got home.

Everyone was up bright and early for the second leg of 473 km from Manila – Tarlac – Alaminos – Subic Bay. Lo and behold, the original fleet of Perdanas, Satrias and Kancils greeted us in front of the Edsa Plaza Shangri-La Hotel. And better news was that they were all fixed with communication radios. So throughout this second leg, the participants – who had now changed cars and partners – entertained each other with rounds of jokes.

After lunch at Maxine Restaurant in Alaminos, we were made to travel bumper-to-bumper. With the headlights flicking away, the white, red, blue, metallic green and silver cars attracted more attention and made heads turn as we travelled on better roads.

The highlight of the second leg was a visit to the Proton assembly plant in Pengasinan. It is the first Proton facility outside Malaysia which was jointly opened by Dr Mahathir and Ramos in January 1995. The rather barren land now will create 700 jobs and produce an average of 20 Proton cars a day when completed in 1997. The site provided a super special gravel stage where both the Malaysian and Filipino drivers wasted no time in testing out their racing skills and gave quite a performance. 

(L) Doing a stand-upper at the Proton Assembly Plant in Pengasinan; (R) The tables turned and I was interviewed by Philippines’ Auto Review journalist Lourdes Tan.

(L) Doing a stand-upper at the Proton Assembly Plant in Pengasinan; (R) The tables turned and I was interviewed by Philippines’ Auto Review journalist Lourdes Tan.

It was dark by the time we reached Subic Bay where we had a hearty meal at the Hollywood Steakhouse. Upon checking into the Subic International Hotel, I thought I had stepped into a military barracks, for the hotel was refurbished from one.

Everyone looked forward to the following morning. Not only was it the final day of the rally, but we also had a chance for some shopping at the duty-free haven. And mind you, not only the girls jumped with joy, the guys apparently had longer shopping lists!  We also had the opportunity to witness the good infrastructure and facilities that the Americans left behind when they left their largest naval base in Asia in 1992.

Group photo in Subic Bay.

Group photo in Subic Bay.

We re-fuelled our bellies at the Golden Dragon Restaurant (which was within minutes’ walk from the hotel) and geared up for the short 150 km drive from Subic Bay back to Manila. On that warm and fine Sunday, we took a pleasant three-and-a-half hour drive on the four-lane highway. As we entered Metro Manila, police escorts cleared the way for the convoy to move towards the Quirino Grandstand, Luneta Park. Present to welcome us were VIPs from the organisers and hundreds of locals.

The participants and the cars were introduced to rounds of applause. By then each car had collected six stickers from various Governors of the towns that we stopped by. Metro Manila Mayor, Alfredo Lim put on the final sticker as a grand finale and presented all participants with flower garlands. Everyone was a winner! 

The “winners” in a commemorative photo at the finishing line.

The “winners” in a commemorative photo at the finishing line.

Receiving the garland from Metro Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim; Yau CH of Nanyang; Zakaria of Mingguan Sukan.

Throughout the journey, we got to know our Filipino counterparts and their country better, while they got acquainted with our national cars. At the end of the rally, there were new friendships forged, several punctured tyres, a busted radiator, good reviews nevertheless, and despite one broken camera, rolls of photographs reminders of a blast of an experience.

Mabuhay!”          

At the MAX 95 Friendship Rally dinner & prize presentation in Shangri-La Makati Manila… (Top, L-R) Malaysian Ambassador to the Philippines, Datuk Zainuddin Abdul Rahman; former colleague Louis Cheang of The Star; Sharif of NST and Leslie of Bostock Mohd; Abd Razak Dawood, Senior Manager of EON; (Bottom, L-R) With our Filipino counterparts, Nina Santaromano of Sports Life; Chris Tio of The Freeman; Conrad Carino of Business World.

(L) Standing next to “the king of the road” – a jeepney, a common sight on the Philippines roads as it is a popular mode of transportation; (R) Notice who has more shopping bags.

(L) Standing next to “the king of the road” – a jeepney, a common sight on the Philippines roads as it is a popular mode of transportation; (R) Notice who has more shopping bags.

Post rally we got together one more time for an appreciation dinner, thanks to TK who arranged it just before I left for my postgraduate studies.

Post rally we got together one more time for an appreciation dinner, thanks to TK who arranged it just before I left for my postgraduate studies.

Article in Berita Harian, 13 July 1995.

Article in Berita Harian, 13 July 1995.

Rally_13

News article in The Philippine Star, 3 July 1995.

Sergiev Posad, Russia

OUR DAY TRIP to Sergiev Posad about two hours’ drive north of Moscow, on 30th June 2007. Sergiev Posad, about 75km from Moscow, is perhaps most known for its Trinity Monastery which is the spiritual home of many Russian Orthodox churches.

Sergiev Posad_1

Assumption Cathedral within the Trinity Monastery, Sergiev Posad, Moscow; a statue of St. Sergius just outside the monastery near the entrance.

M and F had a jolly good time!

M and F had a jolly good time! On the right is Trinity Cathedral, the oldest building within the Monastery which dates back 1422.

These photos were taken by hubby during his last trip there in September 2006.

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Golf in DC, 1998

ON THIS DATE in 1998, I had my first attempt at golf in the US. I must add, THAT was my LAST too 🙂 I have great admiration for those who enjoy and excel in this sport, but it just isn’t for me (for many reasons, including the sun, the precious few hours that I rather spend indoors, etc)…

Practising at the driving range at East Potomac Park Golf Center while hubby looked on patiently.

Practising at the driving range at East Potomac Park Golf Center while hubby looked on patiently.

Golf in DC… a photo for keepsake.

Golf in DC… a photo for keepsake.

Other “keepsakes”…my USGA membership card and the leather glove hubby bought me, which I found recently, still in good condition after all these years!!! Perhaps it’s a sign…

 

Guilin, China, 26-28 Jun 2010

GUILIN IS 45 minutes by flight from Beihai. Upon arrival in Guilin, my first impression was “what a mountainous land”!

Arrival Guilin

(Top) Guilin Liang Jiang International Airport; (Bottom L) Mountainous scene; (Bottom R) The first toll booth that we passed after leaving Guilin Airport.

We checked into Sheraton Hotel (RMB880 a night) and after lunch, went to Reed Flute Cave and Elephant Trunk Hill.

Reed Flute Cave is so named because reeds used for making flutes and pipes are grown in this region. It is a natural limestone cave with stalactite and stalagmite formations which resemble animals, plants and things, all given rather interesting names and descriptions. (The cave reminded me of Luray Caverns in Virginia, USA, which we visited back in 1999.)

(L) At the Reed Flute Cave, Guilin; (R) One of the many formations in the cave, this one is named “Lion seeing off his guests”!

Elephant Trunk Hill has a legend that an elephant belonging to the Emperor of Heaven had descended to earth, it angered the Emperor who stabbed it and turned it into stone! There is a cave between the elephant trunk and leg called the Water Moon Cave. Sitting on top of the hill is Puxian Pagoda said to be built during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

(L) Elephant Trunk Hill; (R) Nearby, a pair of birds rest on a bamboo pole before taking another dive into the river to catch fish.

At the Elephant Trunk Hill, same spot 20 years apart… Hubby and I in June 2010; my parents there in April 1990 when they toured Guilin.

At the Elephant Trunk Hill, same spot 20 years apart… Hubby and I in June 2010; my parents there in April 1990 when they toured Guilin.

That evening, we met with Guilin municipal leaders, followed by dinner and a boat tour on Two Rivers Four Lakes. It is named as such because two rivers and four lakes are connected to form a waterway network around the city of Guilin.

(L) View from Sheraton Hotel room; (R) The Meeting Hall where we met with Guilin municipal leaders, I love the huge wall mural that depicts Guilin’s famed scenery.

(L) View from Sheraton Hotel room; (R) The Meeting Hall where we met with Guilin municipal leaders, I love the huge wall mural that depicts Guilin’s famed scenery.

(L) The famed twin pagodas on Shan Lake (one of the four lakes) called the Sun and Moon pagodas – the former a 9-storey tower made of solid bronze and the latter a 7-storey tower made of wood and glazed tiles; (R) A pavilion on the lake.

(L) The famed twin pagodas on Shan Lake (one of the four lakes) called the Sun and Moon pagodas – the former a 9-storey tower made of solid bronze and the latter a 7-storey tower made of wood and glazed tiles; (R) A pavilion on the lake.

The next day, we checked out of the hotel and headed for a boat cruise on Li River.

The three-hour cruise was truly an enchanting experience (another is the Yangtze River cruise I went with my parents in September 1996).

Our guide who’d been on the cruise numerous times swore that the sceneries that day were the best ever he’d seen! It had just stopped raining and the effects of the mist-shrouded mountains made the landscape very scenic and even mystical. The temperature was pleasant enough for us to enjoy our time out on the deck.

As a good friend SQ so aptly described it and shared… “the mysterious cloudy hills inspired thousands of poets to take up their brush and pen down their innermost song, pulled another thousand artists to dip their ink onto rice paper to record the rapturous feeling bursting in their hearts.”

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While I didn’t come up with any poems or paintings, it did inspire us to click away; between the two of us with two cameras, we took hundreds of shots! We were told that the RMB20 note carries a scene of Guilin mountains and we managed to get a nice shot of that.

(L) A group photo on the boat cruise: (R) This is the scenery that’s printed on the RMB20 note.

By late afternoon, we arrived at Yangshuo and checked into Green Lotus Hotel (RMB620 a night).

(Top) Green Lotus Hotel in Yangshuo county. Even the domed ceiling boosts of paintings of Guilin’s mountainous sceneries; (Bottom) Views from the hotel room.

The road leading towards Green Lotus Hotel.

These are some of the restaurants on West Road (not far from Green Lotus Hotel) which is also a lively shopping spot.

We were taken on a tour to Great Banyan Tree. Scores of tourists flocked there to see the 1,400 year old banyan tree which is 17 meters high. The centuries-old tree has been regarded as a miracle tree, with people writing their wishes on pieces of red paper and sticking them to the tree. This is also the place where legendary singer the Third Sister Liu pledged her love for a man; and the location of the 1960s movie based upon her.

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A short drive south from the Great Banyan Tree is the Moon Hill, reachable in 800 steps on a marble –paved path. Adventure-seekers might find it more challenging to rock-climb instead. We were contented admiring the rock formation from afar.

The Moon Hill.

The Moon Hill.

These two sceneries caught our eyes on our way back to the hotel. (Top) The hustle and bustle of activities conducted on bamboo rafts; (Bottom) More bamboo rafts in store.

Bamboo rafts_2

In the evening, we watched the performance Impression of 3rd Sister Liu with Li River as the natural stage against the backdrop of Guilin mountains (12 peaks to be precise). This is the first of the four “Impression” shows by acclaimed Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou, created in 2004. (Subsequently there were “Impression Lijiang” (2006) in Lijiang, Yunan Province(2006); “Impression West Lake” (2007) in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province; and “Impression Hainan” (2009) in Hainan Island.) We were indeed fortunate to be able to enjoy the whole show before heavy rain came down like a curtain to end the 2-hour show.

(L) “Impression of 3rd Sister Liu” is held here in the 2,200-seat Natural Theatre, Yangshuo; (R) Looking at the actual stage – some 2km sq of Li River against 12 hills.

(L) “Impression of 3rd Sister Liu” is held here in the 2,200-seat Natural Theatre, Yangshuo; (R) Looking at the actual stage – some 2km sq of Li River against 12 hills.

Just as “Impression Hainan” left me impressed, more so did “Impression of 3rd Sister Liu”. The scale and enormity of the production that involved some 700 locals of the Zhuang and Yao minorities, employing both natural resources and modern technologies, is summed up in one word  – impressive.

Guangxi Province, China, 23-28 Jun 2010

THREE YEARS AGO in June, we travelled to Nanning, Pingxiang, Qinzhou, Beihai and Guilin, in the Guangxi Province of China. It was a trip specifically organised for a small group of ASEAN representatives, to promote Nanning as a gateway between China-ASEAN countries.

We had a pretty good trip although it rained quite a bit, off and on. Throughout the 5-day trip, we visited expo sites and industrial zones; met with local provincial or municipal government leaders (ie. vice-governor, mayor, and many deputy directors of numerous departments) where we were briefed on the progress and development of their cities.

Our journey began with our flight from Hong Kong to Nanning on 23rd June 2010. Upon arrival in the evening, we checked into Red Forest Hotel  (RMB440 a night).

The next day, we left for Pingxiang city (a 3-hour bus journey) to visit the Friendship Pass. It literally borders Vietnam by road and is therefore an important gateway between the two countries. 

According to information online, the Friendship Pass was one of the nine important passes in ancient China, and used to be called Zhennan (South Pacification) Pass. It was here the army of the Qing Dynasty won a great victory in the Sino-French War when the French army launched a failed attack on China in 1883-85 over Vietnam. To show friendship and good neighbourliness, the name of the pass was changed to South Befriending Pass and subsequently to Friendship Pass. (Source: www.chinahotel.com.cn)

The Friendship Pass Tower, Pingxiang city.

Within the vicinity, there is a Friendship Pass Tower said to be built during the Han Dynasty and has over 2000 years of history. The four-storey building has an exhibition hall on the second floor, displaying pictures and objects that recorded the events which took place since the Zhennan Pass Victory in the Sino-French War; the third floor was the meeting hall for Sino-Vietnam diplomatic activities. The fourth floor exhibits pictures of the nine famous passes in China.

(Top) Steps leading up to the Friendship Pass Tower. (Bottom) The third floor of Friendship Pass Tower where Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai and his Vietnamese counterpart Ho Chi Min met. Photos of their meeting are hung on the walls.

(L) A group photo, the Friendship Pass Tower in the background; (R) Standing side by side – me on Vietnam soil while hubby on Chinese soil.

(L) A group photo, the Friendship Pass Tower in the background; (R) Standing side by side but nations apart – me on Vietnam soil while hubby on Chinese soil.

(L) Another group photo, this time at the marker stone on the Chinese side put up in 2001; (R) Crossed over to the Vietnamese side for another pix.

(L) Another group photo, this time at the marker stone on the Chinese side put up in 2001; (R) Crossed over to the Vietnamese side for another pix.

A colonial-styled building within the Friendship Pass area.

A colonial-styled building within the Friendship Pass area.

Next we visited the Wantong Logistic Bonded Zone and Puzhai border market.

Wantong Logistic Bonded Zone, Pingxiang city, bordering Vietnam.

Wantong Logistic Bonded Zone, Pingxiang city, bordering Vietnam.

Sceneries along the journey from Pingxiang city back to Nanning city.

Sceneries along the journey from Pingxiang city back to Nanning city.

Toll booths along the journey; the young ladies manning the booths were very friendly.

Toll booths along the journey; the young ladies manning the booths were very friendly.

At night we were at the International Convention Center, Liyuan Resort, Nanning, for a meeting with Guangxi leaders, followed by a banquet.

(L) Nanning Bridge, near Liyuan Resort; (R) The Meeting Hall at the International Convention Center, Liyuan Resort where we met some Guangxi leaders.

(L) Nanning Bridge, near Liyuan Resort; (R) The Meeting Hall at the International Convention Center, Liyuan Resort where we met some Guangxi leaders.

Pamphlet of the Guangxi Modern Agricultural Science & Technology Demonstration Zone.

The next morning, we checked out of the hotel and left for Guangxi Modern Agricultural Science & Technology Demonstration Zone, which was a half hour’s drive from the hotel. It was an “agriculture sightseeing” of sort here as we witnessed high-tech scientific research and techniques that led to impressive fruits of labour and bountiful harvest.

This agriculture park is popular with visiting dignitaries. Its pamphlet showed there had been numerous visits by government leaders (including Chinese President Hu Jintao) and officials from various nations. (see pamphlet on the right)

Bountiful harvest literally hanging overhead; notice how long the snake bean is; gigantic vegetables galore!

Hydroponics is employed as one of the techniques to grow vegetables; Comm Lu explains ...

Hydroponics is employed as one of the techniques to grow vegetables; Comm Lu explains while the rest listen intently.

A seedlings-planting machine at work; then-Minister of Plantation Industries and Commodities Tan Sri Bernard Dompok was also here before (pix extracted from pamphlet).

We proceeded to visit the Nanning International Convention Center (NICC) that is promoted as a venue that caters to all types of exhibitions and events. An eye-catching feature is the roof of the multifunction hall that is a large blooming hibiscus-shaped dome. At the time of our visit, there was an Education Fair going on.

(Top L) The hibiscus dome of NICC; (Top R) The vast exterior space; (Bottom) Good infrastructure around the NICC makes it an ideal expo venue.

From Nanning, we left for Qinzhou city, which is about 1.5 hour’s journey. There we visited Qinzhou Bonded Zone and Qinzhou Port.

(Top) Qinzhou Bonded Zone and Qinzhou Port; (Bottom) A statue of Dr Sun Yat Sun stands on the highest point of Qinzhou Port.

From there we left for Beihai city, also 1.5 hour’s journey. We arrived by 7pm and checked into Shangri-La Hotel (RMB690 a night). We met with municipal leaders, and after dinner, visited the Pearl Palace.

View from Shangri-La Hotel, Beihai, on a rainy day.

On our third day, we checked out the Beihai Export Processing Zone and the Silver Beach. It was unfortunately a rainy day so we only had a passing glimpse of the seaside and beach, said to be one of the finest in the country.

And with that we left for Beihai Airport bound for Guilin.