A few years ago, I found myself in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia at the end of December and got to enjoy my first New Year’s Eve in a Muslim country. My night began like so many, on the rooftop of my hostel, where a bunch of people, including eight or nine Finns, were having a few overpriced beers. The Finns had arrived in four separate groups and had found each other purely by coincidence. Everyone agreed this was the largest gathering of Finns ever outside of Finland or a NHL hockey arena.
After a few beers everyone wanted to move on to the Reggae Bar, which was exactly like every other bar with that name in Southeast Asia: full of dread-locked backpackers. If, for some completely unfathomable reason, you ever want to attract dread-locked backpackers, just put up a sign with the words “Reggae” and “Bar”. Like moths to a flame, within seconds you’ll be surrounded by ratty hair, over-sized, brightly colored pants and fascinating discussions about who bought something or went somewhere for less money than everyone else.
This particular version of the “Reggae Bar” clearly had never in its entire existence played a single reggae song, but that was nowhere near enough to save it. I figured I would hate it when I heard the name and was certain of my dislike the second I stepped through the doors and had a look around. Luckily, a German guy in our group quickly got kicked out for having a bottle of water in his bag, so I left with him.
The German guy had spent a lot of time in Kuala Lumpur and he was convinced that the New Year’s Eve festivities at Independence Square would be more interesting than the more standard and, in his opinion, much more touristy celebration near the Petronas Towers. Independence Square was a lot closer, so I didn’t need much convincing.
At the square, a large crowd was being inexplicably entertained by some apparently famous, yet completely talentless, Malaysian singer. As bad as he was, I couldn’t argue with the results. The crowd was really into his cheesy-even-for-Asia pop routine, making for a great atmosphere. Fifteen minutes before midnight, the ‘singer’ was shooed off stage in the middle of a song and replaced by the mayor or some other public official who proceeded to kill the merriment of the crowd in record time.
Even though we couldn’t understand a word of his speech, the effect on the crowd was undeniable. He was clearly so boring, that he could have easily been the Republican frontrunner somewhere between Cain and Santorum, if he had bothered to learn even ten words of English in the time since. At midnight, fireworks lit up the sky and the LCD screens of thousands of cellphones taking pictures lit up everything else. At ten after, everyone went home.
The whole thing was surreal. I’ve never seen such a subdued New Year’s celebration. When the German guy and I started walking back a few minutes later, we scanned the thousands of empty cans and bottles on the ground to see if we could find any that had once been filled with alcohol, but there were none. Eventually, we did find a little pile of vodka and rum bottles and immediately after, a pile of drunken Australians, so that explained those.
A few days after the huge New Year’s Eve blowout, I found myself passing through the square again with a neighbor in my guesthouse. We were just going for a quick bite to eat, so we didn’t bring our cameras. That was very unfortunate.
On this night, the square was home to some kind of festival, with a band set up in the middle of the street playing something vaguely resembling rock music, while a really skinny, middle-aged Malaysian guy danced his ass off. It actually looked more like an epileptic having a seizure while being electrocuted and dodging bullets fired at his feet, like in the old Westerns and it was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen and the first time, of many that night, where we were cursing ourselves for not bringing a camera.
The next time came fifty meters down the road, where a Malaysian folk band that was clearly formed in the fifties, judging by their look, was entertaining the crowd, while two old couples, who probably got married around the time the band was formed, were dancing.
A short while later, they were replaced by what can only be described as the Malaysian Michael Jackson. He was about half as tall and half as fat as MJ (I’d say 1,45m and a solid 45 kg), couldn’t dance, moonwalk, or sing, but tried all three over and over and over. And the crowd loved him. I think he might have actually been famous. Just when we thought we couldn’t take any more, the MC started pulling volunteers out of the crowd.
As soon as he came near, everyone took off, leaving him with the only people he could catch: four middle-aged and completely out of shape guys. He then proceeded to teach them how to dance like Michael and depending on your perspective, either failed miserably or succeed beyond anyone’s wildest expectations. If you judge the results as a dance, he was clearly the worst instructor ever since Britney Spears’ vocal coach. If you judge them as comedy, he redefined the genre.
I am really racking my brain for the words to accurately describe the twitching and gyrating they were doing while wearing facial expressions of such profound misery that I could imagine them on Soviet prisoners breaking rocks in Siberia in the winter, but I’m drawing a blank. All I can say is their display topped all of the above as the funniest thing imaginable and every single person watching was practically rolling on the ground in actual physical pain from the laughter.
After that they brought out two fat ‘R&B’ ‘singers’ (yes, those quotes are all intentional) and with that we left. The high pitched, tinny, screeching sounds coming out of those speakers were unbearable—I guarantee you every dog in a 50km radius was cowering under a couch with blood pouring out of their ears. Our only words as we left were WHY DID WE NOT BRING OUR CAMERAS?!?
A few months after this, I actually did have my camera with me when I stumbled into a karaoke and dance contest 150 km down the road in Malacca’s Chinatown. Unfortunately, the performances weren’t quite as crazy as the ones on New Year’s Eve.