Sun, 28 Dec 2003

Kongster Says: Malaysians in wintry mood

By Chan Wai Kong

I USED to think that selling winter clothing to Malaysians is like selling refrigerators to Eskimos.
How wrong I was. Literally, the cold hard fact is that one could actually open a winter clothing shop in hot steamy Malaysia and make money.
Recently, my sister-in-law, Mary, came home all sweaty after going to a shop in downtown KL that was offering a winter sale.
She said something I did not expect to hear that the shop was packed with people buying winter clothing and so it became hot and stuffy. I shook my head. When I got no money even to see Disney on Ice earlier this month at Stadium Putra, Bukit Jalil, Kuala Lumpur, many Malaysians have the cold cash for winter vacations. And I don't think it's because Malaysians want to have a White Christmas or meet Santa and Rudolph in the North Pole.
The trend is that many middle income Malaysians are warming up to the idea of a winter holiday abroad. And in this aspect, more and more of Malaysia's single career women prefer a winter escapade than the heat of a romantic passion here. Our improved socio-economic climate allows such indulgence.
Times have changed. Not only the rich can play it cool.
The Ringgit, frozen at the exchange rate of 1:3.8 for the US dollar, may not be as strong as before but cheap airfares due to airline rivalry and great package deals by travel firms made it affordable to go overseas.
South Korea has become a popular tourist destination for Malaysians because it offers an affordable winter holiday. Never mind that most Koreans don't speak English or that their food is not to Malaysians' taste.
But yet, many Malaysians are familiar with the Korean way of life and this is due to the influx of Korean drama serials on our television, the most popular of which is Winter Sonata. Since Winter Sonata was aired, South Korea has become a popular travel destination for Malaysians. Last year alone, 82,700 Malaysians visited South Korea compared with 55,848 in 2001. Six years ago, Malaysian arrivals were only 36,459.
While 20 years ago, Malaysians rather put their money in deep freeze in the banks; the mindset of today is "work hard, play hard." Furthermore, the banks are not encouraging us to deposit money with them, considering their pitiful interest. So, we may as well spend, winter vacation included.
It is no surprise that the annual Matta International Travel Fair is getting to be very popular with Malaysians. The most recent fair, held in October, attracted about 80,000 people.
That's a sign of prosperity. The Asian economic meltdown that started in 1997 is starting to heat up again.
Recently, the Employees Provident Fund's plans to stop contributors from making a lump sum withdrawal of their savings upon reaching 55, raised an uproar from the public. The EPF should know better than to deprive contributors of their winter vacation.

Parent site: "Focus on Malaysia"