KUALA LUMPUR: The tourists were looking uneasy as they took their last shots of the iconic Sultan Abdul Samad Building here.
As soon as that uneasiness visibly turned into fear, they packed up and left.
It was 10pm on Sunday, Feb 11.
The volume of traffic around Dataran Merdeka had tapered down, but like clockwork, little by little, loud two-wheelers, mostly underbone motorcycles, colloquially known as “kapchai”, found their positions along nearby Jalan Raja Laut.
Another large group of riders were also soon lining up the pedestrian walkway.
It wasn’t long before the “show” kicked off .
Unlucky road users caught in between the revving engines and fearless riders slammed the brakes in time to prevent the death of a young man on a two-stroke naked bike.
The need to impress the crowd was also evident as they showed off their wheelie and “wikang” skills.
They sped off once they pulled off the tricks as the crowd, many in their early teens, roared their approval.
Each time a rider narrowly missed a speeding vehicle, I would cringe and find myself blurting out God’s name.
“Chill bro, they are pros,” said Zul, a 20-something as he leaned over to “calm” me down.
I wanted to, but saw no point in telling him that my reaction was triggered by a memory of a young man who overtook me dangerously and went on to squeeze his way through two cars.
It unfolded almost in slow motion in front of my eyes, how the second his left handle hit one of the cars’ side mirror, his “kapchai” went out of control and threw him violently to the ground. The cars could not stop in time for him.
Zul told me the race was to Chow Kit and back to Dataran Merdeka, via Jalan Pahang and Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman.
Employed as an office boy, Zul said it was part of his routine to head there every Friday and Sunday.
On Saturdays, he would head to other “tracks”, including one in Serdang.
“On Saturdays, the traffic is heavy and roadblocks are aplenty. We are practically left to ourselves on Sundays, unless there are those rare roadblocks,” he said, telling me that his turn would be later in the night.
I left Zul, who had one eye cocked on the intersection ahead for the first rider to emerge, and rode off to trace the racing track these mat rempit were burning rubber on.
Almost all of them did the same thing — rev their engines to produce deafening noise when they stop at traffic lights. Some deliberately wait for the green to turn red before they hit the throttle.
They seem to get a kick in seeing drivers panic and slam on the brakes when they beat the light.
It took about 20 minutes for me to make that full round, before I was back in Dataran Merdeka. They took five minutes, and their feat was celebrated by onlookers.
By 11pm, the Jalan Raja Laut stretch, near the intersection of Jalan Tun Perak, looked like a mat rempit fest at its peak.
If there was one thing that irked me was the fact that I rode past several police patrol cars, which the mat rempit ahead of me would have obviously passed too.