The Genting Highlands Resort and theme Park must be seen to be believed. It is really hard to imagine why anyone would take a masterpiece of nature like the majestic mountain Gunung Ulu Kali and install on its summit such a ghastly monument to man-made tackiness.
However, just like the Frankenstein monster, this brainchild of entrepreneur Tan Sri Lim Goh Tong, was born of the best of intentions.
In 1961, while working on a hydro project in the surrounding Cameron Highlands, the picturesque (and cool) playground of British Colonials, Tan Sri Lim Goh Tong conceived the bold, philanthropic notion of building a resort in the hills which would be affordable and accessible to all Malaysians. The idea was considered inconceivable. The feat was believed to be impossible. But nobody had reckoned on the mountain-moving determination of Tan Sri Lim Goh Tong. In 1981 the first hotel was opened. Today multiple hotels and apartment blocks crowd together with giant, world-class, indoor and outdoor theme parks, on the mountaintop.
Whether you swing up to Genting Highlands Theme Park on the Skywalk (the world’s fastest and South-East Asia’s longest cable-car system) or wind up to it on your tour bus, you’ll enjoy stunning vistas over the magnificent rain-forested hills and valleys. It’s worth the trip, just for this. It’s a precious last glimpse of ordered, natural beauty, of soft colours, subdued sounds and gentle movements.
Up on the summit, nothing is real. Like the true face of an aged courtesan, the shabbiness and ugliness of Genting Highlands Theme Park is concealed in the distracting flash of neon lights, with the ugly undersides of buildings, the wires, the fans air conditioners hidden in shadow. The grind and rumble of machinery is covered by the shrieks of roller coaster riders and blaring musak.
Inside, escalators, slope in ten different directions. People hurry up and down. In restaurants, like huge eating stadiums, frenzied waiters rush to and fro, clattering plates and packing holes in buffets with more and more food. Games arcades boom and vibrate with the disquieting sound of electronic battles; the rattle of gunfire, the whistle of missiles, bombs, explosions, robot screams. The pokies clatter and ping. Carousels, hurdy gurdies and merry-go-rounds pump out nursery rhymes. Hearty Disney characters hand out sweets, shake hands and startle kids. On an avenue of world wonders, an imitation Eiffel Tower glows against a backdrop of electric stars while nearby, a pretend Big Ben chimes the hour and a gondolier with a false moustache lip-synchs a canzone as he rows a faux gondola along an artificial canal.
But still, discounting the zombies in the games arcades, the faces that slide past on the escalators, swoop by on the roller-coasters or gaze up at the Eiffel tower, are the faces of people who are having fun. Genting Highlands Resort and Theme park is fun and what’s more it is affordable fun. Visitors flock to it in their thousands every day and in their millions every year; many of them tourists but most of them are the ordinary Malaysians – mums and dads, kids, young couples, teenagers and grandparents – of Sri Lim Goh Tang’s vision.