Yawning Bread. January 2007

The eye that popped up from nowhere




Trawling lazily through a few Malaysian blogs, I noticed tonight some excited talk of a giant ferris wheel about to open in Kuala Lumpur. Christened "Eye on Malaysia" [1],  it was due to be inaugurated today,  6 January 2007, by Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, marking the commencement of the promotional campaign, Visit Malaysia Year.

Whoa, I said to myself, where did this come from? Wasn't Singapore supposed to be building some kind of giant ferris wheel -- the first in Asia, that kind of thing? How did the Malaysians steal a march on our dear, highly-paid (therefore highly competent) tourism planners? Surely, such a large project must have been in the works for a while now. Does Singapore not have spooks spying on Malaysia's plans? Why is our High Commission in Kuala Lumpur asleep? (Note the tongue-in-cheek manner of writing.)

Construction work on our own wheel ("Singapore Flyer") commenced way back in January 2006, and even now, the only things visible are the base building and the spindle. Surely, Malaysia must have started work at least as long ago; how is it that we haven't heard of the looming competition?

It turns out that the Malaysian public hadn't either. Apparently, it first hit the news on 27 December 2006, when it was reported that "soil testing was done two weeks ago to test the ground before the structure is installed."

Two weeks doesn't sound like much. Furthermore, where it's built was once a tin mine, which means the soil has been much disturbed, and presumably, much loosened. I would assume they'd have to put deep piles in all the way down to the rock layer. Otherwise, the base of the structure could sink unevenly into the soft soil, causing the entire wheel to tilt.

On the Niamah blog  is a photograph of concrete being poured. This only served to raise the question of whether the concrete had enough time to set properly. I am given to understand that concrete needs at least 10 14 days to set fully, before it can be assumed to have its designed strength.

A workman rushing to finish the paving. Photo from the Star. 

Malaysia, from my infrequent visits, has, I am afraid to say, never impressed me with the quality of their construction work. I've have seen some truly shoddy work, even at so-called 5-star resorts, but even worse than that, their attention to maintenance has struck me as dismal. As you can see from comments left in the Niamah blog, Malaysians themselves hold similar views.

With such a rush job on this ferris wheel, one really wonders how safe it is.

However, a closer examination of the facts as provided in an article in the Malaysian newspaper,  the Star [2], revealed a slightly different (more reassuring?) picture. Apparently, this ferris wheel, built in 2005, is a transportable one, and is meant to be assembled quickly, though it still leaves the question of how secure the foundation is.

"The process of commissioning and installing the wheel took two weeks," the Star said. The newspaper quoted Project Consultant Jeroen Nijpels of JN Entertainment & Leisure Consultancy saying, "That was slightly longer than the period taken to set up the wheel during short runs in England and Germany last year.''

At 60 metres high (I think they mean a diameter of 60 metres) and with 42 gondolas, it is the "largest transportable" ferris wheel in the world. Perhaps it is also designed to be relatively light -- though I see no mention of its weight in the Star -- and therefore may not need as strong a foundation as we think.

Its stay in Kuala Lumpur is only for one year, coinciding with Visit Malaysia Year. Then it will be moved to some other country. According to the Star, the Malaysian company operating the Eye on Malaysia, MST AD Suria Sdn Bhd, invested RM30 million (S$13.1 million, US$8.5 million) to set it up. It will charge RM15 per adult and RM8 per child.

* * * * *

Reservations notwithstanding, one has to credit the Malaysians for being quick on the draw. They seem to have a rather more gung-ho attitude towards infrastructure projects while Singapore planners give the impression of being oh so deliberate, taking years to make a decision, evaluating every conceivable angle. And even then, our tourism projects quite often do not work out.

This coup by Kuala Lumpur will certainly mute some of the fanfare we were hoping for when the Singapore Flyer opens in March 2008. More particularly, the idea of a giant ferris wheel will no longer be a novelty to visitors from Malaysia.

Our marketeers may try to compensate by pointing out that the Singapore Flyer goes much higher; indeed, it will be more than twice the diameter of the Eye on Malaysia. At 150 metres, it is even bigger than the London Eye's 135 metres. But whether size can make up for  being second, is a question only the future can answer.

Yawning Bread 



  1. Some readers might notice that it could be deemed inappropriate for me to use the word "christened" when referring to a Malaysian project, since Islam is Malaysia's state religion. It occurred to me to rephrase the sentence into "Dubbed the 'Eye on Malaysia'....", but then I hated myself for bowing to political correctness. "Dubbed" does not have exactly the same meaning as "christened"; the latter is more accurate. So since I am writing in English, I shall use the most suitable English expression, political correctness be damned.
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  2. The Star, 6 Jan 2007, All set to roll out in style 
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