My parents, Don and Kay, are retirees from the hospitality industry and have been married for 31 years.
The story of how my parents met dated back to almost 40 years ago on 11th mile, Jalan Gombak, Kuala Lumpur. Though the area may be in ruins, long ago, it was the place to be — Mimaland Berhad, Malaysia’s first ever theme park.
Developed in the late 1960s, Mimaland held an important piece in my parents’ life history, as a pathway to their career and also as soulmates.
This is the story of Mimaland through their eyes, as narrated by my dad, and it begins in 1981…
Everything about Mimaland
Mimaland was a one-of-a-kind place to be back in the 80s. It was a relatively huge theme park (more than 300 acres in size) and it was developed within nature, 20 minutes drive away from KL; up on a hill, surrounded by trees with a lake right in the middle.
Rather than being an adrenaline-pumping theme park like we see today, it was more of a recreational one that offered activities such as cycling, boating, fishing and jungle trekking.
There were all sorts of attractions: Safari Golf, Prehistoric Animal Kingdom, Sports Centre, Wave Pool and the all-time favourite Super Splash, billed as “Malaysia’s largest water slide” in the 80s.
Admission fee into Mimaland was RM5, with smaller fees for each attraction. Years later, even when they increased it to RM10 per entry, it was still considered reasonable for the late 80s.
There were 3 F&B outlets in Mimaland – Pelandok, Pelangi & Pelitas. Pelandok sold western food while Pelangi sold Chinese food. Before 1993, we were still using the Malaysian Dollar, so everything was denoted in $. The average prices ranged between $7 to $30, and that was considered quite expensive back in the 80s.
As for Pelitas, it offered snacks like curry puffs, sausages, and fries. The average price was at $2.50, which was quite reasonable.
As for accommodation, there were hotels named ‘The Motels’, ‘The Bagans’ and ‘The Lodge’. Families would usually stay in the Motels or the Bagans, while youths would opt to rough it out in The Lodge.
The Motels were located by the lake and there was a designated parking spot in front. The defining feature of The Motels were the balconies that overlooked the lake — the view was beautiful!
The Bagans, which was usually overbooked,were located on the lake. Each ‘Bagan’ had four rooms, a living room and a kitchen. There, guests were allowed to do fishing from their booked Bagan and cook their own meals.
The Lodge, on the other hand, was located 50 to 60m up the hill. It’s basically a long house and inside, it’s divided into male and female sections. There were several single beds with a table side, and at the far end of the Lodge was where the bathroom was located.
Outside The Lodge, there was a barbecue area, which gave off the vibes of a camping site. Guests could order raw materials from the F&B outlets and the staff would have it marinated and delivered to them. The guests, however, were held responsible for cleaning up after.
Guests staying at The Lodge were advised to not wander around after 10PM as wild animals roamed freely and it might have been dangerous for their safety.
Chasing opportunity at Mimaland
Kay had been working at Mimaland since late 1981 after she left her job at Texas Fried Chicken in Kuala Lumpur. Her sister told her about a job opening at Mimaland as a waitress and so she walked in for an interview and was offered a job immediately.
Two months after working in Pelangi Restaurant, she was promoted to Restaurant Captain — her supervisor said she was “aggressive”, F&B industry slang for someone who is both fast and attentive.
In early 1982, I was working in Federal Hotel, KL as an operator and was on a lookout for a job opportunity when I bumped into Paul, an old neighbour.
Paul heard from my brother that I was hunting for a job and asked me to drop by for an interview — Apparently, he was the Human Resources Manager in Mimaland.
Without hesitation, I agreed to attend the interview that afternoon and was offered a job on the spot. My role would be F&B Supervisor, overseeing the operations of Pelandok and all Catering services within Mimaland. And so I left Federal Hotel and took up the job.
Our basic salary ranged from $250 to $400 depending on our position, with added Service Points, which were determined based on the resort’s business performance. And the benefits were great too – signing facilities to have meals at Pelitas, and we were entitled to enjoy Mimaland’s attractions after work hours.
A mini-bus provided by the company was our mode of transportation to work. The farthest drop off point was the E&E Plaza in Pudu, right after the Tong Shin Hospital. I usually take the earliest bus which is at 7:15AM and the journey from Ampang was at least 45 minutes.
Kay’s mode of transportation varied from time to time, as she would either hitch a ride with her dad, or take the company bus depending on the time of day. At the time, he was working under the Malaysia’s Department of Orang Asli Development headquartered in Gombak.
Working at Mimaland
Mimaland’s swimming pool was one of the biggest in Malaysia at the time. Image via FMT
Working in the F&B section of Mimaland, we had a six-day week, 8 hours a day with an overtime of 2 hours. However, on weekends we were required to be on duty from 9am – 10pm as Mimaland’s occupancy tended to pick up by Friday evening. For Kay, from Friday to Sunday, she worked on split shifts to handle both lunch and dinner service.
Our duties were mainly to set the restaurants up for service, prepare confirmed meetings or events, give excellent service, and open and close the restaurants.
Mimaland was often quiet during the weekdays, from Monday to Thursday, so that the number of guests at restaurants would not even hit 20 pax at times. And even if there were guests, it would either be couples, friends of executives or business clients.
By Friday evening right up to Sunday, the amount of guests would swell. Most were locals who would like to have a short escape from the city and we would cater to families and groups of youths.
As part of our benefits for working at Mimaland, we were allowed to enjoy the attractions after work hours. Kay had experienced most of the attractions, but as she was mostly into sports, her favourite attraction was the Sports Centre and the frequent game that she would play was Squash.
I, on the other hand, wasn’t into any activities after work, but there were times that I would join in a friendly match of Squash or Badminton with Kay.
Incidences in Mimaland
During our days at Mimaland, there were quite a number of incidents that occurred to us staff, mostly unbeknownst to our guests.
One incident happened to me, probably in 1982.
It was a rainy day and I was riding a motorbike, heading to the Bagans with some table skirting, coffee cups and saucers with me.
As I arrived at the Bagans, I wasn’t aware of a slight slope by the lake. So, I lost control of the motorbike and actually fell into the lake!
The waitresses assigned at the Bagans saw me and quickly came running to help. Thankfully, I wasn’t hurt, but the motor was damaged badly due to water entering the engine.
The items that I had with me were all in the lake. Fortunately, we were in shallow waters and managed to retrieve the items.
As for the bike, we had it sent to the workshop for repair, but luckily for me, I wasn’t required to pay for the damages.
A supernatural encounter at Mimaland
Another incident was a rather creepy one, experienced by Kay after she handled an event at Pelandok restaurant.
That night when the event was held, all the staff were briefed that it would end probably after midnight. So, all staff were provided with an accommodation for the night at the Motel.
Kay was given a room to herself and it was said that the assigned room was haunted.
It was after 2:00AM that all the staff returned to their room after a long night. Kay got into her room and sensed an unpleasant aura that sent chills down her spine. But she still went on to get ready for bed.
Just as she tucked herself in bed and was about to fall asleep, she heard the water faucet being turned on. She didn’t move or even jumped out of bed, but instead tried to sleep again.
Then, she heard the water faucet being turned off and it went on continuously throughout the night. Normally, we would’ve reacted by running out the door, but Kay, she completely ignored it and slept.
The following morning when her colleague asked her about it, her response was, “I was exhausted and I’m not going to entertain ‘it’, let alone scare me. If ‘it’ wants to play with the faucet, then I just let it be.”
Everyone was baffled, but that was Kay.
Another incident that occurred was somewhere in the late 1983 or early 1984 when a rally was organized by staff and held at the bus stop, right in front of Mimaland.
I couldn’t recall the purpose of the rally, nor could Kay, but we only remembered that the staff had formed a union, members asked the others to participate in the rally, which we both declined, and rallied to demand things from Management.
After the rally, we weren’t certain of what happened after, but for certain, an investigation was held to determine what brought about the rally.
At the beginning of our career in Mimaland, our relationship was just as work colleagues and we weren’t close. There was constant work tension and arguments, but I have to admit that I was constantly trying to get her attention, which she tended to not entertain.
But somewhere in late 1983 or early 1984, we got close as friends. We didn’t get closer than that, though.
I left Mimaland in March 1984 to pursue my career in a Catering company, while Kay left Mimaland in mid-1984 due to the unhealthy work environment. She pursued her hospitality career in the Equatorial and Shangri-La.
After Mimaland, we lost touch with one another and went our separate ways — until 1986 where we bumped shoulder to shoulder as we were crossing the road. I felt that it was fate that we met again.
From that day onwards, we stuck together and became a couple. We worked in Stagecoach Restaurant & Lounge together and then in Holiday Villa, Subang Jaya.
We even stopped by at Mimaland once in 1987, for a short moment, but how it was, as compared to when we left, was the same as before. It was a rather nostalgic feeling.
In 1988, I met her father and asked for his blessings to be married to her. And in 1989, we tied the knot and were officially husband and wife. We were blessed with a son, a daughter, and now, a granddaughter.
In 1993, when we heard the news of the incident that killed a Singaporean visitor at the pool in Mimaland, it shocked Kay and I. That was when Mimaland temporarily shut down its operation from this incident.
After it re-opened a few months later, we were devastated to hear the news that a minor landslide had occurred and ruined the swimming pool.
And when it was announced that Mimaland officially ceased operation in 1994, we were overwhelmed with sadness.
Mimaland was a beautiful, unique resort on its own and till this very day, I have yet to see a theme park that offers what Mimaland had offered to everyone in the 80s.
Memories at Mimaland
My wife and I had our fair share of bitter sweet memories of Mimaland. And it was also Mimaland that brought us there to meet one another.
The fondest memory I had of Mimaland were the times I’ve spent with the people, especially the old timers in their 50s who were working there.
They were the ones I constantly played Badminton with and it was so incredible, because for men their age, they were excellent Badminton players. I couldn’t keep up with them at times.
But the most I valued out of my time with them were the experience they’ve shared with me, especially on how they manage their staff effectively, how they do their scheduling for overtime and so much more which became so beneficial in my career in the future.
Kay’s fondest memory of Mimaland was of course the incident of me falling into the lake, only because she despised me back then, haha!
Takeaways from Mimaland
Mimaland has shaped us in so many ways, from being responsible, independent and trustworthy.
But out of it all, the most we cherished was how it shaped us to being initiators in seeking knowledge.
It was never about waiting for someone to teach us, but more about us initiating to learn and we were never embarrassed to ask questions at times of uncertainty.
For what it’s worth, Mimaland was once our home and will always have a place in our hearts.
For more stories like this, read: I Explored Tanjung Rambutan’s Mental Asylum — Here’s What It’s Really Like and I Visited An Abandoned Scottish Mansion in Malaysia — Here’s What I Found.