SINGAPORE - As we counted down the days till the end of the year, dredging them for residual holiday cheer, my family spontaneously decided to drive into Johor Baru for lunch and some shopping.
On paper, this impulse trip was the perfect family getaway, a quick day trip with no need for any detailed planning or packing.
It was a Friday, two days after Christmas, and we conjectured that the holiday crowd heading across the Causeway might have thinned somewhat.
We were wrong.
The 8km between the Tuas Checkpoint Viaduct and the Malaysia Customs and Immigration, which we would have usually cleared in 20 to 30 minutes, had evolved into some sort of a mid-day twilight zone.
Cars shuffled along the highway, with the occasional exasperated honk. We were trapped in traffic first at the Tuas Checkpoint, and then for a long stretch before arriving at Malaysian customs and immigration.
My father, our family's default driver, was not pleased. He shifted his weight in his seat at the steering wheel, muttering something about the bizarre state of affairs.
We couldn't back out or make an exit and were proceeding at a crawl; the driver in the car next to ours had enough time to open the door, get out and stand on tiptoe in an attempt to decipher what was causing the mysterious snarl of traffic.
All of us had turned off the cellular data/3G function on our smartphones by then because our phones had started to pick up a Malaysian cell signal - which meant we couldn't surf the Internet, the easiest mode of distraction.
So we decided to play "car games". One of my sisters got us hooked on a nifty guessing game in which players try to guess a broad category that the game master has come up with (such as "things that swim" or "things with fur").
My father didn't understand the instructions and ended up confusing us by responding "maybe" to words such as "farmers", "fathers", "daughters", "doctors" - when he was thinking of the term "Chinese orchestra".
("That's not how you play the gaaaaame," we wailed. He protested: "Some of them might listen to Chinese orchestras!")
We were, however, able to guess my little sister's more profound category of "intangible things/things not made of matter" with a succession of guesses that included "music", "thunder" and "God".
We named movies from A to Z, as well as Singapore foods, which only exacerbated my hunger from sitting in the car for two hours on a breakfast-less stomach.
When we were children, these car games were a staple as we made the seven- hour car journey from Singapore to Ipoh to visit our maternal grandparents.
But somehow these tedious journeys (with young children in tow) never seemed to faze my parents, who concocted endless ways to keep us occupied in an era sans Internet.