March 21, 2007

“I Solemnly Swear That I Am Up To No Good”

I recently got back from a short business trip to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. While on the trip, I wrote down a number of thoughts and observations that I thought I’d share.

The train leaves on time – for once! I’m amazed.

At the emigration counters at the Woodlands checkpoint, I’m the first person in my line (and the second guy into the toilets). Traveling by first-class has its privileges. ;)

There’s a beautiful blue-and-white masjid dome on the east side of the tracks north of Johor Bahru.

KTM (the Malaysian inter-city train company) shocks me. The first movie today is “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.”
(Note: “The Rail Channel,” which is the entertainment KTM provides for first-class customers, is a 6-hour video played on TV sets at both ends of the rail car. It normally features two full-length movies and a couple of short documentaries on a variety of topics. Normally, the Rail Channel plays low budget B-movies for the passengers; in the past, these movies often were about racial issues between black and white Americans. Milady says that those movies were shown in order to help educate Malaysians of all races to learn to deal with racial tensions, to learn tolerance for other races. That may be, but those types of movies haven’t been shown in the past few trips I’ve made on KTM.)

Malaysians love to fly their flags. (I’ve noticed this for years.) Even the poorest hovel with its rusted tin roof will proudly fly the Malaysian flag.

It’s raining in Gemas.

Much of the landscape in southern Malaysia is difficult to see from the train due to the jungle. Sometimes it seems like only just enough of the trees and plant life was cut back to make room for the train passing through. When you can see the terrain in the distance, it’s often low hills covered by ranks of palm trees on the palm oil plantations.

Oh, no! The second movie today is “New York Minute (the Olsen twins). Maybe not “racial,” but definitely a “B-movie.”

In southern Johor state: three masajid, two Hindu temples, and one Buddhist temple that can be seen from the train.

The soil here is often an orangish-brown, not quite a burnt umber. Many of the streams here are muddy. In JB (Johor Bahru), I saw three guys walking down a stream. Fishermen?

Passing through some of the tiny kampongs (villages), where every home is covered by a tin roof in varying degrees of rust, one wonders how much life has changed here over the decades.

“Surf Like a Girl” – The slogan on a passenger’s t-shirt.

Just before sunset, there was a Hindu temple that had both a nice color scheme (white and yellow), and a simplicity in ornamentation. The amount of statuary on a typical Hindu temple is normally enormous. However, this temple had maybe 15-20 idols on its rooftop at the most.

There’s an older white couple four rows ahead of me. They strike me as being first-time tourists to Malaysia: taking videos, (him in particular) looking out the windows to see the view. Perhaps I’m becoming jaded. How many times have I come up this way before?

Oh, no! They’re repeating “New York Minute” again! (Thankfully, the movie was cut short.)

I just saw the KLIA (Kuala Lumpur International Airport) express train pass us by. We must be getting close to KL Sentral.

Ah! The Petronas Towers! We’re almost there.

Is that a plastic 5-ringgit note?

I’ve just finished traveling for eight hours and the first television show I see in Kuala Lumpur is “Phua Chu Kang Pte. Ltd.” (A TV show made in Singapore.)

The smell of boiled corn from 20 meters away.

Surau? There’s no surau here for guests at the hotel! Who do you think stays here? Muslims? In Malaysia?
(Note: A “surau” is a prayer hall for Muslims. It is not as big as a masjid in that it can only accommodate a few people at a time. Many facilities in Singapore and Malaysia have a surau available for Muslims - shopping centers, hawker centers, hotels - but apparently not the hotel I'm staying at.)

I am sooo used to the prices of goods including the sales tax (as it is done in Singapore). Spaghetti bolognaises – RM 9.90. I pull out a RM 10 note. “Excuse me, you owe RM 10.40. Diet Coke – RM 2.10. I pull out the exact change. “Hey! That’s RM 2.21!”

“Tortillas?” I ask an employee at a supermarket? Blank stare. “Mexican? Flat bread?” He tries repeating the unfamiliar word, garbling it so badly I can't even begin to write down what he said. “Never mind.”

I try taking photos of Masjid Negara (the National Mosque) and the Petronas Towers at night. They come out terribly.

Less than an hour till my train leaves. I am sooo ready to go home.

“Terima kasih.” “Sama sama.” No one expects the Ang Moh to know even this little Malay.

The train ride home is torture. At 6’, I’m too tall for the sleeping berth. I can’t stretch my legs out like I like to in bed, and my knees are continually bent, which makes them hurt. Moreover, there’s no space for the luggage to be stored, so everything that I’m carrying is in the berth with me. I’m very uncomfortable. Then there are all the train stops. The train moves for about an hour or so, and then stops for 10-20 minutes. Every time the train stops, I wake up. I’m not getting any real sleep, and I’m feeling more and more miserable as this night goes on. Insha’allah, I’ll never take the night train again.

Stupid freakin’ foreigners! Hey, white people! Next time, take your luggage with you when you go through immigration – like you’re supposed to! Don’t delay the remainder of the trip for the rest of us!

Almost all the taxis on Keppel Road are hired already, so I’m taking the bus home. Thank God that the top side of the bus is almost empty, as I smell really ripe. The first thing I’m gonna do when I get home is take a shower. The second is to sleep the sleep of the dead.

I’m home.


dramamama said...

I’ve just finished traveling for eight hours and the first television show I see in Kuala Lumpur is “Phua Chu Kang Pte. Ltd.”

You know what they say... have yellow boots will travel! :)

Jay said...

That sounds great. KL really is a fascinating place. I enjoyed my few days there immensely but hope I get the opportunity to return.