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Monday, September 10, 2012

A Train To Malaysia

I must admit to being quite the incompetent traveler. Nowadays in 2012, I have Google Maps and MapQuest to help get me from A to Z, but back at Christmas of 1991 when I was an AET (assistant English teacher) in Japan on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme, I was forever getting lost. I had been lost maybe seven or eight times in the 16 months I had been in Japan - some more severely than others... where I ended up in the wrong city by some 200 kilometers. Now that's some great blundering.

It's why, when I travel anywhere in Japan from 1991 onwards, I try to do so with a fellow gaijin (foreigner). It's partly my inability to read Japanese, as well as my inability to better prepare myself for any sort of trip - and certainly not from a lack of trying to do stuff.

As such, I am in Singapore with my new friend James Jimmy Jive Dalton of Stoney Creek, Ontario. Me? I'm from Toronto - and both of us teach in Tochigi-ken.

We've made it to Singapore - thanks to James' ability to find the Tokyo airport (Narita), and ability to survive the first night in Singapore despite my ability to find the crappiest, cheapest hotel in the whole country while getting a bunch of other foreigners (strangers, for that matter) to share the cost of the $49 room with us. Split six ways... we saved a lot of money!

Anyhow... we - James and I - after spending a few fun days in Singapore - and accidentally walking into a transvestite bar on Christmas Eve (these little dudes/dudettes looked hot!), we thought we would try our luck in Malaysia.

I don't know squat about Malaysia, except that James said we could get there by train. He figured out how, and bought the tickets for us both.

Thank god James was willing to try... I have to admit to being a bit gun shy - especially after the transvestite-thing.

We traveled from the ultra modern city/state of Singapore on a local train that took eight hours to the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur.

As soon as we got past the border of Singapore, the air in Malaysia felt stagnant, old, fetid and decayed. Or maybe it just smelled earthy and natural, rather than whatever it is one smells in a city.

There was a smell of incense permeating the air after about 30 minutes into Malaysia... as we passed shanty towns that were sunk into fields of red mud.

There were chickens plodding relentlessly through the garbage thrown from the moving train by the conductors... no one complained, as it seems like this is how the chickens get a little extra food in these poor  areas.

A third-world morality was clearly evident to me when the train was delayed for 20 minutes, as there were apparently goats who refused to vacate the tracks.

I asked the conductor why they simply didn't use the cowcatcher on the front of train to slowly push past, but said that if they used a cowcatcher on a goat, it would be punishable by five years imprisonment, sodomy and then death.

I have to admit that if death was the end result, I sure as hell didn't care for the whole sodomy thing.

Arriving in Kuala Lumpur - a Muslim city in a Muslim country, James and I weren't really sure about the etiquette or rules.

To be safe, we checked into the only Holiday Inn hotel in the country and ate  all of our meals at a nearby McDonald's, as we 'wisely' reasoned that no one needed dysentery on our vacation... not that we could tell... what with James constantly farting (on command, even) and me with a twitchy stomach that had me going five times a day while in Japan.

Honestly... if i didn't go at least three times a day, I felt constipated. That symptom was rectified after I stoppe ddrinking so much Coca-Cola... I was doing over 2-Liters a day back then.

We spent the next day touring the city on the back of a tuk-tuk, driven around by an old man who kept asking James and I if we wanted to go and get laid, because he knew many places. The fact that we kept refusing must have had the old bugger thinking we were gay, but we didn't care about what we thought.

The architecture within Kuala Lumpur was fantastic. Beautiful colors on the temples, friendly people, but still, we were afraid to try the local cuisine because we simply had no idea what constituted local cuisine in Malaysia.

We really did not do ANY homework on what this country was like.

After the quick tour of the city, and a visit to the golden arches of McDonald's, we crashed for the night, awaking the next day to spend it touring the city again with the old man in his tuk-tuk again. Visiting more mosques, playing with some chickens... why? Who knows, but we spent 30 minutes chasing a few chickens around a corral simply because the people there didn't mind us making asses of ourselves.

We spent even more time listening to an old woman play music on an old Casio keyboard... you ever heard La Bamba with an Arabic beat? We have... and it was pretty cool.

With rock and roll in our heads, we made our way to the Kuala Lumpur Hard Rock Cafe which had just opened up, and had a good time getting pretty wasted before staggering back to our hotel.

James thought we should travel to another city in Kuala Lumpur called Georgetown... but more on that little trip tomorrow.

Somewhere dancing with a chicken... or was it a rooster transvestite?
Andrew Joseph 
PS: As for why no photos of Singapore or Malaysia?  I can't find the damn things... they may have burned up in the fire seven years ago... which sucks because I can visualize every single last one of them...
Above... that's a sticker of Malaysia's flag that I stuck on my clarinet... I have one for every place that clarinet traveled - except Japan!  How can I not have a flag of Japan sticker? Oh well... at least I have the one thing from Malaysia.  



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