Thursday, 30th July 1987
I arrived at the railway station at 6:50am. I purchased a copy of the Straits Times and a packet of biscuits and then sat on a bench in the waiting room. There were two departures scheduled for Kuala Lumpur, the fast train was at 7:45am and the slower one, mine, at 8:30am.
I got talking to a lawyer from Kuala Lumpur but he soon got up and left to board the 7:45 train. I then spoke with a student. He introduced himself as Lee. He was a Chinese-Malaysian from Malacca province.
For some reason he had a fascination with France and he knew a lot of French phrases. He kept speaking French to me but I couldn’t really catch what he was saying. Happily his English was good too. When he had finally worked out it was pointless speaking in French he told me, in English, that he was also travelling 3rd class on the 8:30 as well.
At 8:15 he guided me through an uneventful customs check and on to the platform. The “Magic Arrow” slow train to KL pulled into the platform a little bit late and we all struggled to take our seats in the coaches. The seats were basic bus seats facing each other and the carriages had open windows and simple electric fans.
At 9am, 30 minutes late, we pulled out and headed through the suburbs of Singapore and onto the causeway that separates the island from Malaysia.
Malaysia seemed a fair bit poorer than Singapore and you could tell that somehow partly by the smells that sometimes wafted through the open windows of the train. The scenery was generally green with rubber trees, perhaps not surprisingly, making up much of it.
Lee and I talked at length and he pointed out all the different places we were passing through. He was a super nice guy and an excellent conversationalist. He was studying law in Malaysia and we discussed the differences between Malaysia and Singapore and the reasons for Singapore declaring independence in 1965.
I showed an interest in the local fruits so Lee jumped off at a few of the stops and purchased things for me to try. He provided me with jambi; a sort of potato like pear, mangosteens; stainy purple outside but sweet inside, nagur; little yellow fruits and my favourite rambuttans. When I told me that I liked rambuttans a lot he got off at the next stop and bought me a whole bag. He also laid on some Chinese bread to eat too.
It wasn’t long before I was using Lee as an interpreter to talk with the other people in the carriage. I started to converse with a Chinese mother and daughter and told them all about my trip.
The ticket collector came by about 3 times and I noticed that the railway staff were mostly ethnic Malay. They all wore the traditional Malay head gear.
We paused at little stations every 30 minutes or so and some people would get off and a new batch of people would get on. At each stop we also got a barrage of fruit and drink sellers who would climb aboard, walk through the train and then hop off just before we were about to leave again.
Sadly, Lee got off in Perempuan but not before introducing me to all his friends who were waiting on the platform for him. He said goodbye and wished me luck.
The rest of the 3 hour journey passed uneventfully and eventually the suburbs of Kuala Lumpur came into view and then finally we reached the mosque-style central station.
After a bit of useless bartering with a taxi driver outside the station, I settled on 3 dollars for a ride to the YMCA. The YMCA was a modern building and luckily they had a room for 11 dollars.
It was 7pm by then and I just collapsed on the bed. I tried to talk to my Singaporean-Indian room mate for a while but I couldn’t stay awake.
I just drifted off into a long and beautiful sleep.
Friday, 31st July 1987
The next morning I had breakfast whilst chatting with a girl from Watford. Then I ventured out into the city. KL seemed a lot busier and certainly a lot more polluted than Singapore had been. The traffic was particularly chaotic and it seemed to me that Malaysians spent more money on their cars than on their houses. The housing stock looked pretty basic but there were plenty of brand new Mazdas flying round.
I went to the GPO to pick up Poste Restante and, after failing to raise Lai Choi Tai (a friend from University), I decided to get out of Kuala Lumpur as soon as I could.
I passed the Pandang green space with its Tudor buildings and carried on to the Masjid Jama temple. At the temple I bumped into Gary, a Kiwi, and spent the rest of the day hanging around with him. We went to the bank to change money and then crept through the very busy chinatown for a meal of chicken rice.
We then made our way to Padu Raya bus station in search of onward tickets. As we approached the bus station a tout ran up to us and beckoned us to follow him to a kiosk around the corner. He promised us that he could get us to the east coast town of Kuantan for just 11 dollars.
He took us to a street adjacent to the bus station and, after a bit of a mix up where he thought that we were both going to Kunatan, he provided me with a ticket for Saturday’s 9am bus. Gary bought a ticket for himself to Penang for $12.
We headed off in the direction of the botanical gardens. The botanical gardens were as peaceful and tranquil as the city wasn’t. We walked around, talked for a few hours and bought a few bags of fruit juice to quench our thirst.
We noticed that Friday had an extended lunch hour to accommodate prayers. The noise coming from the adjacent Masjid Negara mosque was pretty good evidence that prayers were currently in progress.
At 2pm we arrived at the National Museum and spent a few hours looking round. It was fascinating; there were exhibits on a range of subjects: Malay houses, gold, the 3 main racial groupings of Malaysia, shadow puppetry, kite flying and traditional Malay theatre.
We walked back past the railway station to the YMCA. Gary was staying somewhere else so I wished him good luck with his bus trip to Penang.
Back at the hostel the other 3 beds in the room had now been filled. There was now another Indian lad and there was Mark. Mark was Australian and he explained that as he was juggling two girlfriends in Singapore he was seeking a bit of refuge in Kuala Lumpur.
I dozed for a while on the bed and then headed out to walk around Kuala Lumpur at night with Mark. We walked around the very modern central market area and watched some traditional open-air Malaysian traditional theatre. I stopped for some Indian food and had a great chapatti filled with beef curry. Mark, who was vegetarian, tried to persuade me it was dog meat.
Back at the hostel I had a quick shower and then I fell asleep.