I always thought if I had the chance to choose on judgment day, I might rather go to hell than to heaven. I’m suffering from acrophobia so a place as high as heaven might scare me to…well, at least it cannot scare me to death anymore. Then, I’m afraid that way up high over the clouds it will be always a little nippy. And I like it hot.
But after recent events, I’m not so sure anymore. After I was riding with the devil, I’m afraid I’m not fit for the highway to hell.
Travelling in Style
The standards of bus riding differ from country to country a big deal.
For instance in Cuba, the long-distance buses are pretty well maintained. I’m talking about the touristy, costly Viazul-buses imported from the People’s Republic of China. The country of origin is the reason why they are not really comfortable. Obviously, they have been constructed for much shorter passengers….like for instance Chinese. But still, well maintained.
The drivers wear sharp uniforms – creased pants with a white short-sleeved shirt and a tie. Depending on the man in the uniform, they look like parading in a sexy pilot costume.
Likewise in Peru.
While Peruvian chauffeur-Ken is driving, Peruvian flight attendant-Barbie with the amount of makeup of a kabuki player has an eye on the passenger’s well-being.
Taking the bus in Peru is a little like sitting on a plane that never takes off.
King of the Road
Well, taking the interurban bus in Malaysia is a whole different story.
Malayan drivers are much less pretentious, wearing whatever they please – and if it’s a torn T-Shirt, it’s a torn T-Shirt. Also, who says that you cannot drive in broken flip-flops?
Just forget ‘safety first’, that’s for wimps.
There is no need for Malaysian drivers to dress to impress since secretly, they rule the country.
They are the Kings – at least of the roads.
They sashay by the waiting passengers without so much as looking at them, let alone greet or answer a question. They grudgingly open the trunk and command this contemptible lot with a silent motion to put their dunnage in there.
What do you mean, there is a puddle of motor oil in there?
Put your stuff in, I don’t have all day.
They show this bunch who’s the one that runs the show here.
Let’s Hit the Road
As soon as everybody has taken their seats, the King gets the motor running, and off he goes crossing his kingdom. Obviously, he has to inform his queen thusly because he takes out his phone and has a good natter only pausing by answering his other phone from time to time. Or by lighting another cigarette.
Over his head, a plaque with a crossed-out cigarette might be interpreted as no smoking.
But who are you, subject, to tell the king what to do?
The bus was about half full, the driver in a great mood talking to what seemed to be a colleague. Smoking like a chimney.
These guys were the only ones with warm jackets on. No wonder he had to turn the air conditioner up as high as possible.
Everybody else was freezing.
Everybody else were passengers, so who cares?
I was quite a newbie to Malaysia and the system of secret emperors so, waveringly moving from seat to seat, I went forward to tell him that it was really, really cold. To emphasize my words – his English seemed as rudimentary as my Bahasa – I wrapped my arms around myself and shivered. Brrr.
He was delighted! Laughing and laughing. He loved my little pantomime and kept repeating ‘Brrrr’. And then he laughed and laughed.
He did not turn the air conditioner down.
The King and I
Johor Bahru is the last stop before you cross the border to Singapore, and there everybody else got off. We were alone – the King and I.
I took the liberty to ask him if there was an ATM or an exchange booth at the border since I had only Malayan Ringgits. From his reluctant snarl, I understood that there wasn’t any.
I asked him a couple more questions like where exactly are we going, what time will we approximately arrive, and will there be an ATM there. There, wherever we arrive at whatever time.
He didn’t bother to answer even one of them, instead, he kept on smoking. Since I was sitting behind him now, practically sharing the smoke with him, I impishly pointed at the crossed-out cigarette Dilarang Merokok! – smoking is prohibited.
As I explained in an earlier post, babbel.com arms you with a load of helpful vocabulary. Although in this case, it didn’t help. He cracked up laughing, repeating ‘dilarang merokok!’ as if it was the most absurd joke ever and kept on merokok.
A Complex Borderline
We got to the border. He stopped the bus and said things in incomprehensible English. I looked at him questioningly, he kept repeating, we didn’t get any further.
Fortunately, an officer showed up and explained the drill. I had to get into the building where the Malay would stamp my passport. Be that as it may, I had to take all my belongings with me.
The bus would wait on the other side.
It was shortly before midnight. There weren’t any other people besides those who had to be there because it was their job.
I schlepped my backpack and my bag up the stairs and entered a huge, now empty hall with a row of booths.
I got my passport stamped at the nearest booth. After wishing the stamping lady a good night, I schlepped all my stuff down other stairs to the bus.
Don’t Leave Me This Way
We drove for about three minutes and arrived at the Singaporean side of the border.
Same drill – off the bus with all my luggage in tow, up the stairs, stamp, good night, down the stairs, to the bus.
But there was no bus.
There was a line of curbs, but no busses.
I sat down on one of the benches, tired, being a bit frustrated that everything took so long. No bus.
After about twenty minutes, it dawned on me that maybe I was waiting in the wrong spot. The grouch probably waited for me somewhere else.
I went back to the border. Between two traffic lanes was a channeling island with a booth. In the booth was a lady – who was pretty unhappy that I entered her island.
Which Way to Go?
“You’re not allowed here, it’s dangerous!” she shooed me away after she confirmed that there were only these curbs where the busses are waiting for their passengers.
So I logged all my stuff back to the bench and kept waiting. Slowly I didn’t believe that the guy would ever show up. He probably was already laying on the bedstead in his King driver’s castle.
The longer I waited, the clearer was the picture. He had been annoyed by all my ‘brrr‘ and ‘dilarang merokok‘ talking. Clearly, the driving potentates aren’t used to the subjects’ complaints or back talking.
So this one had taken advantage of the fact that I was his only passenger and just split.
Left me stranded.
Left a woman stranded in the middle of the night at the border of a foreign country.
Left a woman stranded in the middle of the night at the border of a foreign country knowing that she didn’t have any of the local currency.
I went back to the island. The lady in the booth was surprised to see me again. Since I was in such distress, she didn’t even snap at me for joining her in her enclave again.
There weren’t any cars at this time of the night, anyways.
Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor…
She took me to the stop for the local buses and explained my situation to the bus driver – a real hottie, nothing like the villain that abandoned me.
The hottie agreed to let me ride with him for free.
I had no idea where I was, I didn’t know where he would take me, and if I knew, I didn’t know how to get to my hostel, anyway. It was about 2 a. m., I still didn’t have one Singaporean cent.
Nevertheless, we already arrived. Somewhere. At the final stop. His final stop, definitely not mine.
Okie Dokie, so we’re….here. Thanks, terima kasih banyak.
“There are taxis over there”, pointed the hottie. He was not only hot, but he was also right, there was a cab.
The Kindness of Strangers
“Are you taking credit cards?” “Only visa”, answered the overly friendly cab driver. “That’s fine. Please, take me to the Rucksack hostel on Hong Kong Street.”
The challenging journey was about to end, what a relief.
Hong Kong Street is – you might have guessed – on the outskirts of the old Chinese neighborhood. Left and right are old narrow row houses, about three storeys high. Very cute.
The Rucksack hostel was painted red and the nice man stopped right in front of it. He told me the price, I handed him my credit card, he put it in the slot, and the little machine wrote him on the display that the card was declined. This happens sometimes, to me, to you, normally it’s no big deal. But at this moment – I was not only beat. I also felt beaten. He was so friendly to try again twice, but nope, for some reason, the stupid machine and my stupid card were not willing to cooperate.
“It’s fine, you don’t have to pay”, said this sweet, sweet man. “No, I don’t want that. Wait, I have Euros somewhere.” “No, really, it’s fine”, he insisted. “No, wait a sec, here you’ve got 10 Euro. At least with the change, I’ll have some Singaporean money”, I imposed the crinkled tenner on him.
While I typed in the code to unlock the hostel’s entrance door, I felt a bit bad. I had the feeling of having insulted the driver by refusing his generosity. But I would have felt bad taking advantage of his kindness.
Oh dear, what a day!
And then it was a small sheet of paper that comforted me and made me forget the mean driver and the hodgepodge and the nice but snubbed driver. It was a little welcome note that I found at 3 a. m. at the door of my room at this lovely hostel.
And you bet, I had a good sleep!
Once you make it to Singapore, you might appreciate a couple of recommendations from my itinerary for Singapore.
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