February 29th 1984

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The Post Office

A milestone, I suppose, albeit a somewhat artificial one, being the one and only Feb 29th we shall spend away on this trip.  Not that we spent it in spectacularly exciting style.  Our night was rat-free, we think, + then Hassan dropped us in to town on his way to work.  We spent a big chunk of the morning dealing with 2 relatively small chores: changing some money, + posting some letters.  The money-changing was an expected delay – foreign banks have really made us appreciate British ones, where the foreign exchange teller has the authority to cash a travellers’ cheque on his own.  In most other countries – I’ll confess I don’t remember the system in US or Canada – the blasted thing has to be checked + authorised by every man + his dog, + they’re in no hurry to do it either.  The PO business was complicated by the fact that they’ve recently moved, now occupying a brand-new purpose-built + exceedingly impressive white building on the river.  It is enormous, + that is part of the problem – they have lots of office space to fill, so have solved the problem by narrow specialisation, so that one office handles parcels, another registration, etc.  With the various sections labelled only in Malay, finding the right section is no easy matter.  We had the ludicrous situation where Val could buy a stamp in one place, but had to go to an entirely separate one to buy an aerogramme.  It was as much her fault as theirs, but a crazy situation nonetheless, especially when one considers my mum does everything that whole place does (+ probably then some) only she operates out of one tiny office.

The railway station

I had a treat when we happened on a Wendy’s fast food place – I’ve been pressing Val to go to a Wendy’s ever since we left England.  Not that it was all that different, of course, but I enjoyed it.  We then went on a walk around the southern end of town to visit KL’s attractions.  One of the best of these, strangely, is the one we did first, the Railway Station, which looks like some Eastern potentate’s palace, with a profusion of spires + minarets.  We took some pictures, + were able to enquire about a train up to Tapah, just below the Cameron Highlands, our next destination – we intend to leave in the morning.

We walked down to the museum, but it seemed a bit thin, + we weren’t really in the mood, so we gave it no more than a cursory inspection, + then moved on to the Park.  A pleasant stroll, but again we weren’t in a mood to appreciate it.  I think we both feel anxious to move on, + that at the moment we are just wasting time.  However, thro’ the Park we walked past the Houses of Parliament – uninspired architecture if ever I saw it, an office block on yop of a row of greenhouses.  And then we came to the National Monument, erected to commemorate the end of the Emergency, when the communists got beat, or packed it in, or something.  Again, not wonderfully inspired or inspiring – a larger than life tableau of a group of soldiers, one or two proud + victorious, one or two (to show a balanced viewpoint) dead or dying.  And from there we returned to the Export Trade Centre, the place from where Hassan had picked us up yesterday, as it was a sensible landmark.

The National memorial

Hassan was in a meeting for a long time, but when we finally got thro’, he told us he would pick us up at 6.30.  So we sat on the steps + read.  In fact, it was past 7.30 when he arrived, the meeting having gone on well beyond the time he had expected.  We had just been about to get in to a taxi, not wishing to appear entirely useless in the face of altered circumstances, so he arrived just in time.  We collected Faridah – she is a newspaper sub-editor, so works funny hours, then out to his place.  We were dropped off at Ima’s to shower + change, then picked up 30 mins later.  The plan had been to go to a restaurant which had a buffet plus Malaysian cultural show as a sort of cabaret.  It was rushing things – Hassan reckoned it started at 8.30, + it was gone 9 when we finally turned up.  When we discovered it had actually begun at 7.30 + was almost finished, that put the kibosh on that.

Largely, I imagine, because we had enquired of them, during the ride to Melaka, what a steamboat was, they decided to take us to a restaurant that served them – it was a bit of a tortuous drive, with KL’s road system, + Hassan not knowing the roads all that well, but we arrived eventually, + parked the car under the watchful eye of one of the car boys – basically a protection racket.  The meal was splendid, but once again, I’m afraid, not really to my taste, consisting mostly of seafood.  Luckily, H + F (they paid for everything) also bought a plate of Chinese-style beef, mostly for me, which was excellent.  In addition, there were crab-meat balls, and a big tray of huge king prawns, about 6 of them, each one about 6 inches long.  Plus the steamboat.  It gets its name because it is a large bowl of boiling water, cooked at the table on its own furnace of burning charcoal, into which various things are dropped.  I thought it definitely over-rated, being not much different to a sort of watery fish soup.


Over the meal, Faridah told us that one of her colleagues was interested in interviewing us for their paper – would tomorrow lunch be convenient?  It didn’t take us long, publicity –seekers that we are, to postpone our departure by a day, + agree.  Even if nothing came of it, it would be a free lunch, + a different experience.

We moved on next to the Merlin Hotel, one of KL#s top international hotels.  I thought it was just for a coffee, but H + F got stuck into the beers.  Val + I kept with coffee, plus, with not much persuasion, dessert – rich fruit sundaes both.  Hassan quizzed us quite a bit about our trip, tho’ I wouldn’t say he listened all that closely to what we had to say, more pressing his own idea of our motivations etc onto us.  I shouldn’t be too critical – he is remarkably kind + generous, + had also had quite a few beers.  We finally got home at about 3, having to wake the housekeeper (Biyang III) up, to let us in.

Quite the busy day today, with plenty of sight-seeing, as well as chores… and then finishing off with two restaurants. There is a slight touch of Yopi about our situation, as we are staying longer than we would have liked, but there again it is clear that this is our choice. And we are being treated royally, so no complaints from us.

Didi, Gogo… and a tree

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Two major, and very positive, developments today.  First of all, I think I have finally come up with an idea for the play that solves some of the problems we have been wrestling with: using the idea of Godot without coming up with copyright problems, a concept that is short enough for the actors to be able to learn and perform, and incorporating some of their lived experiences within the script.  Some of you will know of a play called Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead, which takes the idea of taking two of Hamlet’s minor characters, and having them pass the time while waiting for their part in the play.  This is something of a riff on that, using two characters in Waiting for Godot, and having them break off from running the play to comment on, or act out, aspects of the refugee situation.  It means we can make the play as long (or short) as we like, yet still use the material we have been working on.

The other development did at first give me pause for thought, as Roji (who has taken over from Aisha as recruiter in chief) brought along a friend of his, someone he met in the dining room just minutes before the class began.  His name is Sasha, another Iranian (of course, they are the only nationality I am meeting at present) and some one who has studied acting.  Since I was not prepared for him to come, I did not have anything for him to do, but it did allow me to re-introduce an idea I had considered before, but had then abandoned because of a lack of people, which is to have a human tree, who can observe the action and, in a physical way, comment upon it.  Not much of a role, true, but it did mean he was involved from the very start, and actually was all that I wanted from the idea, and more.  And, provided he comes again next week, I will have more for him to do, such as the character of Pozzo; my idea is for him to also be an Immigration officer.

And the rehearsal of our new play, Didi and Gogo are waiting, went very well indeed, introducing some additional comedy, both physical and verbal.  I certainly found it very funny at times, though it is true that I am not exactly unbiased.  But I do, at last, feel very positive about the possibilities.  We do need to look for an opportunity to perform, but now that we have a concept to work with, I am very optimistic.

February 28th 1984

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Eating with Hassan’s family

We treated ourselves to the most enormous breakfast this morning, down the road at the other losmen.  We each had eggs + chips, plus 2 slices of toast with baked beans, plus tea, plus toast + honey.  A veritable scoff of vast proportions.  Thus fortified, we felt able to resume our travels.  Northwards, on to KL.  The first step was the bus straight back to Melaka, + then, the town being small enough to walk out of, that was what we did.  It took much longer to get a ride this morning – we even had a break from hitching to grab a coke. 

But when the ride did come, it was very good indeed, in an air-conditioned car.  The driver, Dee, Chinese, has remodelled the interior himself, he told us.  And very nice it looked too, with lots of dials, switches + accessories, + upholstered in blue velvet.  There was air-conditioning, + one of the car stereos that seem to have become almost compulsory since we left, with 2 slim-line boxes, and a whole host of slide controls – a far cry from the rather crude + simple machines that seemed to do the job.  And this one didn’t even do the job all that well.  We clearly didn’t have all that much to say to each other, so I persuaded Val, nursing the bags in the back seat, to drag out one of our tapes to play.  It was the “Dear Bjorn” compilation that I had recorded in Sydney, but it sounded absolutely appalling – if I didn’t already know the songs well, I wouldn’t have been able to distinguish them.  It didn’t seem to bother Dee too much, however.  He was going up to Petaling Jaya, which is almost an industrial satellite town to KL, so we had virtually broken the trip, as it would only be a local bus-ride into the city centre.  He invited us first, however, back to his house to shower, so I accepted.  It seemed a particularly good idea, since I hadn’t showered for a day or 2, + a shower would make us both look + feel better, especially since we were visiting new people.

It became even more obvious while we were at his house that we had nothing to say, however – Dee is an engineer, + the house, tho’ quite nicely furnished, contained all sorts of tins of electrical parts, mechanical parts, piled in the most unlikely places.  There was even a tin sitting in what looked like permanent splendour on top of the cooker.  Even tho Dee lives with both wife + brother, they apparently keep no food whatever in the house – an extraordinary situation, it seems to me.  Once we were showered + changed, Dee dropped us at the bus station, from where it was a 50 c ride in a minibus to KL.

We were a bit confused as to where we were in KL when we alighted – we wanted to be near the main Post Office, but didn’t really understand how the reality of the roads fitted in  fitted in with the scheme pictured in the map in our guide book.  (It turned out we were exactly 180 degrees confused, but we can perhaps be forgiven some confusion – the GPO had moved.)

We found a telephone, + after many attempts + much confusion, were finally able to get in touch with Hassan, who seemed, I was relieved to hear, genuinely pleased to hear from us again.  He promised to pick us up from where we were in about 45 mins – we killed the intervening time by going for some coffee.  They arrived on time (this was more noteworthy than I imagined at the time) + we were soon whisked back, KL traffic allowing, to their house.  It was shabbier + more dishevelled than I had expected, with all sorts of things lying around in an untidy mess.  There were more people than we expected too – Hassan’s parents-in-law were staying with him, as well as Ima + her baby, Areef Arafat.  Her husband, a film cameraman, was away on location, so she had moved in temporarily.  We would be staying at her house, Hassan had told us.

The evening was dull.  The video was on, Faridah’s father glued to it, with an appalling video on, a Kung Fu movie.  And when that finally stumbled to a finish, he promptly put another one on.  We were rescued from this torture by the arrival of a meal, Faridah having made a big dish of fried noodles.  I ate enough to be polite, I hope, but it wasn’t easy – fried noodles is far from being my favourite dish.  Afterwards, it being by now quite late, we were driven over to Ima’s house.  Small + pleasant, tho’ musty – an old man’s smell.  Maybe because there’s an old man there – they have a live-in housekeeper to look after things, aq strange, silent, wild-looking old man.  Other inhabitants too – I saw one of them run down the stairs.  Ima told us not to worry, but the house had rats.  Maybe she meant mice, but she said rats, + her English is good.  We tried not to appear as nervous as we felt, but we had a very good look around when we went to bed.

Pleasing that the invitation to stay with Hassan was genuine, though it did mean we had to cope with the social niceties – I really should not be so grumpy about it – it was, after all, our choice to take up the invitation.

February 27th 1984

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As it happened, I didn’t throw up overnight, but I wasn’t well either , with the return of the trots, which are still plaguing me, on + off, every few days.  A right pain in the arse, metaphorically too.  We spent virtually the whole morning in our room,  looking at all lour old photos etc for one last time before packaging them up, together with some of our cassettes + letters + cards we’d received (except the Yopi ones – we kept just one out of the 8.)  It made a remarkably heavy little parcel, quite a weight out of the pack, especially when Val was able to spring-clean odds + ends of rubbish we’d somehow accumulated.

At the post office, they were adamant that it would cost M$25 to send it, + only after 5 mins or so would they admit there was a cheaper service, about M$8.  That, naturally enough, was the one we selected.  Then, business done, we were free to wander round the sites of historical interest in Melaka, largely dating from the period of Dutch rule in the town.  The Town Hall + church in the main square were interesting, mainly because they were painted bright red, giving the square a faintly Toytown look.  We went to the Portuguese  Porto Alfonso, the final relics of the previous Portuguese occupation, + then climbed up to the top of the hill, St John’s Hill, where there was an old church, subsequently fortified + used for defence.  It was good up there, + both Val + I had the feeling that the place resembled Launceston Castle, in atmosphere rather , so than in anything specific.  Both places have a quiet dignity, an unspectacular impressiveness.

Portuguese ruins

Then to the Stadhuys, another red-painted Dutch building, now used as a museum.  The museum itself was disappointing, especially since there was no English labelling, so we didn’t stay long.  These places were all central, to visit Melaka’s other major attraction, the largest… sorry, I must be tired… oldest Chinese temple in Malaysia took a bit of a walk, + I’m not sure it merited it.  But Val wanted to see it, so off we went.  So that was Melaka done.

We collected our bags then, + caught the bus out of town, to Tanjung Keling, a beach resort a few miles out of town.  The bus dropped us right outside one particular losmen,. + as it was just starting to rain, we went there.  (Tho we did regret it later, when we discovered another similar place further along the road, slightly cheaper, slightly better.)  The losmen boasted a small café + a cluster of tiny A-frame chalets on the beach, boasting just a platform large enough to take a double mattress.  Spartan, but entirely adequate to our needs.

Our accommodation

The café supplied the usual Western traveller’s delights, so we indulged in banana drinks – very nice – + had a swim – the rain had not amounted to anything.  Later we strolled along the beach road to check out the other places, + had roti chanai with egg in the first place we came to.  It was cheap + tasty – a sort of puff pastry pancake with a spicy sauce to dip it into.  And then a further stroll to the next establishment (the better, cheaper place mentioned above) for dessert – pancakes!  (The most common traveller’s food of all.)  An early night – we lay in bed listening to Men Without Hats on the Walkman… then the waves on the beach.

Very clearly we did not have time to sdpare, spending a pretty frantic day sight-seeing, and ticking Malacca off our list. Ans then hitch-hiking again; we were very pleased that it seemed to be ana acceptable way to get around. And the beach hut, along with various travellers’ delights, suited us very well.

February 26th 1984

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The view from the hotel in Malacca

We ensured we got up at a reasonable hour this morning, + went to a restaurant which we had seen advertising English breakfast.  Very good it was too, bacon, eggs, the works.  Obviously, however, it didn’t satisfy, since we also wolfed down a great pot of yogurt when we got back to the crash pad.  I wandered into the city centre to take a last couple of pictures, then back to ready ourselves to leave Singapore.  We caught the local bus to Johore Bahru, just 80c each, tho’ we did have to get off twice to go thro’ immigration, once to leave Singapore, once to enter Malaysia (making the 5th Malaysian stamp in our passport.)  We were very confused at the 2nd bus change, but eventually we sorted it out, + ended up in JB’s bus station.  We intended to hitch up to Malacca, but thought it would be best to get a short way out of town first, so decided to take a local bus.  2 problems here – first finding the right bus (we only had the map in our guide book, + that was far from clear as to the proper road to take), + then explaining to the conductor where we wanted to go.  He spoke some rudimentary English, but our requirements were quite complex.  We were going to Malacca, we told him.  The bus didn’t go that far, he replied. But the leap of understanding that we wanted to hitch-hike + wanted to get off at a good place, he was unable to make.  So we thought of going all the way to the bus’s destination, but that was a bit too far + a bit too expensive, so we ended up telling him we’d pay when we got off, when we saw a likely hitching spot.  He was definitely dubious, but seemed to understand. 

Inevitably, there was a rush to pay + leap off when we saw the place we wanted, + in the confusion I left our purse on the seat, but luckily they were an honest bunch, tho’ obviously delighted at this display of Western weakness – there were big smiles all round as it was handed out.

The hitching from here was very easy, with 3 short rides (one of them being with a stupid girl being so short as to be virtually negligible), the only problem being that we had to seek constant shelter from the fierce rainstorms.  Or maybe it was the same rainstorm, which we kept overtaking, so passed over us several times.  We were lucky tho’, + always had decent shelter at hand. 

The 4th lift was the best, taking us all the way to Malacca, our destination for tonight.  In fact, they were going on all the way to Kuala Lumpur, + we were rather tempted.  But only briefly.  We’re not in so much of a hurry that we want to miss out completely on seeing things along the way.  There were 3 already in the car: Hassan, born in Malaysia, but having spent 25 years in England, only having returned permanently last year when he married the front seat passenger, Faridah.  The other passenger was Faridah’s sister, Ima.  They spoke excellent English, which was better for us, + were friendly + very interested in what we told them about our trip.  It was a fast ride to town – the only pause was when Hassan stopped to take photos of the huge urns the local people have outside their houses to receive the fresh water delivered by tanker.  Before they dropped us, they invited us to visit them in KL, + gave us the address.

In Melaka, we went straight to one of the hotels recommended in the book – it was nothing special, but clean enough.  Later we wandered out to find something to eat, + after a beer to whet the appetite, we stopped at a stall where a guy was frying up some sort of egg mixture, a sort of broken-up omelette, so we ordered one of those each.  When it arrived, however, I made the mistake of asking what it was.  Fried oysters.  Hm.  I ate it, but with a good deal of apprehension, remembering previous seafood experiences.  I managed it too, tho’ I can’t pretend I really enjoyed it… too frightened of the consequences, I suppose.

On the road again, and with easy hitching, once we had got ourselves on the right road. And the incident with the lost purse was actually pleasing; apart from demonstrating my own carelessness, it did show that generally there are lots of good people about.

February 25th 1984

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We made a late start today – the crash pad is dark, so it was an easy thing to do.  So we had to push ourselves along a bit to return to the Air Niugini office – we were a bit more bright this time + took the bus.  Approached the office with a degree of apprehension, so were pleased when, explaining why we were there to the guy behind the desk – the people we’d spoken to yesterday weren’t there – he seemed to know what we were talking about.  What was more, he said it was all OK, + asked us to sit down while he made some calculations – so far so good.  After 10 mins or so we were called to the counter again, + asked to sign receipts for our cheques.  I can’t judge Val’s reaction, but I suppose it was the same as mine – I was completely stunned, but completely… my cheque was for S$407, + Val’s was the same.  Just completely, totally, absolutely unbelievable, beyond anything we had hoped for.  We didn’t pause for calculation at the time, of course, just signed with as calm a hand as we could manage, + took the money, + ran, but later, when we were able to wipe the dazed but stupid grins off our faces, we tried to work it out + reckoned we’d been overpaid by about US$200, which, in our situation, in one hell of a lot of fucking money.  Maybe we were wrong – the airlines use their own currency, flight units or something, making it nearly impossible to calculate the bloody things for oneself, but whether the guy in the office made a mistake or somehow we’d underestimated what we were owed, it still made a pleasant… surprise is not strong enough, shock describes it better.

We rushed to the bank as fast as our legs would carry us – it shut in an hour, + we didn’t want to give the guy time to realise his mistake (if mistake it be) + cancel the cheques.  We were still sure something would have to go wrong, that they wouldn’t be able to cash them, or we would have to wait till Saturday, but everything went off with no trouble, + we wandered out with 814 Singy dollars, most of it switched to US dollars, + feeling (sorry to labour the point) as tho’ we’d been struck over the head with a sledge hammer.  We wanted to celebrate, but didn’t really know how, so bought coffee from an automatic vending machine on the street, sat on a step, + gazed at each other.

When we’d more or less come to our senses, we headed back.  On the way we passed a shop selling cassettes at S$2 each, so we splashed out on 3 – one with some Mozart, a Pink Floyd, +a Men Without Hats tape.  I was also tempted by a Bob Dylan one, “Infidels”, but I resisted.

Next stop was the bakery once again for a beautiful gorgeous crusty French loaf, + then went crazy trying to find a supermarket to buy something to put in it.  Eventually we made do with some frozen packet ham, but it thawed in no time, + as we’d also indulged in some real butter, the result was the perfect – or at least very good – sandwich.

We caught a bus out to the People’s Park shopping complex near Chinatown, where we had made enquiries at the opticians yesterday.  There are about 4 or 5 of them there, + the professional approach goes out the window, replaced by the basest form of hard sell commercialism, with haggling over prices, pressure to buy there and then… the lot.  Eventually we found one a bit less pushy than the others, which was also able to match my requirements as to price + delivery time.  My new pair, with brown tinted photo-chromatic lenses (for some reason they were reluctant to use these) cost S$50, + would be ready in 3 or 4 hours.  They are similar to my stolen Aussie ones, but with paler, almost opaque, pinky-brown frames. 

While we were about it, we bought a flash-gun for the camera, Val haggling + getting it for S$17 with batteries – a good deal there.

During our time in the artificial environment of the shopping mall, however, the weather outside had deteriorated rapidly, + the rain was lancing down.  Val was opposed to taking a bus, however, so we headed back on foot, sheltering wherever possible under the shopping arcades.  The rain did ease fortunately, so our similarity to drowned rats wasn’t too acute.  Just as well, as we were on our way to Raffles, Singapore’s famous old colonial hotel, still preserved in planter’s style.  We poked our head around the various bars before settling on the Long Bar + a Singapore Sling, a gin cocktail.  Devilishly expensive, but really rather nice, + besides, we had our windfall to celebrate.  I suspect going to Raffles is far more touristy than Singaporean, but a pleasant experience nonetheless.  And seeing as we were playing the tourist, we asked the waitress to take our picture, thereby checking that our new flashgun was in working order.

After Raffles, we collected one of our films from the developer – we hadn’t left ourselves with sufficient cash to take more – by which time it was about time to collect my glasses.  We walked there, the first flash of excitement over the money being over, tho’ we did bus back.  I was pleased with my glasses , they at least approximate to the right prescription.  We now wandered thro’ the Indian quarter of town, making for a restaurant serving South Indian vegetarian food, recommended in the guide book.  (Incidentally, it seems Pete has turned vegetarian – very strange.)  The meal was excellent value, + very filling.  We were given a banana leaf each, (tho’ the décor was certainly not exotic- formica-topped tables, matching steel tube + plastic chairs) + onto this was dolloped various curries, chapattis, etc, etc, which would just keep coming.  We started off on a bad foot, unfortunately, by refusing to have rice, but no complaints about the meal at all.  We were both fat + bloated by the end, largely because we had drunk so much water to put out the fire in our mouths.

Even so, by the time we returned to Bencoolen St, where we were living, we had enough room to fit in 2 big slices of cake from the bakery, + eat those with coffee at a small café across the road.  We also looked thro’ our photos – we’d changed money at the shopping centre + reclaimed the rest.  Generally speaking, they were very good, with a few excellent ones dotted thro’ – pretty much as normal, in fact.  Back in the crash pad, we were able to borrow a small tape recorder, and set to record an answer to Pete.  We just switched it on + let it run, + managed to keep talking, + were fairly pleased with the end result, tho’ that was probably because it was to Pete, to whom it was much easier to chat.

Well, quite the result. I am not sure, from a moral point of view, what I thknk about our various ways of making money; all the more so if it might mean the people at the airline office suffering personally. But actually, in this case at least, we were not even sure that our gains were actually ill-gotten – and we certainly weren’t going to question the amount we were given. So we took it as more or less a “Bank error in your favour” sort of piece of good fortune. And there is no doubt t all that we rally were in need of the cash. And, despite the Singapore Slings, it didn’t rally go to our heads.

February 24th 1984

posted in: The way back | 1
Chinatown in Singapore

Being in a big commercial centre, this was our opportunity to settle some outstanding business.  No 1 was to have some films developed, so we popped them into a handy little film shop right opposite the crash pad.  No 2 was to collect our mail, safely secreted, we trusted, with American Express.  The address was Orchard Rd, quite a way away.  We almost took a bus, until we remembered we didn’t have any Singapore cash.  That was no 3, finding a bank, but we had to walk to find one.  Naturally, we ended up walking the whole way.  Finding the American Express office was a hell of a job – we wandered up + down Orchard St for ages before we finally discovered the Ngee Ann building, the one to which all our letters – we hoped – had been sent, was  not quite derelict, but was  not in operation either.  With sinking heart, we made further enquiries about where AmEx had relocated to, + after much searching, many questions, + much frustration, we found it.  It was, therefore, with much relief that we found it, + discovered that we hadn’t been forgotten.  We delayed reading them, however, until we had finished our chores + could relax.

Air Niugini (chore no 4) was next dealt with – fortunately their office was just a stone’s throw away from the AmEx.  We were attempting to reclaim some money from them for unused tickets.  (To be entirely honest, we were also claiming on a flight that we had taken but for which the stupid Indonesian officials hadn’t ripped out the vouchers – we thought we might as well try.)  They didn’t question that aspect of things at all, but wanted to give us an MCO, instead of the cash we had been promised.  Naturally, we protested, + after some discussion we were asked to return tomorrow.  Next, we cashed some money, then retired to the nearby Kentucky Fried Chicken, to eat chicken, burgers, + attack our mail.

We had individually addressed letters from the Tilleys + Bob, but mostly our mail was contained in 2 packages forwarded from our mums.  There was a letter rom Pat Corless + a card from Angela – 2 welcome surprises – a card from Steve+ Chickie with a picture of their new baby son, a letter from Steve Blakesley, one from Mike Power, + Val + I each received a Christmas card from Jim Cranna.  Most annoying + upsetting of all was the fact that Yopi from Indonesia had sent 4  cards, or rather 4 envelopes, each containing 2 cards.  I don’t mind him wasting his own money, but he’d also wasted mum’s, having to send them on.  In  addition, mostly they contained utter gibberish, but also nauseous stuff such as “Send me the pillow you dream on”, “Don’t ever forget me”, + endless repetitions of “Valerie”.  Puke.  There were also 2 letters from my  mum, + 3 from Val’s, + most promising of all there was a tape included, which promised to be “Pete + Mar” on one side, + “Christmas at Peggy’s” on the other.  (Peggy’s is where Val’s uncle + aunt live.)  We were completely immersed, + enjoyed Col Sanders hospitality for 2 hours.  And that took care of the morning.

In the afternoon, we wandered around Singapore.  Most of what it has to offer is shopping facilities, + we spent quite a time checking those out, looking particularly for a small shortwave radio with which to obtain the delights of the BBC World Service.  I’ll confess I had not too much enthusiasm for the enterprise, + wasn’t really sure for that matter that I wanted to spend the money.  But we wandered around anyway all over the city, + I chanced on the idea of replacing my glasses, which are not only dirt cheap but can be made in an hour, even with chromatic lenses.

We strolled thro’ the old Chinatown area, rapidly falling before the teeth of the bulldozers, + then back thro’ the financial district to the old part of town, the Govt district.  We saw a couple of Singapore’s famous food centres, a sort of open-air market where a huge variety of different food stalls offer their wares.  One chooses one’s food from whichever one one wants, or even from more than one, + eats at the central communal area.  We were looking for on particular stall at one particular centre, where we understood they served fish and chips.  When we eventually found it (that seems to be a problem here) that particular stall was shut.  However, we found another one that had it on the menu, so that did just fine, tho’ I changed my mind + had a pepper steak.  Both our meals were quite delicious, + not at all expensive.

We stopped at a good bakery on the way back for further indulgence of chocolate eclairs + banana bread, then back to the pad to listen to the cassette.  It was quite quite superb, just the present we could have asked for.  Pete professed nervousness, then gave the lie to that confession by sounding chatty + natural.  There was a lovely moment when Val’s mum popped her head around the door to offer a cup of tea – we could picture the scene exactly.  For the second half of the first side, Mar joined Pete – we’re looking forward to seeing her again, + seeing if we’re able to relate more on a level of equals.  She still sounded the same tho’.

Side 2 was not nearly so satisfactory from my point of view, since most of it was from Christmas Day when the tape had simply been switched on + left to record what was going on – theatre de vie, if you like.  With so many voices, so many broad Cornish accents.  And then it finished off with Merry Christmas + Happy New Year from all + sundry.  Which was  nice, I make no complaint, but not as intimate as Side 1.  They’re my feelings anyway – Val has experienced Peggy’s Christmases, so is better able to picture the scene.  It made a magical 60 mins anyway.

Considering we spent the majority of the day on administrative chores, it resally was pretty successful, and all the more pleasing that we received a big bunch of mail. I suppose that nowadays, people pretty much stay in touch on a permanent basis, what with social media, let alone plain old email, but that does take away some of the excitement we used to feel when, after being deprived of contact for so long, we would finally receive news.

February 23rd 1984

posted in: The way back | 1

In the morning we met Peter’s wife + 2 children – they had been asleep when we’d returned last night.  We were then treated to a quite magnificent breakfast, eggs + sausage, toast + marmalade, tea.  The only thing wrong was that we had to rush it, as Peter had to take his son to playschool + himself to work, + we didn’t want to miss the chance of a lift.  We were able to leave our bags in Peter’s office while we wandered around town – the flight to Johore Bahru didn’t leave till 7.20.  We shopped around, + discovered that the best discount we could get was 3%, so we got the cash, at a considerably better rate of exchange, + bought our tickets.  Business done, we could now afford to relax.

We enquired about the museum, but it seemed that was in the process of moving premises, + so was closed.  That being more or less the extent of KK entertainment, we went to the British Council, + the delights of The Observer, etc.  Discovered that West Ham had been dumped out of the Cup by Birmingham – ho hum.  Otherwise, as usual, little or nothing to report, but we still managed to while away some hours.  Like last time, we were kicked out during the lunch break, but returned afterwards.  And at about 3.30 we returned to collect our bags.  They clearly aren’t used to back-packers in that office, but Peter’s the boss, + to his credit, was not at all fazed by our presence.  As usual, we told him we’d send a postcard or 2, invited him to contact us next time he was in London, + said farewell.

It was strange to be back out at the airport, 24 hours on.  Once again we had bread + cheese, but must have been day-dreaming or something, because we were almost too late checking our bags on – the guy who’d sold me the tickets yesterday gave me a very dirty look.  Fortunately, they accepted our apologies, + all was well.

The flight was pleasant, + long enough to be interesting.  I always think the short flights aren’t worth all the fuss – if you’re going to go thro’ the harrowing experience of coping with an airport, you may as well have long enough in the air to relax before having to face another one.  Unfortunately, it was designated an internal flight, so there was no booze, but the food was very good, the best since the Qantas flight to Australia.

Johore Bahru was quite manageable, except that they mislaid one of our bags for a time.  The only real problem, however, was that there was no public transport from the airport into town, so we had to take the airport bus, costing $4 each.  We could have taken it all the way to Singapore, but that would have cost twice as much, + we reckoned we’d be able to manage a better deal with public transport, or, if necessary, stay at a hotel in JB.  When we were dropped off, Val went to enquire the whereabouts of the bus station from 2 Chinese guys filling up with petrol in a garage, + as she had hoped (the devious creature) we were offered a ride to Singapore.  It was almost a bit awkward when, as foreigners, we had to go to a separate immigration booth, but fortunately we were dealt with very quickly, + we certainly passed thro’ customs very easily – the car was waved thro’.

We did have the address of a cheapo stay in Singapore, but our drivers seemed pretty certain there was nothing on that street, so, to keep things simple, we let them drop us on Bencoolen St, the cheap accommodation centre.  By chance, they dropped us right outside one of the “crash pads”, a fact we only discovered when we saw a few young Europeans going in + out, but we thought it would do us, at least for a night.  Singapore’s crash pads are ordinary residential housing units converted – or sort of converted – to hostels, with a few small rooms, + a couple of larger dormitories.  $6 gets you a mattress on the floor, plus a pillow + sheet – it was all we required.

In the crash pad

Most of our day spent in KK, a most uninspiring place, but the major focus of the day was getting to the mainland – successfully achieved. As was, by a variety of means, our onward trip to Singapore. Which means we are on the Eurasian land-mass, and could, in theoy at any rate, walk home… or as far as Calais, at any rate.

February 22nd 1984

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One of KK’s last remaining colonial buildings – the Post Office

We made sure we were up very early, on the chance of catching a ride down to Ranau.  It paid off, too, + we were just finishing our breakfast when one of the ladies who works around the place came in to tell us a minibus was going down in 10 mins.  It was a commercial bus-ride, but the fare was only $3 each, so it was good value.

The rain came down heavily just as we arrived in Ranau, so we sheltered in a café.  The rain effectively destroyed our idea of hitching down to KK, so we sat around drinking coffee, waiting for the bus.  That was a couple of hours.  I buried myself in a book for the journey, so it seemed to take no time, tho’ Val tells me she found it interminable.  KK was no drier than Ranau, so we rushed over to the Tourist Office, left our bags there, + headed back into the rain – we had a lot to do, + not much time to do it.

Our first task was to try the port, to check if there were any boats heading to the mainland.  I was pessimistic about the prospect, + was even les enthralled with the notion when the rain started to come down more heavily,  but it was really only to satisfy Val that I agreed to go.  I also thought it was quite absurd to be attempting this under such severe time restrictions.  If we were unsuccessful, Val wanted to catch tonight’s night flight to Kuala Lumpur.  Even more severely, we had to pick up our bags at the Tourist Office by 4.30 – it was already about 2.30, with the port a good walk away. But Val wanted at least to try, + in that she was right.  I’ve commented before on her almost naïve optimism, + that can only work given a chance to work.  So we marched off into the rain, seeking the protection of the overhanging shop facades wherever possible.  It was when they ran out, + we had to strike out for the open desolation of the dual carriageway, with cars + lorries screeching thro’ the puddles that, angry + annoyed to be soaked in what I saw as a futile quest, I argued for postponing this venture till tomorrow.  We were both upset, standing drenched in the pouring rain, but I won (if that’s the right word) + we started to turn back, neither of us seeing, or looking to see, the other’s point of view.

But just as we started back, a lorry driver waved us over + offered us a ride along the road – obviously he’d seen our doubt + dislike of the highway.  This sort of external influence we couldn’t ignore, so gladly accepted.  It turned out not to be far, but it made all the difference.  The next problem was getting past security on the gate, but they seemed to accept happily enough our story of visiting a friend on the Straits Freedom – that was the name of a boat Val had obtained from the Shipping Agent.  I’d have been more pleased if they’d turned us away.  The Straits Freedom wasn’t in dock, it turned out, which shows what wonderful security people they were – but we visited 4 others.  The first 2 were no good for one reason or another – not heading to the right destination, I think – but the people we spoke to were friendly enough.  The third was sailing this afternoon, + to the mainland, but the young fellow insisted we contact the agent, insisted the Captain would tell us the same thing.  And the people on the 4th were rude + unhelpful.  So we returned to town.

Val was angry with me that I’d railroaded her, that I hadn’t helped her, that I’d torpedoed any chance of a boat we might have had from the start.  I was angry with her that she’s dragged me out in the rain for what I’d always known was a pointless exercise.  I arrived back at the Tourist Office just in time to reclaim our bags – Val was a little later, having leapt off the bus early to buy some provisions.  And now it was off to the airport for the night-flight – actually, it was more of an evening one, departing at 8.30.  We had no tickets, or Malaysian cash, but Val had been able to discover that there were plenty of seats left, + we felt sure we could change some Travellers cheques at the airport.  And so we could, we discovered, direct with the agent there, tho’ the rate sounded poor, so far as I could remember – just 2.15 Malay for US.  However, I forked out US$250 in travellers cheques, + was duly told we were on the waiting list.  This sounded stupid, as MAS head office had just told us there were plenty of seats, but what the hell.

I returned to Val, minding the bags out in the reception lounge – she had been joined in my absence by Joan, already confirmed for tonight’s flight.  We munched thro’ the food Val had bought earlier, stale corn flakes + milk, bread + cheese, + soon drove Joan away to the relative security of the departure lounge.  I know how she felt – I am embarrassed by us too sometimes, but suppose I have become more immune.  Val was not at all happy with the exchange rate I’d got, + after some calculations reckoned we’d be paying just the same, with a proper bank exchange, to travel normal economy fare to Johore Bahru, the Malay airport right next to Singapore, tomorrow.  It would, moreover, be to where we wanted to go, + save having to travel all the way down from KL, + then all the way back up again.  So we determined to try to regain our Travellers Cheques.  Fortunately this was remarkably easy – our cheques were given back, + we strolled out of the airport once again, feeling much happier, but now faced with the prospect of finding somewhere to stay.  If we had to take a hotel room, we would promptly lose all the money we had just saved.  So we decided to head once again to the Anglican church – we had some idea of where it was now.

We had a bit of luck too – while we were waiting for the bus, we hitched, + got a ride with a Korean businessman in a great big Volvo, right to the door of the Church hall.  We went along to the vicarage to ask permission to stay, but there was no-one in except a very frightened little girl, so we went back to the Hall, where there was a badminton club in progress, to wait there.  We chatted with one guy in particular, a young lawyer who had trained in England, + was now practising in KK.  He was  not really on the same wavelength as us, but he was very pleasant, + offered to take us home to spend the night there, an offer we accepted with alacrity.  He is clearly doing well for himself – he drove us back in his BMW, + while the house was nothing spectacular, he told us he was having another, larger one, built.  We ate a late-night snack of fried noodles obtained from a Chinkie takeaway ( I should be careful what I am saying – Peter himself is Chinese) + then to bed.

I will attempt to claim that Chinkie was a perfectly normal term back then, but I know I am on shaky ground; though it is undeniably the case that there was a lot more casual (ie not even thought about) racism back then. Other than that, the day largely characterised by Val and I having one of regular rows, her optimism tempered by my pessimism, and ending up with newither of us very happy.

But in the end, we fell into some of the regukar informal hospitality that is happeneing to us a lot at this stage of our journey; the more we ventured into places with plenty of tourist infrastructure, the less that occurred.

February 21st 1984

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Karanga waterfall

We took it easy this morning, eating a substantial breakfast, then sitting on the terrace in the sunshine + reading.  Eventually, we felt we should make at least some effort to explore the other attractions of the place, + went for a walk – there really is just the one trail.  It obviously isn’t overused however, for it was neither well-signposted nor particularly well-maintained.  In fact, we nearly gave up on finding it at all after a couple of false starts.  There was one two and a half hour hike to some Falls, but we decided that was beyond us, + opted for the less demanding targets of another nearer Falls + some bat caves – whether that was a name or just a description I don’t know.  The Karanga Falls that we walked to were pleasant but unspectacular, tho’ they did cause us to reflect on just how many waterfalls we have visited in the past two and a half years.  We never did reach the cave.  The path went straight across a river, with a muddy climb down the bank, so we abandoned that notion.  So it only ended up as a short walk, but enough to stretch our legs.

We sampled the delights of the spring again afterwards – it wasn’t as enjolyable as it had been yesterday, because there was no rain to provide a cooling contrast.  I cooked our evening meal, another famed corned beef concoction, + very successful it was too, a real treat.  Some Malaysians joined us on the hostel, a group form the University doing some ecological research, but they were pleasant enough, + we didn’t bother each other.

Another relaxed but enjoyable day, steeling ourselves, I suppose, for when we return to full-blown travel, and all the hassle that that entails, once again.