Things Not to Leave Behind When Crossing Borders
Trip Start Jun 25, 2001
5Trip End Apr 09, 2002
Map your own trip!
Show trip route
Nonetheless I needed the break. Getting to Malaysia (after being in Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam for five-and-a-half months) was like coming up for air after somebody has held you underwater for a couple of minutes. The place actually has cinemas (multiplexes even!), modern-style shopping malls and english-language bookstores stocking other things besides sappy, turgid and trite romance novels. Actually, that's understating it. For me, Malaysia just might well have been a concrete paradise. No doubt, it is a bloody modern place (Kuala Lumpur is becoming more and more indistinguishable with Singapore) and it contrasted with Cambodia like night and day.
So between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, I ended up spending $170 on books and saw a full five movies (hope you've seen "Lord . . . " by now; just in case you've been living under a rock and haven't heard: it was filmed in New Zealand by a New Zealand director). Currently, I'm in Bangkok after having caught the remarkably-civilized (and cheap) international train from Penang, Malaysia. It's also New Year's Eve, so I guess this is where I'll be celebrating. I have no idea what I'll be doing, but it's a crazy city (saw some guy a top a monument ready to commit suicide on the way to my hotel [he was surrounded by cops, ambulances, onlookers and television crews]) so I'm sure I'll find something. I'm supposed to be heading back to Cambodia tommorow, but my girlfriend is coming through here on the fifth so I might just wait for her.
I ended up just going down to Singapore for a day (I had no desire to try to seek out a cheap room in that town) and it bordered on a total disaster. My trip coincided with a tropical storm that closed Changi International Airport for the day, brought down a number of trees and, given my neglect in purchasing an umbrella, totally soaked everything I had on me.
I had got the night-bus down from KL and didn't sleep on the way down. Lugging about 40kg worth of luggage, I was then faced with the mission of seeking out the JVC repair centre (the only place in the world that would fix my busted video camera for free), which turned out to be in a rather obscure part of the island. Of course, at 5am, when I arrived, it was a good four hours from opening, so fearing that I would simply fall asleep on a sidewalk otherwise, I proceeded to drag all my stuff a good two or three kilometers from the makeshift bus station to the center of town. With some help from the ever-so-nice locals, I got to the repair shop and miraculously had a functional camera in my hands by 10am. I then made my way back to the bus station so I could jump on a bus back to sunny Kuala Lumpur. Yet, there was zero availability on any bus before 8:30pm (the only other bus that had any sort of availability left at midnite), so I was then faced with the task of killing a day in Singapore, luggage and all. I solved half of the problem by going to see "Vanilla Sky" at a nearby cinema and then spent the rest of the time wondering whether I really was going to make it through. I did, but was all too relieved when, at about 8:15, I stumbled on to the bus to take me out of the city-state.
I passed through Malaysian and Singaporean customs and immigration (which are separated by a 1km long causeway, at that time reeling under gale-force winds and extremely heavy rain) without any problems whatsoever - always an achievement for somebody who looks the way I do. It wasn't until I was ready to hop back on the bus to KL that I realized I really had a problem. It seemed that at some stage back in Singapore, my subconcious reached the conclusion that the weight in my bags was more of a problem than I thought they were. It had then made the unannounced decision to "help" me out by losing some weight out of them for me. Unfortunately, it chose precisely the wrong weight to lose - that of my British passport and plane ticket back from Bangkok to Cambodia!
I told the bus driver of my problem and he made a generous call on his cell-phone back to the office of bus company in Singapore - fortunately enough, they said they indeed had my passport and ticket and, if I wanted, would give them to a taxi-driver to bring to the border. This was, of course, incredibly kind of them, but it raised a problem. Obviously, the Singaporean taxi wasn't going to cross the border and I was currently on the wrong side of it. Basically, what I was going to have to do if I wanted my passport and tickets back was to cross the highway, exit through Malaysian immigration and customs, then somehow find a way to get back across the 1km cause-way, then re-enter Singapore and somehow locate this taxi driver who had my passport and ticket!!! And I would have to do all of this in the midst of a tropical rainstorm with 40kg of luggage and no sleep for going on 30 hours!!! Of course, once I got across and retrieved my passport and ticket - if I got that far - I would be without any sort of ride through to KL! A helpful guy suggested that, once I crossed back into Singapore, I should get a taxi to another exit-point a few kilometers away and from there, I'd be able to find a bus to KL as soon as I crossed. In my state and those weather conditions, that didn't sound like a whole hell lot of fun. Nonetheless, it was better than losing my passport and ticket, I guess, which is where I was starting from.
Luckily, though, from being in this nightmare situation, I was saved. My bus driver, displaying an extraordinary empathy with my situation and an inspirational magnanimity, then painstakingly arranged on his cell-phone for the taxi-driver to pass my passport and ticket off to another bus coming across the border, the driver of which would then give it to me. The only problem was that all of this took time - about 45 minutes of it. And while I waited for my passport and ticket to arrive, the passengers on the bus also waited. A few days before, I had become quite irritated when the bus I was taking from a northern city to Kuala Lumpur was delayed by an hour-and-a-half. The whole event, thus, was quite poetic.
To cap it off, during my extreme early-morning (read: 4am) half-hour stroll from the place where the bus stopped in Kuala Lumpur to the place where the guesthouse I needed to stay in was at, I walked directly into the place where the concrete slab that usually covers the drainage ditch on the side of the road was missing. One of my legs went straight down with the weight of my body on it, but luckily the other stayed planted on firm ground. In the end, I ended up with a rather painful bruise on the thigh, but little in the way of lasting damage bar a newfound conviction to take a better look at where it is I might be walking in future.