Terror flight to KL

Trip Start Feb 20, 2002
1
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Trip End Nov 18, 2002


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Flag of Malaysia  ,
Thursday, June 6, 2002

Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. A week and a half of safe, healthy, easy travels with old friends. Despite a near-hijacking eposide, complete with a man shouting "TALIBAN!", on the flight to KL, life's been good...

-- "One night in Bangkok"

"Excuse me, I'm supposed to pick up a note here from a friend". I asked the clerk at the bar-hotel on Bangkok's notorious Kao Sahn rd.

Huib was already in Bangkok. He'd left me a well-scribbled map at the front desk of a guest house on Kao Sahn road leading to his room.

Down a dark alley, passing dubious looking food stalls, I found his hotel. A baby blue coated, cockroach infested room tucked away in the backstreets of Bangkok's infamous Kao Sahn rd.

"Mr. DiCaprio!"
"Mr. Owen!

I wanted to make up for bailing on him in Laos and was ready to indulge in some of Bangkok's raunchiest entertainment.

SMACK!

I slammed my sandal down on a scurrying cockroach the size of a tennis ball attempting to escape from our washroom.

"That's not a very Buddhist thing to do." Huib said as I quickly scanned around the room for more invaders.

"Uhh, yeah... er... Sorry, but when it comes to cockroaches, Buddhism goes out the window...", I defended.

Kao Sahn road was it's typical, circus-like atmosphere. The wall to wall neon signs, pounding pop music and surplus of dazed backpackers were just as I had remembered it from a previous visit 2 years back. "Kao Sahn, caaaahhh... rayzy...." I thought as we sat at a road side watering whole.

It quickly became obvious that Huib had been in Bangkok far too long. As we walked down the street, it seemed that everyone knew his name, Huib was now a local. The shopkeepers, food hawkers and waitresses all came by to shake hands and greet us.

"Hey, how far is Ayuthya?" I asked Huib as we quaffed back our third Tiger beer.

"Very far, why?"

"I've never been, I think we should go tonight, you know, after the bars close."

The Thai girl who was sharing a beer with us laughed.

"You can't go to Ayuthya, it's too far! You crazy!"

"Nono, I think he's serious" Huib replied, squinting his eyes at me, looking slightly worried that I would actually make good on my proposed journey to the temples.

"Damn right I'm serious, why not?"

Huib laughed and took a big gulp of Tiger, he was always up for a good adventure.

I'd always wanted to go to Ayuthya, the Khmer temples 2 hours from Bangkok. I had less than 24 hours in Bangkok and was already convinced that I would make it there that night... Somehow.

We drank, laughed and caught up before taking a tuk tuk to Patpong, the notorious, world famous ( or rather infamous ), sex district.

"500 bhat and you buy me for night." The Thai girl, sitting next to me offered.

"To do what?"

"Hmmm, I don't know" she smirked looked to the ceiling fan and tapped her index finger on her chin like an innocent school girl who'd just stollen a candy bar.

"Oh... Nonono, I just want to talk.". Talking was never a popular sport in the gogo bars. Girls constantly walked up to us, sat down and began the sales process.

The bar was lined with half naked girls, each systematically labeled with a number printed on a red plastic token pinned to their skimpy black bra-like revealing tops. They all danced in formation, waiting for a perspective buyer.

We bounced from club to club until we had finally had our fill.

"Alright, let's do it.", it was 4am and time to go to Ayuthya.

"This is crazy you know. Going out to Ayuthya just to see the sun rise over the temples" Huib said laughing and sucking back his Tiger Beer.

"Yeah, I know, but what a memory to have" I said as I paid the taxi driver 1000 bhat to begin the journey north.

At 6am, as the sun was rising we reached the temples. We had brought along Huib's radio and enough Lao Lao to kill a small farm animal.

"Open, 8am". The temples were closed. Luckily, a small "gift" convinced the guard to let us into the temples before they opened.

We sat on the crumbling stupas, alone, yet admittedly severely intoxicated, listening to Manu Chiao sing what had become our theme song.

"This is great isn't it?"

"Sure is... Sure is..."

The warm, orange sun rising over the bell-like brick laced Buddhist temples was magnificent.

I yawned, struggling to keep my eyes open, "Ok, ... let's head home."

I'd had my Ayuthya experience. If I was to complete my planned checklist of todos in Bangkok before leaving, we'd have to leave now.
We jumped back in the taxi and headed back to Bangkok.

I was a man on a mission, once we arrived in Bangkok I accomplished the real goal of my stop over in sin-city by purchasing a fake press-pass and student card.

"Looks good!". Laminated and complete with my passport photo, the card would hopefully allow me to snap some of the pictures of armed guards and sensitive areas that would have been dangerous to do without a press card. I was now a full fledged member of the Bangkok Press Core.

Before leaving, I shook Huib awake from a deep sleep, said my last goodbyes and went off to Kuala Lumpur (KL), were I'd have the chance to catch up on sleep.

I was looking forward to the modern, industrialized city of KL but I had no idea what awaited me on the flight.

-- "Shit, were going to cash into the Patronas Towers!"

"TARIBAHN". The screams were getting louder. The cabin of the Malaysian Airlines flight from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur ( Better knows as KL ) was stuffy with tension as passengers elongated their necks to exchange worried glances with each other, somehow hoping with their eyes that this wasn't happening, but it was.

The angry screams had been crashing through the cabin, sending shivers down my spine, for 10 minutes. At first, no one knew what the man was saying. Arabic drawl mixed with the occasional familiar word.

"TALIBAN" his voice crackled. Post September 11th 2001, any loud noise on a flight would provoke concern, once I'd recognized the the word "taliban", my heart started pounding like it had never before. I looked over my seat with eyes wide open as the steward rushed passed me to the rear of the aeroplane with a look of restrained fear on his face. He was trained to handle disgruntled passengers and was maintaining a controlled demeanor.

"TALIBAN!!!" The mantra was now being repeated with increasing volume.

"Taliban? What the hell is going on?" I whispered to myself. I looked to the man next to me. A shy Malay man who did nothing to appease my concerns.

"What is he saying?" I knew what he was saying but was hoping that I was mixed up in some common cultural misunderstanding.

He shook his head and grinned as if not wanting to acknowledge the events that were unfolding.

"Oh God, the plane is being hijacked." I realized. My palms were dripping with cold sweat. The realization caused me to jolt into half-panic. The stewardess came by in a hurried manner to retrieve my emptied inflight dinner, continuing with his now, utterly inappropriate flight-attendant ritual. Before he could whisk my tray away, I slid the metal fork from my cardboard box meal into my sleeve with a quick slight of hand. Since the attacks on the World Trade Center (WTC), inflight meals no longer had metal knives, only useless plastic sticks with tiny stubbles for a cutting utensil, the fork would be my only hope. Then I remembered the Patronas Towers. The tallest towers in the world, a mere 10 miles from us and smack in the middle of our flight path. I looked out the window, there they were, glowing with bright magnificence.

"Shit, their going to crash the plane into the tower!". My right, clutching the silver fork, was trembling in full panic.

"TALIBAN!!!! TALIBAN!!!" The screams were now a fever pitch.

"This can't be happening" I though as I scanned the people around me for possible accomplices ready to spring from their seats. One man had a large, professional grade, video camera and was filming the inside of the cabin. "Their going to film the crash" I realized in a panic state. The camera was too big for a tourist, complete with a large foam microphone.

Then, from the back compartment, the unwelcomed yelling became louder as an Arab man with a navy blue turban and dark brown, full beard burst from the back. His arms were raised in the air and he was yelling with such intensity that his voice gargled and cracked. "TALIBAN" arabic drawl ensued. He trampled up and down the isle. Despite the Arabic language course I'd taken before my trip, I couldn't understand a word he was saying.

I quickly turned to a passenger behind me and asked in hurried desperation, "What the hell is he saying?". The man looked at me and smacked a closed fist into his opened hand as though trying to squash a bug and muttered "Bin Laden" with a smirk.

I was about to die. I was convinced. I was dizzy with the thought of it all about to end. I had always envisioned myself to be calm and cool when at death doorstep, resigned to the fact that it was my time, but sitting there, certain that impact was minutes away, I was stricken with panic. My throat was dry and I wondered if I could muster the energy to pounce an assailant when the time came. My survival instincts were taking over with overwhelming intensity. "I don't want to die, please not now.". I admit it, I was scared, overwhelmed with adrenaline and a feeling of complete helplessness.

I scanned my day pack for a sharp object that I could use to fight back with. I reached for my metal sheathed mechanical pencil and scanned through the possible scenarios that would unfold.

The man was now standing next to me in the isle and blabbering in Arabic.

The attendant quickly rushed over and ushered the man back to the rear. He staggered back.

With every tray table snapping shut, I braced for an explosion.

Adding to the mayhem, the plane crashed through the most violent turbulence I'd ever experienced. The plane shook violently and the lights dimmed randomly.

The man had been yelling for 30 minutes, I could barely take anymore,exhausted from adrenaline.

As I peered out of the window to see the twin towers, the plane veered left at a 75 degree angle. The plane inclined so much that I had to hold the arm rests to keep from tumbling into the isle. "This is it, were headed for impact". I crashed my head into the back of the seat in front of me. "Just please land this plane... let this be over... please"

Then the man re-emerged from the rear shouting. The attendant ran over to intercept the Arab. I clutched my fork ready to strike.

I was half cocked in my seat. Arms lifting me half upwards. "He's drunk, don't panic, it's ok... really.." The attendant attempted to reassure me.

I didn't care if he was drunk. I took little comfort. The man caressed the attendant, drawled a string of arabic words and staggered back to the rear.

"Alright, what the hell did he say?" I turned to a passenger to the left. I had had enough.

"He say, he love this airline because they let him yell on the flights" he said and laughed.

... I relaxed my shoulders and loosened my grip on my fork. "No, this isn't funny, shit man, this is hardly a joke." I whispered to myself as I wondered wether the nightmare was over.

I was still edgy from the paranoia inducing malaria meds and 48 hours of non-sleep. The plane finally descended and landed. I quietly laughed a why-me manic giggle. I couldn't believe what had just happened. We had landed, we were safe.

I quickly marched off of the plane passed immigration to navigate my way to a bus headed to central KL.

I thought of my malaria meds and how an extreme side effect was paranoia, was I going crazy? Did I over-react? I re-lived the recent events in my head and realized that it wasn't the malaria meds, I wasn't going crazy. This experience almost seemed sureal.

Sitting in the empty bus, I slapped both my palms on my face, caught my breath to calm my still racing heart and smiled a crazy what-the -hell-just-happened grin.

I'd never lived through an experience that had brought me so close to thinking that I would soon be dead. The after effect of the drama was a feeling of relief mixed with overwhelmingly complex emotions... I was utterly drained.

Chin, my Malaysian friend that I had met in Myanmar weeks before couldn't believe my story when he picked me up from my hotel the next day. "Are you sure that actually happened? I think you are making this up." he blurted in disbelief as we drove off from my guest house in KL.

"Believe me... it happened. It happened..."

-- KL

Kuala Lumpur, the vibrant, Muslim, modern Malaysian capital required some mental adjustments for me before I could settle in. KL was hardly a 3rd world country as I had been accustomed to travel in over the passed months. KL, was one of Asia's shopping meccas not meant for the light walleted backpacker. Malaysia was also the first Muslim country that I had visited which took some getting-used-to. A fore-shadow of things to come in the Middle East.

With Chin as my 3 day guide, we wandered through the many shopping centers in air conditioned bliss where I topped up my supplies and made a few satisfying purchases.

As the days flickered by, we visited the Batu caves, a Hindu sanctuary outside of KL which was speckled with funky colored and multi-armed Hindu gods and goddesses, caught up on the latest flicks ( Star Wars II and Spiderman, Ohh yeah... ) and visited the National mosque.

-- Going going... gone!

From: Dad
To: Luc

Subject: What Miata?

"Miata? ... What Miata?

SOLD!!!"

Read the email. Relief swooshed over me like a warm shot of scotch. "Kaching!", my mental cash register rang. I rubbed the dollar signs out of my eyes and reread the email to make sure I had read it correctly. It was for real, my father had managed to successfully sell my car for me. My bank account now refilled and the stress of not knowing whether I would be able to fund the rest of my trip without digging deep into the dark pit of my credit card vanished.

-- The Patronas Towers

The Patronas Towers, the very same I was sure to crash into a day prior, tower above the city of KL. Not having successfully been able to snatch a ticket up to the tower's sky bridge for 2 days, I awoke early on my last day and snagged a pass for the free ride to the Sky Bridge.

"Welcome to the Sky Bridge, I want you to know that if anything happens please do not panic. We will be right here for assistance" the Muslim tour guide preached as we disembarked the hyper-speed human propelling elevator on the sky bridge.

It sounded like an odd thing to say. I imagined that tourists must have been a little edgy, climbing the tallest building in the world since September 11th 2001.

After our 20 minutes of viewing time from high above KL, we were herded back to the ground floor.

My 3 days in KL was up. Chin had been a gracious host, driving me around town and inviting me to family dinners which I gratefully accepted.

My time was up in KL, I made my way to the near-by bus terminal and hopped onto a bus to Singapore.

-- Singapore, leave your gum at the border.

The bus to Singapore was the most cushy, soft and relaxing ride I'd had since I arrived in Asia. Taking in the satisfyingly vast amount of leg room and free flowing AC, I sank back into my thickly padded seat and floated away into sleep as we crossed the 1km span of water separating Malaysia from the small city-state of Singapore.

"Hey this is the 4th country in 6 days that I visit.". I realized that I had rocketed through Laos, Thailand, Malaysia and now Singapore in a short 6 days...

Being in KL reminded me of home. Shopping, fast food, easy travel, all
transported my back to Canada. I should have been exhausted, after all I had barely had a good night's sleep in days but realizing that I had a fat 6 months of travel left invigorated me. Rolling passed the outskirts of KL, I swelled with comfort from the fact that my trip was still many months from ending.

As soon as I crossed the border the atmosphere seemed slightly different. Cleaner, clinical and gray. Singapore was a well oiled machine.

I'd heard of the ban on chewing gum due to careless persuasions to spit the sloppy goo to the ground and of other seemingly bizarre laws when I arrived. Not knowing the dos and don'ts, I thought twice before I did and said anything. Singapore still had "canings" as punishments for breaking certain laws and I liked my tush the way it was.

"Hey pal! I didn't know if I'd recognize you!" I shouted slapping hands with Cheang, a friend I was to stay with in Singapore that I'd met 2 years back in Thailand.

We left the cyber cafe and caught up over a cold Tiger beer where Cheang brought me up to speed with Singapore's history and government.

Singapore was a Democracy, well, sort of. The ruling party had a minuscule opposition. "In some districts, there just isn't any opposition, so you don't even need to vote" Cheang explained. Despite the tightly controlled city and lack of certain personal freedoms, everyone seemed happy. The economy was booming, crime was down... Singapore, only 35 years old, since it's separation from Malaysia, with 0 natural resources, was a successful country.

-- 2 year reunion

From: Ed Tutty
To: Luc Levesque

Subject: Guess who?

"Hey Luc, guess what, I'll be in Singapore on the 30th. You still there?

Let me know,
Ed"

Ed, an Australian friend I'd met in Paris years back and had travelled throughout Thailand with, was coming to Singapore. The 30th was the following day. By complete coincidence, Ed's contract in India had been cancelled and he was flying home, through Singapore. He'd arranged to stay in Singapore for a few days.

"Cheang, your not going to believe this but Ed's coming to town."

Ed and I had met Cheang in Thailand during the Y2K new year's celebrations. With Ed coming to Singapore, by complete coincidence, meant that we would all 3 be united once again.

Ed arrived the next day and we all met downtown to have a cold drink, reminisce and catch up.

"My god... I can't believe that we are all here. It's too weird." I was still in shock.

To celebrate we ventured off deep into Singapore's nightlife, which was surprisingly seething with prostitutes. Determined to have a good time, we drank, danced and mingled until the wee hours of the morning. Leaving Ed back at his hotel, after the night out, we arranged to move Ed from his hotel and into Cheang's apartment where we could all hang out.

-- Indonesian Invasion

To spice things up, we crossed over to Indonesia the next night for more festivities. Indonesia, only 45 minutes away had a much different vibe. An aggressive tone permeated the streets as people shouted "Hey you!" to us, wanting to sell anything from food to clothes to female accompaniment.

We settled into a sleazy hotel and clubbed the night away.

The next morning, nursing a sever hang-over that I blamed on my malaria medication and the last night's red bull, we left early to slowly make our way back to Cheang's for some recovery time and, of course, to follow the latest world cup matches.

The minute I stepped back into Cheang's apartment and crashed down on the couch I had decided to abandon the Malaria medication. I'd had enough of the bizarrely mood altering side effects and decided it best to try my luck against the malarial mosquitos in India.

-- Last days

Singapore, served as a refueling station for me. I had received my care package from back home and had stocked up on supplies for the journey ahead to India.

Unfortunately, the nuclear threat in India was heating up, but seeing as I was headed to the south, I decided to keep my planned route intact.

Singapore was clean, hell, the water was even drinkable! I was ready to leave for Nepal, sickness-free and well rested.

"Hey, this time tomorrow I'll be in Kathmandu, you'll be in Melbourne Ed, and you'll be... err.. back at work Cheang". We had passed a fun filled 4 days in Singapore with Cheang as our overwhelmingly courteous host.

Before Cheang accompanied me to the airport, we all promised to re-unite in Canada or Australia within the next 2 years.

Being in Singapore and Malaysia, I felt as if I had been back home. In Cheang's cozy apartment, watching TV and feeling safe again, leaving was as though I was restarting my trip from day one. I was off to strange and unknown territory again, batteries fully recharged. Yeehaa...
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