Ride with the Devil

I always thought if I had the chance to choose on judgement 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, it won't 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.

Taking the bus in Kuala Lumpur is fine. It's when you leave the city limits that the adventure begins.

After I was riding with the devil, I'm afraid I'm not fit for the highway to hell.

As I mentioned before, I'm not driving. That doesn't hold me back from being on the road a lot, and apart from a few places in the United States, I got everywhere just fine. Sometimes it needs a little more organization, sometimes it takes much more time, but I'll get where I want to go. Most of the time by bus.

The standards of bus riding differ from country to country a big deal. In Cuba, although the long distance busses are pretty well maintained - I'm talking about the touristy, costy Viazul-busses imported from the People's Republic of China - thus not comfortable since they are 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 a 'sexy pilot' costume.
Likewise in Peru.
There, while 'chauffeur-Ken' is driving, a 'flight attendant-Barbie' with an amount of make up like a kabuki player on her face has an eye on the passenger's well-being. Taking the bus in Peru is a little like sitting in a plane that never takes off.

Well, taking the interurban bus in Malaysia is a whole different story. There the drivers are much less pretentious, wearing what ever they please - and if it's a torn T-Shirt, it's a torn T-Shirt; and who says that you cannot drive in broken flip flops? They are living prove that it works just fine. 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 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.

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 paused by answering his other phone from time to time or lightning a cigarette. Over his head there is a plaque with a crossed out cigarette which might be interpreted as 'no smoking'. But who are you, subject, to tell the king what to do?!

It was pretty much like this when I took the afternoon bus from Kuantan on Malaysia's East coast to Singapore. 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, so no wonder he had to turn the air condition up as high as possible. Everybody else was freezing. Everybody else were passengers, so who cares? I was quite a newby 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 Malay - I wrapped my arms around me and shivered 'brrrr'. He was delighted! He was laughing and laughing. He loved my little pantomime and kept repeating 'brrrr' - and then he laughed and laughed.
He did not turn the air condition down.

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 Ringgit. 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, 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; like 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.

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 me the drill - I had to get into the building to get my passport stamped at the Malaysian side of the border; and I had to take all my belongings with me. The bus would wait at the other side. It was short before midnight, there weren't any other people besides those who had to be there because it's their job. I schlepped my backpack and my bag up the stairs, entered a huge, now empty hall with a row of booths. I got my passport stamped at the nearest booth, wished the stamping lady a good night and schlepped all my stuff down another stairs to the bus.

We drove 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 I might wait at the wrong spot, maybe the grouch was waiting for me somewhere else. I went back to the border. Between two traffic lanes was a channeling island with a booth and in the booth was a lady - who was pretty unhappy that I entered her island. "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 was annoyed by all my 'brrr' and 'dilarang merokok' talking - because 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 - by now it must have been about 1 a.m. - 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 and since I was in such a distress, she didn't even snap at me for joining her on her enclave again. There weren't any cars at this time, anyway.
She took me to the stop for the local busses and explained my situation to the bus driver - a real hottie, nothing like the villain that abandoned me - I he 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.
And we already arrived. Somewhere. At the final stop. His final stop, definitely not mine. Okie dokie, so we arrived, thanks, terima kasih banyak. "There are taxis over there", pointed the hottie, and he was not only hot, he was also right, there was a cab. "Are you taking credit cards?" "Only visa", answered the cab driver pleasantly friendly. "That's fine. So please take me to Rucksack hostel on Hong Kong Street." The challenging journey was about to end, what a relief.

Singapore is one of my favorite places in the world, so the odyssey was absolutely worth it!

Hong Kong Street is - you might have guessed - at the outskirts of the old Chinese neighborhood, thus it's lined with old narrow, about three storey high row houses. Very cute. The Rucksack hostel was painted in 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, the little machine wrote him on the display that the card declined. This happens sometimes, to me, to you, normally it's not big deal. But in this moment - I was not only beat, I felt also 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 the driver was insulted that I'd refused 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've found at 3 a. m. at the door of my room at this lovely hostel. And you bet, I had a good sleep!

After the long, exhausting, adventurous trip to Singapore, this sign made up for all the hardship.

Once you make it to Singapore, you might appreciate a couple of recommendations from my itinerary for "24 hours in Singapore"

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