Tuesday, November 1, 2011


Technically, I've been to Malaysia.  I say 'technically', though it was a real trip, and not some sort of stopover where I didn't get off the bus.  But it also wasn't the type of trip to really see the country.  Unless you count visiting a mall as really seeing the country.

In 3 months, I did extraordinarily little travel.  No visits to Thailand, flights to Taiwan, or half broken ferry rides to Indonesia.  For one, none of those places- while certainly beautiful- have ever been exceptionally high on my places to visit list.  For another, I'm absolutely terrible at planning any sort of travel (I prefer to let other people book the flights, hotels and trip, and I'll just hand over my money).  Being cheap about travel doesn't help.  But, largely, the factor was that I was by myself.  I don't mind doing things alone (except for seeing movies in the theater, which I've done, and it's a fairly humiliating feeling).  But travel, especially to someplace exotic, that's something that should be done WITH someone.  And I've been alone virtually the entire time here.  You may think a visit to a scenic jungle island is exciting, but you're probably imagining going with significant others, or friends, or family.  I certainly do.  So, in the end, I didn't really travel.  No regrets on that front either.

But Malaysia...it's literally on the other side of the bridge.  To NOT go there would be something of a disgrace.  It was a 3 month trip here, and not finding the time or drive to make a 15 minute journey would be akin to failure.

Two weekends ago, I made the trip.  My Singapore friends were slightly less than encouraging, especially knowing that I'd be going alone.  Malaysia is high in crime, I'm warned.  Watch my wallet.  Pay attention to surroundings.  If I bring a bag, hold it in front of me at all times.  Horror stories abounded:  walking down the street, petty criminals on motorcycles drive by, grab the bag off your shoulder and speed off- and if you don't let go, they'll happily drag you along the road until your bloody hand lets go.  If you're mugged, give them the money.  Otherwise they knock you out, steal all your stuff anyway, then dump you in a deserted jungle field miles from the city, forcing you to walk back begging for help along the way.   Malaysia reminds me of the worst parts of Florida (actually, for that matter, this whole area of the world reminds me of Florida).

On a Saturday, I went.  There are a few options to get there, but the easiest is to take the Johor Bahru Express.  JB, as it's called, is the city in Malaysia on the other side.  As far as I can tell, it exists primarily to be a close point of contact in Malaysia to Singapore.  It's a bit like the cool town on the other side of the border that has looser laws, so people go there to buy alcohol on Sunday (a reference my Georgia friends will get, because GEORGIA IS LAME AND DOESN'T SELL ALCOHOL ON SUNDAYS).  I again find myself at a vaguely sketch bus depot, buy a ticket from a toothless man for $2.40, and hop on the bus.  Nobody directly stares, but let me tell you I'm out of place.  This is another good reason for iPods to exist.  

The drive is uneventful, as all 15 minute drives should be.  We stop halfway, on an island in the middle of the ocean, for immigration.  Here I get my passport stamped, as my goal is to have my passport one day look like the intro to European Vacation.   Then it's back downstairs, back onto the bus, and I'm dumped off at a bus depot in Malaysia.  

The first thing I realize is that my coworkers were right to be worried on one front- the official language of Malaysia is not English.  A good bit of signs have English subtitles, but not all of them.  I make my way to the money exchange, and am thrilled to see my $50 Singapore become about $150 Malaysian.  Woohoo!  I'm Scrooge McDuck, and Malaysia just became my Money Bin.  Awesome.  
Over a small bridge/walkway, I head into the mall.  As far as I can tell, this mall's sole purpose is to serve the daily shoppers from Singapore.  This mall was my sole destination.  I wandered around for close to 2 hours.  My lunch was ice cream (two scoops of which ended up costing US$3.  Malaysia is way cheap about food).  I ended up in some sort of skater/Malaysian Hot Topic and bought two tshirts.  Because I can't take this trip to Malaysia and NOT buy something.  Everyone speaks English, which is a bonus.  I learn one of the shirts is from California, which greatly amuses me.  I go outside and walk around the outside of the mall a bit, to get as authentic a Malaysian experience as possible.  It's what you'd expect.  Lots of motorcycles. Lots of rain. 
But, as a border town, there's nothing really to do here but shop.  And I've done that.  There are certainly things to do in Malaysia, but they're all hours away.  It's not uncommon for people to hop on the bus for 5 hours to get somewhere.  This is clearly insane, but I understand options are limited, and the bus is indeed cheap.  I make a note that if I'm ever out in this area of the world again, I'll be sure to plan a longer weekend for Malaysia.

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