On my journey up the Malacca Peninsula I made a stopover in Kuala Lumpur, for a few days. I should have spent more.
This article is part of a diary based travelogue from a six month journey in 1985 to several countries in East and South East Asia: Japan, Taiwan, China, Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.
Saturday 18.5.1985, Singapore – Kuala Lumpur
Malaysia was now next in line. I did not have in mind to let there be any extravaganzas like the in Philippines so I only concentrated on the west coast. For a while I thought of going to the historically interesting town of Malacca but decided to continue directly to Kuala Lumpur, KL in short.
I had been told that Malaysia was an easy country to hitchhike in. So I took bus #170 across the bridge between Singapore Island and Johore Bahru in Malaysia. I never got a lift; I was probably standing in the wrong place, and jumped on an air-conditioned (cold) bus instead. The trip took 7.5 hours and cost me 15.20 Malaysian dollars (Ringit) (almost 6 USD).
Malaysia is living on tin mining and natural rubber, of which we had ample opportunity to witness along the way.
- YMCA. 95 Jalan Kandang Kerbau, tel 441439. Clean and good place. My guidebook stated a dorm price of 6 M$ (2.3 USD), very expensive even that. Now the rate was 10 M$, but still some of the cheapest in town.
I was quartered together with a doctor from Bangladesh, a guy from Nepal and a computer programmer from Sarawak! The latter and I had some Malay food together at a local street stall.
Sunday 19.5.1985, Kuala Lumpur
Sightseeing in KL. First a railway station which looked more like an oriental mosque, then a real mosque with the exterior of a Hall of Congress. After this I went to see some other old buildings plus Chinatown.
In between all these old buildings there were lots of skyscrapers. After a couple of hours of walking I concluded that the city was interesting, but there was not particularly much to see.
The only reason for not leaving tomorrow was the opportunity to have some money transferred from home, pick up mail and get a visa to Thailand.
I called home and told them to send 5000 Norwegian kroner (550 USD) to the Standard Chartered Bank. It was a major bank and I figured that the transfer would go easier then. I paid 18 M$ (7 USD) for the phone call.
Letter to my family
Kuala Lumpur, 19.5.1985
It was bad to hear on the telephone that my last letter from the Philippines took so long. On the other hand all the letters I get to read are at least a month old. This is certainly to blame on my shifting and loose travel plans.
In Singapore I didn’t celebrate anything on the 17th of May (Norway’s Constitution Day). The day was pretty ordinary, as I did what I usually do; travel around looking at what there is to see. And that was the Arab (Muslim), Indian and Chinese parts of the city. Singapore is however very modern; recently erected buildings everywhere and a constant demolition of the old. Chinatown is in the process of vanishing. The city is beautiful as well with an incredible number of parks and green lungs, and very well kept.
I had seen what there was to see, so I left for KL yesterday, on Saturday. I tried to hitchhike, it is supposedly easy, but had to give up and took a bus instead.
Now, I figure on finishing off in this country fairly fast. After walking around in KL today I’m only waiting for the money. Malaysia is not uninteresting, but I’m running out of time I feel. Thailand is historically and culturally more interesting.
I don’t have much more to say right now. Have a good time, all of you.
PS! Send a letter to Thailand, Bangkok on the result of the films. Are they destroyed or not?
Next letter: See below.
Monday 20.5.1985, Kuala Lumpur
I left in the morning for the Thai embassy and applied for a visa. To my joy I experienced that Norwegians and a few other nationalities did not have to pay the 40 M$ (15 USD) cost for the visa. I was told I would be able to pick up my passport the next morning already.
Next I dropped by a café and read the letter I had picked up on my way to the embassy. It is not often I receive news from home less than a month old.
I did not do much the rest of the day. I dined with two from Nepal and the Chinese from eastern Malaysia, and we had a couple of beers later on.
Tuesday 21.5.1985, Kuala Lumpur
I picked up my Malaysian visa. It seemed to be valid for three months. Later I went to the Standard Chartered Bank and was disappointed to hear that no money from home had arrived, and they added that the transfer could take a week. A man back-office explained to me that if I had made my bank send the money to its bank contact in Malaysia or through SC’s Norwegian contact it would take considerably shorter time.
All I now could do was to call the bank and ask if the telex had arrived. In irritation I went back to the expensive YMCA and prepared for a longer stay.
In the evening I, the Nepalese, the Chinese and a guy from the Netherlands went into Chinatown and had a look at the Night Market. Quite interesting.
Letter to my family
Kuala Lumpur yet again
Today it is Tuesday 21.5, the time is early afternoon. This morning I was at Thailand’s embassy and picked up my passport with a visa stamp. I received a permit to stay there for three months if I like. Because I’m Norwegian, I didn’t have to pay the 15 USD many others need to pay. And that’s nice.
Less nice was the news I got at the Standard Chartered Bank’s main office a bit later. I had thought that the money transfer would take 24 hours or so, that is today on the condition that the bank at home sent money yesterday. Now I was informed that it could take up to a week! I was allowed to talk to a man at a larger desk in the back of the office. We agreed that I should call him a couple of times a day the next two days to check if the telegram had arrived. He mentioned three-four days.
Apparently it would have been faster if the transfer had been made through SC’s Norwegian bank connection (DNC I think it was). Now the money are first transferred to your bank’s Malaysian contact and then to Standard Chartered Bank.
I didn’t know about this. And now I have to stay in KL even longer with nothing to do. It is expensive to stay here on the YMCA – 4.5 USD a night, even though it is almost the cheapest in town. KL and Malaysia is comparatively expensive, at least compared to the Philippines. I now think I will go directly to Thailand and lie down on the beaches of some small, tropical islands and relax after all the irritation here in KL.
It was nice to read a letter that was less than one month old. It is also nice that the rest of you had taken the time to scribble a few words, and not only mother.
By the way, I’m chuckling about what father mentions every time: Have I been in touch with any Christian work here in the region? No, and no again; you should know that I don’t care what the missionaries and other kind Norwegian Christians are doing here. I do not intend to see them up voluntarily, not even to go sightseeing in the poor quarters (which otherwise would be quite interesting). Other things in these countries interest me more than how many have been converted and baptised each year. I’m sorry father, but that is my opinion.
Even though I phoned only five minutes in Singapore and three minutes here, it all amounted to more than 20 USD. That is not cheap – about 4 cents a minute – for my diminishing money chest. By the way I wonder how much the banks will take for the job.
Those rocks on a field sister is asking about are from the “Stone forest” in southern China. Earth upheavals and so on a good many million years ago led to these strange formations. The stones stand on “their head” up to 10 metres high; and we can walk on paths between all that. A shear labyrinth, one can (almost) get lost in this maze!
The terracotta soldiers I don’t have any pictures of, for the simple reason that photography was prohibited (and the films of those who broke the prohibition were torn out of the cameras). The state will probably want to earn money on the postcard sale, I presume.
There are no snakes on the beaches, mother. I walked in sandals in the bush as well, as the locals, and there was never any danger of being bitten by a snake. That’s a fact.
Another exciting thing is that the iguanas of the northern Philippines can become angry and big. That is one reason why the men still walk around with spears and jungle knives. But I didn’t venture that far into the wilderness that I could meet these indigenous inhabitants. Unfortunately.
Mother, and probably hundreds of thousands of other Norwegians, has surely lived under the delusion that Singapore was the capital of Malaysia. Not so. The capital bears the tongue-breaking and easy-to-forget name of Kuala Lumpur (meaning “dirty river mouth” in our language).
Singapore and the rest of present day Malaysia was freed from England at the end of the fifties. In 1963 a number of sultanates on the Malacca peninsula, North Borneo and Singapore, formed the Federation of Malaysia. Singapore found out that they could do better on their own and backed out in 1965. So now they are two separate states.
I am now moving into the realm of the incredibly popular Queen Sirikit and King Bhumipol, Thailand. The country was never a colony, one of very few here in Asia. Thailand is exciting and it is hard to say when I get out of it and even worse to say when I pop up at home. But it is likely, not to say probably, at the very end of June. I am still not tired of travelling on overcrowded trains and buses instead of a Mazda 626, model 1982, as father writes about.
How often does one stay in a room with two from Nepal, one from Bangladesh? How often does one go out and share a couple of beers with two from Nepal and a Chinese from Sarawak on North-Borneo, like I did last night?
Yes, I’m experiencing many strange things. As mother says – I don’t think the Crown Prince couple or the Norwegian ministers had to race with the Chinese on a railway station platform; climb in through train windows, just to get a seat on the train. Or fight or elbow one’s way in the side streets of the small and large cities of China. Or visit a Chinese market. And I don’t think the Crown Prince couple experienced that anyone spit or cleaned their nose on the floor of the restaurant where they enjoyed their Beijing Duck.
One can always ask what’s good about what I have seen. But I went here to experience the countries closely, feel the pulse of people’s life, and that I have to a fairly large extent made as well. Despite the limited amount of time I’ve had available, only 4.5 months in 8 countries. So far.
And I am still not satisfied. Unfortunately I will have to go home and earn money before I visit North and South America, Africa, the Pacific Islands etc, etc. Not to talk about Europe and Norway north of Åndalsnes.
Hmm. What more can I write about?
It was good that the films weren’t damaged. I sent home two films in the letter I posted yesterday. From Manila I didn’t send any films, only one piece of sleeping bag, a pair of mountain boots and one jacket. I finally realised that all that was excess weight in my bag. The sleeping bag I never used, the boots were too big and clumsy and too uncomfortable in the heat (at least 25 °C night and day). The same with the jacket. I’m now wearing only the shirt, running shoes or rubber sandals. (And of course trousers, but never socks.)
This is the last page of my airmail paper pad from Beijing and I’ll wait opening the new one until the next letter. Now I will make a phone call to the guy in the bank.
Please say hello to relatives and friends of mine. I wish you all the best. Best regards from the family’s correspondent in Asia.
Next letter: Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand.
Wednesday 22.5.1985, Kuala Lumpur
I was terribly bored. KL had not much interesting to offer but I did see what was least uninteresting. Today I went to the Batu Caves. It was a large cave with a hole in the roof at the back. Fair enough. I took minibus #11 from near the Puduraya bus station for a few cents.
Thursday 23.5.1985, Kuala Lumpur – Haadyai
In the morning I went to the National Museum, quite good. Later in the day I called the bank yet again, with a negative result. I was now so furious about my situation that I called home, and that was fortunate.
My mother told me that the money had not been sent! She had called me at the YMCA but had been told that I had checked out. (I had hinted that on Monday I think). She had then assumed I had left KL and had refrained from sending the money. And here I had been waiting for a transfer that had never taken place. I was pissed off.
Mother told me that the fastest and easiest way to get money was through the embassy. She gave me a telex number to the bank at home which the embassy would receive money from, after paying me in advance.
I now wanted to leave KL as fast as possible and decided to contact the embassy in Bangkok instead of the one in KL. The first thing I did was to return to my hotel, pack and returned to the city. Close to the Puduraja Bus Station (across the street) I had previously found a number of agencies selling bus tickets for long-distances buses.
In the course of these days in KL I had dropped Penang from my travel plans and I now decided to go directly to Thailand without wasting more time in this country.
I therefore bought a ticket (23 M$, less than 9 USD), bargained down from 28) to Haadyai, a Thai border town and transportation hub. My plan was to move on to Phuket, a sunny island in the south-western part of Thailand. On the bus I changed my mind and dismissed this island as well.
When I arrived the next morning after a bus ride of around 13 hours I started to look for opportunities to go straight to Koh Samui. That is a quiet, little island on the east coast and recommended by everyone I had met. I was by the way only given a two month stamp in the passport.
The introduction to this journey to East and South East Asia.
Previous chapter: Singapore: The rapidly modernising city-state
Next chapter: Underneath the palms of Koh Samui, Thailand