From Cebu to Kuala Lumpur
Thursday September 25, 2014
6:30 a.m. Cebu City, Philippines
Doug Health Check: It’s a good thing that I don’t (as the Filipinos tell me I should) have a bunch of children to take care of me in my old age. I’m already there. My phantom kids would have to start taking care of me now. My eyes are so sore and so bad that I can hardly focus on the keyboard. I’m so tired that I can hardly move. This has been a problem for a while and relates strongly to why I’ve stayed in the Philippines for so long. The days of waking up feeling refreshed and energetic seem to be long past. My legs feel like lead weights and I can hardly summon the strength to move. The last time I woke up feeling what I think of as normal was a long time ago. I remember the feeling strongly because it was so rare. It was such a surprise to open my eyes in the morning and feel good. I don’t remember when that was, but it was months ago and it was only that one time. Every other morning, I feel like this – exhausted.
My rear molar – the tooth I had worked on a while back – has been giving me a lot of pain. When the dentist finished his work, he did that usual thing where the dentist checks to see if your bite is still okay. And he files down the filling to get it just right. He never did get it right, and I couldn’t quite close my mouth and get my teeth together as I used to. I figured it was okay and that the filling would grind down quickly. But I wonder if that happened or not. I think that this high filling meant that as I chewed, I pushed that tooth over – like a skyscraper falling down. There are no other teeth around it to support, so I think I’ve been pushing it horizontal. My bite is back to normal, but that’s because that tooth became the leaning tower of Pisa. And now there is a lot of pain in that tooth as I put pressure on it. I think an opening developed around the tooth root and an infection has started in there. I hope not.
I’ve still got large spontaneous bruises on the palm of my left hand. They’re taking a long time to disappear. And both my hands are swollen and very sore. The fingers of my left hand are particularly tender. Finally, my stomach is upset and I feel feverish. I keep feeling waves of hot flashes over my body and up into my neck and face. It’s the feeling I usually get when I’m about to throw up. I suppose much of this could be psychological as I face the stress of this flight to Malaysia. I’m certainly irritable. I’m in the local McDonald’s again for my morning coffee, and just the normal conversation noise around me is annoying me. Filipinos in a group talk too loudly for my tastes. Everyone is being normal, but I still find myself getting angry at them for laughing and speaking too loudly. The music is too loud, too. Who needs to walk into a nightclub atmosphere at six o’clock in the morning?
I whiled away the evening getting my bike and gear ready for the big day. It’s like an army on the move despite how much gear I keep boxing up and sending away. When I’m cycling, I keep all my valuables spread around the four pannier bags, of course. But for an airport trip, I have to change everything and put all the important things in one pannier bag – the one bag I take on the airplane with me. The problem there is that doing so makes that one bag extremely heavy. It contains all my camera gear and electronics plus the NEO and the important papers – all the heavy stuff. Then I have to pack in such a way as to anticipate when I will need what. I’ll need certain things to prepare the bike and wrap it in plastic when I get to the airport. Then I’ll need certain things to wrap up my pannier bags safely in my disposable bags. But I have to do it in such a way that I’m not left with anything I can’t take on the plane as carry-on. For example, it would be very stupid to tie up the last bundle with the rope and then cut the rope with your knife and then stand there holding the deadly serrated knife wondering what to do with it. It’s not like you can take it on the plane with you. The same things goes for a roll of packing tape. I learned long ago that packing tape is also not allowed onboard planes. That makes sense, since you can use it to tie people up quickly and easily. Then when you land somewhere new, you have to go through the reverse process. I remember once having a problem because I had tied the ropes so tightly that I couldn’t get the knots loose. I needed the Leatherman to get the knots loose, but the Leatherman was packed away deep inside the bundles. Finally, you have to be very careful to not leave dangerous things in dangerous places. I just realized as I sit here, that my bicycle pump is still tucked away in its special place in my survival kit pannier bag. I’m sure that won’t be allowed on the plane as carry-on. To try to anticipate problems, I like to take everything out of my bags and lay it all on the bed. I try to empty every single bag and compartment. Then I methodically go over it and put it back together again. This allows me to catch all kinds of potential problems. I did this last night, but I forgot that my toiletry bag was hanging in the bathroom I remembered that this morning, and I went through my toiletry bag and removed any of the random medications that had ended up there. I had a treatment of that drug you use to paralyze your digestive system when you have bad diarrhea. I picked it up during the typhoon days in Tacloban when I was so sick. It was certainly not much good anymore as it has been baking in this heat for so long, but it was also not inside any kind of official box or packaging. The same went for some other headache pills. I cleaned all that out of my toiletry bag just to be safe.
Anyway, it’s a complicated business. And all that work was just in preparation for riding to the airport. I still have to prepare the bike when I get there and then actually pack up my pannier bags etc. A bit of a nightmare.
It’s funny that yesterday I said something about me being due for a bit of luck. Well, when I stepped out of my hotel this morning, I walked right into a rainstorm. Of all the mornings to be rainy, it had to be rainy today. Guess I should toughen up. I have to think of what Harrison Ford would do. Would Harrison Ford whine and complain about packing up his bicycle and getting wet while cycling to the airport? Well, probably. But I like to think he would be tougher than that.
I’m hoping and hoping and hoping that Kuala Lumpur will be a friendly and easygoing place. I’m extremely tired of the atmosphere in the Philippines – particularly the crowding. Everything is crowded and full all the time. You can never do anything easily because there are too many people crammed into too small places. Even this McDonald’s is a mess. It’s so early in the morning, but the place is jammed with people. I want to get a refill for my coffee, but it would mean standing in a long line with all these shouting people. I had been hoping that this would be a quiet morning, but my luck is not working for me.
I really know nothing at all about Malaysia. I’m so vague and unfocused these days that I don’t seem to know anything about anything anymore. Anyway, I booked that flight without even thinking about it. Then when I started doing a bit of research online, I was surprised to see how nice and modern everything looks there. I had sort of forgotten that it was one of the tiger economies. It could be a huge change from the atmosphere of the Philippines.
I guess I should think about the timing a little bit. My flight is at 3:05 p.m. I’m an early bird, so I like to check in two hours before the flight as requested. That’s a good idea when you have a bicycle and could run into problems. So that would mean being ready to go at 1:05. It will likely take an hour and a half to prepare the bike and cover it in plastic and do all the other things I need to do. That means arriving at the airport at 11:30. Yikes! That’s getting early. It will likely take an hour to ride to the airport. Maybe longer with bad traffic and this rain. So that means leaving at 10:30 at the latest. Not exactly convenient.
Five minutes before the scheduled departure time of my flight. But we aren’t boarding yet, so I guess we are delayed. The path from the Hallmark Hotel to Departure Lounge 3 was not an easy one by any means. The experience adds fuel to the fire burning in my mind that cycling is more trouble than it’s worth. I might have to switch to another school of thought and turn into a travel light type of dude.
The bike ride to the airport wasn’t that bad. It was just over 14 kilometers and it took an hour in cycling time. I waited a lot at red lights and in traffic gridlock. So I think it took an hour and a half in total. No spokes broke along the way, and that was wonderful. My main worry was that a spoke would break and I’d have to try to get a taxi to take me to the airport.
The airport was very casual and friendly from the outside, and a security guard had no problem with me rolling my bike into the airport just as it was. He even indicated a quietish corner where I could break down the bike and do the packing I needed to do.
I thought I had left myself plenty of time, but I grossly underestimated how difficult it would be. I had a big roll of packing tape, ten large garbage bags, and some rope. And with that, I somehow had to make my bicycle acceptable to the airline authorities. The trick was that I had to wrap it up and make it look good, but I wanted to leave the wheels free to rotate. Otherwise, it would be impossible to move around the airport. Wrapping my garbage bags around the bike in such a way as to leave the wheels free to move wasn’t easy. I also had to cover and protect the gears to an extent. A big problem was that I couldn’t really leave the kickstand exposed. I had to cover that, too, and that meant I had no way to keep the bike upright as I worked on it. I had tons of trouble as the bike kept falling over. I gathered a small audience as well, and I was self-conscious and worried about my other bags being stolen. I got very hot and sweaty and felt more than a little silly as I wrapped up my bike. All the people around me were neat and tidy in their airport clothes with their laptop cases and designer handbags. I felt very boorish and rather out of place. It took much longer than I expected, and the final job was a mess. But by going around and around and around the bike as much as I could with the packing tape, I made it look somewhat reasonable. I could only hope that after all this work, they wouldn’t tell me that, no, the bike had to be in a box.
Wrapping up the bike was only the start, though. I then had to put my pannier bags and my camping gear in my temporary bags and somehow do that in a secure and efficient way. I had rope to tie around those bags, but I didn’t even try. I didn’t have any time left, and I decided to just take the risk. I had also made sure to put all my valuables in the survival kit pannier bag, and I could tell that it was far over the weight limit for carry-on bags. I could only cross my fingers that I wouldn’t get caught.
I got hold of a luggage cart and I put my two big bags on the cart, my survival kit on my back, and I rolled the bike along beside me. It was a lot of work, and I felt even sillier. Getting through the first security check was a bit of a problem, as they insisted that the bike go through the X-ray machine. It would not fit through lying flat, so they put it in on an angle and then had to physically hold it as the belt moved. The bike banged and crashed and made lots of noise, and I could only hope it wasn’t being too badly damaged.
On the other side, I had to reassemble all my bags and all the metallic items and the belt and things that I had removed. That was another chore. Then began a bit of a nightmare of official stages. There were so many that I lost track of them all. Checking in was both easy and difficult. It was easy in that they accepted my badly wrapped bicycle with no more than a grimace. My bags and bicycle were also within the excess weight limit that I had purchased. That was a relief. And though some local dudes were going around and forcing people to weigh their carry-on bags, they did not make me do so. The computers weren’t working that well and it took a long time for them to check me in to the flight. There was a hint of a problem as the woman asked if I had an onward flight from Malaysia. I hedged and just said that I was on a bike tour (I had the bike to prove it), and that I planned to go to Indonesia after Malaysia. I didn’t say that I had a flight. And she didn’t question it or ask to see proof.
After that, I was sent to another desk where I had to answer a bunch of questions and present my documents. There, I was presented with the unhappy news that I had to pay a “travel and tourism tax” of 1,620 pesos (about $40)! I was very unhappy to hear that. The fees and taxes in the Philippines never, ever end. It’s just one fee after another.
I was directed to a another desk where my case had to be evaluated, and they presented me with a bill for 1,620 pesos, which I had to pay at another desk. I did not get angry or upset, but I did speak my mind, and I told the man that I was very unhappy with this ridiculous “travel and tourism tax”. I told him that in my time in the Philippines, I had had to pay an endless parade of fees and taxes as well as the infamous foreigner fee – paying twice to ten times as much as the locals. I told him that I knew there was nothing he could do about it, but I was lodging an unofficial protest over this tax. I gave the same speech to the woman that actually took my money. Up until that point, I had been proud of myself that I had thought ahead and made sure that I had kept enough local currency to pay the airport fee. But with 1,620 pesos flying out of my wallet, I was now in the ridiculous situation of a newbie not having enough money to pay the airport fee. And there were no foreign exchange booths anywhere. I had been told that there were such booths in the airport, but there weren’t. I had planned to change that 1,600 pesos in my wallet into Malaysian Ringgit, but it was now gone into the coffers of some corrupt government official. I did find out in the end, that the airport fee people would accept foreign currency. I dug into my emergency stash, and came out with a US $20 bill and paid with that.
This process had taken a long time, and it was now getting dangerously close to my flight departure time. Yet, I still hadn’t gone through immigration and passport control. I was very proud of myself that I had my official exit visa with my photo and fingerprints. I can only imagine how many foreigners get stuck at the airport not knowing that they had to get this document – just as I did not know about the travel and tourism tax. And then, to my horror, there was another security point after immigration. I had to take off my belt, remove all metal objects, remove the camera and NEO, and all that stuff all over again. There really wasn’t much in the departure area once I had gotten through this last stage. I had hoped to be able to have a relaxed time at the airport enjoying a cup of coffee, but with all the delays and the endless fees, I was cutting it very close, and I had no time to go get coffee at the one little coffee shop available. Instead, I went into the departure lounge to wait for the boarding call.
It was nice that the boarding lounge wasn’t crowded, and the bathrooms were well-appointed. I changed out of my sweaty cycling clothes and into some dry clothes that I had packed for that very reason. I didn’t think that other passengers would enjoy sitting beside a wet and stinky cyclist.
It’s crazy how unprepared I was for this flight – and how unprepared I am for Malaysia. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I’m acting like a total boob – totally lost and vague. Maybe I really did suffer a stroke and my brain just isn’t working anymore. The dumb things I did are beyond counting. The silly thing is that the dumb things are often related to the smart things. For example, I purchased long ago those mini-reading glasses that slide into your wallet into a credit card space. I took them out at one point because I needed to read some small print, and my thousand-year-old eyes aren’t up to the task. I perched the glasses on my nose and felt quite pleased with myself. But, later, I came out of the bathroom, and I took out my wallet to put those glasses away. I was all mixed up with my passport and boarding pass and receipts and who knows what clutched in one hand. So while trying to do this, I turned my wallet upside down and ALL my money fell out and went fluttering around the floor of the airport. I had just over 2,000 pesos in small bills, and it went all over the place. Sooooo stupid. I was gathering up the money like you’d rake together fallen leaves in the autumn.
I had a few interesting encounters along the way. One was with a young guy who started chatting me up while I was working on my bike. I was smart enough not to trust him. He held onto the bike from time to time to steady it, and he seemed helpful, but I made sure to keep all valuable items far away from him. This guy gave me my last Filipino conversation in the country, and it was 100% identical to every conversation I’d ever had. It was maddening. He asked me where I was from, how old I was, whether I was married, if I had a Filipina girlfriend, etc. It was ridiculous. He also spoke very softly and with my thousand-year-old ears, I could barely hear him. I finally had to just ignore him.
My other interesting encounter was much more bizarre. This was with one of the official women in the airport. She was the one who told me I had to pay the travel and tourism tax. Then she asked me if I was the guy riding a bike around the Philippines (and around the world). I said that I did have a bicycle, though I hadn’t really done much traveling. She said that she had read about me and that I was famous. She said she even saw a story about me on CNN. I kept telling her that she was mistaken. I was not famous and I definitely had not been written about in a magazine or covered by CNN. But she insisted that it was me. She said she recognized me and she recognized my name. She said that I was her personal hero. It was quite funny because I’m only too well aware that I’m no one’s idea of a travel hero – unless you think hanging out in cheap hotels and pondering the mysteries of the cosmos while watching “Game of Thrones” in Internet cafes is heroic. There has to be another foreigner out there with a bicycle, and this foreigner is probably raising money for a cause and is super-organized and never has broken spokes. In fact, this woman asked me if I knew so-and-so from GreenPeace. I said that I didn’t. And she insisted that I did know this person. So I think this super-cyclist is connecting with GreenPeace and is probably riding a bicycle around the world to raise awareness for saving the oceans or something.
We are now about an hour into the flight, and I feel amazing. It’s so good to have a change of scenery. Air Asia is a budget airline, but this jet is a brand new AirBus A320-200, and after my time in the Philippines it feels like the ultimate in luxury and comfort. It’s so awesome. I feel almost human, and I haven’t felt that way for a long time.
The jet is only a third or half full. Despite that, there are two people sitting beside me in my aisle seat. I haven’t bothered to move because I started chatting with the guy, Thomas, and his wife, and I like the company. Also, at the time, I didn’t know the flight was so empty. I’m not sure how long the flight is, but I don’t think it is that long. Sitting beside this couple has also been interesting. They are Filipino, but they currently live in Las Vegas. They are going to Malaysia on a holiday, and they seem to be something of a power couple. They’re well-dressed and stylish and have all the latest toys, such as iPhones and a MacBook Air. His wife has lots of jewelry on, and they broke out the MacBook to work on a detailed business plan of some kind. They are working on the document together, so they must have their own business or something.
Thomas had seen me in the airport with my bicycle, and he was impressed with my vagabond lifestyle. He didn’t ask all the usual Filipino questions. He is more Westernized than that after living in Las Vegas. But he did wonder about when and where I was eventually going to settle down. I talked to Thomas until I could sense that he had had enough of me. Then I took pity on the poor guy and let him go. They seem almost like newlyweds, as they are holding hands a lot and they actually talk to each other.
I had not pre-ordered a meal, but when they broke out the serving cart, and I smelled the food, I became ravenous. I hadn’t eaten anything all day on top of packing up and breaking down my bicycle and riding 14 kilometers in the Philippines sun to the airport, so I had worked up an appetite and a thirst. Through all the confusion in the airport, I had ended up with 400 pesos left in my wallet. I figured I could blow it on an inflight meal. I asked about that, and they said they accepted pesos. I really had no idea what anything cost. I don’t even remember what the exchange rate is for Malaysian ringgit. I got a chicken and rice meal, a cup of coffee, and a bottle of water, and it came to 375 pesos once they did all the conversions. I handed over my 400 pesos and I got one Malaysia ringgit in return. I got all excited over that and acted like a little kid. After all, it was my first time seeing their currency. It was all a brand new experience. The coffee was heavenly. It tasted so good. And the meal was like the best food I’d ever tasted. And the bottle of water went down like the nectar of the gods. Of course, none of this stuff was actually that tasty. I was just really hungry and thirsty and it was such a treat to get served politely at my seat. No sweating, no cockroaches, no flies, no beggars, no pushing and shoving. It was all so pleasant and lovely.
And I guess that is the end of the story. I feel a thousand times better than I did twenty-four hours ago or even twelve hours ago when I woke up. Getting to the airport and dealing with my bicycle was quite an ordeal, but I feel quite good now sitting on this jet. Now the thought of sleeping in the airport in Kuala Lumpur and then cycling into the city does not seem nearly as difficult or as daunting. I can see the fun in it – the excitement of new places and new experiences. I know nothing about Malaysia, so everything will be interesting and new.
Kuala Lumpur International Airport
Well, Malaysia is certainly a shock after the Philippines. I didn’t really know what to expect and I didn’t do any real research, so everything is a surprise.
The flight, as I already mentioned, was quite pleasant. It was much longer than I expected at about four hours. For some reason, I thought it was just a puddle jump, but four hours is a long time, isn’t it? Even so, the time flew by. I hardly noticed it.
Once my seatmate got tired of talking to me and I left him alone, he settled into some work on a financial report with his wife. I glanced at the screen at one point, and I saw that it was about the market for diapers – baby diapers and adult diapers. So I guess that is their field. I didn’t learn much else about them except that they had a 5-month old baby girl, and this was their first break from caring for her. They left her with her grandparents in the Philippines while they went on their holiday. It didn’t seem like much of a holiday to me, since they worked for most of the flight, and they were staying in Kuala Lumpur for just one night. Tomorrow, they fly to Hong Kong. I’m not sure what they hope to do here in that time or why they came. It will really be just a trip through the airport and to a hotel and then back to the airport.
The AirBus seemed remarkably smooth to me. I’m used to jets being somewhat bumpy as they fly through the air, and I’m accustomed to them being quite noisy inside. This jet was so smooth in flight, I found it hard to believe that we were even moving. And there was no noise at all. Conversation was effortless. It was really quite something.
My arrival was easy and smooth as well. The airport struck me as huge and clean and efficient right from the start. This is pure first world. Immigration was a total breeze. I didn’t even have to fill out one of those dreaded arrival cards or a customs card. You simply stand at immigration and a camera takes your picture automatically. Your passport gets scanned and all the details are filled in on the computer automatically. Then you put your two index fingers on a little pad, and it scans them and takes your fingerprints. The friendly woman asked me how long I intended to stay. I threw out the figure of two months at random, and I ended up with a 90-day stamp. I guess that’s normal for Malaysia. You just get 90 days automatically.
My two bags showed up at belt eight very quickly, and I put them onto a luggage carousel. Then I saw the signs for the oversized luggage area. I went there, and my bicycle was already there leaning against a wall and looking just as I’d left it. I rolled it away, had my bags put through an X-ray machine scanner and that was it. I was in the airport. I turned to the left immediately after I came out of the arrivals gate and found a quiet little corner with some seats where I could work on my bike. It took just a couple easy minutes to cut away all the garbage bags and packing tape. Then I straightened the handlebars, put in the pedals, adjusted the bar ends, put the mirror back on, and I was done. SOOOOOOOO much easier than boxing the bike. And the bike suffered zero damage.
Once the bike was back together, I put my pannier bags in order, put them on the bike, and rolled it around the airport to see what was what. The airport is essentially a massive shopping mall. You can buy anything you want and do anything you want. It’s quite something. I withdrew some money from an ATM and I was all set. The money is crazy interesting – very colorful and made from a kind of plastic. The exchange rate seems to be something like 3 ringgit to one US dollar. And using that figure, everything is much more expensive than in the Philippines. That’s a bit of a bummer. I knew it would be more expensive than the Philippines, but not this much. Then again, these are airport prices.
I found a few interesting spots that have carpeting. They appear designed to allow people to lie down and nap, and I’ll likely spend the night in one of those spots. The only problem will be safeguarding my many bags – the usual problem.
I don’t know anything about the people of Malaysia, but I imagine there are Malays, Chinese, and Indians. In any event, it’s been interesting to see a whole variety of people. The local people seem very nice and friendly from what I’ve seen. I’m currently sitting in a restaurant called Old Town White Coffee, and the servers here are very good, very fast, and very efficient. There is lots of room around each table and the chairs are comfortable and normal. Everything just seems normal – as if I were in Canada. Everything works and there is a system. I have no idea if the water is safe to drink, but I’m assuming it is and I’m drinking it like crazy. Still dehydrated from my difficult morning and day.
On the downside, I’m a physical wreck. I’m really starting to wonder if there is something deeply wrong. I’m teetering on the edge of total exhaustion and collapse. I can hardly bring my eyes into focus or even keep them open. My body is sore everywhere – especially my back – and the bruises on my left hand are so bad I can barely use it. It’s like a claw. Putting my bike back together with that hand was a painful experience. There’s no reason for this kind of exhaustion and pain. I had a long night of sleep last night. I woke up early, it’s true, but that’s because I went to bed really early. The ride to the airport was only 14 kilometers long – not a big deal. And there was stress, but not enough to affect me to this extent. I know I’m getting older, but surely I shouldn’t feel this bad all the time.
I felt behind the times in terms of technology from the day I arrived in the Philippines. All the other foreigners at the hostel in Legazpi had iPads and iPhones and such things. So far in Malaysia, I feel even more behind the times. Everyone is dripping with the latest gadgets and toys. I’m wondering how I’m going to get into the city tomorrow, and I need a map. But all around me, I see people zooming in and zooming out by pinching their fingers on their tablets on Google Maps and such things. I suppose I really should have something high tech like that – a GPS, perhaps. But I kind of like being low tech. I like my paper maps of the Philippines. I have no idea if I can get a paper map of Kuala Lumpur here. I at least have to buy a sim card for Malaysia. No idea what kind to get, though, for my baby phone.
I’ve noticed that the Malaysians in the airport are fascinated with my bicycle. Everyone stops to look at it and talk about it. That rarely happened in the Philippines.
I should wait until tomorrow to write about this. I can’t do it justice now. I’m way too tired. But just a note or two. It’s just too funny. It’s funny that in every country in the world I’ve visited, the bicycle is viewed as some kind of evil contraption. I don’t know what it is, but it doesn’t seem to fit into anyone’s systems or world view. There’s no place for it. It’s similar to how in Taipei, you can park your scooter anywhere. But there is nowhere to park a bicycle. The poor bicycle just doesn’t fit in.
The long and short of it is that security got me in the airport and kind of kicked me out. To be honest, I can’t really blame them. Looking back, I was acting like an idiot. I pushed my luck. I had arrived with a bicycle as part of my luggage, and it’s fine to have a bicycle in an airport when it is your luggage. If I had put my bicycle onto a trolley and wheeled it around, no one would have worried about it. But I didn’t do that. I assembled my bike and put all the pannier bags on it. And then I wheeled THAT around the airport. I think that if I had gone to ground and found a place to sleep right away, I would have been okay. But I wanted to have something to eat. I also wanted to buy a SIM card. Finally, (and this was the thing that did me in), I wanted to check out Level 2M. A friendly guy at an information counter told me that there were big carpeted areas up there, and that’s where everyone went to sleep. He said that I should go there. The problem was that it was very difficult to find. I found a bank of large elevators and there were signs for L2M, but whenever I went inside an elevator, there was no button for L2M. I wandered from there to another area, and I asked another information guy how I got to L2M. He directed me to a big glass elevator. I used that, and I found the carpeted area. There were lots of people sleeping there already. Perhaps, if I had just stopped and found a piece of carpet, I’d have been okay. But I always like to scout out a place – see where the bathrooms area, see where it is quietest, where it is safest, where it is darkest. So I was rolling my bike along when I heard a shout from behind me. It was a security guard. He ran in front of me and blocked my way and then got on the radio. Soon, two more security guards showed up. One of them was clearly the one they were waiting for. He was the guy in charge at the scene. Unfortunately, he was a bit robotic and spoke very little English. Plus, he was taking orders from someone on the radio – the real boss. So there was no way to argue with him. His point was very clear and very short – bicycles were not allowed inside airports and I must leave. I tried my limited charm on him. I tried logic. But he was not to be dissuaded. The confusion came from his inability to understand that I had just arrived on a flight and the bicycle was my luggage. He assumed that I had come to the airport on my bicycle and rolled it inside. I pointed to all the people around us sleeping on the carpet next to huge piles of suitcases on trolleys. Some of them were in groups, and they had built fortresses out of their trolleys and suitcases. My bicycle was my luggage. I just didn’t happen to have it on a trolley.
I was a bit annoyed, but the annoyance was directed at myself. OF COURSE it was stupid to go wandering all over the airport mall pushing my bicycle. This is not the Philippines. This isn’t Ethiopia. Malaysia is a very different animal, and the security guards had clearly been tracking my every move on the CCT cameras all over the airport. If I had shown up on their cameras briefly and then I had stopped moving and had bedded down for the night, things would have been fine. But like the idiot I insist on being, I went roaming all over the mall. People were delighted with my bicycle, so I didn’t think anything of it. But, clearly, no security guard in the world is going to put up with that for very long. They were quite right to bust me. I had no leg to stand on in arguing with the guy. His limited English made it impossible to argue anyway. He kept using cop talk on me – just repeating the same instructions over and over. It was one of those situations you see on cop TV shows all the time – the situations that can easily escalate. The guy was very patient with me, but I could sense that he was reaching his limit. If I argued any longer, he was going to physically have me removed. At one point, he grabbed me by the arm and was propelling me along. I’m an idiot, but I’m not a total blithering idiot. I know when to stop arguing and just do what I’m told. The problem was largely that I didn’t understand what he was saying. I couldn’t tell if he was just kicking me out of the airport entirely or if he was suggesting some kind of solution or compromise.
A funny sidenote is that there was a young man with longish hair lounging against a railing and enjoying this scene with a big smile on his face. I had the feeling he knew this guy and was familiar with this type of situation. He was smiling and laughing, and I kind of thought he was laughing at me. I thought I was the butt of his joke. I spoke to him at one point and asked him if he spoke English and, if so, could he help me out here. But he didn’t react.
The situation ended with this super cop escorting me to a big cargo elevator and taking me down to, I think, Level 1. He then pointed somewhere and said something. I had no idea what he was talking about, but he seemed to be saying that there was a place I could store my bicycle. And then I would be free to roam the airport all night long if I wanted to. I couldn’t get any sense out of him, though. At least he didn’t physically eject me from the building. He seemed content to leave me on Level 1. He left me there and disappeared, and he is probably looking at me right now through the CCTV cameras all around. I walked in the direction he had been pointing in, and I found myself at a capsule hotel. THAT was what he was saying all this time – the word I couldn’t understand – capsule. But that made no sense. The whole point of a capsule hotel is that you slide into the thing like it is a coffin. It’s not like you can store your bicycle in them.
At this point, the young man with the longish hair appeared out of nowhere. He had brought a friend with him, and it turned out that he had not been laughing at me. He had been laughing at the security guard the whole time. This guy and his friend were from Pakistan, and they worked in the airport as trolley guys, and they said that that security guard was crazy. Everyone knew about him. He was nuts. And they said that I didn’t have to leave the airport. In fact, I could go right back to the carpeted area and bed down for the night. All I had to do was go to one of the information counters and explain my situation, and they would help me out. Those people could overrule the security dude and find me a place to spend the night. At first, I didn’t understand these two guys from Pakistan and I certainly didn’t want to get into a war with security. But I eventually turned around and let them guide me to this information counter. There was a lot of conversation among them and among two or three other people. Then I was asked to tell my story. I don’t think anyone really grasped what was going on, but one of the guys brought me over to a row of seats beside an elevated moving sidewalk, and said I could stay there. It was far from the cozy carpeted home I had been trying to find. The floor is cold tile, there’s a cold breeze, high ceilings going up thirty feet, very public area. But it’s not like I had a choice at this point. And I didn’t care. I’ll probably just sit here on these chairs until the sun comes up. It’s already nearly one a.m.
Unfortunately, my problems won’t be over when the sun comes up. I’ll still have to get to Kuala Lumpur – 60 kilometers away – and I haven’t been able to locate a map anywhere. That was another reason I was pushing my bicycle around the airport like a dope. I was looking for a map. But I couldn’t find one. So at the moment, I have no idea how to go to Kuala Lumpur. And the route goes down highways anyway. Bicycles aren’t allowed on those highways. Other cyclists have taken them, but they reported that it wasn’t easy. And with my luck, I’ll likely get arrested. I sure have a knack for making things difficult. Maybe I should just try to put the bike on a bus. I have to say that I’m a little bit sick of this bicycle. It’s nothing but trouble and hassle and expense. The world welcomes the tourist – here’s your express train to downtown and your shuttle bus to your hotel and resort. The world does not welcome the poor cyclist. On the bright side, I am now on some kind of mainland. I can get to many places without having to take a flight.