The Cycling Canadian Thu, 21 Feb 2019 08:43:32 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Chap Goh Mei! Firecrackers, Temple Offerings, Lion Dances – Celebrating the End of CNY in Malaysia Thu, 21 Feb 2019 08:43:32 +0000 Chinese New Year is a long and elaborate holiday. In fact, it lasts for 15 days, and the final day has lots of names. It’s known as Chap Goh Mei. It’s also the Lantern Festival. AND it’s Chinese Valentine’s Day. There are super-loud firecrackers, exciting lion dances, extensive temple offerings and rituals, PLUS Mandarin Oranges to find your one true love. What is a traveler ...]]>

Chinese New Year is a long and elaborate holiday. In fact, it lasts for 15 days, and the final day has lots of names. It’s known as Chap Goh Mei. It’s also the Lantern Festival. AND it’s Chinese Valentine’s Day. There are super-loud firecrackers, exciting lion dances, extensive temple offerings and rituals, PLUS Mandarin Oranges to find your one true love. What is a traveler to do on such an important day in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia?

Me, I did what I always do. I made some vague plans, went for a walk, and hoped to have small adventures along the way. And it worked out very well. My first stop was the 130-year-old Guandi Temple, dedicated to the God of War. From there, I roamed Chinatown and stumbled across quite an astonishing lion dance topped off with 88-foot strings of fireworks (2 of them!). That’s 176 feet of the loudest fireworks you can imagine. My morning ended there, as does this video.

In the afternoon, I went to the Suria KLCC mall to take in the Petronas Towers (the tallest twin towers in the world and once the tallest buildings in the world) and another lion dance. My time at KLCC and the Petronas Twin Towers is in the next video. There was one Chinese New Year Chap Goh Mei tradition I did not experience – the search for one’s true love with Mandarin oranges. But that leaves this tourist with something to do next year.

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Hunting for LIONS in Malaysia! [The Chinese New Year Acrobatic Lion Dance] Mon, 18 Feb 2019 09:28:46 +0000 Colorful, exciting, dramatic, funny, suspenseful. What could this be? The newest Pixar film? No, it’s the traditional Lion Dance for Chinese New Year. I really, really wanted to witness an acrobatic lion dance in Malaysia in which the performers leap from high pole to high pole. But, with my talent for missing things, I kept missing lion dances. Other travelers and tourists told me about the ...]]>

Colorful, exciting, dramatic, funny, suspenseful. What could this be? The newest Pixar film? No, it’s the traditional Lion Dance for Chinese New Year. I really, really wanted to witness an acrobatic lion dance in Malaysia in which the performers leap from high pole to high pole. But, with my talent for missing things, I kept missing lion dances.

Other travelers and tourists told me about the amazing lion dances they saw in Kuala Lumpur, but I faced multiple rain cancellations and changing schedules. But my lion hunt continued. Was I successful? Did I see one of Malaysia’s famous lion dance troupes in action? Was all my bad luck chased away? Am I ready for a lucky and prosperous 2019? You’ll have to watch the video to find out.

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Turtle-Warp Speed on the KL Monorail – EXPERIENCE KUALA LUMPUR FROM ABOVE! Sat, 16 Feb 2019 10:07:59 +0000 I’ve ridden on the Kuala Lumpur LRT and the MRT at Warp Speed. Now it’s time for a ride on the KL Monorail – perhaps at Turtle Speed. Stretching 8.6 kilometers over 11 stations, the KL Monorail takes passengers through the heart of commercial, downtown Kuala Lumpur from KL Sentral through tourist-heavy Bukit Bintang and Chow Kit all the way to the terminal station of ...]]>

I’ve ridden on the Kuala Lumpur LRT and the MRT at Warp Speed. Now it’s time for a ride on the KL Monorail – perhaps at Turtle Speed. Stretching 8.6 kilometers over 11 stations, the KL Monorail takes passengers through the heart of commercial, downtown Kuala Lumpur from KL Sentral through tourist-heavy Bukit Bintang and Chow Kit all the way to the terminal station of Titiwangsa.

It’s not the fastest way to get around Kuala Lumpur. Nor is it the most comfortable. But it is one of the most interesting, since the Monorail line zigs and zags and makes ninety-degree turns and takes its sweet old time, providing great views into a variety of classic Kuala Lumpur neighborhoods. You get overhead looks into several beautiful temples, the Klang River, lots of modern highways, and the ever-growing skyline of this fast-developing mega-city.

As you putter along, you can make mental notes of a dozen restaurants or shopping malls or tourist attractions you might want to visit later on. Forget guided tours in a boring old bus. Ride the Monorail on your own and see it from high above.

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Revisiting my Childhood at the KL Butterfly Park (Part 2) Thu, 14 Feb 2019 11:07:25 +0000 In Part 2, I dive back in to the heat of the Butterfly Park armed with a telephoto macros lens. My mission was to capture some close-up video of some of the dozens of species of butterfly fluttering around. In this, I was only partially successful. I blame it on the camera as it falls apart and refuses to either autofocus or even manual focus. ...]]>

In Part 2, I dive back in to the heat of the Butterfly Park armed with a telephoto macros lens. My mission was to capture some close-up video of some of the dozens of species of butterfly fluttering around. In this, I was only partially successful. I blame it on the camera as it falls apart and refuses to either autofocus or even manual focus. It stubbornly just refuses to focus in any way. (But the camera would probably blame me and my lack of skill and knowledge..We are likely both right.) Even so, I managed to capture a few fleeting moments of a butterfly here and there slurping up nectar, gulping honey solution, and guzzling pineapple juice with its long and darting proboscis. After my macro tour of the park, I retreated to the air conditioned comfort of the education center and took in the rather good display of mounted insects from around the world.

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Revisiting My Childhood at the KL Butterfly Park (Part 1) Wed, 13 Feb 2019 13:20:53 +0000 I go full-on tourist once again as I visit the Butterfly Park in Kuala Lumpur. It’s kinda like the Bird Park but with 5,000-6,000 fluttery butterflies instead of a couple thousand feathery birds. I collected insects as a boy in Canada (butterflies, moths, beetles, dragonflies, ants, bees, wasps, etc), and I’ve been fascinated by them ever since. So when a Butterfly Park is located just ...]]>

I go full-on tourist once again as I visit the Butterfly Park in Kuala Lumpur. It’s kinda like the Bird Park but with 5,000-6,000 fluttery butterflies instead of a couple thousand feathery birds. I collected insects as a boy in Canada (butterflies, moths, beetles, dragonflies, ants, bees, wasps, etc), and I’ve been fascinated by them ever since. So when a Butterfly Park is located just a short walk from my hostel in Malaysia, I had to check it out. The blurb says that at 80,000 square feet, it is the largest butterfly garden in the world. I have no reason to doubt that. It was certainly big enough for me. And when you combine the thousands of butterflies in a natural environment with the excellent education center containing hundreds more mounted and live specimens of insects, snakes, and spiders it is well worth the ticket price. A backpacker traveller might decide to give the Butterfly Park a miss and leave it to the tour buses, but if you have the time, a visit to the Butterfly Park would be a pleasant experience, especially if you combine it with a trip to one of the many nearby attractions in the Lake Gardens district.

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Goodbye, Dog! Hello, Pig! Chinese New Year Traditions at Thean Hou Temple Fri, 08 Feb 2019 05:26:37 +0000 Chinese New Year is the biggest and most lavish holiday event in the Chinese calendar. Families gather at home, at shopping malls, and at temples to celebrate. As a backpacker slash tourist, I chose to visit the inspiring Thean Hou Temple in Kuala Lumpur to begin my exploration of the traditions of this important festival. The six-tiered Thean Hou Temple is dedicated to the goddess Matzu ...]]>

Chinese New Year is the biggest and most lavish holiday event in the Chinese calendar. Families gather at home, at shopping malls, and at temples to celebrate. As a backpacker slash tourist, I chose to visit the inspiring Thean Hou Temple in Kuala Lumpur to begin my exploration of the traditions of this important festival.

The six-tiered Thean Hou Temple is dedicated to the goddess Matzu and is one of the largest temples in Southeast Asia. Adorned with hundreds of red lanterns to scare away the monster Nian, this Temple of the Goddess of Heaven becomes the center of Chinese New Year festivities for many Malaysians. It also offers spectacular views of Kuala Lumpur and its skyline.

I made my way there on foot from the Bangsar LRT station, and I pondered some of the CNY traditions along the way, including some thoughts on the mysteries of calendars around the world and the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac. As impressive as the grandiose temple was during the day, I decided to return at night when all the lights and lanterns blazed brightly.

This video is the first part of my trip to Thean Hou. In the second video, I explore the temple and the temple grounds in depth and then return at night to see the temple with all the lights. I hope you enjoy it.

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Shop Till You Drop at the Megamall – Window Shopping at the Gardens Mall Wed, 06 Feb 2019 13:15:05 +0000 Shopping and shopping malls have become a big part of Chinese New Year celebrations. The malls organize sophisticated artistic and cultural displays, put on exciting lion dances, and install lavish decorations to attract customers during the biggest holiday of the year. And it works! Malaysians flock to the malls to enjoy the festive atmosphere (and air conditioning), and I joined them for a stroll through Kuala ...]]>

Shopping and shopping malls have become a big part of Chinese New Year celebrations. The malls organize sophisticated artistic and cultural displays, put on exciting lion dances, and install lavish decorations to attract customers during the biggest holiday of the year.

And it works! Malaysians flock to the malls to enjoy the festive atmosphere (and air conditioning), and I joined them for a stroll through Kuala Lumpur’s busy streets and over its many pedestrian overpasses to reach the fashionable and chic Gardens Mall and the more down-to-earth Mid Valley MegaMall.

My goal was simply to buy a basic digital watch to replace my aging Casio, but I found much more than that along the way. The Gardens Mall put on a beautiful display of recreations of classical Chinese decor. And the MegaMall was equally festive with bright red Chinese New Year decorations everywhere and arts and crafts displays.

I found the Mid Valley MegaMall to be a good alternative to shopping at Low Yat Plaza, and I spent a couple of enjoyable hours chatting with the friendly clerks at a variety of camera and computer stores before leaving. I could sense the heavy afternoon rains coming, and I wanted to reach the MRT station at least before the heavens opened. Did I make it in time? Well, you’ll have to watch the video to find out.

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Vlog: A Walk to Dhaka’s Buriganga River (Part 1) Sun, 16 Dec 2018 02:29:18 +0000 My first vlog from Bangladesh on The Cycling Canadian YouTube channel. In this episode, I walk from my hotel through the bustling city of Dhaka to the Buriganga River. I met lots of people along the way and saw plenty of amazing sights. And the river more than lived up to my expectations with the fascinating boat traffic.]]>

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26 – KTM Komuter Train to Kuala Lumpur Fri, 07 Sep 2018 06:01:52 +0000 Friday, September 7, 2018 4:30 a.m. Room 7, Natalia Guesthouse (formerly Bird Nest) Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (37 ringgit per night/$9 US; small room; single bed; no sheets provided; no towel; no soap; fan only; no window; noisy; hot; shared bathrooms a long way away; but big and friendly lobby, kitchen, and other common areas; informal and relaxed) I wish I could start this entry in this long email by ...]]>

Friday, September 7, 2018
4:30 a.m. Room 7, Natalia Guesthouse (formerly Bird Nest)
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

(37 ringgit per night/$9 US; small room; single bed; no sheets provided; no towel; no soap; fan only; no window; noisy; hot; shared bathrooms a long way away; but big and friendly lobby, kitchen, and other common areas; informal and relaxed)

I wish I could start this entry in this long email by saying that I had a wonderful day yesterday and that taking my bike on the train to Kuala Lumpur was an effortless dream. But I’d be lying. When it got close to an appropriate time to leave the d’Spark Hotel and head to the train station (I had to wait for off-peak hours), it began to rain heavily. And that rain was no joke. It thundered down in sheets for a very long time. It was annoying because I was mentally and physically prepared to go. I had woken up at three to take advantage of this nice room, and I had done so for many hours. Now it was time to go, and I wanted to go. But it would have been insane to go out into that weather. I had no choice but to kick back and wait.

My bicycle on the KTM Komuter train.

I waited for a long, long time, but the rain never stopped. It just kept raining and raining. Luckily, it did start to rain less hard after an hour and a half, and I finally decided to just go. I would get wet and my bike and trailer and bags would get wet, and that would make getting on the train even more challenging, but I had no choice. When I got to the train station, I made sure to once again keep my bike and trailer hidden from view. I knew there was a new program that allowed people to bring their bikes onto these trains. But the people who designed that policy were not thinking about fully loaded touring bikes with trailers. They were thinking of day trippers bringing a simple bike for a short ride around the park. A giant, dripping wet foreigner with a bicycle loaded with bags plus a trailer is not what they were thinking about.

The ticket to KL Sentral cost six ringgit and fifty cents for me and a mere two ringgit for my bicycle. The ticket itself was a long form that the woman had to fill out by hand. It took her a very long time. And when I paid her, she had no change available, and she had to go to a safe and open it and bring out bags of coins and small bills and she slowly began opening those. She moved at the pace of a sloth on no sleep. And, I noticed, she never smiled or interacted with me in any way. This was a common theme in my short time in Klang. Whatever the difficulties and challenges of life in Indonesia, at least the people there are alive and expressive. They shout and laugh and smile and talk to me. They seem to be engaged with life. They are happy. The Malaysians I had encountered so far were dour and grim-faced and unresponsive. I had also gone from being a minor celebrity in Indonesia to absolutely nobody in Malaysia. Everyone in Indonesia was interested in me and my bicycle and my overall weirdness. In Malaysia, I was old news. Nobody cared about anything except what was on their phone.

My trailer on the KTM Komuter train.

I forgot to mention that the streets were badly flooded on the way to the train station. The water was about eight inches deep covering hundreds of feet of roadway. I felt like I was swimming to the train station. And Malaysian drivers raced through it regardless, and I had to time my ride very carefully so that the waves of water thrown to the side by the cars didn’t drench me.

Once I had my ticket, I went back and got my bicycle. Things still might have been okay except that I didn’t know how to get onto the platform. I thought the woman had pointed at the first turnstile. So I waited there for her to push a button or something to open it. There was another KTM Komuter employee – a young man – sitting on a bench on the platform and staring at me, but he said and did nothing. I figured if I was at the wrong turnstile, he would tell me and direct me. But he didn’t react.

I waited and waited to catch the woman’s eye, but she never looked my way. I finally turned to the young man and with sign language, I asked him how I was supposed to get onto the platform. He pointed to the far side of the platform, and I saw that what I thought was a solid metal fence actually had a gate in it. And you didn’t need a token to activate anything electronic to open it. So I rolled my bicycle there. I expected the young man to at least come over and open the gate for me, but he did nothing. He just sat on the bench and watched as I struggled to open the gate. The gate was extremely annoying because it wouldn’t stay open. It was one of those stupid gates that wanted to swing shut. So it was impossible to keep it open while I rolled my bike and trailer through it. It swung shut and got stuck on my pedals and then on my trailer. I couldn’t get back there to free it because then my bike would topple over. I could have put my bike on its kickstand and moved the gate, but by the time I got back to the handlebars to push the bike forward, the gate would have closed again. I was fighting with this for a while, and the young man just sat there a couple of feet away and stared at me.

This ended up being a real problem because all this activity caught the attention of the sloth-woman at the ticket counter. And she came charging out to tell me that I was not allowed to bring the trailer onto the train. It’s not like she took the time to explain anything in detail or establish any kind of human contact. She just yelled at me “No!” and pointed at the trailer. “No! Big!”

Getting my bicycle and trailer out of the KL Sentral station wasn’t easy. I faced a lot of challenges including the fact that the only elevator up from the platform was out of service.

I instantly felt this wave of anger rise up in me. It just made sense that on the day that I absolutely needed to get to Kuala Lumpur, it would be pouring rain and despite all my research and planing, I was going to be prevented from taking the train with my bicycle. And I was angry because of the rude and abrupt behavior of the woman and the unhelpful young man. I tried to state my case – that the trailer was essentially a suitcase with wheels. I began to realize that I had made a mistake by leaving the trailer attached to the bike. I should have brought my bike onto the platform by itself. And then I should have brought in the trailer with its wheels at the back so that it looked like any other duffel bag that someone might bring to the airport.

The woman, however, was not the sort of purpose to listen. Her default position was one of authority and rejection. And that’s it. She wanted to say no to me. And she didn’t care about anything else. She didn’t want to hear it.

Luckily (very luckily), she had another job. She was the only person there selling tickets. And she could only stand there and yell at me for so long. She had to go back to the ticket window and do her job, as customers were lining up. She left before I was finished the process of unhooking the trailer and moving the wheels. I wanted to demonstrate that I wasn’t going to roll the whole bike with the trailer attached onto the train. I knew it was too long for that. Once the trailer was separate, I walked up and down the platform holding onto the tow arm, and I showed the man that it was really a large suitcase. I showed how it could tip up on its end and look quite small. And to my relief, this seemed to do the trick. The woman had no interest in the fact that my trailer was actually a suitcase with wheels, but she was gone. And this young man just nodded at the train to indicate that I could get on. And I didn’t need to be told that I should do so quickly before the woman came charging back.

Out of service until August 30, but I showed up on September 6. Some poor elevator repair staff missed their deadline.

My annoyance level went up a couple of notches when I got on the train with my bicycle and trailer. For one thing, any worry about the size of my bicycle or trailer was nonsense. The train was huge. I took a picture of my bike against the back wall, and it looked tiny. It was taking up very little room in that wide train car. And the trailer rolled beside the seats easily. It also took up no room. Finally, despite waiting ten or fifteen minutes for the train to finally leave, only two other people got on. The entire train was pretty much empty. And it remained that way all the way to Kl Sentral station. I was worried that large crowds would start to pour onto the train, but that never happened.

At first, I sat in a seat, and I left my bicycle propped up on its kickstand. The train accelerated and came to a stop quite gently, and the bike never seemed inclined to fall over. However, at the fourth stop, the train jerked to a halt, and the bike started to go over. I leaped to my feet and grabbed it before it crashed down completely, but from that point on, I stood beside the bike and held onto it with the brake lever engaged. Perhaps it is even the rule that cyclists must stand beside their bike and hold it. In any event, it seemed like a good idea. There were CCTV cameras everywhere, and I think the people monitoring them would be more pleased to see me standing there holding the bike than having an unattended bike just on the train. I’d had enough experiences with authority figures in Malaysia to know that they take their jobs seriously. They like order, and they don’t like bicycles. It wouldn’t take much for them to contact security and have them waiting at a station to come on and kick me off if it looked like my bicycle or trailer were causing problems.

It wasn’t entirely clear what was going to happen next. I had asked the woman at the Klang station about whether I could take my bicycle all the way to Kuala Lumpur station, which is very near to my hostel in Chinatown. But she said that to do that, I would have to change trains at KL Sentral. And there was a concern that I wouldn’t be able to do that anyway. I read a number of reports online that the bike program had been canceled for all the train lines north of Kuala Lumpur. It had been bad enough getting on this completely empty train in Klang. I didn’t even want to contemplate what it could be like trying to change trains at very busy KL Sentral station, so I planned to just exit at KL Sentral and go from there.

That turned out to be easier said than done because there was only one elevator available, and it was out of order. And, of course, it had a big sign on it that said it would be out of order until August 30. August 30 was six days ago, but it was still broken. I had been worried about taking my bike and trailer onto an elevator and getting out of KL Sentral station because it is a busy place, and I didn’t want to be a bother. I was worried that other passengers would be annoyed as I tried to wheel my bicycle into the elevator. And I would have to make two trips. There was little chance I’d be able to fit my bicycle and trailer onto an elevator with other people at the same time and get them in and out before the doors started to close. But what I didn’t anticipate was there being no elevator at all. I rolled my bike and trailer up and down the long platform looking for a second elevator, but there was none. There was also no one to ask. There were no staff anywhere. I ended up just standing at the bottom of a giant series of staircases wondering what to do next. It appeared that the world was determined to never make things easy for me.

Which way is best for me to take on my bicycle? Trick question. The answer is neither. Both ways led to a major highway system with no way to get across them.

With no other choice, I began removing the bags and the trailer from my bicycle. I took a chance and I rolled the trailer onto the escalator and rode it up. I’m sure that was against the rules and if a guard had seen me, I would have been yelled at. However, getting my loaded trailer up all those stairs was a nightmare prospect. I put my trailer at the top and then I went back down to get the two pannier bags and the handlebar bag off the bike. I brought those up to the top, but I could only leave the pannier bags there. Everything of value was inside the handlebar bag, and I couldn’t just leave it unattended. So I had to bring it up to the top and then all the way back down again. I used the shoulder strap to sling the handlebar bag over my back, and then I picked up the bicycle and began the long climb up the many staircases. I thought about putting the bicycle on the escalator as well. I could have done it easily, and it would have worked out fine. But that would definitely have triggered security. I’d probably have ended up with a SWAT team descending on me.

Once all my gear was assembled at the top of this set of stairs, I didn’t know what to do next. How was I supposed to get out of the train station? It’s not just a train station. It’s a train station embedded deep inside a giant shopping center. So there was no easy answer to how to get out. There was a group of about six KTM staff members over by the turnstiles, and I went there to ask them how I should navigate the turnstiles and then how I should get out of the station. Not surprisingly, no one was helpful. They were just as grim faced and dour as everyone else I had encountered. The man who spoke to me was very suspicious. I asked him for information about how to get out of the station with my bicycle, and he responded by demanding to see my ticket. That struck me as kind of rude and officious. Why not a smile? Why not a “Hey, you’re on a bike tour. Cool. Let me show you how to get out of the station.” Instead, he wanted, basically, to inspect my papers. His concern was not helping me but making sure that I had had permission to bring my bicycle onto the train inĀ  the first place. I’m not sure what was in his head. I was clearly inside his train station with a giant bicycle and trailer. And it’s not like I could have snuck in. I wasn’t invisible. So there was no way I could be where I was without someone working at the KTM Komuter line allowing me in and selling me a ticket. And who cares anyway? I’m trying to navigate this station without inconveniencing anyone. A little help would be nice.

After inspecting my ticket carefully, the man indicated that I could the roll my bike through an opening near him and then I could take the lift to the next level. Of course, he didn’t tell me where this lift was, or, heaven forbid, actually show me where it was. I know that there is no reason this should have happened, but I was surprised that in this entire journey from Klang to KL Sentral, no one volunteered to help me. I’m fine doing everything on my own. I actually prefer it. I don’t like to be bothered. And I don’t like to bother other people. But I know for a fact that if I were a passenger, and I saw someone – clearly a foreigner – get on a train with a bicycle and a trailer, I would offer to help. It would give me pleasure to help. I’d let him take care of the bicycle, and I’d pull the trailer for him. I’d guide him to the elevators and to the proper exits. Why not? It would be a fun experience, and it would help the guy out. And I couldn’t help but reflect that in Sumatra, I would have been the center of a whirlwind of activity and attention. Everyone would have wanted to talk to me, help me, and take a picture with me. But in Malaysia, nothing. Nobody even looked my way on the train. All the passengers sat in their seats for the entire hour and a half journey staring at their phones with earbuds in their ears. No one even looked my way.

And forget about other passengers. I honestly was surprised at how little help the KTM staff were. And I was very surprised at how unfriendly and officious they were. Their default position was one of enforcing rules. That seemed to be their number one concern. They didn’t care at all about me as a passenger. They saw their job as making sure that I was obeying the rules. And once they confirmed that, they wanted nothing more to do with me. Helping me complete my journey on their train was not on their mind at all. And that was interesting. I wonder if that relates to their job training. Perhaps all their job training relates to control. They are told their job is to control the passengers and maintain order. Perhaps the idea of helping passengers go from point A to point B on their trains is never mentioned as part of their job. And they end up only interfering and obstructing.

I was worried as I rolled my bicycle and trailer through cavernous KL Sentral searching for an elevator. I was now outside of the KTM Komuter train station, and there was no longer any compelling reason for me to have a bicycle in there. I expected every armed security guard (of which there were many) to confront me and demand to know what I was doing inside there with a bicycle. I eventually found signs pointing to an elevator. I had no idea if this would bring me to the proper floor or anywhere near an exit from the station, but I knew I had to go up more levels.

Kuala Lumpur is not easy to navigate for pedestrians and cyclists. Even when there is a sidewalk, it usually looks like this. It’s more like an obstacle course than a sidewalk.

I followed the signs and found the elevator, and at least this time it was working. It was a bit of a struggle because the elevators were crowded, and it was difficult enough to get just one item onto the elevator at a time. It was impossible to bring the bicycle and the trailer in one trip. So I had to unhitch the trailer and leave it behind unattended while I rolled my bicycle onto the elevator and rode it up to a floor where I guess I would have access to the outside world. Then I detached the handlebar bag, left my bike there unattended, and went back down to get the trailer. It’s funny that while I was in the elevator, both my bike and trailer were just sitting in a public area in KL Sentral station unattended. But my trailer was still there, and there were no bomb-sniffing dogs tearing it apart. I brought the trailer up to be reunited with my bike, and I put everything back together again.

I was very happy to see that I was now at ground level, and there were doors to the outside world just ahead of me. I had no idea what street that was or how I would get from that point to Chinatown, but I was very glad to be out of the station at long last.

My happiness didn’t last very long, however, because I was now faced with the biggest challenge of all – cycling in Kuala Lumpur. There is no way to exaggerate how bad Kuala Lumpur is for either cycling or walking. It is beyond a nightmare. The distance from where I exited KL Sentral to my hostel is almost exactly two kilometers. Yet, nearly two hours later, I was still trying to find my way. There is just no way to go from KL Sentral to Chinatown by bicycle. It simply can’t be done. There are nothing but major highway systems, and none of these connect these two points. Plus, there is a river. Plus, the streets are mostly one-way. Those that have two directions of travel might as well be one way because the two sections are far apart and separated by high cement barriers and fences. I went around and around and around and around and around as I tried to find a way through. At every stage, I found myself on a major highway system with no way to get off. When I finally did exit, I would have to work my way back and try again.

To make matters worse, the area immediately surrounding KL Sentral is dominated by skyscrapers and this seemed to interfere with the GPS system on my phone. It wouldn’t work properly, and I had no idea where I was. The little dot marking my position on Google Maps just wandered all over the place before settling on a spot, and it was always the wrong spot. The frustration and stress and anger that I experienced during this time was beyond what you can imagine. It was very difficult to stay in control and keep my head down and just keep cycling and trying. The dangerous positions I found myself in were very dangerous. And I was surprised again that no one offered any assistance. I thought I presented a pretty clear picture of a man in distress and in need of help. I was a white dude on a touring bicycle standing for long stretches of time staring at Google Maps and at the terrain around me trying to figure out where to go. If I did this once or twice and no one approached me to offer help, it would be no big deal. But I lost count of the number of times I consulted Google Maps, and I’d be staring at my phone in frustration for as long as five minutes at a time while looking wildly around me to find one landmark that could help me. And people were everywhere. And not one single person stopped to say, “Hey, can I help you find something? Where are you trying to go?” Not one person. I was honestly surprised. I don’t know that anyone could have helped me. In fact, I’m sure they couldn’t short of putting my bike in a car and driving me to Chinatown. But I was surprised that no one even offered.

At long, long last, I found myself on a road that wasn’t a freeway, and it took me a short distance towards Chinatown. But then I hit another dead end. The road merged with another highway system with no way to avoid it and no way to go back. After consulting Google Maps and and Here Maps again and at length, I realized that the only way to continue was down a street that was on the other side of the highway system. And the only way to get there was to unhook my trailer and then bring my bike and trailer across both sides of this busy highway while climbing over a cement barrier in the middle. It astonishes me that I did this, but I did. I had no choice. And even then, the road I found myself on was a one-way in the wrong direction. It was insanity for two hours. That I survived, that I did it, that I made it to my hostel is nothing short of a miracle.

The KTM ticket for me and my bicycle as filled out by the KTM’s most unfriendly and unhelpful ticket seller.

It was a relief to arrive at my hostel, but my work was far from done. The hostel is situated at the top of a long staircase, and I now had to carry my bike, trailer and other gear all the way up there while keeping everything safe and not getting the floor dirty or banging into the door or the walls. Once that was done, I had to find a place to store my bicycle at the hostel and then get all my gear into this tiny coffin-like room. To say that I was drenched in sweat, covered in grease and dirt, and totally frazzled would be accurate. But I was glad to have a home. I quickly got my box and my bag out of storage, unpacked everything, got organized, took a shower, and then fired up my kettle for a long overdue cup of instant coffee.

It hadn’t been easy. In fact, I don’t know that taking my bike on the train was, in the end, any easier than just riding it would have been. The ride into Kuala Lumpur would have been nightmarish, no question. But taking the train was also nightmarish. The deciding factor is probably the rain. It had rained for the entire train ride to the city, so if I had cycled, I would have been cycling in the rain most of the time. And that means the train ride was the better choice.

Arriving at the Natalia Guesthouse in Kuala Lumpur pretty much marked the end of this cycling trip. Here in Kuala Lumpur, I have a lot of things to do ranging from fixing my camera to fixing my rear wheel. Once that is done, I’ll be moving on to somewhere new, hopefully by bicycle.

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25 – Ferry to Klang, Malaysia Thu, 06 Sep 2018 04:32:22 +0000 Thursday, September 6, 2018 4:30 a.m. Room ?, d’Spark Hotel Klang, Malaysia (60 RM/$15 US per night; single room; small but well-appointed, modern, clean; boutique style hotel; A/C; TV; WiFi; nice private bathroom; kettle; instant coffee; bottled water; soap, shampoo, towel supplied;) Much of my fiddling with the trailer and the rain cover. turned out to be unnecessary, at least for this trip. I realized that since I had ...]]>

Thursday, September 6, 2018
4:30 a.m. Room ?, d’Spark Hotel
Klang, Malaysia

(60 RM/$15 US per night; single room; small but well-appointed, modern, clean; boutique style hotel; A/C; TV; WiFi; nice private bathroom; kettle; instant coffee; bottled water; soap, shampoo, towel supplied;)

Much of my fiddling with the trailer and the rain cover. turned out to be unnecessary, at least for this trip. I realized that since I had put my computer, camera gear, and electronics in my Osprey daypack, I would have to pretty much just lay the daypack down on top of the trailer and strap it there. And I can’t do that with the rain cover. on the trailer. The rain cover covers up all the possible attachment points for straps. That is another modification I plan to make someday. So I ended up riding from Kisaran to the ferry dock in Tanjungbalai with no rain cover on the trailer.

My comfortable seat on the fast ferry from Tanjungbalai to Klang. On a previous trip, I was on a much larger and older ferry. It was more interesting because it had different levels, and it was possible to go out on deck in the open air and even down into the bowels of the ship and have coffee with the crew. But this was a more modern boat, and we were all sealed inside a passenger compartment with no possibility of going outside or anywhere else. The trip to Klang took about five hours.

And then when I got to the dock, I realized that my trailer – as empty as it was – was so light that I didn’t really need to leave the wheels on it. The baggage handlers would routinely lift and carry bags that were both much larger and much heavier, so there was no advantage to leaving the tow arm and the wheels on the trailer. The baggage handler would probably just pick it up and carry it anyway, I realized. So at the last minute, I made the decision to remove the wheels and the tow arm and place them inside the trailer bag, as the whole trailer was designed to function. I quite enjoyed doing that because it displays the most unique aspects of this trailer – the way it transforms from a bicycle trailer to a simple bag in just a couple of minutes. The crowd of men watching me were certainly appreciative. They literally oohed and aahed as I popped off the wheels, removed the axles, placed the wheels inside the trailer and then zipped it closed. Some of them called over their friends and pointed at the now simple piece of luggage and described how it could transform into a bicycle trailer. I felt like a magician performing a magic trick.

A fishing boat on the river. I took this picture through the window of the ferry.

I felt justified in my decision to remove the wheels when a baggage handler finally turned up to deal with my bike and bag, and he just hoisted the trailer to his shoulder and marched off. He didn’t even bother with the shoulder strap, which I had deliberately attached for him. I had to smile at that because in the long email that I am currently writing to Radical Design about the trailer, one point I made is that the shoulder strap is kind of useless. It looks good and useful in their promotional video because the trailer in the video is almost completely empty. The actor hoists the trailer over his shoulder with the strap and walks around to demonstrate how it works. But when the trailer has a full load of gear inside it, it is far too heavy for the shoulder strap to be of any use. It cuts into your shoulder like a knife and is very uncomfortable if not painful.

It’s interesting when design meets the real world. Most of this trailer’s design and structure is built around this ability to move the wheels to the rear of the trailer and use it as wheelable luggage. And it is also specifically designed to transform from a bicycle trailer to a piece of luggage by removing the wheels completely and placing them inside the bag. But I’ve noticed that when people interact with the trailer, it doesn’t always work out that way. Yesterday, for example, when I arrived at my hotel in Klang, a promotional video would have had me move the trailer’s wheels to the rear axle holes and proudly roll it down the hallway to my room. But in reality, I didn’t bother. I simply unhooked the trailer and rolled it down the hallway just as it was. With the wheels in the middle position on the trailer, I had to bend over a little bit as I walked, but that was no problem. After all, my room was perhaps thirty meters down the hallway at most. Rolling the trailer down that hallway while bent over a little bit was far less effort than moving the wheels to the rear position and then, the next morning, moving them back again to the middle position. If I had to walk the trailer a couple hundred meters or more, then it would make sense. But most of the time, in my experience, you don’t have to roll the trailer very far to get to your room in a hotel, and it’s easier to just leave the wheels where they are. In one of their promotional videos, Radical Design shows a guy bringing his trailer to a grocery store. And he moves the wheels to the rear position so he can walk through the grocery store with the trailer behind him. That makes sense, but it also makes no sense because, to be honest, the trailer is too large to conveniently wheel around a grocery store. You’re certainly not going to do that in Asia where there isn’t even enough room for a human to walk down the aisles. It’s true that this trailer would be a great thing to have in Canada for trips to the grocery store, but chances are that you’d just leave the trailer attached to your bike outside. You’d go into the store and get your groceries using a basket or a grocery cart – which they provide anyway – and then you’d bring your groceries outside and load them into your trailer just like you would load them into the trunk of your car. And in any event, when the guy did the grocery store demo, he was working with a completely empty trailer. So it was easy for him to manipulate it as he changed the wheel position. When you are touring, you are trying to manhandle a very heavy object, and moving the wheels takes a lot more effort as you have to lift one side of the trailer off the ground several times during the process.

It becomes even more complicated when other people interact with my trailer as both a trailer and as luggage. Once I had removed the wheels and put them inside and attached the shoulder strap, the trailer bag sat there on the ground as a pretty convenient piece of luggage. And since I’m familiar with it as a trailer and as luggage, I’d deal with it in a certain way. I knew which way was up. I knew how to pick it up. But the baggage handler was approaching it for the first time, and he had a lot of difficulty just picking it up off the ground. When it lies flat, there is no easy way to get your fingers under it to get purchase. There are various straps and things, but they aren’t obvious to a man used to dealing with suitcases with handles or boxes with ropes tied around them. So this poor guy fumbled quite a bit as he tried to pick it up. I had to help him.


(I shot this video clip out of the window on my ferry to Klang.)

And when I saw my trailer at different stages of the loading and unloading process, I saw that people had trouble with it. At the dock, they tried to set it on its edge and lean it against a wall so that it takes up less space. I would normally leave it lying flat on the ground because that is its normal orientation for me. That’s how I pack it and how I move it around and access the interior. But these guys wanted to stand it upright like a suitcase. And it’s not designed to do that, and it kept toppling over. Plus, I noticed that it wants to go upside down. It has a thick metal frame around the edges and then a soft bag attached to that frame. The baggage handlers would naturally grip the metal frame on the edges to carry it, and it wanted to flip over so that the contents would be hanging down from the frame. It had a kind of twisting energy. It wanted to go upside down. So when I saw it being removed from the boat when we arrived in Klang, I saw that the men had it upside down. And, as baggage handlers do, they threw it ten feet through the air from the boat to the dock. And it went through the air upside down and landed on what is its top. And then the men at the dock grabbed it and dragged it across the cement upside down. It was horrible to watch, and I wondered if I shouldn’t have left the wheels on. But considering how rough they were, it’s possible that the wheels themselves would suffer a lot of damage. They’d probably not have bothered to wheel the trailer at all. They’d just pick it up and throw it, and then it would land on its wheels and perhaps twist them and break spokes, etc. And watching how they handled the trailer, I was actually glad that I had left the rain cover off even for the trip on the ferry. The rain cover would normally cover the top of the trailer bag and leave the bottom exposed. But these guys ended up flipping it over, so as the trailer was dragged across the ground, it would have been scraping and tearing up the rain cover. My bike was handled with the same lack of care. It was not so much wheeled from the ferry to the luggage cart on shore as thrown. It was the last thing to be removed from the ferry, and they simply dumped the bike on top of everything else. This all reinforced my oft-stated maxim that more damage is done to a touring bike in transit on airplanes and boats and buses then ever is done while riding it. My bike and pannier racks have lots of battle scars, but they are almost all the result of being on planes and buses and trucks and boats.

The bike ride from my hotel in Kisaran to the ferry dock was in keeping with the overall trip around Sumatra – it was much harder than I expected. I knew from Google Maps that the trip was about twenty-four kilometers, and since this was to be all of the riding for the day other than less than one kilometer to get to my hotel in Klang, I wasn’t that worried about it. However, I should have been. I was lucky in that the skies were perfectly clear and there wasn’t even a hint of rain. However, it had rained heavily during the night – as it almost always does – and the road was a non-stop series of mud- and water-filled potholes. The road I had to follow was in pretty rough shape, and I banged and crashed and splashed through huge puddles almost the entire way. Despite the early hour, there was also heavy traffic, and I often couldn’t weave around the expanses of mud. I had to go right through them as I was forced to keep to a straight line.

Time also seemed to get away from me. I thought I had plenty of time to get to the ferry dock by nine. However, I guess all the various stages started to add up. Bringing my bike and gear down from my room in Kisaran took longer than normal because I had completely changed how I packed, and that meant fiddling around with straps and bungee cords and other things. Then, when I saw that the door at Al’s bird shop was open, I pulled in. My plan was not to stop. But when I saw the door was open, it seemed rude to just ride right by without saying hello and goodbye one last time. However, as usual, it was only Al’s wife that was up and working. Al was still in bed and asleep. Before I could stop her, Al’s wife was yelling at Al that the “bule” was here. I’m the bule – the foreigner. It’s funny that despite knowing these people for well over a year and communicating with them a lot and spending a lot of time with them, they don’t know me by my name. I’m the bule. I don’t mean that as a criticism. I don’t know Al’s wife’s name either off the top of my head. I wouldn’t know how to address her at all. I’d be scared of saying something disrespectful or impolite.

I was kicking myself about stopping at Al’s place now, because I was stuck. I had to sit in a chair and wait until Al got himself out of bed and made himself presentable. This took what felt like a long time, and Al’s wife hovered around me, and if I hadn’t drawn a firm line in the sand, she would have made me tea and breakfast and a packed lunch – none of which I wanted. Al finally showed up, and I made my goodbyes and departure as short as possible. I didn’t want to waste any more time.

My route to the ferry dock also took me right by the travel agent office. My instructions were to text them when I got to the dock, but I didn’t think it would hurt to pop my head in the door and let them know that I was on my way. That didn’t take long, but it was another short delay, and as I cycled the rest of the way, I realized that time was getting short. I did not have tons of time as I imagined I did.

Things got more challenging once I arrived at the main road going from Tanjungbalai to the ferry dock. That whole area is a beehive of fishing boats and fish warehouses and markets. And nothing gets crazier than a narrow road at an Indonesian fish market. I found myself in a stifling jam of transport trucks, motorcycles, and tricycles. I’ve been to this area many times on my various trips, and it is a fascinating place to explore. But when you are just focused on getting through it and past it to the dock, it’s a difficult hurdle. I was breathing in clouds of black exhaust while the market men were shouting greetings and running up to me and high-fiving me and grabbing the trailer wheels to pinch them and playing with the brake levers and handlebars and the Hulk. It was all a bit overwhelming.

My hope was that when I finally arrived at the ferry dock, things would go smoothly. I had paid a premium price for my ticket by buying it at a travel agent instead of directly. And part of the extra fee goes towards a person meeting me at the dock and helping me through the formalities. A problem with a system like this in general – on a theoretical level – is that approached as a customer, there are two aspects. One, is that you need things to get done. You need the services you paid for. For example, I needed this staff member to give me my passport, give me my ticket, get my luggage checked in and onto the ferry, and to assist me in navigating the formalities. But, as a customer, I also need the KNOWLEDGE that these things are being done. It’s not enough that this staff member eventually gets my luggage on the ferry. I also need the reassurance and the information that he’s doing it or will do it. And that’s where things in Asia generally fall apart. I think there is a different mindset to that of a person from the West.

I’ve noticed this trend over the years. When I go to the dentist or doctor, for example, I want the dentist or doctor to treat me properly. But I also want to know what he’s doing. I want it explained to me on some level. But Asians generally don’t care to know. They just assume the authority figure has it under control. In fact, questioning the authority figure is seen as an insult. If you ask your dentist a question about the filling you are getting, it is seen as insulting. You are expected to just sit there and assume that everything is under control. And I definitely have the opposite mindset. So I can’t just sit on a chair at the ferry dock and wait and do nothing. Maybe things under control. Maybe everything has been taken care of. Maybe things are happening somewhere. But I don’t know that. So I can’t relax. I stress out. Maybe the travel agent staff knows that there is a system in place and eventually my bicycle will be taken care of. But I don’t know that. I don’t know anything. All I see is my bicycle and trailer bag sitting out in the parking lot in the middle of nowhere, baking in the hot sun. I can’t just leave them there and walk away.

The problems began right from the start. I had been told a half dozen times to simply text Indah (the woman’s name) at the travel agency when I arrived at the dock. Even this kind of bothered me because I didn’t know why this was necessary. It’s not like there would be a thousand foreigners showing up at the ferry dock on a bicycle that morning. There might be one foreigner a year passing through this particular dock. So if there was a staff member at the dock, they’d just see me. It’s not a big place. Why couldn’t this staff member keep an eye out for a six-foot white dude on a bicycle and when he shows up, go help him?

The terminal building at the Tanjungbalai ferry dock.

Plus, I had stopped at the travel agency on my way and spoken to Indah. She was at the office and sitting at the desk. And so she knew that my arrival at the ferry dock was imminent. In fact, she responded to my drop-in visit with what seemed like annoyance. She kind of flapped her hand at me and grimaced and repeated that I should text her when I got to the dock. With all of this going on, I expected a bit of fast action. However, when I took out my phone and sent her the “I’m here” message on Facebook Messenger, there was no reply for a very long time. Nothing. I could see on my phone that she hadn’t even viewed the message yet. I waited for twenty minutes in the baking sun, and I got no reply. I realized that I could call her through Facebook Messenger, and I did that. But even though her phone was now ringing, she didn’t answer. And she still hadn’t seen my messages. I was super-annoyed, to be frank. All this time, I had been crouched in a patch of shade – the closest bit of shade where I could be and still keep my bicycle and bag in view. There was a big shaded roof with seats where passengers could sit, but I couldn’t go there because I couldn’t leave my bike and luggage unattended.

Finally, Indah replied and said. “yes, just wait for my member to call your name.”

This made no sense to me because how would anyone call my name? There was no intercom system. And even if there were, why do that? I’m standing right there. I’m like the Jolly Green Giant except white. Why do I have to wait for twenty minutes for Indah to see my message and then stand there listening for someone calling out my name. Why couldn’t this staff member just see me and come help me?

I waited and waited and waited longer, and finally some young man – a kid practically – came up to me and handed me my passport with a ferry ticket and a departure card sort of half-filled out with all incorrect information. And this kid didn’t speak any English at all. And he was unable to switch gears to use Google Translate to communicate or find someone who could speak English. I had no idea what he was saying, and I wrote a message to Indah telling her that.

Indah wrote back, “just calm down so that my members take care of everything.”

These situations are always kind of unsettling. I’ve done this enough that I KNOW that this is normal. I knew that taking a ferry to Malaysia from a local dock would be chaotic. As a somewhat experienced person, I should be able to take it in stride. It’s not like this was my first rodeo. But looking at me at the dock in Tanjungbalai, you’d think I’d never taken a local boat in Asia before. I was stressed out and freaking out internally.

The problem here was that the “members” were not doing anything that I could see. He had handed me my passport and a ticket, and then did nothing else. I couldn’t see how that helped me in any way. I was glad to get my passport back, but they were the ones who had taken it from me in the first place, and they had done nothing with it. It’s not like I had a departure stamp from immigration. It was in the same condition as when I gave it to them, so why did they even take it from me if all they did was meet me at the dock and hand it back?

All I could make out from the young kid was that he wanted me to go sit down. But I couldn’t do that. I kept pointing at my bicycle and my luggage. I couldn’t leave it there. It was just out in the parking lot and any thief could just make off with it. I wrote to Indah again, as this was my only way forward, and I told her about the bicycle and bag and I asked her if I needed to go through customs or check it in somewhere.

She wrote back, “the matter is let my members talk to immigration people and take care of everything.”

The problem, again, was that her members weren’t doing anything and a lot of time had passed. I finally took matters into my own hands and I went to stand beside my bike and I flagged down an official looking luggage carrier. I’d seen these guys going up to all the other passengers and loading their suitcases onto dollies and trucking them away. So why not me? In short order, my bag was hoisted to a shoulder and then the “members” rejoined me and he started wheeling my bicycle. We got to the entrance to the main building where I knew immigration was located, but they wouldn’t let me in. They kept shouting something about a boarding pass. And it turned out that there was a little ticket window beside the entrance, and I was expected to hand over 60,000 rupiah for a boarding pass. I don’t know why it was called a boarding pass. It was really the same thing as an airport terminal fee.

I was annoyed at this because I assumed that my 500,000 rupiah covered all the necessary fees. That’s certainly how it was explained to me. So why was this 60,000-rupiah fee being sprung on me at the last second? The “members” didn’t seem to know anything about it. Luckily, I had tons of leftover rupiah, so I could pay it. But what if I was a normal person and had carefully monitored my cash so that I had just enough left to get me through the departure? Most people would have spent all their rupiah or exchanged it for another currency by then.

But I had no choice, and I paid for the boarding pass. Then I was allowed inside, and I went to the immigration desk. Again, the members didn’t do anything. I was doing everything, and I had to deal with immigration just like I always do. That was a bit of a circus, as always, as my guy appeared to be mystified by my passport and visa and he called over other guys and they all put their heads together and talked at length and argued. None of them seemed to have any idea what to do. When this was settled, they found that none of them had a working pen to fill out the necessary forms. And at some point, he needed to staple one piece of paper to another and he didn’t have a stapler. Here, finally, the members came into his own, and he whipped out a little stapler from his man purse (a very popular item here) and handed it to the immigration official. The official stapled the papers and gave it back. I guess I had paid 500,000 rupiah for that staple.

I was then told by the immigration officer to go sit down in one of the nearby plastic chairs. The travel agent staff dude (the “members”) had already disappeared, and I never saw him again. I didn’t know where my bicycle was. I didn’t know where the trailer bag was. I had no receipts for them. I had filled out no papers. There were no luggage tags. I had paid nothing. They had just disappeared. I didn’t even know what time the ferry was supposed to leave or what I had to do next, if anything. I was particularly confused because I was now inside a building in a plastic chair near the immigration desk. But through the window, I could still see a hundred people – the other passengers – sitting in the chairs outside under the roof. Why were they out there and I was in here? Was I supposed to be out there? Were they supposed to be in here? Why weren’t they going through immigration? It was all a mystery.

After some time, an official of some type appeared and began shouting. People got up and lined up in front of a desk at the door. To get into this line, I had to go back out past immigration again, which made no sense, but that was the least of my worries. When I got to the desk, I saw that they had a passenger manifest, and they checked the list against my passport and then waved me ahead.

As I walked down the dock toward the ferry, I was joined by the man who had carried my bag away. This made sense to me because he was expecting some money at some point. He didn’t want to let me out of his sight. I was still expecting to also have to pay for my luggage in general, but there was nothing between me and the boat – no desk or office or official. However, when we reached a turn in the dock, my luggage carrier stopped me and pointed at a large, fat man who was sitting on a piece of wood and chewing slowly. He was dressed in normal civilian clothes and looked the same as any of the hundreds of people at the dock. I had no idea what anyone was saying, but it didn’t really matter. If someone was talking to me, it meant they wanted money. That’s the only reason anyone would talk to me at this dock. So I mentally made the connection between this man and my bicycle and bag, which I could see were still sitting on the dock beside the ferry. They had not been loaded yet. And this was probably a ploy to make sure that I paid. My bicycle was not going on the boat until I paid the fat man.

As I said, I couldn’t understand what they were talking about, but I assumed it was my luggage. And I heard the figure of 50,000 rupiah. After a question or two from me, I concluded that I was supposed to give this fat man 50,000 rupiah. I did so, and the second I handed over the money, my luggage carrier dashed off and started the process of loading my bike and bag on the ferry. I followed, and another luggage carrier kind of inserted himself ahead of me and slowed me down, partially blocking my way. This was to allow enough time for me to hand over more cash to the luggage handler who had been helping me. I knew from previous trips through this dock that the luggage handlers expect a tip of a certain amount per item they carry. I had no idea what the going rate was for a bicycle, but I had 30,000 rupiah in a convenient spot, and I handed that to the man. He seemed pleased with the amount, and he announced “Tiga puluh” to the other men. That means thirty in Indonesian, so he was telling them that I had given him 30,000 rupiah.

There was no reserved seating on this ferry, and it was not the type of ferry I was hoping for. Rather than a large boat with an outside deck, it was quite narrow and streamlined with an enclosed passenger cabin – much like an airplane – and there was no way to go outside to enjoy the scenery and take pictures. The best I could do was sit in my seat and take pictures through the window. On the positive side, the ferry was not crowded, and I had a full set of three large seats to myself. Also on the positive side, the air conditioning was set to a comfortable level. It was not set to ice cold as it usually is on public transportation in Asia. Finally, on the positive side, though there was a TV at the front and it was hooked up to karaoke tracks, the speakers at the back where I was sitting didn’t seem to be working. So I didn’t have to put up with any kind of screaming noise for the duration of the five-hour journey.

As always, there was a great deal of economic activity on the boat. Most of the people on board were Indonesians going to Malaysia for work or for a holiday or to go to a hospital, and a range of men went back and forth on this ferry to offer services like selling SIM cards, changing money, arranging transportation, and, as I learned later, lending “show” money. This practice of lending show money was a mystery to me at first. I saw it happening all around me, but I didn’t understand what was going on. What I saw was a group of jovial men roaming around the ferry and handing out large stacks of Indonesian currency to people. This made no sense to me because we were going to Malaysia. If these people were changing money, wouldn’t they get Malaysian ringgit? Also, the jovial men never got anything in return. They simply counted out a few million rupiah, handed it to passengers, and the passengers gave them nothing in return. All that happened was that the jovial men wrote something down in a notebook. If this was a transaction, I had no idea what was being bought or sold.

It wasn’t until I posted a picture on Facebook and talked about this that I got an answer. My friend Al from Kisaran said that for an Indonesian to go to Malaysia on a ferry, they have to prove to the Malaysian immigration official that they have enough money to support themselves for the duration of their visit. They are serious about this because large numbers of Indonesians go to Malaysia to work illegally. Therefore, an informal market of short-term moneylenders has sprung up. These jovial men were lending the Indonesian passengers a few million rupiah in cash just for a few hours. These people would show this money to the immigration officials, and then they would return the money along with a fee.

I don’t know what the fee structure would be. Nor do I know if these jovial men worked for a company or if this was considered legal. However, I did see it in action on the Malaysian side. While I was waiting in line at immigration, I saw a man ahead of me suddenly dig into the two back pockets of his pants and pull out two large stacks of cash. He waved them through the air to show the money to the immigration official and then put it on the counter. The immigration official never touched the money or counted it, but I guess it was sufficient proof that this man had enough money for his trip.

This was all very logical, and I was so happy when Al supplied the answer to this mystery. However, it didn’t answer all my questions. For one thing, it’s pretty clear that the Malaysian officials would know what was going on. They aren’t dummies. Plus, I saw all the jovial men get off the ferry and walk right into the immigration building and past all the immigration officials. They clearly had an official status of some kind. We passengers were herded into a waiting room where we had to sit in seats and wait to be called. But these men simply strolled into the building. And they were carrying knapsacks that were clearly heavy and packed with all kinds of stuff, and they showed them to the Malaysian officials. They were all familiar with each other, and it was clear that everyone knew what they were doing on the ferries. Given that, why do the Malaysian officials let it happen? Why even bother going through the farce of asking for proof of sufficient funds when they know full well that those sufficient funds – the stacks of Indonesian currency – were just a short term loan?

I’ve gone through this ferry dock a few times now, and it always strikes me as interesting. Right away, you get the contrast between sometimes chaotic Indonesia and sometimes efficient Malaysia. The Malaysians certainly see themselves as more efficient and more knowledgeable when it comes to proper behavior. Rather than let the Indonesians enter the building and line up at the immigration counters, they treat the Indonesians like children. At least it seemed that way to me. They made all of us wait in separate waiting rooms, and they made us wait a fairly long time. I think this is done deliberately to get everyone to calm down and relax. Then an official comes out and scans the crowds and picks people individually one by one to get up and stand in a line. They then allow this group to go into the immigration area, where they are directed again to form lines at each one, and they are almost physically marched to the right spot and told where to stand and where to wait. The assumption seemed to be that if they just let the Indonesians handle themselves, the whole crowd would rush the counters and create chaos. Instead, they treat them like schoolchildren and practically hold their hands and physically walk them to where they want them to be.

When it was my turn, I found myself in a line-up for a counter with a female immigration officer. I hate to say it, but my heart sank a little bit. Fairly or not, I can’t help but think that female immigration officers are more strict than men. Every time I end up with a female officer, I get interrogated and treated rather harshly. My assumption is that they feel they have to act tougher than the men in order to get respect as women. This has happened so regularly to me that now when I have a choice, I always choose counters with male officers. The women always seem to have a chip on their shoulder, and this female officer was no exception. She looked at my passport very closely and she asked me a lot of questions about who I was and where I had been and what I was doing. She also asked me odd questions. She asked me how many passports I had. Did I have two or one? I said I only had one. But then she kept asking me about my second passport, almost as if she was suspicious and was trying to trick me into an admission. I finally seemed to get on her good side when I mentioned that I had been on a bike tour of Indonesia, and that my bicycle was on the ferry with me. This made her happy because my being on the ferry now made sense to her. Not many foreigners come through this port, but she surely would have learned over time that foreign cyclists gravitate towards using a ferry. This is a story that would make sense to her, especially when I explained that I was going to Kuala Lumpur to fix this or that broken part on my bicycle. Everything I said had the ring of truth because it was true but also because it made sense. It explained why a foreigner would be on this ferry and not on a modern jet at the airport.

Just barely enough space in my boutique hotel room for my trailer and bicycle.

Once I got through Immigration, I went to the rather simple baggage claim area. To my surprise, I was asked to pay thirty ringgit for my baggage. That was ten ringgit for my bicycle and then twenty ringgit for my bag. They even weighed my bag to come up with this figure. It was all very official, and they gave me receipts. It was very strange to be paying for my luggage AFTER the journey was over. However, as they explained it to me, that is the system here. You pay for your checked baggage on this ferry in Malaysia regardless of which direction you are traveling. You are never supposed to pay anything in Indonesia. That leads to the conclusion that the fat man on the dock in Indonesia was just a scammer. And that made sense to me. At least the amount I was scammed only amounted to a few dollars.

At the d’Spark hotel in Klang, Malaysia.

I took a couple of minutes to take out the wheels and reattach them to the trailer, and then I rode my bike the short distance to the Klang train station. There, I was happy to learn that I was able to take my bike on the train to Kuala Lumpur. I will do that today, and I hope it goes well, though I am worried about the trailer being allowed on board. I didn’t dare ask, and I made sure to keep my bike and trailer hidden from view when I approached the ticket window. I didn’t want them to reject me right from the start. Then I rode to the d’Spark Hotel. It was not at the spot where Google Maps said it was, but it was close by, and I spotted it. Unfortunately, my room reservation through Agoda had not shown up in their system. But they had a single room available, and they gave it to me.

It’s a very small but very nice room. The brochure calls d’Spark a boutique hotel, and I get that. By boutique, they mean it is not grand. It is small and efficient but with touches that make it worth the trade-off in size. The attached bathroom is very nice with a hot water heater and nice fittings. It is also behind a wall of frosted glass and looks very boutiquey. There is a TV on the wall and an air conditioner. The bed is nice. There is also a kettle with a complimentary packet of instant coffee. I spent a very pleasant evening, night, and morning here. In fact, I got out of bed at three a.m. this morning deliberately just so that I could be awake longer to enjoy the benefits of this room. There’s no point sleeping here. I can save my sleeping for when I am in the hot and noisy and dirty hostel in Kuala Lumpur. I’d rather be awake and enjoying the nice room that I paid for.

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