When I meet people and affirm in the positive that I have been to Malaysia, they expect to hear stories of my ascent to the top of the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, my trek into the Cameron Highlands, my orangutan experience at one of the famous sanctuaries on Borneo or perhaps a relaxing time on the beaches of Penang.
My Malaysian experience to date is sadly none of these wonderful pursuits but a side trip out of Singapore to escape the El Niño created smog that had enveloped the city, so much so that you could only see a few feet in front of you. An uglier experience is hard to imagine.
Johor Bahru is a border city and as far as I am aware this is the sole purpose of its existence (apologies to the locals if there is actually a wealth of things going on there and it is a great place to live as I have done zero research on the place and all my dreary impressions were garnered from three hours spent there in October ’97).
We got off the train at the Singapore side to walk through passport control, along fifty metres of nomansland and through the Malay equivalent.
Having left behind immaculate Singapore we were met by somewhat of a mess. It poured with rain for the whole time we were there and our entire experience was crossing a busy road (and getting whistled at by a traffic cop for not crossing in the correct place) and going to a drab shopping centre with spartanly filled shops and a couple of uninspiring cafes.
We passed most of the time in a music shop playing CDs that we pretended to be interested in buying, that was until such time as we were designated quite rightly as time wasters and asked to sod off by the store manager!
We had time to eat some flavourless rice dishes in the adjacent cafe until such time as we deigned it time to go back to the train station to wait for our train to the peninsular city.
This time we crossed the road the correct way via a large metal overbridge. Unfortunately it had become very slippery due to the heavy precipitation and unsurprisingly I slipped on the way up the steel steps and cracked my knee hard, ensuring that I walked with a limp for the next two days!
We had changed some Singapore dollars for Malaysian Ringgits to pay our expenses. Unfortunately we had miscalculated the cost of two train tickets and found ourselves a few beans short.
We had already been through Malaysian border control and to go and get some more Malaysian beans would have meant showing my passport again, crossing the deadly bridge in the rain and going back to the bank by the shopping centre.
I calculated that this would see at least one of us miss the train and have to wait for two more hours in what we considered to be a desperate hole.
I was just about resigned to this fate when a kindly gentleman who had heard our plight handed me the equivalent of fifty pence in beans to enable us to buy two tickets.
I had never been so grateful for such a small sum of money since I was about eleven years-old.
So that’s it for my Malaysian experience. I sincerely hope that it will not be my only one.
Have you ever been to Johor Bahru or do you have a similar experience from elsewhere?
I tried to teach my then 14 year old daughter to haggle in Johor Baru, it was like being in a scene from Life of Brian. Every time the lady said a price my little girl would happily pay it…….
I will one day over a beer regale you with the full tale of a ‘3 hour challenging hike’ up Penang Hill. After 6 hours I can tell you that most of the people who live there know how to point behind them and say ‘Penang Hill…long way, very far, very far..’
Haggling is great sport, I will never forget my mate in Istanbul Grand Bazaar ending up with 4 pairs of white socks that he didn’t want due to him inadvertently striking a deal. That hill sounds horrendous!
Thank God for kindly gentlemen willing to help a stranger 🙂
I have been through Johor Bahru on the “Jungle Train” which I took from Singapore (when the train still set out from there) to Kota Bahru (an incredible trip). But I don’t remember much about it as after going through customs, I feel asleep (it was like 5 AM) and woke up at daylight with a group of kids sitting all around me.
I have tried to come up with something in response to your challenge. Happily I am unable to!