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Not so Amazing Race

Malaysia->Singapore->Thailand edition
11/6/07

Today was the polar opposite of yesterday. No time to drag asses nor smell roses. Too bad. Our hotel had A/C, TV and tub. I allocated 5 minutes for the usual cold shower. It was warm with water pressure. Damn!

Instead of hot and sunny, it was cold and rainy. It was not raining as hard as it appeared. The front window had an artificial waterfall feeding the fish tank below.

Breakfast was brisk: 2 eggs, fried rice and my last Malaysian coffee.

The bus arrived quickly. Was this our bus? A friendly old Malaysian man at the bus stop said yes. We hopped on with him. Alex made friends with the Malay man who doesn’t usually ride the bus. He was riding it today because his car broke down. Alex & the Malay man got into a long conversation talking about everything: children, retirement, hopes and dreams as if they had all the time in the world.

It started with the Malay man asking, “Where from?”
Alex replied, “America.”
MM: “What do you do?”
Alex: “I work for the US government.”
MM smiled: “As a young man I spent 5 months in the military [compulsory in Malaysia]. I also worked for the government. Retired now. Not possible to have other job and work for the government. Now I help with the family business. Saving to move my family, [usually means 3 generations under 1 roof], to family land near to KL. You live with family?”
Alex pointing to me, “No. I just live with my wife. My family lives in different states. In America, sometimes families live far apart.”
MM: “How long married? Any children?”
Alex: “11 years. No. Not yet”.
MM: “So long. You are young.” In a concerned tone while looking down towards Alex’s manhood, “You have problem?”
Alex: “No. We are not ready for children. Maybe this year.”
MM beamed: “I have 2 kids. Boy and girl. Grandchild coming.”

More questions followed: How much do you make? How much does your house cost? Your dad is not married? Only girlfriend? Are there as many people in DC as there are in Malaysia? Are there many Asians in the US?

Although, it was good to see Alex enjoying his interaction. Problem. He neglected to tell me where we had to get off. I assumed it was the bus station. I was sure we passed it. Alex assumed his friend would tell us when to get off. The bus made a stop. Alex’s conversation abruptly stopped his friend bolted of the bus without a goodbye. Did he miss his stop?

The bus continued. I went up to ask the driver where to get off. The bus came to a screeching halt. “You go too far!” He kicked us off and pointed to the taxi waiting on the side of the road. Not only did we miss our stop, we were on the wrong bus! I think the Malay man realized he put us on the wrong bus and hoped of quickly due to embarrassment.

The chatty driver drove us to the border without any sense of urgency. Along the way, he told us his life’s story. He was originally from KL and returns at least once a month for the nature park and cooler weather. He likes living in Johor Bahru but does not like being so close to Singapore. “I do not trust them!” He was not keen on the Malaysian government either. Is there a taxi driver on the planet that loved and trusted the government? Before he shared any conspiracy theories, we arrived at the border. Like most people in Malaysia, he was friendly and did not try to rip us off. I had plenty of Malay coins to get rid of and cover the expense. Alex literally threw them in my face and paid with our last large Malaysian bill.

Like our previous exit from Malaysia, we cleared without problem. The survey ladies with clipboards were missing. Good thing! There was no time for Alex to show his Borneo numbers.

Our driver had kindly waited for us to drive us through no man’s land so that we did not have to walk in the rain. We breezed through Singapore immigration. I was too focused on the mission to enjoy an airgasm. Back in Singapore. No time to spare. A bus was ready to leave for the bus station in the center of town.

At our stop, Alex rushed off in the wrong direction. He refused to listen to me. It was raining. I tried to catch him but fell due to the slippery sidewalks. I got back up on my feet without his help. It was not easy with a heavy pack and day pack. I was frustrated. I wanted to cry. No time Keren. Push on. Fuck Alex! I walked towards the MRT.

Alex chased me. In the station, I tried to exchange the Malaysian coins. “No good!” Great, stuck with a shitload of Malaysian Ringgits. Fortunately, we had enough Malaysian bills to convert and Singapore coins for 2 fares to the airport. The MRT got us to the airport with 20 minutes to check-in. Our flight was at Terminal 1. We needed to take the Sky train. SHIT!

As I have watched movies, I usually think the scenes with people running through the airport to catch a plane are ridiculous. Today, I was ridiculous. This was the first time ever running through an airport with the added challenge of having an overloaded wet backpack strapped to me. Thankfully I am a runner. I slid into the counter as a disheveled wet mess. The perfectly groomed women behind the counter smiled, “You made it!” I started to breath again. I wondered if I got recruited to the reality show “Amazing Race” without knowing. My boyfriend was not really an asshole, he was just playing one on TV.

In pure Singapore style customs was quick and efficient. I could see our gate. They were boarding. I was thankful each gate had their own security checkpoint. This prevents missed flights due to an idiot on another later departing flight. They will not leave until everyone in the line makes it through. Bad news: Alex’s toothpaste was confiscated. Good news: We made the flight.

Whew! That was exhausting! This was the first time I did not hold Alex’s hand for takeoff. I quickly fell asleep once in the air. Alex woke me up just before landing. He knew I love watching the approach. This was his attempt at an apology. The rocky outcrops jutted out of the water. They looked like the sand castles I used to make on the beach using the drippy method (taking wet sand into your hand and let each drop land on top of the next to create a tower). Landing, the landscape was reminiscent of flying into Costa Rica. Upon landing, I remembered that there had been an accident at this Phuket airport only a month ago.

I am feeling at home in Asia. As we raced through Singapore, I was happy to navigate the city like it was my own. Now that we are back in Thailand I feel like saying, “Hey, Honey! I’m home!” On our ride into Phuket City, it was good to see a familiar sights: Thai script, spirit houses, Wats and a few mosques in the mix.

Alex & I checked into Old Town Hostel and dropped off our stuff. Time to explore our surroundings. Just around the corner we ran into Phuket Town Market. I laughed, we must be drawn to pick lodging right around the corner from a outdoor fresh market. It was huge. I needed a refreshing snack. Hmm. Decisions. Pineapple? Dragonfruit? Jackfruit? Durian? Alex & I got separated.

When Alex caught up with me to tell me he was impressed. He was shocked to see me from afar calmly walking through the crowded market not blinking as scooters flew around me. I was proud of myself, a month ago I barely had the balls to cross the street due to the chaotic traffic. I freaked out when scooters drove past me on sidewalks and through markets. Now it feels normal to having scooters everywhere, racing in all directions

Today, I realized we had raced through 2 countries to make it to the 3rd. Ah, we are here! That night I did not want to do anything but sit recover from a stressful day with a Chang beer. It was worth it. Tomorrow, the beach!

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