Disclaimer: I wrote some of this drunk, some of it sick and the rest on a bus.
I’m running out of ways to say thank you to people. The last two days have been a ridiculous marathon of hospitality and generosity. Everywhere I go I meet more people who want to talk to me, house me and feed me. If there was any doubt at all over the success of this trip it has surely been extinguished now.
I had to do another long ride yesterday because I made this stupid ass plan to ride 110km every day until I leave. Anyway, at some point in the ride my tire burst, like really burst. Lots of little holes everywhere like a teenage face recently ravaged by pimple-popping. It was all fucked and I was fucked. I was stuck in the middle of nowhere with nothing to do. I turned my bike upside down like a dead fish and stuck my thumb out for a ride then PHAW BOOM – fucking thunderstorm.
Eventually a ragtag team of locals adopted me. They organised a cab and I played hacky sack with their sons while I waited.
“You’re cool.” One of them said to me.
An enjoyably chatty but regrettably expensive taxi took me to Teluk Intan. With the help of townsfolk I’d organised to meet my train-friend Donnie at his hairdressing studio. This is what was waiting for me when I arrived.
Shit loads of deliciously fresh seafood and vegetables expertly picked and cooked by Donnie and his wife Sherrie.
“I closed early so I could cook for you.” He said. Love this guy.
Eating with Donnie was like drinking with an alcoholic.
“Slow down. You eat so fast. We have so much time,” he would say while hypo tidally loading up my plate like an industrial fishing crane.
“Have more mantis shrimp.”
The feast was endlessly delicious and filling. Every time I thought the eating was over the train would just roll into another station.
“Good let’s have some fruit.”
Still not over. Next stop night markets.
At some point during the drowsy destruction of this delicious ABC I looked down at my belly. I could see a fold of my t-shirt resting on my stomach like a dead slug. I’ve never seen that before I thought.
My initial plan for the next day was to ride 134km to a train station that went to Kuala Kumpur. I was hoping to arrive in KL by 5:30pm. Donnie and I executively decided this was a shit plan. We organised a bus late the next morning instead.
Plenty of time for a local tour on the flabertrain.
Wonton soup, steamed noodles, curry and fried wontons.
Markets – monkey bananas and fish cakes
Fish markets. I was supposed to eat or drink something here but the guy who made whatever it was had left to eat himself.
Roti chanai with sweet sambal, fish, and vegetable curries.
When I was sitting on the bus waiting to leave Donnie ran back on.
“In case you get hungry.” He handed me a bag of Chinese biscuits filled with bean paste. Then he ran off again.
Donnie made me feel like a beloved son who’d turned up unannounced, emaciated and withered, after years of estrangement. They trusted me, they fed me and they were interested in my story. They’re not rich but they made me a seafood feast fit for visiting royalty. My dream is to repay this generosity. I hope in the future I can fly them to Sydney. I’ll have made the most ridiculous feast to greet them. They’ll hardly be able to walk.
Whenever I’m in a bus or train I always offer to share my food with my neighbour. On this bus it was Mafuz, a Bangladeshi man with high pants and a soft smile. The first person to ask me whether I believe in god without making me felt awkward or morally compromised. He declined the cakes but ate a few bananas. We got on great.
He asked me what I was doing that night. Perhaps I wanted to visit some caves and eat some Bangladeshi food with him. I could stay at his place if I wanted.
I laughed to myself. Sometimes I feel like I walk on a rainbow. Lady fortune’s got everyone on the street crashing their cars and getting malaria but I’m riding the colour, beautiful and easy.
If it was any other day I would have said yes to Mafuz in a second but I didn’t have enough time. I had already organised to meet a family friend in KL who had kindly offered to store my bike. I accepted his invite to lunch and politely declined the rest. I told him I’ll be back to Malaysia. I probably will, I’ve got so many people to visit.
We arrived a bit far from the centre of town. We tried to find a cabbie who’d take my bike but they got all weird about it.
“Maybe in your country but not in Malaysia.” One said. He looked indignant. What? I’m not asking you suck me off. Just put my bike in you car.
No one would do it.
Mafuz insisted the best way to get to town was for him to go by cab and for me to follow him on my bike. I thought this was a shit idea – I’ll be too slow and riding in traffic here is like trying to crawl between a herd of drug addict wildebeest.
Turned out I was right.
The 4km rode to the centre was 2km of steep uphill and 2km of congested traffic. The cab driver didn’t seem to understand the concept of going slow (Mafuz later said this to be true) so I had to mindlessly pump it the whole hog.
When we arrived Mafuz looked at me concerned. He had seen me narrowly avoid a big crash earlier and I was now soaked in sweat.
“At least I’m hungry,” I said.
Lucky. Mafuz ordered pretty much every curry in the joint. I had to try everything right.
And then some.
A feast as delicious as it was massive. Fucking excellent.
Mafuz ended up taking me exactly where I needed to go. He refused to let me pay for either taxi or lunch.
People have been so unbelievably nice here. I wonder what it would be like for them to travel in Australia. Would we give them the same random acts of hospitality and help? I don’t know. I doubt it and that makes me sad.
I met Nigel through my aunt. I emailed him to ask about some fernickety transport questions in KL. He answered them all by offering me and my bike a room. Nigel’s retired to KL and has set up a bloody good life for himself.
That’s the most famous building in Malaysia. This picture was taken in his living room. This living room:
The bathrooms, kitchen, and bedrooms weren’t shabby either and by weren’t shabby I mean dream like. It was a magazine house, not superstar showy magazine but some artful, classy magazine. The kind of house I retire to in my most unrealistic dreams. So for a dirty bike tourist is was fucking luxury.
I spent the night with Nigel and group if his friends eating steak and getting wasted.*
Welcome to the Team Bu Yao. Here is your temporary membership. Please accept
complimentary compulsory doses of friendship and alcohol.
They’re four families. All of them scattered across the world. Every year they get together and hang out somewhere awesome. Meetings are compulsory. Next up is Florence.
I was really inspired by this. Not the the luxury or travel itself but the commitment to friendship. Here are four groups of friends separated by thousands of kilometres, different working schedules and awkward time zones but regardless they’ve met every year and they’ve remained close.
If my life is anything like Nigel’s when I’m his age I’ll be laughing. Everyone should have a team Bu Yao.
Now I’m heading to Singapore before my flight tomorrow night. I’ve got some old friends there I’d like to see.
* At no point do I remember ever having requested a drink.