Sunday, August 30, 2009


A few weeks ago, a colleague asked me if I would like to join for a backpacking trip. Nothing solid has been planned, it was more like of throwing ideas around. To which my reply was, all the persons in the list were the least likely people that suitable for backpacking.

Anyway, later that day, I thought hard about the things that were discussed with that colleague and wonder what authority do I have in saying what was said. I had traveled. Sometimes alone, and sometimes with friends. But does that qualified me to say the things that I said? And so I reflected on some of the traveling that I've done.

1. Humbling Lumut.
It was during my college years. We all had to undergone internship / industrial training somewhere. Friends opted for internship in big cities (KL, Singapore etc.) or their hometown. Me, I went away to a little town called Lumut (also translated into "moss") in Malaysia.

The office was at the top floor at the end of a dockyard (yes, I'd worked in a dockyard). To get to the office, I had to go pass military checks by the Malaysian Royal Navy. I still have the now-invalid pass card / permit as a token of memorabilia.

I didn’t have my own car. Main mode of transportation at that time were carpool ( from my rented room to work), busses, or on foot. It was during this period that I got to see first hands how little children, in rural areas, as young as seven years old, travel to and fro school in public busses.

They crouch and hunch over their homework at the bus stop while waiting for the busses. On the rickety bus, they continued with their homework, sitting on the floor and making the bench as their table. The bumpy and noisy bus ride didn’t seem to bother them. One by one the little kids got off the bus. Often stopping in places that seemed to me like in the middle of nowhere. They must have had to walk the rest of journey home. Roughly, the waiting and the bus trip might have taken more or less a total of two hours.

2. Burning Bus Station, Butterworth
Butterworth is a town in Pulau Pinang, Pearl of the Orient. Yes, I was there the morning the old bus station opposite the railway station burned down. I took photos of the incident, but unfortunately, along the years, I’ve lost it.

At that time, I was based in Lumut. With little allowance provided by the company, I managed to save enough for the trip to Penang. I hopped on a few short haul busses. When I finally reach Butterworth, it was already dark and the last bus to the island had already left. I checked myself into a small hotel (which close friends categorized as dubious-looking-hotel). It was either the dubious-looking-hotel or walking alone along the dark and deserted road to find respectable-hotel. I didn’t want to risk being mugged, so I settled for the small hotel – the kind that the authority would raid to combat vice activities. Thank fully, no raid was done that night. And no, I didn’t engage in any vice activities.

It was the next morning that the bus station burned down. I was there to catch the earliest bus to Georgetown.

3. Biking in Pangkor
I was still based in Lumut at that time. And I had just gotten my motorbike license. So that Saturday after work, I asked my friend to drop me off at the old jetty – which now have been replaced with spanking new one. I bought the cheaper ferry ticket – non air-condition ferry. It was cheaper and slower. The kind that the locals used.

Upon reaching the Pangkor Island, I walked about in the little town near the jetty. Underneath a tree, I found a bike rental place (wasn’t even a proper shop). The guy asked for my license and jotted down my particulars. He handed me the key and off I went on the bike with a full tank of fuel. I can’t remember what was the rental, but I’m sure it was below RM 40 per day. I remember the locals looked at me just because I was wearing helmet while biking around the island into pockets of smaller ‘kampungs’. Seemed that no one else wear helmet and I stood out as a visitor!

I managed to get a roof – literally – over my head for the night. The chalet I stayed was the kind that sort of just roof and door.

4. Singaporean in Penang?
Yes, I did go to Singapore and crash at a close friend’s grandma’s flat during college years. But we also went to Penang. We crashed at a friend’s place in the mainland before heading to the island. The friend, who now works in Australia, stayed in a stately colonial style-house in what used to be acres of plantation. The hospitality is forever not lost in my mind.

The next day we stayed at a proper hotel in Penang Island after my friends looked disapprovingly at the dubious-hotel I had stayed during my solo trip earlier.

It was while hanging out at the poolside that the hotel staff slipped that they thought we were college students from Singapore.

Those are some of the places I’ve been prior to the existence of this blog. There are other places and stories (which includes the trip to the land of Kiwis that I’ve yet to blog about). I may not be qualified to say much about backpacking as I’ve never been on long backpacking trip. But I’m sure the people in the list had not been in any hotels other than the respectable ones. Definitely not the cheap and dubious looking hotels.

Maybe someday I could quit my job, pack my things and just fly away!

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