Sunday, December 08, 2013

Micro-adventure: To the Royal Army Museum

It was a cool cloudy morning. A perfect day to be outdoors. I wasted no time and got ready. By 8.20 am I was at my starting point of this trip - Kemayan Square, Seremban. I was determined to complete the aborted destination some ten months ago. The Royal Army Museum is located in the coastal district of Port Dickson. Ten months ago I rode "lil' red”. This time I would be riding “Black Beauty”.

Part 1 - Finding a bus stop

The plan was to cycle to the nearest bus stop along the bus route to Port Dickson, then pack Black Beauty and hop on the bus. So off I went with enthusiasm and optimism. 10 minutes into the ride, I saw my first obstacle. In the distance was a small hill. I had climbed that little hill on a motorbike. I knew the slope was steep, but was clueless how steep. The gradient was probably at more than ten percent. I tried to gain speed hoping that it was enough to climb it. Alas, I had to unmount and push Black Beauty up that steep slope. Fortunately, I only have to push for about 12 metres, passing Kampung Baru Rasah.
The steep hill in the distance

I continued on to Jalan Rasah. I knew I was already on the bus route. It was time to find a bus stop to wait for the bus. I never knew that finding a bus stop could be that hard. Harith Iskander, a famous Malaysian comedian, said, Malaysians cross the road anywhere they want using the ‘power of the hand’. It is the same, with waiting and stopping the public bus! After pedalling for 5km, I finally spotted an aunty with a bag waiting under a shady tree, waiting for the bus. I needed to use the restroom. So I made a quick dash to the petrol station nearby.

Just as I was exiting the petrol station to make my way back to the ‘waiting’ area, a bus zoomed by. I had missed the bus by a few minutes. I pondered on my next course of action. I didn’t want to end the adventure merely because I missed a bus. So do I wait for another bus there, or cycle slowly to the next bus stop? Thinking that the bus frequency is once every one hour, I decided that I rather cycle slowly along the bus route than just to sit and do nothing. That meant I had to cycle the longer route via back roads, not the shorter and more direct route via the expressway.

I passed the small town (if you can really call it a town) of Mambau. It is just a few buildings along the main road. If you see the sign board saying “Kampung Baru Mambau”, then you had already passed the town.

From then on, the areas along the route were sparsely populated. From the main road, there were smaller roads leading to houses belonged to the villagers. The bus route follows the main trunk road. Therefore, the road was not exactly quiet. When there were vehicles, they zoomed by. With paved shoulders appearing and disappearing without warning, I was forced to cycle on the main lane, keeping to the far left as possible (to American readers who might read this, Malaysian drive on the left side of the road).
This shaman must be very good in his craft, he has a road named after him

It can be somewhat nerve wrecking to hear motorised vehicles coming from behind you. Not having a side view mirror meant that I have no idea if those vehicles (motorcycles, cars, vans, lorries, and trailers) coming from behind would give me enough space to cycle. Then there was the paranoia of being mugged. In some stretches of the road, when there were no other vehicles, it was so deserted, I could not only hear the birds and crickets, I could even hear the birds flapping their wings. To stop and wait for the bus in the middle of nowhere was even scarier.

Of the elusive bus stop, it seemed that all the decent ones were at the other side of the road, heading the other direction. Hence, I continued pedalling. Before I knew it, I had reached the district border! I glanced at the clock on the cyclocomputer, 9.30 am. Then out of nowhere another bus to Port Dickson zoomed by.
Take note of the empty road!

It seemed that the bus frequency was somewhat once every 30 minutes. Cycling all the way to Port Dickson looked doable. At my average speed of 12km per hour, it would probably take two hours to get to PD. I wondered if I would still have the strength to pedal after that. Furthermore, if I was to pedal all the way to PD, I would reach PD close to noon. The sun would be out in its full ‘glory’, thus making cycling a torture. I decided that the best option would be to find a bus stop within the next 30 minutes and hop on the next bus to PD. I pedalled for another 20 minutes before I finally found a decent bus stop near the Bandar Springhill junction!

Part 2 – On the bus, finally!

I had cycled for about 1hour and 30 minutes before arriving to the bus stop at the junction of Bandar Springhill, Port Dickson. It was almost 10 o’clock in the morning when I got to the bus stop.

I quickly detached my bags from the Black Beauty and began packing. It took my about 10 minutes to pack everything for the bus ride. I had expected the bus to come at any minutes. It was already 30 minutes since the bus passed me at the district border. True to my theory of Malaysian public transport, “when you wait, they don’t come but when you don’t, they’ll come”, the bus was nowhere in sight.

The bus finally came at 10.20am. I was excited. It was my first time bringing Black Beauty on a bus ride.

I was glad that the bus’ floor was not that high from the ground. Hauling the Black Beauty proved to be a little more challenging than what I had expected. Even though the manufacturer claimed that the bicycle weighted around 10kg, Black Beauty proved to be a little too heavy for me to carry. I think it was probably because the weight was not evenly distributed. I was lucky enough to get a seat near the door. That saved me from having to haul Black Beauty further into the bus while the bus was moving.

The bus ride itself was uneventful. I did not pay much attention to the scene outside the bus. I was busy handling Black Beauty that kept wanting to fall on its side. The landscape outside was more or less the same, acres of palm oil plantation. We passed the town of Lukut, which I think bigger than Mambau. There were signboard showing the direction to Kota Lukut, a historical site that could possibly be the next micro-adventure destination.

30 minutes later, I was on the bus platform unpacking and unfolding Black Beauty!

Part 3 – Destination: Royal Army Museum 

A few metres cycling, I noticed that the cyclocomputer was not working. It took me a good 10 minutes to finally realised that the sensor was not aligned properly. While fixing it, a local man came up to chat. According to him, the last bus from Port Dickson to Seremban is around 7.30pm. He also mentioned that there are buses plying the coastal road that I was planning to take.

After cycling 18km to the bus stop, 6km did not seem that far anymore. The light house, though only 15km away, would have to wait.

At 11.40am, I came face to face with my nemesis from the previous ride. Sekolah Menengah Port Dickson marked the beginning of steep slopes that had beaten Red and I some ten months ago. I had to unmount and push the bicycle. This time, Black Beauty performed beautifully. Using the lowest gear, I was able to peddle up the hill and a few more hills that followed.

A traffic light near BHP petrol station marked the end of the “torturous” hills. Newton’s law stated what goes up must comes down. So was the ride. After that traffic light, I enjoyed a descent down the hill. Somewhere near Bagan Pinang beach, I spotted a water station. It was a welcoming sight to a thirsty cyclist. I had two 600ml bottles with me. At 10 cents, the water overflowed and splashed everywhere. Sufficiently rehydrated, I continued pedalling.

20 minutes later, I reached Bandar Tentera Darat. With dark clouds loomed above, I was worried that I wouldn’t make it to the museum before heaven breaks.

The Almighty must have heard my concerns. The sky cleared for a while. I made it to the museum – a few minutes away from the archway.

Part 4 – At the museum 

I circled the car park to find a suitable place to park Black. There were plenty of spaces for cars and buses but nowhere to chain lock Black Beauty. After circling the second round, I finally decided that the gate was probably the best place to chain Black Beauty. Despite of the sign requesting the gate to be close, I really hoped that nobody would close the gate as it may damage Black Beauty.

At the museum entrance, artilleries greet visitors. Visitors are free to pose for photos. Not only that, the entrance to the museum is also free.

As luck would have it, I bumped into a group of army reserves on their field trip to the museum. They were from a local college. Escorting them was a real army Sergeant, Sergeant Haizzam. He was their guide. I invited myself to join them!

It was my first guided tour of a museum. Sergeant Haizzam proved to be very knowledgeable of the artifacts and the exhibits. The fact that he was involved in some of the research and excavations of the artifacts made it more interesting.

I chanced upon the exhibit on Communism in Malaya. The new villages (“kampung baru”) that I passed while pedalling earlier that morning, are among the permanent remnants from that era.

I never thought time would simply fly at the museum. But it did. Before I knew it, I had spent a good two hours with the group. It was 2.15pm, time for them to leave. For me, it was way passed my lunch time. After a quick bite of my home-made cake, I headed back to town.

Snacking at the army-styled 'picnic' table

Part 5 – Lunching and napping

Along the way, I spotted a water station not far from the museum. It was in a mosque, Masjid Muhammad al-Fateh. As I was not in one of those tight rider’s attire, and was decently dressed, I did not hesitate to go into the mosque’s compound to refill my water bottle. Sufficiently refilled, I continued pedalling to Jalan Pantai.

While passing a camp site near Kampung Si Rusa, I got a whiff of “laksa utara”. Enterprising locals had set up a stall at the entrance of the camp site. Remembering that I had not had a proper lunch, I decided to stop and ordered a bowl of that “laksa utara”. The hot and spicy bowl of “laksa utara” was a stark contrast to the cool breezy evening by the beach.

I was full from the hearty bowl of “laksa utara”. I could not cycle. My eye lids were getting heavier. Weariness crept in. I decided to pitch my canvas tarp and take a nap at the camp site by the beach. With everyone else doing ‘car-camping’ I was the odd one out – the only one arrived by pedal power! My minimalist tarp shelter functioned as more of ‘social barrier’ that let me have a little privacy rather than an actual shelter.

Around 4.00 p.m. I was awaken from my deep slumber by the rain drops pelting the tarp shelter. I was not sure if my minimalist make-shift shelter could handle a typical Malaysian downpour. I packed everything in record time and seek shelter under a bus stop near the camp site.

Remembering the chat with the local man at the bus station earlier, I pondered. Should I just pack and ride the bus, or should I wait for the rain to stop and continue to cycle to the bus station. Just as I was about to dismount my bags, the rain toned down to a drizzle. I could handle a drizzle. It was very refreshing. Before long, I was at the Port Dickson bus station.
Take note of the little sign with the yellow 'M'

Part 6 – Back to Seremban Town 

By 5.00pm I was packed and ready to board the awaiting bus at the platform. However I was stopped by the bus driver. He told me to take the next bus – a bigger bus. Though the bus was not exactly full, I understood his reservation. My bicycle and I would be taking a lot of space. I did not argue. I was glad that I travelled alone. Two or more persons with folding bicycles could be a little challenging to get on a bus.

The next ‘bigger’ bus came at 5.20pm. It looked exactly like the previous bus. In no way that it was bigger. This time the bus driver let me in. He asked nor said nothing about my extra luggage. I hauled Black Beauty to a seat in the middle of the bus. I decided to pick a seat at the emergency door. Those seats have more leg room. Black Beauty fitted just nicely. As I did not have to take much care of Black Beauty, the gentle rocking of the bus soon lulled me to sleep.

In ‘a blink of the eyes’ I was back in Seremban Town. A few kilometres more cycling brought me back to my starting line, Kemayan Square. It was 7 o’clock in the evening. I had travelled for approximately 84 kilometres, almost half of it on bicycle. It was a great micro-adventure!

Friday, December 06, 2013

Mixed feelings

That was what I felt when I saw a newly opened fast food outlet. If it was some where else, it didn't matter much.

It is becoming the first landmark that you will see upon exiting from the PLUS expressway at Seremban. It matters because Seremban is the state capital of Negeri Sembilan, "negeri beradat" ('cultured state'). It being the first landmark and upstaging the museum nearby, seems to give the message that fast food and wealth are more important than heritage and culture. It is more apparent when I saw that there were no other visitors in the museum despite this being the school holidays. There were no shortage of patrons at the fast food outlet!

While this is not as severe as the destruction of an ancient site in Kedah recently, it nevertheless saddens me. But at the same time, I can't deny that I'm glad that a quick bite is just around the corner, 24/7!