Bicycling was the most common means of transportation in Malaysia. Roads were good, but most people couldn’t afford cars then. Gas alone was $2 Malaysian a gallon, which was a lot of money. Filipinos had a well-developed system of jeepneys to go around within towns or to go from town to town, but Malaysians used bicycle. Granted, not many people toured the country by bicycle, but not many people toured the country period.
We spent the whole afternoon in a bicycle shop while accessories were put on, so we didn’t get to ride until after 5:00 p.m.. At first Peggy was a little shaky, but she soon got the hang of it. We rode to a kampong (village) 2 ½ miles out of town and back again, a pretty good starter. The most difficult things were that the British system was followed there, so that we rode on the left and all bikes had hand brakes instead of coaster brakes and no gears. (A British acquaintance called them “sit-up-and-beg bicycles.”). Adapting was easier than Peggy thought it would be, but at first, at least. she kept her hand always touching the brake.
Riding bicycles meant that we’d be going much more slowly than we previously planned. Because we only had permission to stay in the country two weeks, we needed to go to Kuala Lumpur (KL) before then to apply for an extension. Assuming that we were given an extension, we planned then to spend a few days in KL before beginning the longest leg of the Malaysian part of our trip. We thought we’d go up the East Coast and eventually get back to KL, but at that point we had no idea whether it would take a month or six months. We told our families to hold off sending us mail because American Express held mail for only 30 days.
There was still talk of tension and of rumormongers who created tension by spreading rumors of new trouble. A few Chinese were killed, but by the time we were on the road talk seemed to be all there was to it. Still when we got caught out on the road after dark coming back from a kampong we talked to each other (in English) the whole way back to our hotel, so that we wouldn’t be mistaken for either Chinese or Malay. We wouldn’t know until we got to KL that there was a curfew. Maybe it was only enforced in KL.
We really enjoyed Malaysia. The people seemed even friendlier than Filipinos did (if possible), and we thought the countryside was more beautiful (possibly because the Philippines was having a bad dry season, making things not as green as in Malaysia). We enjoyed the swallows, which nested in eaves of porches … right in towns. And sitting on the inside of our hotel room while we were in Malacca was a moth with a 5-inch wing span. It just flew up onto the wall, and a house lizard … called chicha in Malay … was very interested in it. Peggy made the moth move to a safer place. Soon there were four chichas playing on the wall.
And wow! The exercise we were getting. The first day we had our bikes we rode around town and out to a Portuguese settlement, where we met some people and learned about their history. We covered a distance of some 20 miles. We suffered, but not as much as Peggy expected. The next morning we bought a big basket to carry the cooking and camping gear we collected. Then we began packing the bikes. It turned out to be quite a difficult time. We started out with the big basket on the back of Peggy’s bike, but she couldn’t keep her balance. Eventually we shifted around so that Peggy had only one bag and I had everything else. My problem with all the weight was how to keep the bike from tipping over backwards.
3. We left town (Malacca) about 1 p.m. Progress was quite slow because of the weight. We made a picnic-lunch stop and a couple of rest and water stops. We hadn’t realized it, but Malaysia was/is a hilly country. And even a slight incline posed a problem to heavily loaded bicyclists with out-of-shape legs. We walked up several hills. By 5 o’clock we made 18 miles, but we didn’t feel we could go much further. (We rode through groves of rubber trees most of the afternoon, which would’ve been pleasant had we been in shape. We sang a made-up-song: RUBBER NUTS DON’T FALL ON US. ) The small town there had no hotel, and we really began to despair. But we rode out a little ways and met some boys who said we could stay in a meeting hall. Pretty soon about 20 boys gathered around, so we had plenty of help buying some rice and sardines and getting our little stove set up.
While we were eating another boy came along and said that his grandfather’s house was empty and that we could sleep there. So the boys helped us gather up our things and move to the empty house. So, our first night was spent in a Malay house in a very friendly village. Oh, yes! Earlier we bathed at a well beside a Mosque. I learned how to use a sorong so that I could bathe where there was no shelter, but Peggy just washed her face, arms, and legs.
The next morning the boys were back to help us pack and load the bicycles. We shifted some of the weight from the back of my bike to the front so that it wouldn’t keep trying to tip over backwards. We started on our way about 8:00 a.m. And oh the hills! By noon we were quite pooped! But we had a leisurely lunch and rested until the sun was a little lower. The afternoon was much easier, partly because there were fewer hills and because we were learning to pace ourselves. By 4:00 we were almost to Port Dickson … 39 miles from where we spent the night. I went for a swim in the ocean and was amazed at how easily I could float. Afterwards, we spotted a youth hostel where we spent the night before deciding to spend two additional days and nights. I had found a distraction … my writing. I was excited about starting a new play and said to Peggy writing was my profession now. Yes, it was easy to get distracted. I never finished the play.
Peggy and Randy Ford