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Peggy and Randy Ford Authors- FOUND OUR WAY 32nd Installment

Langkawi seemed like a beautiful island, although we didn’t see much of it. It rained most of the time we were there, even though it wasn’t the rainy season. Once there we suddenly realized that we were coming short of money (of Malaysian currency that is). We knew then that if we stayed on the island we wouldn’t have anything left when we reached the mainland and banks would be closed because of the weekend. And Langkawi was such a peaceful little island that there were no banks. We spent most of a morning trying to find someone who could/would convert a $10 U.S. Traveler’s Cheque to Malaysian dollars. We finally succeeded about 11:00 a.m., after which we could finally relax.

We were still coming across very hospitable people … although our last two stays before Langkawi weren’t with Malaysians. By the time we got into Alor Star, the last big town in northern Malaysia, it was late and we were quite tired! We located the Methodist minister we’d been given the name of (an Irishman), who gave us cold drinks, invited us to supper, and later invited us to spend the night with him and his family. They had two small boys; both adopted. The 4-year old apparently had cerebral palsy, making his speech almost impossible to understand and making him very clumsy. The worst part, however, was that he was hyperactive and couldn’t sleep through the night. So he woke up screaming, and it took his mother hours to get him back to sleep.

We really enjoyed visiting with this couple. The women talked about the children, and the minister and I talked about political and racial problems in Malaysia. We were invited to spend an extra day or two with them, and we would’ve enjoyed staying. We felt, however, that they had enough problems without us, so we moved on.

The next day we headed for the town where we were to take a boat to the island of Lankawi. About 5:00 p.m. we were passing through this town when an Anglo and two Malay children passed us on a motor scooter. We commented then that he looked like a Peace Corps volunteer. A few minutes later he came up behind us again and asked where we were going. When we explained, he said his house was about as far from the port as the town was, and he invited us to spend the night with him. He lived by himself, but his best friend’s wife was preparing a feast for him. So we got a very good Malay supper. (Their meals usually seemed very hot to us … they love curries … but they left the hot spices out because they knew we probably couldn’t eat the curry with the spices) The volunteer (he turned out to be a Peace Corps volunteer) had only one room, with just a mattress for his bed, but he gave us the mattress and slept on the floor. Before we met the volunteer, we hoped that we would get to spend one more night in a Malay home; still his invitation was most welcomed.

Now we had a border to look forward to and were hoping the change wouldn’t be too sudden … that maybe enough Thais crossed into Malaysia and enough Malaysians into Thailand to keep the change from been too drastic. We were sure, however, that less English would be spoken in Thailand so that we’d have to get to work right away and learn Thai expressions. We had no idea then that we’d be dealing with a tonal language once we crossed the border.

1. Ray Hubener. Before we left Manila, we received two letters from Ray Hubener urging us to join him in Bangkok. Ray was a friend of mine from Baylor University. He was the friend who appeared at our door in Manila and lived with us there for a while.

Ray wrote that he wished that we were in Bangkok and that he had met all of the people in theater there. According to him they were “all so traditional-minded or unimaginative” or only wanted to do “pleasant little commercial crap,” yet he felt that, though there were many limitations, as far as thinking and conditions, the sky was still the limit. He wrote that theater there “needed” directors: there were two amateur western theatre groups and one amateur Thai theater group, all needing directors, but did not pay. Ray was also offered a drama teaching job at in an American High school and had heard that another university was starting a drama department. But while he thought opportunities in Bangkok were very good, he also offered a cautionary note. He didn’t want me to think that it was a heaven for dramatist there, it was not, but it had opportunities that he was excited about.

Of course one difficulty was language: very little English was spoken; and Ray said any plays he directed at a school would be done in Thai, and that it was going to be quite an experience. Ray also heard about the experiences of a guy we both knew at Baylor. This person and his wife both taught drama at Chulalongkorn University and one of his courses was like a course taught at Baylor (I also taught the same course at the University of the Philippines), but this person didn’t fit into Asian life at all and finally quit and returned to the US. He was very disliked by the Thais, and from what Ray heard Thais would be more difficult to work with than Filipinos.

Ray didn’t give details about some bad things that happened to him before (after the Philippines he toured Indonesia) or when he first arrived in Bangkok because he was still very emotional about it. He was broke then … had absolutely no money … waiting for money to come from the states. He was finally able to land two part times jobs, which paid a little. One was an English-teaching job; the other was a two-week job helping light and design an IBM extravaganza. His prospects however were looking up.

When he wrote us the first time. Ray was negotiating for a professor of drama position at Chulalongkorn University and seemed excited about it. Two other drama teachers at the university told him that they thought that he’d definitely get the job. Here was the situation, which sounded good to me because of my own background in drama.

Ray got the lead for the job through a young American “missionary” who was one of the two drama professors at Chulalongkorn. He (the missionary) and his family were leaving Thailand for a year so that he could go back to school in the states. Ray walked in at the right time and said he was a drama major from Baylor, and Ray was accepted immediately. They knew quite a bit about our Professor Paul Baker … Baylor University … Trinity University … the Dallas Theater Center … etc. (I studied with Paul Baker at Baylor University, Trinity University and the Dallas Theater Center.) The professors at Chulalongkorn even sent a student to get her MA at the Dallas Theater Center and she was still in Dallas when Ray wrote to us. Ray also wrote that the American professor was also designing his own theater for a new university in northern Thailand and was using the theater at Trinity as his model. And finally, according to Ray, he was doing such experimental things in drama that Mr. Baker would’ve flipped if he saw some of it. Anyway, with my experience at Baylor, Trinity, the Dallas Theater Center, and theater in the Philippines, the situation that Ray described in Bangkok seemed tailor-made me.

Ray’s proposed job offered a fantastic salary including a housing allowance (and apartments in Bangkok were very expensive), but the salary was high enough that Ray felt that he would be able to save and buy a car. He was looking to rent a two-bedroom apartment, maybe air-conditioned, maybe not. He meanwhile was staying at the Vieng Thai Hotel, but he thought he would have to move soon, to a Buddhist monastery or some other hotel.

All of this meant that Ray thought he would be in Bangkok for two years because Chulalongkorn University wanted contract teachers to commit to two years. As it turned out, Ray turned down the teaching job at the university since it had to be for two years, and instead stuck to part-time work teaching English by the hour. But he also worked in theater in a variety of ways.

Peggy and Randy Ford

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Peggy and Randy Ford Authors- FOUND OUR WAY 31st Installment

There was very little about our Malaysia tour that we hadn’t enjoyed, but the last few weeks there were extra special (and cheaper!) After we came down from three days in the Cameron Highlands we went from one Methodist minister to another. After staying with the first minister, that minister gave us a letter of introduction and the names of ministers in upcoming towns. At first we were hesitant to announce ourselves, but each time we were warmly received. The minister in Taiping even made arrangements for us to stay in The Nest, a Methodist bungalow in nearby mountains (Maxwell Hill, another change-of-air station.) That was really great. We could step out the door of the Nest into the clouds, and when it was clear we could see the sea. We spent a week in Penang, the second largest Malaysian city. (Actually the city is Georgetown on the island of Penang.) There we stayed in a guestroom at a big Methodist Church. We were in one of the church buildings (instead of a home), so it was sort as if we had an apartment of our own, something that never happened except that once. Our next to last stop in Malaysia was with an Irish minister in Alor Star. Then we went to Langkawi Island, where we spent four or five days swimming, reading, and riding around.

We became a couple of naturalists. As we rode along, we saw lots of birds, the most common being mynas and later kingfishers. (Our mountain trips were especially good for bird watching, only frustrated by the lack of bird glasses.) We also saw lots of flowers and butterflies, lizards and snakes. We were even pleased to see some wild monkeys. (On top of Maxwell Hill we heard our first gibbon. Whooping could be heard for miles.) And we were both healthy … no more accidents.
11. Penang. We stayed longer in Penang than we planned. We spent one whole day riding completely around the island, enjoying the views of the sea and the beaches. There was a fair amount to do (temples, museums, an aquarium, and botanical gardens), and we wanted to do some shopping.

For his birthday we bought Peggy’s youngest brother a small ball made of rattan. It was used in Malaysia to play a game between two teams, the object being for each team to keep the ball in the air as long as possible. The players stand in a circle, with every other player belonging to the same team. The team that has the ball bounces it to each other … but hands are not used (except maybe to start the game). The ball is bounced off the head, kicked with the foot or knee … any part of the body except hands. When the ball hits the ground the opposing team gets it. Being able to use the head takes a lot of practice.

12. Langkawi Island. After Penang we only had a couple more stops in Malaysia, and we were near the Thai border. At that point our plans for Thailand were very indefinite. Until we went to the consulate in Penang we didn’t know how long we’d be allowed to stay in Thailand. From Thailand we thought we’d probably go by ship or train south again to Indonesia, where we knew there was lots and lots to see. We planned to make our way then southeast to Australia and/or New Zealand. By then we knew we’d be out of money, but we thought we’d be in a good place to work. So we thought we would spend a year or two working and saving somewhere down under.

The hardest thing about travelling was being away from our families. We talked about them often … about things they’d written to us about or things we did when we were home. Every now and then we talked about cutting our travels short and returning home, but we always came to the realization that we’d be passing up opportunities we might never get again. We urged my parents to come see us in Asia.

Many people in Malaysia still called Thailand Siam. We weren’t sure how much we would do by bicycle. Thailand is much bigger than Malaysia. It was at least 600 miles from the border to Bangkok. There were no detailed road maps of Thailand in Malaysia, so we weren’t sure how many mountains to expect (the biggest obstacle for the bikes) and the condition of the roads. We heard conflicting reports … about all we could really be sure of then was that it couldn’t be as good as Malaysia, or so we thought.

Psychologically, this was kind of a rough time for us: entering a new country meant a new language, new customs, a new currency and new foods. Our uneasiness wasn’t as great as it was before we left the Philippines because we had a very good experience in Malaysia and Singapore. But we were still somewhat apprehensive. Even the border itself worried us, going through customs, getting a pass (U.S. citizens needed no visa in Thailand then, but we needed a long-tern pass if we were to travel that large a country by bicycle.) We thought the bikes might cause some difficulty as we crossed over. Bikes were supposed to be very expensive in Thailand, meaning that we could make a lot of money if we sold them there. We hoped that since ours were our means of transportation that they wouldn’t require us to put up a deposit. We would soon find out.

Peggy and Randy Ford

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Peggy and Randy Ford Authors- FOUND OUR WAY 30th Installment

9. The next day we rode a bus through the mountains back to Kuala Lumpur. We spent a day and half there … long enough to get our mail, do some wash, repack our things, go to the movies, eat a couple of western meals, and finish seeing the national museum.

Did we ever hit the jackpot in KL. We received five letters from the states, one from our Manila maid’s sister, and one from Mr. Hernandez, Peggy’s former principal. It was good to catch up on all of the news from home. From time to time during our trip we also heard from Mr. Hernandez and other people we knew in the Philippines. In this way we kept up with some of the news there.

The next morning we took off by bicycles again, up the main route north (which is along the western side of the country). We only went 12 or 13 miles, to a small national park (Templer Park.) We spent most of the afternoon walking in the park, enjoying greenery, flowers, butterflies, a waterfall, and birds. We had to stop in shelters a couple of times because of rain. A Chinese family who ran a brand new restaurant near the park offered us a room for the night. (We asked to sleep on the cement floor underneath the restaurant, and they offered us a room.) We didn’t know then how long it would take us to reach Penang (which had the only American Express office between KL and Bangkok

10. Taiping, Perak. The three days we spent in the Cameron Highlands (“a-change-of-air station”) was really like vacation time. We lived a life of luxury. We ate in a restaurant, and Peggy made no pretense of trying to keep up with the laundry. We just hiked, read, slept, and ate. Even bathing was special: we bathed with the first hot water since Singapore. (Bathing all over the country was done in much the same way. Water was run … or collected … in a large container. A smaller container was used to dip the water, which was then poured over the body.) Being able to have hot water in the mountains was especially nice because using cold water when the air was cold would’ve been a shocking experience.

We left the mountains late in the morning. It was our third day there. When we got below we ate a quick lunch, retrieved our bicycles from a police station (where we left them), loaded the bikes, and set out on our way. We only went to the next town, about 12 miles away. We checked into a hotel, and Peggy strung a clothesline around the room and did a big wash. (Because it was the rainy season, getting clothes dry over night could be quite a problem. Fortunately, most of the hotel rooms had big ceiling fans. If the fan were left on all night, the clothes would usually dry.)

We managed to get an early start the next morning. We left the main north-south road and headed for a particular part of the coast, where according to our literature the beaches were especially nice. That was an eventful day. Our route involved making turns every few miles, most of which were not well marked, at least not for the villages we needed. But I kept referring to a road map and asking directions when we weren’t sure, and we never got lost. For one stretch we went several miles by dirt road, in the middle of which was a small river, which we had to cross by ferry.

We knew that the route we were following had a washed out bridge, causing cars to have to cross the river about 10 miles further north. We were told however that a sampon (a particular type of boat) which carried people back and forth could also take our bikes across. When we reached the riverbank, it was shortly after 2:00 p.m., and there were gobs of school children waiting to cross. As soon as the sampon hit the shore, the children began rushing on; but there were too many for one load. We looked at the crowding children and at our heavily loaded bikes and discussed riding up to the other bridge. But the fact that it would take us three hours to ride 10 miles up the river and 10 miles back down again, made us give the sampon a try. We took the heaviest basket off the back of my bicycle. Somehow, with the help of the men who ran the sampon, we managed to get on, not fall off while crossing, and safely unload on the other side. That ride certainly made our afternoon exciting, but Peggy thought that she could do without any more sampon rides balancing a bicycle.

We didn’t know how far we rode that day, but about 15 miles from our destination … a good two hours ride … we decided we couldn’t make it any further. We rode through the town where we were; but there were no hotels, and it looked as if no one was going to invite us to stay with them. So we went to the Methodist Church, told them our problem, and we were warmly welcomed. They (a lady minister and an adopted daughter) gave us a place to stay and fed us dinner and breakfast.

The next day was Sunday. The only service in the church where we were staying was in Chinese, so we headed for the next town, seven miles away. We missed most of the service there because we were told 8:30 instead of 8:00. But the minister and his wife invited us for coffee afterwards. (The parsonage was just behind the church.) There was to be a Malay wedding next door that afternoon, so we were invited to stay and watch. So we unloaded our bikes and made a quick trip to the beach toward which we had been heading, getting back in time to eat some of the Malay food that was being served for the wedding. We missed the actual ceremony that made the couple husband and wife. But Peggy was able to take several pictures of the bride and groom and their relatives.

Monday morning the minister (Rev. Tang), his wife and two children (who called us antie and uncle), Peggy, and I took a boat ride to a nearby island with a really beautiful beach. On Tuesday we planned to move on, but it was our anniversary, and we didn’t feel like tackling the long ride necessary before the next stop. It didn’t take much to persuade us to stay. Mrs. Tang even baked a cake for us, and Peggy got to make spaghetti, which was a big success. The next day was still spent with the Tangs because a friend of theirs whom we met on Monday offered to take us to Ipoh that afternoon. (It was a big city, which we had decided to skip.) Finally Thursday, we left Ipoh, riding more than 60 miles to Taiping, where we stayed again with another Methodist minister and his wife. Rev. Tang arranged everything, something that continued while we were in Malaysia. We never had to ask, and out of fear of insulting someone, we were afraid to say no. We had never seen such hospitality before, but the same kind of hospitality continued as long as we were in South East Asia.
Peggy and Randy Ford

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Peggy and Randy Ford Authors- FOUND OUR WAY 29th Installment

7. Kuala Lipis, Pahang. After spending two weeks in Kota Bharu, we rode our bikes 43 miles south to a small town called Kuala Krai (cutting $8 Malay off our train fare). The evening there was very pleasant because we bumped into a Peace Corps couple. They invited us to eat supper with them. We exchanged news and suggested some places for them to go in the Philippines. (They were the only volunteers we visited in Malaysia, the only volunteers we visited anywhere. There were about 500 Peace Corps volunteers in Malaysia then, but we didn’t see them.)

The next morning we took what turned out of to be a rather lengthy train ride south through the center of the country. It reminded us of transportation in the Philippines: we were told the trip took about five hours, but we left Kuala Krai at 5:30 a.m. and reached our destination (Kuala Lipis) sometime after 6:00 that evening (9 hours). The ride itself was quite beautiful, passing through rubber plantations, across many rivers, and through some rather thick jungle. We thought we’d cross some mountains, but we went through several tunnels instead. To me the most memorable creature we saw was a huge monitor lizard.

Kuala Lipis is the closest town of any size to the national park. There was a government “rest house” (like a hotel) there, where we made inquiries about going into the park. The last leg of the trip was by boat, and we were told that it cost $120 Malay to hire a boat for the trip in. Obviously we didn’t have that kind of money, but we thought that we might be able to squeeze in when someone else had one hired. A boat was making a trip that day, but it was full because of hauling supplies. The next trip wouldn’t be for five days, and a fellow at the rest house thought we could go then. In the meantime, we were sort of camping out in a garage behind the rest house. We were paying $2.00 Malay a night, a dollar less than the cheapest hotel we stayed in. Also, we cooked our own meals, so we were able save a little that way.

We fell into a lazy routine, sleeping until 8:30 or 9:00. We would get up, cook eggs and boil water for tea, a process that took nearly an hour if our little stove wasn’t feeling energetic. After doing the dishes (with no running water) and reading the paper, Peggy would do some wash, and I usually wrote for a while. Then it would be lunchtime … our basic meal being hard-boiled eggs, cucumbers, a local fruit called lonsat, and bread and kaya (native jam made from coconut milk and eggs.) The afternoon was reserved for reading, sleeping, writing, working crossword puzzles, and sometimes doing more washing.

Supper was a major operation on our stove, which had to be pumped constantly, but we enjoyed cooking our own food. (We always had rice and hot tea. Our meat varied: fresh fish, dried fish, canned meatballs and gravy (from Australia), stewed pork, or duck (both from China). The Chinese fellow in the rest house taught us a delicious way to cook vegetables. We’d buy 30 cents Malay worth of leafy vegetables (we tried three kinds) and 20 cents Malay worth of fresh shrimp, add some oil, and cook them together in a frying pan. The sweetness of the shrimp would keep the greens from being bitter. While we waited, Peggy was frustrated because there were no English bookstores in Kuala Lipis, so she spent much of her time working crossword puzzles.

8. Our lazy life ended on August 21 (1969). A major in the British Army (stationed in Singapore) had reserved a boat into the park. Since he had only two daughters with him (his wife was expecting in three weeks, and his son was recuperating from being stung by a cone shell), there was plenty room for us. We met Major Smith the night before, and during our conversation Peggy mentioned that the $120 Malay was more than we could afford for a boat. That was the first he had heard of its being so expensive, although he had been corresponding with park officials.

We made arrangements to leave our bicycles and some of our extra stuff in the garage where we had been staying – for a $1.00 Malay a day. At the last moment we found out that we could leave our stuff at an army station around the corner for free. So Peggy went with Major Smith and his daughters to the train station, while I took care of the bikes. I just almost missed the train because it turned out that a general was arriving that day and the army people didn’t want our large messy basket (and bikes) cluttering up their place. So I had to lug everything back to the place where we had been staying. I arrived at the station three or four minutes before the train pulled out.

The train ride took about an hour and took us within two miles of where we were to catch the boat. When we got off the train, Major Smith began inquiring about the price. The fee was $12.50 or $15 (depending on the size of the boat) plus the cost of the gas: 46 gallons at $2.60 per gallon one way! So the major had a conference with his daughters, and they decided they’d rather spend the $200 or so it would have cost them going up the East Coast. So that was the end of our trip to the park. We spent a pleasant afternoon eating a picnic lunch with the Smiths and walking two miles to the river and back, while we waited for the 7:15 train back to Kuala Lipis. At one point we were caught in a downpour. Major Smith’s daughters thought we should get out of it, but we had no where to go. So the major shrugged and threw up his hand, and we all waited the storm out under a tree.

Peggy and Randy Ford

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Peggy and Randy Ford Authors- FOUND OUR WAY 28th Installment

6. Kota Bharu, Kelantan. Malaysia has three main races of people, which means it has three main religions. Almost all Malays are Muslims, most Chinese are a mixture of Buddhist and Taoist, and most Indians are Hindus. Muslims don’t eat pork (in fact, they consider even touching a pig to be unclean), and Hindus don’t eat beef (they consider cows sacred). In Malacca, KL, and other cities, there were always enough Chinese that we could get pork. And, although Friday is a Muslim holy day, in most places shops only close from noon until 2:00 p.m. (to allow men to attend public prayer), and Sunday is the day off.

But in Kota Bharu it was different because there were very few Chinese. Everything (except restaurants and movie theaters) closed on Friday, and Sunday was just like any other day. (There was a Presbyterian Church in Kota Bharu, but we didn’t know how they had Sunday morning services.) And there was no pork available. The two restaurants there that served western meals had all sorts of sandwiches, except ham. Most Chinese restaurants served pork, but the one we found in Kota Bharu didn’t. While we were there we ate more chicken than ever before.

Before Peggy’s crash (on the East Coast on the way to Kota Bharu), we were a couple miles from a beach where huge turtles came ashore to lay their eggs. For some time we read about huge Leather-back turtles. One source, the GOLDEN GUIDE TO SOUTH AND EAST ASIA, said, “ … during May to September there is the unique sight of the giant leather-back turtles coming ashore to lay and bury their eggs on the beaches. The turtles may be up to eight feet long and half a ton in weight and, it is maintained, may be centuries old.” We decided to spend the night at a nearby kampong (village) so that we could see the turtles (which came ashore on a particular beach usually after midnight.)

Peggy chose the perfect spot to crash. A boy who could speak some English came up and asked if we wanted to see turtles. It turned out that his father went to the beach every night to collect turtle eggs … a delicacy there. So about 4:00 p.m. we rode our bikes to the beach, hiding them in some bushes. Everyone then went to sleep. Later, the boy went to locate turtles … an easy job since the moon was full and the sky was clear … and came back and reported that two had already came ashore. Since the turtles were uneasy on land, we waited a while to give them a chance to get settled.

When we finally saw a turtle, we were amazed. She was about six feet long and five feet across! A second one was about the same size. We watched the latter lay her eggs in a deep hole she dug in the sand. Each egg was almost as big as a tennis ball, and she laid 90 of them! Afterwards she covered the hole up, but she didn’t know that there were no eggs left in the hole. A government man had been collecting them right from under her! (He took the eggs to a hatchery, and young turtles from these eggs were released in the sea. Otherwise, all the eggs would’ve been eaten, and there would eventually be no turtles. The eggs are good … much like a chicken egg except that the yolk, when hard-boiled, is somewhat grainy. The shell is soft.)

We watched the poor turtles trying to go back to the ocean. Since they live only in the water, they don’t have real legs. We didn’t know what to call them except flippers, made for swimming. This combined with great weight made it very difficult for them to move in the sand. Sometimes the ones we watched worked for several minutes and got nowhere. All they were doing was digging holes in the sand. One apparently got confused because she started going away from the sea. We finally left because we thought we might’ve been upsetting her. When we left the beach at 6:00 a.m., she was gone, but we saw another one who was still struggling, many yards from the ocean.

We stayed in Kota Bharu longer than we planned because Peggy picked up some virus infection. That meant another five days. We stayed in Kota Bharu two weeks. All Peggy had was a common bug, the same as a stateside variety.

Kota Bharu was the main place where Malaysian batik was made. Before we left there, we got to see a small batik factory. Batik is not made in a large roll; the work is done on a piece of cotton, which is usually two or two and a half yards long. The basis is just a piece of white cotton, onto which a design is stamped in wax. When the cloth has the desired combination of patterns, it is dyed. Then it is put in boiling water so that the wax is removed. Thus, the places where the wax was is not dyed. This process is repeated three or four times, depending upon the desired number of colors. A somewhat more modern process is sometimes used … called screening … but we didn’t get to see it in operation. Because screening is faster than printing, batik made this newer way is somewhat cheaper.

Peggy and Randy Ford

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Peggy and Randy Ford Authors- FOUND OUR WAY 27th Installment

Anyway, to continue our journey. We got to Kuala Lumpur about noon. We were told that the YMCA would be cheap, but we had no idea where to look for it. KL was a city of 450,000 then … much smaller than Manila or Singapore but certainly too large to just ride around hunting for the YMCA. We stopped and I went into a shop to see if I could get us located and call the Y. Eventually I came out with a fellow who was willing to lead us with his jeep. That involved navigating a huge viaduct, where we thought every highway in the whole nation came together. Somehow we got to the Y, but the room was $18 (Malay) a night. So we set out to find a cheaper one.

About a block away were two Chinese hotels, both of which had double rooms for $5 (Malay). That was more than we wanted to pay, but we figured that in the city we wouldn’t do any better. The place where we stayed gave us a bargain by giving us a room with a bath. This was our home for the next five nights. We soon noticed that all sorts of suspicious looking females were coming and going, but we didn’t bother them and they didn’t bother us.

The experience on the viaduct scared Peggy so much (she was almost run over by a motorcycle) that she wanted to leave the bikes behind when we went out to explore the city. But I got my way, and we learned how to navigate KL by bicycle. The first couple of days we carried our bikes down a long fight of steep stairs in order to avoid the viaduct, but we soon learned another way around it. We discovered that many of the major streets had wide sidewalks intended for bicycles. The curbs had driveway-like places for bikes (called curb cuts in America). They even had traffic lights for bikes: when they turned green, they had a picture of a bike showing. There were so many bikes around that motorists knew how to watch out for them, and 9 out of 10 cars seemed to be a bug, making passing on the highway much easier.

I was really enjoying the food in Malaysia, and Peggy was learning to like it. We ate some Chinese food, which wasn’t usually very spicy. We especially enjoyed their soups, in which the vegetables were still crunchy. Both Malay and Indian foods were very hot and spicy for Peggy. A favorite Malay dish of ours was satay and consisted of small pieces of chicken or mutton on a stick and barbecued. It was supposed to be eaten with a spicy peanut sauce, but Peggy liked it without the sauce.

Many of our meals were Indian. One of our favorites was murtaba, made with onions, mutton, sometimes hot peppers … all cooked together inside a pie-crust affair on a hot griddle. The crust was thin and usually crisp. The Indians didn’t eat as much rice as did Malays or Filipinos. They varied rice with bread (we didn’t then know the real word for it. In India or before then, we learned the bread was called chapati.). It was something like the crust of murtaba, but it wasn’t crisp. Small pieces were torn off and used to pick up pieces of meat or vegetable dishes.

5. When we left KL we crossed the country to the East Coast. Since the center of the country was all mountains, we rode a bus most of the way, with our bikes on top. We were shocked to have to pay $4.25 (Malay) a piece for the bikes (the passenger fare was $5), but we didn’t think we could make 165 miles over mountains on our own leg power. At some point, on top of a mountains we got off the bus and were riding our bicycles, and passed a sign pointing the way to see tapirs, when we heard Neil Armstrong had just stepped onto the moon.

5. East Coast, Kuantan. It was 236 miles to the northern most town (Kota Bharu) on this side of the country. We planned to work our way up, stopping whenever people were friendly or there was a town we particularly liked. (Along the way we rode along the ocean, stayed at a palm oil plantation, and watched a man harvest coconuts using a monkey. Instead of the man the monkey climbed the trees and shook the coconuts free.) A lot of craftwork (weaving and silver work) was done on this side, and people were extra friendly.

From the north we thought we’d take a train south that went through the jungle and through the center of the country. If it weren’t too expensive, we wanted to stop in a national park where we thought we could bike through the jungle and watch wild animals from a blind. We planned to eventually end up back in KL to check for mail and apply for visas to Thailand. We weren’t sure how long it would take us to get back there.

Randy and Peggy Ford

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Peggy and Randy Ford Authors- FOUND OUR WAY 26th Installment

Our route was about the same as what we had been planning to travel by bus, but we moved much slower. From Port Dickson we allowed two days to get to Kuala Lumpur (KL). From there we planned to cross the country to the East Coast. We knew that part of the way our bikes would probably have travel on top of a bus because there were some pretty steep mountains in the center of the country, and we weren’t in shape yet.

4. KL. We thought we would camp so we bought pans, canteens, a tarp, kerosene stove, raincoats, and small plates. We thought it was important to always have a good supply of boiled water and thought we could save money by cooking some of our own food. The item we cooked most was eggs: soft boiled … or “half-boiled” as they said in Malaysia … for breakfast and hard-boiled for lunch. To the eggs in the morning we added hot tea, bread and jam; and fruit or juice sometimes … an economical and nourishing meal.

By the time we got to KL we had ridden our bikes 92 miles. Along the way we visited a zoo, and thanks to many other stops we made it. Our gear made the bikes much harder to ride than when they were empty, and the first afternoon we only made 18 miles. The next day we made it 39 miles to Port Dickson. After leaving Port Dickson, we headed toward KL, and we spent the night 15 miles south of the city but 48 miles north of where we started the day. We were told that there were good hotels there, but the only one we could find was more than we wanted to pay. So we ended up in the meeting hall of the Lutheran Church. Here we met an interesting 17-year old Chinese boy.

Although almost half of the people in Malaysia then were Chinese and we stayed in Chinese hotels, we had talked to Chinese people very little: many of them spoke little English and most of them were too busy working to be very free just to sit and talk to travelers. This boy was a student and studied and slept in one of the rooms of the church. It may seem funny to think of a Chinese boy living in a Lutheran church, but the Christians there were mostly Chinese (and a small percent Indian). The pastor of this church was also Chinese. Practically no Malays … not to be confused with Malaysians (Malay is a race … close to Filipino … and Malaysians are citizens of Malaysia) are Christians for a couple of reasons. One, the British, who colonized Malaysia, did not try to impose their culture on the Malays (very different from Americans and Filipinos!), and missionaries were not allowed to bother anyone except Chinese and Indians. Also Malays are Muslim and don’t convert easily. (Some of the largest Methodist churches in the world are in Malaysia, and it’s because when the British were looking for rubber plantation workers in China they brought to Malaysia a great many Chinese Methodist.)

Malaysia became a country in 1963, and it was very proud that all of its peoples had been able to work together so well. But then that May trouble between the races erupted which seemed to burst this balloon. Although there had been little real trouble for several weeks, it seemed to us that there was enough deep-seated hatred between Chinese and Malays that it was going to be really difficult to have a unified nation again.

To many Malays, the Chinese were there just to take as much money as they could (and it was true that Chinese were good businessmen and women, all over Asia). Another complaint of the Malays was that the Chinese just kept to themselves and made no attempt to assimilate. To them, China was their homeland, not Malaysia. And Malays were more easy-going people and to the Chinese the Malays were lazy. (In the Malay household only men went outside to earn a living while the whole Chinese family worked. A Chinese man who owned a restaurant would have his wife, sons and daughters working with him. Chinese women did much of the manual labor, and many filling station attendants were Chinese girls. The Chinese also felt that they were discriminated against because there were laws saying what percent of workers, say in a factory, were to be Chinese and what percent Malay. They boy we talked to said that he had no possibility of becoming a doctor because he could never get into a university because he was Chinese. (There was actually a law called the Malay Preferential Treatment Law, or something of the sort, which gave Malays certain legal advantages over other peoples in areas where they were handicapped.)

The boy who took us to a zoo was afraid to go out at night because a Chinese gang might get him. And at the Lutheran church the Chinese boy expressed the reverse fears. (He claimed that Chinese wouldn’t hurt Malays because the law allowed only Malays to carry weapons) Each side seemed to feel that they were the peaceful side and that the other was causing the trouble.

Every little incident then became part of the TROUBLE, every stone-throwing or house-burning. The streets were so empty at night, and there were so many policemen around that we felt somewhat afraid … even though there had been no real incidents for some time.

Peggy and Randy Ford

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