Tag Archives: Bicycling Touring Malaysia

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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