On the last episode of Splendor in the Lemongrass, our heroine and hero have joined forces with a young German man to escape from a heavily-fortified border compound. The trio has set off on a taxi cab journey to a rumored bus station in Kadang, Malaysia that promises swift delivery to Kuala Lumpur.
The first thing I noticed about our cab driver was how well his uniform with its white linen shirt and snappy, casual pants suited his pot belly. His astute body language caught my attention second. I knew exactly how crazy and inane the driver considered his taxi stand co-worker manning the foam board and sharpie fare board within seconds of glancing at the two. Thankfully, he ceased his animated bodily conversation methods while driving the vehicle, perhaps because I, as a shot-gun passenger, was clad in a skimpy outfit, relative to the overall cultural climate in northern Malaysia.
The last thing I noticed about our cab driver was that he, unlike every other cab driver I’ve met in Southeast Asia not under the watchful eye of the airport taxi police, did not try to rip us off. The fare at the taxi stand to Kadang clearly read 36 ringgit in confident black ink, and 36 ringgit was his asking price. Thank you, cabbie man. Thank you.
Perhaps this rather positive taxi experience lent us all the bit of hope and optimism we felt at the bus stop. The station in Kadang, like the bus station in Chiang Mai, provides a gathering point for all the independent bus operators in the area. This means that to find the best bus, you must walk to the individual stands and inquire about fares and timetables. So off we go, Rene taking the lead, weaving in and out of the other would be passengers with our giant bags until we find a bus departing in only 15 minutes to Kuala Lumpur.
I should have known something was wrong when our seats were occupied upon entering our bus. Instead, I figured passengers used the seats as guidelines, not strict assignments. Still, our supposed seats looked very cramped and uncomfortable given our business class expenditure. Besides being told, I think (my Malay is non-existent), that I was not to eat my bananas on board, we departed without a hitch. The bus driver checked our tickets and we sat quietly in the nicer seats just a row ahead.
When the bus made a stop at another station, a passenger boarded and stood silently in the aisle between Andy and I, which led to a secondary check of our tickets, and the passenger leaving. Then, another passenger came on board and stood in front of us, the pattern repeating. This time a different bus operator employee checked our tickets. The third time this little scenario played out, the second bus operator checked Andy’s ticket and ran away with it.
We were herded off the bus with all of our luggage while the driver and the other bus line employee talked quickly and heatedly, making many phone calls, and attempting to speak to us in a heavily accented English that was completely indistinguishable to my ignorant ears from Malay.
We boarded the wrong bus in Kadang.
The bus we had chosen had the proper insignia that matched our tickets and began boarding at 8:55 am, just in time, if a little last-minute for the 9:00 departure time. Why, why I thought that buses would leave on time in Malaysia when they are so very late in Thailand, I don’t know. That should have been our first clue, even before the occupied seats.
At this point, I thought we would be dropped off at this bus station in an unidentifiable Malaysian town and left to our devices to reach Kuala Lumpur, but instead, we’re shepherded back on, and told through clear body language and unclear Malanglish to stand in the stair part of the bus and not to move. No one knows what’s going on, except for everyone who isn’t us. Are we to spend the remaining five and half hours to Kuala Lumpur standing in a stairwell? Where are we going? Why didn’t we buy a goddamn Malay phrasebook?! Idiots, all of us.
A sweet group of students guide me over to an open seat after about 15 minutes. My new seat mate wants to know all about what is going on and gently giggles while telling me this bus is going to Ipoh. This bus ends in a city nearly 200 kilometers away from Kuala Lumpur. Again, we’re idiots. As if to soothe me as I grapple with the full extent of my stupidity, she offers me sweets, her phone’s internet connection, her number, for when we get lost again.
I’m feeling bad sitting down in this seat, especially as a leaky AC coolant pipe doused a woman just a few rows ahead. I watch her arrange newspaper barriers around her seat and her head between bouts of exchanging sharp words with the driver, who just throws back more paper at the end of each round. I don’t care enough to get up, though. I’m loving my conversation with my new friend (NF), with her pixie haircut, semi-punk ensemble, and generous nature. Besides, I wasn’t born with Malaysian hospitality.
Just as NF and I start trading friendship bracelets, braiding each other’s hair and exchanging vows of Facebook Friends Forever, the bus pulls to the side of the highway. The bus driver has chased down our original bus! Oh sweet, sweet relief in the form of reclining, business class seats!
I’ve already forgotten NF by the time the bus stops; I’m OUT of here, bitches! Somehow in the hurry to get off the bus, I fail to see the poor AC-soaked woman in the aisle in front of me. I drop my phone that slides right in front of her, which she bends down to retrieve for me.
I don’t know how it happened. I didn’t mean to do it, I swear. I definitely didn’t want to do it, that’s for sure, but it happened.
Somehow in the scramble for my phone, I managed to not just touch, not just tap, not just slap or palm, but to gently CUP AND SQUEEZE the derrière of the AC-soaked, hijab-compliant woman.
That’s right. I publicly molested a woman who deliberately communicates her modesty to the world at large through her dress in a place where I don’t know the words for “OHMYGODI’MSOSORRYOMGSOOOSOORRRYOMGOMGAHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!”
And I died.
And I quickly resurrected myself and ran to the next bus and napped until we reached the Kuala Lumpur bus station where the bus fiasco and butt grabbage faded into a distant, irrelevant past.
- Buying Train Tickets - How to Book Train Tickets in Thailand Without Losing Your Mind
- Chiang Mai to Bangkok - Train Legs
- Bangkok to Hat Yai - The South
- Hat Yai to Kuala Lumpur - Derailed
- Kuala Lumpur to Singapore - Destination KL, I<3 KL
- Getting Into Singapore - The Part No One Tells You: Getting to Singapore’s MRT from theTrain Station is Hard
Hi! I'm Susan, and this is my travel journal. You can read more about me here.
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