Unlike most countries we’ve visted recently, Malaysia let us in for free which put us in good spirits despite a nasty uphill climb and jaw gnashing descent post-border. Seriously, one bend looked like a vertical “S”.
We entered at a small border point called Wang Prajan and the first significant town with an ATM was 40km away. By the time we’d pulled up there for lunch we’d made 70 kilometres and we were so hungry that we couldn’t be bothered being adventurous and made a bee-line for the town’s KFC. Terrible, I know. And anyone who knows me knows I would never eat KFC, or any other fast food for that matter, at home but Laura, the worldly, adventurous, super cyclist likes to occasionally sink her teeth into an unworldly processed bun slapped together with some well disguised animal parts (halal of course) and lots of mayo.
For dinner however, we strolled out the door of our hotel room to find a bustling Indian restaurant. Malaysia is home to one of the largest population of Indians outside of India. They make up eight per cent of the population, making them the third largest ethnic group in the country after the Chinese (25 per cent) and the Malays. It was like visiting three countries in one. We would have Roti Canai for breakfast, Hokien Mee for lunch, and a big plate of Nasi Kandar for dinner. Oh … and there were plenty of western indulgences around just in case we had a weak moment. With our appetites now raging for more delicious variety, we cycled into Penang, a place known for its fine cuisine.
We were very lucky to have a friend living near George Town, so the decision to stay on the island and sample all its tasty treats was an easy one. I went to university with Holly and she was an academic stud. She always got top grades, the best internships and all her assignments were made the example for the following year. She came out top in any challenge, except for maybe the one between her and an ibis for an Anzac biscuit. Once we were sitting on the grass on campus and an ibis came right up and stole an Anzac biscuit from her mouth, ripping her bottom lip in two. I forgot to tell her when I was visiting, but this is one of my favourite stories to tell people when they ask about dangerous animals in Australia… “Well you’ve heard about our deadly snakes, spiders and crocodiles… but have you heard about our birds…?”
Anyway, her latest challenge had taken her to Penang where she’d signed up for a year-long, paid internship with WorldFish, a branch of the CGIAR, formerly the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research.
First job out of uni and she is living the expat dream on the 34th floor of an apartment that has a killer view of the bay, a kitchen big enough to skateboard through and a maid’s room. Sweeeeeet! By total co-incidence, we had arrived on Chinese New Year’s eve and the town was going bezerk with non-visual fireworks and lion dancing. Holly and some of her work friends had rented some scooters and we zipped about the city without pedalling for once! What an amazing feeling to be moving on two wheels but not pushing! After a few beers and some Indian food served on a banana leaf we were tucked up in bed on the 34th floor muttering about how we should definitely ditch our bicycle for something with a motor. And every time we were on the cusp of drifting off into slumber, someone below would set off a hearty bunch of fireworks. No lights… just noise.
We spent the next few days being chaperoned around the city by our savvy hosts. We were introduced to all the best hawker stalls, scooter trails and bars. In fact, we liked it so much we started trying to figure out how we too could join the expat circuit and live the beautiful lifestyle that is only possible with western wages and eastern prices. But of course, we are kind of in the middle of something (oh yes… cycling back to Australia) so we had to say goodbye to our refuge and hit the road again.
It was around this time that Ashley and I discovered YouTube sensation Sweet Brown. Brown is an African American woman who was interviewed by her local TV station about a fire. We are a little behind in what’s been happening in the world during the past year and we’ve really been taking advantage of Malaysia’s magnificent free wifi to catch up. So anyway, Brown is interviewed about the fire and her last statement to the camera is “I got bronchitis… ain’t nobody got time for that!”. Needless to say, someone made a mind-blowing song parody of it and it’s been stuck in my head all throughout Malaysia.
We cycled 156 kilometres the day we left Holly’s place, a feat which I attribute to Ms Brown because every time we stopped for something, one of us would scream “AIN’T NOBODY GOT TIME FOR THAT” and we would scramble back onto the bicycle in fits of laughter. Also, the weather was overcast and drizzly over the next few days which took the edge off the usual scorching heat as we crept toward Kuala Lumpur.
There we had arranged to stay with another friend, Tim and his wife Laura. The longer we stayed with them, the more we developed expat envy. We went out together to a lovely western restaurant in Bangsar and swapped pieces of our lives from the past few years until suddenly it was February 17th… my 23rd birthday. I cannot believe we started out cycling from London when I was 21. That just makes me feel so old now.
We really put the bike to rest for the few days we stayed in KL, mainly because the city is so difficult to get around. The gridlock traffic of Bangkok and the manic lawlessness of Istanbul were nothing compared to the complete lack of thought for pedestrians and cyclists in Kuala Lumpar. There were highways, on-ramps, one way streets and barriers absolutely everywhere. There is a fantastic rail line that runs directly through the city, but try going anywhere that isn’t next to one of its stops and you might as well accept defeat immediately. To get out of the city, it took us four turns past China Town and two past Little India (every city in Malaysia has both of these) to finally find the right road out.
Obviously we found our way out, just as we have out of every city, and made it to Singapore in time for our flight to Darwin. As I’m typing, Ash is out the back of our hostel pulling Willie apart and putting him in his bag. And me? I’m trying to tell you
HOW MUCH FUN we’ve had over the past year (and a bit)! It’s been the toughest, most rewarding and possibly weirdest thing either of us has ever done.
And for those we’ve been missing… we’ll be in Australia in four and a half hours. You’ll probably find us at Nandos.
Signing out for the final time from Asia!