Sunday, February 4, 2007

Train Holiday to Kelantan, August 31, 2001

I wrote this in 2001 and I would like to share it. It is a long piece.

Train Holiday to Kelantan, August 31, 2001
Thursday, 30th August 2001



At 5.45 pm my youngest daughter started to call my handphone asking when I was coming home. I was driving back to MDC after a meeting at the National Library of Malaysia. Not long after that my son called me and followed by another call from my daughter. I was smiling, as their eagerness to start their first long distance train journey was obvious. I told them I would be late and reminded them that the train that we supposed to be in would only depart KL Sentral tomorrow morning.I let you on a secret...actually I was the one who was impatiently waiting for the journey to begin. After more than 20 years I was about to take my first train holiday with my family to Kelantan. Which means I could achieve several objectives at one go.
  1. Relive my past journey (that’s old nostalgic fool me again)
  2. To have my family experience the ride, environment, atmosphere and if possible relive some of my past journey.
  3. Short holiday in Kelantan
  4. Seeing KB for myself(after a long time)
  5. Taking photos of Kelantan from the train

Friday 31st August 2001


Our Train

We departed from Puchong slightly after 6 am. I was driving patiently initially but ended up speeding on the Kesas Highway. I knew I wanted to get to the KL Sentral fast. We arrived there at 6.30am and as soon as we were inside the departure hall the announcer announced that Express Kenali was at Platform 2 and ready for boarding. We rushed up and down immediately and located our train and seats without any problem.

Coach Q2 seats 5A-D and 6A-B were where we were glued (hardly...LOL) for the rest of the 12 hours journey. The train was a far cry from what it used to be. It was spanky clean, after 20 or so years obviously it would be better. What did I expect, the same old train? The nostalgic fool in me was saying, ‘I don’t mind the old train just for the heck of it.’ However, one thing never change...the service, the lack of it..:((((( My children at this point were jumping around hoping the train would move earlier. We eventually departed at 7 am as schedule.

Seremban

We reached Seremban Station at 8.05 am. The station that has a lot of memories for most Sdara. A lot of tears of sadness and joy were shed here. If you were to see 16-20 year old crying like babies this was the station around the beginning of every third term holiday in the 70's and 80's. I have seen the toughest and roughest of rugby players were flowing Niagara Falls at this station.

I was still reminiscing the old days when my son started to call out, 'Abah! Lapar laa!!!' That was when I discovered another disservice from KTMB. Confidently, I said to my son to wait after the train to depart from Seremban and I would walk to the buffet car to buy something. Of course when I said that every one of them wanted to follow. So we 'walked the train' down until almost to the back and no sight of the buffet car. I finally asked the attendant and was told there was none. I told him he is got to be kidding. Don't tell me you don't have a buffet car for the rest of the 12 hours journey? He said something like, they only going to start selling from Gemas. So, ok, I thought, at least they going to 'chain' the buffet car at Gemas. To my dismayed I was wrong!!!!!Anyway, I had to get something for my children, as we purposely did not buy anything for breakfast thinking we could find food to eat on the train. So, when we reached Tampin I did a SDAR train dashing sequence. Dashing out of the station to the 'warong', grabs six or so ‘nasi lemak’ and few bottles of water and dash back on the train in 10 minutes. Barely made it and I didn't have to chase the train either....LOL. Then after having satisfied with the ‘nasi lemak’ my children started to be themselves. Cheerful and mischievous – I thought being confined within the train they will, at least, keep still.... wrong again!!!!!! At least I know they are enjoying the journey. At this point I was already tracing my past train journey. Imagining that it was night and looking at the darkness out of the window. Somehow it was really hard for me to 'go back' as the environment was just not right. There was no wind rushing in from the window, no deafening sound of the track being mauled by the iron wheels and no loud voices talking or singing. So I ended up enjoying the scenery outside. It was not bad and once in a while my children caught me smiling and grinning while looking out through the glass window.

Gemas

We arrived at the famous (for SDARA from Seremban anyway) Gemas station at 9.45 am. All the times when we stopped here it used to be funfair with a marathon stop of three hours of train waiting, cutting and joining at 1-3 in the morning. This was also the place where the love birds from the south and central met once a year. It was a scene!!!!!!!. Now, it is just a merely 20 minutes stop and in brought daylight. This is about the second time that I know that I ever been in Gemas station during the day. It looks so, so very different. In reality the station was just like it was 20 years ago.

It felt so strange walking along the corridor of the station with my kids I just cannot connect with the scene. However, towards the end of the stop I was able to feel something from the past as I began to imagine the scenarios. Our train being the only one on the tracks did not help either and the whole stop took about 20 minutes. When the train engineers moved the engine car to the other end I realized one thing – there was no additional car being added. Meaning there wouldn't be any buffet car. The knowledge pissed me off a little but not wanting to spoil my journey I just took it lightly. I tried to absorb Gemas to the maximum and I managed to get some. My wife kinda knew what I was going through and just left me with my own space.

'As soon as the train stops at Gemas station most Sdarians jump out and start to cross the bridge and walk towards the warong outside. We order either nasi lemak or roti canai, our favorite no doubt, and as soon as the food arrive we eat like someone that has not been eating a week. It is normally around 12.15 to 12.30 am when we do that. Of course after finishing our food, trying to show off our overflowing manly hormone, all kinds of brand of cigarettes come out from our pockets. I, as usual take out my Peter Stuyversant and start to smoke endlessly. The cool breeze blowing over Gemas is another incentive to smoke some more. On the tracks all sorts of commotion being created by trains moving in and out but we are not worried at all as we know where our train going to be at 3 am. After eating we start to do boy's things like trying to get a chat out of few girls and practicing our train jumping sequence as if it is an Olympic event. At roughly 2 am the train from the south slowly appears at the station. Most of us start to pay attention and our male hormone begins to work overtime. Some of us, not all anyway...LOL. The train from the south means one thing to these one-track minds. The sisters from STF..yeah right! 'sisters' from the south...LOL. Glad to say I am not one of them. I am from the tough group remember? The fact is all of these tough guys are a bunch of jealous souls.

The ‘love birds’ begin to create their own ‘nest’ at the station. I bet you someone could actually write a novel out of this. Sometimes they just purposely walk pass us, obviously, to show off. In a while we could see some of the guys are wearing STF sweaters and vice versa. As for us, besides eating our hearts out, just continue with our boys things, smoke some more and in the end we start our own 'warong'. ( Warong is a term we used to describe a situation where we actually just sit around in a group to chit chat endlessly) An endless story telling session at the station. There out in the open in the middle of the station you could see a bunch of us squatting or sitting around like sitting around a campfire talking. With cool breeze of the early morning, crickets orchestrating the background music we continue to talk under the dim lights of the station. The colder the morning is the more smoke blowing up. Just like smoke blowing out of chimney from a factory at dawn. To us it is heaven...

As on queue just before 3 am we walk up to our train and start to find a place, just any place, to sleep. We need to sleep sometimes......'

That was Gemas for most of us.

Triang, Mentakab, Temerloh, Jerantut

The train started to depart Gemas as soon as the engine car was connected and sped up towards Bahau. After the effort of trying to reminisce about Gemas I decided to take a nap and woke up as the train was slowly approaching Bahau. Not much to look at beside another perspective of Bahau from the train. Earlier on I explained to my children that we were actually going down south and then going up after Gemas and would be passing four states in the process. After Bahau I explained to them we were about to enter Pahang and the next big station would be Triang. I was as excited as they were because it was the first time for me as well (seeing life through the train's window during the day). I was sitting next to my wife when we reached Triang I told my wife that I have a friend who used to stay in Triang, Zawawi Misnan (Awie), and I do not know where he is now (Actually, two years after writing this I managed to track Awie and he is working at Bank Bumiputera Commerce in Maran). Awie is one crazy and very brave dude. Once when there were only three of us in SDAR he spent his nights chasing dogs. At the same time he was 'chased and disturbed' by the 'other souls' in SDAR and he didn't mind. In fact he tried to get them to talk to him. I narrated to my wife that when the train got to Triang it would be around 4 am and Awie would be the only one to get down and the station was normally empty except for the station master. It was pitch dark and not once I was worried about Awie once the train left Triang. Now, I said to my wife, looking at the station in day time I shouldn't have worried at all.

After Triang the next station was Mentakab. The station that used to be my stop when we lived in Kuantan. There would be five or six of us and we normally arrived in Mentakab at the break of dawn. Funny thing was that there always somebody who woke us up. Never have we missed our stop.

We arrived at Mentakab just before noon and the station just look the same to me. Not much different from 20 years ago. Frankly speaking I thought it was the same as it was 20 years ago. That pretty much sum up the state of railway services in Malaysia. Talking about service, when we left Gemas I realized there was commotion at the other end of our coach. Since, my son's nose, maybe the radar is attached at his belly button, is first class at tracking food I got to know immediately that at Gemas the authorized food seller was allowed on the train to sell food. But, could you imagine him selling the same cold food for the whole journey and there were not cheap either. Of course my children wouldn't want to know the difference. Remember this is Express Kenali that supposed to be different level of service compared to the other express services. Lucky for KTMB I am one of those who no matter what will still love train rides.

After Mentakab the train sped towards Jerantut only to make stops at 'crossings' (crossing is a term used by the railway men to mean a stop where opposite trains pass each other). When we got there most of the Mat Sallehs on the train got down. Obviously, they were heading towards Taman Negara. At this point all of us are really into enjoying this journey. As they say, old habit is hard to break, I got down to enjoy every stations now. My sons did the same, but not, after a crash course of what and what not to do. My daughters to their dismayed were given a stern warning to stay on board. I know it was unfair but I was worried for them as well. My sons nevertheless got the benefit of old stories from me. We waited about 15 minutes at Jerantut for the other train to cross. Long enough time for me and my sons to enjoy the station. Just like any stations that we passed before the Jerantut is not that big. It looks bigger because several blocks of offices for travel agents are built at the north side. I saw few Mat Sallehs and locals were haggling for the right price for their service. I have never been to Taman Negara or Gunung Tahan, I love too, but I guess I'll never will now. But you never know!!!!!!

Kuala Lipis

In the old days Kuala Lipis is one station that we were waiting for and one of our main agenda for the journey home. The station was where we normally had our 'brunch'. The Nasi Bungkus at the station was delicious and would be our first target. Even before the train is at full stop we had jumped down and rushed to the cafeteria. I don't remember how much was it but I think around a ringgit or so.


Before our train got to Kuala Lipis I have anticipated that the station would be full of live. I was right as when we stopped I could see the same activities were conducted just like before. The train attendants came down carrying their night luggage to call the end of their shift and replaced by a new cheerful group. We could tell that all of them are familiar with each other as the camaraderie is obvious. Passengers going down and onto the train, the porters pushing carts and the authoritative station master standing prominently holding the big key among the crowd. I was standing at the door when I realised I failed as a photographer. I should have captured the moment. I guess I was too romantically engrossed in the moment. Who could blame me for that. BTW that one good reason to take the journey once again. Maybe this time with my SDARAs.

I swear I was standing in the middle of the Kuala Lipis station in the 70's. For one the station do not change much, just new coat of paint being applied on the wood. The cafe was still there, the pavement looks the same and the smell also was just like the old smell. I mean you could really feel all of these if you just stand there for few minutes. Unbelievable I thought and of course suddenly all of these were taken from my reverie when the station master blew his whistles. We rushed onto the train and I looked back making sure I did not leave my son at the station....LOL

Merapoh, Gua Musang, Bertam, Dabong, Kuala Krai, Pasir Mas, Wakaf Baru

Going back 23 years the train would be moving slowly as we approached Merapoh station, the last station in Pahang state before we cross to Kelantan, Peter (pronounce Piter) aka Zainuddin Abd Kadir, our colleagues would be gathering his stuff ready to alight. Piter’s father was a teacher in Merapoh and the place is a bit secluded, check out the Pahang map, imaging the situation 23 years ago and you know what I mean, and Piter is really proud of the place until today. (We met Piter in 2004 during our gathering and he told us his family is still there.) We could see Piter’s house from the track and once he was off and running across towards his house we yelled his name out loud Piterrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Today when the train approached the station slowly as before I more then realized I missed my friends and decided then to make sure our gathering is a reality. My family by now was really into the journey and enjoying the train more than they expected. The speed and the condition of the train help them a little bit as I am pretty sure they would be complaining aloud if it were 23 years ago.

Gua Musang was another station that most of us were eagerly waiting for in the old days. No, not because of the Gua as we practically ignored it for a long time already. Two things actually, the first was there would be more food on sale and second the beautiful ladies on the platform. Just imaging my disappointment when we got to Gua Musang station I did not see a single person selling anything on the platform. Worse the new train has a glass window that cannot be opened which means we can only deal with outside if we were to get down from the train. I was really hoping to show what I had gone through to my children but then I could only described this to them. ‘When we got to Gua Musang station all of us rushed to the window, in the old train the windows can be pulled down, and eagerly waited for the train to stop. If ones were to look from the platform towards us probably I would not be wrong in saying they were like looking runaways that had not eaten for days with their tongues hanging out. The sellers, most of them ladies, would rushed towards us with their nasi belauk, fruits and all kinds of kueh. The nasi belauk was ‘samah’ (RM0.50) and the kueh RM0.10 each. We just grab everything we need and pay quickly as the train would only be there for few minutes. The train station like most at the time was the day main event in town like Gua Musang. Another amazing thing when we got to Gua Musang is this – there would be a group of fruits sellers boarded at Kuala Lipis and in general they would be selling grapes, oranges and ‘mangga’. So up and down the train they went yelling Mangga, Limau, Anggur. Suddenly when we crossed into Kelantan and at Gua Musang normally the yelling vocabulary changed to Peler, Lima, Zabek.’ I had a field day the first time I heard that.

After Gua Musang the journey seemed to be monotonous for my family and they drifted between sleep and watching the movies. We passed small stations/towns like Kuala Neroh and Limau Kasturi. I decided to walk to the end of the train with my camera as I saw the ‘tail’ was opened for viewing. I stayed there for quite sometimes only walked back to our seats when we are about to arrive at Bertam. My late father used to be stationed at Ulu Bertam and I wanted to show to my family the place. Somehow the train traveled too fast for me as I completely missed Bertam Baru and Bertam. I only managed to look back when we were actually passing the bridge. Bertam Ulu was some experience for me although we did not stay there long, especially me as I only managed at least two weeks of my vacation from UiTM, but Bertam still has a special place in my memory. The police quarters were on high ground overlooking a valley with river. We could actually see the train crossed down below and I always enjoyed that. The air was clean unpolluted and the cool breeze always pleasing. The two weeks I was there was a Durian season and my dad received practically a 'bakul' of durians almost everyday from the villagers. The biggest benefactor was of course me. After I had missed Bertam the next station was Kemubu before we reached Dabong. Dabong is not a major station but most trains servicing interior Kelantan would make it a major stop including our express train. I told my children once on the way home we got stuck in Dabong for few hours with no reason given to us by KTMB. Because of that I arrived at Pasir Mas very late.

If you have taken a train to Kelantan before then you know that after Dabong the train would take a long winding cruise along ranges, through tunnels and across rivers until we reached Manek Urai. Once we passed Manek Urai we have passed the interior, otherwise known as ‘Ulu’, Kelantan. Also means the rest of the journey over flat lands through kampungs and farms.

I kept my head close to the glass window and enjoyed the rest of the journey. Once in a while my children would asked me simple questions like, ‘What are they planting? What time would we get to KB? How long more? Abah lapar! (this of course Baqir’s question)’. Soon enough we crawled into Kuala Krai, a station where Mac, Syed Nazim, would get down and those days I would be alone to continue the rest of my journey home to Pasir Mas. When we were living in Rantau Panjang and then Pasir Mas my holidays there basically would be sleeping and eating. I had no friends and ended up being a recluse most of the time. In fact I immediately turned one immediately after Mac got down at Kuala Krai. I called it my lonely journey to Pasir Mas. That was another indication to me how my friends mean so much to me. The reality I had to accept.

Pasir Mas came without a fuss and it looked the same to me. My wish then was to get down there and stayed for few minutes but I know that was not possible. Even the train driver seemed to be in a hurry pushing the train hard to its final destination. Up until then I have never taken a train way up to Wakaf Baru. It was my first experience as much as my family. It was late in the evening when we reached Pasir Mas and at that point in time I predicted that we would be arriving at Wakaf Baru close to maghrib and I was right. Finally it was end of the line for us and we scrambled down with our backpacks to find a surau and we barely managed our Jamak when the Azan maghrib came on the air via the nearby mosque. We managed to get a kereta sapu (a Nissan Venette van) to take us to Perdana Hotel. Perdana Hotel is another story to itself and enough for me to say now it is not worth it.

I was actually pleased with the train ride. The farthest that we have taken as a family so far. I achieved my target of taking a family to experience what I had experience before and the verdict from them – ‘We should do this more often’

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