Thursday, April 8, 2010

3D2N Around Malaysia by Train (Almost)

I have been planning this trip for quite sometimes. My intention was really to do the entire KTMB system KL – Tumpat, Tumpat – JB, JB – KL, KL _ Padang Besar and back to KL. When I planned this earlier I needed 4 days to do it and I was already at the KTMB counter to commit myself when I found out KTMB had changed its schedule. Dumbfounded and angry at KTMB I shelved the idea until recently when I found out that they changed their train schedule yet again. Mapping out my proposed journey I found out still I require four days to complete the whole system. I stalled and put it off for a while as it would be too early for me to take leave. The Chinese New Year holidays is one option that I could consider but I rather not compete with the rest of the holiday makers. Too stressful. I thought that’s it for now until I realized actually I could do KL Sentral – Tumpat, Tumpat – JB, JB – KL Sentral in 3N2D. Which means I do it over the weekend and back home on Sunday night. Luck had it that the following weekend was a 3day weekend for me due to the Hari Wilayah. I sent a message to my wife to say I would be doing the train trip and let me know who would like to follow me. The following day I dropped by at the KL Sentral and booked us for the adventure.

KL Sentral – Tumpat, Jan 29, 2010, Departure 2035 ETA Tumpat, Jan 30, 2010, 0946.
Travelers: My Wife, Kak Cik, Mar and Me

Initially two other relatives wanted to follow us but at the last minute canceled.

We arrived at the KL Sentral almost at the same time. Mar, Kak Cik and my wife from Bangi and I was from work. Despite their experience on the Komuter train battling the Thaipusam and 3 day weekend crowds everyone was very excited about our trip. Upon seeing me, Mar did a Baqir by saying, ‘Abah lapar.’ With that we went down to the Secret Recipe on the L1 to have dinner. Knowing what you could get from KTMB’s buffet car I ordered something heavy and advised everyone to do the same. When we were at the Secret Recipe I was frantically trying to locate a power source to charge my handphone as at that point in time I was already running low. I need my iPhone to be fully powered to last me until Tumpat as I was planning to do a live updates to my Facebook status.

Dinner was quick as we need to say our prayers before we went to wait for our train. An advise to travelers if you want to say your prayers without having to fight for a space go to the surau at L4.

Around 2010 we walked towards the waiting area and still I was searching for a power source that I could benefited while waiting. In the end I found one at the bottom of an accelerator next to a vending machine. We waited there until we were called to board. Mar being herself could not even stay still a minute and deep down both Sam and I were hoping she would be quite once on the train. Since I was a bit late with my booking our first leg had to be done sitting in an economy class. It was not bad as we did that before from Singapore and it was better for us as it was our first leg and we were still fresh. Luckily I managed to get sleeper for everyone for the second leg to JB from Tumpat. We were in Coach GX seats 7A-D and one advantage of our coach was that it was next to the buffet car. The coach was three quarter full when we boarded where at one end seated a group of young hikers, I thought, were heading for Dabong to hike Gunong Stong. Later I found out I was on the money on this one. At the other end closer to the buffet car a bit empty but for a group of young guys traveling together. I sat together with Mar and opposite us across the aisle my wife and Kak Cik. Directly behind Mar and me was a lovey dovey couple that later was a nuisance to our eye sights as well as our comfort level.

Once seated we could not wait for the train to start moving which it did slightly of schedule. I was delighted to see my planning and the eagerness to experience the long train journey once again materialized. Looking across at my wife I could sense her excitement and looking at Mar beside me was always new territory to experience. I, on the other hand started getting nostalgic about the whole things. I did not pay much attention to the early part of the journey as between KL Sentral and Bangi is my daily route to work. Instead I gathered my things, pulled out my book, I brought along Eleven Minutes Late: A Train Journey To The Soul of Britain by Matthew Engel, and coached Mar on the mechanics of using the chair. But one station that I was really going to get serious about – Seremban.

When we arrived at Seremban station I put strong words to Mar not to follow me. I got down and started to take a few shots of the station. When I was about to take one particular shot I saw the station’s clock through the view finder and that gave me a first indication that we would not be on schedule. The time 2215 really surprised me as I knew we could not have taken more than two hours to get to Seremban from KL Sentral if we were on schedule. That time on the clock also triggered my subconscious search engine to pick certain events and experiences in the 70’s. Almost exactly at the same time we would normally boarded our east coast train. Back then our trains were known and called by either east coast, south or north trains. South meaning the train was going to JB , North to Padang Besar and East Coast to Tumpat. The train did not stay long at Seremban, as soon as the last person boarded the whistle was blown. I jumped up onto the train before the train conductor, but continued to take few more shots from the slowly moving train.

I had brought along the KTMB route map with me and now using it Mar kept on asking where we were and what was the next station. Tampin would be next but it did not hold any significant as far as my memory bank was concern. It was Gemas that I was looking forward to. However in between reading and trying to stay abreast with Mar’s antics I got sleepy. At Tampin few more passengers boarded and among them were those without tickets. These passengers were normally a short distance passengers that would pay for the fare onboard and sit where ever they could find empty seats before the rightful owners boarded. They kept on walking the aisle if they could not find any and the younger ones would just prefer to stand by the doors. By that time I was really sleepy and despite the uncomfortable seat I entered my never ending story world. Mar was fast asleep already by then.

I must be really tired. I missed Gemas altogether in fact I missed a lot of stations. I only woke up when we arrived at Kuala Lipis at around 0530. I have never experience arriving at Kuala Lipis that early in the morning. The platform was empty and quiet. When I saw it from the train I decided not to get down and take photos. Instead, since Suboh was about to knock on our spiritual door, I asked around whether or not there was a place to pray. I was told one of the cabin at the back was used as a surau. I walked back to my seat and mentioned this to my wife. It was still too early to go though so we waited a bit. Mar by this time was still in a deep sleep, lucky for us she could go to sleep at all, and we planned it as such for Kak CIk and my wife to go first and I stayed behind to accompany Mar. Kak CIk and Sam came back a few minutes later to inform me that the prayers room was packed and I should be going there immediately to avoid further delay. Indeed when I got there men and women were already waiting out side of the small cabin and it got worse as we waited. At the first opportunity I rushed in. KTMB should provide another cabin for the ladies to pray.

When I was at my seat again I tried to read but I could not concentrate. The next station would be Merapoh and it was still along way to go, I dozzed off. I woke up when we were coming into Gua Musang station. I always had my camera hanging around my neck, instantaneously I jumped up and walked to the door to get down at the station to take some photos. I was so fast that i did not realised Mar was following closely behind me and I only realized she was there when I was already at the door. I strictly told her not to follow me down. It was still early in the morning and the light was low. I had to do some quick thinking and decided on a smaller aperture to make sure I capture enough. If I were to use the flash I knew it would not be enough to capture enough depth. Early in the morning my hands were not steady so I did my best. Realising in any minutes the chief conductor will blow his whistle I took a few quick shots. I jumped back up when the train started to move. Maybe we were to far at the front but I did not see any meks selling foodstuff at the platform. I really missed that scene.

As we left Gua Musang I decided to have breakfast at the buffet car. When we found a table we sat ourselves and started to think what food to have. That decision was not that hard for us as the waiter came to announce that they had only nasi goreng china or just plain nasi goreng. Even the eggs were ran out. I was lucky to get the last mi goreng. All of them not even fresh but for someone hungry we just ate. One good thing was the drinks were hot, original and fresh. The buffet car was not that full so we stayed back a bit longer to enjoy the scene outside. Since we were passing rural Kelantan we could see green of the jungle mostly. Now and then we would passed small kampongs and towns. At the back of my mind I had implanted a trigger to be aware of Bertam Ulu, the place that we used to live for couple of years, to take a look and take some photos. Alas, it happened so sudden and I was not ready. I was eating and talking when I look outside I saw a familiar rural stop and straight away my subconscious mind said it was Bertam Ulu. I almost yelled at everyone and tried to explain to them about the place. I thought the police station was still a bit far ahead as it was on top of the highest point of the place overlooking the bridge where the train would cross Kelantan river but I was wrong. It came so fast that I could only managed to grab my camera, pointed and shot what ever I can. The darn glass was a mess of droppings and lines of water tracks that the camera captured. I only managed to catch a glimpse of our old barrack. I was pissed with myself. As that was the second time in my life since we left Bertam that I failed to capture the image of the place from the train. Well, trying to be positive, I said we could always comeback again. We continued to sit there and enjoy the ride.

I could not stop talking about every place we passed. In a mix of geography lessons, social studies and religious opinion I was animated in front of my family. I was especially excited when I saw a small hut with a Astro disc on its roof. In places like that Astro is a must for them I guess and for sure the top channel for them would be Zee. Maybe it was the only channel for them he he he. Kelantanese love for Hindustani movies is phenomenal.

Overtime we saw people started to trickle into the buffet car signaling it’s the time for us to vacate the table and return to our seats. Back at our seats we just silently, but of course not Mar, decided to do our own things. I picked my book to continue reading but after few minutes I just could not concentrate. I knew I was too excited by the fact that we were about to pass through stations that I really knew and nostalgic about. Kuala Krai came under the early morning bright light. As we approached I could see the authoritative figure of the station master standing waiting for us on the platform. The station was his domain, territory and home that he had every right to feel that. Anything about the train stopping in his area was totally his responsibility. I could relate to that and respect him for his authoritativeness. Actually station masters are great source for stories of the area. For Kuala Krai it was Station Master Tajudeen. Since the station was fairly renovated I did not feel like going down instead I just sat to enjoy the view from my seat. After Kuala Krai the one prominent different would be the long bridge and crossing of Sg Kursial followed by a journey on flat land. Soon enough farms like paddy and tobacco fields started to materialize as our constant views.

When we arrived at Tanah Merah then I knew how really late we were, by at least two hours. With that information I did a mental calculation how much time we would have at KB. It’s all depends on how soon we could get a cab to take us to KB. Right after Tanah Merah as well I decided I had enough of sitting down and started to walk to the back to stand by the door. There were already three young guys/ teenagers on the right side of the door and another young man that was not part of the three guys standing on the left. With my camera I parked myself next to the guy on my left and stand facing where the train was moving. From the conversation that I overheard form the three younger guys two of them were brothers and they were going to disembark at the next station, Pasir Mas. From their vocabulary as well I deduced that they were either locals that have been brought up outside of Kelantan or really someone from out of town but visiting their parents who were stationed in Kelantan. Seeing my camera and in action one of them asked me whether I was on a assignment. I knew what he meant and not wanting to spoil it I just nodded my head. Who would have thought otherwise? With my discovery pants, t-shirt and cap backward on my head I would not blame him for thinking who I was.

Just outside Pasir Mas the train stopped to wait, not sure for what, and it was a long wait driving the three young guys impatiently mad. I myself was eager as if saying ‘hey! let’s get this over with. I wanted to see Pasir Mas station again so bad that I wished it was soon enough for me to get over it as well. The old station that I knew was a wooden station like Kuala Lipis and I was not expecting much development there. When at last the train moved all of us standing there almost gave aloud sigh of relieve. When we actually arrived I stepped down after the boys and started to snap a few. As I was still busy doing this the whistle was blown. Yes, we were late and the station master did not want to add to it further so I jumped up onto the train as it was started to move. As the train roll off slowly I was still standing at the door. With my left hand holding on to the handle bar and both my legs spread eagle hard against the two walls in order to steady my stand I shot the station and anything around it with my right hand. I did a continuous shot without stopping until we were out of the station. Leaving Pasir Mas meant we were not that far way already from the end of the Express Wau line. Coming up was Wakaf Baru where most people going to KB would get down. I was contemplating to do the same but then I won’t be staying true to my plan. I persisted and Wakaf Baru came and gone without much funfair. By then we were the only passengers in our cabin. The cleaners were already busy at work since Pasir Mas so after Wakaf Baru they were really at it. I could understand why, they wanted to leave the train for home sweet home as soon as it parked at Tumpat station.

We almost jumped out of the train when we arrived at Tumpat. Being late and our eagerness to be in and explore KB got us excited. With just a customary photography session we walked out of the station to be timely asked by a man whether we need a car or not. I replied KB and he said RM25 and I replied back let’s go then. It was a kereta sapu, why was I surprised I did not know as I should have known in Kelantan kereta sapu is quite command. The weather was a bit hot outside so the little comfort that the kereta sapu gave us was a blessing. As usual there was a bottle neck at the bridge going into KB. It looked abandon and I could not guess when the upgrading of the bridge area going to be completed. Maybe after the next election. Our destination was Pasar Khadijah as we intended to do a very serious shopping straight away. Indeed the first shop I entered at the Bazaar I bought a piece for Sam. The rest I left it to the girls to do the shopping and I gladly do the paying. We did not have much time left to spend in KB as our train to JB would be leaving at 2030 that evening so badly in need to take a bath we went to the restroom next to the Pasar Khadijah that had a shower facility to shower and immediately say our prayers at the nearby madrasah. When we got to the restroom we were told they had problem with water pressure and would not think it would be enough to take a bath. We decided to use the bathroom anyway to clean ourself the best we can. Once inside I saw the shower and turned the tap to have a nice surprise of flowing water coming out. Without much prompting I went in, undressed and had a very nice shower.

Refreshed after the cold shower and prayers we walked out of the madrasah with only enough time to take our cab back to Tumpat. We left a bit early as I did not know the nature of the traffic to Tumpat especially going through the never-seem-to-finish Sultan Mahmud bridge. Again when I was asked at the bus stand we were ushered towards a kereta sapu. Only this time a bit newer than the last one we took. We were lucky the traffic jam at the bridge was not so bad and cruised nicely towards Tumpat. I chatted the teksi sapu driver and was glad to find out that he used to work at Nilai. Well I was not surprised by it. It is common for Kelantanese to work in other state came back went they find life can be really hard in Klang Valley. He started to narrate about life there and the reason he decided to bring the family home. Life can be really hard away form home. He also lamented about the fact that his son actually failed four times in his application to join our police force. Promise after promise went unfulfilled. In the end his son moved to Klang Valley and applied from there and got accepted. Funny world according to him. To me it was just a basic economics. In places like Kelantan joining the army or the police force is one last and best option for the youth of Kelantan to earn a fairly safe job. Whereas in the city like KL it was the opposite. Not many youth would want to join the police force even if it meant that they going to stay jobless. So more opportunities to those applying.

We reached Tumpat railway station at 1831 and spent our time there taking pictures and enjoying the place as much as we can. Our train to JB would depart at 2030. While waiting for our train I was speculating whether or not it would be the same train with coaches that will be going to KL. Later I found out that the KL train actually already left the station at 1800. Our train was parked beside the station’s workshop. Just before maghrib to my astonishment came a cleaning crew with their water jet spraying the coaches. They were actually washing two or the newly chained coaches and it was almost dark. Sarcastically I remarked to my family they might as well start the job at 2000 when it was really dark. The surau was basic and the door to the lady’s surau failed to work so everyone has to use the man’s surau entrance creating a bit of nuisance to the ladies.


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