Trains are the new planes.
(Caution: Content is not optimized for blog posts.)
I had the chance to take the overnight Malaysia train on Feb. 10 from Johor to Kuala Lumpur to meet my friend who was visiting from Ho Chi Minh.
As it was my first Malaysian night train, I was excited even when buying the tickets. The train that I will be taking was called Senandung Sutera. Singapore’s Prime Minister’s Office translated it as Silken Serenade which I took to mean the train would emit a low hum while on the tracks.
I’m not a train romantic but since it was my first overnight train in Malaysia, my imagination run wild.
In your dreams
I imagined that I would leave for my train with a small hand carry and a gorgeous vintage travel dress (much like Nellie Bly’s round-the-world outfit).
On the train, I would sleep like a baby as the train gently rocks me. In the morning, I would wake up fresh from the night’s sleep. I would then alight the train with light steps and in my hand, I carry the small lady-like hand luggage.
In my gorgeous vintage travel dress, I would step out on the platform while the wind blows and tousles my hair. Something like what these ladies are doing.
Of course, things never quite work out the way I want it to. For one, I have two luggages–a backpack and a gaudy Lesportsac sling bag. Then, I have unflattering glasses and messy hair. My only consolation is that I do have a nice sundress. Good enough, I suppose.
I reached JB’s immigration checkpoint after more than an hour of bus. I had some KFC–open 24/7–before I board my train.
The queue to the train was already snaking when I went to the waiting hall. Since everyone gets a seat, I don’t see why there is a need to queue standing up so early.
Finally, it was time to board. We held out our ticket and went downstairs to the platform.
I had to ask for directions to my carriage as things weren’t clearly labelled. I had the misfortune to have the carriage with the most hideous pajama-styled curtains.
When I found my bunk, I tossed my bag onto my bed and climbed up the ladder very monkeylike but unladylike.
Trying to sit up straight on the upper bunk is a bit difficult as the ceiling is low. But it can be managed by sitting with my back against the partition.
For the train ride, I brought some safety pins (as instructed by D’s aunt who travels on the night train frequently) and a sarong cloth. The pins came in handy but there was no need for the cloth as the airconditioning was a comfortable mildness.
I also brought along pajamas which I think is really useful. Changing into and out of pajamas behind curtains was easy as I was wearing a dress. Also, I wouldn’t smell like I’d slept in my clothes–if it’s possible to smell something like that.
The conductors checked everyone’s ticket. I pulled my curtains apart to give one of them mine. Some people slipped out the piece of paper to the conductors with curtains closed, looking like how ladies in past centuries would hide behind curtains.
I changed into my pajamas after the train started chugging slowly. I laid down on the bed, hoping to doze off while the train speeds up.
Oddly, the train went in one direction. Stopped. And went to the other direction. Then it moved along really slowly. And stopped again.
I then sat up with my back against the partition, scribbling in my diary. A pair of middle-aged Malay couple came along, the wife put her luggage into the lower bunk but the husband stopped in front of my bunk. He said: “Aiyoh, ada a-moi di sini.” (Oh, there is a girl here.) He then mumbled something to his wife.
I was puzzled. Did we get the same bunk number that he wants me to get out of mine? I continued scribbling.
A gaggle of ladies burst into our carriage, looking for their seats. They didn’t find theirs, squawked a while and went off. I saw them running on the platform to the carriage behind.
As I wrote, the train restarted.
Still standing, the husband then started a conversation in Malay with a guy on the left of my lower bunk. Pointing to the direction opposite where we were heading, the older man said: “There is something wrong with the train, it should be going that way.”
-”Are you sure?” said the guy.
-”The train should be moving in the other direction.”
-”But, that’s where Singapore is.”
-”Yes! That’s where it’s supposed to go,” the husband insisted.
I then jumped into the conversation with my rusty Malay, “Where are you heading to, pakcik (uncle)?”
I nodded and continued writing. He was still standing. I wondered if he thought that I had forcefully taken his bed,
I then said timidly: “My ticket number is M7 27, pakcik.”
“Yes, yes. You stay there,” he answered. Then he shuffled off to a different bunk. I have no idea what just happened.
The sleep that never came
Soon I exhausted that night’s things to write about. I decided to go to bed.
I’ve always been a good sleeper–able to sleep in many conditions. I imagined that my head would hit the pillow and I will enter slumberland. I even set my alarm to 5.45am, in case I wake up too late to change out of my sleepwear.
I wrapped my arm and leg around my luggage which I put against the wall. It felt like an uncomfortable bolster.
But…Sleep came in short bursts. For one thing, the partition my pillow against was trembling and making just enough noises to lull me to sleep then rudely wake me up. The train was really jerky too.
Drifting in and out of sleep, I was woken up around 5.30am by the conductors who were there to announced that Seremban is the next stop and people alighting need to wake up.
When the train pulled out of Seremban, it chugged along for sometime. Stop a bit and got back into action. I thought this was all the regular act that our Malaysian trains do so I continued sleeping.
My alarm woke me at 6am. I checked my Google Map and found that we were not very far from Seremban. Maybe the train was stopping for a break. I put my dress back on, in case we would reach soon and went back to sleep.
At around 7am, I was woken up by loud banging. Someone was shouting that everyone needs to get off and change trains. I did as I was told.
Normally, if the train breaks down, I would grumble. But since this was an adventure, I felt really happy. I even tweeted: “Train broke down on way to KL. waiting for Komuter to come. Had good sleep.”
When travelling, every thing is exciting. Even sitting sleepily while waiting for a regular train service is exciting.
When the train finally arrived and brought me to KL Sentral, I was two hours late for the meeting with my KL-based friend. He tried to reassure me that train breakdowns were frequent in Malaysia. I didn’t doubt him but I didn’t try to convince him that I actually like it that the train brokedown as it makes my trip even more exciting.
I spent two days and a night in KL and took the midnight train back to Singapore on a Sunday. That train ride deserves its own lengthy post.
I had wanted to write about my train trip but I was worried that the post would be too long for a blog post. Indeed it is, but it’s all in the name of experimenting. I wrote the first draft on Feb 17, according to my file naming system.
It would never see day light if it weren’t for this week’s BootsnAll #indie2012 blogging project.
This post was partly inspired by the BootsaAll #indie2012 blogging project. Week 12 is all about train travel.