A Simple Plan

22 Oct 2006

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Deepavali. KL is polluted, noisy, crowded, and not at all like the beautiful beach I'd rather be on. We're woken by bells at 7:30am every morning. Lyn's chest infection is getting worse. And I'm not even supposed to be here today.

It was a simple plan. We bought our bus ticket to Lumut, gateway to the island paradise of Pangkor, well in advance. The Transnational bus had already sold out, but we got Kuantan Ekspres tickets for only 50% more than the going rate - fair in the circumstances[1].

We had seats 6C and 6D on the 10:00am bus. Four hour trip. Ferries run every half an hour unti 7:30pm. Accommodation booked. Fixed-fare taxi available from the ferry terminal, and we could hike it if we really had to[2]. Bags packed. Alarms set. Birthday cocktails in the pool, here we come.

It starts to fall apart as soon as we reach Puduraya bus station. It's absolutely packed. We present our tickets at counter 35, expecting to be given a platform number where the bus is waiting. It's 9:35 - plenty of time. Instead, a employee scribbles a number on the back of the ticket and leads us outside. He points at a bus and walks off. As we try to board it, it fills up and leaves[3].

By now I've figured out that it's a shuttle bus to another bus terminal, because Puduraya is full. It's 9:45. Controlling our panic we board the next shuttle.

We reach the new terminal at 9:53. "P7" is written on the back of my ticket. We find Gates 2, 3, and 4, but no Gate 7 and no Platforms at all. Lyn's lost her voice by now but I manage to get the attention of one of the dozens of CB-wielding officials for long enough to find "P7" spray-painted on to the road. We're told to wait - our bus isn't here yet.

It arrives by 10:30. As we wander over I comment idly to Lyn, "If they've oversold the bus, it might be helpful to get on first". But our packs hold us up, and by the time we're ready to board, the bus is full. A smartly-dressed Vietnamese man who managed to board but couldn't find a seat is thrown off. There's a lot of talking on CBs and mobile phones. Eventually they close the doors.

Ok, we've missed it - GET THE PACKS GET THE PACKS GET THE PACKS. Back to the "platform" for some strategising.

Bus two arrives. I seize Lyn's pack from her and send her on board. By the time I've stashed the packs and boarded, she already has a seat.

One seat, and she's sitting on it. I squeeze in, but the inevitable happens, and we get thrown off. Next bus is 12:00, according to the official, who says he's sorry.

The Vietnamese bloke who's been thrown off two busses so far wanders over to us and says something unpleasant about Malaysians.

OK. This isn't working. Go to plan B. I try to squeeze us on to a Bas Ekspres bus. After some negotiation the driver says I can pay cash on the spot if the bus isn't full. The Vietnamese bloke doesn't wait to find out if it's going to fill up and gets on board. He doesn't have a pack to potentially get split from, so he has this option. They don't throw him off.

It fills up, of course. I see some people with tickets being turned away. Who the hell oversells a bus on the busiest day of the year?

12:20, and the third Kuantan bus hasn't shown. Right. Plan C. There's a Transnational bus here going to Ipoh. From there we can get a taxi to Lumut for RM60. Even a taxi directly to Lumut is within the scope of my buy-my-way-out-of-trouble reserve, at RM200.

So - search for a taxi, four hour trip, hike to ferry terminal, ferry ride, taxi ride, check in. Probably doable, but too many risks, too little time, Lyn is already down and I can't keep this up for the rest of the day. Bail.

So we check back in to Pudu[7] for the third time. The owner, a former Aussie formerly known as Peter Mitchell[6], offers to go and get our money back from the Kuantan office downstairs. He's a friendly guy but definitely Not To Be Messed With, and it doesn't surprise me much when he comes back with the money.

So we're pinned down - too sick to move even if there was anything to move with. To be honest, KL is probably a better place to ride out Deeparaya than Pangkor. Could be worse.

I would now like to present Captain Obvious' First Law Of Busses[4]:

If you only just managed to buy the ticket, you won't be able to catch the bus.

The New Strategy, as yet untested, is Get On The Bus At All Costs[5] with full packs. After tickets have been taken, send one person to stow the packs if necessary.

Good practice, anyway.

fn1. If Deepavali is like Christmas, Hari Raya must be like Easter. They happen so close together that department stores call it "Deeparaya". The country goes berserk.

fn2. Really, really had to. Unencumbered, we walk 50% faster than anyone else in this country, even in crowds. With the packs, in 30 degree heat with narrow, uneven footpaths we're lucky to break 5km/h and even a couple of ks becomes an endurance event.

fn3. Omen.

fn4. This is related to Captain Obvious' First Law Of Climbing, which states that "If you only just made it up, you won't be able to make it down.". I would like to invite reader submissions, in the form "If you only just X, you won't be able to Y."

fn5. This may get me knifed in Thailand.

fn6. He married a Malaysian and, pursuant to Malaysian law, converted to Islam. He's now called Mohammed something, at least technically.

fn7. The shuttle bus stops well short of Puduraya, due to traffic. I manage the hike to the hostel wearing both packs, for a grand total of roughly 25kg, or 45% of my body weight. It's doable, but the stairs hurt.