John of Burma

Trip Start Jan 31, 1996
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Malaysia  , Pinang,
Saturday, March 1, 2014

One hair, about eight centimetres long, grew from his neck. He was about five-feet tall and had makings of a short moustache. His name was John and he didn't speak much English. Elenka had befriended him on the waiting platform of Kuala Lumpur's stinking, hot bus station as I ran frantically about trying to ensure that we were actually on the right platform. 

10 years ago, at the age of 18, John walked across the Burmese border into Thailand and made his way south to Malaysia where he made an attempt to become a refugee. He was thrown in jail - detained would probably be a better word - for seven months. With help from the United Nations he was finally released and given refugee status. He carries an A4 sized letter with him everywhere he goes as proof. And he's very happy to be working in a factory - something to do with electronics.
 We talked back and forth, mostly about his Burmese homeland during our four-and-a-half hour bus ride from Kuala Lumpur to Georgetown, on the island of Penang. When we arrived, John took us under his wing. He motioned for us to follow, then walked ahead, coaxing us, like a mama dog does with her pups. There was another bus stop around the corner and across the street. This is where we'd catch the bus for our final thirty minute ride to Georgetown. 
We didn't have any small currency so John paid our bus fare. About three kilometres from where we needed to get off the bus, John pointed to an old apartment building, showing us where he lived. I asked him why he wasn't getting off; he shrugged off the notion. When we arrived in Georgetown, the three of us were off on a mission to find the hotel Elenka and I had booked. With John's help we found it a lot faster than we would have on our own. 
I knew that this would be where crazy'd begin. Elenka would want to pay for the bus tickets and John would have no part of it. Still, I'd have to watch, let it play itself out. The game lasted just five minutes. Women seldom win in this part of the world. Finally, we all shook hands and John went his way with a big smile, happy at being able to do a good Buddhist deed.

Without John we would have made it on our own, but it wouldn't have been nearly as fast, or memorable. Good people exist all over the world. Not so many who are as caring and giving as John, though. I've been kicking myself ever since John walked off for not thinking to take a photo of him and Elenka during the heated bus ticket negotiation.
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lago on

again, great reading and story Jack. Seems Asia offers you a great time :)

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