Trip Start Dec 19, 2009
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Malaysia  , Selangor,
Thursday, February 18, 2010

Why is it that when you
really, REALLY look forward to something, it so often disappoints?
Time and again I have vowed not to pin too many hopes and
expectations on a particular event or holiday, but there are times
when that planned holiday/weekend away is all that gets you through
the week. Thus it was with my planned trip to Pangkor Island over
Chinese New Year.

The idea was that Abdul
and I (for that is the name of the young Guinean who captured my
heart when I arrived in KL with his lilting French and slow smile)
would head off to Pangkor Island for an idyllic Chinese New
Year/Valentine’s break to ‘cement our love’ and forget about
all the unpleasantness I had been experiencing at work over the last
week or two thanks to several members of staff opting to leave at the
same time. I chose Pangkor because it was the nearest option to KL
that offered decent beaches. The best beaches in Malaysia lie on the
west coast and, consequently, take longer to reach, but I had heard
good things about the ‘getaway-from-it-all’ natural beauty of
Pangkor and liked the idea of being a ferry-ride away from mainland
reality. For this reason, I felt very lucky when my Internet search
yielded a reasonable offer for 4 days/3 nights (Dr Evil couldn’t
let his teachers have the whole week off… back to work despite the
lack of students at the end of the holiday week!)

Sadly, as is so often the
case in my life, everything unraveled just before Valentine’s Day.
This day of cupid and flowers has always been a black day in my
calendar. That is one of the reasons I was so ludicrously happy when
my son was born on the 13th,
rather than having to share his birthday with the saint of so many
disappointments in my life from puberty onwards (oh, those wasted
hours wishing for cards which never came… thrusting bunches of
flowers at unsuspecting men on the street in my feminist days of
turning the tables on the clueless male of the species… so many bad
Valentine ghosts to haunt me.)

Inevitably, THE ROW came
on the eve of the trip. Like all such rows, it was over nothing
major… just Abdul coming late, having opted to share a beer or
three with friends rather than arriving on time to see me. Anyone who
knows me will vouch for the fact that I inherited my father’s
quasi-religious veneration of punctuality. Anyway, as is the case
when one person has drunk and the other hasn’t, the row quickly
turned irrational and unpleasant, and in a blaze of righteous
indignation, I drove him from my flat and vowed to travel alone.

That night I could not
sleep for a long time, and as a result, I slept through my alarm and
missed my early-morning bus. I felt torn and almost contemplated not
going now that my trip would be a solo journey rather than a romantic
getaway, but I decided that there were plenty of buses to catch and a
hotel waiting for me, so off I went (with 2 extra novels in my bag to
keep me occupied), determined not to give Abdul the satisfaction of
ruining my plans as well.

I have now realized that
despite being a compulsive planner, I often ignore obvious things. In
this case, I had tickets booked, hotels booked, ferries booked, but I
had failed to realize that the bus station was in fact just round the
corner from my condo. For that reason, I paid a hugely inflated taxi
fare to get to a bus station that I could have walked to with the
greatest of ease and probably in about the same amount of time. (Oh
well… mental note to self: must become even more anally retentive
in future.)

Bus stations the world
over are the same, or perhaps I should say are variations on the same
theme. They are all seedy, seething and more than a little
threatening. No matter how much time you have allowed yourself, you
find yourself caught up in the panic of those rushing for their bus.
Almost invariably the mounting sense of excitement you feel to be
going somewhere new is tempered by a sense of dread as to what might
befall you en route.

My dread grew by the
second when I entered the cavernous chaos of Puduraya bus station. As
I elbowed my way from one bus company counter to the next in search
of a ticket to Lumut (the destination from which the ferry to Pangkor
Island departs), I was told over and over again that there were no
tickets that day. Finally, by dint of perseverance and a girl who
gave the appearance of bored indifference but was actually very
helpful, I secured a ticket on a 12 o’clock bus… not ideal, but
better than sweltering in KL and I had only been overcharged by a
modest two dollars.

I had about 3 hours to
wait, so I decided to explore my surroundings, snag a well-deserved
breakfast and then wait for my bus in the pristine new mezzanine
waiting room I had spotted on arrival with my heavily-thumbed copy of
Brideshead Revisited (bought from a book fair I stumbled across which
had a ‘four books for 3 dollars’ offer).

With my ticket nestling
safely in my money belt, I decided first of all to cruise the bus
station, grubbing for colourful details to add to my blog. I started
by inspecting the buses themselves. Painted in stomach-churningly
garish pinks, purples and greens, these giant behemoths promised to
be every bit as luxurious as the advertising blurb promised. As each
bus filled up and its engine revved into life, eager to be free of
the concrete confines of Puduraya, those waving off the intrepid
travelers could only shield their mouths from the exhaust fumes and
envy those on board as they adjusted their reclining seats in
preparation for the ‘first-class airline experience on the road’
which awaited them.

As departure time for each
bus approached, a uniformed employee of the company in question
emerged from his or her little booth and stood on the main concourse,
calling out the destination in an urgent falsetto so the gullible
(like me) almost felt as though missing a chance to go to this place
would be a sin. As the screeching reached its crescendo,
multi-generational groups would surge through the masses, heading for
their stop and brandishing their tickets with a desperation that
seemed to presage the end of the world. Then after all the fuss and
flurry, a blessed but all-too-brief lull before the next bus pulled
up and the whole process began again.

So carried away was I by
observing humanity and speculating on each person’s reason for
travelling that I did not notice when crafty fingers slit open my
money belt and made off with my ticket, spending money and the
brand-new camera I had purchased to immortalize the beauty of Pangkor
Island. Only later, when I came to pay for my slightly unorthodox
breakfast of fried rice and a cup of milky, sugared tea did I realize
what had happened to me.

Thankfully, I had kept my
passport in my bag with my computerized hotel reservation slip, so I
did not lose that. Amazingly, in some parts of the world, wafting a
British passport and looking distressed is enough to make people
waive a 2-dollar meal bill and help you to make your police report.
Everyone was extremely officious, but in a good way. The police even
offered me a ride home, but I thought that turning up in their car
might arouse suspicions about me among the condo security men, so I
opted to walk instead given how close the bus station was to my

I came home numb… I had
lost not only the cash I had on me but the money I had paid for my
getaway in the first place given that my ‘cancellation’ had come
too late for a refund. Somehow though, the money was the last thing
on my mind. The worst thing was that I had lost that comforting sense
of my own invulnerability which had almost imperceptibly accrued over
the months since I had taken voluntary redundancy from the BBC and
started my travels. I felt as though Pangkor would now taint every
trip, fear outweighing anticipation and curtailing my travel
ambitions. All I wanted to do was get to my bed and bury myself there
until I had to go to work again.

A few days on and I have
emerged from my mattress cocoon. I still feel upset and a little
shaken by what happened (and miffed to have missed out on my island
retreat), but I know now that one little misadventure alters nothing.
My wanderlust won’t go away, just like all the bad people who live
by stealing other people’s money won’t all magically go away, but
I am damned if I will give those B******S the satisfaction of making
me change my plans. The journey continues… and to return to the James Bond analogy... I am shaken, but definitely not stirred...

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