Chapter 12 Singapore, Malaysia and Homeward Bound to Perth, Western Australia

 

SUPPORTING SLIDE SHOWS

 

Singapore

 

Penang Malaysia 1

 

Penang 2

 

Kuala Lumpur Malaysia Kl1

 

Kuala Lumper 2 Malaysia

 

KL 3

 

To Airport

 

Wednesday 20 August InTransit

 

Richard got up at 4.00 am, showered, and then finished dressing me by 5.15 am.  He packed from 5.15 am to 6.30 am while I paid the $150.00 room bill, annoyed at the parking fee, and their lack of a record of the reservation made by the Protea Quay on my behalf.  It was blowing a gale, miserably cold and raining outside, and I got chilled and wet getting into the car inn the dark at 6.30 am.

 

I had suggested to Richard that we try a partial trial run to the airport yesterday and he flatly refused.  Now, doing it for the first time in the dark on busy freeways was anxiety provoking.  We followed the signs painstakingly, but Richard and I disagreed in which direction the N2 freeway sign actually pointed. I argued it was right up a narrow street and prevailed, but in the rainy dark, lost confidence as we went up the street and saw nothing. “Ok, lets go back,” I said, but then checked the map. “Turn around, I’m sure this is the way,”” and we continued on to the N2 Airport freeway entrance.  The rest of the trip was uneventful and we reached the Avis car return by 7.00 am.  I paid the BMW $1,300.00 bill for ten days, and the friendly Avis employee drove us to international departures by 8.00 am.

 

We checked our luggage through to Singapore, and we were told that the flight was not full, and I could have an aisle seat with an empty seat between Richard and myself.  Almost first class!  Then we visited the Singapore ticket agency too confirm our last five flights.  We found that our next flight, Singapore Penang had been rescheduled seven hours later than our ticket indicated.  “Good thing we checked,” I said. With three hours to kill, we shopped, bought a litre of rum for $8.00’s, enjoyed a cappuccino, and soon we were being boarded for the longest flight of the trip, fourteen hours from Capetown to Singapore via Johannesburg. The flight was to arrive Thursday, August 21st at 6.30 am into Singapore.

 

The lift into the SQ405 flight, Boeing 777-200 plane was unskilled but strong, with this plane giving substantially more legroom than Lufthansa’s miserably cramped Airbuses. In addition, we all had private viewing screens with a choice of twenty movies, with FF, stop, start and rewind controls.  I watched, The Core, Hunted, and the Shanghai Kid, before getting stuck into a first rate novel, David Morrell’s The Protector. During the first ninety minutes coughing fits troubled me.  “You got chilled,” Richard noted.  “Capetown was freezing and the airport was unheated.  This plane is also very cold.”  I had skipped breakfast, drinking only water, so I knew Richard was correct.  We landed smoothly in Johannesburg, and took off an hour later for Singapore.  I didn’t cough for the remaining ten hours of the flight.

 

Richard swallowed four sleeping tablets to my disgust.  For three hours he giggled and slurred his words incomprehensibly, before sleeping for the next six. I enjoyed the Singapore Airways meal, roast beef with a nice red win and I consumed my first and only meal of the day.  I passed the night reading; with the occasional nap to rest my eyes missing the 5.00 am breakfast, which was hungrily eaten by Richard as well as his own breakfast. “For a little guy, he sure can eat,” I thought. We landed at 6.30 am Singapore time or 1.00 am South African time at Changi, a huge modern airport.  Overall, the flight was good, with legroom, good entertainment, a spare seat next to me and most importantly, a good book to read. Best of all my swollen leg hasn’t killed me yet!

 

 Thursday 21 August Singapore

 

Richard and I were assisted off the plane and cleared customs and immigration quickly.  I exchanged the last of my Canadian and some American dollars for Singapore dollars and we went outside into Singapore’s humid twenty-eight degree weather.  “You won’t feel cold, like Capetown,” I told Richard.  “We’re almost on the equator here and the temperature only varies three degrees Celsius a day.  It’s much the same all year around.  Singapore’s an island, perhaps fifty kilometres across and has a population of ten million people.  It’s one of the safer cities on the earth and I think you’ll enjoy it.  I’ve come back here about fifteen times, since my first visit in January 1976.  My teaching job started early February 1976 and I couldn’t get a plane reservation from Singapore to Perth, so desperately, I booked standby to every capital city in Australia and eventually flew to Melbourne, then Perth.  I arrived in Perth two days before my new teaching position at Rockingham Senior High School commenced.”

 

We caught a taxi to the Swiss Stamford Hotel in the CBD of Singapore.  The cabdriver drove cautiously and we arrived in a relaxed mood, tipping the driver $5.00 on the $15.00 fare.  We checked in, finding no hint of the $880.00 reservation that I’d paid my travel agent.  “I’m much better off making my own reservations on the Internet,” I told Richard.  “None of those reservations went astray except perhaps Edmonton, Alberta where I’d booked for the wrong month.”  We were assigned room 605, which Lily and I had rented for a week in July 2002. I had good memories of that trip, shared with my brother and sister in law Ken and Robyn, and my nephew and niece, Curtis and Britt. This was the children’s’ first plane trip and we vicariously shared their excitement.  They booked a suite on the sixty-six floors, which we enjoyed visiting to see the view, creating a memorable holiday. 

 

Although the time said 8.30 am, my Capetown time was 3.00 am, and I was feeling very tired as I hadn’t slept on the plane like Richard had.  I slept all day until 5.00 pm, and then Richard and I walked down Saint Andrew’s Road, past the City Hall, Supreme Court, Singapore Cricket Club, and New Parliament House, to the Connaught Bridge, Singapore’s original bridge across the Singapore River, converted to pedestrians only.  We were now on Boat Quay, the centre of around forty restaurants with outdoor restaurant dining, overlooking tourist sightseeing craft cruising along the Singapore River.  “In the early 1980’s, I remember this river being full of wrecked barges and pollution. It looks really good now,” I commented.

 

The biggest problem of eating here was fending off the touts employed by every restaurant, enticing pedestrians to eat at their establishments.  We chose to eat at the Lotus Balinese Restaurant, drinking two Tiger Beer and passing on the Pepper Crab special in favour of Seafood Mee Goreng.  Then we walked back to the hotel, I underwent a BT procedure, showered on the bathroom floor, which has a drain, and accessible hand held shower.  We barricaded the bottom of the bathroom door, but still water flooded the tiles in the room, but the shower was good, long and hot.  I was in bed by 11.00 pm, but lay awake until 4.00 am.  It’s hard work adjusting to jet lag of four to five hours from flying east or west, but I can fly north or south such as Frankfurt to Johannesburg without any effect.

 

I phoned Lily, the first time since Egypt and enjoyed the chat, although there was no news.  “Are you in Singapore, already? I’ll pick you up a week Sunday and take leave Monday from work. The alterations on the front fence still aren’t complete. Bring me a watch, please,” she requested.  Richard went out on the town until 6.00 am and later related his adventures, boasting, “Singapore’s a fantastic city.  I felt perfectly safe at night and saw no signs of poverty or slums.  I was a bit drunk to start with after two Tiger beers, two rums and your Finlandia Vodka and I wandered the streets near the restaurants on the river, until I found a nightclub.  I entered and met some Indian men in turbans who were partying and they invited me to join them.  They were rich and throwing money around, saying they would pay for all my drinks, so I drank heavily and got really pissed.  They had hired dancing girls, so I danced with them and put on a good show.  I had a fantastic time, until 5.00 am, when one Indian smashed a glass and threatened to cut another.  They eventually settled their differences but I’d had enough and didn’t feel comfortable.  They gave me a ride back to the hotel around 6.00 am in a Mercedes.  It was my best night out on this trip, I think.  I really like Singapore!”

 

Friday 22 August Singapore

 

Fortunately, I was unaware that Richard was out until 6.00 am or I would have been anxious, dealing with thoughts like, “What if he’s been mugged?  Who will dress me? And so on.”  The other scenario may have been me awakening at 8.00 am and wanting to be dressed, while my intoxicated friend wanted to sleep. None of these things happened as I fell asleep at 4.00 am, unaware Richard was absent, and then slept all morning until 1.00 pm, awakening at the same time as Richard.  I’d been on my back in one position for fifteen hours; a stupid thing to do as a quadriplegic as I can develop pressure sores.  However, I seemed to have suffered no ill effects, sleeping on a sheepskin and my thin air mattress, which I’ve used throughout this trip.

 

Richard found that the change in my regular BT routine had resulted in a minor accident, meaning another two hour BT routine.  I was dressed about 4.00 pm, a new record late time for this trip, and without eating we set out walking down Bras Basah to Ben Coolen Street and Sim Lim Square.  I love this six-story IT Building, which is filled with Amateur Radio and computer shops. Richard kindly pushed me around all six storeys without complaining, which I appreciated.  I purchased the newest Palm Pilot, the sixty-four-megabyte Tungsten W for nearly $800.00. Then we walked back towards the hotel, passing Chimes.  “I ate here last year and really enjoyed it.  There’s at least ten restaurants in Chimes, next the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd and they’re all good,” I said.  “Let’s go in.”  Richard chose the Viet Restaurant, and I ordered Curried Chicken and Rice with a red wine.  The Curry was hot and really tasty, an enjoyable meal.  I tried Richard’s 333 Viet Beer and pronounced it ‘donkey’s piss,’ the worst beer of the trip. Richard agreed though he’d drunk two of them on the happy hour rates.

 

We returned to the hotel and I went to bed at 10.00 pm.  Richard went out on the town, telling me disappointedly, “I was back at 2.00 am, pretty annoyed that I couldn’t find any action or even an open restaurant in which to eat.  Everything was closed and dead, like Perth is.  I wandered near expensive blocks of flats and people were out walking their dogs, that was all.”

 

Saturday 23 August Singapore

 

Richard dressed me at 11.00 am, after thirteen hours in bed and again I wondered how my backside was coping with such a long period in one position.  Still, I had failed to sleep well, being awake from 2.00 am to 7.00 am, and then sleeping through to 11.00 am. We ate breakfast in the Burger King in the Basement 1 level of the hotel complex.  My original plan for the day was to spend four or five hours in the Sim Lim Square building with its multitude of computer stores but I had already spent so much money on the Palm Pilot Tungsten W that I reconsidered.  Instead I went shopping to find Lily a nice watch and found one with a blue leather watchband, which I thought she might like.  I then retired to the large outdoor eighth story hotel pool to type for two hours until the laptop battery expired and to read my new paper back novel Stephen Leather’s Hungry Ghost.  Usually, when I travel I devour books at a rate of one a day, but this trip has been the exception.  We’ve been on the go by car almost continuously, and my journal has consumed my remaining time.  Singapore’s warm humid climate suited me perfectly, but a large mid-afternoon rain and lightning storm drove me back to our room about 4.00 pm.  Such afternoon rainstorms are a daily occurrence in the tropics.  Richard enjoyed the afternoon swimming and using the sauna.  “It was very hot and all the Asian men wore clothing while the Americans and myself were naked,” he reported. “I wasn’t very comfortable being with the dressed Asians wearing nothing myself.”

 

Richard appeared about 5.00 pm and we consumed a pre-dinner duty free rum and coke, and then a half glass of red wine.  Richard finished off the Finlandia Vodka.  With heavy rain outside, we decided to dine on the third floor of the hotel, which contains a number of very nice restaurants, which I had failed to explore in my 2002 visit.  We chose a North Indian restaurant called Shahi Maharani (#03-21B) in the Raffles City Shopping Centre, and entered at their 6.30 pm opening time. I found their Curried Chicken, with saffron rice and a cauliflower potato dish absolutely delicious and Richard was equally pleased with his meal. The $31.00 cost was reasonable because we passed on their expensive alcoholic beverages such as their Kingfisher Beer at $11.00.

 

Returning to the hotel room, I read for an hour and then I went to bed about 9.00 pm.  The day had been a short uneventful one, but I found it relaxing.  Nevertheless, I didn’t sleep well during the night, waking at 2.45 am and returning to sleep about 5.00 am.  This broken sleeping pattern is a lingering effect of my jet lag.  Richard wandered around the hotel until 11.00 pm and then went to bed himself.  “Everything was dead, it was boring,” he reported.

 

Sunday 24 August Penang

 

I awoke around 8.30 am and Richard gave me a quick shower and dressed my by 10.00 am.  He packed until the checkout time of 11.00 am, while I worked on my journal.  We have a 3.45 pm Singapore Airways flight to catch to Penang, and then a taxi ride to the Casuarina Beach Resort in Batu Ferrengi.  Richard and I had stayed at the Golden Sands Hotel in Batu Ferrengi together for a week in July 2001 as part of my planning and preparation for this trip, a test of Richard’s compatibility and competence in travelling with a quadriplegic.  “The food’s really good in Penang and I think I’m looking forward to three days there,” Richard said.

 

Check out went smoothly and we caught a regular taxi to Changi Airport, a fifteen-minute $16.00 ride on Singapore’s excellent freeways.  Unlike Poland and South Africa, drivers respect the margins or curbs and don’t expect other drivers to pull over to allow them to pass.  Driving in Singapore is sane, with car numbers controlled to a sensible number through heavy vehicle taxes, additional fees to enter the CBD and an excellent Rapid Transit System.

 

We checked our two cases in at row 7 check in, a system I’ve never seen, in which the departure screen indicates the check in counter for each destination.  Singapore Airways also refuses to tag the wheelchair until I reach the departure gate.  We cleared immigration and customs by 1.00 pm, giving us two hours to explore the plethora of duty free shops.  Although there are an excellent array of products, duty free in Singapore is actually quite expensive, particularly for liquor.  I was amazed that the Australian wines on display began at $30.00 and rapidly progressed into the hundreds.  I eventually settled for the new Clancy novel for $47.00.  Richard bought the genuine bargain of the day, two thousand millilitre bottles of Bailey’s Irish Cream at $21.00 a bottle.

 

It took us a few minutes to discover gate F52, as we went towards terminal 1 into the E gates, but we reached our gate well before the flight.  There was no aisle chair so we were last to board, with the attendant doing an untrained weak inexperienced lift under the armpits and totally failing to move me.  The aisle chair didn’t possess seat belts, another big error on the airport’s side, very surprising for a major airport like Changi.  I nearly fell on the floor and would have sued the airport for their neglect and provision of untrained staff, had I injured myself. The Boeing 777-200 was once again a very comfortable plane in which to fly, with a lifting armrest on the aisle to permit an easy transfer and ample room for knees and legs.  The flight to Penang was a very quick fifty-five minutes, covering six hundred kilometres and we soon disembarked at Penang airport in tropical thirty-one degree Celsius weather.

 

We cleared Malaysian customs and immigration quickly, I exchanged $500.00 into Ringgits and we caught a regular taxi into Batu Ferengi, a forty-minute $25.00 taxi ride across the island of Penang.  We reached the Casuarina Beach Hotel, an older four or five story structure at the extreme end of the tourist beach but only a five-minute walk from its centre.  Although I had booked it for its $90.00 a night rate, I found the place very comfortable, with large ground floor room overlooking the grassed lawn to the beach, four to five metre ceilings and reasonable air conditioning.  For ocean views we had done well for the price.  There was no wheelchair access to the toilet, but I knew that fact when I’d booked.  Richard unpacked; we drank two glasses of Bailey’s and proceeded down the main street for five minutes along a continuous stretch of restaurants to the night markets.

 

I chatted with a tailor and ordered six pairs of tailored polyester trousers at $25.00 a pair, a price unequalled in most countries.  We are helped by the excellent exchange rate of 2.4 ringgits to the dollar.  Richard also ordered a tailor made suit with three trousers and shirt.  “I hate wearing suits but I want to look like a businessman when I get to the Ukraine,” he said.  “The suit is silk and Kashmir wool, made to measure for $150.00.”  We organised our big bag of laundry for $2.00 a kilogram, another bargain, and then stopped at the Big Wave Seafood Restaurant for dinner.  Richard enjoyed his deer dish, but my fish was less impressive, although the Carlsberg Beer brewed under license from Denmark was excellent.

 

We then proceeded back to the hotel to be in bed by 11.00 pm.  Richard did his usual nightly walk but failed to find anything to catch his interest, such as the Indians who bought him free drinks in Singapore.

 

Monday 25 August Penang

 

Richard was up by 10.00 am and my usual BT routine occupied the next two hours until noon.  Then Richard announced, “I’m heading off to relax,” and disappeared for the afternoon.  I relaxed too, sitting near the pool, consuming a Tiger and Carlsberg beer and eating chicken curry for lunch, while I read my paperback book.  I’m getting less and less motivated to continue my journal, after more than four months of daily typing, and my consumption of beer in a hot humid climate confirms my lethargy. The resort pool has a very large tiled area integrated with the hotel, which gave me good mobility in a wheelchair, overlooking the beach and ocean. The hotel is virtually empty, about twenty percent occupancy, with the pool area and restaurants deserted.

 

  The weather was hot, about thirty-eight Celsius, and humid as well, giving me my first real taste of summer weather.  I’d departed on this trip to the Northern Hemisphere, thinking I’d get hot weather, but with the exception of Fiji, and some days in Poland, the climate had been cool to cold. I’d spent most of the trip dressed in a long sleeve shirt and polar plus jacket. Richard reappeared about 5.00 pm and we drank rum, with Richard also finishing off my Sobieski Vodka, and becoming intoxicated.  We headed off down the main street for an evening meal.  I again sampled a Chicken Curry while Richard tried and enjoyed a Beef Curry.  Once again our restaurant and all the others were nearly empty, perhaps with four or five clients maximum.  The night markets, using portable Honda generators and fluorescent bulbs, was in full swing, but without any tourists on the streets.  The street, which two years ago thronged with tourists, was quiet and empty. One vendor told us, “It’s the SARS scare.  Many tourists have not come to Asia this year.”  We returned to the hotel about 10.00 am, I continued reading and went to bed by 11.00 pm.

 

Richard headed off at 11.00 pm, prowling, making friends, and they took him to Georgetown, saying, “We introduce you to nice girls.”  They unexpectedly took him to a Bordello instead, charging $60.00 per half hour, expecting, I think some commission for bringing him, but they didn’t know Richard.   Richard chatted to the girls for two hours but refused to employ them.  The bordello was packed with Arabs who had abandoned their wives in their black traditional clothes in their hotel rooms.  “It’s really sick,” Richard said. “I can’t believe how they cheat on their wives like this.”  At least Richard had been faithful to his wife, Hisako. After Richard drank his ‘friends’ beers, Richard acquaintances returned him to the hotel, where he consumed another meal before coming to bed at 2.00 pm.  “I had a good evening at no expense to myself,” Richard said, “but I was disappointed not to go to a private party or to meet any local girls.”   

 

On Richard’s return, he rotated me from my side to my back, which I’m unable to do myself, reducing the number of hours that I sleep on my back.  I’ve been negligent in not following this routine regularly, spending more than twelve hours without a turn.

 

Tuesday 26 August Penang

 

I got Richard up at 10.00 am by shouting at him, and by 10.30 am, I was dressed and we caught a taxi into the Gurney Shopping Centre overlooking the beach at the entrance to Georgetown.  My goal was to buy some computer software on cd-rom at Malaysia’s famous prices of $2.00 per cd-rom.  During my last visit in 2001, I’d tried the Tanjung Plaza, but the receptionist strongly recommended the Gurney Shopping Centre “with many computer shops on the third floor.”  We paid the driver $12.00 taxi fare, and arrived too early for many shops that will not open until noon or even 1.00 pm.

 

We enjoyed a Cappuccino at Harvey’s Coffee Shop to fill in time and explored the ground and first floor without seeing a computer shop.  “This is all up-market name-brand merchandise,” I told Richard.  “I’ll be surprised to find what I want.  All I see are stories like Timberland, Hush Puppies, Gucci and so on.  I wonder who affords this merchandise?”  We tried the third floor with success. Shop 3.48 Pusat Computer Eastpoint Plaza Gurney Persiaran Gurney 10250 Penang 04-2292 213 was selling their cd-roms at $1.50 per disk, the cheapest I’ve ever seen.  I had a field day for the next hour, by which time two similar neighbouring shops had opened displaying broader ranges of similar merchandise at $2.50 a cd-rom.

 

Richard bought himself socks and a belt for his new suit and we both left at 3.00 pm feeling satisfied, facing a rainy taxi ride back to the Casuarina Beach Resort.  We relaxed outside the hotel room on the grass in the humid heat enjoying a cold Carlsberg.  We chatted to Tom, a seventy year old from north of Perth, who had come to Penang with his friends from Palmyra and Melville to celebrate his birthday.  I thought.  “What a nice present and I hope that happens to me when I turn sixty.” They seemed to be having a pleasant holiday, avoiding Perth’s rainy cold weather.”

 

At about 7.00 pm we ate a buffet Malaysian meal at the hotel Garden Restaurant for $12.00, curried chicken, beef, prawns and fish, a variety of salads, desert and coffee, a very good bargain.  I was shocked when they wanted $10.00 for a glass of red wine and passed on having a drink. We had an appointment with Spark’s Tailors at 9.00 pm. (Tel: 604-881-3041, FAX 604-881-2503, 101a Main Rd., Batu Ferringhi, 11100 Penang) Mr Spark had copied my grey polyester trousers custom tailoring them for me at $40.00 a pair.  I was pleased with the results and ordered a total of twelve pairs.  Eleven pairs were to be shipped to me by sea mail at a cost of $25.00. Richard also shipped his trousers with mine.  Richard was also pleased with suit jacket, two shirts and two trousers. I spoke with the tailor’s pretty dark haired Indian wife, in her mid 30’s who grew up in Mumbai, formerly, Bombay, India.  She showed me tonight’s newspaper with an article about two cars exploding outside the Taj Mahal Hotel earlier today, killing several people.  I told her that this was a hotel that Lily and I had stayed in during a month trip to India in 1986 and she replied,  “I guess it’ll keep people away from India, the way tourists have been avoiding Malaysia this last year.  Times have been really hard here.  We keep hoping things will get better and the tourists will return like the old days.”  I was intrigued that her marriage to the tailor was arranged between the families.  “I’ve only been back once and I miss my family and friends there,” she told me, adding that she spoke three Indian languages and Malaysian as well as English.

 

Richard and I headed back to the hotel and I went to bed at 11.00 pm.  Richard also looked and sounded very tired, going to bed at midnight.

 

Wednesday 27 August Kuala Lumpur Malaysia

 

I awoke Richard at 4.15 am to shower, dress me and pack, so we could catch a 7.00 am taxi for the forty minute ride back to the Penang Airport.  Richard had added his new jacket and two new shirts to his luggage, causing me to worry that we would not fit everything into the two suitcases.  Our goal is to fly back to Singapore, in order to catch a Singapore Airlines flight to Kuala Lumpur, where I have reserved the Novotel Century Hotel in the CBD.  We had only spent two full days in Penang and I was beginning to enjoy the laid back tropical setting, but in 2001, Richard and I had spent a week here doing the usual tourist things, visiting the fruit farms, seeing the butterflies, touring the snake and monkey temples, catching the cable car to the top of the mountain and seeing the museum. Perhaps two days was enough.

 

We were ready to leave by 6.30 am, and I paid the $270.00 bill, but we failed to get a taxi until 7.30 am, when we got a dilapidated jalopy to drive us the forty-five minute trip to the airport.  The driver did not speed, but he changed lanes constantly without signalling, a typical Malaysian driver trait.  “They’re building a new international airport on the mainland with a tunnel to Penang Island,” the driver told us.  “The trip will take only twenty minutes to Batu Ferringhi.”   We checked in to Singapore Airlines at 8.30 am, got two sets of boarding passes, ate a scrambled egg and cappuccino breakfast at the Airport Coffee Bean, and then cleared security immigration and customs. I boarded the plane at 10.00 am, with some difficulty from an attendant who couldn’t lift me adequately.  Fortunately the crew of Singapore airlines are always willing to pitch in and help, while the Boeing 777 aisle seat rests fold back for an easier transfer.

 

The flight back to Singapore took fifty minutes with both Richard and I sleeping on the plane,  “I didn’t sleep well last night,” Richard confessed, “and I feel very tired.”  In Singapore the transfer was smoother thanks to extra assistance by the airline staff.  We waited two hours in the duty free shopping area, and then we were escorted to the gate for boarding at 2.00 pm.  We took off at 3.00 pm and flew to Kuala Lumpur in forty minutes, landing to dense cloud and heavy rain.  “This is the sort of weather that causes planes to crash,” Richard joked.   We picked up our cases, were quickly assisted through customs and immigration and caught a Mercedes taxi for the fifty kilometres, hour trip costing a $50.00 fee paid at the airport, into the city. 

 

I recalled my fist trip to KL in 1977, a year before I broke my neck, remembering my visit to Batu Caves with its flights of three hundred steps.  I had emerged from the caves with diarrhoea, raced down the steps to reach a toilet, but was too late. Disaster!  In the 1996, Michael Hand, Lily and myself visited KL for three days, mainly exploring the street markets.

 

Unfortunately, the heavy rain and peak hour had grid locked traffic, once we left the freeways.  Our trip to the Novotel Century Hotel took about a hundred minutes, nearly three times the length of time taken for the airflight.  We reached the hotel about 7.00 pm, pleased that the reception recognised our reservation but a bit disappointed that they had already let their disabled room.  We received 716, which have a wide enough door to permit access to the toilet, and like many bathrooms in Australia and New Zealand, a drainage pipe in the bathroom’s tile floor.  I could shower tomorrow.

 

Richard and I headed out for an evening meal, stopping nearby at the Ship Restaurant, with a varnished hardwood ship’s bow, advertising steak.  The waitresses were all dressed in uniforms with ranks, but the white fish with house red, a French wine being excellent.  We then returned for an 11.00 pm bedtime. Really, we hadn’t accomplished much except commute from one city to another.  “I’m getting really sick of travel and I’m counting the days until I get home,” Richard commented before falling asleep.  Actually, he has done very well providing full time care for a quadriplegic for nearly four and a half months while in almost constant travel, driving, packing and unpacking.

 

Thursday, 28 August Kuala Lumpur

 

Richard was up by 9.00 am and I completed a belated BT process, delayed because of yesterday’s plane flight.  I showered, my first in four days.  By 11.00 am, we headed away from the hotel to explore a nearby shopping centre. The first thing we noticed was the size of the buildings, twenty storeys being overshadowed by forty and fifty story buildings.  The streets are packed with people and cars.  This is a big cosmopolitan city.  We selected the Bukit Bintang Plaza and Sungai Wang Plaza simply because they were next to the hotel and we found them first.  These Plazas are ten stories, and are large, and very easy to get lost in.  We spent four hours there, with my time on the third floor IT Centre, which has about forty computer shops and this section only covered a small proportion of the third floor complex. I met Danny of BB Games (012-3852480) TF 023-31, 3rd Floor BB Plaza, Jalan Bukit Bintang, 55100 Kuala Lumpur and spent some money for cd-roms, and then crossed to Over Match Trading, TF023-33A BB Plaza, to be looked after by an attentive shop assistant who relieved me of more money. Richard disappeared, shopping for shoes, socks, CDs and sunglasses. At 3.00 pm, we got together to have our first meal of the day, but wasted an hour trying to find a wheelchair accessible exit. Heavy rain also held us up. Finally, the rain stopped and a security guard showed us the way.

 

We dined again across the street at the Ship Restaurant, with a Seafood Platter containing two scallops, a soft-shelled crab, whitefish, prawns, salad, red wine and Carlsberg Beer costing only $20.00.  We then braved the evening grid locked traffic to walk back to our room at 7.00 pm, watching a movie on the movie channel, while Richard wrote post cards. 

 

About 10.30 pm, I retired to bed and Richard went out to explore the city by himself.  “I drank a Dome Coffee, and around midnight everything came alive, people, bands and music everywhere.  Perth is third class compared with the wealth and action here in KL.  I’d really like to return here one day.”  Richard lacks diplomacy in his assessment of things, his favourite phrase being, “It’s the best in the world!”  My reply, “whose made that value judgement?” has no effect.  For me KL is another big polluted city with too many cars and people, good for a quick visit to shop and look around.

 

Friday 29 August Kuala Lumpur

 

I awakened Richard at 9.00 am and he had dressed me by 10.00 am.  I suggested we visit the KL Tower, the fourth highest communications tower in the world, with a revolving restaurant at the top.  I investigated hotel tours, cheap but in a van.  I can’t get into vans without a major lift.  I could rent a limousine for $20.00 per hour, but then I paid while it waited for me. So we took a $5.00 taxi to the tower, which sits on a ninety-metre hill, and paid $15.00 admission fee to the Observation Deck.  Wheelchair users have a special entry from the ground floor and needn’t use the escalators.  The lift itself raised us two hundred and fifty metres, to the observation deck below the restaurant where we obtain MP3 players, which describe the view from twelve observation stations.

 

I learned that Malaysia was originally Hindu but became Moslem from the influence of Indian traders in the Fourteenth Century, freeing the people from a rigid caste system.   KL began as a tin mining centre in 1857, which along with rubber formed the basis of the economy, though the country today is a manufacturing nation.  The government is a constitutional monarchy, with a king and nine sultans for nine states.  Power rests with the elected parliament.  Malaysia gained its independence from England in 1957.  The KL Tower was started in 1992 and completed in 1997.  The twin Petronas office block nearby is a symbol of modern Malaysia standing eighty-nine stories high and was finished in 1999.

 

We could see most of KL below us including the National Mosque, Parliament Buildings, Sports Stadiums, Freeway and new Monorail System. I wanted to try the Monorail, but it opens on August 31st.  Fifty story buildings appeared as toys well below us.  I recalled my amazement during my visit to Toronto’s CN Tower, with Lily, Margaret and Ken, which is the world’s tallest tower.  I also recalled being accidentally dumped by Lily on a moving escalator in Sydney’s Centrepoint Tower.  People lifted me back to my chair before I reached the top and I suffered only abrasions and a scare.  I had visions of my clothes being caught in the escalator machinery and mangling me, so I’ve avoided escalators since then.

 

Richard and I descended and made a reservation for lunch in the revolving restaurant at only $25.00 a head for a buffet.  We should have skipped the $15.00 observation deck and settled for the meal with free entry instead. There was no queue or waiting and we were soon to the revolving restaurant, which was two thirds empty.  The emptiness was surprising because the buffet was comprehensive and delicious, European, Malaysian, Indian and Chinese foods, the biggest display of desserts that Richard had ever seen and coffee.  Richard devoured three heaping plates, not cleaning them but leaving them still heaped with food.  He repeated this routine with desserts.  As usual, I was embarrassed at the wanton waste, but said nothing.  The scenery was magnificent and we enjoyed a full hour slowly rotating three hundred and sixty degrees before finishing at 3.00 pm.

 

Richard pushed me a kilometre back to the hotel doing very well with such a full stomach. Although pedestrian crosswalks are well marked, there are still many large curbs in KL and it is not easy to get around on the sidewalks in a wheelchair. Everywhere, there seems to be obstructions or construction. Eventually, in frustration we took to the streets and risked the slow moving but heavy traffic.  We explored another Plaza, Lot 10, which sold only name brand merchandise and lacked computers.  Boring.

 

By 5.00 pm, Richard and I reached the hotel, and Richard immediately showered.  He was exhausted from the humidity and heat.  I spent a quiet evening in our room, watching Michael Palin circumnavigate from Anchorage, Alaska west to Russia.  In July 1988, I had spent a week camped in a camper bus on a vacant building lot in central Anchorage and I identified with the scenery and black flies.  I was in bed by 10.30 pm, and Richard went out.

 

“I phoned my wife, Hisako for ninety minutes and also Jurick in Poland.  He says the factory to make Styrofoam insulation in the Ukraine, run by Zygmunt, is now in full production.  I don’t want to stay in Perth very long as I can hardly wait to get over there and be an executive, though I don’t want to be in a factory or work very hard. One or two days a week is enough because I want to enjoy myself. I only want to make money, not bust my ass.  Perhaps sales will be for me, as I like working with people.  Jurick says he’ll discuss my training and job description soon.”

 

Saturday 30 August Kuala Lumpur

 

I awakened Richard at 8.00 am, he rolled me on my side and then went back to sleep until 10.00 am, at which time he performed the BT process, showered and dressed me. I like the Novotel Century Hotel room since we can turn off the air-conditioning, warm the room, and have a decent shower. In Singapore, we lacked control of the Swissotel air-conditioning and our room was frigid, like a meat freezer.

 

I was up at noon.  I thought about an incompatibility, Richard sleeping most mornings while I wanted to get up early.  Richard likes some free time, to drink and play in the evening on his own, until well into the early morning hours. I prefer going to bed and getting up early. Richard sleeps in, while I’m trapped in bed wanting to get up.  We’ve survived this trip without a clash because we’ve both been tolerant of each other’s needs.  I let Richard sleep until 10.00 am, while he alters my bed posture so I’m not in one position for fourteen hours. Travelling with Lily hadn’t presented this issue, but she also liked her free time. She leaves me with a book in a shopping centre while she would shop by herself for a couple of hours.  Any quadriplegic who’s travelling must work out some understanding with their attendants.

 

At 1.00 pm we headed off in a taxi to the National Museum.  I was a little disappointed on my arrival, as the museum was fairly small with two floors of exhibits and clearly under financed. We only paid a dollar each to enter.  The most recent display on the cultural groups in Malaysia was, however, recent and up-to-date, filled with large screen computer controlled AV displays.  It opened my eyes to the cultural diversity of Malaysia, with Malays, Chinese and Indians, but also a large number of indigenous ethnic groups.  Throwing in the States of Sabah and Sarawak, on the island of Borneo causes the ethnic mix to be even more exotic. 

 

Unfortunately, the third floor displays were old and static, stuffed animals, stuffed birds, insects on pins, rock samples, everything dating back many years.  The collection of knives, spears, body armour, and miniature cannons, though static, was interesting as was the ceramic collection.  Malaysians still haven’t come to grip with wheelchairs and generally no attention is being paid to accessibility.  Two displays were through doors too narrow for my wheelchair.  An AV display theatre was up some stairs. 

 

Outside, we past the World Museum and that was totally inaccessible.  Richard and I took a taxi for $3.50 to the bird sanctuary, advertised as the largest covered bird sanctuary in the world.  We couldn’t enter because of steps everywhere.  This was disappointing because the mesh covers large trees over several hectares with a wide variety of some very interesting birds.

 

Next we tried the Orchid Garden next door. We paid our $1.00 entry and again steps immediately confronted us.  Richard reconnoitred and reported, “One could easily spend two hours here, but every display seems to be up a flight of stairs.  I suggest we leave this place.”  “Wow! Another first for Malaysia," I thought.  “They still have so far to go to catch up with Singapore, which has moved rapidly forward in the last few years in recognising the rights of disabled people to access.”

 

It was now 5.00 pm and the grey skies let go with a torrent of rain.  It was time too return to our hotel room 716 by taxi, a $6.00 trip.  We relaxed in our room with the last of my Capetown Lamb’s rum, and then to avoid the outside rain, we tried the hotel’s first floor dining room. 

 

Ben, our waiter, told us,  “Tonight we have a special, Chinese Steamboat for $20.00.  You choose from these trays of fish, meat, and vegetables what you would like to add to your choice of soup.  We heat the soup with your additions on your table in front of you, and then I serve you.”  I started with a glass of Australian Shiraz, ($10.00) and then we tried the meal, and the food was very tasty, a wonderful success.  Richard ate on and on, a second and then third helping, to the pleasure of our waiter. Our second course was equally good. We selected BBQ satay sticks of chicken, fish, beef and vegetables and these were barbequed.  I was already so full, although this was my first meal of the day, that I limited myself to one chicken stick, but Richard made a respectable showing, devouring six or eight sticks.  The final course was a gigantic buffet dessert display with forty or so trays on offer.  I managed six or eight small portions and found the desserts excellent, followed by a coffee. 

 

We finished eating about 8.00 pm, absolutely stuffed.  Richard commented, “This must be one of the better meals of our five month trip, probably in the top five.  I’ve heard people say that there’s nothing to do in KL except shop and eat, and they’re right, but the shopping’s cheap and food is absolutely excellent.”  What amazed me was that the large hotel dining room remained empty from 6.30 to 8.30 pm.  I saw only one other couple.  That entire huge buffet would be thrown out.  I asked Ben about it.  “Tonight’s the eve to Independence Day and tomorrow is a national holiday.  Everyone’s crazy, they’ll all be out tonight in huge crowds, getting drunken and watching the fireworks at midnight.  It’s a bit dangerous with the big crowds, so I recommend that you be careful going out tonight.”

 

Richard and I walked down to BB Plaza, as Richard wanted to do last minute shopping.  All the computer stores were closing up by 9.00 pm for the celebrations, while open-air bands were setting up everywhere.  Richard returned to get me at 9.30 pm and we found ourselves trapped in huge crowds of young people, queuing to watch some band.  We enlisted two policemen to help us push through the dense mass of people to get out of the Plaza.  There were mobs of people everywhere, with the streets being closed to cars by surging crowds.  We fought our way down the street and back to the hotel.  That was all scary stuff and no fun at all.

 

I went to bed at 11.30 pm while Richard went outside the hotel to watch the fireworks.  In spite of the secure, double-glazed windows, I could hear the music, shouting and finally loud booms, like cannons, of the fireworks.  Richard reported, “It’s like Perth’s fireworks, but shorter. They launched one, which descended slowly by parachute and it did all kinds of pyrotechnics that I’ve never seen before.  That one was exceptional.  I enjoyed the display.”

 

Sunday, 31 August Journey’s End A Return to Perth Western Australia

 

I woke Richard at 9.00 am and he said, “Oops, I was planning to get up at 7.00 am.  I’ll never get packed in time.”  Actually, he had me dressed by 9.45 am, and was mostly packed by 11.00 am.  I bought my diary up to date.  Our flight from KL to Singapore leaves at 4.40 pm and we fly Singapore to Perth from 7.00 pm to 11.45 pm so we are not really rushed to day.

 

We had organised a cab driver from the day before who had quoted us a $25.00 discounted rate for the one-hour fr5eeway drive to the airport.   He greeted us as arranged at 1.00 pm and we enjoyed a pleasant trip to the airport passing considerable construction of luxury apartment blocks.  I recalled a nightmare taxi trip with lily in 1996 late at night from KL to the airport when our taxi driver raced another cab to see who would arrive first.  The new KL airport is huge, built to accommodate many airlines but to date the airport is largely under-utilised and empty.  Hectares of marble floor are left empty.  We checked our luggage and I read a book waiting for departure.  We worked out how to catch the inter-terminal train to reach our airline departure gate.  I was amazed when the attendant assigned to assist me wheeled the wheelchair to the plane door then simply disappeared leaving the Singapore Airlines stewardesses to transfer me to the aisle chair and again to the airline seat.  Unlike stewardesses for most airlines who simply refuse such duties, these attractive ladies simply did the task quickly and efficiently without drama.  Richard, as always, refused to lift but assisted by giving directions and pulling on my belt.

 

The Boeing 777 planes used by Singapore Airlines provide more legroom than the Airbus 321s and are more comfortable.  The one hour flight was quickly over, and I was transferred back to my wheelchair to await the 7.00 pm flight to Perth. I purchased two bottles of duty-free cognac for lily at $70.00 a bottle.  Richard rushed off to do shopping without clearly establishing a time or meeting place, so I used the long horizontal escalators to reach our departure gate.  Twenty minutes prior to our departure Staff were concerned because Richard had not yet appeared and they would not board me without him.  They paged him and shortly afterwards he arrived and we were last to be boarded.  The flight to Perth was uneventful aided by a good meal and a wide selection of movies available on our individual LCD screens.  We arrived in Perth to be greeted by a friendly female attendant who was not prepared to transfer me, and again this task fell to the Singapore Airlines staff.  We quickly retrieved our bags, I declared my Palm Pilot purchase but was not charged duty, and we found Lily waiting for us in my Ford Fairmont outside the terminal.  I enjoyed the opportunity to drive myself home.  Lily was well and little had changed since my departure of nearly a half-year before. The trip was over but it the sense of well being generated by the achievement lived on.

 

Retrospective

 

It’s been fun reliving the trip as I put together these web pages and link my diary with a few of the photographs.  I been thinking proudly, “I’ve flown 65,000 kilometres, crossing the equator four times as I circumnavigated the globe, and driven nearly twenty thousand kilometres in the last five months.  I rented ten different makes of automobile and driven myself through major cities on the opposite side of the road from what I’m used to.  I’ve navigated major freeway complexes and country byways.  I’ve visited twenty capital cities and fifteen countries.  I’ve accomplished the trip without medical problems or incidents with nothing broken, stolen, forgotten or lost.  I’ve done all this under my estimated budget with nearly ten thousand dollars remaining thanks to the help of friends who gave me accommodation and bought my meals. 

 

In addition I’ve written a three hundred-page journal that strengthened my skills in cognitive therapy as a functional real-life daily process.    I’ve recorded my travels and adventures for a broader audience on the Internet supported by ten thousand digital photographs.  Hopefully such writings will be preserved after my website is gone by such archivists as http://www.archive.com which actively archives the World Wide Web for future generations. Most importantly, I’ve re-established relationships with many friends from my earlier life and relived through my visits, conversations and reflections happy adventures from my past.  In spite of my occasional frustrations, I’ve maintained good relationships with my care attendant Richard, and he’s really enjoyed the adventure and is willing to undertake further travels.  I’ve lost considerable weight and on my return to Australia, I’ve not experienced any further episodes of coughing following meals.  This trip has been thoroughly enjoyable, I’ve liked every day and it’s been a great success.  I’m feeling an on-going sense of esteem that I am able to plan and carry out such a major fun activity in spite of my disability while some able-bodied people that I know have never travelled outside their own country.”

 

Part of the success of my travel has been in coping with worry and anxiety generated by my physical helplessness and my general dependence on other people to have my physical needs met.  Anyone can imagine the anxiety provoked by being in a situation where one is unable to dress oneself, get onto a bed unassisted or even push a wheelchair any distance. It is very easy to imagine the worst-case scenarios, catastrophes that will leave one helpless at the total mercy of fate and placed in life-threatening situations.  It is easy to say to oneself, “What will happen to me if…” and to build anxiety by focussing on imaginary events which have not yet occurred and probably never will and coming up with unhelpful thoughts or beliefs about calamities.  I still vividly recall anxiety provoked by my imagination in these situations.  I was resting on my bed in Fiji and found I was unable to transfer back into my wheelchair and Richard was out for the afternoon. I started to ask, “What would I do if this cottage caught on fire? I’d be trapped and helpless, to be burnt alive.”  I was sitting on a plane at Malton Airport in Toronto at take-off time and Canadian Customs had detained Richard.  I asked, “What would happen if I flew to London, England without him.  What would I do then? I am trapped with no-one to help me.”  I was in the Czech Republic border crossing into Poland, being detained for three hours for having only a single entry visa into Poland. I was asking myself, “What if they don’t let me in? What will I do then?  I’d be stuck in the Czech Republic for a week or more, while my flight from Warsaw is missed.”

 

For me, the importance of cognitive therapy during my travels came from learning to recognise emotions, by identifying the specific symptoms of the emotion such as rapid heart rate, and sweating and saying, “Hold on a minute.  You’re making yourself anxious, or angry, or depressed, or possibly all three at once.  Quickly now, identify the thoughts or beliefs that generate that anxiety, anger or depression.  You’re thinking a belief that you’d be burnt alive or left on a plane with no one to help.  What is the evidence that supports or refutes that belief?  Now Don, substitute a more helpful belief aligned with the evidence.  Look, your fears are groundless.  It’s highly unlikely that the Fijian cottage would catch fire or that the aircraft would have taken off without Richard. But even if the cottage did catch fire, my new belief could be that there were lots of guests around to rescue me.  If I arrived in London, without Richard, I had friends in High Wycombe that would care for me.”  By accepting the new belief, I learned to measure my new emotional state to determine the outcomes or effects of my new belief, usually a substantial reduction in anxiety, anger or depression.

 

Keeping a thought record by way of writing a daily journal I found to be very helpful.  The journal writing process allowed me to articulate to myself my emotional state, unhelpful beliefs and to substitute helpful beliefs that reduced emotional agitation.  As the adage goes, ‘when you are up to your ass in crocodiles, it is difficult to think about draining the swamp.’  Similarly, when anxious, angry or depressed, it’s difficult to think about weighing up evidence and developing new beliefs.  Regular daily practice is needed to hone these skills so they are readily available to be used when one is anxious or depressed.  The journal writing process refreshed the evidence gathering and disputation process in my mind daily so that the process became an automatic one when I was emotionally aroused. 

 

Severely disabled people need these skills.  It’s hard not to become highly anxious if, for instance, our carer goes missing somewhere, or we develop what may appear to be a medical problem.  Yet every traveller may feel equally anxious in a strange country when facing language barriers and confronting an apparent crisis, be it SARS, a theft, medical issues, or an emergency at home.

 

Extensive planning is another key for a successful holiday.  It is a good idea to read travel manuals such as the Lonely Planet in advance. For instance, a discussion of dangers of taking photographs of some things in Egypt was highly pertinent to us.  Check the entry dates and number of entries on your visas in advance and don’t get caught out trying to enter a country twice on a single entry visa.   Thirty to fifty percent of holiday hotel accommodation costs may be saved by advance bookings by the Internet.  I booked much of my accommodation in advance ensuring the availability of rooms for the disabled, lower prices and the removal of anxiety about accommodation.  One time in Sudbury, Ontario a nickel mining community in Northern Ontario I spent three hours and contacted eight hotels before locating a room.  I found out about the Convention of five thousand Seventh Day Adventists the hard way.  Similarly, in Prague, a Rolling Stones concert booked out all accommodation.

 

 I also recommend carrying lots of cash or travellers' cheques.  I use ATM and credit cards to get cash, but at times such as in Edmonton, my card was rejected.  There is also a possibility of an ATM refusing to return your card, making a second card and cash reserve helpful.

 

For disabled travellers I recommend booking your wheelchair to the next port of call and insisting to receive it at the aircraft door.  Use of pressure cushions on car and aircraft seats will help prevent risk of pressure sores. I find use of a small air mattress on beds offsets hard versus soft beds and provides a stable known environment from bed to bed.

 

I welcome emails hearing about your adventures and wish you pleasant travelling.

 

Attached is a checklist of useful items.

 

QUADRIPLEGIC ITEMS FIRST

Suppositories

Lubricant

Condoms

Glue

Two leg bags with straps

Scissors

Tape

Transfer board

Shower sheet and nozzle

Air mattress

Screwdriver

Commode seat for wheelchair

Plastic Bottle

Hockey straps

Roho cushion (Spare)

Gloves

Disinfectant

Laxative

MEDICATIONS

Ammonium chloride

Hiprex

Cranberry

Sheepskin

Bed sheet

Small towel

Electric toothbrush

Plastic pill bottle

Credit cards / cash

Neck carry bag

Shampoo

Birth certificate

Passport and airline tickets

Shirts

Pants / belt

Underpants

Acrod parking permit, voucher book for taxi

Sunglasses

Sunhat / sun block

Socks

Lock and key for suitcase

Amateur radio gear, camera, laptop, power adaptors,

 

End Chapter 12