Short, very Malaysian story: my friend, Melissa, leaves the house to go off the work. I stand at the door to close the gate by remote control and wave goodbye. She gets in a taxi and tells the driver to take her to her workplace, which is part office building, part residential. When they arrive she is on the phone and not paying attention and sees that the driver has taken her to the entrance to the apartment block. She realizes why and says (maybe not all of it out loud) “It wasn’t a ride of shame! I work here! That was my house!” But when the white guy in the nice house waves goodbye to the local Tamil girl, the taxi driver comes to only one conclusion.
I could only handle going into downtown Kuala Lumpur, Chinatown, once, as it’s turning fifi, all boutique-y and gussied up. Lots of the old haggard businesses that gave it its character are dying and you can stand next to the Central Market and not be within 200, maybe 300 meters of good food, which is tragic. I was looking for a black armband to wear to commemorate this loss, but couldn’t find one.
Again, it was easy to hitchhike back up to Penang, but a pain to find a place to get out from Kuala Lumpur. It doesn’t help that I am disoriented in KL. I usually have an excellent sense of direction, always know where north is, but in the western suburbs I am hopelessly confused.
Like always, it went pretty quickly and I got rides from a wide variety of people and situations. First was the helpful family above to whom I gave my last California postcard as a thank you, then no less than six cars stopped for me—all going south—before I got a ride north. Then came three reckless Indonesians, then a Malay guy, and then the last ride was insane.
It was a young couple who began arguing the moment I got in the car as they couldn’t agree on which route to take me. I waited for the tension to die down but it escalated and the girl started crying. They spoke an Indian language but mixed in some English and at one point the girl raised a finger and declared, “I remove you from Facebook!”
“A dagger to the heart!” I thought to myself, as I tried not to laugh. More arguing, more recriminations, and while we’re on the bridge to Penang Island, the guy began crying, too. Was it the Facebook threat? Whatever it was, he was distraught. We’re speeding while weaving in and out of traffic—no one is wearing seatbelts—and I am counting the minutes until we are there, cursing to myself that I am going to die on my mom’s birthday because of these blubbering idiots.