A Travellerspoint blog

February 1985

living off bananas and crackers

in the jungle

sunny 30 °C
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Friday 1st February
Jungle trek

Jungle trek


Meet two French speaking girls, after breakfast off last nights rice, we all set off across Sunghai and make for Yong hide. After about one hour come to a small limestone outcrop with narrow caves etched out by the stream. Fascinating crawl through by two of us. There was a rope to follow at the start but after 10’ I find a broken end. Many bats - round leaf horse shoe and fruit bats, also frogs and giant toads and a small catfish. Bat guano is soft and spongy because of the energetic work of the mites burrowing into it, quite pleasant like well rotted manure. Outside see a scarlet sunbird, and tall pungent ginger plants. Arrive at the hide in the mid afternoon after slow walk. Attractive setting, a dusky leaf monkey crashes about, someone else sees a muntjak. Bananas and crackers, again.

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everything coated in mud

after jungle trek

rain 30 °C
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Saturday 2nd Feb
Jungle salt lick

Jungle salt lick


Girls up and away early. We sleep in as it is raining again. March back in time for lunch, bananas and cake. Spend the afternoon washing everything starting with me, then clothes then rucksack. All filthy and mud coated. Cook rice with Malaysian army processed peas (a gift) and tin of beef curry slowly over a hard wood fire. Meet Australian Doc travelling to UK hoping to work as hospital junior for a couple of years. Give him Penny’s address.

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the trekking bill

in malaysian dollars in 1985

sunny 30 °C
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Sunday 3rd February.
The bill for our 6 days comes to 30M$ which includes both boat rides, there are a lot of people going out today. Probably spent 10M$ on food, my worries about it proving too expensive were ill founded, but we kept to the very basics, six days of bananas and crackers.
Bus to Jerantut, roti chandia lunch yummy, then a walk out of town with my thumb in the air. Damien and Claude get a lift quickly, they are off to Kuantan, say cheerio and hope to see them in Brisbane, I promise a fondue if they turn up. It takes me over an hour in the hot sun, umbrella up. Creeps pester me for my address, one day I come to your country. Get sunburnt but eventually lift in large new air-conditioned Volvo driven by local GP from Jerantut and his administrator wife going to her confinement in KL. They feed me on buns and mangosteens. They leave me close to the mock arabic splendid colonial railway station in the centre of KL. Short walk to the YMCA, dorm 10M$ a night. Explore china town later, nothing available for less than 14 M$ a double.
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awesome Thaipusan festival

Batu caves, meat hooks through chest

sunny 32 °C
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Monday 4th February


Thaipusam, the dramatic Hindu festival in honour of Lord Subramaniam at Batu caves outside KL. I promise to carry 5 kavadas if you cure my son’s asthma, plea bargaining by penance. DSC0000113.jpg A kavada can vary from carrying a flagon of coconut milk, to hauling up a vast decorated frame covered in peacock feathers carried on the shoulders and with lots of chains ending in fish hooks in your flesh. They fast for a few days, then parade and dance to a frenzied drum beat for about a mile before the long climb up to the cave. It is fiercely hot, the supplicants look a bit remote, helpers massage legs and a ready with a stool to avert total collapse and offer sips of water. The huge crowds of unto a million are better served than the devotees as we have charity drinking water stations. 6DSC0000120.jpg The climb up consists of 273 steps, I counted them, into the vast cathedral sized cave. Here the blackness is lit by flaming torches and pungent with burning smoking trays of camphor. The floor is awash with coconut milk. Chickens and monkeys scamper about. Hysterical fits and feints are numerous amongst the crowd and numerous first aid boys swoop and carry them off. Quite fancy a quick swoon myself. It is all quite splendid. Outside there is a carnival air, with stalls and a fair, lots of children are having their heads shaved. Apparently the crowd is about 700,000 strong. DSC0000114.jpg Hundreds are carrying kavadas, with a continuous stream of supplicants up and down the steps, most are quite alarming, like large spears through the cheeks. I feel exhausted after just a few hours just watching.
Eat well for 2M$ on chicken curry and rice.

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meet some Doctors

who kindly show me round

sunny 30 °C
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Tuesday 5th February
After an ordeal on the buses find the Malaysian medical association and knock on the College of GP’s door. Dr Goh’s secretary is not sure what to do with me, but eventually sends me with a little letter to his clinic. It takes me 2 hours to find it. The building is not named and turns out to be a vast shining prestigious office tower block. Looks more like the head office of a multi national than a GP surgery. On the 13 the floor find Dr Goh’s clinic, he is quite nonplussed by my appearance and rushes around introducing me to everyone. I feel a bit sheepish in my only pair of trousers and a creased shirt smelling faintly of the jungle. Have lunch with Dr Kara MRCP and make a date for tomorrow.

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best food for weeks

at the Rotary Club Kuala Lumpur

sunny 31 °C
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Wednesday 6th February

Up sharpish and off to spend morning with Dr Frank Tan DRCOG and another doc who has stayed at International Hall whilst working at St Johns and James Pringle. See antenatal clinic running, they do their own high quality U/S scanning, one lady in the clinic has an anencepahlic foetus at 18/40, not pleasant. American mum to be pops in for her acupuncture session. Well run clinic, not too much pressure, time to talk.
Taken for lunch to the Merlin hotel, wish I had a jacket. Sumptuous Malaysian buffet in very grand surroundings and company. The Foreign Secretary is addressing the Rotary Club International and a host of invited ambassadors. My shirt is clean after a quick overnight wash. Washing dries overnight, a length of string for impromptu washing line is essential traveling kit.
Get dropped off at the museum for the afternoon.

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an evening with old George

at the YMCA

sunny 30 °C
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Thursday 7th February
Posh day again with the manic doctor Goh. Enthuses me with some interest in occupational medicine which I had not perceived before. He is a man of many diverse interests. Lunch at the Coliseum Hotel, succulent but small pepper steak. Delicious. Somerset Maugham territory.
Afterward to insurance company where he is MO. He rejects numerous applications for life insurance and a few claims.
Finally say good bye. Most impressed by what is available at the top end of the medical system here, and it is available at this level to a large part of the population. I have been looked after with enthusiasm and friendliness. DSC0000096.jpg
Back to the Y for another evenings entertainment with Acford George Crisp ~? Major ?Pickering. This old boy is 74 and the life and soul of the dorm. He is tall and thin and stooped, with an Errol Flynn moustache. When gently encouraged a whole evening of humorous and frequently foul language will ensue. What a remarkable life, and to find him in the YMCA. Far too many stories to write down. Son of a distinguished father ( friend of King George). His first job was a gigolo at the Lyceum, having been trained in accounting he could not stand his job at Thomas Cooks. Fancies becoming an engineer and joins the Royal Engineers. Spends a few years with a pick and shovel, then is commissioned to Sandhurst. Does well and gets sent to Nepal to command a Ghurka troop. War breaks out and he fights in the 12th or was it the 14th. Rising through the ranks via N Africa then Burma. Is parachuted behind Japanese lines and spends much of the war fighting the Japanese. Many young Japanese tourists have since come to stay at the Y and he likes them. Suicide missions, with a cyanide pellet in case captured, tiny maps on silk. Is bayoneted through the jaw one night, gets back to own lines hiding in a load of hay on an Ox cart, manages to avoid prodding bayonets. Pays the driver on gold sovereigns. Was on the long retreat out of Burma to India when only 4% survived. Later was back and the officer in command to receive the Japanese surrender in Rangoon. Subsequently became the military chief secretary or some such in post war Malaysia, and was the last military administrator before civilian rule. Led the high life for the next 30 years amongst the great and the bad, never saved any money but spent lots. Was a judge at the Turf club. Knows all the inside stories of the politics of early Malaysian home rule. Reported to MI5 during the communist uprising and state of emergency. His sense of humour prevails as he points out the irony of his present position, now sleeping on a common soldiers army bunk that the Y probably bought cheap at an auction. I’m afraid a week was not long enough to hear out old George, but I had to move on.
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hitch hiking in Malaysia 1985

part 1

sunny 30 °C
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Friday 8th February


After some difficulty got onto the K. L. road. It is mostly flyover and difficult to get up onto. I ended up climbing over dykes and railway lines. Long wait in hot summer sun before 3 young business men gave me a lift part way to Melacca. 
Solid Dutch architecture, painted deep pink . Nearby china town has some particularly fine Chinese terraces,. Walk to bus station in the evening and ride out to Tanjong Kling. Losmen Rasa Sayang

Losmen Rasa Sayang

The sort of place where they have no change for 10 M$. The bus comes anytime and stops anywhere.) A long narrow beach with local fishermen hand casting their nets by lamplight. Check into Losmen Rasa Sayang empty dorm hut for 3 M$. eat well, but a glass of ginger milk proved rather toxic. Showered from bucket in wooden corral on beach. High tide at night licked the stilts of my shack.

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Sim's guest house Singapore

hitch hike to Singapore

sunny 30 °C
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Saturday 9th February
Old Portuguese church

Old Portuguese church


Bus into town, walk right through Melacca and nearly 1½ hours before lift with chinaman part way to Johore Bahru. Then quickly get another lift with friendly Indian couple. Violent storm floods road badly. They give me dusk time tour of Johore Bahru to the King’s various palaces. Mostly doom laden edifices like German fortresses. The present King is the Sultan of Johore. Left outside bus station, 80M$ into Singapore. Some hassle at immigration with much looking through lists of undesirable names. Walk to Sim’s guesthouse. Very full, get floor of dorm for five M$.

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bump into Claude and Damien again

we try to sing Auld Lang Syne in mandarin

sunny
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Sunday 10th February
Who should I meet but Claude and Damien! Can’t remember what we did ! mostly ate I expect. Explored Chinatown in the evening. On one bamboo stage we watched a choir introduced with great aplomb and ceremony. Looking rather nervous they began to sing “Auld Lang Syne” in Mandarin!

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eating chendol in Singapore food market

planning flights to Jakarta


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Monday 11th February
Go to bank, Post Office (Christmas card!), buy film, and writing paper. Discover yet another food centre and have plate of Chinese duck had rice for 85 P.
 See off Claude and Damien at Singapore Airport in the evening and suss out flights to Jakarta myself. Meet Pierre through Claude and Damien, they were in Chang Mai together. Many daily flights to Jakarta, should be no problem getting a last minute ticket. Send several letters. Wander around the superbly decorated Chinatown again, all twinkling lights, red sashes, hanging lanterns, puffing dragons and cherry blossom. Packed with people, fancy paper shops, sausage shops, squashed duck shops, calligraphers, durians, oranges, miniature orange trees, palmists. Eat delicious desert; sweet water with shaved ice, pieces of fruit and twinkling coral reef colours of agar jelly floating in its magical depths. Refreshing and delicious. Another version of chendol, I suppose.

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Singapore, garden city of asia


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Tuesday 12th February 1985
Spend most of the day 20 km out of the City seeing the Japanese and Chinese gardens. Large formal gardens in a lakeland setting. Spend an hour snoozing in a pavilion during a violent thunderstorm. Many roads get flooded and the Lake rises 6 inches. See a large three foot water lizard.
 Evening in Chinatown again. Bustling with shops, durians, cherry blossom, red and gold cards oranges.... But I’ve done this already, however it is great free entertainment. Excellent food market. Eat something steamed like a small white roly-poly with a shrimp and mushroom paste centre, with sweet chilli sauce and sesame seeds. Yum.

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Changii airport

no cheap tickets


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Wednesday 13th February.
Spend the morning at Airport, make reservations for Bali, Hong Kong, Sydney, no hassle. But no cheap tickets for sale at Airport, not even last minute discounts. Ticket agent touts wants 300 S$.
Ask Sim, he makes phone call, and gets ticket for tomorrow after noon on Thai air for 200 S$. Watch Chinese street opera with Pierre in the evening. Stage constructed in the street with bamboo and string. Impressive sets and costumes. Ear piercing singing, very percussive orchestra in the wings, lots of cymbals drums and wood blocks. An individual cymbal may only be struck once an hour. Make-up is all white and pink.

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land in Jakarta

graveyard of the orient, find a losmen


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Thursday 14th February.
Pick up ticket, change last money, pack, eat and set off for the airport. Write several letters at the airport post office. Lose and find keys, great relief. Due to the rain my clothes have not dried properly and will now be sour by the time I reach Jakarta. Have only enough cash for one 24 colour print film. Wide bodied Airbus with air hostesses dressed in silk shot through with gold, beautiful Thai Air. Get two seats to myself, the stewards wear striped blazers. Enjoy cold meat salad with wine, fresh crusty French bread and coffee.
 Travellers information said turn right outside the airport for the buses. Realise this is wrong and so wait 40 minutes for an 89 bus before giving up. Young lady gets me on a 41 to Celitan bus station, from there get bus to Senen district and walk. Check in Wisma Delima’s slightly off colour dorm for 1500 rupiahs. Think I have a cold coming on. Aircraft airconditioning concentrates and disseminates an international selection of rhinoviruses. £1 = 1186 rupiahs.

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street walking in Jakarta

no letters at post restante, sniff


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Friday 15th February.
Sleep fitfully, much tormented by mosquitoes and the sniffles. Trudge to the Post Office, no letter from British Council, and no letter from Claude and Damien. Walk past the National Monument, presidential palace and national museum. Change money. Am offered ganja and cocaine and 20,000 rups for my Walkman, (but I wanted nearer 60,000.) Sleep well in the afternoon.
 Evening: visit cultural centre, but only heavy Western plays in Indonesian are on. Chicken curry 950 rupiahs. See many fine diplomat’s houses, it looks like Newmarket Road in Norwich.

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