Wednesday 30 November
“I’d never have thought of that” comments a British Red Coat as Captain Jack Sparrow expertly removes Elizabeth Swan’s corset with a knife in The Pirates of the Caribbean. “Clearly you’ve never been to Singapore”, he fires back. Oddly enough, that one line resonated enough from the 2003 movie to make me want to go. That – I’ll admit – is the sole reason I’ve decided to push on down Malaysia to visit country/territory/city/state number 60. To learn how to take girls corsets off with a knife.
I’m kidding I already know how to do that.
Armed with the knowledge that Malaysia is the best country (so far) for hitchhiking, I ignore my alarm and sleep in. I was to find later that this was something of a mistake – but not regarding the actual hitch. Once again the locals did not disappoint, with what turned out to be another astonishingly easy journey.
Hitchwiki isn’t particularly helpful on this occasion. It tells me something about illegally crossing rail tracks, or walking a fair distance, or hitch spots that aren’t easy to get to. Instead I use my noggin and figure it out myself. That and I ask the hostel staff which train station I need to get off at to access the highway south. It’s not rocket science. Around midday I’ve reached a very busy carriageway, and the speed of the traffic nearly persuades me into a cab for deposit at the toll station. But where’s the adventure in that?! Gritting my teeth, I hike a few minutes up the road to a flyover. Traffic is slowing for the hill and round the apex of the bend, and there’s plenty of room for them to pull in, but it’s still hair raising. All I have to do is not fall off – it’s a long way down – and more than a little vertigo kicks in when a big rig thunders past and blows me in the direction of the edge.
But barely five minutes go by when a couple of young lads pull in and save my bacon. They can take me to the toll booth, which leads directly onto the highway south. Cooking on gas. However after they depart, I feel I’m not quite in the right place. I hastily change the back of my sign to read ‘E2′; the highway I need to be on. But a short walk in the direction they showed me and I’m back on course, looping round a lengthy slip road to a busy motorway. Luckily there’s construction underway on my left, and a large space for fast traffic to pull into. A workman shouts “Singapore!” upon spotting my sign, and then points me in the direction I’m marching. The tea leaves are encouraging.
But with the sun high and searing my skin, for this volume of traffic and no stops it’s a little concerning. I alternate between the ‘Singapore’ side and the ‘E2′ side of the sign. As I’m actually on the latter, I adjust my thumbing action to a new wave and point technique I’ve been trying recently. Try it yourself! Wave your arm as if saying ‘hello’, but finish with a point in the direction you wish to be going. It’s working wonders.
And just when I thought I might have to rethink (entirely due to the sun and not the lack of a ride) a lovely couple swing in. Speaking native English, they can take me some 20 KM to a service station. As I’ve not yet eaten (hunger gives me an edge) I’m more than grateful for this stroke of luck. We natter non-stop for the duration of the disappointingly short journey, before I’m wolfing down a rice-egg combo breakfast washed down with a vat of water. Then it just gets better.
It’s a large service area with a lot of traffic. Two petrol stations are rammed with cars, and the food court is full to the brim with road weary locals. This is going to be easy, but I didn’t realise quite how easy! I’ve barely left the dining area when a 30-something guy pulls in behind the wheel of a nice motor. He’s spotted me while having breakfast (which is why I always leave my sign hanging) and he can take me to Johor – which is basically right to the border.
And this is exactly what he does. My new friend Hafizi (coolest name ever) goes out of his way past his turn off and takes me right to customs. Unfortunately I pass out for most of the ride – I didn’t realise how tired I was from walking in the heat – and the cheeky rascal wastes no time in snapping the pic to prove it.
There’s time for one more selfie and hearty thanks before he drops me at the border. It’s just turned 5 pm. I’ll make Singapore before night falls.
No I fucking won’t! What follows is an unadulterated, no holds barred, bull-in-a-china-shop, black Friday stampede shit show. From zipping down the highway in record time, I hit a brick wall; Singapore customs. Possibly the worst border crossing ever. Apart from Azerbaijan. The organisation is a mess. I’ve no idea where to go, but follow the sheeple to a bus interchange. I pay 2 quid for a bus over the bridge link into the city and we’re stuck here for an hour and a half. It’s dark by the time we’re ushered to customs on the Singapore side.
It’s a melee of people, trundling along with wheelie suitcases, multiplying out of busses, vehicles as far as the eye can see. Queuing at the passport control behind an army of humanoids, and you’re taking one tiny shuffle forward every ten minutes. It’s a logistical nightmare. When my turn finally comes, I’m asked for an immigration document – which apparently someone was handing out as I approached the throng of longpigs. Of course this I didn’t see and I complain – but they hand me a copy and tell me to fill it out fast. Now I’m holding up the entire queue.
“This is the worst border I’ve ever crossed” I exclaim when I finish putting pen to paper. “Sort it out”. I huff away with my belongings and through the metal detectors. There’s not enough space for this amount of people – and not enough room on the conveyor belt for everyone’s luggage. It’s a free-for-all, and in the ensuing melee, my guitar is knocked to the ground and I lose my shit.
“Watch what you’re doing with my stuff you fucking animals!” My outburst is met with blank looks. Nobody bats an eyelid, instead continuing to push and reach and grab and snatch at stuff and things like the boxing day sales. I tell you truly – I really hate people.
Once through the shambles I fare no different, only now I’ve the added burden of trying to find an ATM. Malaysian money no longer works, and I’ve not yet had the chance to pick up Singapore dollars. Now you would have thought that something like an ATM at a border would be a useful installation wouldn’t you? Nah! That’s far too easy! I’m rescued (and faith in humanity restored) by a young man who asks where I need to go. He gives me all the info I require and in the circumstances – it was much-needed. I was about to go postal.
It’s still a fair trek to find a cash point – and of course it just delivers massive denominations. I can see the shop owner’s face as I buy a $2.40 bottle of water and hand over a fifty dollar note. Sure enough the pain and fear etch across the man’s visage as I unapologetically thrust over the bill. Don’t blame me dude – blame the bank. This kinda shit happens all over the world. Nobody has change, ATM’s dish out fifties, people get pissed. Round and round we go.
I get on the wrong bus, even though it’s right, and I’m told to get on another bus with the same number just not this one. When I’m finally on the right service, it takes an eon to get to somewhere in the vast city – and at the last stop I’m still nowhere near my ultimate destination. Not knowing the public transport system and it’s getting late – I’m saved by my new (and once again – first) smart phone, and the magic of GPS. Keeping my beady eye on the little blue dot that is me, I trudge through emptying streets towards the little red dot that is my next hostel. It’s a long, long way.
I collapse into a bed around 11pm. It’s taken me nearly as long to get from the border to home base than it has to get the 350 kilometres down from Kuala Lumpur. This does not bode well for my stay in this city. Singapore – do not make me regret coming.