Train to Singapore

I woke up early and let myself out of the room. I wanted to find the main K.L. Post Office in order to mail our leeches back home but I had a couple of hours before it would be open. I decided to walk around town to see some of the mosques in the area. My first goal was the Jamek Mosque at the confluence of the Klang and Gombak Rivers. It was very pleasant walking around town early in the morning, on the way to the mosque I wandered this way and that whenever I spied a Moorish dome or a minaret that looked interesting. Jamek looked amazing from the outside. Dressed in shorts, I was not properly attired to enter the masjids, as mosques are known in Malay, but I took all of the elaborate buildings in at a distance. Jamek is one of the oldest mosques in K.L., whereas the Masjid Negara, the National Mosque of Malaysia is among the newer ones. After seeing the former, I set my sights on the latter.

I got there via the old K.L. train station. Until the turn of the 21st century, intercity trains used to leave from the nearly hundred year old station covered with glistening white Moorish domes. In the spirit of progress, all such trains now left from the thoroughly modern, yet architecturally uninspiring K.L. Sentral. One thing that remained unchanged was that both stations had been designed with an utter lack of pedestrian traffic in mind. The walk from Sentral to Little India had been a bizarre romp across parking lots and service drives with no actual sidewalks to speak of. Now, I found that crossing the street between the old K.L. station and the National Mosque was a near impossibility. Since there were no crosswalks, stoplights, or pedestrian bridges anywhere nearby, I eventually found myself darting across 6 lanes of swiftly moving traffic at a roundabout adjacent to the mosque. The National Mosque was attractive in its own right, but its highly modern architecture just couldn’t compete with that of Jamek’s in my book. I walked up the road to where it was somewhat less of a deathtrap and headed to the post office.

I hadn’t actually brought then leeches with me on my walk but I was able to get a basic idea of how to buy a box for them and fill out a custom form declaring I was mailing “dead leeches in a saline solution”. Back at the hostel, the students were finally stirring so we decided to have breakfast at a food court in Chinatown together. We ordered hot tea along with our bao zi and enjoyed the hustle and bustle of Chinatown all around us. Soon, we had returned to the post office and sent half our leeches on their way. I had decided to carry half back in my luggage as well as to mail half in case some U.S. governmental agency freaked out with either method and decided to confiscate the little critters we had worked so hard to get.

Since our train didn’t leave until early afternoon, we still had time to take in a few temples together. We started in Chinatown at the Guan Di Temple, named for the Taoist God of War. Ironically, this was one of the more peaceful temples we had been in. Particularly impressive were the coils of burning incense, which stretched from just overhead all the way up to ceiling far above. After leaving Guan Di, we found ourselves in the nearby Sri Mariamman Temple, named for the Hindu Goddess of Rain. There, we were particularly taken back by the beautiful paintings that lined the walls of the temple. Finally, we ventured a bit further a field to visit the Guanyin Temple, named after the Goddess of Mercy and Compassion I had seen in Jerantut. As we left the area around Chinatown, my map indicated that we needed to cut down an alleyway in order to get to the temple, but the students vetoed this route since it looked a little dodgy to them. This took us on a detour past the National Stadium complex but I didn’t mind a little extra walk. Guanyin was a very colorful temple, known for its three gold statues: Buddha, Guanyin, and Qiuanshou, Guanyin’s depiction as a thousand armed goddess.

Since we were running short on time leaving the temple, I insisted on a more direct route back and we were pleased to find one that didn’t involve dodgy alleyways. We collected our belongings at the hostel and made a bee line to K.L. Sentral. There, we counted up our ringgits and figured we had just enough time and money for a lunch at Burger King before our train left. One of the main tricks to leaving a country is trying to spend all of your local currency without having to lose money changing it back again. After spending all that time in Jerantut wishing we could change dollars into ringgits, it was now time to unload as much of them as possible. As it turned out, the train ended up being more than an hour behind schedule so that we hadn’t really needed to hurry. When we finally did board the train, it ended up being nearly identical to the Jungle Train we had taken out of Singapore. As luck would have it, I was facing backwards once again- oh well!

As the hours went by, the train plodded along. The scenery between K.L. and Singapore was noticeably less picturesque than it had been on the Jungle Train. Our scheduled time of arrival in Singapore had been about 8:30 pm, but when this time rolled around we found ourselves still in the Malaysian countryside south of Gemas. I tried looking at the schedules that were found posted outside of each of the many train stations that we stopped at, but our car was positioned so that the main part of the station was out of view whenever we stopped. Then, as the train got up to speed once again- the sign would zip by before I could make out the times. Finally, just after 10 pm, we pulled into the Johor Bahru station where immigration officers boarded the train to stamp us out of Malaysia. An hour later we found ourselves on a bus bound for the Woodlands MRT after pulling into Singapore and then clearing customs and immigration there. At the station, we were pleased to find out that our favorite food kiosk was still open so we proceeded to buy them out of bao zi before they closed for the night. We had both started and ended our day with bao zi- it felt like we had come full circle in a way. Luckily, we were just in time to take one of the last trains back to Chinatown. It was like déjà vu arriving at the Service World Hostel after midnight once again and making our way back to the same beds in the same room as before.

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