Posted by: adventuressetravels | February 24, 2012

Going in Circles – Jalan Jalan

We came up with the plan in George Town.  We were hitchhiking around Malaysia.  It wasn’t too hard: most people not only were willing to help but spoke at least a little English – communication is important in hitchhiking – why else would the driver pick hitchers up but communication?  After all, meeting interesting people who you wouldn’t ordinarily meet  is the best part of hitchhiking.  It was settled:  we were hitchhiking to Malacca.

We got moving a little late and didn’t catch the free ferry from George Town to Butterworth until almost 12.  Sure, it was best to start out early when you werehitchhiking, but we weren’t worried, after all we could just hitchhike from the place the ferry left us.  One of the cars going across must be heading to Malacca, right?

Sitting on the long utilitarian ferry benches, surrounded by fellow passengers catching a free ride, we made our makshift sign on a piece of notebook paper.  20 minutes later when the ferry docked in Butterworth, we were at the front holding our sign up.  No one stopped.

Regretting not having walked up to cars and talked to the drivers while they were parked, we followed the other passengers across the bridge to Butterworth which lead directly to the Bus and train stations, not the easiest place to hitchhike from.

Jenny suggested that we took turns getting lunch at the nearby food court.  I wasn’t hungry yet so I told her she should go first and I would wait with the bags.  I pondered the idea of trying to catch a ride until I realized that I was with all of the backpacks and walking to the food court with the luggage was next to impossible.We walked a little way away to the highway leading South and situated ourselves.  Two hours of taking turns standing and hitching with the sign in the Malaysian sauna of an afternoon and we were ready to drop. The drivers that did acknowledge us waved us towards the bus station.   Definitely not a strategic

I picked up my kindle and started back on Around the World in 80 days.  I smiled as it mentioned the Malaccan Straits, where I would be heading as soon as we got our ride.  Much to my surprise, a small black Proton, a brand of Malaysian car, pulled up a few minutes later.

“Do you need help?” the driver asked.

No, I was just trying to find a ride to Malacca, I replied.  By this time I knew Malacca was over 6H00 km, but I would be happy with a ride just part of the

way, or even to a gas station by the highway.

The driver motioned for me to get in the car, saying that he could take my friend and me to the highway.

I left the bags in his car while I ran to get Jenny.  The next thing I knew we were relaxing in the air conditioning of his car, a welcome change from the oppressive afternoon heat.  Jenny was exhausted and almost immediately fell asleep in the back seat using one of the packs as a pillow.  I was the designated conversationalist.

Anuar, our ride introduced himself.  He operated a crane, unloading the ships that docked daily in Butterworth and had lived in Penang province all of his l

ife.  He told me as we drove.  When we pulled into the first rest stop, he asked if we wanted water and returned with three bottles.

Jenny was tired.  He would take us a little further and give her a chance to rest.

As we sped past the lush Malaysian countryside, more and more tall top-less trunks jutted out of the greenery.  I half expected to catch a glimpse of the Lorax in one of the fields.

What were they?  What had happened to the trees?

They were red palms, Anuar told us.  They were one of Malaysia’s most lucrative crops.

Jenny immediately exclaimed.  She had recently seen a news show about how people should boycott anything with red palm oil in it.  The oil was one of the healthiest oils, but clear-cutting, and careless farming was destroying

place to hitchhike from.

ecosystems.  Now I’d seen evidence first-hand I could understand why it was necessary to boycott the oil.

I was stunned at Malaysia’s well-kept highways.  No potholes, no construction; just miles and miles of  straight, black pavement.  If it weren’t for the palms and jungle flanking the road it would be hard to believe that we were in Southeast Asia.

Anuar couldn’t take us all the way to Ipoh, the next major city towards
By this time it was after 5:00 and I was thinking we might have to resort to taking a bus the rest of the way.  Not only is hitching a lot easier during the day, but it’s a lot safer too.  Why hadn’t we gotten an earlier start?  Jenny hadn’t hitched in quite a while, why hadn’t I made us leave early?Malacca, but he could take us as far as Taiping.

We pulled off of the highway and took a left onto the road to the smaller town.

Instead of a town directly off the highway, there was a sign:  7km to Taiping.    Perak province was much more rural than Penang, Anuar told us.  The roadside restaurants and fruit stands dotted well-kept two-lane road.  Still not a pothole in sight, but were a world apart from the trafficked streets and sky scrapers of Butterworth and George Town.  Maybe we had gone too far,

It seemed like we had gone more than 7km and still nothing but sparsely populated jungle and countryside.  Sure the greenery was pretty, but where were we?  Anuar didn’t remember it being quite so far either and turned the car
Five minutes later, we pulled into one of the stands and asked – we had been going the right direction in the first place.  Turning the car around, Anuar laughed “Jalan Jalan.”  In Malaysia, he explained, when people walk or drive around in circles they say Jalan Jalan and apologized for the round-about route.   No problem, we told him – we were getting to see more of the countryside and beautiful areas we’d never otherwise have seen.around.  Maybe we had missed the turn-off.

We pulled into a small dusty bus station with many older, uncomfortable local busses.  Not a plush, air-conditioned long-distance bus in sight.  A tall Indian-Malaysian man with a snack kiosk told me that this town wasn’t a stop for the long-distance busses.  To get a bus to Malacca we would have to take a local bus to Simpang, the next town.

I was ready to buy a ticket on one of the local busses, but Anuar wouldn’t hear of it.  He rarely took trips around Malaysia and this was a great chance for him to visit places he hadn’t seen in years.  He would be happy to take us to the bus station.

After several wrong turns and many stops asking for directions, we finally found a dusty bus terminal with several of the newer long-distance busses parked out in front.  There were two seats left on the 11:00 night bus to Malacca.  I was all for getting them, but Jenny didn’t want to travel on a night bus.  I didn’t want to pay for a room and get the morning bus.  She suggested going back to the highway and getting a hotel by the road so that we could get up early and hitchhike from there.

Good-natured Anuar said it was no problem to take us back to the highway and find a hotel for the night.

“Jalan Jalan,” he said laughing.  “We say that in Malaysia, it means around and around. “  He was more right than he knew.

We went back to the highway, but there was no sign of a hotel in sight.  He took us back to the next small town but no luck there either.  Malaysians didn’t travel places if it wasn’t to see relatives, Anuar told us, and tourists never came here.  He wasn’t hopeful about finding a hotel.

Having dinner with Anuar back in Butterworth

The little Proton rolled back into Butterworth after 8:30 with two crestfallen girls.  Our attempt at hitchhiking had been an utter failure.  Anuar took us to a hotel, a few blocks away from where he had picked us up and gladly paid for a clean, nice room for us to stay in.  We would catch the 11:00 bus the next morning.

But even though we hadn’t done exactly what we set out to do the day had been far from a failure.  We got to see some beautiful countryside, places in Malaysia we would never have otherwise seen, and made a new friend.

Shoulda, woulda, coulda:  we should have talked to drivers on the ferry.  We could have had a map with us.  And if we would only have had gotten off and hitchhiked from the highway then would surely have gotten a ride in no time.

moral of this story is more that you have to pick where you hitchhike from than hitchhiking is impossible in Asia.  Both Jenny and I agreed that if we had gotten off at the highway we would have caught a ride in no time.

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