The undeniable sound of grating metal against tarmac sounded. The sun beat down, the air heavy and humid. I threw my hands to the brake levers, snapping my head over my shoulder. Sparks danced above the sliding motorcycle, masking the detail of the man pinned underneath. The convoy of whining motorcycles, slowing to a drawl, encircling the man as he lay still.
“We have to go back, we have a first aid kit”. Jasi breaking our stares of hope as the victim lay pinned under the motorcycle. Friends of the convoy seize his ragged jacket and drag him roadside. His legs drag awkwardly, and his head is held by friends as his eyes remain calmly shut. “Arrrgghhh“, his groans relieve our breaths held tight with angst. The back of his neck glistens as hands rearrange his reaching arms. Red vessels now show in the intent whites of his eyes. His chest rises and falls in spasms. His knee-high boot still connected to his heavily grazed leg lays at a suspicious angle.
Eyes, begin to move around the circle of faces, searching for answers. A sudden voice ignites motion to all. Hands begin to clasp under his armpits as their stances widen and their hips lower.
“Stop, what’s happening?”, looks of uncertainty to my sudden outburst bring pause. “He needs to stand up, he can’t breathe properly”. “No, no, no”, the words instantly leaping from me and Jasi. The spokesperson of the group raises a hand to me. “He just needs to stand to get more air” my eyes dart back to his dangling boot. “I am a physiotherapist doxycycline,” Doxcycline being the name of our anti-malarial medication. “I am trained to handle these situations. Rule no.1, he does not stand until the ambulance arrives”.
The hands unclasp from his armpits. I move to his side, take his wrist, and begin murmuring random numbers. The ambulance finally arrives and I discretely slink back into the growing spectators. I hug Jasi and we ride on, stopping periodically to remind each other of how precious we are to each other.
Returning to a predominantly muslim country, we find ourselves sleeping in the homes of locals and our bellies bursting. Thailand, the land of a thousand smiles, greeted us every corner, but in Malaysia we were invited in. From Malaysia, we have so many more stories to tell, simply because our interactions with the locals were far more personal.
My knees knock against the side of the kitchen bench as my arms reach and my back bends to find the last spoon under the foam. I turn to see her, watching me closely, her head tilted. She tucks the sides of her hijab behind the frames of her glasses. She quickly turns to Jasmin, with her hands gripped “Oh, he does this.”
“Yes, he’s a good dish washer”, Jasmin says. She returns to her bubbling pot of fish, occasionally swapping glances, giggling and shaking her head at my presence in the kitchen.
The kitchen extends to a sewing table, draped in fabrics and aged. The shadows draw over the kitchen table as small bowls of sauces and spices are arranged. The grate of a door slams in the distance and the lady’s husband joins us, standing at the head of the kitchen table. His tunic hangs smooth and gently rolls as he paces to the bubbling pot. Disguised by the spicy scents and home décor, flashes of De ja vu to Iran, Oman, and the Emirates arise.
A speaker booms from a corner store, painted with splashes of orange, yellow and red. Men line the streets selling fried samossas and ladies sift through flowing saris. We escape the booming loudspeakers, licking our fingers to the greasy crumbs. We turn the next corner to find Chinese script dominating the overheads and noodles and wonton soup sloshed from boiling tubs. Crisp white shirts brush our shoulders as we duck underneath swinging red and gold paper lanterns. The waft of dried fish hits us from the next street as men in flowing tunics follow their wives, the exposed circles of their faces inspect and turn dried squid, fish, and durians. Bright plastic chairs are found roadside, circling steaming pots of rice and pandan sweets.
This is George Town, Malaysia and this is one of the greatest melting pots of cultures and food we have ever discovered. Chinese Malay, Indian Malay, and Malay Malay. These communities live just streets apart. Malay is the common language, and at times you would believe that each community is oblivious to the other. There is small merges in cuisine between the Malay and Indian, however the Chinese cultures remain relatively uninfluenced. Nevertheless, a parallel and peaceful way of life has been intertwined.
She raises a hand to her face and makes some unfamiliar swipes. She begins to stand, periodically standing on one pedal as she allows the momentum to take her forward before giving another quick flurry of pedal strokes. Through the pauses in palm oil trucks dominating the highway, I hear a sniff and a groan. The next truck surges past closer, the gust swaying our bicycles momentarily. She pulls to the side of the road and turns to me with reddened crying eyes.
“My bum hurts” her chin quivering as she rearranges her sweat drenched t-shirt.
“Oh Jasi girl, we can hitchhike the last 10km’s” pausing in conversation, now so mutually understood that a flurry of traffic will waste our tired breaths.
“It’s ok we can go on,” turning her view to the orange clouds creeping over the palm plantations.
Jasi’s bum had developed two bright red blisters, with one now open and seeping. Jasi grimaced as she repositioned her bike shorts, then collected herself for another moment and pushed on. Bicycle touring isn’t always easy.
A great big roller door is before us. Jasi dismounts the bicycle and quickly twists her back to inspect the state of her blisters. Two men, dressed in camouflage and dragging heavy black boots, hesitantly approach.
“What do you want?”, his expression not matching his child like smile.
I take a moment to structure my sentence, “We want to stay the night.”
“You want rest?”, said the larger of the two men.
“Yes, we want rest”, my smiles not hiding my exhaustion.
“You must sleep in separate rooms, you not married”, in a slow but clear English.
“Oh we are married, we sleep together”, Jasi quickly added raising her hand of rings to the men.
With a few words discussion and a quick call, we were ushered past enormous red trucks and upstairs to our room. We returned downstairs to invites of Pizza, Red bull and pandan sweets. We were the lucky guests of a local firefighting station.
“Stop, Stop, Stop, STOP!”, I press my feet into the car floor leaning forward to view the passenger side mirror. My bicycle dangles from the side of the car swaying as the car slowed. Finally stopping, I inspect the bicycle to see my bicycle hanging by just one strap strap and three roof racks busted off the top of the car, now hanging from the bicycle.
“Old car, no problem”, he begins to swipe his phone casually checking notifications.
“I’m so sorry,” holding my palm to him as I collected his roof racks.
“No problem sir, how we transport bicycle now?”, tilting our heads to the possibility and size of his back seat.
I place his snapped roof racks into the luggage compartment. We worked roadside playing tetras with our bicycles, bending and forcing our once precious bicycles, confident in their durability. This was Afzal, who we met at a local fuel station. Earlier, we sat tired, sweaty and exhausted from the sun. After an hour of attempted hitchhiking, Afzal arrived with his wife and child. To make room for our bicycle and ourselves, Afzal dropped his wife and child off at a local shopping mall. He then returned to take us 45km in the opposite direction he was travelling. As we shook hands goodbye with Afzal, we left him with 3 broken roofracks and perhaps 2 hours of heavy traffic between himself and his wife and child. We can’t believe how lucky we are to meet people like him.
“Monsoons are coming”, the words sparking thoughts of raging floodwaters and weeks of rain.
“The Islands will be closed soon, maybe next year is better?”, I consider explaining to him our story, but opt rather to cycle on.
“What do you think Jasi?”, shouting over my shoulder to her behind me.
“Lets give it a try, were here now”, I nod and cycle on to the port for Malaysia’s islands.
What a decision we made, golden beaches, turquoise waters and camping beachside. Fish dance at your toes and the water soothes our tired bones. Malaysian islands are heavenly, and whilst the monsoon rains came and went, the ferocity was not alike my expectations. Kapas Island and Tioman Island is where we spent two magical weeks. No cars, just snorkeling, hiking and animals swinging and crawling by. If you planning a trip away or bike touring Malaysia …
Written from the futuristic world that is Singapore! What a landmark this is for our journey. We will have a quick post of Asia’s little red dot soon. Just 50 days to go.
Talk to you soon,
Matt and Jasi