Getting up bright and early, we felt reluctant to leave Malaysia. We had made so many great friends that we felt so much at home! Tuesday had rolled around and no word from Hakim. We decided…! We were getting on that ferry on our own with or without Hakim. As we decided this, I still had a weird feeling inside. We got to Port Klang around 9am. There seemed to be a lot of people waiting around for ferries so we were hopeful. The customs officials allowed us to sit inside. We tried calling Hakim and he wouldn’t pick up, eventually at 10:30am he called saying his car wouldn’t start so he’d be coming late…that excuse works in this part of the world as well I guess! Eventually around 11:30am Hakim showed up and got to work. Nick had the carnet stamped out and the ferry was to leave at 1pm. I guess the customs guys realized they weren’t getting a share of the money we were to pay so while I was waiting for Nick for a couple of hours they kicked me out of the sitting area for no apparent reason. Very different from the treatment they had given other travelers! Interesting how if you are a similar skin color to others (or darker) they feel they can treat you like crap while they treat those of lighter skin like celebrities! I guess the colonial mindset will take a long time to change! As I was waiting outside, the only person who came to talk to me was the Bangladeshi sweeper/trash collector. At first he was kinda lingering around the bike sweeping air. After a couple of minutes he asked in broken English where we were from. I responded that we were Indian, living in the US. Obviously he already had an idea of this but my answer reaffirmed what he had thought. The guy couldn’t wipe the smile off his face. From that minute onward, he poured his heart out. He asked endless questions in his Bengali-tinged Hindi and I tried to answer whatever I could in my broken Hindi. He told me about his wife and baby, showed me pictures, and discussed his whole life story…how he came to Malaysia, what jobs he worked, how much money he made and took back, what happened to that money and his family etc. I felt bad for the guy. He did the stuff that the locals were too lazy or too proud to do. Similar stories you hear around the world, even back home in Texas.
Nick came back and said ‘The bike is stamped out of Malaysia, I bought the ferry tickets, paid half of the money, but Hakim said it’s okay, we can go for lunch and come back at 3pm.’ Umm okay. So we went off to McDonalds on our stamped out bike and sat there for a couple of hours having lunch and using the free wifi. We got back to the port and were told that the ferry was still not there. It started to drizzle a bit so we parked the bike under some roofing on the other side of the port building so we could also see the boat coming in. We pulled up a couple of plastic chairs that were close by and waited. Our Bangladeshi friend came back and we talked to him some more. I guess the guy felt that he had a Desi audience so he just wanted to talk. After talking for a bit he had to get back to work and on the way he was being ordered around by some lazy Malay dude (obviously not doing his job either) who then violently pushed and almost punched the Bangladeshi sweeper. Nick had stepped inside at that moment so I was by myself when I saw it. I felt helpless and embarrassed for the guy. I guess this was also evidence of the underlying tensions and power struggle between different cultural groups in the country. Sitting there waiting, observing the crap that was going down around us, the treatment we were getting from people…I started to realize what was bothering me. We had come all this way from India without paying a single bribe…not even at the Kolkata port. And here I am putting money in these person’s pockets and making this okay. For other travelers this might be okay, a means to and end…after their travels they go back to Europe, England wherever. But for us it’s different. Sure we live in the US, but we have family and friends that live in India. If we propagate the corruption then it’s our fault too, we visit India and we have to face it, we have loved ones that live there and they have to face it on a daily basis. Despite what travelers observe, daily life is a struggle in these countries, even for the smallest thing…you don’t know unless you live there. I realize this is Malaysia we’re talking about, but to me it’s the same anywhere I go. I didn’t want to pay bribes in Cambodia, Vietnam etc. And here we are, about to do something that’s going against our ideals. I probably sound like I’ve jumped on the Ana Hazara bandwagon! But if you work really hard and honestly, do you want to put your hard-earned money into lazy, corrupt, money-hungry hands? Nick was in agreement, just felt weird. We felt like we were stuck in a shitty place physically and mentally. We wondered if Indonesia was worth all this. We were already in over our head with many people in the know of our efforts to cross as well as the carnet being stamped. It was hitting 5pm and we were hot, tired, and mentally spent…if this wasn’t going down then we were going to either ship straight to Australia or just head back to India.
Every now and then we’d check on Hakim. A couple of times the guy was sleeping at his desk in his office. Ugh. Again, this is where our hard-earned money was going? It was close to 7pm and our sweeper friend had left work and we were ready to call it quits. We liked Malaysia anyways, we didn’t mind staying! Hakim came in a hurry and said ‘Okay, ferry is here, let’s go!’ It was too late to back out now. Nick and I both went through immigration and then I sat inside the waiting area so Nick and Hakim could get the bike in the ferry before passengers would come in. Wowza! By the time I got in the ferry the bike was already strapped down in between a row of seats. Nick later explained the whole situation to me. He rode the bike all the way to the ferry pier and stopped short of the ferry door. The door was small with about a foot and a half of step, meaning you could not roll the bike in, it had to be lifted. Before Nick could even figure out a game plan, 10 guys picked up the bike (from whoknowswhere) and loaded it into the ferry. After that Nick gave the other half of the money we had to pay to Hakim. Hakim parted saying that whatever happens on the Indonesia side, he doesn’t have control of. We sat in the seats facing the bike and used a couple of extra straps to hold it down. As passengers filed in, they were greeted by our bike. Some were amazed, others laughed at the sight of such a huge bike on their ferry, many had questions. The ferry didn’t leave until 9pm, that means we’d be getting to Tanjung Balai at 3am. But the actual ride was not bad. We were given boxed rice and curry, bottled water, and we slept most of the way. It was a communal like atmosphere and we could already notice a difference in habits and mentality from Malaysia. At around 12am, Nick woke up heavy-lidded and turned to me, “Happy Birthday babe!” Shit, I just turned 30 on a crappy ferry on my way to Sumatera beseeching our ideals. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine this. If you asked me a couple of years ago, how I’d be celebrating my 30th, my answer might’ve been in a cute cocktail dress, some stilletos, maybe some champagne, good dinner in Houston? Truth is, as long as I’m with my hubby and I get to look in those big brown eyes, life is good. That night I thanked God for all he had given me in these 30 years but asked for forgiveness for the whole shipping ordeal.