For as long as I can remember, I have always been fascinated by trains. I remember when I was 4 years old, one of my toys was this train set. The locomotive was battery-powered and had a light at the front, and if you pour a drop of sewing machine oil through its funnel, it would emit a puff of white smoke. When I was 6, along Jalan Bangsar there used to be railtracks crossing it going towards what was the Lever Brothers godown. Whenever my mom visited her tailor at the still-existing shoplot at the entrance of Jalan Riong, I would alight from the car just to touch the tracks and see if I could steal some length of it and take home.
During my five years at the Malay College, the train was the only free ride home for most of us. Some who came from Perak never got to travel by train as they would be picked up by their parents, while some of the more clingy ones, also got picked up by their parents and sent back once school holdidays were over. For me, it was always the train…right to the day I left the college after SPM: I took that free train ride.
Recently, Wifey had had to attend a management retreat in JB. She drove down on a Friday. Then, I decided to join her in JB so I could drive her back. I decided to take the train down to JB. I went to buy the ticket after work on Friday. After thinking about the safety of my belongings, I decided to travel First Class – the same class I would travel in when I was still an Air Force officer.
Saturday morning – I got up at 6.30 and quickly showered. I left the house at 7.15am to take the LRT to KL Sentral to board the train. I had a quick nasi lemak breakfast, bought me some reading materials, then boarded the train.
The train left on time at 8.30am. I sent a few text messages to Wifey informing her of my departure, checked my Mobile Facebook account, then reminisced a bit of those days, more than a quarter of a century ago…those train-rides to and from Kuala Kangsar.
I was a 7th-grade student, first time away from home, though not really the first time on my own. And it was already April, close to the first school-term holidays. The prefects would brief us on our travel arrangements: those whose hometown are in the vicinity of a rail station, would receive a return ticket, 3rd Class (Coach Class, as they are called now), while those without, would be on specially-chartered buses to take them back (ex-KL). And we were told that there would be special coaches for the Malay College students. We were all so excited to be able to travel on our own.
Special coaches, my foot.
When the mail train arrived at the station, all the coaches were full. The civic-consciousness (or the lack of it) among Malaysians were on full display that day. Our coaches had been taken up by millions of others. We boarded anyway and looked for whatever that could seat us. As we were the most junior of the college population, those of us who had managed to get a seat were expected to give it up for seniors; therefore, my first train ride back to KL was done standing up – all the way, for 8 long hours. By the time I got home, I smelled of stale sweat, other people’s stale sweat, and diesel fumes courtesy of Keretapi Tanah Melayu (Malayan Railway). Over the years, we wised up, that during Aidil Fitri breaks, I would light-up firecrackers just to get people out of the seats. Whenever that failed, the luggage compartment above the seats would be the best 8-hour bed: of course I was much smaller then.
I was quickly brought back to the present when an announcement blared over the PA system saying that we were approaching Kajang station. I took a few photos, then took a short nap…