What was to be a short nap, turned out into a full-blown three-hour sleep. The tension at work, coupled with the travel and visit to the oil rig, operations report, editing marketing report, going through figures determining IRRs, and hunting for interim vessels for jobs must have gotten to me. When I got up, we were already at Gemas. And because I was in a deep sleep, the ticket inspector could not wake me up to inspect my ticket. When he saw that I was already up, he immediately asked for mine.
TAK TAK TAK TAK TAK TAK TAK
The ticket inspector would make that staccato on the headrest with his single-hole puncher.
“Tiket! Tiket!” (Ticket! Ticket!)
This 40-something malay ticket inspector with the most unfriendly face asked me for my train ticket. I was travelling back to Kuala Kangsar with my friends that afternoon.
Ticket Inspector: “Adik punya dah potong ke?” (Has yours been cut? – what he meant was: have I had my ticket inspected)
I looked down at my crotch and replied, “Mesti la dah potong. Umur dah 17 tahun dah.” (Of course mine has been cut-off. I’m already 17 – I was referring to my foreskin)
He looked strangely at me, puzzled initially, then gave out this stupid laughter and went off.
A jolt by the coach as the train took a corner brought me back to the present. There was this ticket inspector, Indian, in a friendlier-looking uniform, with a friendly smile, still waiting for my ticket. I smiled back at him and handed my ticket to him.
I looked out the window, and saw a row of rubber trees in a plantation. My thoughts were then returned to that same train ride I was on 26 years ago.
“Your country is amazing. Even the trees in the jungle are in lines.”
I nodded at this foreigner, a backpacker who was with his girlfriend, I presumed. I wanted to laugh, but kept on a straight face.
“Those are rubber trees, you plonk!” I thought to myself.
26 years on, the view is still very much the same, save for some pockets of development, both legal and illegal, on both sides of the track. Somehow, I miss those days, my salad days – so carefree and the only responsibility I had was to pass my exams and not get scolded (the least) whenever I had to shove my report card beneath my father’s nose for it to be signed on the penultimate day of each school holidays. Those were the days when all we had to do was wake up in the morning, go for classes, go for meals, go for the daily swimming and water-polo training, go for prep, and sleep…or at least, pretend to sleep. Then, later at night, sneak out of the dormitory doing everything and nothing in Kuala Kangsar town, get chased by cops patrolling in Land Rovers, and jump into the Perak river to escape them.
Suddenly, I felt the urge to go to the toilet. Someone was in the sitting toilet, therefore I had to use the squat toilet. Since I was only going to urinate, I only had to stand. It is already a challenge trying to aim into a normal toilet bowl; imagine doing the deed, the bowl opening just half the size of a normal squat toilet, in a moving train. You can imagine how good my aim was…NOT. The difference 26 years later is that although the toilet did not look clean, it smelled clean!
To be continued…