I don't consider myself a very British British person. I cry and shout too much, I am very open about my emotions and I probably don't moan about the weather enough (especially since landing in south east Asia three weeks ago!). I must admit I hate people who jump in queues and I do like a good cup of tea but other than that I don't associate myself with typically British characteristics ( test yourself with this list!). I always thought this was because I am fairly well travelled, speak a couple of other languages (badly) and try my very best to be worldly wise.
That was until we took a bus in south east Asia.
As I referred to in this review of Singapore, NewMan and I chose to take a bus from KL to Singapore, this was partly because on our return journey we were going to meet our friends in Melacca which is a little over half way between the two. We would therefore get a bus for our journey to Melacca then jump in the car with them to make it all the way back to KL. Simples.
And the first leg of the journey really was just that. We had humongous seats, which virtually reclined into flat beds and our leg room was ample enough to do all sorts of . It was air-conditioned, clean, comfortable and a relatively smooth journey. I was a content customer, and in an embarrassingly British way I wrote numerous postcards to folk back home marvelling how easy and smooth the journey had been.
However this was not the moment when I realised I was more British than I thought. This came on our return bus trip from Singapore to Melacca.
We arrived at the "bus station" in Singapore in good time (yes, admittedly a bit British of me). We were advised by a young man manning the office of our bus operator that the bus was already running late on its inbound journey to Singapore and he told us to come back in an hour and a half. Fine. We found a spot to have a bite to eat and a beer and we killed some time.
An hour and a half later we returned to the "bus station" - it was actually just a car park with a couple of shacks as offices and a few benches under a makeshift roof as a waiting area - and were told to sit and wait in the waiting area.Let's cut a long story short here by saying that we waited there for over three hours, and we got soaked in a brief but determined impromptu rain storm, and we had a difficult conversation with a couple of old Chinese guys who assumed because we were European we were Manchester United fans and so they wanted to discuss the recent 6 - 1 loss against City. It was an "entertaining" wait but ultimately very frustrating seeing as our arrival time in Melacca, a place we were keen to visit and explore in daylight, was getting pushed further and further back. All but one of our fellow waiting passengers seemed completely relaxed and unmoved by the delay, while NewMan and I took it in turns to throw our toys out of the pram and demand answers from the sole staff member who spent most of his time on his mobile (though not to the driver of the late bus as he always ended a conversation with us saying "Will call bus driver..."). The other stressed out passenger was a young Chinese Malaysian girl who didn't get irate as such, just marched back and forth in front of us then every now and again stood looking sternly at the man on his mobile in his shack.Maybe the quietly annoyed girl's "looks" were more effective than our polite (British) questioning as finally our bus arrived. In terms of appearance and comfort it was exactly the same bus we'd got down to Singapore from KL, yet it had seemingly been through a 2 day civil war since we'd left it and was yet to be cleaned or repaired. Seats were big and spacious but dirty, ripped and stained and the reclining function didn't work. No complaints from us though we just wanted to get moving. Which we did, until the driver stopped at 7 Eleven to get some food. But no problems, fifteen minutes later we were moving again, until the driver stopped for fuel (and a cigarette on the garage forecourt !!!!). Twenty more minutes and hoorah we were off again until the Singapore-Malaysia border passport and customs controls. Forty minutes later, hooray, we were finally moving full throttle, until an hour into Malaysia we randomly stopped by the side of a three carriage way motorway for another 30 minutes.
It was at this point I may as well have been wearing a white handkerchief on my head and socks with my sandals, I was so British in my disgust as I complained to NewMan about how unjustly we had been done a disservice. How could our £15 ticket not mean prompt departure and a timely arrival? Why were we not being informed about stops and delays? Why had we now stopped precariously in the makeshift hard shoulder of a very busy road? And while I was at it - why did our bus driver insist on coughing up his guts every ten minutes interrupting any lame attempt at sleep?
When the coughing driver of our yet again stationary bus then shouted out something in Malay NewMan and I panicked. Oh God, the bus has broken down. We're going to be stuck here FOREVER! We asked a nearby passenger what was going on in English (in an embarrassed and grovelingly British way of course). He informed us that the driver had announced that passengers for Melacca needed to change on to a different coach, the one that was now parked behind us.
In the nick of time NewMan and I grabbed our bags and ventured out on to the busy road (in the dark and more pouring rain) to board a different coach.
I am happy to report that this bus took us to Melacca with no further delays or issues and our friends had the foresight to check us into our hotel and get the beers in ( that's what friends are for!).
It did, however, take me a couple of extra hours (after the four and half that we were delayed for in total) to realise that it was woefully British of me to make so many assumptions about that journey from Singapore to Melacca. Who am I to expect luxury, punctuality and information in my own language for £15 in a country (or rather, two countries) on the other side of the world? It also made me realise how accustomed I've become to living in the society of accountability that we live in in the UK and I'm not certain how good a thing that is.
This and a handful of other very minor mishaps and misunderstandings have made me realise that when travelling, if you make assumptions or have deep rooted expectations from an unknown quantity you run the risk of being disappointed. Furthermore abandoning these presumptions, doesn't have to mean you won't be pleasantly surprised, impressed and happy with what you experience.
I have also learnt the importance of having lots of things you can do to kill time waiting. I didn't waste those four and a half hours; I messed about with the settings on my camera practising night shots (see above), updated our travel diary, wrote a short story about an unlikely friendship between two women and planned out three blog posts. Every cloud...
Frances M. Thompson
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