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Musings from SWMBO:

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If you are of a certain age (as I am) and you love train travel (as I do), then may I recommend travelling by train in Malaysia as a way to go back in time to when you were in your early 20s and backpacking around, hopping on and off trains willy-nilly.

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I had that wonderful experience when we had a sudden and unexpected change of plans and found ourselves on a KTM Malaysia train from Johor Bahru (JB) to Gemas.  We purchased first class tickets for the four hour ride and it came to a total of $75 Cdn which seemed really reasonable for 7 people to travel first class for that distance.  Normally we wouldn’t travel first class but since I still had a fever we decided to splurge and travel in comfort and air conditioning.

The train car was old and comfortable and the seats were covered in tatty chintz.  The seats were wide with foot rests and the aisle was also spacious.  There were two seats on one side of the aisle and one on the other.  All in all, a very retro train car.

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As the train was moving, it made that lovely clickety-clack sound that old trains on old tracks make.  Never having been to Malaysia before, I felt like I was embarking on new adventures just like in my old backpacking days when destinations just popped up out of the blue and the images seen through the windows offered a fleeting glimpse of somewhere you weren’t going but somewhere you could venture if you decided on a whim to jump off at the next station.

Seen from the train

Seen from the train

Sitting in the seat watching Malaysia go by was special but the real time travel experience happened at the end of the car where the toilet, door to embark and passage to the next car were located.

The door to get on and off the train had a sign on it advising that the door had to be kept shut while the train was moving.  But it would just randomly open and swing until someone closed it.  So going to the bathroom meant making sure the door was closed (or closing it) so that you didn’t fly out of the train.

The toilet was really old school with the toilet bowl emptying directly onto the track (please don’t flush when the train is in the station!).  All very Italy 1990.  But unlike Italy, and something I had never seen, was a hose with a spray nozzle next to the toilet.

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Unfortunately, the end of a train car is very bumpy so the washroom was perpetually soaked from top to bottom as people tried to spray water into the toilet with the hose.  Either that, or the attendant was purposely spraying the washroom to clean it and to make sure the seat was clean.

The piece de resistance was the juncture point between two cars.  The doors at the end of the cars were kept open to facilitate movement between cars.  There were two metal plates overlapping on which to step to move from one car to another.  But beside the metal plates were gaps where you could be thrown under the train.  This was not so likely if you were going from car to car and walking in the middle of the metal plates.

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If however, you were making constant journeys to the end of the car to stand in front of the bathroom door so whichever of your kids was in the bathroom didn’t have to touch all the wet walls to lock the door (quite a complicated locking device), then there was a real danger of being hurled two feet over and presto changeo – one less passenger.

Fahbio told me that 40 years ago in Canada, the trains were similar and in winter the ends of the cars would be full of snow and ice.

Which brings me to an observation.  Why do travellers travel?  I always thought it was to learn, explore, connect with people and discover what is important to you.  And that is all true.  But now I add to that that we also travel for that fleeting sense of deja vu or flashback to a trip or experience from long ago.  Once in a very, very, very long while when I go somewhere, I smell my grandmother’s pantry in Austria and I am transported to summers with my Oma.

In this age of connectivity with the ability to manipulate all experiences and instantly look anything up on the internet, it is this time travelling aspect of travel that remains something that we can’t have “on demand”.

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PS – For those who know us personally, if you are interested, Firstborn has been posting photos on her instagram.  If you wish to check it out her username is her first name.