3rd February 2019
As we approached Kuala Lumpur and we had crossed so many borders and had travelled over 35,000 kilometres, I found myself becoming quite emotional. At the beginning of our trip, overlanding the Silk Road across mountain landscapes and deserts through the Stans and then China, I thought quite a bit about my Dad, John Ennals. He was hugely well travelled but in spite of a yearning, he had never managed overlanding, although he had fantasised about it a bit. His last big trip before he passed away, was to Beijing from London by train across similar territory.
In his memory I had mounted a WFUNA badge on the front of the car so that he was with us in spirit.
But this part of the trip is more for me, about my Australian mother, Judith Wilson, daughter of Australian parents, Dr E Kent-Hughes (Nell) and Garde Wilson.
My mother had lived in the UK for most of her adult life, but after she retired she took herself back to Australia regularly to visit friends and family, always stopping in Kuala Lumpur to visit her brother David and family. Now we are taking in Kuala Lumpur and some of David’s family on our way to meet many more Australian cousins across the pond.
So Seri, Ghani (below) and family were the first of the Cousins and I imagined my Mum in their lounge, sipping an unlikely glass of whiskey with her brother, in this thoroughly Muslim household.
I did wonder what she would have thought of our crazy pilgrimage? I think she would have been truely chuffed, if not rather amazed. I thank her for her legacy and the many related offers of accommodation in Kuala Lumpur, Australia and New Zealand.
For the first time on our trip, Maps Me struggled to lead us to Ghani and Seri, whose home was nestled in next to green open spaces and a lake in a very pleasant part of town. We had negotiated the many motorways, inner boxes and ring roads across Kuala Lumpur, but their locality completely stumped us - and MapsMe!
Eventually we were brought in to land by the family communicating collectively with us on group Messenger. This is the modern world!
On the horizons rose the many modern skyscrapers which comprised Kuala Lumpur, including the iconic Petronus towers which are visible from many different locations.
To say that the city is one large building site, would be unfair, but what is true is that many older zones and villages are being cleared to accommodate more corporate buildings and luxury accommodation.
Seri told us that so many buildings were going up, that she struggled now to navigate in the car to places she thought she once knew.
Seri and Ghani keep the family close and Sarah, a Lawyer and a University Associate Professor, her husband and pre-University aged children lived nearby, as did Farah, daughter number two, a keen writer and snow boarder, plus young Nadira, their youngest grandchild a budding artist, who lives partly with them and partly with her Dad, also close by.
They put us up in one of the family properties and we were fed and watered and looked after in every possible way for the duration of our stay. We had a bit of an insight into their family life which revolved around prayer, the local mosque, charitable works and daily family meals together. This all sounds very traditional, but don’t get me wrong, this was a thoroughly modern family, just very tight knit.
Ghani, although substantially retired still had irons in the fire in the heart of government and although retired from the airforce was still a Trustee of the airforce pension fund, with all the responsibilities that brings.
When not on away days or attending to business, he trains for runs or bike rides and is scarily fit! Seri is busy organising family life, attending business functions with Ghani, but also volunteers for her charities and the mosque whose call can be heard from the living room. Around all this, we were slotted in with oodles of charm and goodwill.
Whilst they went about their daily lives we spent our time during the day between Landy chores and sight seeing. To be fair, Jim did most of the sight seeing and I did most of the Landy chores!
Jim went to see the National Gallery which was a fine building with great modern Malaysian art.
He also visited the old colonial centre including the High Court, the cricket club, the Anglican Cathedral and the old mosque (which seemed to be the essential buildings in most British towns we visited in South East Asia).
Finally he visited Kuala Lumpur Civic Centre with a fine building by Foster Associates.
On one day out together, nestled amongst the skyscrapers and building works we found a heritage building, representative of a bygone era. Amazingly few of these buildings remain and whilst they are pretty demountable, land is so expensive that finding a permanent home for it has proved difficult.
Another joint outing included a visit to the very modern National Islamic Art Museum and its posh cafe, which had a section devoted to models of great mosques of the world. Jim delighted in spotting that he had visited most of them! My favourite space were all the costumes and materials and some of the hilts of beautiful swords and daggers!
Another visiting family that intrigued me, the mother, who was tall and large, had on a very full-on bright flowery long islamic dress and even her young daughters were totally enveloped in these distinctive outfits. I dont think it was an over garment, but rather an actual dress, but I may be mistaken. The husband by contrast had a white patterned or embroidered long shirt, black ample trousers and a white hat. I wondered where they came from? Not anywhere we had visited to date.
One evening Sarah and the family agreed to come out with us for a meal.
They took us to one of the remaining villages which had not yet been demolished. Here rentals or leases were handed down in families. Many of these villages and their small wooden houses had now been bulldozed and replaced by the encroaching skyscrapers. Money talks and there is little hope of the village lifestyle and commercial way of life around small businesses remaining. The big boys are moving in!
The house above is privately owned and is over 150 years old. It’s future in that location looks shortlived.
Back to the car, my chief concern was that Australian customs might not love Landy as much as I do. She is 26 years old and although a very fine specimen of a landcruiser, she does have dirt in the most inaccessible places, the door seals, under mats that have seen better days, beneath bash plates, under the bonnet, around the radiator fan belt gubbins! This wont go down well in Australia which frets about inadvertantly importing unwanted bio hazards, germs, seeds and insects.
My task of cleaning Landy was not helped by the resident monkey hopping around on the carport. It had decided that Landy was a laugh. Each morning the monkey leapt on the car and turned the wing mirrors over and then spent time preening in the mirror glass.
One morning I got more help than I bargained for. I decided to change one of the rear bulbs and laid the screw driver in readiness on the back bench seat.
I popped off to hang out some laundry and when I came back, the screwdriver was nowhere to be seen. Those who know me would not be surprised to learn that I had mislaid the screwdriver and therefore I looked in all the places where I was sure I had not been.
Imagine the situation. By now the sun was up and although the car was covered in a car port, I was getting a bit hot and bothered.
All of a sudden there was a sort of bouncing thump above my head. I looked up and saw the monkey waving my screwdriver at me!
Before I had time to do anything, it met my eyes and decided to leap over the fence to next door. The leap meant he had to let go of the screwdriver to grasp the railings and it dropped, thankfully at my feet.
The family had told us that we might see a monkey in the garden, but also other creatures such as snakes, monitor lizards and a large wild civit cat which clambered nightly and noisily across the front of their house next door.
On the cleaning front, I spent two or three days doing everything I could reach but getting the car up to scratch was going to be a job for the professionals. Jim sensing my increasing agitation on the subject decided to look for car washers which might be up to the job.
The first ones’ only merit, was that it was near by. These guys had a hose and water, but not a huge amount of pressure. They did clean the engine cavity and the wheel arches. After several hours of cleaning, my hands could still find muddy deposits under rims and wheel arches. We eventually called it a day and agreed to redouble our efforts elsewhere, the next day.
The next day Jim thought he had found just the ticket. This one had a yard full of posh cars including a Bentley, a Ferrari and a Maserati.
Surely they must know a thing or two about cleaning them? They were enthusiastic and judging from the quoted price, a lot of cleaning was going to be done. At least the underside would get a good going over perhaps underneath the bash plates. Landy stuck out like a sore thumb but if she could pay, she was as good as the next one!
The day after when we returned to collect the car, we were greeted by the team and the work was supposed to have been completed. The boss got out his phone and on it, he had pictures of Jim, myself and Landy in a garage in Iran. This was so confusing. These were photos I had not seen.
He then explained that he had seen a car sticker in our windscreen of his cousins’ garage in Iran. He told Mohammed in Iran that we had turned up in Kuala Lumpur and Mohammed explained that we had been to him for our gearbox replacement. He sent over a few photographs to Kuala Lumpur. Coincidence or what? I know, you just think we have been to too many garages. And you might be right!
We wanted our pound of flesh for the money and many corners we had specifically asked them to deal with would not pass muster. So a few more hours was spent in the garage whilst boys wiped and polished away.
I am very grateful to the garage at least for the images we were able to take away, if not their car cleaning!
Back at home with Ghani and Seri, after a few days, I thought we had got the bodywork clean enough, I would look out from our window in the guest bungalow to admire the car and then see tiny hand prints all over the windscreen and bonnet. It was hard to be grumpy about this as our personal monkey was so endearing!
One of the Kuala Lumpur treats was a visit to one of Ghani’s golf clubs for dinner. It had been founded in around 1893, by the British but was now very much the province of local movers and shakers.
It was hard to imagine that such open spaces and extensive facilities still existed in such a modern city. We were astounded not only by the beautiful greens, but were confronted by an Olympic sized open air swimming pool, immaculately cared for.
We had not gone many paces before our charming host encountered old friends and aquaintances. A former Admiral and retirees dabbling in property development having retired from the law. The family dinner that night was at the Royal Selangor golf club and I could not believe the city views all around us over the tops of the trees.
Jim and I were thinking where on earth could we take them all in London to match this? It might just have to be a roast at 77 Old Woolwich Road and a walk around Greenwich Park through the Royal Naval college.
You might think that enough has been said on the subject of car washes, but no. Our final destination before crossing from Malaysia into Singapore was Johor, some 300 kilometres and quite a bit of road dust from Kuala Lumpur. I decided that the final clean needed to include a proper polish, so that the powers that be would think they were looking at a clean car before they got too close!
The first carwash was expensive, the second car wash much worse and the final car wash cost an eye watering amount. I pitched up at 4pm and was told that the car needed a team of cleaners for about six hours! These guys knew what clean looked like and there were gleaming cars on the forecourt. I knew that I was going to be in for a long night but in the morning we crossed the border and this was our last chance.
I should just mention that already on this particular day, because Jim was sick, I had had to go alone by public transport across to Singapore from Malaysia and purchase Singapore Car Insurance and a circulation permit to allow us to drive some 30 kilometres from Malaysia across Singapore to the docks,3 where Landy would be parcelled up and packed into a container going to Brisbane just a few days from now.
This journey without the car, was not straight forward. The Johor Singapore border post itself was mysteriously hidden up escalators in a complicated bus garage/transport hub. The map below was not much help!
My Malaysian taxi driver managed to drive the wrong way down a one way street and crash a red light and get a police ticket all in the space of 5 minutes! So I was already frazzled when I found it.
It was all the usual stuff. Buses needing Singapore dollars and my only having Malaysian Ringets. I had forgotten to download my Singapore Maps to help find the Insurance office and had no data sim in Singapore. So I had to be very methodical and patient and deal with all these things alone and the first three taxis that did not want to take me!
It did feel strange knowing that Jim was asleep, with flu, in a hotel in Malaysia whilst I was looking for ATMs, SIM cards and taxis in neighbouring unfamiliar Singapore. Needless to say dear readers, I managed to spend a lot of money, get the car papers and get back to Malaysia by 4pm and yes, still have time for the final car wash!
So this final team were fanatics. They dismantled everything. The roof box and spare wheel taken off, the four sand tracks removed and a lot of dirt was still falling off that car! For the first time, after many hours had passed and I had been given great coffee, oranges and noodle dinner, did I really feel we were getting somewhere. I am proud to say that thanks to this team we had a substantially gleamclean car. It had been a veey long day and I was very happy to crawl into bed.
For the sake of dignity, I will gloss over the detail of crossing the border the next day from Malaysia into Thailand with a very sick Jim huddled and sweating next to me.
Two days of sleeping in Johor had not been enough to shake off his flu and now, after dropping Landy off at the docks, Jim was going to continue his recovery on the 12th floor of an out of town social housing block in the Singapore suburbs, without air conditioning and him still with a high temperature.
Given that he must have been delirious when he booked this, I should have paid more attention to his choice! He did say it had the merit of being cheap. I could not disagree with that.
I am writing this blog however, after we have abandonned the 12th floor out of town suburb with it’s smelly cat and stifling room and we are now more comfortably positionned in an area of Singapore called Little India in the most expensive room, with a/c and a window, of about the cheapest hotel in town. Here we will stay while Jim recovers and we finish this leg of the journey.