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Kuala Lumpur to London: An exercise in stupid

UNITED KINGDOM | Monday, 6 July 2009 | Views [827]


I didn't want to leave Kuala Lumpur. I was quite comfortable there. I had almost figured out how Malaysia worked, having spent six weeks there in total. I liked the funny accents. I liked the cheap Indian breakfasts. I liked the fruit. I liked my bizarre adopted Chinese family and their board games. I wanted to play more board games.

So leaving KL was painful. I said goodbye to Shu -- my stoic host of multiple visits, who I hosted in Christchurch and who returned the favour at pretty short notice -- and caught the LRT to Sentral. Then a red bus to the poor person's airport. In contrast to my previous experiences at the low-cost carrier's terminal, it was surprisingly civilized this time. I went straight through. Onto the plane, off the plane in Singapore. Air Asia flies to T1 at Singapore's Changi Airport, and I can half-heartedly swear that it takes longer to walk from the gate than it took to get from KL to Singapore.


I arrived in Singapore at 7pm to catch my flight at 11pm. But even with this impressive buffer of time, I couldn't get a good seat. My flight was with Qantas, and everyone flying through from Australia to London had nabbed the best seats, and I was only able to score one in the middle of a middle row.

I was finally allowed to enter the fabled land of Club Changi -- this land that taunted me and eluded me at the start of this journey -- and to be honest I couldn't find anything particularly cool. I found free internet. I found a chair in front of a TV showing Americans re-designing the bedrooms of strangers. I cried. Cried for exchanging the beloved ringgitt for the pound. Cried for leaving the heat, the food, the strange concerns of a different culture. Cried for the end of a trip that I felt I could have gotten more out of, but which still felt like a really long time with loads of happenings. Whatever. I sobbed in front of the crap American reality TV. Maybe I was crying for that too.

Then I bought the biggest smoothie ever, and went to the loo about three times.


One word: Stupid. Middle seat on middle row = stupid. Movie selection = stupid. Sleeping on a plane = stupid. I invented a new position: Feet on the top of the seat in front, ass over head, pretty much upside down. That was the only way I could successfully doze. It freaked out the lovely Australian man next to me who woke up to see feet next to his telly screen. He was such a nice gentleman. After this 24 hour flight he was going to Sheffield for some sort of factory training. He was going to stay for three days and then fly home again -- another 24 hours on a plane. One can only guess how much factory trivia that man's jetlagged brain will retain.

The flight crew kept passing me over for a cup of tea. Then my video system died. I pressed the call button once and waited five minutes. Then I pressed it again. It kept switching itself off, so I kept pressing it. Press, press, press. There was a slight scowl on the man's face when he arrived to sort me out. Australians, like New Zealanders, don't like moaners.

We landed in London where it was 12 degrees at 5.30am. After the shiny airports in Asia, Terminal 4 looked like some provincial airport in a communist country. The man at immigration gave me a good grilling that went like this:

"How long are you here for?"
"Four months. Well -- my return flight is in four months but I might not spend all my time here."
"That's a long time. How did you get so much time off work?"
"I quit my job. They didn't appreciate me anyway."
"What is it you do?"
"Web design. Some writing."
"How much money do you have?"
"$4000," (I'm lying) "... and two credit cards."
"How much do you have on your credit cards?"
"In total about $16,000 NZD available." (Not lying. Credit card companies are stupid.)
"Where are you going in the UK?"
"To visit my friend who lives in Stirling."
"What's her name?"
"Who's this guy here then?" (Indicating the supplied address on the immigration declaration form.)
"Joe. I'm staying with him in London to sleep off my jetlag."
"How do you know him?"
"Through Couchsurfing.org. He stayed with me at my place last year."

By this point I was the only one at immigration. He called over another immigration officer and asked if she could find a particular stamp, then he began making marks on my passport. I asked him if he was letting me in, and he said he would, but when I left the country I should expect to get grilled again to explain why I was held up here at immigration.

I put on my best harmless smile -- "Do I look especially shifty?"
He didn't smile back. "Well, you're planning to be here for a while. You have no job to go back to. You don't have much money, and you don't have many plans."
"You think I'm here to work illegally?"
"That's what it looks like, but I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt this morning."

I tried to keep the "fuck you, it's 6am and I haven't slept" out of my smile and offered up an oily "thanks, I appreciate that."

My bag was doing solitary laps of the carousel when I emerged. I dug out my leftover ringgitt -- RM50, which would buy me 150 deep fried banana balls or 16 plates of mee goreng or two nights in a hostel -- and changed it for 6 pounds. Enough for a tube ride into the city.

Welcome to London.

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