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My Malaysian Affair - Chapter 2
First Impressions of a Muslim Country
Being a not so wealthy student, I decided to take my bus up to Alor Setar from Johor Bahru, rather than directly from Singapore, which would effectively save me half the bus fare. So with over forty kilograms of luggage in three bags, I struggled across to Malaysia on the Singapore-Johor Bahru express bus. Malaysia customs officers were the first people I encountered in Malaysia, and the two men who searched my bags were very friendly, and welcomed me to Malaysia with the words "Selamat datang ke Malaysia". I replied with "Terima kasih", two of the very few Malay words I knew at the time.
My hosts in Johor Bahru (JB) were very hospitable, as I came to expect from the friendly Malaysian people. I did not get to see much of JB, because it was so spread out and I was rushed for time. I was however very pleased to have visited the Sultan Abu Bakar Masjid, which has an unusual yet magnificent design. The masjid is close to the border of Malaysia, and in fact you can see Singapore if you look out from the rear of the masjid.
My next stop was Kedah Darul Aman, and I took my first ride on a bus in Malaysia. It was a night bus, and nothing prepared me for what was to come that night. The air conditioning was extremely cold, and I was only wearing light clothing. I had no blanket, and eventually used a very light towel to cover myself in the freezing bus. In the words of another traveller, air conditioners in Malaysian buses only have two settings - cold, and suspended animation.
The driving of the bus driver was also something I was not used to, and the amount of overtaking on blind corners and speeding shocked me. Falling asleep definitely helped with the stress levels.
After arriving in Kedah, I was able to take a look around in the heart of Malaysia (Kedah is Malaysias oldest state). The people were friendly as I had expected, and it was easy to establish new friends and contacts. Alor Setar and Sungai Petani were pleasant, walking around these cities it was again very nice to see so many Muslim men and women dressed so distinctively. Malaysia of course has a larger proportion of Muslims than Singapore.
From Kedah I was able to go to Kelantan Darul Naim, and stay with hosts in the city of Kota Bahru (KB). Originally, I had just wanted to go to Kelantan, for one reason. I was intrigued by a report in the Otago Daily Times stating that in Kelantan, there were separate queues at the supermarkets for men and women. And so when I arrived in KB one evening in December, I convinced my hosts to take me to the nearest supermarket. In fact several existed in close proximity in the city centre, and I enjoyed walking through them and observing the queues. However, I soon discovered that there is so much more to this special city than just supermarkets.