I’m starting to feel like airports and the experience of being in transit is home to me. There’s something almost comforting about knowing I am heading off on another adventure into the unknown with this little piece of the familiar to take me from being a local to foreigner. With my bike packed in a box and my old $3.50 black bag filled with my camping kit and clothes, I line up at Air Asia’s check in counter at the Gold Coast Airport. I don’t usually wait here because I like to check in online and just walk straight through to baggage drop (or the gate if I have no checked baggage). But today my booking is to Tokyo but I am leaving the flight in Kuala Lumpur so I’ve not checked in online so that I can ensure there is no mix up with my bike and kit. I don’t want them to be unclaimed in Tokyo while I’m enjoying my time in Malaysia.
For me, there’s only one airline to fly in Asia and that’s the aptly named Air Asia. Their fares are ridiculously cheap, their customer service is excellent and they serve food that actually tastes good. I spend my hour in the gate lounge with my phone plugged into one of the three available power points watching YouTube videos because I still have a gig of data that I can use on my phone before I depart. Besides, it passes the time and I didn’t get much sleep last night because I went to bed late and have an early flight.
As the plane lines up on the runway I feel the usual fear build in my stomach. I hate the take off portion of every flight. I have to admit that I am afraid the ascent won’t go well and that the plane will plummet to earth. It takes a lot of effort for me to relax: I tell myself there are 850,000 people in the air right now and there are relatively few fatalities, I remind myself about what each sound of the aircraft means (wheels being retracted, engines roaring to punch through the ascent and then, the worst sound, engines slowing as plane reaches cruising altitude). All I want is to see the seat belt sign turn off so that I can relax, pull out my laptop and watch some movies.
As I wait to use the bathroom a boy about twelve years old is bouncing around and pulling faces. I ask whether he needs to use the bathroom urgently and, if so, that he can go before me. He tells me he is afraid. I tell him that he doesn’t have to feel silly for that because I get a anxious about flying too. I tell him about how there are almost a million people flying every minute of every day and that there are very few bad news stories about flying. He agrees and smiles. “Boredom is the worst part about long flights mate” I say. “I hope you have a laptop with some movies”. He smiles and says that his family hired the movie tablet from the airline. I see the boy again later in the flight and he looks much more relaxed. I know how he feels and that his feelings are real. I also know that it’s important to push past those feelings so that they do not get in the way of future adventures.
A lady sitting next to me is anxious too. She’s off to India for an operation to relieve pain caused by a spinal injury. The surgery was going to set her back over $25,000 at home but the total cost of traveling to India and having surgery is less than $10,000. She’s been in pain for a long time and is looking forward to relief. She’s angry with her health system for refusing to help her or take her pain seriously. She’s been told she has chronic pain syndrome and prescribed opiates. In India she was able to obtain a second opinion and based on new scans. She is given a new diagnosis; a disc is misaligned and putting pressure on some nerves. The doctors in her home country agree but refuse to undo the original diagnosis. So she is off to a “space age” hospital on the subcontinent. She is anxious about clearing customs in Malaysia carrying her strong prescription medication so is relieved when I explain that she can go straight to the international transit counter without clearing customs because her luggage has been checked through. I hope her surgery goes well and that she is soon pain free.
The flight passes quickly. There’s all this social activity going on and every time I hit play on my movie I fall asleep. We are soon flying above the palm tree oil plantations of Peninsular Malaysia and descending into KLIA2 where I have to wait over an hour for my bicycle to appear on the oversized baggage belt.
I have organised a driver from the hotel to pick me up. After storing my bike at the left luggage counter I follow the driver to his car. As soon as we exit the carpark I notice that the rainy season certainly is upon Malaysia. It’s bucketing down and visibility is seriously impaired. There are deep water puddles all over the roads and lightning crashes outside the car. But it doesn’t last long. The drive is only about ten minutes and by the time we arrive at the hotel the rain has eased to a drizzle and the lightning is gone.
My hotel, the EV World Hotel at Enstek is delightful. The owner is a Chinese Malay guy who is keen to please his guests. There’s a communal kitchen where tea, coffee, hot chocolate and biscuits are available 24 hours a day. The room is clean and quiet with a Western bathroom and plenty of hot water. Cute motivational signs abound in a tasteful way. The hotel is situated in a commercial complex with half a dozen restaurants, a Pizza Hut and KFC, small supermarket and 24 hour 7-Eleven.
I settle on a Malaysian restaurant for mee goreng (fried noodle) and sate ayam (satay chicken sticks). The flavours are robust and delicious. The total price is just RM7.20 ($AU2.55). I think that I’m going to like the food situation here in Malaysia. Cheap and delicious all at once.