It’s a little astonishing. Well, I think so, anyway.
In nearly 13,500km, and heading into country number twelve, yesterday was the first time that the Beast and I got stamped through an international border together. Thanks to the EU’s lack of internal borders, the ferry crossing between Canada and the US, and arriving almost everywhere else by plane, it just hadn’t happened before. It certainly won’t be the last time, mind you.
It wasn’t especially traumatic, despite the immigration officials on both sides of the causeway between Singapore and Malaysia struggling to peer through the sunscreen melting all over my chops. Thirty seconds at each end, and I was through.
In fact , it hasn’t been an especially traumatic few days.
After the slightly chaotic rush of nearly a month on the road in Indonesia, Singapore had a vaguely surreal and calm feeling about it. It’s always reassuring to find a true mark of civilisation like a cricket club. And I’ve been to Singapore before, so was prepared for the diversity, the prices, the smooth, orderly way of life, and the equally smooth roads. The relative tranquillity was nice, for a day or two.
I had a wander around their giant sport park on Tuesday, which reminded me of a (slightly) smaller version of the Olympic Park in London. An aquatic centre, kayaking area, and recreational cyclists whizzing around. A bunch of fit-looking people in tracksuits, and serious-looking expats studying tablets (presumably coaches). And an enormous stadium with a domed, retractable roof. Which some poor council employees were either finishing off, maintaining, or repairing. Rather them than me, I think:
On the way out of town yesterday (Wednesday), I rode through the concrete-and-glass canyons of Singapore city centre. There seemed to be a few more towers there than last time I was in town, but the biggest noticeable change was that the Marina Bay complex now dominates the shoreline in front of the city (it was still being built the last time I was there).
Whatever you think about the architecture (the bit lying across the top is supposed to look like a boat – but with trees on it, apparently), it’s now an instantly-recognisable symbol of Singapore, and just as massive and deliberately impressive as those monuments in central Jakarta.
Anyway, I’m not at my most comfortable in big cities (especially when riding a bike), and a country which is basically nothing but city is a little too claustrophobic for me. It was time to get moving. Through the seemingly endless tower blocks, across the causeway, and into Malaysia.
I’ve been taking the riding easy for the last couple of days. Easing back into oppressive heat and humidity seemed sensible (it’s nearly 10C hotter here than in Indonesia, and nearly as sticky as Queensland). So it’s tricky to grab together a sensible set of first impressions of Malaysia; I haven’t really seen enough or covered enough ground yet.
It feels richer than Indonesia (most people are in cars, rather than on scooters, for example), but the prices are only marginally higher. Which is good. The main roads are generally well surfaced, and the driving seems pretty reasonable. Which is also good. It’s hot, and there’s been a nagging headwind. Which is bad, but might change (probably to storms, knowing my luck so far).
The locals are quite a mixed bunch ethnically (mainly Chinese and sub-continental) and religiously (it’s another secular Muslim country which has been busy celebrating Chinese New Year). And they seem friendly and laid-back so far. I’d heard that Malaysians were quite reserved compared to others in South East Asia, but I’ve had several long-ish conversations already, and if ‘reserved’ means ‘prone to having a chat without pestering you for a photo because you’re foreign’, then I’m pretty happy.
I’m heading up the west coast of the peninsular all the way to the Thai border. I should get to the seaside tomorrow (Friday), all being well. The border is probably a fortnight or so away. And the Beast and I now have a little frontier-crossing practice under our belts to stand us in good stead for it.