Day 167: The Kindness Of Strangers pt.2

What a rubbish nights sleep I achieved. I think we may have broken the a/c unit by having it set below 23•C for too long. Every hour on the dot Sarah woke up (which in turn meant I woke up) and each time she old me she was cold. I however, was a lovely temperature. We ended up getting out of bed 5 minutes before the alarm, then proceeded to munch on cereals. Our minibus was scheduled to collect us at 7am, but Sod’s law, he arrived at 6:45am. I shouted to him from the balcony, and he gave us 2 minutes in which time to brush our teeth, pack our bags and get outside. Because the reception was closed I left the key in our door, and the pair of us used the side exit to leave.

When the door to the minibus opened we learned the only free seats were at the back, which were the worst. The bus went around picking up other guests from various hotels, and we ended up having a French couple squeeze in beside us. The bus journey lasted somewhere between 4-5 hours, and we were heading for Hat Yai. Because Sarah and I were cheap we figured we could easily get dropped off at Hat Yai bus station, then catch a bus from there to the border. The first journey itself was horrible. Because of the state of Thailand’s roads (and the fact I wasn’t sat beside a window) I bounced all over the place as I struggled to stay awake. And I found it extremely annoying when the French guy asked me to move over a little bit, he pointed to his chair suggesting I was in his space. For the rest of the journey I did silent battle with him to gain territory, much like everyone does with an armrest in the cinema. Eventually our minibus pulled up at a bus station, but it wasn’t the one we wanted!

We said to the driver that we paid to be taken to the bus station, not the minibus station he dropped us at. Luckily there was a Malaysian man on our bus who was also crossing the border. He spoke very good English, in fact he spoke 7 different languages, and he said he’d help us out. There was a tuktuk waiting beside us, our new friend explained it was free, and would take us to the real bus station. We took his word for it and climbed aboard. Sure enough, some windy streets later, we reached the station. We each bought a ticket and had to wait 40 minutes for it to arrive. While we waited we spoke more with our new friend (at that point we still didn’t know his name) and he spoke of his job and religion. He was a pharmacist, and told us he moved to Thailand because he got paid more there than Malaysia, but each month he did the border crossing to renew his visa. He was a Muslim by faith, but admitted when in Thailand he was a bad Muslim. This is because the rules are a lot more laid back than in Malaysia. So whenever he came to Thailand he’d drink, but back in Malaysia he didn’t touch the stuff.

After chatting for some time, Sarah and I had to make a decision about what we were going to do. Initially we were set on crossing the borders, then heading back to the islands. Where our crazy haired friend Anna was supposed to be meeting us, but because she’d delayed her entrance to Thailand by a couple days it meant our visas would expire at different times. Our new friend told us his girlfriend was picking him up at the border, and they were going to Penang. He then gave us the choice if tagging along. This was good because we could buy an extended Thai visa there if we wanted, or just waste a few days until Anna was ready to meet. We agreed to go with them, then shortly after that our bus arrived. However, it wasn’t a coach like we were hoping. Instead it was another minibus. This time around it had less legroom than the one before. Fortunately the journey was short, as my knees were firmly pressed into the back of the chair in front. An hour later we were dropped off outside the border.

After we received the departure stamps, our new friend got a phone call from his girlfriend to say there was a change of plans. She wouldn’t be able to get to the border in time, as she was still 60km away. When the phone call concluded, he suggested we shared a taxi to meet her halfway at a bus station. Because he spoke 7 languages Thai wasn’t a problem for him, he negotiated with a driver and the three of us climbed aboard. There was a political station on the radio, at least that’s what I presumed it to be. It consisted of one man talking (making lots of points about this that and the other) then either the taxi driver or our new friend sarcastically laughing, and making points of their own. The driver handed over our passports at the Malaysian border, and we gained another 90 day tourist visa. Then we had to go through customs. This was the most lax I had ever seen it, it consisted of one person opening the boot, noticing we had two large holdalls, then closing it again.

Fifteen minutes later we arrived at a desolate bus station. There were a handful of people sat down, and two cats, one of which was attacking the other ones tail. It was here that we learned our new friends name, Shake. I’m sure that’s not the correct spelling, but that’s how it sounded. He was a lot more chatty now that his diazepam and beer had kicked in. He told us the 7 different languages he knew, and it was very impressive; Thai, Malay, English, Ukrainian, Arabic, Cantonese and Mandarin. If ever anyone could make us feel lazy for knowing only one language it was Shake. He told me it took about 10 years to learn them all. Around 10 minutes later he received a phone call from his girlfriend, she was ready for us.

A small white car was parked at the roadside. We made our way over and put one of our bags in the boot. The car itself was a Malaysian model, and was only small from the outside. It was like the Tardis inside, perhaps it was because Shake and his girlfriend were so short, but Sarah and I had plenty of leg room in the back. And we barely even noticed her holdall as we rested it between us. Shake introduced his girlfriend to us, her name was Nadia. For the rest of the journey it was fun to watch them debate over topics. At times I think Shake was acting up in front of us, but it still made us laugh. They differed on political parties, so each time we passed the opposing party’s flag, Shake said they should take them down and burn them. Nadia just shook her head and laughed. Then it came time to play some music. In Malaysia they have a lot more westernised preferences on the radio. In Thailand it is pretty much love songs in Thai. Shake is a big fan of R&B, so he put on a cd containing mostly that genre. It had songs from the likes of Usher, Rihanna, Neo, etc, as well as other non R&B tracks.

I think it must have been a mix tape that Nadia created, because at one point a slower softer acoustic track came on, and for the best part of it Shake complained. He kept asking her “who is this rubbish?” Of course Sarah liked it, luckily she didn’t know the band’s name, otherwise I’d be in the same boat as Shake. While parked at a red light, two fire trucks came up behind us with their sirens on. Because we couldn’t move out of the way our only option was to go through it, much to Shake’s encouragement. When they caught up and overtook us, we were back to being entertained by the kind couple. It turned out they weren’t going directly to Penang, instead they would be visiting Nadia’s family first. They then did the next best thing to help us out, they dropped us at a bus station.

Shake did one last kindness before leaving us, he walked us to the station and spoke with a man in Malay. He explained we needed a bus to Penang, and how at the last bus station there weren’t any available. The man responded by saying we could catch one to Butterworth, and from there we could take the jetty across to Penang. We knew the way from last time, and agreed. Shake and I exchanged numbers, and he said that if we ever got in trouble we could give him a ring. I don’t know if it was his religion, or if he was just a nice guy, but I’d like to thank Shake. He went above and beyond to help us out, even though we had nothing in return to give him. We were then left in the capable hands of the bus ticket salesman. He said it would cost 10 ringgit each, and we’d only have to wait 30 minutes for a bus to show up. Inside the station was a “Mary Browns” fast food joint. We grabbed an odd tasting chicken burger meal and sat down to eat. 10 minutes later, a large golden coach pulled up. We rushed outside to ensure we got a seat, I chucked the bags in the undercarriage while Sarah climbed aboard. I don’t know if it was necessary, I mean we had a ticket and the bus didn’t leave until all the seats were occupied. It appeared to take forever to reach Butterworth. For the whole journey we watched tv shows, and I worked on the blog, when we arrived it was around 6:30pm. We took the jetty across the water and reached Penang within 15 minutes.

Last time we were in Penang we ended up staying in three different hostels. The closest one to the jetty being Cocoa Mews. As we walked there Sarah grew more and more pessimistic about the whole situation. She’d have preferred us to be in Koh Samui chilling in a pool, instead we were in Penang, sweating. The reason I suggested Penang was because there was a hostel that could get you an extended Thai visa. That would save us having to do another visa run, spending another 12 hours on one of those tiny minibuses. Plus we needed an X-ray and health check as a requirement for the Australian visa, and Malaysia was pretty cheap for healthcare. For just £10 we could get a full body check up (according to Shake at least). No matter how much I tried to validate these points to Sarah she kept picking holes. I didn’t realise it would take 6 hours to get where we were. When I spoke with Shake earlier that day, he made it sound like the journey would last an hour and a half – tops. But there we were, and we could do nothing about the situation bar see it through. Two or three streets from the jetty we located Cocoa Mews. We explained to the receptionist that we’d stayed before and he gave us our old room at a reduced price. We only needed the one night, and paid up front. After enquiring about the whole visa and hospital thing it was looking less positive by the minute. We were told the visa would probably cost us 200 ringgit (£40) for a 90 day visa. And the hospital could end up taking a long time before we were seen. It was only open between office hours, and was ran on a first come first serve basis. With some idea of what to expect we headed out the door for the cinema.

On the way we stopped in the Banana Hostel. These guys ran a service that could get you the extended Thai visa. Everything began to look more promising after our visit. It wasn’t as much as we expected, even with the commission they took for the service. It would cost us 140 ringgit for a 60 day visa, which was much better than the 15 days we’d get by returning to Thailand via bus. We were told if we returned early morning with our passports, the money, and two passport photos, they’d send them off and we could expect to have a visa by 3:45pm the same day. The problem was it would be cutting it very fine. They also offered an overnight bus to Koh Samui, but it departed at 4pm. We would have to enquire in the morning if we’d have enough time for both, else we’d be spending another night in Penang. After the promising news we made our way to the mall to enjoy a movie. If nothing else worked out, we would have made the greatest journey just to go to the cinema – talk about commitment.

The film we selected was “The Croods”, it was an animated 3D film about cavemen. We had 30 minutes before it started and we used that time to grab a cheap McDonald’s. It had been a while since the last one and we were due a fix. With our cravings under control we returned to the cinema. Our tickets cost £4 each and an hour and a half later we deemed it money well spent. Because of the time, the mall was closed. Luckily the elevators were still running, and we made it out successfully. We then walked back to our hostel. Cocoa Mews offered an array of DVDs to choose from, apparently the cinema wasn’t enough for us, as I selected another. I put it on in the background while I worked on the blog, and Sarah wrote to her brother. He told her of a registered hospital we could go to for the check ups, and we decided to attempt a visit the next day. Therefor achieving everything we came to Penang for. With a long day finally over, I turned everything off and prepared myself for a day of hard work. I’d need everything to work out so I could wipe the smug look off Sarah’s face, and prove I didn’t mess up by bringing us here. “Boy done good”, would be the case!

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