More than a month ago I went on a solo trip to Malacca with SG being the jump off point: a rash decision made around 6PM, after learning that the last bus (with available tickets) would depart exactly an hour after. Off from a cozy hostel at China Town, I took the green line to Bugis and jogged to Jalan Sultan carrying a change of clothes and my toiletry bag.
This is the story as promised.
Ephraim. Maybe I was looking at the map upside down. This guy just approached me and asked if I’m lost. It was around quarter to 7 and I still could not locate a bus terminal that was supposedly just along Beach Road. The place I was looking for is called Keypoint Center—apparently, not a terminal but just a commercial building that housed a few establishments and a series of ticketing offices.
This was my first taste of real kindness. Ephraim took my crumpled little post-it that had the name and contact number of the bus company, brisk walked with me going to the arcade until we found the office. When I finally got to sit down the coach, ticket secured and all, he went up the bus, gave his business card, and said I could call if I needed help.
Dominic. Four, maybe five hours into the trip around 11:30PM, I started having all sorts of crazy ideas. Traveling alone makes you feel smart, strong, extremely independent, and vulnerable all at the same time. I thought of these things (not in any particular order) with music from the Arctic Monkeys at the background:
- Maybe I skipped the Malacca terminal already because the Internet said travel time is only three hours. (Yes, I still fell asleep on the bus. I can’t help it.)
- Will I survive the night without a proper hotel reservation and absolutely no Malaysian currency? (Yes, I did not have a chance to change my dollars to ringgit)
- My iPhone is dying. My iPod is dying. I think, I’m gonna die. My parents will kill me if I die tonight.
- Maybe I’m headed to some obscure island, where all the bus passengers are meant to kill each other, until only one is left. Battle Royale, baby.
- Jesus, where the hell am I.
Finally, I asked this guy across my seat if we were anywhere near. Dominic is a 23-year old Malaysian who works at SG as a mechanic. Our initial conversation went for about 10 minutes, with him mostly asking why I am traveling alone at an ungodly hour, in a foreign country, with no money, at such a bad time when it’s hard to get return tickets. I think he was appalled by my severe lack of foresight and planning capability. Maybe he was thinking: Oh this Filipina idiot.
Then the most outrageous thing happened. He offered his house (he lives with his mom and his little sister) and I accepted.
So he called his mother and said he’s bringing a female guest home. Poor tita might have assumed that I am her worst fear brought to life (because, really, I never mentioned anything about being a lesbian and therefore being completely harmless at least for his little boy). Nic and I were careful not to further shock his family so we made up a story: I’ve been working in Singapore for about three years and we only know each other because we smoke in the same area in an apartment complex at Ang Mo Kio. Neighbors. Done. The story of course has its flaws. This is the only time that a language barrier proved helpful.
The same night, they invited me to watch his little sister’s gig; she sings in a local bar. It was so fun hanging out with the family, especially because they all drink and smoke. After that, they drove me around the UNESCO village. I saw the Church of Melaka at 3 in the morning, a bit drunk (with beer and excitement), and with a very strange but pleasant company. The following day, they drove me to Pahlawan (a mall, where they said I could change my money) and said our goodbyes.
Peggy. What I failed to mention earlier is that there was some sort of holiday and a lot of Malaysians were going to Singapore on the day of my journey back. I didn’t buy a return ticket at Keypoint because the attendant said that I could get one at half the price in Malacca (the going rate is 25 SGD if I buy from them, but in Malaysia it’s 25 Ringgit or about half the price).
The SG tickets were all sold out when I got to the terminal. Unfortunately, I couldn’t wait another 24-hours because my flight back to Manila is scheduled the following day.
At the pay lounge, I asked the woman manning the counter if there was another terminal I could go to and she said yes, sure, but it’s all the way up to Kuala Lumpur. Major set-back. I already had a shitload of ringgit that time but there is no way I could buy time. So off I went to the exit, slightly panicking and thinking of possible workarounds (like taking a KL-MNL flight and asking the hostel to just ship my things back home).
Until this elderly woman named Peggy came to me and asked if I needed help. She took me around the terminal, one counter after another and found one bus line that still sold tickets for a 5PM departure.
* * *
I still wore a grin upon landing in Manila and my dad was quick enough to notice that as we drove home. But I could never tell him why. Whatever happened in that trip was unbelievable. And unbelievable is sad, sad understatement. I couldn’t grasp the fact that there are people out there who are as good as the ones I’ve met. No agenda, just there to help.
It might have been sheer luck or a message from the universe. Nobody fucking knows. Maybe I looked starved and therefore in need of extra compassion. Again, I don’t fucking know. But once in a while, good things come to those who are not used to kindness. And don’t deserve it just as much.