The Life and Times of Bruce Bramson


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Map 3h HatYai

The arrow points to Haadyai

Friday, 18 October , Continued

This morning I arose early & was on the road by 7:30. It is only a short drive to Sadao, last town in Thailand on this route, where exit formalities took about 20 minutes. Rain began just as I crossed the border, and when I reached the first Malaysian Immigration station, it was pouring. But while in process there, the rain slowed and before long stopped altogether. The border and motorcycle formalities were the simplest I’ve encountered yet, though for obscure reasons they gave me only a 15-day pass which I shall have to have extended later (Thailand did the same). I then motored slowly the rather short distance to Alor Setar. Here  I encountered a small problem—not yet entirely solved; it is Indian New Year Holidays and all the banks (& most businesses) are closed. Hence I cannot cash a travelers check. The hotel broke a little cash for me so I can go and eat, but it appears the banks are closed until the 23rd, which is Wednesday next, & I had not planned—& still don’t—to stay here that long. I would like to drive up to Perlis & visit Lankawi Island, but unless I can find someone to cash a check tonight, I shall have to skip that and go direct to Butterworth or Georgetown (Penang). Maybe I’ll come back later—I’m not sure.
Map 3i Alor Setar

The arrow points to Alor Setar

BACKSTORY: Years later, describing my trip to someone, they asked if I had encountered any “insurgents” on this route. He gave me to believe there had been a “good deal of unrest” along the Thai-Malaysia border at the time. But I had not seen a soul anywhere until I reached the border station. This was no surprise: it was pouring rain the whole way and clearly the “insurgents” had the better sense to stay out of it!

It is amazing how rapidly the countryside and people change character at the borders of these countries. Malaysia is much more multi-racial than Thailand, with 4 Million Malays, 3 Million Chinese & 1 Million Indians (West Malaysia only). All enjoy—obviously—a much higher standard of living than I’ve yet seen—the highest, actually, of all SE Asia. The American influence, still so readily seen in Haadyai, is absent, though the British influence is more apparent here.  And—happily—there are still some steam trains running. The local yard engine is an English 1949 job with rotary valves—the first I’ve ever seen—and 3 cylinders.
Time out for dinner—”assorted meats and vegetable soup” that certainly was assorted, and a huge platter of sweet/sour pork, best I’ve ever eaten—all selected from a menu of 144 items, plus excellent local coffee. Followed by a much-needed stroll around town. The movie “The Right to be Born” is showing here, as it was in many places in Thailand. There, it was sort of a big joke, since the Thais view the subject rather differently than we do; I don’t know what the reception here is, but there seems to be a big crowd.

I’ve been having a bit of a disturbance of the lower bowel for several days, with symptoms distressingly similar to those of appendicitis—tending to be aggravated by riding.  Apparently it is a case of worms—almost impossible to avoid in the Orient; one must eat some fresh vegetables! Fortunately I was prepared for this eventuality long ago and have with me—and am now taking—a course of Pulvex capsules; the situation has improved already.

I was taking pills for worms, but not “Pulvex capsules”—those are for dogs! No one rose to the bait, though.

Looking at the map (I got a Mobil one this time) I rather imagine I will slowly wend my way southward from Penang more or less along the coast, turning inland about 1/2 way along to Kota Kubu Baharo: weather permitting, I’ll then go farther inland to Kuala Lipis, which (natch!) is on the eastern branch of the railway. It looks like the trip from there north again to Kota Bahuru ought to be well worth taking, though surely it will take 2 or 3 days. It will doubtless be quite wet—the rainy season on the east coast is now beginning (as I found out today) while the wettest (though not necessarily rainy) season on the west coast is already well along. But the rail route I’ve mentioned goes through mountains exceeding 5000 feet, and largely wilderness-jungle lands.

The hiway system in Malaysia is extensive and good—already much better than Thailand. Good old “Straits Tin” has made this country quite wealthy. So I shall not have to retrace all my way back to the coast & go on to K. Lumpur. Distances are not great here—I’m only about 490 miles from Singapore. Malaya uses miles instead of km—so now my speedometer/odometer are a little more useful!

One reads about the “hot, steamy orient” so much that I was not prepared for the wonderful weather. It is true most of this trip has been through the cooler part of the year. Actually, though, since I left the US in January I’ve never been too hot—and I was in VN through the hottest season there. Nowhere have I experienced the sort of stifling, humid heat that one can get in the US eastern seaboard any summer day—that oppressing sticky sort of heat from which there seems to be no escape! As I’ve so frequently mentioned, the rain is no problem either. I figured out today it is better to put on my cloth coat (forward) first, then the plastic one (backwards). The cloth coat gets wet—then cold (from evaporation & wind) if worn on the outside, whereas if worn inside it keeps me warm while the plastic keeps me more dry. I must speak well for “hush-puppies” shoes, though; the pair I bought in Saigon for $7.00 is still holding up despite countless thorough soakings. I’ve only the one pair of shoes—and a pair of “thongs” to change into when I check into hotels & dry out.

Well, have to rinse out a couple of shirts & get to bed. Located a place that may be able to cash my tc for me tomorrow: if so, off to Lankawi; if not, Penang.

Saturday, 19 October 1968

There being no money-changing facilities open in Alor Setar this morning, I set out about 9 for Penang—it’s only 60 miles. Though overcast, the day was warm and pleasant, and the drive very nice—first through rice fields then acres and acres of rubber plantations. Traffic is moderate; though the Malaysians drive no less erratically than other orientals, happily they drive more slowly! Arrived Butterworth shortly after 11, found a bank at once and got some Malaysian dollars. Then on to the ferry to Penang: one of the advantages of a motorcycle is that I (& others) passed a line-up of cars nearly 2 miles long waiting to go aboard—bikes and cycles go first, so I was in the very next boat out! It was raining slightly in Georgetown—not enuf to warrant a coat even—and that stopped soon enuf. I scouted around and found a hotel, dropped my luggage & set out (after a “lunch” of apples & such at a stand) for a quick turn around the island. This drive (about 45 miles) has got to rank as among the world’s most beautiful: the views & surroundings are gorgeous, and the road is a delight, reminiscent in places of the road up Mt. Hamilton [in California], and surely as many turns or more! By turns one goes through rice fields, rubber plantations, and in the mountainous parts (most of the island) tea and nutmeg gardens; from the higher vantage points lovely views of the sea & surrounding islands; and on the northern shore some very lovely beaches. I’ve booked 6 days here—will poke around in Butterworth at least one day—and may stay longer. I’m pleassed to report that I find most of the people more pleasant than the Thais. I get friendly waves & greetings here and there, which never happened in Thailand. Of course, nearly everybody speaks at least some english. There are many australians here: just north of Butterworth is a large RAAF base. Penang—I should say Georgetown— is a quaint place, some of it a bit madern & some old—literally miles of little shops selling every imaginable (& some not so imaginable!) thing, stuff from all over the world. Prices I haven’t checked out yet too much, but they appear reasonable & are said to be lower than anywhere except Singapore.

On the Ferry to Penang

There is a bridge there now: ferry to Penang

Monday is a holiday—the Indian New Year again. Imagine! I always thought the Gregorian or Julian or whatever calendar we use is pretty universal—but not so: in Thailand it was 2511 if you were Buddhist and 3515 if you were chinese. Many of the (Thai) Buddhist Temples have the year worked into the pattern on the roof—which means they must rearrange the tiles somewhat each year. I haven’t found out yet what new year the indians here are celebrating, but it’s bound to be a different one yet.

Of course, I’ve left Buddhism largely behind, & Muslims, some Hindus, and some Christians replace it. And (unrelated thought!) there are remains of fortifications—concrete, so WWII vintage I suppose—all over the island. I don’t remember just how this part of the world figured in that episode of history, but evidently it was involved somehow. Tommorow—hope to locate the funicular railway that goes up the big mountain behind town, & perhaps swim a bit.

This letter concludes on the next page, my stay in Penang.

Written by Editor

January 26th, 2010 at 2:55 pm

Posted in Thailand