More Singapore than Singapore in cleanliness and greenery, this was my first impression.
I took the overnight train from Singapore to KL, getting here at 730 this morning. My Bike Friday came along with me in its suitcase. The train was very clean and comfortable. For those who have never slept on a train, I recommend it strongly: the rolling rhythm and the periodic noise of the wheels on the track make for sound slumber.
The central station was very well organized, just like the airport at KL (through which I have passed on several occasions). Well-lit, gleaming floors, modern restaurants and cafes all over the place, clear signs, and very helpful folk at the information desk. I had no trouble getting a prepaid taxi to Mont Kiara, an area of expensive condominiums peopled by expats. Mont Kiara is where Partha’s brother and wife live, and it was at their place that Partha and I were going to rendezvous, and where we are going to stay for a couple of nights before we leave for our ride. We have changed our mind about riding to Penang, instead, we are now planning on riding south from KL all the way to Singapore.
For those who have never thought about it, traveling with a bicycle poses its own set of logistical challenges. (So does traveling on a bicycle, of which I am sure I will write about as we progress.) In this particular situation, the problem was what to do with my suitcase. My BF came along with me in its own special suitcase. It is an off-the-shelf Samsonite, but the point is that nothing other than this particular Samsonite will do. It is both of the right size, and of the right toughness. So, now that we have decided to ride from KL down to Singapore, instead of returning to KL after riding to Penang as originally intended, what should I do with the suitcase? It is too huge to fit the back of a bicycle. Thus, the relationship is only one way, the suitcase can carry the bicycle but the bicycle cannot carry the suitcase. (This is like one of the river crossing puzzles about the guy with a tiger and a goat who has to get across on a raft that can carry only two…) The only solution was to send the empty suitcase back to Singapore independently. But finding someone or some organization that will do it for a reasonable fee (preferably zero) turned out to be quite formidable. We couldn’t find anyone who would just happen to be driving back from KL to Singapore during this period whom we could just request to take back the suitcase. Most of the courier services we tried were quoting exhorbitant rates. We finally settled on a courier service recommended by someone we know in Singapore, that gave the lowest price. So, much of today was spent reassembling my BF so that the suitcase could be emptied, and then finding the courier and shipping the suitcase back to Singapore.
Although I assembled the BF today, I could not ride it much. By the time we drove over to the courier service and returned, much of the afternoon was gone. During the drive I got a brief look at KL. I was struck by how beautiful the city is. It is quite hilly, and the hills are covered in green. The streets are laid out like in Singapore, and they are just as clean, if not cleaner. The entire infrastructure is just as gleaming, if not gleaminger. But there is a naturalness to the beauty that I saw in the drive that was missing in Singapore. Perhaps it is the presence of the hills. All in all, the portions of KL I saw were less manicured than Singapore, and yet were well-tended in their own natural state.
Today was a day of settling down, assembling things, planning. We rode our bicycles over to a nearby shopping area called Solaris, where there is a bicycle store where we needed to buy some things. Solaris seemed very upscale to me, with lots of eateries, cafes, and pubs. Here is a picture of one of the main drags in this area, you can judge for yourself:
I have to put out a note of appreciation for small bike stores, in general, and in particular two stores, one in Singapore and this one in KL, where I had very pleasant experiences. Local bicycle stores (“LBS” as they are known among the cyclistas) are generally run by passionate cyclists, to whom the store is more a labor of love than a bringer-in of profits. This was borne out recently to me by a store called My Bike Store in Singapore (the Clementi branch), and today, by a store called Treknology Bikes in the Solaris area of KL. My Bike Store is a Singapore Bike Friday distributor where I had gone to fix a part on my hub gear (I was disappointed that the thread on a certain piece stripped so quickly, I can only hope that this was a freak manufacturing defect). When the owners discovered that I had come all the way from the US, and had brought over my BF from there, they went out of their way and took on the host role. They fixed my bicycle immediately, putting in a new part, and servicing it, and charged me half the cost of a regular service. They showered me with advice on riding in Singapore, and gave me substantial discounts on other doodads I bought there, and then threw in for free a blinking LED light that can be hooked on to any part of the cycle, or to my helmet. Thank you Daniel, Gabriel, and Jay! They follow below.
At Treknology today in KL (they are dealers of Trek bicycles), the owners spent a whole hour advising us on routes to Singapore. Both bicycle a lot themselves, and Faritz in particular had biked before to Singapore. He gave us detailed descriptions of the route to Melaka. He has cycled all over Australia and Malaysia, and often goes up to Penang. The other store person Azman was quite similar. Interestingly, Azman himself was from Singapore: he had come over to the KL store for some training. The nicest thing was the basic lessons in the local language Bahasa Malaysia that Azman and Faritz gave us. At the end of our store experience, we learned to say the crucial things in Bahasa Malaysia: “we are vegetarian,” and “we don’t eat meat.” 🙂 Here they are: