Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Singapore to Kuala Lumpur by Train

I boarded at the Woodlands Station in Singapore.  We all passed through Singapore departure, producing passport and exit portion of visa.  We all then passed through Malaysia customs.  Before going to the train waiting room,  I put my bag through a scanner. Everywhere there were signs forbidding recording or photography in the train station.
The train arrived on time and we boarded on time.  The train was very clean and modern. I brought my suitcase and backpack on with me, storing the suitcase in the overhead while keeping the back pack at my feet.  The chairs were comfortable and reclined.  There was a dining car behind us.  The clean washroom was in the car in front of us.
The gentleman who joined me in the window seat turned out to be an Indonesian psychiatrist.  We talked most of the trip and had lunch together in the dining car. He and his wife have a labradoodle.  We shared the frustrations we had working as psychiatrists, with too few resources and complex cases with long waiting lists. In addition to being a clinician he was an academic and had just published a paper in one of the world's most prestigious medical and psychiatric journals. I was humbled.
A catholic, we talked about God and the benefits of spirituality to our patients and the intolerance that we experienced with our atheist colleagues who unknowingly persecute the religious under the guise of their secularity.  This was a fascinating discussion and a surprise to both of us since we had just met.  He told me that the Malaysian patients appreciated and were comforted by those who participated in their religious traditions and weren't that particular as to which one their doctor followed, just so long as he appreciated the importance of faith and tradition.  I told him about the ignorance and intolerance of Canada's Quebec.  This was something he thought might happen in Australia but wouldn't be tolerated in Malaysia.
The train progressed through large tracts of jungle.
A couple of times we passed or were passed by a freight train.  The passenger train was all shiny whereas the freight trains were definitely more worn.
"Those are the palm plantations, mostly for harvesting palm oil," he told me as the train passed rows and rows of palm trees obviously well spaced and cultivated.
We saw all manner of habitat along the way, from poor and primitive to rich and ornate.  The only animals I saw were the big horned cattle and oxen's.
At one stop, he told me how he'd loved as a young man to come to this particular village and sit having coffee by the train. The coffee shop had grown so famous over time that it was eventually franchised.  It was very quaint. The train passed through several little villages and towns before going through a larger city before reaching Kuala Lumpur.
Being able to walk about the train with a few seats here and there vacant, I moved about taking pictures with my Nikon D5000 or my Gopro Hero 3.
My colleague had travelled on different trains around the world. He hoped some day to take the train through the Canadian Rockies and Laurentians.  We both waxed poetic about train travel as we sat in the dining car, he eating a noodle dish, while I had a chicken burger.  In the afternoon near the end of our trip we had rain.
"That's pretty standard this time of the year. It tends to be sunny in the morning and rain in the afternoon. It's always fairly humid and warm."
This was certainly a lovely train. Not quite the Orient Express, I understand, but very much a great way to travel Malaysia.

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