Our route was about the same as what we had been planning to travel by bus, but we moved much slower. From Port Dickson we allowed two days to get to Kuala Lumpur (KL). From there we planned to cross the country to the East Coast. We knew that part of the way our bikes would probably have travel on top of a bus because there were some pretty steep mountains in the center of the country, and we weren’t in shape yet.
4. KL. We thought we would camp so we bought pans, canteens, a tarp, kerosene stove, raincoats, and small plates. We thought it was important to always have a good supply of boiled water and thought we could save money by cooking some of our own food. The item we cooked most was eggs: soft boiled … or “half-boiled” as they said in Malaysia … for breakfast and hard-boiled for lunch. To the eggs in the morning we added hot tea, bread and jam; and fruit or juice sometimes … an economical and nourishing meal.
By the time we got to KL we had ridden our bikes 92 miles. Along the way we visited a zoo, and thanks to many other stops we made it. Our gear made the bikes much harder to ride than when they were empty, and the first afternoon we only made 18 miles. The next day we made it 39 miles to Port Dickson. After leaving Port Dickson, we headed toward KL, and we spent the night 15 miles south of the city but 48 miles north of where we started the day. We were told that there were good hotels there, but the only one we could find was more than we wanted to pay. So we ended up in the meeting hall of the Lutheran Church. Here we met an interesting 17-year old Chinese boy.
Although almost half of the people in Malaysia then were Chinese and we stayed in Chinese hotels, we had talked to Chinese people very little: many of them spoke little English and most of them were too busy working to be very free just to sit and talk to travelers. This boy was a student and studied and slept in one of the rooms of the church. It may seem funny to think of a Chinese boy living in a Lutheran church, but the Christians there were mostly Chinese (and a small percent Indian). The pastor of this church was also Chinese. Practically no Malays … not to be confused with Malaysians (Malay is a race … close to Filipino … and Malaysians are citizens of Malaysia) are Christians for a couple of reasons. One, the British, who colonized Malaysia, did not try to impose their culture on the Malays (very different from Americans and Filipinos!), and missionaries were not allowed to bother anyone except Chinese and Indians. Also Malays are Muslim and don’t convert easily. (Some of the largest Methodist churches in the world are in Malaysia, and it’s because when the British were looking for rubber plantation workers in China they brought to Malaysia a great many Chinese Methodist.)
Malaysia became a country in 1963, and it was very proud that all of its peoples had been able to work together so well. But then that May trouble between the races erupted which seemed to burst this balloon. Although there had been little real trouble for several weeks, it seemed to us that there was enough deep-seated hatred between Chinese and Malays that it was going to be really difficult to have a unified nation again.
To many Malays, the Chinese were there just to take as much money as they could (and it was true that Chinese were good businessmen and women, all over Asia). Another complaint of the Malays was that the Chinese just kept to themselves and made no attempt to assimilate. To them, China was their homeland, not Malaysia. And Malays were more easy-going people and to the Chinese the Malays were lazy. (In the Malay household only men went outside to earn a living while the whole Chinese family worked. A Chinese man who owned a restaurant would have his wife, sons and daughters working with him. Chinese women did much of the manual labor, and many filling station attendants were Chinese girls. The Chinese also felt that they were discriminated against because there were laws saying what percent of workers, say in a factory, were to be Chinese and what percent Malay. They boy we talked to said that he had no possibility of becoming a doctor because he could never get into a university because he was Chinese. (There was actually a law called the Malay Preferential Treatment Law, or something of the sort, which gave Malays certain legal advantages over other peoples in areas where they were handicapped.)
The boy who took us to a zoo was afraid to go out at night because a Chinese gang might get him. And at the Lutheran church the Chinese boy expressed the reverse fears. (He claimed that Chinese wouldn’t hurt Malays because the law allowed only Malays to carry weapons) Each side seemed to feel that they were the peaceful side and that the other was causing the trouble.
Every little incident then became part of the TROUBLE, every stone-throwing or house-burning. The streets were so empty at night, and there were so many policemen around that we felt somewhat afraid … even though there had been no real incidents for some time.
Peggy and Randy Ford