Jesus on a Jeepney (Part 3)
Kuala Lumpur International Airport was a welcome relief after the confined space on board the plane. Checking my itinerary revealed that I had around two hours before my connecting flight to Manila. This was comforting, as I was in an unfamiliar airport in an unfamiliar country. There were unfamiliar scents in the air over and above the rank smell of sweat from the disheveled guy in front of me on the Jetway. I could feel the change in temperature even at that early hour of the day. I could only imagine how warm it would be out in the city. Thankfully I would be hanging around in air-conditioned places for the rest of the day. I liked that my luggage would be transferred automatically to my connecting flight bound for Manila. One less occasion of elbowing my way to the luggage conveyor belt was just fine with me. It fascinates me how people jockey for space directly in front of the conveyor belt as if, by standing further back and allowing everyone a look-in, they will somehow be denied access and miss their suitcase when it appears.
As most Westerners will do when in a foreign country and faced with a choice of foreign restaurants serving foreign food, I searched for a McDonalds, Starbucks or Burger King that could provide me with the breakfast that I had missed on the plane. After some searching I gave up and started to survey the more obvious coffee and breakfast establishments where they might be prepared to accept my foreign money. I finally settled on a coffee place that looked like it had a few recognisable meal choices for breakfast that didn’t include rice or noodles. Eating rice or noodles for breakfast is, I’m sure, as inconceivable to me as it is for to someone from Asia having breakfast cereal or croissants for breakfast. There was a small queue of people at the counter, which is always a good indication of the popularity of the place. I found out that the queue was due to untrained staff who had no knowledge of the menu, what was available or how to operate the till efficiently. I arrived at the front of the queue after completing some levels of Angry Birds on my phone. For a while it was my ‘queue buster’. This is a game or an activity that I really enjoy which, when interrupted by arriving at the front of the queue annoys me intensely. However, the annoyance felt by arriving at the front of the queue and having to interrupt my activity can be more easily dismissed than the rage and frustration of standing in a queue for seemingly endless minutes while some loud Yankee tourist at the front of the queue holds a lengthy negotiation with the guy behind the counter about the style of coffee they would like, but that is not accommodated by the bog-standard menu.
Having had a chance to survey the menu during my time in the queue, I delivered my order of caffe latte and a breakfast omelette to the Malaysian guy behind the counter . He looked confused and glanced behind himself at the menu on the wall as if I had asked for a Peacock Surprise or Fried Tarantula. He held a hurried conversation with his coworker who rattled an answer back at him, appearing irritated that he had been bothered with such a trivial matter.
“Sorry, sir. We don’t have the omelette available” he replied, which dented the composure I had built up while in the queue. I scanned the menu again, feeling the annoyance of the customers behind me. I hoped they would direct their annoyance at the restaurant and not at me for holding up the line through no fault of my own. I finally settled on the ‘Peanut butter toastie’, as I knew Peanut Butter and I knew toast. Luckily for me, he seemed happy to take that order. I took out my card to pay for the order
“Sorry, sir. The card machine is not working”, said the clueless cashier. I was dismayed. My first transaction on Asian soil had failed. Not a good start.
“Is there a cash machine nearby?” I asked. “ATM, Autoteller”, I added in case he hadn’t understood what I meant by ‘cash machine’. He directed me down the mall in the general direction of some shops and then turned his attention to the next agitated customer. Dragging my hand luggage behind me, I eventually found a currency exchange counter cleverly concealed behind an escalator. There was a cash machine in the wall, so I was able to withdraw some Malaysian Ringgit. I had to consult the app on my phone for the exchange rate so as not to withdraw all my cash in one go. I was annoyed that I had been forced to withdraw cash in a currency that I wouldn’t need again, but at least I would be able to pay for my breakfast. I headed back to the restaurant and stood patiently at the head of the queue fending off suspicious glances from customers in the queue while waiting patiently for the clueless cashier to recognise me and process my order. I wasn’t in the mood for any more levels of Angry Birds at the back of the queue. I was angry enough by that stage.
By the time I had paid I found myself wishing that I had tried one of the other not-so-obvious restaurants in the airport, but I had already paid my money. I wandered around the corner to a large seating area where a number of staff behind a counter displayed their indifference to the customers by looking busy, but appearing to do not very much at all. I worked out that I should give my till slip to one of these people after which the meal would be prepared. After a wait of ten minutes or so I saw what I supposed was my latte being delivered to the counter. Not a great system in an airport where passengers are advised to keep hold of their luggage at all times. I was forced to leave my hand luggage at the table while nipping across to the counter to get my coffee and toastie. Thankfully the restaurant patrons scattered around the seating area displayed little interest in my hand luggage. I was disappointed to find that the peanut butter toastie was simply two ludicrously thick slabs of unbuttered toast liberally smeared with peanut butter. I tried the toast, hoping to dismiss my crashing disappointment at Malaysian food, but was forced to give up on the effort, as the lightly toasted bread and peanut butter soaked up every last drop of saliva in my mouth leaving me gasping for the latte. ‘Oh well’, I reflected, ‘At least I’ll lose a little weight if I don’t have a full English breakfast….or any breakfast at all for that matter’.
I went in search of bottle of water and found it at a seedy glass counter that was masquerading as a food vending business. They had bottles of water inside the glass-fronted counter and there’s not much that can go wrong with bottled water, so I didn’t care that the counter behind the glass was caked with food and what looked like blood, but was probably tomato sauce. I found myself to be grateful for the cash that I had been forced to withdraw, as I could pay for the bottle of water. I left the change on the counter and put the rest of the Ringgit notes into my shirt pocket. I deem it good policy to keep different currencies apart while travelling. That way I’ll avoid the embarrassing situation where I offer a British pound coin to a shopkeeper in Manila thinking it to be the local currency. It also stops the currencies of different countries from cohabiting in my wallet, mating and then producing a new half-breed currency that’s worthless. Of course the latter only happens in my imagination.
Bottle of water in hand and because I had some time to kill, I decided to take a look at the shops in the duty-free mall. They weren’t as bright and sparkling as the shops in some of the airports I had visited during my travels in Europe, but was particularly interested in the different food and confectionery on offer. I had come to know that my romantic interest in the Philippines had a particular fondness for Snickers bars and Toblerone. I would later learn that chocolate is the all-time favourite with pretty much all the Filipinos, which is ironic in such a hot country. The fact that most families don’t have access to a fridge just means that they have to eat the chocolate really quickly after they get it. I had pre-bought at least 5kg of chocolate in various forms before I left the UK, but decided to buy a few more bars of Toblerone for good measure. I was also told that cigarettes of any exotic type are welcome in the Philippines. However, when I looked at the price of cigarettes in Europe compared to what they cost when buying them in the Philippines, I decided that I would buy some on arrival in Davao City that could hand out to her friends and relatives.
My partner had also mentioned that she was accustomed to using fabric softener as perfume. I was shocked at this, but have discovered that it’s accepted as the less affluent woman’s cheap alternative to perfume. I thought I would splash out and buy a bottle of perfume as a treat for her and headed to the cosmetics and perfumes area. I picked up one of the bottles, sprayed some in the air, as I wasn’t about to dowse myself in womens’ perfume. I sniffed the fragrance. Pleasant, but too cloying. I picked up another bottle and then another until, at the fifth bottle, I sprayed a little in the air, but had not noticed that the nozzle was pointing directly at my left eye. There is what I like to call the ‘Oh shit!’ moment. This is the moment when the awful realization of what you have just done dawns on you, but it’s too late to do anything about it. The voice in my hear was shouting ‘Oh shit! Oh shit! Oh shit!….’ as the perfume invaded my eyeball, stinging like a thousand nettles. The part of my brain that wasn’t in panic was rationally considering that this is what it must be like to be attacked with mace. Not wanting to scream in pain and attract undue attention, I raced, hunchback-like, to the gents toilet dragging my hand luggage behind me and clutching my eye so as not to scare any kids in the area. It took at least five minutes of splashing my eye with cold water to achieve a reasonable level of relief much to the amusement of the other gents using facilities. I decided to abandon the purchase of perfume until my partner could choose one that she liked.
By this time I had 45 minutes before my flight departed for Manila. So, armed with my bottle of water, a lot more chocolate and squinting through one good eye and one red eye, I headed to the departure gate a little wiser and a lot more cautious. There were only two flights to go before reaching my destination. It was encouraging to think that I was half way through my journey and that the wordt was behind me.
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