Friday, 29 April 2005

Train of Thoughts

There’s something about travelling by train that I find fascinating and exciting. But before you could flick through Freud and link my fascination to you know what, I’d be halfway to my destination – Exeter, the Cathedral City, where among the ruins and remnants left by the Romans, I’ll surrender myself to the enchantment and beauty of Malay syairs and hikayats as presented by scholars of Malay studies from around the world. But that is just by the by and the subject of another blog, surely.

Right now, I am so looking forward to another train journey that will take me to a part of England I have never been before – Devon. A whole three hours from London Paddington! Enough time for some revision in preparation for my exam soon. But I will so enjoy the view of the English countryside whizzing past the window.

Eversince I was small, train journeys, usually during the start of school holidays, were something that I looked forward to. We’d visit my eldest sister who was then based in Johore, a far distant land near that oh so modern city of Singapore! From the small town of Yen, with its beautiful backdrop of Gunung Jerai, a train journey took a good whole day and a bit.

There’d be a buzz of excitement in the neighbourhood over our impending journey and Mak would prepare days ahead, packing and repacking clothes and foodstuff for daughter number one in that far distant land. There’d be food, lots of food, of course for that long journey. Out came the treasured and colourful Tupperware containers for the nasi lemak and sambal tumis ikan bilis, lots and lots of fried chicken, and of course boiled eggs. With flasks of coffee and tea, and iced water in tumblers, there’d be enough to feed the whole coach.

We’d be too excited to sleep and by the time we dozed off, it’d be time to wake up and make that early morning journey by hired taxi to Alor Setar where we’d catch the morning train. Relatives from far and near would gather at the station to say goodbye.

I will always remember the rush. Always rush, rush, rush to get the best seats, or any seat at all near the window. Sometimes, by the time the train from Padang Besar, I think, reached Alor Star, we’d have to make our way past baby swings suspended from the ceiling, bags of foodstuff and crates of fruits and sometimes passengers squatting on the floor. We'd dodge riffles of soldiers just out from the jungle, sleeping off their exhaustion and perhaps dreaming about the long awaited reunion with their families.

Mak would always warn us not to wear white or any light coloured garments – and we soon understood why. Usually by the end of the journey, even our faces would be blackened from the soot.

Our first stop was Bukit Mertajam where we had to change train. Passengers from the southbound train usually had to rush across the overhead bridge lugging their suitcases, crates and food bags to catch the connecting train, which usually only stopped for what must be only 10 minutes.

Another highlight of the journey must surely be that stop in Ipoh, a big station with its army of food vendors shouting out their goods – each in their own unique sing song way. Inspite of the nasi lemak and fried chicken that Mak made, we’d always give in to the famous kueh pows with its chicken curry fillings.

The combination of the heat in the stuffy coach, the food, plus the chug, chug, chugging monotonous rhythm of the engine soon lulled us to sleep, only to be awakened by more sing song food vendors plying their trade along the platforms, some even jumping expertly on and off the train with their baskets placed precariously on their heads.

During one of my numerous trips home, I have had the pleasure to try the Senandong Malam and gosh, the gush of memories that came flooding back. One that surely remained until now is the look on Mak’s face when she realised that underneath her baju kurung, she still had a towel tied around her waist! I can’t remember whether she had her sarong on as well or not.

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Here, I almost always have a ritual before embarking on a train ride. Among the musts in the list of things to buy atthe station are mushroom croissants and coffee, a big packet of minstrels, a notebook and a book to read.

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Train journeys through Europe must certainly be the most beautiful, exhilarating experience. Given the chance, my husband would say no to the plane and would opt for the train anytime. Thus once we found ourselves on the Eurorail train from London to Budhapest, going through some of the most beautiful cities in Europe, such as Cologne, Vienna and Munich. We swore we’d make this journey again.

And once, courtesy of the German government, we were treated to a train journey from one city to another and the view from the window, as the train snaked its way along the Rhine, was just breathtaking. Old castles and historic abodes of what must be German Barons, dotted the highlands giving an air of mystery and charm while yatchs and ships sailed lazily along the deep blue mesmerising Rhine.

Holland holds yet another sort of charm for me. Travelling from The Hague to Rotterdam, for example, one can’t help but be fascinated by the creativity and talents of what I would call pop art – the miles and miles of colourful and beautiful graffities on embankments and walls along the Dutch railway lines. I just wonder about the message behind these writings. I wonder too about the artists themselves who took the risks to freely exhibit their talent at such dangerous places.

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Now I wonder what awaits me along the way to the ancient Roman city?

34 comments:

bibliobibuli said...

Envy you the Devon train journey - used to make that trip all the time when I was studying in Plymouth and the scenary is spectacular, especially when the line follows the shore at Teignmouth and then runs along the Exe estuary.

atenah said...

1)KT, ari2 jenguk yr blog hoping that there will be a new update and when there is, its like yay! what nice thing have i done today to be rewarded with this
2) awwww Bukit Mertajam, my hometown. kecik2 dulu the 15 min car ride to the train stn to pick up my uncle from Spore is such a much awaited event. it used to have the best book store in town and going there meant i would get a new book or comic, which was such a luxury
3)i have tears in my eyes......
p/s: sori macam hi-jack yr blog pulak.

Jade said...

KT, I remembered my first train ride from Singapore back to KL. 12 hours journey!! at that time depa dok sibuk pasai sabotage the rails.. by the time turun train, rasa macam nak terus baring tidoq jer kat platform tuh. hehe..

btw, thanks for your comment on toonjade [tersipu-sipu].

AuntyN said...

Kak Teh, sebelum Kampo mai jerit sini, ni saya nak kata dulu ni:-

Nak pi naik Eurorail!!!, nak pi naik Eurorail!!!.

Wah Kak Teh mentioned my hometown tu and I had 6 years of the train ride from BM to JB Kak Teh. Powerful memories ni. Kena blog agaknya ni. Dah berjangkit pulak dah ni....

Lollies said...

I miss my inter railing time. Ahhh bestnya ada kat sana

CikNi said...

last trip in 2000 naik keretapi dari KL ke Ipoh. Naik kul 8 mlm sampai kul 12.30++ mlm
Lagi senang dari naik bas which shah alam-kl, jln kaki ke pudu, naik bas kl-ipoh, hubby fetch kat station bas. Kalau naik train- dari shah alam naik komuter free (tunjuk je tiket KTM tu) terus sampai stesen ketapi kl, turun komuter dan naik ketapi, sampai ipoh hubby fetch

CikNi said...
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CikNi said...
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CikNi said...
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iJun said...

kak teh! was the coffee onboard the train nice?

anedra said...

kakteh,
waah..dah habis homework nampak!

Sunflora said...

Beautifully written Kak teh! And please blog about Devon. I too would love to go there but alas, didn't have the oppurtunity. Erkk I hate the train ride from Singapore to KL. it takes forever! But yes, the train ride through europe is wonderful. I love it, perhaps one fine day, when we have both the funds and the time we'd want to take the orient Express.

Nadia said...

kakteh.....me too like k tenah tunggu la new entry mcm nak mati hehehehehe finally!!!

waaaaaahhh saya pun nak naik eurorail jgaaaaaaaaaaakkkk

i've always wanted to scour europe as I think it the most romantic place, but fulus tarakla aiyaamamama

so i guess reading your travelogue is enough for now. benefits me 'dream' wise and also writing wise...lot to learn fr you la kak teh.. I really really still love your flair of writing..:)

Woman at the well said...

I guess everybody felt like I did, when reading your post. I used to travel by train on my vacations when i was a teenager, going to my home town, a very small village in the countryside. My, it was something impossible to describe ...

narfnarf said...

Wow. The images your words have put in my head while reading this was a welcome breath of fresh air. I'm glad I've had a few opportunities to travel through some parts of Europe by train. And while I slept mostly (I just KO when I'm in any moving vehicle lah. *sheepish*), when I was awake, the scenes outside the window were indeed sights to remember.

Atok said...

My first train ride was from Golok to Padang Besar (thai train), and that was probably in 1970 or 1971. The only memory I have of that journey (to visit our many relatives in Penang) is the scene of a man shoveling those coal into the fierce fire.

Mutiara said...

Train ride??? 8 years travelling from Penang to JB...mana boleh lawan...sampai rumah uniform dah tak kenai rupa.
I did a few times on the Eurail. Mula2 tu masa tak boleh pi Eastern europe, i travelled all over the Western Europe...lepas tu guna Eurail jugak from Turkey to all over the eastern europe..tak tau berapa kali pi Europe, masih tak puas.

MobileMom said...

Alaamaakkk bestnya.....

We had a nice train ride from London to Paris naik Eurostar last year... *sigh* Bila nak gi lagi agaknya. :)
Hubby dok nak balik kampung dia kat London..kita lak nak balik kampung kita kat U.S. Cam mana tu ekk?? hahahah :P

5xmom ~chanlilian.net~ said...

Train rides....*sigh* I have a fear of small spaces. In 1998, my hubby, two kids and I took a night train from Paris to Milan. I was expecting Eurorail but kena KTM senandung malam kelas 3. LOL! We did not buy tickets for the kids age 8/6 yrs. I pening all the way 'cos takut sempit. Nightmare la.

Then, we travelled further from Milan to Rome, stopping several places in a period of 2 weeks. Aha...those are soooo beautiful.

Tks for bringing back those memories!

Blah! said...

Waaah! Hope u have a great time...n don't forget pics tau! N yeah the way u reminisce about train rides remind me of the 1st time I took a train on my own at 16, from KL back to S'pore after watching the finals of the M'sia Cup.

Captain Barbell said...

wahh...i NV you, makteh :(

Ms.B said...

Kak Teh, you REALLY make me wanna travel to Europe!

Kak Teh said...

Bibiobibuli, thanks for the visit to the blog. Yes, the view is truly breathtaking and at this time of the year there's miles and miles of yellow fields with clusters of quaint villages. Didnt see much of Exeter until the last day.
atenah: yes, i remember bukit mertajam very well but as u can see, whjere got time to see bookshop?
ladyjade & auntyN & cikni:of course now we have nice memories. Masa dulu tu, sakit belakang berhari2 sebab dok atas kerusi keras, kelas tiga pulak tu!
Lollies & sunflora: i think travlleing by train, intercity is fine when you have nothing urgent to do. we can enjoy the city by day and sleep on the train by night.
anedra: nampaknya macam tu lah - kalau tidak macam mana nak jumpa lecturer yang jugak pi ke conference?
ijun: coffee on the train? not really. Wish I had bought one before the journey.

Kak Teh said...

nadia, if you plan well, eurorail can be very cheap. and i believe youcan churn out some beautiful travelogues.
atok: yes, that too and what came backt o mind too was the smell of the toilets on those trains. why do they all smell the same? could it be from the tar on the tracks?
woman at the well, I am sure where you are, the landscape must be quite picturesque and spectacular!
narfnarf: if only we can take pictures fast enough, kan?

Kak Teh said...

mutiara: dont u think the scenery changes quite dramatically when we get to eastern europe? u just know that u've crossed the border to the other side.
mobilemom: we did the Eurostar several times to France and Holland. Yes, its very fast these days. Tapi mahaaaaal!
5xmom:travelling with the children sure pening one. But they must have enjoyed it too.
yan, yes, i have some pix from the train..but what I missed is the westbury horse - carved into the side of the hill. Lots of pix of exeter, of course and the conference.
mr paul blabs & : tok sah envy lah! plan that journey and make it happen!

d'arkampo said...

Tak nak tulis apa-apa..Kak N dah potong stim.

Nak Pi Rome!
Nak Pi Rome!

Mutiara said...

Tip to go on eurail. Buy ticket from your home country because you get to travel in first class coaches with cabins. If you get from UK, you could only get on 2nd class. I think the price is the same.
Kak teh: true, U automatically see the different sceneries and different facial expression on local faces. I was once in Czekoslovakia (before it became 2 countries) The Czekos (males) are the best looking men I have seen. Somewhere in east germany, a boy stared at me and my friend R cos we looked different and later I realised that we were carrying banannas, which nobody in that part of the country ever saw.
well..jauh perjalanan luas pemandangan

Kak Teh said...

po: when in rome you have to do what the romans do...
mutiara: thanks for the tip. rail fares can be very expensive and you must know when to book and how, which rouite to take. I love the trips to eastern europe but what worries me still is the feeling that you are being watched. on th eway back from budapest, the police on the train took pour passports away and only returned them the next morning in Vienna.

atiza said...

nak pegi exeter
nak pegi exeter

Kak Teh said...

atiza: penyakit ni dah berjangkit dr po! :)

narfnarf said...

I do. Sigh. Imagine what kind of pictures we'd come up with if we had a chip installed in our brains and we could activate it at a blink of an eye. :o)

OOD said...

Kak Teh,
train rides are always romantic! Time KTMB belum swasta, and tickets boleh jual takdak limit (even though dah penuh sampai menggelembong train coaches with people), and you climb in through the window when the train was still moving, dapat berdiri sebelah kaki from KL to JB pon takpe... i STILL think naik ketapi romantic one kind.

Sigh.....

Kak Teh said...

narf, I would love to have a chip installed in my forehead! That way , no need to carry camera around. I never, ever leave the house without a camera.
OOD: yes, there's something certainly romantic abt train journeyts. But recently I am reminded of the smell of the toilets on the train. i wonder what it was. Ithink its the smell of tar, or was it the guy on the British rail who did not lock the toilet?

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