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A Triumphant Return and a Warm Welcome in Singapore

Our last morning in Borneo began at once again in darkness. It’s true our room was windowless, but at 4:45 am, it was also dark outside, so we had cheated ourselves out of nothing. We rolled around in the dark as the theme to SIM city 2000 sounded out through the depth and blackness of our room at the Sipadan Inn in Semporna, Sabah, Malaysia.  Over the course of our time in Borneo, David Miller had proven a truly capital member of the expedition, improving our experience immeasurably. He had, subsequently been promoted, and his responsibilities expanded to Chairman of the AsiaWheeling Risk-Management Desk within the Bureau of Health and Safety.

In one of his first announcements in that new official capacity, David classified that morning’s cab ride to the airport as by far the most dangerous thing we engaged in in Borneo, though we had been breathing like cyborg fish underwater, boating in dubious and leaky craft, and wandering the hardscrabble city at all hours of the night. For you see, dear reader, in our estimate, Borneo is not so dangerous a place, that is unless the man driving your cab is three-quarters asleep.

He was a small man, and drove an unmetered (and therefore, I believe, technically illegal) cab. He had been summoned for us by the front desk at the Sipadan Inn, and at 5:10 sharp, he made quite the arrival, pulling his small Proton hatchback around and backing into the spot right in front of the lobby door. The moment he engaged the reverse gear, some apparatus inside his car began to broadcast a custom sound effect perhaps best approximated by the noise made by X-wing and TIE fighters as they zip through that curious reverberate vacuum of Star Wars space.

After he had successfully docked, we managed to squeeze ourselves into the car, which has been modified significantly from its factory fresh state to include custom wheels, glitter-filled paint, a miniature steering wheel, and a thumping sound system.

The style of customization might be familiar to fans of films such as  The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift . This style was no stranger in Semporna. In fact, it seemed, quite popular among the local youth as a pastime, with many engaging in a sport I first encountered during my youth in the town of Grinnell, Iowa, known there by the self explanatory name, “Scoop the Loop.”

Meanwhile, loaded in this fellow’s street racing Proton hatchback, we were tearing down the empty roads of Sabah, as the sun began to rise over the endless fields of oil palms. The soundtrack was incredible. Song after thumping song, we enjoyed a tasteful survey of the early 2007 electro-rock and synth pop as featured on the music blog FluoKids and even a nod to the tunes pumped by our friends at LoveLife.

It reminded us of our recent favorite song “Century” by Tiesto and Calvin Harris, introduced to us by the prolific and brilliant Rex Pechler.

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His good taste in music was almost enough for us to forgive the fact that every few minutes, the fellow would viciously shake his head from side to side, blink dramatically, and yoga breathe in an attempt to regain lucidity. I eyed him carefully, and planned what I would do were he to actually conk out at the wheel: First I would need to grab the wheel and stabilize the car. Once I had gained control, I would, while holding the wheel with my left arm, execute a kind of combo move with my right, elbowing the sleeping driver back to consciousness and grabbing the emergency break slowing the car to a stop on the side of the road.

Luckily, gradually raising the volume on the stereo,seemed to do have the same basic effect, as our man’s struggles for consciousness seemed to turn in his favor, and soon we were safely arrived at the sleepy gray Tawau airport, checking in for our flight. The place was just as ghostly as we remembered it with most of the shop fronts empty. We sat in the waiting room and I played Amy Winehouse tunes on my ukulele while we waited for them to open up security.

The coffee served scalded the mouth, but with enough practice, we were able to cool it by sipping vigorously.

Exiting Malaysia was a piece of cake, studded with big smiles, and very gentle security inspections. Three tiny chicken foccacia sandwiches later, we landed, quite hungry, in Singapore.

Unfortunately, the gods would not smile food upon us until we had exited the airport, which proved massively difficult. After many wrong turns, one attempt to exit through the wrong immigration desk, two wrong airport trains, and one long conversation about overpriced cakes, we arrived at the MRT station.

The man at the desk directed us toward the machines that promptly refused to regurgitate tickets. Though the man was skeptical, we finally convinced him to leave his post and come investigate the machine. One look at the thing and he muttered in a dark Singaporean accent, “Man vs. Machine? Machine will always win.” And with that he dove into the innards of the beast, removing trays, interacting with panels, and finally, producing for us the much needed tickets.

After a very long train ride, much lamenting over our having not simply taken a cab, and  a walk through a labyrinthine underground shopping center, we finally feasted at a local Chinese restaurant, digging into a few plates of dumplings, steaming bowls of spicy noodles with duck and crab, and stir-fried greens. Our waitress was quite a gem, and indulged in some schtick with us about AsiaWheeling and our shared affinity for a particular Chinese vegetable (包菜), before putting a rush on our order.

David and I had just enough time to stroll the city for about an hour, while Scott napped, showered, and drank a RedBull shot. We got the chance to try a very interesting Singaporean style of ice cream, from a street stall. The ice cream itself, was cut in vast chunks from a foil wrapped log and wrapped with a slice of cheap white bread. The combo was quite tasty, and David indulged me by sampling the Durian flavored ice cream which was tasty but maintained a certain flavor of old gym bag that I found endearing and David found at the very least interesting.

Back at the Rucksack Inn, we had only a few moments to freshen up before we had to climb back on the MRT for our much-anticipated meeting with our newest AsiaWheeling partners, Speed Matrix, at the My Bike Shop in a part of town called Clementi.

Speed Matrix was throwing an event to celebrate the launch of its new folding Kayak series in conjunction with announcing its new relationship with AsiaWheeling. Members of the local folding bicycle community were to be there, and your humble correspondents were to be interviewed by some chaps from a local cycling magazine by the name of To Go Parts. All that aside, we were going to get our Speed TRs back, returned to us, no doubt, nipping at the bit for the rest of our riding in Malaysia and on into India. Needless to say, we were thrilled.

We arrived at My Bike Shop where our Speed TRs were waiting for us, gleaming and looking better than ever before. The wheels had been trued, transmission re-tuned, and a quick spin around the block promised superior wheeling ahead.

Asiawheeling in Singapore

Thrilled at our good fortune, we spent the next couple hours sipping ristrettos, and hobnobbing with Singapore’s finest folding bike heads, many of whom proved to also play prominent roles in the international business community.

The hunger was just beginning to hit when Tan began closing down shop, and we retired to a nearby cafe by the name of “Leaf” for a scrumptious meal of Indian-Chinese-Malay fusion food, served on large banana leaves.

After dinner, we bid farewell to our new friends and were just about to hail a taxi, when the owner of Leaf came over to us and invited us to sit down for a drink with him as well.

Such a warm welcome had endeared us to Singapore quite strongly and we were none too thrilled to wake up the next morning once again at quarter to five, bid farewell to not only this city but our dear Mr. David Miller, and catch a train to Butterworth. But, as you have no doubt already gathered, dear reader, AsiaWheeling is not a sport for the weak of heart, or those prone to lingering. New, untold wonders lay before us, and somewhere inside us was the rekindled awe of the road ahead.

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Comments

  1. Nate | February 22nd, 2010 | 8:50 pm

    Apparently, “strumous” is an archaic word meaning “afflicted with scrofula,” which is “any of a variety of skin diseases; in particular, a form of tuberculosis, affecting the lymph nodes of the neck.” One can hope that your meal at the banana leaf restaurant was not quite so horrifying, and perhaps I am referring to an innocuous typo!

    Anyway, I’m enjoying the ongoing adventures. Happy wheeling.

  2. Scott | February 23rd, 2010 | 12:25 am

    @Nate

    Thanks Nate! Good catch. Repaired.

    Scott

  3. PGranqui | February 23rd, 2010 | 12:55 am

    LOVED reading about the “Dave Miller Chronicles” portion of the journey! I wish I could be kickin it with you adventure-crazed fools. Keep up the great wheeling!

  4. Mark/Dad | February 25th, 2010 | 10:04 pm

    The chirping birds add a lot to the already delightful ukelele music. Reminds me of the White Album.

  5. Woody | February 27th, 2010 | 1:31 am

    @ Mark/Dad
    I must warn you… I am susceptible to flattery.

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