4th September 2018
Montalivit, Aquitaine, France
Still relaxing at a much quieter Montalivit. It seems all the families with kids have finally disappeared to be replaced with the surf dude/dreadlock grunge fraternity and a strong contingent of silver surfers ie old fogies like me - only difference being they have money and massive motorhomes!
So, rootlin' through my digital archive for something to fill the void where today's travelogue should be I came across a piece I'd forgotten I had ever written and am pretty sure it has never published anywhere before now.
It dates back to my very different life during the 1990s when I used to knock about in the Information Technology industry of the day. During that decade, entrepreneurial opportunities took me to Singapore for several extended 'tours' there, typically of about six months duration at a time.
During one of these 'tours' I took my V-Max motorcycle to the nearby Malaysian peninsula for a weekend away from the city, as a member of a group excursion organised by the Motorcycle Club of Singapore. The following short story is an account of what happened that weekend to me and my Danish friend and colleague, Morten Nielsen:
It was quite dark by the time we reached the hotel, its extensively floodlit pale stucco walls and immaculately landscaped grounds shouting out it’s fabulous opulence and luxuriousness.
Unfortunately, it was not the hotel we were staying in as the Singapore Motorcycle Club, of which Morten was a member and I a guest for the weekend, did not run to such extravagance.
A motorcar in Singapore is a hugely expensive thing to own and run. A policy of high taxation for all aspects of car ownership and the provision of an impressive, inexpensive to use, public Mass Rapid Transport (MRT) network ensures Singapore’s road are not chaotically congested as they are in most large Asian cities. A motorcycle, however, is considered the transport of the poor and escapes all punitive taxation - which is why, together with a tropical climate, expats not blessed with a company car frequently favour large capacity Japanese motorcycles as a means of personal transport.
Morten and I were no exception and it was to escape the city for 24 hours that we found ourselves one Saturday morning lining up our respective machines with about twenty other bikers, predominantly Singaporeans, for a weekend foray into the Malaysian peninsula organised from 'soup to nuts' by the city's motorcycle club.
Singapore, a virtual island roughly the same size and shape as the Isle of Wight, is a city state of some THREE million people and to leave it’s salubrious suburbs behind by road involves crossing the Johor Strait to a border control customs area and thence straight into Malaysia where the difference between the two countries is immediately and singularly striking. A ‘first world’ city-state juxtaposed with a ‘third world’ nation, separated only by a short isthmus of land.
After leaving the chaotic streets of Johor Bahru the poorly maintained roads stretch their long tentacles out towards what was once jungle but now almost exclusively a monotonous mono culture of rubber plantation.
Ancient Mercedes trucks, billowing out black fumes, dominate the roads out there and the smiling drivers seemed genuinely delighted to wave past our convoy of motorcycles from their doorless cabs. After only 50 km or so, due to the bad roads and choking air, the novelty of being away from the pristine city quickly started to wear off and when we finally arrived at our modest overnight accommodation - about half way up the peninsular on the eastern coast - I was very pleased indeed to get off the gritty road, grab a much needed shower and down a cold beer.
Morten and I decided we had seen enough chickens feet, reptiles and other Asian ‘delicacies’ at the day’s various stop-overs - shabby tin shack roadside eateries much favoured by the Singaporean contingent - and would seek out somewhere to take our evening meal where the food had least stopped moving before being presented for consumption.
We dined out with another expat, a British banker suffering with the same overwhelming desire for some recognisable food that he didn't have to chase around his plate before he could fork into his mouth, at a modest restaurant that had some decent prawns on offer and once sated decided to find somewhere more convivial to drink a beer or two. Being a couple of decades older than us, the Brit bowed out and returned to his accommodation for some much needed kip and so just Morten and I set off out into the dark humid night to see what we could find.
What we found, purely by chance, was the aforementioned fabulous hotel of affluent tropical Asian coastal style. That is to say, acres of cool marble with large open and beautifully appointed salons opening directly onto to extensive balconies directly overlooking the flawless beach and vast Pacific ocean.
I was all for taking a balcony table to enjoy some occidental ocean air but Morten was inexorably drawn, like a moth to the flame, towards a dusky young lady sitting, seemingly alone, on a large sofa inside the bar salon. So, inevitably, that is where we also sat and much to the lady's puzzled amusement Morten quickly launched into one of his legendary charm offensives. It wasn't long before I started to feel distinctly like a third wheel and so took my drink to a balcony leaving Morten to it.
Soon, the lady was joined by two wealthy looking Malaysian gentleman, one young and one rather older. It was obvious, even from my balcony vantage point, that these gentlemen were not impressed with Morten’s attentions and started to make their feelings known to him. At first they were taciturn but polite, soon they were clearly irritated and presently, when Morten persisted pressing his protestations of affection to the lady, rather angry. A double clap of the hands in the air brought from out of the shadows two rather large men whose rippling torsos could clearly be seen beneath their expensive shirts.
I decided that Morten really had gone too far this time and that it might be prudent to immediately settle our bar account and promptly leave. I put this to Morten and he reluctantly agreed but whilst I was settling our account he kept on with his ministrations to a now somewhat beleaguered young lady.
I don't have an exact recollection of what happened next but I can recall that as we were departing the portals of the hotel there was a lot of hostile barracking following us and Morten couldn't resist pausing to trade insults with his antagonists. I kept my head down and kept going, got on my bike, started it and was just pulling away when I heard the gunshots.
I realised later they must have just been firing in the air for dramatic effect and it certaInly had a profound effect on Morten whom in his haste to get the hell out of there ‘dropped’ his very heavy 1400 cc motorcycle whilst frantically trying to get astride it. Adrenaline must have kicked in, supercharging his muscles, because he managed to get it upright and subsequently started as easily as if it had been a 50cc moped.
We learned later that the offended party were all members of a Malaysian Royal Family, of which there are a great many, and as such were pretty much above the law. If in the event a bullet had fatally wounded Morten it's likely one would have quickly found its way to me and two Europeans would have simply vanished without trace.
Next day we all visited the highlight of the weekend tour, a very beautiful waterlily covered high altitude lake in the centre of the peninsular that is said to be the ancestral home of the Australian Aborigine, but the visit was distinctly marred for me by the terrors of the previous night. I'd never been shot at before and I wouldn't much mind if nobody ever bothered to shoot at me ever again.
It was a long ride back to Singapore and well into the evening by the time we pulled up outside the popular Hard Rock cafe for some quintessentially western grub and Morten, despite the darkness, was still wearing his daytime wrap-around ‘shades’ in order to maintain his uber cool biker image.
Which is possibly why, as he lowered the side stand of his motorcycle and dismounted, he failed to notice his proximity to a large tropical storm drain and yet again ‘dropped’ his heavy ‘Easy Rider’ style machine - right into the abyss.
Luckily, a few strong loitering expats, grinning from ear to ear, helped him to recover his pride and joy out of the drain and the damage was surprisingly minimal. Morten was physically unhurt too but mentally he'd just received a crushing blow to his egregious ego.
Usually an ebullient sort of chap, he was astonishingly subdued for the rest of the evening and although I kept my thoughts well and truly to myself I privately couldn't help thinking his obvious torment, due to his badly bruised self esteem, was all rather poetic justice somehow.
Braking News Singapore 1994