I’m on a short trip to Kluang by train with daughter Kalia. For me train journeys always make me a little pensive, especially if I’m travelling alone. Like a lot of everything else, train journeys aren’t like what they used to be. There are many things that I miss from the journeys of old.
Back in the day, this trip could take me about 10 hours. Now it’s about half of that. This, I’m grateful for. It used to be that they used to sell real food at the so-called canteen coach. We used to have mee goreng, nasi goreng, cooked right there and then. There was also thick local kopi and teh and .. well you get the idea. Never mind the fact that all this made the canteen smoky and smell of cooking oil, cigarettes and sweat. Every trip like that really felt like a well, you know, a journey.
Passengers were also friendlier then. I remember being in an all-nighter and fellow hitherto unfamiliar passengers used to just hang out in between the coaches, underneath the stars, where it ‘s noisy but we’d all have some small-talk at the top of our voices while sharing cigarettes.
Then we’d stop in any of a number of little towns along the way and pedlars would get onboard. In the 10 minutes or so that we’re at the stop, they’d be selling karipap and nasi lemak and teh and kopi. And all these were piping hot. The drinks were carried in large hot kettles which they’d pour into plastic bags.
And then there’s Gemas. This little town is like the epicentre of the West Malaysia rail traffic universe: trains from the east and west coast, north and south all converge in Gemas. And when you stop here, you have to wait till the train from the opposite direction to arrive before you can continue your journey. And Gemas is always a long stop. Stops of one hour plus were not uncommon. In fact, for many of the passengers, this stop is treated as a kind of a stopover station. They would actually get off the train, have dinner at the stalls just outside and sprint to the train once you hear the so-called Station Master blowing the whistle.
Yes, I miss those days.