Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Day 405 - Kuala Lumpur (Last day)

Aoiffa,Teri and Brian, you are all right about the Durian fruit, it is the very smelly stuff, I can even smell it without seeing it as I cycle past stalks selling it during the day, but it does also taste very good, though with so much choice of fruit in this area that you never see at home I tend to opt for other smaller fruit. There are also signs on hotel doors here saying no Durian, apparently the smell gets into the air conditioning and stay there, oh lovely!

Well one of the jobs that needed doing was a bike repair. The bottom bracket has been going for quite some time now and after Singapore I would have little chance of replacing it. For the non cyclists a bottom bracket a sealed unit full of bearings and stuff that fits inside the frame that the cranks bolt onto. It has had a wobble on it and I am sure that eventually it would have broken completely and siezed up. It wasn't a problem to cycle with, it just had an annoying jerk at the top of each stroke. Having checked for decent bike shops on interenet I opted for the best sounding shop which was well away from the city centre and well off any free map that was available. I bought the best looking map I could find, more of a book, and set off. First I went to find the Indonesian Embassy, getting a visa is another job to be done here. I almost passed it on the way in so I knew it would be easy to find. Oh no it wasn't. Heading back to it was almost impossible as it was all oneway streets going in the opposite direction. I got a bit pissed off with it all and restorted to a bit of law breaking, turning right where there were no right turn signs, heading the wrong way up one way streets etc, but it still took an age to get there. Unfortunately my wonderful map book doesn't show the directions of the one way streets. Having found it I decided to head the considerable distance to the bike shop by the expressway, it had to easier. Wrong again! It was even worse, there were so many junctions going in all directions that the book didn't seem to be able to handle them all and appeared to have just given up on some of them. I had to take best guesses, but when you get on the wrong expressway there are no chances of U-turns or going in the opposite direction. I was getting even more pissed off. Interestingly it seems the more pissed off I get with route finding the louder my curses become, thankfully there was nobody around to hear them and to be honest they are not really suitable for printing in this blog. One useful thing the book had was the road numbers, though I couldn't get them to match anything I was on. Thankfully I had brought my trusty compass, that was the most useful thing I had. The book was as much use as a chocolate teapot, no, no, no, less use, because at least you could eat the teapot, the book tasted terrible! At last I got there, some 3 hours after setting off! I had made a good choice of shops as the bottom bracket was fitted straight away by the boss man who clearly knew his stuff. I also bought a new chain. For the non cyclists that's the mucky thing that goes around the cogs. It's much easier to pedal without a chain, but you don't go anywhere near as fast. The journey back was far easier, once again heading towards the landmark of the ever visible Petronas Towers. The journey out had been 41km, heading back was just 14km, so I think I must have taken a wrong turning somewhere. The 14km back was a joy to cycle, pedalling was so smooth, no annoying jerk any more, apart from the one on the saddle! I once again was forced onto expressways, but these had very good cyclepaths that went underneath the junctions and were so much safer.
Sunday had it in for me and was telling me it was a day of rest. I planned a long walk, but every time I went out it started to rain. On one occasion I went into Burger King, now there's an admission, to get out of the rain. I hate such places but at least it was better than getting wet. I had a burger (do people really go back to such places after having eaten one?) and a coffee and was sitting there waiting for the rain to stop when somebody came in through a side door which created a strong wind that blew everything off my tray, empty cup, lid, napkins, burger wrappers the lot, all that was left in front of me was an empty tray. I looked around to see them stuck to the sides of not very happy looking people on the tables next to me. I appologised doing my best not to laugh as I feeled them off their clothing. One or two more jobs were ticked off, I got new sim card for a mobile phone that now works, got the broken chains that I wear around my neck repaired, which incidentally seem to be just as dirty as the chain that goes on the bike.
Monday's weather was totally different, lovely and sunny, just the weather for sitting in the Indonesian Embassy trying to persuade them to give me the visa I wanted. I need a 60 day visa, they only issue a 30 day visa at the border, but you also need to show your tickets in and tickets out. I told them I would sort that out in Singpore, but that was not good enough, I had to bring them in tomorrow. I kept explaining my situation but they insisted I needed to produce the tickets, so I played my trump card and told them I had sufficient funds to see me through, even though I counldn't really prove it to them, and after that they dropped the request and told me to pick up the passport tomorrow. "Tomorrow?" I said somewhat suprised as I had expected it to take about 3 or 4 days at best, "Yes" he said "If you had your tickets you could have picked it up this afternoon". What a result, I left with a smile on my face and an empty wallet. So back I went to the hostel via a cash machine and made my way to Mid Valley Megamall, another place I would rather not be, but I needed to get my heart rate monitor fixed. The address was a sod to find and turned out to be a residential address in one of many attached blocks of flats. The guy was the sole distributor of Polar in Malaysia and operated from his home. The watch needed a new battery as did the chest strap and that meant a completely new chest strap as it is a sealed unit. I left without a smile on my face and my wallet empty again. Me and the cash machine are now on first name terms.

Another day dawned bright and cheery, this time the dentist beckoned. I went to the first one I found, up some dirty old stairway in a block of flats, but once inside I was impressed, he seemed to be better than my dentist at home. It turned out to be the same tooth giving me a problem as I had temporarily fixed in Dubai, so the dentist in Dubai was right, it was temporary. This time a PC was started up and photos of my tooth were there in front of me in glorious technicolour, I think I would rather have not seen them thank you. The tooth needs some heafty work done on it, so it was another tempory fix, a filling. I was asked if I wanted an injection or not, so I thought I would give it a go without. I have to say it was OK, the worst part was the cold squirty thing at the start, but I would expect that to hurt as it is cold drinks that really cause the pain that I get anyway. He cleaned out the cavity a proudly brought a little chunk of food out and held it in front of my eyes and said "look, smelly". I know my shirt wasn't clean on today, but that is no way to address a patient. Once the work was done he showed me another photo, it looked as though he had done a good job, but I am no expert. I left with a grimace on my face and the strange feeling of deja vu as my wallet was once again empty. I need to get out of this place, quick! In the afternoon I made another trip to the Indonesian Embassy. Each time I go there I try a different route to try and beat the one way systems, each time I get lost or go around in circles, getting back is so easy. I picked up the passport with a nice shiny 60 day visa, no questions asked, so I left with a big smile on my face and an empty wallet, only this time because I hadn't refilled it yet. Getting back was a doddle as usual. I stopped off at a couple of the big malls just to see how the other half live. I parked the bike and expected to be moved on. Before I could get away security were on to me, "You can't leave you bike there, it is a big problem". "What can the problem possibly be" I replied, "I don't know, but you can't leave it there" was the only answer I was given. The malls are very posh, very modern, dare I say it, very nice, but there are so few people in there, probably because it's a big problem to park. How can they justify so many big malls for so few people? My jobs are almost done though I still have a form to fill in and return to the Inland Revenue, so even after all this time they haven't forgotten me, I am touched. I suspect there is an unopened Christmas card from them waiting for me when I return.

Today has been my last day in KL and my first real day of just sightseeing, so thankfully I saved some of the highlights to the end, literally. First stop was the Menari Kuala Lumpur Tower, the 3rd highest comms tower in the world. The lift fairly shoots you up the almost 300m to the obervation deck and wow, what an impressive view. The only other building that is higher, or even comes near it is height is the Petronas Towers (photo), but other than that you are way above everything else. It was mesmerising, like looking down on a moving map. I stayed there for almost 2 hours just watching life below, watching the progress of trains, seeing helicoptors landing, watching the traffic move through junctions, see all the places I had been to and trying to work out the way to the bloody Indonesian Embassy without going the wrong way down one-way streets. I didn't want to leave but time was pushing on, I had another tower to go up. The Petronas Towers are the headquarters for the Petronas oil company, but it also a very fine building, very modern, but also to me very beautiful, not you normal ugly concrete structure, but a graceful piece of architecture that enhances the skyline. It has become the KL icon, no, the national icon. You see pictures of it everywhere, it's on a bank note, I have even see it moulded to form the back of plastic chairs, and why not, it deserves it's status. The tower is free to go up, but only to the skybridge on the 41st floor, but there are a restricted amount of tickets and by the time I gor there the days allocation had gone. I wasn't over bothered, the KL tower is much higher and has a 360 degree view. At the bottom of the tower is another mall, there are no shortage of them here, in fact as I walked around I popped into each one as I passed. They are architechturely all very different and needless to say the news ones are far more graceful and have far more space than the older ones, they also have far more glamourous shops with prices to match so far less people in them. A scruffy herbert like me was clearly only there to have a look around. One of the old ones I went in was huge but the walkways so narrow that it was claustrophobic. It was full of small affordable shops and stalls, so full of people too, I was glad to get out.

Well my time in KL has been enjoyable and I like the city. My stay has been a mixture of getting odd jobs done, sightseeing and chilling out, a bit different to my normal way of life. If I was staying in a nice hotel I could easily stay a few more days, but that is partly why I chose the place I did. My wallet has been moaning too much and wants to go, it says it needs a holiday now, but I have told it that in 5 days we arrive in Singapore, then it will have to work it socks off.
I said a while ago that I would tell you about my plans for the future and why it was about to become more difficult, well now is the right time to tell you.
When I left home I really didn't expect to be away more than a couple of months as I have written earlier, but as time went by things were going swimmingly well and what's more I was really enjoying it. I had feared that I would become homesick, but I wasn't. Sure I miss things, Tesco's cheap cheese and white chocolate spring to mind, and oh, not to forget my family and friends, but you can't eat them, or at least shouldn't! So as far back as Iran, that's about last October, I had pretty much decided that this was the life for me, I couldn't see why I should stop once I reach Sydney, I decided I would carry on around the world. So the rough plan is to head for South America, cycle through there but not right from the bottom, up to and through Central America, then Mexico and USA to San Francisco and across America to New York, probably taking about 3 years in total to reach NY from when I set out. The great thing in my opinion about all this is that I have never thought about an end date. To have an end date puts a deadline on the whole thing, I would start to think I am half way through, only 4 months left etc, but without a deadline there is never a rush, it's just living and enjoing life for what it is.

But let me tell you something that you didn't know: Life is a bitch. Oh you did know? Now there's a surprise. In life you never know what is around the corner, but you can be pretty damned certain there whatever it is, it is not going to be very nice. And so it is in this case. When I left home my sister Aoiffe had been ill for quite some time, about 10 years at a rough guess. She has Polycythemia Vera, sounds posh doesn't it, but I wouldn't recommend it, it's sort of a Lukemia type of thing in a nutshell. Whilst I have been away she has gone steadily downhill, pining for me probably, to the extent that she now needs to take drastic action in the form of a bone marrow transplant. So the search was on for a donor, the best donors being siblings, of which she has plenty. I obviously knew about this a long time ago and whilst I was in Laos and Cambodia I was preparing myself for a dash to Bangkok and a flight to Singapore where I could get a blood test carried out to see if I was a suitable donor. As it happened one of my other many sisters was a good match. I had mixed emotions about that, I felt a little down as I wanted to be the one that helped, but the important thing is that there was a good match and with only a 1 in 4 chance of a match with each sibling it was a relief too. So now a donor has been found and Aoiffe goes into hospital on 3rd July to start the process, a very long process. She will be in hospital for the first month, in an isolation unit as her immune system takes a bit of a bashing and any infection is a real threat, even a cold or a sore throat. But it's no holiday, not even a picnic, she will feeling very ill the whole time and it takes a few weeks before the new bone marrow even starts to grow. The chance of success in bone marrow transplants is 1 in 4 and a 1 in 2 chance of there being no change at all. All being well she then leaves the hospital and returns home but has to have 24hr attention for following two weeks and a return to hosital at the slightest hint of any problems, so nobody with the slightest infection can go near her. Aoiffe is all very positive about this and sees a better quality of life at the end of it all, but that is about a year away if everything goes to plan. She claims she is only having a BMT so that she can follow me around the world in a VM camper van with the music of Fairport Convention's 'Keep on turning the wheel' bellowing out.....oh joy! This is all very much a brief overview, needless to say there is so much more I could write as it is very complicated. All through the years of her illness Aoiffe has always had a very positive outlook on life, always ready for a laugh, she has been strong in the face of adversity and a real inspiration, a REAL inspiration, not the inspiration that some people say that I am. It has changed her outlook on life a bit, it's bound to. She lives more for the day rather than waiting for the future. If I was in her position I would like to think I would be like she is but I sure I wouldn't be.

I have thought long and hard about what I should do, whether I should continue my journey of return home and I have talked about it at lengths with Aoiffe. She understands that I am doing something that I have always wanted to do and that at least whilst she is in hospital there is nothing I could do if I came back anyway. In fact she wants me to continue because she enjoys reading the blog, she say it transports her to places that she could never go to and that will be even more important whilst she is in isolation, she has even bought a lap-top so that she can follow my progress from the hospital bed. But none of this really makes it any easier for me. Over the past year I have been in contact with her on numerous occasions as due to her illness I know she will always be at home and contactable, she has been great support to me. It hurts to think about what she will be going through, should I really be out he having a ball, having the time of my life, not that I really think I will be from now on, it will all become much tougher and I will continue to question whether I am doing the right thing. Hopefully I will be in daily contact via text messages as to the progress that is being made, but I am also aware that at any time I may have to abandon the trip and return home as quickly as possible. I pray that things go well, go as planned, and if they do then I will return when I reach Sydney, probably around the end of October/beginning of November. What comes after that, who knows, but there is sure to be a pile of poo waiting around the corner for me to step in.

So how is all this affecting me. Well I feel as though I am doing pretty well at the moment, but I am sure it will hit me hard from the day she goes into hospital. There are a couple of physical changes in me that I think indicate that I am stressed. Those who know me well will know that I had a very bad habit of picking my fingers and nails, but whilst I have been away that has stopped completely and they are now normal, or at least were as the habit seems to be returning and I don't even realise I am doing it. Also I have noticed my heart rythym goes somewhat strange at times, that too has been fine on this journey, so I put that down to stress too.

Your comments and emails have always been generous and supportive when I have been going through a rough patch and I know many of you will want to do the same now, and I thank you most sincerely for that, but some of you may not be able to find the right words to say. Don't worry about it, I would rather that on this occasion you didn't send any comments or emails, but I would like to ask a little favour of you all instead. Aoiffe will be unwell and in hospital a very long time and needs all the help she can get, so if you can find it in your hearts to say a prayer, just one, though the more the better, that would be far better and appreciated far more than comments or emails. I have said before that my prayers are never answered but that I only pray when I need something, well this is a classic example, but the more people that pray the better. It only needs one persons prayer to be answered, that's all. If that happens it's a win for us all, Aoiffe will come through with a renewed quality of life and we will all think that our prayers have been answered.

As a foot note to all that, I sent Aoiffe a draft copy before I published it. Below are a couple of her comments that clearly shows her positive outlook on life and the future:

Re para 3 - (a) course you should be out there having the time of your life; you are living life to the full, drinking deeply of it, good and bad, joyful and scary and boring and delightful as it is. That is what I do albeit in a very different way to you and over the next months I will be living my life to the full as I journey through this challenge.
(b) poo may be piles of shit to some but to others it is fertilizer for growth!

Re para 4 - All welcome to the the party this time next year!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


aoiffe said...

Now we all know that you make the occasional spelling error in your blog, and who wouldn't with the amount you write, but this time its a gem...
you must be lucky to have got out of Burger King alive!

dad said...

Well, the jerk in the saddle had me laughing out loud several times but in the end I was moved to tears as you opened your heart to the world and have shown how much you love our family, and Aoiffe in particular, at this special time. I will say more in my email to you.

Caff said...

A terrific and heartfelt account - as Aoiffe says "a gem". Your writing style is really growing with each mile pedalled. It holds us with interest and sometimes on the edge of our seats! We have been with you in thoughts and prayers every pedal rotation of your journey, through the thick and thin, fun and grim, sickness and in health..............and not to mention the poo!!
You have had (and continue to have) some wonderful experiences and met some amazing people opening the window of the world and it's beautiful people to those of us left at home. And now Aoiffe is to start her with John we will be with you every step of the way and you too will be meeting (and have already met) some amazing people, but not in a far off country, right here in Blighty.
Your journey is going to be tough Aoiffe, but we are right there with you in thoughts and prayers....every step of the way.
And...........I look forward to the party next year! :-)

Caff said...

A wonderful batch of photos - who'd have thought the modern world can be so photographic and dare I say it, beautiful. But, you have managed to capture it superbly. Well done. One thought though - where are all the people? Whenever I see a nice photo there seem to be 100's of people around and no matter how long I wait, they just don't go away. Do you have a secret - do you wear an alien outfit and/or mask to scare everyone away?!! :-)

Lorna said...

Well, I've been wondering about your dilemma and how you would deal with things, and now you've enlightened us all. The very best of luck tomorrow, and over the coming months, Aoiffe.