Malaysia, Pt 1: Prologue

Our tale begins with my return on Sunday, March 29th, from Chicago, where I had attended the Lunar Ball event the night prior. That weekend, in and of itself, was an adventure, but not the adventure I’ll relate today.

Feeling audacious, I decided upon my return that I would not sleep that night; Instead, I’d switch my sleep cycle to match Malaysia’s time. It seemed logical at the time: Stay awake all Sunday night, sleep on Monday afternoon, wake up, pack up, and depart on Monday evening to slowly make my way north, arriving in Chicago early on Tuesday morning.

As you’ve already guessed, this was horribly unwise. Don’t plan too far ahead!

I worked through Sunday night, only pausing to play with Sir Winston (the cat). At the break of dawn, I walked to the Multiply office to finish off a few final items and print the documents I’d need for my journey.

I left at 9am, when I noticed that I was nodding off at my work desk. Blinds shuttered, I slept at home until the evening.

At dusk, I showered, packed up my last items and the cat, and drove to the Padgetts’ for the kitty transfer. We had dinner and pleasant conversation that wound up lasting until midnight. I then began the drive to West Lafayette.

There, I visited the former and current Queens of PUMSA to obtain Mubin’s cleats (to deliver to him in Malaysia) at 1am. Afterwards, I visited Hongzhi. We made a quick swing by Walmart at 2am, and I then spent 2 hours browsing Reddit on his couch.

At four in the morning, the drive to Chicago began. Thankfully, I arrived without incident at Oliver’s. We made our greetings and goodbyes as he delivered me to O’Hare.

 

Check-in was when disaster struck.

United refused to let me check in. My passport was less than 6 months from expiry. Whether the destination was Singapore or Kuala Lumpur, it didn’t matter; There was no going.

I suppose I was naive – and extremely stupid – for thinking that the 6-month limit for passports wouldn’t apply to me returning to my own country.

At this point, I had to think, and think fast:

  • Do I fly from Chicago to New York to renew my passport?
  • Do I then fly from New York to Singapore, or do I return to Chicago and travel to Singapore?
  • Do I just cancel the trip altogether?

That my wallet would be severely damaged was a moot point; The only question was how much damage? I thought long and hard about the sunk costs, the marginal costs, the feasibility, and I arranged and rearranged flights on my phone to figure it all out.

In the end, I decided that I would move my flight to Singapore from Tuesday to Thursday, and in the meantime, fly to New York to renew my passport. It hurt both emotionally and financially, but it was the best choice. I contacted Peik Sean, begging her for a floor to sleep on in NYC, and Oliver, for the following night in Chicago.

I was exhausted now, the decision to flip my sleep cycle coming back to haunt me. At noon, I boarded a flight to Philadelphia, my transit point on the way to New York. A couple of hours of sleep, finally.

 

NEW YORK LAGUARDIA – CANCELLED

 

Those words flashed at me from the display monitors in the terminal of the Philadelphia airport. Well, shit.

“Why can’t I go anywhere?” – Me, at this point.

The next available flight was the following afternoon (20 hours later), landing a mere one hour before my return flight leaving New York. I wasn’t about to wait that long (or rearrange every single flight, again), so I talked it out with two extremely kind and helpful American Airlines agents. Eventually, the ladies went out of their way to help me obtain an Amtrak train ticket from Philadelphia to New York for that evening.

But first, I had to stop my luggage from moving on to New York by themselves. Wouldn’t want to fly to Singapore without any clothing, now would I? A helpful young man at the baggage claim counter helped in this endeavor with many exasperated calls. I rushed to the furthest terminal to rescue my bags, then rushed to the train terminal, grabbed the train to downtown Philadelphia, and made it to the Amtrak station with minutes to spare. This time, there were no unpleasant surprises.

Hauling 30 kilograms of weight spread over 2 luggage bags and a backpack up the subway steps, I emerged in the center of loud, bustling Manhattan. Night has fallen, and the rain is torrential, sparing no thought for weary travelers. I would spend 30 minutes in an Uber and walk 10 blocks through the downpour and the puddles it birthed before Peik Sean would find me standing outside her apartment, looking very much like I had just swum there.

So ended the day of drama.

 

Wednesday dawned. I arrived at the Malaysian General Consulate and had my new passport in my hands within the hour. Commendable efficiency! I had a few hours to spare, so I explored the city streets, swinging by the United Nations and the New York Public Library – the one stop I missed on my visit there last year. I purchased cakes from Lady M and had lunch at the original Halal Guys (delicious).

All too soon (or not soon enough), the time to depart New York arrived. I returned the apartment key and said goodbye to Peik Sean, then took an Uber to La Guardia. Pleasant conversation was had with the driver, who was a Bangladeshi immigrant who had previously spent 12 years as a taxi driver. I made it back to O’Hare via Pittsburgh without incident, and Oliver was kind enough to provide me with my first shower in 3 days (and the only shower I’ll have throughout this story) as well as my own, former mattress (that I had sold to him three years ago) to sleep on.

 

Thursday rolled around. A mild feeling of dejavu set in as Oliver drove me to the airport again. This time, however, I managed to check in and board my flight as planned. At long last, I was on my way home. While I was in the air, I must credit Annie for leading my scheduled SASE call in my stead.

Due to timezone hijinks, it was Friday by the time I landed in Tokyo. There, I had to transfer from Narita to Haneda, an endeavor that took nearly 3 hours due to traffic (I took the shuttle bus). Pretty sure I made a local professional uncomfortable by drowsing and leaning too close to him. Once I was all checked in, I was free to explore!

I took the train to Yokohama and explored the area for a bit; The highlight was a soundless hand-gesturing contest I had with a cashier at a small store (I knew no Japanese and he, no English). I then met up with Ben, an old friend from Purdue who currently resides in Tokyo. He took myself and his friends to an all-you-can-eat (and all-you-can-drink) joint in an alley. The sashimi was absolutely delicious. Soon, however, I had to say my goodbyes, stumble back on the train, and rush off to my flight, making it to the gate 10 minutes before boarding. I probably cut that a little too close for comfort.

 

7 hours later, I touched down at Changi Airport, Singapore. 3 hours later, I crossed the Causeway and felt my jaw drop at the familiar yet unrecognizable skyline of Johor Bahru. Home at last, after 4 years.

 

I cannot thank enough the countless people (from the cat-sitters to the cheerleaders to the Uber drivers to the accommodation providers and everyone in between) who found it in their hearts to help this fool find his way home. Thank you.