A Nostalgic Ride Back to Nineteen Seventy-One

Location: Kuala Lumpur


A True Johorian Love Story Between Two Races

September took me many places. That said, this month I’ve had my fair share of UBER rides. Why, they are almost anyone’s dream pickups – at least in the beginning.

Their recent bumpy rides made me question if I should still pledge my loyalty as it being my #1 go-to pickup service in Malaysia – Once the driver drove so atrociously it got me nauseous the next 2 hours. Twice the drivers made me walk instead of arriving at the requested location (accuracy guys, The School is NOT Jaya One). Thrice or more it was always on ‘surge price’.

So for my trip to KLIA 5 days ago, I decided to try its rival. It was my first GrabCar experience and I got me a love story. I also got 2 rides out of one – 1 to KLIA and the other back to 1971 (a nostalgic ride you can’t have unless you got S’s car by luck).

At first, I was skeptical. My driver was an old man. É asked if I’d like him to cancel and get a change of car, but I’ve got this belief that whoever I got, we are fated to meet for a reason and I’d like to see what fate wants me to see.

The car crawled. I prepared myself for a slow ride and prayed to reach the airport in time. I was asked 4 questions that made me feel uneasy:

“Are you Malay or Chinese?”

(Okay, fair enough. Anyone who hears me speak bahasa would ask me this.) 

“Where are you from?”


“Are you proud to be Johorian?”

I . . . guess I am.


Maybe because of the Sultan of Johor? 

“What do you think of that?”

I . . . am not really into politics. 

I shifted in my seat; unsure of what’s safe to say. Where does this man stand? Which party does he support? Is this a trick question? Then I started to feel sad about how Malaysia has made me (and probably most of us) feel about ‘freedom of speech’ in this country ruled by false democracy.

“The sultan probably misses the old days, just like me. That is why he started ‘Bangsa Johor’. Back in the old days, Malay, Chinese, Indian; we go camping, fishing . . . we did everything together. When the 13 May incident happened, the Johor-ians questioned, ‘What is that? What is there to fight about?’, because we have always lived in harmony. Johor is the first educated state in Malaysia, did you know that?”

No . . .

“All the states were colonized before except for Johor. When ‘they’ started 1Malaysia, us Johorians laughed and said, ‘Isn’t that what we’ve been doing for years?’. Now things have changed. Everybody has their own thinking. That is why ‘Bangsa Johor’ doesn’t work.”

So I guess you are from Johor too? 

“Yes, I am from Kluang. I was a sailor. As a sailor I used to lie down on the deck and look at the stars. How big is a star? There are so many of them. How big is earth compared to a star? What color does a star see when it looks at us? How big are we? How big are the politicians? We are so small.”

Almost . . . nothing. 

“If I can have just one wish. If I can only have one wish, it is to be 17 again. There were 3 of us; myself, Christina and Mary. Ohhhhh, we were so close. All my friends thought that Christina would be the girl I marry. We went backpacking to Venice, Hamburg, everywhere. Two months later, she got married to a Canadian man.”

He laughed at the hanging point of this sentence and my heart was left hanging with it. I imagined a lost, heartbroken young S with his head full of hair, running away from home with the girl he loves; just to learn that she’s in love with another man.

“So I joined the ship to Greece as a cabin boy; it went all the way to Finland, all the countries up north. I worked in Australia too; east to west. And when I came back in 1981, I had left this place for 9 years. 9 years! My mother was very angry. She said to me ‘I thought you were dead!’ Because I never wrote home; no letters, nothing.”

At this point I was really curious. Where is Christina? Is she still married? Do you still keep in touch?

“I just found out that they have moved to Melbourne. No, we haven’t been contacting each other. Last time we had this part-time job in Singapore; we were in a band and she used to sing. Ohhh when she sings . . .”

And he sang.

So I sang with him.

Look into my eyes – you will see
What you mean to me.
Search your heart, search your soul
And when you find me there you’ll search no more.

Don’t tell me it’s not worth tryin’ for.
You can’t tell me it’s not worth dyin’ for.
You know it’s true:
Everything I do, I do it for you.

“Wow. That song  . . . is my favorite. I got a stroke so I stopped singing. But if I see her again I would sing this song to her, and she will cry. I know she will cry.”

I felt like crying. To be able to speak so fondly of a person who hurt you before after so long; it must have been a love that meant so much. Yet the future of this love is as dim as ‘Love in The Time of Cholera‘.

I pushed the question: Are you married? 

Ohhh yes. I am a grandparent. I have 14 grandchildren! I don’t miss my kids but I miss my grandchildren. I have 10 brothers and sisters. 2 of my brothers passed away. You see, life, is to be enjoyed in the moment. So go enjoy it. Once you grow older, time passes faster. So fast. ZOOM! It’s gone – behind you.”

I looked at highway zooming past. I felt so young and I felt so old. As we approached the departure entrances, I realized I had stopped checking my watch and wished the ride didn’t have to end so soon. I travel far to meet interesting people, to search for meaningful stories; yet the most interesting person I met so far, is a Malaysian GrabCar driver in Kuala Lumpur.


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