22 Aug 2013 Malaysia: Driving Blind in Kuala Lumpur
We drove to Kuala Lumpur so we could catch a flight to China the next morning. There was no point in staying at an expensive hotel in the city centre. The Family Hotel in Klang was a little old, but the shabby flooring and fixtures were clean.
I had arranged to meet a friend at a mall in Kuala Lumpur that evening. I debated whether to take a taxi from Klang — I even had the front-desk staff call and find out the cost: 60 ringgit each way, about $40 for the round trip. That seemed too much (my sense of a dollar’s value having been inflated after six months in Asia). Shawn and I reviewed the route on his iPad, and I set off with adrenaline-fueled confidence.
After successfully backtracking from our hotel onto Highway 2, I was imagining texting Shawn to tell him the whole thing had been easy. Roads stacked on top of each other and slithered everywhere like the head of Medusa, but I held my course. There was the mall, multi-storied and decked in neon. I turned off the main road, but just at the spot where I needed to shift into the left lane, I hesitated. Too late! Now there was a barrier between the lanes, and I couldn’t turn into the parking lot.
I turned around and remapped my route. This time, Google Maps betrayed me, instructing me to take a left across a concrete island. So I was spit back onto the main road.
Recalculate route. Recalculate route. I kept missing turns or going the wrong way and got terribly off track. I finally circled back around, but the battery on the iPad was dying and I was already late. By the time I pulled into the first mall parking lot I saw and called my friend, my nerves were jumping. What a relief when R. met me by Marks and Spencer. I had a few hours’ respite until the drive home.
We closed out the restaurant, and just after 10 pm R. walked me to my car. That’s when the fun started, because both the iPad and my cell phone were dead. I would have to drive blind, navigating by my wits and a vague idea of where the hotel was in Klang.
I started well, getting back onto the road I came in on. But I didn’t know how to get onto Highway 2—there were no exit signs. The roads were a nest of vipers and I couldn’t make head nor tail of them.
Then I came to a toll booth before another major highway, and I knew I was in trouble. I pulled over, put the hazard lights on, and got out. A couple was leaving the nearby McDonald’s restaurant. On their way out, she rolled down her passenger window so I could speak to him in the driver’s seat. He explained that I needed to go through the toll, then do a U-turn and get on the Shah Alam Highway 5 toward Klang. I was so grateful for their help, and told them so.
I got onto Highway 5 and drove for what seemed like ages. I felt, strangely, the way I remembered feeling in the wilderness of Algonquin Park back home in Canada—adrift in my canoe, surrounded by trackless lakes and forests, with a narrow window of safety if I stayed on the path marked on my map. I clutched the steering wheel of my little Myvi boat and held on.
Finally I pulled over in a place that looked like Klang and went into a Chinese massage shop that was still open after 11 pm at night. I explained my predicament to the receptionist and asked whether she could call me a taxi. Everyone in the waiting room got involved, half-a-dozen men and women. One man made several calls and finally found a driver who could take me to the Family Hotel in Klang. I thanked him profusely for his persistence, and before I left he said, “We have to protect the customer!”
The taxi arrived and I followed, calming myself by memorizing the license plate. At last we arrived at the hotel after midnight! I texted R. to tell her I was okay and climbed into bed, shaken but proud, and grateful, and lucky.
Up until I missed that first turn into the mall, I had felt very good about myself. Then I missed the turn, and I wondered whether I could still feel good even though I hadn’t done the drive perfectly. Did my brave act count even though I made mistakes? I decided that it did. In adversity, I had adjusted and not freaked out. I had survived my blind drive in Kuala Lumpur.
About the Author: Alison Gresik is a writer and creativity coach living in Vancouver, BC. With her husband and two young kids, she travelled Asia and Europe for a year, a project they called Operation Hejira. Alison is now writing a memoir about their time abroad, titled Pilgrimage of Desire: An Explorer’s Intimate Journal of Art and Flow as a Way of Life.