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Across Australia in 4 days – Part 4: Face to face with the Indian Pacific

Originally posted December 24, 2009 ¬ 12:10 AM on previous web server

Previously on Across Australia in 4 days – Part 3: Sydney Landing

With the repacked High Sierra backpack heavy on my back, the Acer netbook computer snug in its bag and the luggage bag in tow, I stepped into the elevator down to ticketing level of Sydney Airport’s International Terminal train station.

After purchasing an AirportLink train ticket costing AUD 15.20, I made my way to Platform 1, down one level from the ticketing area, using an escalator.

The platform was dimly lit, but there was enough light for me to take reasonably sharp ambient-light pictures using ISO 1,600 setting on my digital SLR camera. I needed to hold the camera really steady though, because the shutter speeds were quite slow at 1/16 and 1/10 seconds, to compensate for the dim lighting.

Sydney Central Station, the place where the Indian Pacific was waiting, was the fourth stop towards the Town Hall station from the International Terminal. While waiting for the correct train, a train came and gone in the other direction.

The train consisted of peculiar double-deck carriages. I thought up to that time only buses came as double-deckers. The double-deck carriages were the first that I had came across in my limited encounters with trains.

My train came. I found that the CityRail carriage was actually split into three compartments. The first was the compartment that I had stepped into from the platform floor. The ceiling was high, running up to the roof of the carriage. This compartment was quite small, with only a couple of seats and room to stand. A few steps away were stairs to the the lower-level and upper-level passenger compartments.

I chose to remain in the first compartment, occupying one of the seats, so that I could easily get off the train later without much hassle dragging my luggage bag up or down the carriage’s stairs. The compartment was full. Two stops away from Central Station I stood up and offered my seat to one of the standing co-passengers.

20 minutes into the short journey, I disembarked at Central Station. The platform was on ground level in the open. It was quite cold, the chill biting through my light jacket. I walked hurriedly to the end of the platform where there was an elevator which went underground. I took it. At the bottom I followed the signboards to the main station terminal. The walk ended at an escalator which went up to ground level. There I could see the main terminal. And I could also see the platform that I had just came from. I realized then that the walk after the elevator was actually underneath the ground level platforms, a sort of underground bridge from the platforms to the main station building.

In the main building of the station I paused to take some pictures. The Sydney Central station building was a classic Victorian-style train station building, with high roofs supported by massive dark-colored steel girders, with substantial parts of the roof made of translucent materials, which allowed natural lighting to illuminate the station.

The station reminded me of London’s Liverpool Street Station, which had seen me many times in 1993-1994, when I used the InterCity trains between London and Colchester, the town where I stayed with my wife and two small children during my 10-month study leave at the University of Essex working on my MSc degree in Telecommunication and Information Systems.

I then wandered around the station looking for the Indian Pacific. I saw it at the other end of the building, the unmistakable dark blue-liveried locomotive on Platform 2. I also saw many people standing and sitting on the station’s benches, with luggage bags at their feet. My would-be co-travelers on the Indian Pacific!

Not finding any signboard pointing to the Indian Pacific’s luggage check-in, I asked one of the gentlemen standing in the vicinity of Platform 2. He directed me towards the CountryLink office on the platform to the right of Platform 2.

I found the office, or rather I found on one side of the corridor of the platform a portable metal signboard with a picture of very long train meandering in crimson light of a late afternoon across a bushy plains, saying “Indian Pacific Luggage check-in area”.

I went in to the check-in counter, pulled out my internet-booked Indian Pacific ticket and told the counter staff that I was going to Perth. He smiled broadly and called out to his partner,

“Hey Sheila, this guy wants to go to Perth!”.

The way he said it sounded like he thought I was really adventurous (read crazy guy 🙂 ) going on the very long 4,000 over kilometers’ journey, alone, from Sydney to Perth.

“He wants to go to Perth, he gets to go to Perth!” answered Sheila from somewhere inside the office. Sheila sounded cheerful, hehe.

The bloke then took my luggage, tied an orange-colored tag on the bag’s handle and gave back my ticket with a copy of the orange tag stapled on.

Freed from the heavy bag, I walked back into the station to do some exploration and to find some tucker (Australian, for food) for my growling stomach.

At 1:00 pm I bought an Indian Pacific book from the Rail History shop, costing me AUD 20.00. The book was full of images and hot off the printers, having been published just one month before, in September 2009 . It chronicled the history of Indian Pacific and showed the different locomotives that were used over the years to haul the train across Australia from Sydney to Perth and return.

At 1:14 pm I finished my lunch outside the station’s Hungry Jacks (equivalent to Burger King) outlet. My lunch consisted of two pieces of Bakehouse Egg & Lettuce Sandwich and a bottle of Mount Franklin Spring Water. The sandwich was about the only thing that I could find that satisfied my halal criteria.

The growling stomach pacified, I wandered around the station looking for a chapel or a quiet place where I could do my Zohor and Asar prayers. I found no suitable place. So I decided to wait and do my prayers on board the Indian Pacific.

Across the station at Platform 2, the Indian Pacific was still there, waiting silently for the boarding to start sometime after 2.00 pm.

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Across Australia in 4 days – Part 3: Sydney Landing

Originally posted November 9, 2009 ¬ 1:08 AM on previous web server

Previously on Across Australia in 4 Days – Part 2: Kuala Lumpur International Airport

It was 4:51 am Malaysian Standard Time. The aircraft had been in the air for nearly 5 hours. The flight information display on my armrest LCD screen showed that the flight would be in the air for another 2 hours before we land in Sydney.

We were cruising at 1,093 km per hour at an altitude of 36,974 feet, which was equivalent to slightly over 11 km up in the air. Kuala Lumpur was 4,624 km behind, and Sydney 2,111 km ahead. The air show map on the LCD screen showed that we were right in the middle of Australia. Outside air was cold -14 Celsius, but it was nowhere near as cold as -64 Celsius that I had observed above Norway in a flight from US to Sweden in January 2007.

At 5:10 am the cabin’s color LED lighting, what was known as “mood lighting”, came on. The changing color hues were very soothing and pretty and were designed to help weary travelers adjust more easily to a different time zone.

The turning on of mood lighting also doubled as a wake up signal. Five minutes later we were served fruit juice followed by breakfast. The time was 7:15 am Sydney time, +2 hours ahead of Malaysia.

Slightly more than 90 minutes later at 8:59 am the aircraft’s mid-body landing gears’ tires touched down smoothly at Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport.

The quiet landing was immediately followed by the roar of thrust reversers being engaged to direct hot exhaust gases from the four engines to the front, to quickly stop the heavy aircraft. 10 seconds later the aircraft slowed to a crawl and taxied off the landing runway.

I activated the radio on my mobile phone, which had been hibernating in flight mode since the boarding in Kuala Lumpur. It connected immediately to Telstra Mobile and soon after that a text message came in from my brother-in-law in Kuala Lumpur acknowledging my text to him informing of my trip the night before.

We were approaching a gate. Through the cabin window I could see many Qantas planes with their vertical stabilizers in distinctive white kangaroo on red background.

That was to be expected – we were after all at an Australian airport, and a major one at that as well.

7 minutes later at 9:06 am, the aircraft docked and connected to a jetway next to a US Delta Air Lines Boeing 777 which had flown its maximum range across the Pacific from Los Angeles to Sydney.

At 9:21 am I breezed through immigration and then waited at Carousel number 2 for my baggage.

I was a bit apprehensive. There was this distant inner fear that my luggage would not be there on the carousel. The fear of history repeating itself.

In January 2007 I landed at Newark airport near New York after a short 90-minute flight from Washington D.C. My luggage was nowhere to be seen even after everyone on the flight had collected theirs and the carousel had stopped moving!

I lodged a missing luggage report and took a courtesy van to my transit hotel. I had planned to explore New York city while waiting for my flight back to Kuala Lumpur, but the missing luggage with my warm clothing in it had forced me to stay indoors. It was way too cold for me to venture out.

The bag never appeared, and two days later I checked in at the airport for the 21-hour MH91 flight to Kuala Lumpur via Stockholm with only my trusty backpack and laptop computer. No checked luggage, only the carry-ons.

I came out of the reverie back to the present, when the luggage carousel at Sydney airport started to move at 9:35 am. With a great relief I saw my bag. But I had to wait a while for the bag to take a long tour around the hall before it came to me – I was standing at the wrong side of the carousel.

I then went to the queue that was waiting to have their luggage cleared by customs inspectors. In my bag I had packs of granola bars – bars of ready-to-eat compressed oats and cereals, enough to last the four-day journey on the Indian Pacific train from Sydney to Perth.

Australia’s authorities were very strict on the importation of foods, grains, pollen, seeds, fruits, honey, soils, medications and other similar materials. Thus on the landing form distributed during the flight, I had dutifully declared that I was bringing food materials.

The lady customs officer attending to me requested that I show her the food that I had declared on the form. I did. She did not say anything, but turned her attention to my first aid bag, pointing to two blister packs of paracetamol tablets that I always included in my travel bag.

I told her what they were. After rummaging through the first aid bag, she advised me to declare them on the landing form next time, even though they might be normal paracetamol tablets. Yes officer.. Then she let me go. Thank you officer..

The whole episode was swift. It was over within 10 minutes of the luggage carousel started moving.

I had psyched myself for the worst and was quite ready to be held up until the last passenger had gone, as what had happen to me in 2006 at Perth Airport. But it did not happen.

Here in Sydney I was not grilled with the barrage of questions I had endured in Perth – where was I going to visit, why was I going there, who was I going to meet, what was my itinerary, did I have credit cards, why did I bring the GPS satellite navigation receiver, why did I bring the magnetic compass, why did I bring more than one flash drive, why did that particular video clip was in my laptop computer (it was a lecture video), was I there to give lectures (i.e. illegal employment), etc, etc.

I had felt like a fugitive seeking to overstay my visa and work illegally in the country, whereas on the contrary I was a qualified engineer with a degree from a top Australian university, a specialist with master’s degree from a respectable top ten U.K. university and a dignified professional working at a premier telecommunications company in Malaysia.

Thankfully, none of that happened in Sydney. They did not even care to look at my e-ticket which would verify that I had a confirmed return flight back to Malaysia in a week’s time.

I concluded that the raw treatment I received in Perth over 3 years ago was not representative of the country’s border security system, rather it was a treatment I had received from an overzealous young lady officer.

By 9:50 am I was in the public area of the airport’s arrival hall. I found a row of vacant seats and sat there observing the surroundings and planning my move. My next destination was Sydney Central Station where the Indian Pacific was scheduled to depart in 5 hours’ time at 2:55 pm.

At the arrival hall’s information desk, I gathered that the central station was only a short distance from the airport, costing AUD15.00 by coach or AUD15.20 by train. The information desk’s staff recommended that I take the train.

After several minutes’ rest, I opened my suitcase and transferred to my backpack the granola bars, first aid kit, and a toiletries bag. I needed to put into the backpack everything I required for the 4-day journey because once checked in on the Indian Pacific, I would not have access to the big bag again.

I also transferred a light blanket into the backpack. The Indian Pacific website had recommended that Red Daynighter Seat guests such as me bring along a blanket and pillow for added comfort. Well, I had a blanket, but for pillow I would have to improvise.

That done, I made my way down the hall towards the elevator that went down to the airport train terminal.

The journey had turned out great up to then. I had safely arrived in Sydney with ample time to comfortably catch the Indian Pacific for the long rail trek across the Australian continent.

Next on Across Australia in 4 days – Part 4: Face to face with the Indian Pacific

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Across Australia in 4 Days – Part 2: Kuala Lumpur International Airport

Originally posted October 27, 2009 ¬ 1:13 AM on previous web server

Previously on Across Australia in 4 Days – Part 1: Before the Journey

The taxi ride to the airport only took 30 minutes. At 9:00 p.m. I had completed checking-in and was given a boarding pass which indicated that the MH123 flight would board at Gate C01 at 21:40 (9:40 p.m.) and depart at 23:40 (11:40 p.m.). Still ample time.

I walked across the concourse to the Pusrawi pharmacy to get a 9 volt battery for my homemade CMOY headphone amplifier. Halfway there, out of habit, I looked at the boarding pass more closely. Something didn’t seem right. The seat number.

I pulled out my trusty Palm TX PDA (Personal Digital Assistant), and checked Malaysia Airlines’ Boeing 747-400 aircraft seating arrangement. True enough; the seat number printed on the boarding pass was for a seat on the lower deck, not on upper deck as I had requested two weeks before.

Malaysia Airlines Seat Plan on my Palm TX’s Memos

I doubled back to the check-in counter, gave the Malaysia Airlines staff my boarding pass and quietly informed her the that the seat she gave me was not in the upper deck that I had requested when I booked the flight.

She consulted her computer, and I saw a concerned look. She stepped over to her colleague at the next counter, and told her that the upper deck looked to be full.

The colleague tapped her computer keyboard, and then the staff attending to me returned to her seat and printed another boarding pass. She tore into two the earlier boarding pass and handed me the new one, with an upper deck window seat.

After getting the battery at the pharmacy and completed Isha’ solat (prayer) at the nearby surau (mini mosque) next to the airport post office, I made my way to the departure gate, immigration, and airport security.

In a side pocket of my backpack was my empty water bottle. It passed through the security scanner without raising an alarm or question from the officer.

The backpack and water bottle, two seasoned travelers

The bottle had been traveling with me on quite a number of flights, and the backpack on many more flights.

Even with the international ban on water being taken on board flights, the bottle did not attract any question at any of the foreign airports I had been, but I was once questioned about it here at Kuala Lumpur International Airport when I was on my way to Los Angeles via Taipei.

The security procedure done, a few minutes later I was on the train going to Terminal C where my boarding gate was situated.

At the terminal, I rode a transparent-wall elevator up one floor to Malaysia Airline’s lounge.

There were many boring business types there, yours truly here excluded from that category 🙂

There, while helping myself to some cut fruits and a couple of glasses of mango juice, I turned on my netbook computer, connected to the lounge’s free wifi, and booked a Toyota Corolla at Australia’s Bayswater Hire Cars website.

At home a few days earlier I had looked at the website of several car rental companies in Perth, and concluded that Bayswater offered the best deal. I did not book then because of lingering doubts as to whether a Malaysian driving license was sufficient or needed to be supported with an International Driving Permit.

However, reading the Government of Western Australia Department of Transport’s website, I gathered that a visitor to the state was allowed to drive using a valid overseas license, and that if the license was not in English then it was advisable to carry along an International Driving Permit or an approved English translation of the license.

At the airport lounge I persuaded myself that my Malaysian driving license would be OK because it was in Roman alphabets and there were words at the front in English indicating that the document was a Malaysian Driving License. The validity dates of the license, the holder’s address and the classes of vehicle the holder was licensed to drive were self explanatory. And if needed be, as a last resort,I could always inform whoever concerned that I earned my license when I was a student in Perth, and had it converted to a Malaysian license upon my return to Malaysia in 1985.

With that I decided to take the plunge and at 10.44 p.m. confirmed my online booking with Bayswater Hire Cars. Within a minute my mobile phone vibrated with the arrival of an acknowledgment email from Bayswater, confirming my booking.

That was really assuring. I would have a car, with GPS and comprehensive insurance cover, waiting for me in Perth when I arrive there on the Indian Pacific from Sydney on Tuesday 6th October.

At 11.00 p.m. I heard a boarding announcement for my flight. With my backpack, the netbook computer in its bag and a bulky Canon EOS digital SLR camera, I walked briskly out of the airline lounge to the elevator.

I was in the elevator and the door had started closing when two airline pilots managed to reopen the door and came in. The door then re-closed, and at that instance I saw through the transparent wall another two pilots had tried to enter but were unable to because the elevator had started to move down.

One of the pilots was peering intently down in my direction. Only then I realized that he looked like Captain Abdul Manaf, a Malaysia Airlines pilot who was my home neighbor and friend at our neighborhood surau.

At ground level I waited for the elevator to go up and came down with the two pilots. Sure enough, it was Captain Abdul Manaf. He looked really smart in his black pilot uniform.

He asked me where I was heading to. I told him Sydney. He said he thought I was going to Frankfurt on his flight. Too bad, if he was going to Sydney that night instead of Frankfurt then I would have had a great time taking ambient-light photos of the aircraft’s cockpit in flight. My DSLR camera would be in its elements. Maybe next time. Captain Manaf then looked at his watch and reminded me that I was late and needed to move quickly.

The walk to the departure gate was a long one. The gate was at the far end of the terminal, and when I arrived there, I found a long queue in front of me waiting to go through a second security check. I was relieved – I was not too late or else everyone would have already gone on board the aircraft.

At 11:30 p.m. I was settled in seat 11K on the upper deck of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 747-400 aircraft. At 11:49 the aircraft was pushed back off the gate and four minutes later we began to move forward.

At 12:01 a.m. the aircraft was at the end of the runway and one minute later started to roar forward. At 12:03 a.m. I could feel the heavy aircraft rotating and then airborne.

Three minutes later at 12:06 a.m. my armrest LCD display showed that the aircraft had climbed to 1,054 meters above sea level, was traveling at 428 km per hour, less than half its cruising speed, and the distance to Sydney of 6,697 km.

I was truly on my way to Sydney, for my appointment with the Australian Indian Pacific coast-to-coast train.

Next on Across Australia in 4 days – Part 3: Sydney Landing

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Across Australia in 4 Days – Part 1: Before the Journey

Originally posted October 22, 2009 ¬ 1:25 AM on previous web server

Previously on Across Australia in 4 Days – Part 0: An Adventure About to Unfold

In the scheme of things that I was accustomed to, the journey was hastily planned. I had the opportunity to fly from Kuala Lumpur to anywhere in Australia and return, for the same airfare. I could even fly into one Australian city and depart from a different one, thousands of kilometers apart, and still pay the same price.

The timing of the journey, October, even though hurriedly planned, could not have been better.

October was a slack period at my workplace. The big transoceanic submarine cable project I was involved in was in extended initial stages and there were big time gaps in between activities. And better still, in October, Australia would be in pleasant spring weather. Not much of the blistering summer heat, and none of the ever present pesky flies. Add to that, images of colorful and beautiful flowers blooming in meadows all over the countryside filled my mind. So, October it was.

That left the other question – where in Australia to go?

I had always wanted another return to Perth, the city where I spent 6 years of my life in the early 1980′s. It was one of the most meaningful and defining times of my life. I went there a teenager. I returned an adult. I went there a hesitant kampung (village) boy. I returned a confident young man.

The first time I returned to Perth was in 2006, some 21 years after I left in 1985. It was a straight forward flight from Kuala Lumpur to Perth and back. So this time around I wanted to be a little bit different. And a little bit more adventurous.

Sydney seemed a good choice. I had been to Brisbane, Melbourne and Adelaide before, but never to Sydney. And it was one of the furthest Australian city on the Malaysia Airlines network. To me the further the better.

OK, Sydney it was. But then after arriving there, how do I go to Perth?

Taking a domestic Sydney-Perth flight would be plain boring. That left only land transport. I searched the internet for public transport, especially long-distance buses that go from from Sydney to Perth. No joy. Maybe the distance of over 4,300 kilometers was too great for an express bus service. And too taxing for the bus passengers.

Then I remembered the Indian Pacific, a train service that connects Western Australia with the eastern Australian states. I searched the internet and got more details. The train service departs two times a week in both directions – on Saturday and Wednesday out of Sydney, and on Sunday and Wednesday out of Perth. All trips go via Adelaide.

An Indian Pacific train journey from Australia’s Pacific Ocean city of Sydney to the Indian Ocean city of Perth sounded fascinating. And thoughts of crossing the Nullarbor Plain, the hundreds of kilometers of no-tree desert, for a second time in my life, added more spice to the idea.

I chose Saturday 3rd October, noted the date down, then opened up Malaysia Airlines website.

To arrive in Sydney in good time to board Saturday’s 2.55 p.m. Indian Pacific, I decided to take Malaysia Airlines’ Friday 2nd October flight, which departed Kuala Lumpur at 9.00 a.m. and arrived in Sydney at 6.50 p.m. I would then spend the night in Sydney and in the morning of the next day would explore the city before making my way to the train station.

But that was not meant to be. The day’s flight was full, and so I was left with only the night’s flight which left Kuala Lumpur at 10.10 p.m. and arrived Sydney at 8.00 a.m. on Saturday, the same day as the Indian Pacific’s departure to Perth.

A little tight timing, with barely 6 hours’ gap between landing at the airport and getting on board the train. But I believed the risk was manageable – in my experience using the airline all these years, Malaysia Airlines were good at keeping to their flight schedules.

I booked the flights via phone. Kuala Lumpur to Sydney on 2nd October, Perth to Kuala Lumpur on 9th October. That done, I reopened the web page of Great Southern Railway, the operator of Indian Pacific.

There were 3 types of Indian Pacific service. The premier one was called the Gold Service where one could choose a single sleeper cabin or a twin-sharing one, with all meals included. This, to my mind, was no good. Apart from the premium (expensive) price, the meals would be of no use to me because there was no mention of their halal or kosher status.

Next was the Red Sleeper Service, with a twin-sharing sleeper cabin, and meals not included. That was better, but I read something elsewhere on the internet that made me discard it and chose the remaining service, the Red Daynighter Seat Service.

As the name implied, the service offered a seat, for day and night, for the whole duration of the journey. The price fit my budget, but the thought of spending 4 days and 3 nights in the train seat admittedly sounded rather challenging and back-breaking.

But then I thought – the service might not be that bad, it might even be in demand, otherwise Indian Pacific would have done away with the service long time ago. Another thought, or wishful thinking – the carriage might not be full that I could sleep flat on two seats, even though I might have to curl myself into a semi-fetal position.

After many hours’ contemplations, I finally decided. Via the internet on my laptop, I chose the Red Daynighter Seat Service. I was pleasantly surprised that the price was only one-third of what I had been expecting based on openly published prices.

In the week preceding my flight to Sydney, my life took a tumble. Not an earth-shattering one, but a tumble nonetheless. It might be mundane, but to me it was quite a big deal. On Monday, I sent my 535 c.c. bike to my usual bike shop where I told Ah Hoi, the owner, that the bike sounded very noisy and the twin-cylinder V engine tended to suddenly sputter and die every time I braked.

Ah Hoi told me that I needed to leave the bike overnight. OK, no big deal. I could take the Toyota MPV to work. The only sacrifice I needed to make was to skip my daily morning jog around the neighborhood playground, so that I could race to the office to chase after one of the 500 free first-come-first-served parking lots at my office building.

Tuesday came and gone. Then Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. No news from Ah Hoi. That gave me the creeps. What was he doing to the bike – completely overhauling it?

Then mid-morning on Friday, Ah Kian, Ah Hoi’s brother, phoned me that the bike was ready, it was perfect he said, the noise that I was complaining about was gone. The engine sputtering and dying was caused by an electrical short circuit, which had since been fixed.

He went on telling me items on the bike that had been replaced – the twin timing chains, the magnet coil (alternator) immersed in engine oil that generated electricity for the engine and battery, the rectifier that converted the alternating current from the magnet coil into direct current, engine oil, gasket, and spark plugs. And the price? Quite substantial – about the same price as the premium Gold Service on Sydney to Perth Indian Pacific!

At home on the Friday afternoon I phoned for a Comfort taxi , went to Ah Hoi’s place at Bandar Sunway and collected my bike.

In the taxi from home to Ah Hoi’s I struck a conversation with Mahadi the driver, decided that he was a dependable guy, and booked his taxi for the night’s ride to Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Then I rocketed the bike at warp speed all the way down the New Pantai Expressway Highway to the center of Kuala Lumpur to my favorite money changer, and exchanged some Ringgits for A$500.00 in small notes.

That done, I rushed back home, still at warp speed, to settle my credit card payments, as well as stopping by the neighborhood hardware store to get a couple of Australian electricity adapters.

I also went into the Guardian pharmacy to stock up on some paracetamol tablets and other emergency medicine for the Australian trip.

Ah Kian was true to his words – the bike, after spending 4 days at the shop and after costing me a bundle, was really in top form for its age. It could still do warp speed in a very smooth manner, worthy of its status as a classic Yamaha cruiser of its time.

I was prepared and ready for the journey. I was calm. Everything was in place. Earlier in the morning, Malaysia Airlines texted me on the mobile phone that the night’s flight to Sydney would be delayed by 1 hour due to some operational reasons. That gave me an additional hour to tidy everything up before Mahadi showed up on the dot at 8.15 p.m. to take me to the airport.

Next on Across Australia in 4 Days – Part 2: Kuala Lumpur International Airport

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An Adventure About to Unfold

Originally posted September 17, 2009 ¬ 10:44 AM on previous web server

Breathless, Unbelievable, Awesome …

“En. Nordin, your booking is confirmed. The reference number is ABCXYZ. Please quote this number when you come to our ticketing office to collect your ticket by 25 September…”

I had just booked myself a Malaysia Airlines seat from Kuala Lumpur to Sydney, Australia, and a seat for the return journey from Perth to Kuala Lumpur.

Well..it sounded easy, but it was not as straight forward as that.

I had to make two phone calls to the airline. During the first call I was informed that for the first leg of the journey, Kuala Lumpur-Sydney, all Economy seats were already sold out. Only Business and First Class were still available. Blast ! That poured very cold water to my plans. I could not afford other than Economy on the 5-star airline, could I ?

Five minutes later, I called the airline again. I got connected to another, more pleasant agent. This time I managed to inform her my whole itinerary.

Then she informed me, “En Nordin, for the Kuala Lumpur-Sydney sector I will put you on waiting list, and for the Perth-Kuala Lumpur sector, it can be confirmed”.

Hmmm. That was much better. My plans might yet be realized then ..

“For the waiting list, what is the chance of success ?”

“50-50.”

“When would I know the outcome ?”

“Call us again in 3-4 days’ time.”

No good. That would be in the middle of Hari Raya (Eid celebrations marking the end of Ramadan fasting month). I could not picture myself on the phone handling the suspense while others in the family were having a good time celebrating Hari Raya.

And more importantly, that would not give me confidence to make commitment for the other part of my plan. If I made the commitment now and it turned out in 3-4 days’ time that my seat to Sydney was not available, then I would have lost nearly a thousand Australian dollars.

“What about Business Class ?”

“Yes, sir. Still available.”

Decision. A quick one. Come on.

“OK. Put me on Business from Kuala Lumpur to Sydney. And Economy from Perth to Kuala Lumpur.”

In the phone line I heard taps of the computer keyboard.

“Done. For the KL-Sydney sector would you like a window seat?”

“That’d be good.”

“Upper deck or lower deck ?”

I had almost forgotten that this flight would be a Boeing 747-400 with a stretched upper deck. And during my company’s better days several years ago I always favored one deck.

“Upper deck.”

“OK. And for the Perth-KL leg, shall I put you on a window seat as well ?”

“Yes, and put me on the right side of the cabin, near the emergency exit where there’d be bigger leg room.”

“Done. En Nordin, here are your flight details ….”

And she went on the read me the dates, times and flight numbers, which I noted down.

“En. Nordin, your booking is confirmed. The reference number is ABCXYZ. Please quote this number when you come to our ticketing office to collect your ticket by 26 September…”

“Thank you..”

I put down the phone, and turned to my notebook PC. The website was still displayed on the LCD. I clicked on the Booking tab, typed in some details, and was immensely and surprisingly pleased that I would not be paying the near-thousand Australian dollars after all…

You might be wondering by now, what are all the fuss about ? What are the plans that I mentioned above ?

This is it.

It’s a 4-day 3-night’s train journey of a lifetime on the legendary Indian Pacific, traversing the Australian continent from the Pacific Ocean coast in Sydney to the Indian Ocean coast in Perth. A distance of over 4,300 km. And going to Perth would be like returning home, after all the years that I had lived there during my younger days. More on Perth later. For now, let’s drum up the excitement….

And here’s the map of the journey. Click to see more details.

The journey from Sydney to Perth would be roughly equivalent in distance from Miami to Los Angeles …

And here are what past travelers on Indian Pacific said :

Will keep you updated ….

Selamat Hari Raya (Happy Eid).

Next: Across Australia in 4 Days – Part 1: Before the Journey

Hello world!

Welcome to Nordin’s Bits N Pieces on www.kembali.net

This is the place where I upload writings that I think are worth sharing with the world.

I first created my internet domain kembali.net in September 2005 and hosted it on a US-based server.

After staying on the server for 14 years, in August 2019 I subscribed to a new web host account and had my blog on the old host copied to the new server.

In December 2019 I finally had time to really look at the relocated blog, and found to my dismay that all my previous posts were gone. The SQL database had only 4 posts, and those are new posts generated by the blog program.

But not all were lost. The images I used in posts on the old server looked to be correctly copied to the new server. And I have a manual backup of the raw data of my posts from the old server.

So the challenge is to recreate the posts, which will take some time to complete. I aim to put back the posts one by one until done.

Until then.

Nordin Ibrahim

Malaysia