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mercredi 5 avril 2017


I had left Miami early in the morning and with connections arrived at the Singapore International (actually Singapore cannot have domestic flights since it is a very small island) Airport. I had booked a room at the Double Tree by Hilton at Johor Bahru, across the causeway in Malaysia.
It is incredible that very few people at the arrival area of Terminal 3 had any clue about how to get to Johor Bahru. I had come armed with information from the Net and I was surprised that most people, even those who were involved in helping travelers had no clue.
Transtar is supposed to operate a service from SIN terminals to Johor Bahru, the bus I had taken on another occasion (at that time the bus driver did not have change for 50 Singapore dollar note, as the ATM machines dispense only 50 dollar denominations), and I was happy to note that a bus was due to arrive in just 20 minutes after I had arrived at Terminal 3 after the long but comfortable flight (thank you, Qatar Airways). I waited and no bus came and no one could help me, even the pleasant Tamil lady at the Information counter.
Their considerate suggestions were:
Wait another two hours for the next bus, the arrival of which they could not guarantee.
Take 3 local buses to an area where there is a possibility of a taxi returning back to Johor Bahru
Pay an exorbitant amount to a taxi driver to drop me off at the Singapore exit customs which was nearly one hour away, await a bus transfer to the Malaysian customs and then take a taxi to the hotel. And it was nearly 11 pm.
Uber is the app that I use first when I am in a foreign country, why did I forget it and waste the already one hour wasted talking to people who had no clue to help travelers, and this too in the city of Singapore, where I had assumed a more efficient service.
You are in Asia, I told myself, and there is no curiosity here for knowledge for the sake of knowledge and everything is so practicality oriented.
In Cuba we say that we had an Uber like system long before Americans commercialized it and in Israel the socialist variety of Uber had existed long before Uber became popular less than ten years ago.
Within four minutes of ordering on Uber, Ang, a Chinese arrived in his brand new car. I had requested the frontier post of Singapore, hoping to find something there to get me across the border to Johor Bahru.
Ang was my first welcome to Malaysia. I assumed Ang would be Singaporean but I noticed he was a little warmer than the average Singaporean taxi driver, it turned out that he is a Malaysian.
The Great Spirit had blessed me on several occasions by sending me excellent drivers all over the globe and Ang was no exception.
He was happy with the things I was telling him and he said something, a telltale sign of woe of these commercialized times in Asian countries. “It is as if the news does not filter through in Singapore or Malaysia, it is as if we are being spoon fed by the kind of information they want us to know.” He was happy to ask questions about the outside world while telling me about the stark reality of his finances. Malaysia is being run for the benefit of a few people, he continued, the average person has no benefits, and the Malaysian currency is hitting the bottom. He worked very hard in Malaysia and found no ways to get ahead, to earn enough money to buy a house, himself being an ethnic Chinese. So he joined the new globalized revolution, in the micro form here in this border region, he is a Malaysian who lives in Johor Bahru, across the causeway in Malaysia, but has permission to work in Singapore. Uber needs drivers in Singapore for their business and 10 000 of his Malaysian compatriots commute each day, paying nearly 20 usd in toll charges so that they can work as Uber Drivers in Singapore. The income is good, three times as much as he used to make in Johor Bahru in Malaysia and this way he gets to live with his family in Malaysia a country he loves but gets to work in Singapore where the efficient government runs a no nonsense, non-corrupt country. He has the best of the both worlds, I assured him.
He loves working for Uber, chooses his hours and the car he has belonged to Uber but he gets to drive it home to Malaysia every night. Him and 10 000 others like him from Malaysia!

20 years ago an average University graduate in Malaysia started his career with a salary of 1800 MYR (local currency) a month, now it is only 2000 MYR [a1] a month, and in the meantime the buying power of MYR has decreased nearly 300 per cent, so the average salaries have gone forward to become poorer!
Ang and I had a wonderful conversation and he said: I think I will go home after I drop you off at Woodlands Singapore Border control but as you said you were going to Johor Bahru, I will take you to the hotel if you want to continue with me.
I couldn’t believe my luck, the very thought of going up and down the staircases, immigration and waiting for the bus, tackling the dicey taxi drivers of Malaysia all loomed in my mind. I happily accepted his offer and thanked him profusely. Midnight is not the hour you want to be stuck at the border posts between Malaysia and Singapore.
Ang was genuinely a nice person, lost in the puzzle not of his choice, unable to participate to change the economic situation that he finds himself in, a poor victim of globalization.
One advantage of my traveling with Ang across the border was that, the immigration post for cars is where they stop, unlike the bus and pedestrians, who have to climb stairs up to the immigration queues and commotion. He stopped the car, first at the Singapore Immigration and then at Malaysian Immigration and later at Malaysian customs, and each time, the agent behind the counter, all were Malay, were very considerate and not over imposing.
Soon we entered Malaysia and believe it or not, I could feel in the air the tone of welcome. I felt immensely relaxed, leaving behind Singapore and its laws and regulations and efficiency and feeling like I  am going to a laundromat, of course as I told Ang if I were a foreign businessman, Singapore is Shangri La, but for now, I shall indulge myself in the backward, corrupt and verdant and welcoming Malaysia. As the Malaysian Ambassador to Cuba said to me, you do such a good job talking about Malaysia here in Havana and I replied, it is because I am genuinely fond of your country. I briefly thought of adopting Malaysia as part of their programme of welcoming foreigners, but I thought, I have two excellent passports, two other countries where I have places to stay, why add a fifth burden?
With love of a country comes responsibility.
The next day I arrived for my stay at Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, at the Double Tree by Hilton hotel and I was humbled by the warmth with which I was received and greeted by everyone, concierge, bellboy, the agents and those at the Executive Club. They see many guests come and go, but I pay attention to their stories and know them by name and enjoy attaching places and events associated with them.
It was a nice Home Coming to Malaysia!