When you are flying into Singapore, it’s best to put your nose in Jake Needham’s The Dead American, just to get you into the vibe and find an escape route, quickly.
I have Johor Bahru in my sights. A taxi from Singapore to the border should do the trick. Duncan, who really does have an Inspector Tay feel about him – the main character in The Dead American – drives me to the border and gives me a run down on Singapore during the 30 minute drive. It has it’s murky waters too, he agrees.
The conversation is pretty much anchored on prostitution. He can’t believe I’ve not enjoyed the Singapore nightlife. He said I was the only white guy in his entire career as a taxi driver who has fled to Johor on the same day as he has arrived in Singapore. There are exceptions to everything, I tell him.
He says it is possible to walk across the bridge to the Malaysia side. I pay the fair and I’m short of a few dollars.He’s not concerned. “I’ve made a nice profit on this trip,” he said, adding it’s been a slow night. My conversation must have been pretty stimulating to merit that discount. He’s an honest Singaporean and seems to know more than he lets on. He gives me the run down on crime in Malaysia.
“They don’t muck around there. The hit men hide a gun in a newspaper and shoot you at close range.”
Singapore’s perspective on Malaysia is always from their skewed point of view, and I don’t doubt it doesn’t happen.
I grab his number in case I’m ever in Singapore again. He said he’d even pick me up at the border. Come to think of it, he was a spitting image of Tay, and about the same age too. But he wasn’t a smoker. Maybe Tay had quit. I guess I’ll find out soon in the next book in the series, A Girl in the Window, due to be released early 2016.
It’s just gone 3.30 in the morning, and I’m looking forward to walking across the bridge to Johor. I don’t care if there aren’t any buses. I’ve decided walking the three kilometers will be good exercise and a new experience.
I walk though the Singapore checkpoint. No photos, says many signs. There’s another sign of forbidden goods not to be taken into Singapore. My camera is out and I’m taking photos of it. No gum is one of the them. I have some in my bag. Other forbidden items include guns, nunchuks and street fighting knives and hard narcotics.
I’m stamped into no man’s land. I walk down the steps and follow a sign that says Johor is ahead. Eventually the footpath runs out at the bus stop. I asks one of the waiting passengers when the next bus arrives. He says maybe in an hour’s time. Half way across the bridge, I see three Malaysian ladies briskly walking on the lanes for cars and trucks. They tell me not to walk on the motor bike lane which is too narrow and dangerous.
The walk is just exhilarating. Trucks are gridlocked in the opposite direction going to Singapore. A crew are maintaining the bridge’s CCTV cameras – they are all switched off on my maiden voyage across the causeway. One of the workers is swinging a flashing tube for oncoming traffic. The crew wish me a safe passage.
The twinkling lights of Johor reflect off the muddy Straits with the same namesake as the city. It’s a shopping paradise for Singaporeans and I’m nearly on the Malaysian side. Two Malaysian men look down at me in the truck lane from the immigration building. “You can’t do that way,” they scream. They send me back down the road and tell me to turn a left which will give me access to the immigration hall. When I reach them again, I take a group selfie. It’s just too slapstick not to record.
With a sense of achievement, I walk up to the nearest counter. The man mumbles. I’m in the line for Malaysian passport holders. I’m eventually stamped into Malaysia, as Koran verses reverberate though the immigration hall for the upcoming call of prayer. Outside the hall, I pass a weight and height measurement machine, that’s repeating, Get your weight and height checked at the same time.
Johor Bahru is getting whacky and I love it.
It’s also a city that features in Jake Needham Inspector Tay series. As I cross the expressway leading into town, I see a man in the shadows, making a deal with someone in a Mercedes Benz with Singaporean number plates. Maybe I’ve been reading too many Needham novels.
Johor Bahru is one hell of an outlaw city, if you believe what the Singaporeans say. And there’s no better way to enter the country than playing dodging the cars, trucks and motorbikes on a six lane causeway that separates Singapore from Malaysia.