The street of joy is ticking by, far from overdrive, but busy in it’s own unimportant way. An Indian offers us an iphone 6. “Only 2000 Ringit,” he says, and shows us in the settings the Canadian certified stamp. I laugh and say I’ll think about it. It wasn’t even worth 50 Ringgit.

We are far from the glitz of the duty free zone, and I’m just kicking back taking selfies with the waitresses who are getting into the new year festivities.

Agnes is writing like a demon. She’s under instructions. Then a gumless old Chinese boozing up at the next table invites her over. “Come over here sweaty,” he says.

Johor has a beach road, said Annie the receptionist. “Turn right pass the post office and it will take you to duty free.” Agnes is  keen to avoid the sleaze bags and welcomed a  walk to the Duty Free Zone.

We followed the sounds of the ferry horn. It leaves  11 times a day to Batam in Indonesia. About five kilometers out of town, palm trees lined a beach where mostly Indians and migrant workers sat around drinking cheap piss they bought from the duty free shops at the ferry terminal.

Agnes wasn’t impressed with the giant shopping mall, a white sterile building and testament to Malaysia’s race against its neighbor. The ferry terminal leaving for Batam in Singapore is also tacked on a shopping mall. I can proudly say that Malaysia has outdone it’s neighbor. We had to walk through customs to get out of the complex. We had just waltzed in and the official wasn’t having any of my nonsense as he caroled me through the customs gate.

The giant mall, a Taj Mahal to shopping, reflected like a gem in Johor’s cap. Trendy bars, restaurants, and bistros festooned this area. High class hookers just off the ferry from Batam cruised the night, looking for rich Singaporeans. Hello Ibu, where are you going, I asked those sex things as they balanced on high heels and show cased their merchandise. I wonder if they would offer me a duty free price.

Agnes needs a rest. Her ankle is playing up so I find a local Malay restaurant. A lady in a head scarf is deep frying vegetable fritters and spring rolls. The spicy sweet and sour sauce is just the right mix for these delicious snacks. A deaf man comes up to the table, and shows his sign. “Help a deaf man down and out on his luck.” He’s selling cheap trinkets.

He tries his luck at a table of young Malays. I speak to the deaf man, who turns his head at me. Then another deaf man walks past, with the same trinkets to sell. It’s an endless cycle of beggars and con men wanting to fleece the tourists at a duty free zone. It never works with me. I have my own private charities I like to fund.

The Malay owner suggests some noodles. “Very good, you can share with Madam.” We are truly full, and I couldn’t eat anther morsel I tell him. Then two Malay couples come up to our table for some selfies, Agnes is a magnet to the Indians and Malays. And I’m rather fond of the two young ladies who are posing with me for a photo.

Agnes pays up. The meal and four drinks only cost 9 Ringgit. She’s found a bargain of a lifetime and can’t wait to email her children and tell them about it.

It’s been a long day. The walk back is just as eventful. Up a hill, we are in Johor’s Beverly Hills. A security guy sits at his monitor in a modern outbuilding, guarding a mansion. I take a photo and he salutes me. Unlike Kualer Lumper, none of the mansions have guard dogs protecting their property. I didn’t see any cruising police cars looking for tourists to fleece either. Johor is in a league of her own.

My gum flairs up. Agnes has some arsenicum album. “This will fix up your gum, trust me,” she says. I put in three little sugar coated balls of arsenic in my mouth. “Wait until it bubbles up, then spit it out,” she said. “By tomorrow your gum will be better. The little traces of arsenic will trigger your brain to heal itself.”

The last day of 15 has arrived and the swollen gum has gone down and I’m not dead.

Johor is ready to send the year off in style. We start our day over the computer and coffee. I’ve got Bali Dreaming complete, and press the publish button. It really has not been a bad year at all. And Agnes says she wants to write. If she hangs around me, she’ll have no choice.

She’s a magnet to the Chinese, Indian and Malay. She’s just come off the Goa trail and the Indians are trying to sell her some beads. They won’t leave her alone. She shows them her own beads around her neck and pulls out a scared stone. Their cheap trinkets can’t compete.

It’s nice not to be bothered by anymore.


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