‘ Nak pi mana? ‘ The elderly man in blue KTM uniform asked. I looked at my watch and it was 5 am in the morning. My things were strewn on the mattress on the bunk bed of Keretapi Tanah Melayu. The husband was on the top bunk, I guess he was as blur as I was. I heard him telling the Pakcik Tiket KTM that we wanted to go to Butterworth. I told the pakcik the same. ‘ Lahhhh dah lepai dahhh Butterworth ! Hang dah tinggal stesen dah !’
Ok.. Now what? So the pakcik suggested that we drop at the next station, Bukit Mertajam and then make a detour back to Butterworth. I didn’t sleep like a log that I could not hear the announcement that we had arrived in Butterworth. I just didn’t hear it. And of course, the husband was still sleeping when we reached Butterworth. So on that morning, in the wee hours of the day, we landed ourselves in Bukit Mertajam.
We could have easily driven up to Pulau Pinang like we always did. Start the car, go on the straight highway up north for about 5 hours, stopping in between at Perak for toilet break or fresh fruits. Or both. But that, as always would be a boring trip. 5 hours of just the husband driving while I try to keep him awake with conversations and occasionally cut fruits shoved into his mouth while he drove. This time we wanted to see and experience something different, and also re-experience the way I went back to Penang as a child. We decided to take the overnight train to Butterworth on KTM.
So we alighted at Bukit Mertajam. The station was deserted, save for the mamak newspaper stand and a small ‘cafe’ run by a granny. Nothing else otherwise. I have not fully woken up yet, but whipped out the camera nonetheless for some lazy snap shots.
It was not time for subuh yet.. Still in the wee hours of 5.30 am on a Friday morning. So the husband went to look for a surau for subuh while I just wandered around the station, which to me is so retro. I went to the mamak news stand to check out what he was selling. Malaysian newspapers of all titles and political bearings lined his small shop. And I spied with my not so little eyes something remotely familiar that I could almost hear Pak Mat Sentul going.. ‘Deng Dang !!! Biskut bebola coklat !’ Oh when was that advertisement again?
It was around 5.50 am and the moon outside was still a full moon. Beautiful and I tried a few times to get a shot but my hands were not steady and we didn’t have a tripod. After the husband had finished his subuh prayers, we decided to have an extremely early breakfast at 6 am at the ‘cafe’. The nenek sold the usual nasi lemak and its lauk pauk, mee/bee hoon/kuay teow goreng and the lots. The husband got himself a teh tarik and mee goreng with telur ceplok ( or telur mata lembu as they call it here. Beats me why cause it is not remotely near the image of any cow’s eyes, but I digress ) and I got myself a teh tarik and a plate of nasi putih with sambal tumis ikan tenggiri, telur ceplok and some ulam.
The whole breakfast for both of us, 2 teh tarik+a plate of mee goreng+telur ceplok+ a plate of rice+sambal tumis ikan tenggiri+ulam+telur ceplok = Rm 5 ! alahai….
I felt like telling the granny that sekeping ikan tenggiri in KL is Rm 5 or even more !
Then we began our walk to look for the public bus that would take us to Butterworth. We walked through the still asleep pekan of Bukit Mertajam. Through the old shop houses that looked a bit gothic in the morning..
And the meandering ways of the old town
We finally reached the bus station which would take us to Butterworth for Rm 2 per person. Along the way, we got to see what we wanted to see… the bus drove through many Malay Kampungs and of course, through Pematang Pauh, the ‘hot’ constituency in this year’s election.
A quick shot I managed to get on the moving bus. Oh well, when we missed the train stop, we thought it would slow us down. Two backpacks and four legs later, we actually got to see more than what we planned for. Things we would not get to see nor experience had we taken the ‘easy’ way up by just driving.
Prior to all that, the train ride from Sentral KL was uneventful. It left KL Sentral on the dot at 8 pm. And after some Nasi Lemak and ChipsMore at the train cafe, I retired into my bunk and read Reader’s Digest. I spent some time reminiscing those times in my childhood I had taken this same sleepers train to Penang with my parents. And soon enough, too much nostalgia brought me to a deep slumber until around 4 am in the morning when the trained stopped. Unknown to me that was our stop – Butterworth. The station that we missed.
But I felt we were meant to see a bit of Bukit Mertajam and enjoy the sleepiness of it and of course, the dirt cheap meals.