Malaysia by Rail: Kajang

It was 1pm when the station master pulled out a whiteboard from his office and scribbled something onto it. He leaned back with a grim look on his face and walked back in without so much a glance at the hordes of people and luggage around him. A group of travelers immediately crowded around the whiteboard.

“1pm Train will be delayed. We expect departure to be at 2.15pm. KTMB* apologizes for any inconvenience caused.” And so the grumbling begins within the discontented crowd.

I shrugged. I was already half expecting a delay when it comes to the Malayan Rail. Unlike the uber-efficient Eurail or Japanese Shinkansen, the Malayan Rail or known as the Keretapi Tanah Melayu had lagged behind any form of development. Apparently, they didn’t seem to find it a necessity to upgrade the train system. Well, maybe that’s not exactly true. They did replace the old CRT TVs with newer LG LCD TVs.

I was at Tanjong Pagar Train Station heading down to Kajang Station in Malaysia. Expected travel time is slightly more than seven hours. What was I doing on a working day heading into Malaysia? The answer is two live clucking chickens. I was to going to slaughter chickens at my grandparent’s holiday home in Malaysia.

Yes, it sounds gruesome and maybe even insane, to be travelling hundreds of kilometers to lay a knife into a couple of chickens. But before you sign me off as a mentally deranged and bloodthirsty individual, let me explain my position. As a home cook, I have prepared chicken possibly hundreds of times. Be it fried, grilled or boiled, chicken is a very common meat and is enjoyed by most of my friends and family. Interestingly, many of these chicken lovers refuse to learn about how the chicken even got onto their plate. I intended to have the entire slaughter process recorded and posted onto my food blog so people can realize that a chicken died for that piece of Kentucky Fried Chicken. And maybe they would at least feel a little guilty for tossing out that left over chicken. It’s an educational lesson not a sadistic show on murdering chickens.

The train finally left the station at 3pm for Woodlands Immigration Checkpoint. Then, the real journey begins.

While a bus would be have been significantly faster than the train (bus to Kuala Lumpur takes four hours compared to eight via train), a train boasts a far richer experience. The train blazes through rural Malaysia, giving passengers a glimpse of the villages and farms, the wandering herds of cows and the large oil palm plantations that are the backbone of the Malaysian agricultural industry. In the distance, the mountainous regions of Central Malaysia looms, the low clouds obscuring their summits. Of course, there are the not so pleasant views of shanty towns and slums. While I was content at first to just gaze out the windows, I quickly got bored of the scenery.

Train passengers tend to be much friendlier than those in the bus, possibly due to the ability to walk around the train instead of just being stuck in their respective seats. I have made plenty of friends in the clanking iron beast by sharing cookies and life stories with fellow passengers and this trip was no different. There was the 65 year old fitness buff who triggered a conversation when he saw my Men’s Health training guide. A Singaporean port worker bringing his entire family on holiday to Genting Highlands. Oh, and the lovely 23 year old nurse I met on my way back.

In fact, unless you are socially retarded, there will always be the opportunity to strike a conversation with fellow passengers who would only be too happy to engage in mindless banter to take their minds off the long journey. Share your cookies, offer them some chips and most will only be too happy to reciprocate in kind. Another perk of taking the train is that passengers are allowed to smoke at the links between carriages. These smoky areas are often excellent locations for picking up conversations with other fellow smokers.

Tickets by train are comparable to buses with mine to Kajang costing S$33. While tickets can be bought online, I had to buy mine at the counter three weeks before as the online reservation system was undergoing upgrading. Tickets also sell out fast during public and school holidays so it’s best to reserve your tickets two weeks in advance. In case you need to change dates, KTMB allows one change free of charge.

Kajang Station, State of Selangor

I disembarked the train to the town of Kajang. Kajang is located about half an hour from Kuala Lumpur by car or one hour by train. Apparently, the town of Kajang has a widespread reputation for its superb satay. While I must confess I am not a big fan of satay in the first place, I must say that after having tasted the satay in a few of the stalls, I wasn’t exactly impressed with the taste. In fact, I was more impressed with the variety of food and cakes available at the many night markets in Kajang. From traditional yam cakes to the delicious Ramly burgers to the sticky and sweet glutinous rice balls, the night markets are heaven for the taste and hell for the waist watchers. There are quite a number of night markets throughout Kajang and the best way to get to them is to ask a local.

My accommodation for the night was my grandparent’s holiday home. It is located within in a little town called Semenyih about fifteen minutes away from Kajang. The one thing I immediately noticed was the fresh cool air of the night with the faint smoky scent of an extinguished bonfire. It is a pleasant smell, a smell I identified from a happy childhood, running wild in the village every school holiday.

The next morning I had the opportunity to explore one of my favourite places in the world, the wet market. In terms of diversity, the market was pretty limited with mostly local farm produce being sold. That being said, there were still interesting finds such as the sale of cow brain, an entire cow’s tongue and various types of bananas. For a moment, I was tempted to buy the cow brain and try to cook it if only for the novelty of the idea. Then I remembered an article I read somewhere stating that there is a significantly higher chance of catching mad cow disease from eating the animal’s brain. I’m not too sure what exactly happen when you get mad cow disease but I wasn’t going to find out. I passed.

What’s for certain in Kajang is that unless you have your own vehicle, prepare to do lots of walking. Most people in Kajang scoot around on their little bikes or their Protons since everything seems so far from each other. Taxis, while not impossible to get, are scarce and charge pretty exorbitant fees for relatively short distances. Especially if they know you’re not Malaysian.

The Finale: Chickens

As my knife sliced through the artery of the chicken, I could feel the chicken intensify its struggle for a while before turning weak and limp in my hands. It was a horrible, horrible feeling to be taking a life in what seemed to me like a rather cruel way to go. Only five minutes ago, the chicken was happily wandering the village grounds, feeding on remnants of rice and paddy. Now it was bleeding to death, about to be turned into a Thai styled grilled chicken. I lifted my blood stained knife off the chicken and turned to the frozen figure of the other chicken, watching me warily from under the tree. I wonder if it knew its impending fate.

“Sorry, dude. It’s your turn now.”