Called Chris and Chanthu this morning but they still hadn't heard from Chanthu's brother so didn't know if they had access to a car. We decided that if they didn't get a car we'd still meet in Johor Bahru for the afternoon. I called again at noon and we agreed to meet at the Plaza Kotarya in Bahru in an hour and a half. I got directions for the taxi station from the hotel receptionist and off I went. I knew the taxi station was on Queen street, a mere two blocks away. I walked for thirty minutes and couldn't find the station. Finally I gave up a flagged down a normal taxi - it would cost a bit more, and I'd have to cross the causeway on foot but I was running out of time. I told the driver where I wanted to go and he asked why I didn't take a cheap shared taxi - another 20 meters down the road?!? He dropped me off, I waited a few minutes in a short queue and I was on my way. The rode was smooth until the other side of the bridge where there was a chaotic traffic jam. It ended up taking nearly an hour to get through that, but one through I had no trouble changing a little money and catching a taxi to our meeting place. And only about 40 minutes late.
The plaza was not at all what I expected - it was a rather modern shopping center not unlike what's here in Singapore. We were supposed to meet in the local's food area on the top story - I was a little worried, because nothing looked like it was typically local, but as I stepped off the escalator there was Chris - not at all blending in to the crowd (probably much like me). Chris and Chanthu looked great - I guess the last two in a half months in the sun (Tahiti, Australia / New Zealand, Bali, and now Malaysia) has been good to them. Chanthu's long lost brother (who she hadn't seen since leaving Cambodia 20 years ago and they tracked down a few days ago) was with them along with two of his friends. We had a great lunch in the food court (for lack of a better word). The eating are was definitely for locals and we (well Chris and I) stood out, but everyone was very friendly. I just choose a sampler of unrecognizable things that ranged from excellent (some kind of spicy / sweet pork?) to Ok (the octopus and chicken), to pretty nasty (some fish that tasted days old).
The had a car but with six of us it would be difficult to go any distance. We decided that we should walk around the city. I think Chris and I had the idea that we'd just walk out the door and wander around the more real parts of the city. The locals (Chanthu's brother and friends) had a different idea and drove us to the nicest beach in the city (not that nice) - I think they want to show us what they consider the best the city has to offer. I would have much preferred wandering through the street vendors. Afterwards we went up to this huge palace of a mosque up on a hill and just hung out talking and enjoying the view. The driver needed to get back to go to work, so we said goodbye and I was dropped off at the taxi station. It was unfortunate that we only managed to overlap a couple hours, but it was really nice to see Chris and Chanthu. It's amazing how different (and nice) it is hanging out with people you know well.
At the taxi station I couldn't find any taxis! I asked and was pointed off down the road. I walked down the road and was pointed back! Apparently they've build a new stand and someone was trying to give me directions when someone else overheard and ended up walking me there. He spoke very little English but we both kept up a conversation for the entire ten minute walk (lot's of short cuts through bushes, up embankments, across ditches - I would have never found it on my own). When we got there he shook my hand and waved goodbye - with never even a hint about money. The queue going back was much longer, but in forty minutes I was once again on my way. The traffic in Johor Bahru was terrible, but once we got through the Malaysian border formalities traffic was smooth. We did get stopped by the Singapore customs officials. The guard was very polite and friendly and only glanced in my bag - but I noticed the other four people in the car were thoroughly searched and patted down. Somewhat worrisome, they kept one of the other passengers! No idea what for.
Total time back to Singapore even with the customs stop was well under an hour. I checked email and had a bite to eat then returned to my hotel. At the hotel I had a message from the airline asking me to call and confirm tomorrows flight (I already had - that's how they knew where I was staying). I tried to call, but the office is obviously closed. I'm sure everything is ok, but I am somewhat concerned that the flight time may have been changed. I'll just have to call tomorrow when they open at nine. But given the troubles I had in Madagascar and Mauritius I can't help worrying about it.