Yesterday evening I had messaged Anand Kumar of Trans Asia Line, who would be my host in Kuala Lumpur, that I would want to meet a doctor to consult about the condition of the finger. This morning I wondered if that would be needed because the pain had reduced and the swelling seemed under control. However, when Sreekanth dressed the finger I could see that the puss had increased, which, if not controlled soon, would spread under the nail and then it would be most painful to even drive.
It was indeed most difficult and emotionally draining to take leave of new friends I had made in Singapore. Ammayi was still in bed when I touched her feet and sought her blessings. She kissed me on the forehead and wished me well for the rest of the journey. Sreekanth has been special, more of a son than a friend. I can never forget his help and the way he took care of my requirements in the country. Even though I was not able to meet Sreedevi, I know they are a ‘made for each other’ couple. Sreekanth affixed the sticker for Singapore on the car before I hit the road for the Woodlands checkpoint.
With the help of Google maps I was at the checkpoint in about 15 minutes. The queue moved fast. When formalities were being completed in the immigration booth, with me sitting in the car, I asked the official where I could get the Carnet stamped. He immediately got on the phone and told me that someone would come shortly to assist me. In the meanwhile, I pushed the Autopass into the card reader and deduction was automatically made of the toll and ERP charges. Very soon another official came to the immigration booth and asked me to move the car to a secure locati0n. I was asked to follow him after handing over the key to him. I waited in an office where seven officials poured over the Carnet and passport for quite some time. Later they physically verified the chassis number of the car. It took a while before the Carnet was filled in and stamped. Once that was done the exit was also stamped in my passport. I had driven less than 60 km in Singapore and incurred expenses of about USD 300 to facilitate it!
I reached the Malaysian border and expected to get the formalities done fast, considering past experiences. Immigration was completed in drive through mode. I drove through the Customs Green Channel too and parked to find out where I could get the Carnet stamped. Nora, a young customs official, took charge of the proceedings thereafter. She found out from her seniors that I have to get the requisite work done in their office that was located quite some distance away from the gates. She took me on a long walk and got the matter sorted out once she had her senior approving the transaction. Nora was quite impressed by the drive and kept on telling this to Indian origin officials she met on the way. She told me that I should use the Red Channel next time in case I wanted to get the Carnet stamped, since the car is a dutiable item. From the Woodlands checkpoint to the Malaysian border clearance it took me over an hour.
The distance of 220 km to Melaka was covered in 3 hours of leisurely driving interspersed with a few stoppages at wayside facilities. That is a feature of the North-South Highway – wayside rest and food facilities are many. I had been to Melaka in 2000 with Beena. I had then been impressed by the quaint town, where colourful trishaws playing loud Hindi music had remained etched in my mind. Along with Perlis and Penang it is one of the smallest Malaysian states. I had read that the historical city centre had been bestowed UNESCO world heritage site status a few years back. Since I had time and the historical city was a short diversion from the North-South highway I took the detour for a short stopover to visit the churches in Melaka. I could not find a place to park the car near the Christ Church and hence, parked in front of a hotel close by.
I walked around enjoying the sights of the old town such as the water wheel on the Melaka River, remnants of the old fort and walls, walkway along the canal, clock tower, signboard showing the distance to London as 10632 km, a quaint windmill, Stadthuys – erstwhile residence of the Dutch Governor – and the Christ Church and the Church of St Francis Xavior. The influence of the Portuguese, who captured Melaka by sending troops from Goa, the Dutch and the British on architecture and culture will be apparent to tourists and visitors. The colourful trishaws were there too, a long row of them parked in front of the Christ Church. However, none of them played Hindi music; it was loud alright, but popular Malay songs. The interest shown by a group of deaf and dumb tourists from one of the oriental countries to understand the historical significance of the city centre was a sight to see.
I wound up my visit of the city in front of an ice cream stall. Seeing my interest in the menu stuck on the wall one of the vendors asked me to try the Cendo ice cream which is made with coconut milk, boiled brown gram, palm sugar and nestle ice cream. He got very pally in a short time and came over to talk to me. He asked me to stir and mix in the palm sugar to the ice cream and other ingredients to get the proper taste. He showed me the picture of his motorbike on the phone when I told him about my drive. He shared his dream of wanting to ride his motorbike to India, which is doable now, I assured him. When I got back to the car I found a parking violation ticket stuck to the windshield. It was a RM30 fine slapped by the municipal administration. The last date for payment of fine was shown as 4 May and hence, could afford to check with Anand in KL before making the payment.
I reached Petaling Jaya, where Anand was put up, in about two and half hours from Melaka. However, I could not locate the apartment complex. The original entrance had been closed and Google maps could not lead me to the address. Anand had to accompany me in the car before I finally reached his apartment. After settling the luggage in the house I went with Anand to a hospital owned and managed by the Manipal Hospital group. They are in the process of building a huge facility in the neighbourhood and will focus on multi-speciality service to patients. Anand knew George who worked in the hospital in the cardiac section. With his assistance I got an appointment directly with an ortho surgeon, Dr John Benjamin. After the registration formalities BP and blood sugar were checked. While the former was normal the blood sugar reading rocked George on his heels! Dr John took one look at the infected finger and said that it has to be drained immediately. He sent me to the casualty and asked the nurse to prepare me for the procedure. I opted for a local ‘ring block’ rather than general anaesthesia. Immediately as the injection was given Dr John took up the scalpel to drain the puss. When I told him that the finger was not yet numb he suggested another dose of the anaesthetic. He was not very happy when I suggested that he wait a while before he used the scalpel. When he was draining the puss he suggested that the nail be taken off too! I almost screamed in alarm. I told the doctor to leave the nail in place and dress up the wound. I said I would rather take antibiotics and give it a chance to heal. He agreed to it reluctantly. When I was asked to pay the bill I knew that he had had the last laugh – nearly Rs. 12,000 for registration, consultation, procedure and two tablets!
I could not get over the shock of the hospital charges till my eyes fell on the Petronas Towers. Anand and his colleague, Suresh, took me around the Surya KLCC complex to appreciate the shopping complex, lighted up Petronas towers and the buildings in close proximity to it. I was appalled to learn from both of them about the rampant bag snatching and theft of electronic items and mobiles, even from vehicles parked in basements of buildings. Later we watched the colourful fountain within the complex and had dinner in one of the restaurants there.