• Melissa Kartini

#MyFirstTime: On a Road Trip

One of my first-time experiences that stayed with me was my first road trip.

It happened a long time ago in the 1970s when I was still in primary school. Back then road trips were major events in one’s life especially since the slogan “Now Everyone Can Fly” was still not in vogue yet.

Let me start from the beginning. Our form teacher, a big hefty man with a voice comparable to the local thunder at that time decided that as a class we will be entering a contest offered by a reputable bread company. We were told to collect and cut out the logos from the waxy bread wrappings as part of the contest requirements. So most of us in his class had bread for breakfast, lunch and dinner so as to speed up the volume of the logo cuttings! Our teacher on his part would only help out with the catchy slogan needed to win the contest.

I guessed our teacher’s good English and creativity were on our side and lo and behold, we won third prize! However, the prize was a full-sized table tennis table. A thing that is not very practical or dividable for a class of 40 pupils. Therefore, the most logical solution then was to sell off the prize and use the proceeds for the whole class.

That was how my first-time trip came about. I believe it was also the first-time road trip for all 40 of us! By the way, I forgot to tell you that I was staying in a beautiful, big island called Penang and I was part of an urban school that catered to the inhabitants of the many squatter colonies in George Town at the time. We were from poor families and very territorial, so to speak. We would never wander beyond our safe boundaries and all our transportation were via foot, bicycles or public buses. Very few families had cars unless their fathers were taxi drivers.

Our first road trip as part of the prize in the bread contest was a local round-the-island day trip of about 48 miles to visit some of the famous places on Penang Island. The arrangement of the trip was meticulously planned and arranged by our good, big form teacher and we were told about it about two weeks in advance. From the initial confirmation of the date of the trip till the actual trip, most of our recess time discussions centred on nothing else but the coming Big Event!

Personally, being a small and timid 10-year-old boy at the time, I was having big problems coping with the Big Event. I was stressed out thinking of what I was going to wear and what I was going to bring along, etc. on the big day. I had not been on a bus before and was indeed overcome by fear and was told by my mum that I had nightmares and screamed in my sleep prior to the day of the trip.

Fast forward. Eve of the trip. My mum prepared two hard-boiled eggs, margarine with sugar sandwiches (still loyally buying the same brand of bread) and a small container of water, all nicely packed in a plastic bag tied with a knot. Knapsacks were also not in vogue then.

Did I say the eve of the Big Event? Yes, I could not sleep despite going to bed extra early that night. I had butterflies in my stomach and kept waking up to look at the time every hour, I think.

Everything was so surreal when my mum walked me to school (the meeting point) the next morning. All my classmates were also red-eyed from lack of sleep and carrying knotted plastic bags with similar food and drinks inside.

The bus was already there. It was a big bus. It was yellow in colour and it belonged to the Penang Yellow Bus Company. The smell of diesel was overpowering as we climbed up the bus with our big teacher as the tour guide at the front.

The big bus pushed back (aircraft term) and I was on my first road trip!

Things were fine and all of us were rather chatty as the bus moved along our familiar areas but things began to quiet down as we moved beyond our familiar surroundings and boundaries. Later, I found out that it was customary for buses to move southward of the island for round-the-island tours. Back then there was only one major road that went around the island and it was narrow and winding…

The second part of my road trip unfurled. About half an hour into the journey, I was feeling queasy and nauseated and there was a dryness in my mouth. Many of my traveling mates were also extra quiet and had the same uncomfortable feelings. We told our big teacher and immediately the bus driver asked our teacher to distribute plastic bags to most of us as we experienced our first motion sickness symptoms on our first road trip! By that time we were halfway through our trip and stopped at Balik Pulau (a small town on the other side of Penang Island). No one was spared of motion sickness! I can still remember vividly when all of us were squatting by the roadside drain in a long row at the famous old Balik Pulau bus station and vomiting our stomachs out! The hard-boiled eggs and sandwich lunches were all forgotten! We could only take sips of water instead!

Understanding our predicament, our tour guide teacher cut the road trip short and we were rushed back to our end point at school by early evening. Most of us could hardly walk straight upon disembarking from the bus.

The beautiful part is that most of our classmates can recall this memorable first road trip experience and laugh out loud about it whenever we talk about it!

My First Time, My First Road Trip. My First Air Trip will be another story then…

This piece was contributed by:

  • Name: Goh Choo Meng

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