Waiting for a Plane to Bali
Johore Bharu, Malaysia - (map)
We left Singapore from an airport in Malaysia. In choosing to leave from Johore Bharu instead of Singapore, we saved $160 and committed ourselves to waking at 5:30 AM to make our 11 AM flight. We left enough time to clear Malaysian customs, and ended up at the airport with 2.5 hours to kill.
While we stood clueless in the center of the airport, a 60-ish year old Singaporean man approached us. His looked both youthful and grandfatherly: neat and fit, yet with receding salt and pepper hair, gold wire frame glasses, and a conservative light green polo shirt tucked into dress pants. He introduced himself as Kway Tee Soo, and he too was on the bus from Singapore and waiting for his flight.
We talked while standing in the middle of the airport, then continued our conversation in the cafe. Mr. Soo insisted on buying our coffee when he found out that we lacked Malaysian currency. Though Malaysian by birth, Singapore had been home for many years. He spoke with pride about Singapore's rules, economy, and society.
You can learn from listening to outsiders talk about your country. Mr. Soo spoke at length about America, basing his views on the six weeks he spent in Cincinnati visiting his brother-in-law. Cincinnati isn't a tourist mecca of the US, but he certainly met interesting people there.
One such person was the bus driver of an inner city bus, who noticed Mr. Soo following the bus to the end of its line. When driver asked if he was lost, Mr. Soo explained that he was trying to see the whole town. The bus driver bought him coffee during his break and gave him the return trip for free.
Mr. Soo witnessed a child in a convenience store purchasing a condom. The Singaporean man was shocked, and asked the child with a thick Asian accent, "Hey you, why you need that?" The child said he had a girlfriend and wanted to be safe. "How old are you?" When Mr. Soo found out the child was 10, he left the store shocked.
He talked about American problems, such as trading food stamps for beer, in a unique sage-like manner. During his trip, he noticed four rough men outside of a convenience store drinking. In a move that only someone not American would attempt, he asked them the question, "I'll buy you each a beer. Who wants a beer?" In a chorus of yes's he made four instant friends. Mr. Soo was a cunning man, I quickly understood. His next question was not so easy. The Singaporean continued, "You are all sitting there on good hands, how come you not working?" I pictured him wagging his finger slowly down the line at each of the four men. "They just tell me they don't want to flip burgers, but they just sit there drinking. What else can they do? If nothing else, maybe they should be flipping burgers." Surprisingly, he left the store without a scratch. Mr. Soo was such a likeable person; I wouldn't be surprised if at least one of the men went out and found a job the next day.
A great flood swept through the Midwest during his visit. The government quickly erected temporary shelter, people volunteered in droves to bag sand, and 40-foot trucks overflowed with donations. As an American, I was happy to be reminded that we can be generous on occasion.
We parted ways during our layover in Kuala Lumpur. No doubt Mr. Soo is out there now, saying hello to another stranger.