Kuching – Day 1 Part 1 of 2: October 21, 2012

Wuan dropped me off at the Kuala Lumpur City Air Terminal (KL CAT) at KL Sentral. That was the first time I would be travelling without her since 2007. I was excited and nervous at the same time as she drove away. In many ways, I have been depending on her to assist me with my activities of daily living and now she would be nowhere near for two days.

My baggage consisted of one luggage with my clothes and a backpack for all the essential items that I needed en route. I made it a point to arrive early. Passengers with luggage wanting to check in at KL CAT must do it two hours prior to departure. Victor arrived as I was checking in. He had with him just a backpack. I wished I could do the same too.

View of scenery from inside KLIA Express
View from inside the KLIA Express.
Photo taken with the Samsung Galaxy S III.

The journey to the airport was one that I had taken many times. Coming out from the terminal, the KLIA Express would pass Brickfields and Mid Valley Megamall, and then the scenery onwards would become a blur as the train picked up speed.

We reached the airport in good time and went looking for Counter B16 to confirm that I would be checking in the wheelchair at the boarding gate and that I needed an aisle chair to get to my seat in the cabin. The wheelchair was affixed with a “Deliver At Aircraft” tag. This instructed the baggage handlers to deliver it to the boarding gate upon arrival.

Malaysia Airlines Counter B16 for special handling
Malaysia Airlines Counter B16 for Special Handling.
Photo taken with the Samsung Galaxy S III.

Once I got into the plane, I would be immobile. Going to the on-board toilet was out of the question. As was my usual practice, I went looking for a toilet to empty my bladder just before boarding. Since using the rigid chair which has a smaller footprint, I have been having difficulty lifting my buttocks to pull down the pants to catheterise but I managed with ease somehow that time.

The plane was late. I got boarded first. When the baggage handler took away my chair to be stowed in the cargo hold, I said a silent prayer that it would come out on arrival unscathed. Victor and I were allocated seats in different rows. We managed to get the passengers to change seats so he could sit with me. I made a mental note never to book Row 7 in a Boeing 747-400 for the lack of windows on both sides.

Malaysia Airlines in-flight meal - stir-fried chicken with noodles
Malaysia Airlines in-flight meal.
Photo taken with the Samsung Galaxy S III.

The in-flight meal of stir friend chicken with noodles was surprisingly tasty. Having had my fill, there was nothing else to do but to try to rest. The incessant humming of the engines and the flurry of activities of the cabin crew put paid to that intention.

(to be continued)

Journey To Kuching – The Preparation

The Jabatan Kebajikan Masyarakat (JKM), through the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), invited me to conduct a Disability Equality Training (DET) session titled “What is Disability?” in Kuching, Sarawak. This was in conjunction with the Sarawak State Level 2012 Seminar on Supported Employment for Disabled People.

Knowing that I would need to be accompanied on overnight trips, JICA arranged to cover the return flight tickets and hotel accommodation for Wuan and I. It was a busy period at work for Wuan and she could not take leave to go with me.

Coincidentally, I met Victor Chin during the Kuala Lumpur Photography Festival 2012 at the time when I was looking for someone to accompany me. Victor, a renowned artist and photographer, is a good friend who had roped us in to hold a joint photography exhibition with him in 2009. I asked and he agreed to accompany me to Sarawak for the seminar.

Still, I was hesitant because that would be the first time I would be travelling with an expensive rigid wheelchair. I was afraid the wheelchair could be damaged by mishandling of the cargo handlers. I checked around but could not get insurance specifically to cover damage or loss of the wheelchair for the duration of the trip.

Having already committed to the seminar, I steeled my nerves and prayed nothing untoward would happen to the wheelchair; else I would be stranded in a land far away from home. Then, there was the uncertainty of whether I needed a passport.

There was virtually no information on the documents required of Malaysians from the peninsular entering Sarawak in official government websites. Friends in the know informed me that all that was needed is my identity card. I should have asked JKM or JICA regarding this in the first place.

I have not been to Kuching before but I have a few friends who are from there. We got acquainted online through our blogs. We agreed to meet but since I had no idea of my schedule yet, we could not arrange for a specific time to meet up. Nevertheless, I was excited at being able to finally meet them face to face after so many years of communication through our blogs and then Facebook.