Train Commuters in Kuala Lumpur

I’ve been in Malaysia for three and a half months now. In that time, I have had the opportunity to experience several cultural differences between the Malaysian people and Americans. One of the differences is in public transportation and how the people here use the public transportation.

In Kuala Lumpur, public transportation seems to be the easiest way to get around town. There are several transit systems that have many stops all over the city. For the majority of times I’ve gone out and about, I’ve used the train system. True, Troy’s company rented three cars for everyone at the Loft to use, but it’s such a pain to get the keys whether you’ve reserved a vehicle because you’ve then got to track down who has the keys to the car you’ve reserved and then coordinate a time to get the keys from them. Then add in the chaos of the road system here. Yikes. lol. We avoid using the cars unless we’re going long distances or are going grocery shopping just because public transportation is so much easier.

Public transportation here is very widely used and is almost always crowded. There are days when there is hardly anyone on the train, but in most cases, the trains are very well-populated. Most of the trains have very few seats, so most people have to stand. There have been very rare occasions where there are too many people to fit on the train, as you can see in this picture, but most of the time everyone can squeeze on. It’s pretty amazing to watch the people on the outside push and shove and squeeze to get on the train. Why do they do this? Well, because the trains don’t always stick to schedule and one may not be around for another hour.

While the train systems have schedules posted online and at each stop, it is not strictly adhered to. It’s not uncommon for a train to skip a posted stop time or two. They also tend to run a few minutes late, but don’t bank on that because sometimes they arrive and depart early. And they don’t wait for people. Or they will open the doors for the last few stragglers. It just depends on the mood of the driver. Coming home from dinner at a friend’s house on Sunday, we saw the doors close right in a guy’s face when he was just about to step onto the train. Other times, we’ve seen the doors open multiple times for people who are just sauntering their way towards the train.

When getting on and off the train, expect utter chaos. Instead of behaving like people in the US and Germany, people here try to cram on the train as soon as the doors open, effectively trapping the people who are trying to get off. To counter the rush of people shoving their way haphazardly onto the trains, the people trying to get off crowd to exit doors before the train has come to a stop. They, also, try to do an immediate exodus off the train. The result is chaos and mayhem. You’ll get knocked around and shoved several times before you are able to pull away from the undulating throng of tiny Asian people. This picture shows the stand-still that occurs when people are trying to get on and off the train at the same time.

The first few times I rode the train, this behavior really surprised me. When you are out and about town here in Kuala Lumpur, you will be impressed with how polite and friendly most Malaysian people are. But once you are try to get on and off a train, it’s like they’ve all gone mad. I’m not really sure of the reason for this cultural phenomenon. Nobody has been able to explain it to me; it’s just the way it is. Thankfully, I do most of my transit during the middle of the day and I use the women-only coach, so it’s usually not too bad for me. There were a few weeks during the Christmas season when it was really bad, though. Which is kinda ironic, since 90% of Malays are Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist and don’t celebrate Christmas.

I’ve found that taking the train around 10:00-11:00am and 2:00-4:00pm isn’t so bad. The morning one is much less crowded and I can usually get a seat on the train. I rarely get a seat when I go in the afternoons. Taking the train from 7:00-9:00am is the worst, from what I’ve heard from Troy. From my own experience, it’s also best to avoid the trains from 4:00-6:00pm. Those are the going to work and coming home hours, so the train is always pretty crazy at those times. The only super difficult time I’ve had on the train was around 5:00pm.

I hadn’t planned on being at the mall that late, but the train heading to the mall had skipped a stop time, so I’d had to wait an extra 20 minutes and then there were only a couple check-out counters open at the grocery store and getting out of there ended up taking forever. So, I didn’t get back to the train until about 4:45. 30 minutes later, after the train had arrived and was depositing me at the stop by my apartment, I encountered my first major difficulty in getting off the train. I was trying to get off the train and TONS of people were trying to get on the train, including the lady who was considerably shorter than me and looked to be about my mom’s age. This lady just would NOT let me get past her. I tried to step around her, but there were so many people that I couldn’t move to the side very much and instead of the lady stepping to the side a little so we could both get past each other, she just shoved right into me and started pushing me back towards the opposite side of the train. I tried to move and get out of her way, but there just wasn’t anywhere to go. I really didn’t want to get stuck on the train with my groceries and, after several attempts to get past this lady, I finally just pushed her to the side and scrambled off the train.

I felt bad about pushing her, but there was no other way to do it. I didn’t shove her harshly or in a malicious way. And I’m not even sure that she cared. There just wasn’t any other way to do it. Unfortunately, this is just the way it is here. People push and expect to be pushed in return when entering and exiting the train.

While this was the first time I’d actually experienced this in full, I have seen this happen to many people. They all just shove and push each other around trying to get on and off the train. I honestly think that if the people here would just stop and think about it, they would realize how much easier it is to just wait until the departing people are off before all the rest get on the train. It was funny, when Troy and I were waiting to get on a train one time and a big British guy blocked a whole bunch of people from getting on the train and told them to just wait until everyone else had gotten off. The people looked so startled. I guess it has just never occurred to most of them to try a different way. Who knows.


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