The day started off on a positive note. We arrived at the bus station on time, purchased our tickets and picked our seats. A tour bus rep sauntered over and provided a detailed overview of the day ahead, including all the ins and outs of the border crossings on our trip from Brunei to Sabah, Malaysia (many, many border crossings, resulting in 10 new passport stamps). To put things in context, this kind of informative overview is never provided here… as in N.E.V.E.R. When you get on a bus, train or boat, you sit quietly and hope for the best.
The bus rep estimated (optimistically, it turned out) that the trip would take about 7.5 hours.
As we set off (on time!), the bus co-pilot/passenger liaison dropped a DVD into the player (the kids were excited to see a television screen). Two hours of karaoke style music videos followed, featuring extremely happy Muslims singing songs about Hari Raya. Many sounded suspiciously similar – kind of like listening to different artists sing the same Christmas songs – over and over and over… Little did we know that eight hours later, we would be fondly reminiscing about the entertainment on the first leg of the trip.
We certainly didn’t expect the chaste, slightly cheesy music videos to be followed by a string of graphically violent, extremely inappropriate movies featuring a combination of aging action stars and unknown wannabes shooting, stabbing, punching and blowing each other up, stopping only to shout profanity-laden dialogue at each other. There was lots of blood. So much blood.
This assault on the senses began with a wrinkled Jean Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren, whose characters were victims of a government military experiment designed to create invincible, semi-human soldiers. You may be shocked to hear (not!) that the plot included an end-of-the-world scenario.
Why did I watch, you might ask? It turns out it’s extremely difficult to avert your eyes from the front of a bus when your seat is pointed that way, especially when a screen is projecting moving pictures and blaring audio.
Did I mention I hate action films? As in I never watch them. As in I tell Karl to find someone with more testosterone to go with him (Hi Mason!) As in Bond movies are a stretch for me. So to sit captive on a bus while not one, not two, not three, but four movies were played in succession was, shall we say, painful.
The fact that our three young children were on the same bus added another wrinkle to the scenario. How could I distract them from the TV hour after hour after hour? The first few were fairly easy – thank you iPads! When the batteries were depleted, we attempted naps, reading books (tricky when you get motion sickness), and then I tried to come up with compelling conversation topics.
What was Karl doing the whole time? He was seated solo the row behind us, relaxing to the sounds of Leonard Cohen, Neil Young and Jack White on his iPod. Well played, Daddy, well played.
At one point, Cate walked up to the front of the bus and suggested that the movie choices were perhaps a touch violent for children. The man nodded, smiled and proceeded to … do nothing. I suspect he was playing the movies for his own enjoyment, as the bus passengers were primarily female and/or under 18 (not your typical violent action movie demographic).
As the blog post title suggests, we reached the depths of cinematic purgatory with the appearance of Steven Seagal – a puffy, greasy, aged version of Steven Seagal. I hear he’s a Buddhist. Not so much in “Maximum Conviction,” an unknown gem from 2012. Karl tells me his sidekick was former wrestler Steve Austin (never heard of him).
When the credits rolled on the fourth movie, we braced ourselves for more gun fire and bloodshed. Apparently the drivers finally took pity on us, turned off the DVD player and popped in a Jon Bon Jovi CD, the sappy “Bed of Roses.” We’re not sure if this was an improvement (sorry, Uncle Keith!)
Finally, after 11 hours on the bus, with the sun setting on Kota Kinabalu, we arrived at our destination. The sounds of the busy city street? Music to our ears…