Penang, Penang, It's Big, It's Heavy It's Wood

Trip Start Aug 04, 2009
Trip End Aug 30, 2010

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Flag of Malaysia  , Pinang,
Friday, January 8, 2010

I was a late bloomer: socially awkward, overweight and nerdy, terrible at forming new friendships or maintaining casual acquaintances.  Aside from Karate after school and one friend in my neighborhood, my circle of best friends in high school constituted pretty much my entire social life for 6 years:

    Fish        half WASP, half Jew
    Martin     Chinese: his goal was to reclaim the word chink
    Vik         Indian-Scottish: Apu meets Groundskeeper Willie
    Robbo     Polish-Chinese: you thought Vik's combination was weird, did you?
    Babak     Persian Jewish, which for longest time we were sure was a contradiction in terms
    Jeff         Platonic archetype of the American Jew (disagreeable, lawyer dad), with a remarkably shiny, orange face
    Choi       Confucian ideal of the Korean son (in all the ways I wasn't -- grades, cello, etc)
    Ophir      antithesis of the Israeli stereotype (thin-skinned, Ashkenazi)
    Kranz     our token WASP

Being a group of teenage guys in L.A. during the 90s - ground zero of the Politically Correct movement during its zenith (and don't let anyone from Berkeley tell you otherwise, there being absolutely nothing correct about those crazy damn hippies) - with such a mixed composition, naturally our interactions centered around racial epithets, ethnic belittlement, and religious slurs.  I got to test my verbal agility particularly frequently, my entire Asian identity being rendered redundant by Choi who eclipsed me down to the name, ours both starting in DAVID CH-vowel.

Ah, those were the days: being the whitest guy is a badge I still wear with pride.

Although the racial angle was bled dry years ago, we never let go the venerable tradition of tearing one another down as much as possible (convinced that Vik's wedding was a sham, we commended Lisa on her acting skills after the ceremony.  She took the compliment graciously).  So of course, they would never admit in public to following my blog.

A better man might have quietly crossed his fingers that they do read it and left it at that, but my narcissism compelled to prod them whenever possible: replying to email chains on a new thread so that they see the link in my signature, notifying them whenever one of them gets referenced in a post (operating under the assumption they share my narcissism), once going so far as to lay a flimsy ruse regarding Fish's incredible run on Survivor last year.

Since then, they've grown ever more leery, assuming my every move is a shameless ploy to foist yet another posting onto them.  The suspicion crossed from absurd into koan territory when, our second evening in Penang, Yasmin and I were talking over a shisha about the incredible utility of Facebook when traveling, but the utter inanity of status updates from home.  Parodying this, we decided to submit the Facebook status update (via mobile, no less):
    dropped a log, am 2 pounds lighter

I mention all this in relation to our brief stay on Penang island for 2 reasons.  First, to spite Vik, who immediately responded to my status update with a snarky query if this was yet another trick to drum op my blog numbers.  Well done you sham-wedded mutt, this post wouldn't have been possible without your blogophobia (as a side note, my college friend Tom more constructively provided the link to the poopreport, a more appropriate venue for such discourse).

Second, because we didn't actually get up to a whole lot there.  The high point of the evening in question was a baby Ganesh cartoon sighting during our stroll through the Little India section of Georgetown, the commercial hub of Penang.  Alas, we were still struggling with our case of retardedness.

The first sign of its persistence was thisaround hour 5 of what was supposed to be 4 hour busride in from KL:
    Um ... are we on Penang yet?
    I dunno, I heard there's this famous 2-mile long bridge connecting it to the mainland
    Hmm ... yeah, well we seem to be driving on a bridge-like structure...
    So ... we ARE at Penang?
    Um ...*

We might have qualified as merely clueless had we chosen that moment to query the bus driver what the situation was.  But 2 bus stops later - on what was billed as a non-stop ride, mind you - we'd turned around and recrossed the same bridge[-like structure] and still hadn't asked the driver.  It was only when we were back on the highway and seeing signs for Kuala Lumpur that the alarm bells finally penetrated enough to muster us out of our seats.

I should add that the perceived uneventfulness was limited to me since Yasmin - having  spent most of the 3 months since leaving London in Denmark, China, and Japan - was much more excited about going to a beach, which she hadn't been to since June.  By contrast, my route along the breadth of the Mediterranean, with dips in the Aegean, Red, Dead and Arabian Seas, Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal - the latter 3 simultaneously at Kannyakumari - left me a bit more blase.

The beach was nice, though a bit of a hassle to get to, taking nearly an hour to traverse the north coast, with stops seemingly every 100 feet at which an unending stream of kids would cram aboard without disembarking for a perplexingly long time -- did they ride the bus 25 minutes home for lunch every day?  In any case, we were proud of ourselves for having the sense this time to ask the driver, number 000094 with a Michael Jackson that felt out of place coming from such a burly physique and thick neck to notify us when we reached our stop (still, he was a really cheerful guy, so we were well chuffed when we caught Malaysian Mike Tyson's same bus on the way back).

In any case, we finally got to the beach and once there got into a good rhythm: lay out, swim, capoeira, swim again, stuff face with cheap food and fresh juice (jackfruit and banana -- what an unexpected treat), repeat.  The only change to the pattern came when the touts badgered us into renting a jetski since the beach chairs we were using were reserved for paying customers.

Recalling Yasmin mentioning a certain apprehension about swimming and not wanting to cough up any more to the touts than necessary, I figured we'd just split a single jet ski, lest she panic while riding on her own.  I could start off in front, taking it easy then gradually speed up if she didn't freak out, and time permitting, let her take over if it she was still in her comfort zone.

Sooooooooo wrong.  To start, she opted to drive first, this being her first time.  And then she sorta blasted off, apparently oblivious to the notion that the throttle allows for intermediate values between all and nothing.  Clearly not due for a turn in front this session, I did my best Motorcycle Diaries <link: poster> impression for most of the ride, which worked fine until, at one point, Yasmin decided to accelerate abruptly.
While turning.
Through someone else's wake.

I'm not entirely sure how long it took her to realized I wasn't aboard anymore, but she did eventually come back for me, slightly embarrassed but not enough to give up the thrill of blasting through as much wake as we could cram into the remainder of our 15 minutes.  When we got back to shore the tout looked a bit shaken, notifying us that we were taking it a bit more dangerous than he was accustomed to.

At least I know how far Yasmin's phobia doesn't extend: next time, we're definitely renting individual crafts.


*we weren't

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dchoi on

token yellow boy!

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