An unlikely stop
Trip Start Oct 21, 2008
18Trip End Ongoing
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So, Penang it was. Crossing the border I was astounded to hear that commonwealth citizens were entitled a free 3 months visa on entering Malaysia. Not that I wanted to stay that long but I held my passport forward with pride upon getting my stamp. Then a change reacted in me the way a tea turns milky. With every swish of a thought about a potential 3 months in a different country and the renewed excitement of being on the road again I decided to last out the 3 months, make some friends and have a fulfilling time.
Why Pulau Penang? Kuala Lumpur is not that much further south and the east coast of the mainland has some of the most stunning jungle scenery in the world. Penang, though, sounded delightfully British and I expected a recuperating break from the chaos of Thailand's islands amid culture and food. On top of that, on my decision to go to Malaysia I had spotted in a lonely planet Miss Loh's guesthouse, located in Teluk Bahang and described as a 'fruit orchard' and a place to 'put down some roots.’ It sounded like the perfect place to allow my body the rest it deserved. The reality, however, was that the 'orchard’ was, in fact, a tree and ‘putting down some roots’ meant spending your last days there… of your life! So, due to Penang’s colonial British heritage and the disappointment of Miss Loh’s Guesthouse Georgetown seemed to be the best place to stay, the main town on Penang occupying the islands north-east corner. I checked into 75 Travelers Lodge and weighed up my options.
Thinking of what to do. The idea of returning to the islands was long gone, I was now thinking of work rather than partying. What was happening to me? Through some friends I had learnt of Dave’s ESL Café, an internet site advertising English teaching jobs around the world and South Korea had caught my eye. I set about acquiring all of the relevant documents (of which there were a lot) making me eligible to work in Korea with the help from home in England. I also learnt that my good friend from uni, Tom, was making his way to Malaysia from Loas via Bangkok and that he would be here in week. Now it was a matter of waiting.
I started wondering the streets, eateries and sights of Penang. It’s a truly amazing place. With a mix of Chinese, Straits, Indian and Nyonya culture the Peranakan identity of Penang did not fail in drawing me in. It’s hard to think of a place in the world where Indian temples morph seamlessly into Chinese temples and clan houses.
Chinese shop houses line the streets adding their antiquated feel to a timeless atmosphere. Senses are left busy absorbing Indian music mixed with Chinese incense; gods, idols, ancestors mixed with glass towers; trishaws, mopeds and old Soviet lorries mixed with the latest 4 X 4’s, BMW’s and Mercedes Benz.
Because as well as the mix in culture the mix in class is a kaleidoscope unto itself. Beggars, hawkers, delivery men, mechanics seem to rub shoulders unashamedly with stock brokers, bank managers and tycoons in that all too familiar melting pot, the eateries. This is worth a particular mention. Food in Penang is THE most important thing to Penangites, at least in my view and I should imagine the view of most living here. Food courts, markets, restaurants and roadside cafes are never more than 100 meters of each other so that eating is as easy as breathing. The food itself also tempts you into a life of scoffing as you can have anything you fancy; Cantonese, Hokkien, Malay, Indian… the choices appear endless. But, by far the most accessible aspect of eating here is the price. Usually, for around 5 pounds sterling you can feed a group of people with dishes replacing each other as frequently as a mouthful of food.
Tom arrived and we wasted no time in catching up and doing some cultured traveling. What was in store for us, however, was more of an opportunity than we could ever have imagined!!!