Week 23: Malaysia part 2

29/08/2011: Day 50

We woke up with the unfamiliar feeling of a comfortable bed in and airy room and without any aches or pains. Is this the way people are supposed to live? However, this new comfort meant that we were more sleepy than normal, perhaps the comfort makes us want to sleep more.

Despite our desire to sleep we were both asked to breakfast by an eccentric English girl and other friends. She made breakfast sound very appealing by telling us that she knew somewhere that served banana bread. Eventually, once she had managed to gather half the hostel together, we left for the famous cafe. We eventually did find it but I think we lost a few people along the way. We ended up eating breakfast with a South African couple, an American, the English girl and an Irishman with an Australian accent. Despite the absence of the banana bread there was honey, which goes equally well with bread in the morning. We are in Malaysia and eating a european breakfast, so?. It turned out that the group we were sitting with were all teachers in Thailand and had to come to Malaysia to extend their visas. Naturally I was quite interested in their work in Thailand.

Following breakfast we returned to the hostel to have another nice and lengthy shower before we made ourselves presentable enough to leave again, but we were certainly in no rush. In fact, once I was ready I decided to log in to the internet. Here I found an email that shocked me; a friend from uni had informed me that my PGCE course was to start on the 5th September…a week today! What!!. Apparently we had been told in April but I had wrongly assumed that it would start at the normal time. This means I will be starting the day that I return and need to find accommodation and do my pre-course essays before then. What a bummer.

Not to dwell on the news that I will be a social hermit in one weeks time both myself and James decided to explore the island a little more. Today we would look around Georgetown, the capital of Penang and the main township of the Island. We had agreed to join a Chinese pair for the afternoon. One was a girl from Chongqing and another a lad who is studying at the University of Liverpool. Together we walked around Georgetown and both myself and James were immediately taken back to China whilst we followed the two of them. Not only were they ‘guessing’ where they were going instead of having the ’embarrassment’ of consulting the map in their hands, but they were also walking at a snails pace….so Chinese. I miss it.

We arrived at a side street bursting with people. The girl told us that the stall (which had dozens of people surrounding it) served food which was ‘famous’ to Georgetown. I have learned to be cautious when a Chinese person says ‘famous’ as they often mean ‘popular’. In fact, this was highlighted later when she told us a friend of hers was ‘famous’ in Liverpool (the mutual friend of the two of them). It turned out that she is just well-known amongst the chinese students at the university for being the chairwoman of a literacy club. However, it turned out that the food was famous to the area. We all tried it (except James who once again had toilet issues). It was an ice cold soup served with red bean and green worm like things. It didn’t taste of much other than watery sugar and the texture, influenced by the worms, didn’t make it too appealing to me. The Chinese lad finished two. Good lad.

This wasn’t quite enough to fill me up and James still required at least something non-runny to eat. We took to walking around Chinatown for some nice food. We came across a noodle market where we sat and ate some fried noodles. They didn’t last long and we were soon keen on seconds. Unfortunately our Chinese friends went somewhere else after our bowl before. But this meant we could walk at normal speed again.

Once we had finished James decided to return to the hostel and take advantage of the comfortable bed. I didn’t blame him. I, however, decided to have a walk around the coastal area of the town. I walked up Love Lane (where we were staying) and quickly came to several buildings; museums, town halls, and art galleries. Eventually I reached the sea front where there were very few people other than the men fishing. For a while I walked along the coast, following the map and heading towards recommended sights. Eventually I came to a fort dedicated to the British man who first landed on Penang; Francis Light. Here I walked around and got another history lesson about the island; its occupancy, the wars it has seen and the trauma of Japanese occupancy in world war two. There were a few cannons too.

I took a different route back via the clock tower and a big roundabout before getting back to James after about 2 hours of exploring. I found him asleep so decided to find out more about my course. I have a lot to do.

Eventually James rose once again and we went out in search of food. In hindsight it seemed that food had become the focal point of the day. In doing so we passed many restaurants and even saw a man who looked identical to Jangers…it couldn’t, could it? We walked passed him a couple of times and came to the conclusion it wasn’t. James then spotted a car park that stated it served ‘traditional Penang food’. We went to have a look and were happy to come across a hidden Jem. Inside was a massive market featuring dozens of food stalls serving every type of asian cuisine; Malaysian, Hong Kong, Japanese, and Chinese. We had walked into my heaven. What was more, there was entertainment in the middle of the surrounding tables. If the show Benidorm was set in Malaysia (instead of Benidorm) and featured only Malaysian people we were in that show. We joined a table with two spare seats (which is normal in Asia) and so sat at a table with two strangers. They were father and son and both Malaysian of Han Chinese descent. Both myself and James took it in turns to walk up and order our food. All of which we were satisfied with and full afterwards. We already planned to return tomorrow, it’s too good to miss.

30/08/2011: Day 51

Given that we hadn’t seen much of the Island on the previous day we took to exploring it a bit more extensively today.

Our first job, however, was to sort out what we were to do next. Initially our plan was to spend a few days r&r in the perenthain Islands as it had been recommended t us and it would have been nice to return to England with the sort of tan I had during my travels in China or we both obtained on the beaches in Vietnam. However, Time was not on our side and nor was our budget. So we decided to hire the night bus to KL as it was cheap and we wanted to see the National Day celebrations in the capital. It was from there that we would be able to decide how to spend out final days.

Our day began with a public bus. From my research there were a few things on the bus route that looked quite interesting. For me the most interesting seemed to be the floating Mosque. Yet, James made it clear he had no interest in it, but I selfishly dragged him along with me anyway in the hope he would enjoy it. Little did we know that we were going to have a little adventure on the way. For some reason the bus driver told us we had arrived at the floating Mosque about 10 minutes after we left Georgetown (we had previously been quoted half and hour). This meant we were dropped off in the middle of nowhere. After consulting the map it seemed as though it wasn’t that far so we began to walk. However, after a few minutes it became clear that we would have to get back on the bus again. oops. We waited at a bus stop and had 3 buses whizz past without stopping because they were too full. It is now a Malaysian public holiday and most people are off work. Eventually one bus driver allowed us to squeeze in and he was very helpful. In fact, he tried to have a conversation with us throughout our whole journey despite the cramped conditions on the bus.

Eventually we did arrive at the mosque. It was billed as Malaysia’s first floating mosque, but it wasnt actually floating…more like a mosque on a pier. However, it still looked quite impressive. We walked along a platform to reach he mosque and to have a look around. How could we say we have been to Malaysia and not been in a mosque? Initially James was reluctant to enter for reasons I didn’t understand but eventually we both looked around it. we were able to appreciate it but it wasn’t overwhelmingly spectacular. I don’t really know what I was expecting though. Within 10 minutes we had walked around most of it and already heading out. I was glad we went but felt a bit responsible for dragging James there.

We were now walking along the coast towards the famous beach of Penang. Once again it was a longer distance than the map indicated. I had been walking all day in bare feet since the flip-flops bought in replacement for my sandals were a little uncomfortable (they only cost a pound so didn’t know what to expect). After about half an hour we reached a beach (but not THE beach) having accepted that it was a little to far to walk. Here we sat almost motionless for a couple of hours. It was nice to sit with the peace of the sea. I ended up reverting to a child like state by playing with pebbles and the sand whilst James supervised me with his I-pod.

We then got a direct bus back to Georgetown where we were able to recuperate and pack in preparation for our KL return. Before we could though, we had to eat…of course. We headed back the short distance to the food market from the previous evening. This time the entertainment was a very old man dancing and miming to music. As I looked around I noticed that myself and James were the only ones showing any interest in him. He certainly didn’t know that as he swaggered off the stage every 3 minutes for a sip of his beer with a smile on his face. This time I decided I was hungrier than last night and ordered dim sum to go with my sushi, duck rice and pineapple fried rice. I knew that it would be my last feed in the food haven that is Penang, so went all out.

We returned to the hostel for a short wait for our 11:30 bus to KL. It turned out that we were picked up by car and joined by a Malaysian girl named eve. However, we were not to travel the whole distance by car, instead we transferred to a bus where we would sleep for the night. Eve also joined us along with some Iranian lads. Naturally, given the good coaches in Malaysia, we were able to get a few hours sleep along the way.

31/08/2011: Day 52

Today was a day of mourning, for my wallet. Also it was a day of celebration; Malaysia’s national day.

We arrived at a Kuala Lumpur terminal at around 6:30am. In my haste to get off the bus I offered my seat no more than a quick glance to check I hadn’t left anything behind. I concluded that I hadn’t and exited the bus. I soon realised that I hadn’t checked hard enough and my wallet was still on the bus that had swiftly parted once we jumped off. O no. By the time I realised we were approaching the monorail with Eve, who had appointed herself as our tour guide. I left the two of them at the monorail whilst I went back to the terminal in search of the bus…it wasnt there and no one was able to locate it…we had been in a ghost bus. I returned to James and Eve and informed them that I would make my way to another depot. I told James that I would meet him at the hostel a bit later. So I began a little mission, to locate my wallet. The wallet had gone everywhere with me since I was 16, for this reason I was more attached to the actual wallet than the £60 that was inside. I felt quite lucky that I had stored my bank cards and driving licence elsewhere and that it wasn’t my passport left on the bus. In fact, the only contact information in the wallet was my business card or Pattys home address. I now fear that my wallet has been posted to Mexico.

However, I made my way to another depot where I was helped out by some very nice people at customer services. Through them I was able to get into contact with the bus company, and then the bus driver himself. He told me the bus had parked up beside one of the monorail stations for cleaning. So I headed straight there. When I arrived, perhaps 20 minutes later, the bus was nowhere to be seen. Another driver offered his assistance and I used my phone to recall the driver. He told us that he would return at 11:30 with the bus so I should meet him then. Since it was not 8:30 I decided to go to the hostel to drop off my heavy bag.

Once I arrived I recalled the driver to find his phone had been switched off. I managed to get hold of him again at around 10:30 and he informed me that he was now on his way back to Penang on another trip. I suspect that this wasn’t true and that he had found the wallet with the money in it, but I am not one to accuse. Instead I had to admit defeat, and accept that my wallet has gone. I am still hoping to receive an email telling me that someone has found it though. However, it seems it may have fallen into dishonest hands.

We were back in the same hostel that we stayed in originally and one of the staff knew us by name already, despite only talking to him briefly. He expressed his concern about my wallet but was more interested in the Angry Birds t-shirt I was no sporting.

We had a couple of hours sleep before we headed out. James had stayed in touch with Eve, the Malaysian girl from our coach and had been talking to her throughout the day on Facebook. She offered to take us with her friend to a famous night market on the outskirts of KL. Naturally, with it being National Day, we agreed to join them. We walked to the station in the early evening where we were surprised to be met by Eve and taken to massive car…kidnapping? Instead a young lad was in the driver’s seat. The car was seriously huge. It turned out Tommy, the boys name, is a young looking 20-year-old driving his rich fathers car. Very impressive. We were able to cruise through KL central and see how the city had lit up in celebration of the national day.

In the end we did reach a market, and we were pleasantly surprised to see that it was aimed quite specifically at the locals. In fact, I don’t think we saw any Western tourists the whole time that we were there. Tommy parked his car (too big for him) and we began to walk down the narrow market street under the street lights. It was packed full of people and we struggled to move anywhere quickly.

Whilst at the market we explored several different kinds of stalls. Quite predictably I was very interested in the food. We ate a few weird and wonderful things cookies shaped like bears to unknown fish parts in leaves. Eve was kind enough to buy us some lovely sugar cane. Despite the presence of stinky tofu I suppress the temptation to have any. I think I have had my fair share of sticky tofu. However, the longest queue of the night was at this stall.

None of us actually bought anything that couldn’t be consumed but we did enjoy our time at the market (if I can speak for all of us). Myself and James were then lucky enough that Tommy offered us a lift back to the hostel. By this time the market was dying down and we were able to escape quite swiftly.

I still need to buy a wallet though 😦

01/09/2011: Day 53

Things are beginning to unwind and going home is becoming an unwanted reality check. The last thing I really want to think about is going home. Time should probably stop around now.

Despite our limited time, we didn’t really do much with the daylight today…perhaps for the first time in a long time. Instead we both took the opportunity to reorganise ourselves and do some reading for uni. Apparently we have to do work before we start the course….heads have been shaking and eyes have been rolling.

However, I needed something essential…a new wallet. I left James at the hostel whilst I walked around Chow Kit market. We have been told about the dangers of this market because of pickpockets. But, since I didn’t have a wallet I didn’t need to worry about getting robbed. In the end I bought a cheap wallet. I have to work hard to get as attached to the new wallet as I was to the old one. Anyway, I started to make my way back to the hostel when I man approached me and asked if I wanted ‘a young girl’. I told him I didn’t want a young girl (I don’t know what he really meant, but I can guess) and then he asked me to come and look at his young girl. This was weird and I didn’t hang around long enough to find out how ‘young’ this girl was going to be. As I walked away quite puzzled a large woman approached me and asked if I wanted a full body massage, I told her I didn’t. She then told me to do something rather crude to her (I won’t put it here but one can imagine what she asked for). I guessed I had walked into the wrong area….I seem to interact with prostitutes far too often.

Anyway, despite what some may argue being a waste of a few hours (and others a productive time geared towards success in later life) we made our way to China town in the afternoon. We were glad to arrive just as the stall owners were returning from their mid afternoon siestas and there was more variety around China town than on our previous visit.

We decided that our priority should be food (when is it not?) and we quickly found a nice Chinese place to eat. However, we found ourselves hungry enough to seek greater portions of better taste. We were instructed to go to a famous food street in China town not far from where we were. There we immediately found something I had been missing….rice clay pots. These are dishes of boiled rice topped with meat of any kind. There is something about being cooked in a clay pot which makes it taste amazing. Rice is exciting. We shared one of these as it was quite expensive but we found we were sufficiently full to continue our journey.

One thing that we have noticed about Malaysia is that the nights end quite early. Obviously there are bars and clubs but the true local venues (and cheaper ones) seem to die down around 10pm. Indeed China town is no exception. Given that we were still eager to explore Kuala Lumpur a little more we decided to head back to the Petrona Towers since we had only seem them in the daylight.

A short monorail trip later and we were back in the ‘Golden Triangle’. Here we were able to walk (once again I was barefoot) towards the nicely lit towers. Once again we walked around inside trying to work our way around one of the towers. Once we were out the other side we sat for a while beside the large lake. It was here that it really hit me that I will be returning home soon. I then realised how much I am going to (and perhaps already am) miss China. It seemed that China could offer me everything beside the PGCE and that made me seriously consider getting a cheap flight back to China via Hong Kong instead of going home. James convinced me the best thing to do would be to get the PGCE out the way first. Are children going to chant my name and cheer when I walk into a classroom in England….?

Anyway, with that realisation that home was actually going to be a reality we retired for the night. England beckons.

02/09/2011: Day 54

Despite only a few days remaining in Malaysia I decided that I needed to see one more new place before we leave. James, quite sensibly, decided to use the next couple of days to complete his pre-course work. So I woke up around 6am to head alone to Melaka about 2 hours to the south of Kuala Lumpur.

I managed to get a bus from one of the stations in central KL. This time I had my new wallet and held it tightly, I am not losing this one, yet. The journey went nice and quickly but I was then dropped off at the central station, which was nothing but central. In fact, I was told that I was 9km from the centre. A taxi driver approached me and asked if I wanted a lift. He then told me it would cost £4 to get to town….no way! Instead I decided to find a public bus which I got for 20p.

Having done very little research into Melaka I didn’t really know when to get off the bus. I decided, as I new it was a port town, that I would get off when I got to the sea. The bus never reached the sea. After about 45 minutes we were outside of any urban area. The driver noticed I was still on the bus and told me that we were about to enter another town, and that we had passed through Melaka…opps. I got a bus back and missed Melaka again, arriving make at the station. What a plum.

Eventually I did make my way to Melaka itself (decided to walk most of it in the end) and booked into a very smart-looking hostel. Despite being a 25 bed dorm the room was very modern and we had curtains between two people for privacy. However, I didn’t know who I would be sharing with at this time.

I explored the town and found it to be a very pleasant place and the people were really nice. When the British Empire first arrived in Melaka it was the most lucrative port in Malaysia so the town used to be a very rich area (before Singapore took over). However, now it seems to be very poor and survives solely on its history. I visited one of the ships which had been converted into a museum and walked around for a while. I noticed that I was a subject of stares and giggles for the first time in Malaysia. It appears that Melaka is perhaps not all that familiar with western faces. I must admit that I like that attention.

I then visited the relics of St Peters church. It looked very similar to the building of the same name in Macau, which is also an old portuguese colony. Both have fallen apart in the same way. Surely that’s not a coincidence.

Following a few hours around the town I returned back to the hostel to get ready for an evening in the town (which people had been raving about). I got chicken curry and custard buns on the way back.

The evening in Melaka did not disappoint, even though I was on my own. As I entered the main night street there was a crowd forming around a man with some coconuts. Naturally I was curious as to what was going on. It turned out he was a holder of two Guinness World Records for piercing coconuts with one finger….mental. I sat with the rest of the crowd and he began his show. As I should have expected the man (Master Ho) spotted me. He made me stand up and join him in the middle in front of a crowd of over 100 and still growing. He made me throw playing cards at him before he embarrassed me by showing me how a kung fu master does it, very impressive. He then made me attempt to pierce a coconut with one finger. Of course I was not able to do this without breaking my finger. I looked quite the fool but I think he was trying to demonstrate that the coconuts were real. Thankfully he allowed me to sit back down with a rather red face. Good fun though.

I sat through the whole show, which lasted about an hour and he actually did manage to piece coconuts with his finger. It was quite bizarre how he channelled all of his power into one finger. Afterwards he showed the crowd his finger. It had immediately became very swollen and crooked. He reassured us that it always happens like that and that the swelling would reduce in time and the finger had been broken many times before. Although impressive, I decided I am glad I have not chosen coconut piercing for my career.

I spent the rest of the evening walking around the Melaka night streets. In my opinion it was a better version of the Kuala Lumpur China town. There was so much food and chinese stuff around. I decided to eat some dim sum and some noodles and bought a chinese themed camera case. Other than that I just admired the streets, which were beautiful. I then had a great conversation with a Malaysian who was interested in having a conversation in Chinese with me. Although we quickly reverted to english I always like it when people respond in chinese when I ask in chinese. All too often they respond in English because they like to practise their english too. That said, my chinese is nowhere near as good as it should be, and that I want it to be.

The night was great, but in fitting with Kuala Lumpur everything ends quite early unless you want to buy over priced beer. I retired to the hostel where I met two Vietnamese girls. One of which was stunning. That said, I was in bed not long after midnight where I found out I had been paired with a Japanese girl (not in the same bed but two in a cubicle, like a hospital cubicle. Throughout the night she kept waking me up with her itching (the room was rife with mosquitos). I felt a little sorry for her but since I was getting bitten too I guessed I was also itching in my sleep. Aside from the mosquitos the night was quite comfortable.

03/09/2011: Day 55

Despite only arriving in Melaka the previous day I needed to head back to Kuala Lumpur today. I had fallen in love with the town but it was quite small and only needed the morning before I had seen it all. Perhaps if I had more time or if James was with me we may have stayed a little longer. It is now a winding down time and the next few days are more about

After a morning in the town I began to make my way towards the central station. I had previously been told that the station was 9km from where I was. I decided that it wasn’t worth risking getting the bus again and decided to try to orienteer my way there. I was quite impressed with my memory trying to follow the bus route to the station. It only took around an hour and most definitely was not 9km away. Still, I was on my way back to KL.

When I arrived back in KL it was already mid afternoon and James was working at the hostel. We had a quick catch up and then got ourselves ready for an evening at a local restaurant. We made the decision to stay local and get an indian, thus saving one final chinese for our last night in Asia, it would be the only fitting way.

We got to an indian restaurant and it appeared that we had finally learned how much indian food we needed to fill us both up and not waste any. We ordered just enough dishes, with some new ones. As is normal with Indians here, everything tasted like the best thing I have ever put in my mouth. My taste buds have been spoilt in the last year. How will I adapt to fish and chips again?

Still we enjoyed a very relaxed evening and were back at the hostel for 10pm. How could we end our penultimate evening in Asia….introduce our new asian friends to Fawlty Towers of course….’drive carefully dear’.

04/09/2011: Day 56

Now, if I had been given a reality check during the previous week I was now to be brought right back down to earth (metaphorically).

I never thought I would have a ‘uni day’ in Kuala Lumpur, but as I am returning to uni on monday I needed to write an essay and do some reading. Naturally I wanted to do this to the best of my ability. So when we both naturally woke up we made our way to the communal area and both performed the tasks our unis had set us….we are meant to be on holiday! Of course this was a helpful few hours in allowing me to have some reassurance that I have done some prep work for uni….which I should be starting tomorrow.

Of course we couldn’t waste a whole day writing essays and reading the school curriculum. What kind of travellers would this make us? Instead we packed our bags in preparation for our departure in the morning and then headed towards China town via monorail.

It was now that James revealed that he had been in contact with Eve. We were to meet her and Tommy in China town. Initially I wasn’t sure this was a good idea as we both intended to do some final day shopping but it turned out to be great. As one can probably guess it was great because there was food involved. Instead of us experimenting with different stalls and restaurants Eve took us to a famous Chinese restaurant in China town. Wow! I loved the food….I will bloody miss Chinese food (or just food….I know I write far too much about what I eat and havent gained any weight to justify it). Every mouthful was savoured.

Myself, James, Eve and Tommy then spent he rest of the night walking around China town. We decided to have one last go at Dr Fish (which I think I forgot to write about before). It’s basically a tub of fish that feed on dead skin. James informed me that it is popular at home now. 3 of s paid to dip our feet in with the massive flesh-eating fish. Quite embarrassingly I was given 3 plasters and told that I had to wear them over my leech marks and mosquito bites as the fish would re-open the wounds. It’s fair to say that my feet look quite weathered at the moment. Still, once our feet were in the pool the fish swarmed towards us for their feast. As with the first time it created an uncomfortable ticklish feeling but after a while we only really noticed the fish when they sucked to hard or got a leg hair in their mouths. 10 minutes was enough, and our feet felt refreshed even if they didn’t look it.

The remainder of the night was spent walking around the market and taking in the last few hours of Asian atmosphere…it really is coming to an end.

Following the market we were offered a lift home by Tommy and Eve. We accepted and went to the hostel in his car. Whilst we were sitting in the back Eve produced 2 large bags from the passenger seat. She then gave one to each of us and told us they were presents for myself and James. Eve and Tommy had bought us presents…we were overwhelmed but very thankful. It seemed a fitting way to end our experience in Asia, with two people displaying the welcome and hospitality we have now become so used to in Asia. What an experience. Thankyou Eve and Tommy.

We were now alone again and had to prepare for our 5am departure. Online check-ins, bag packing, currency changing and photo sorting all made it quite clear; we are really going home.

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