Monday January 30th, 10:20am MYT, 1:20pm AEDST
We’re on a train! We left KL Sentral at 8:45am, and will arrive at Butterworth by around 4pm Malaysian time (we hope) so we can catch a ferry to Penang. The only other long-distance train trips I’ve done have been of the painful Sydney to North Coast variety, and these trains are (so far) much more pleasant than good ol’ CountryLink.
Friday was a bit of a chill out day, just finishing off some website-y things and talking to a few people during the day, and then that evening Jamie and Michael drove us around Putrajaya. We were told as we drove along that it was kind of like the Malaysian version of Canberra in terms of parliament, but we were astounded by the eerie aesthetic similarities between the two cities. The main difference we did note was the stunning architecture of almost every single building; everything seemed to be a work of art, it was beautiful. We started with a tourist’s tour of the city; the palace of the Sultan, Prime Minister’s office, etc. and then wandered around some side-street night markets (a terrible idea whilst hungry) before grabbing dinner on our way back.
Oh yeah, and that day I got bitten by a dog! It’s okay mum, I’m totally fine. It was one of Jacop and Bridget’s, and it bit me on the thigh (it only broke the skin a little) as I was walking back from their front door, which I’d done multiple times before. Maybe I looked extra tasty that day? Anyway, Eric took me to the “klinik” (phonetics ftw) and I got an injection, as well as a course of antibiotic tablets and cream. However, the bruise is approaching the magnitude of that time in year 8 when I fell off my bike and ruined the nerves in my left knee… Mum, I’ll show you pictures later. Jas is documenting the spread, it’s quite the rainbow.
We got up early Saturday morning (in the dark, again!) and had breakfast with Jacop and Bridget. They took us to a smallish building crammed with about four thousand tables and even more people, where no one spoke more than a few words of English; this was fine with local friends accompanying us, but we had some trouble later on in Bukit Bintang. Lots of hand gestures and head movements. That morning was our introduction to roti… Delicious fillings (in our case, generally banana or cheese or kaya – coconut jam (best idea ever? Almost as great as nested brackets) – or vegies or a combination of everything) in very thin, naan-like bread (kind of like crêpes?) dipped in all kinds of curries. I don’t even. I so desperately want a cold glass of Australian milk — the milk here has a disturbingly long shelf-life for “fresh” milk, and a bizarre plastic-y taste. It’s kind of made up for by the sheer volume of ridiculously tasty food we’re consuming every day, but I do love a good glass of milk. Perhaps Thailand will be different…? I’m wistfully hopeful.
After breakfast we returned to the orphanage to collect our bags, and Michael drove us back into Chinatown to our hotel. We checked in, ditched our bags and dived back out into the humidity to explore the markets again. Holly’s new tool for repelling hawkers is to deliver a torrent of our limited Spanish in an apologetic or questioning tone (¿Dónde está el baño, por favor? Lo siento, no entendí eso!), whereas Jas has decided to run with the “I’m a foreigner and I’m a little bit slow” approach — “Miss! You want to–” “HELLO!” “Hello…?” by which time she’s away, much amused. We made a point to ignore anyone who refers to any of us as Lady Gaga or Shakira, which is disturbingly often. Jas knows more Bahasa than either Holly or me, and it’s come in handy a few times; a hawker gave us a price in English and the Asian lady next to us a price in Bahasa, which was almost a third of the price he gave us. We had to smile at his subsequent hasty adjustment, but we just smiled and left. I’ve picked up various common words like exit, street, danger, stop, ladies, etc. (mostly from signage), but a tonne of words for different kinds of food; I count this as way more useful than boring things like how to get places. Pshh. A lot tourist-related Bahasa seems to be a kind of phonetic English, like teksi and bas. I also know the word for dog now… We got massages the other day and I think the woman thought I’d been abused or mugged or something.
The only problem with the markets (besides the trash and the hawkers and whatnot) is that it’s so freaking difficult not to buy all of the things. It’s so cheap that you kind of think, oh, I should probably just buy one while I’m here… We always end up spending more than intended. Holly and I were overjoyed when we discovered a street lined with tea shops, and it took a lot of logical persuasion to convince ourselves that trekking around South East Asia with new, very breakable teapots was a bad idea.
We spent Saturday night in Bukit Bintang. Dinner was at a little eatery similar to breakfast’s, and this time without the help of any Bahasa. Just as we’d finished struggling our way through our order, an elderly Chinese man sat at the table next to us and kindly offered to translate for us — we just laughed at our excellent timing and said we’d sit tight and hope for the correct food. We had a Australian-priced cocktail each at bar in the main street of Bukit Bintang, which was very Western. We avoided it for dinner, but wandered through afterward; people-watching from the balcony of a bar is always a good use of one’s time.
Yesterday we had breakfast at a Western-ish café for lack of a better option; we’re trying to avoid spending time doing things we could be doing at home, but it’s an experience in itself to eat in Malaysian “Western” cafés. Chinatown’s a ghost town in the morning as well (the sun won’t rise until about 7:15am anyway) so that didn’t help our food endeavours.
After breakfast (and some wanton purchasing) we decided to walk in the general direction of North East and end up somewhere. It was much fun, and we even ended up somewhere — back in Chinatown. As we headed away from Jalan Petaling, we saw a group of people dancing in a hall that opened out onto the street, and before we knew it we’d been forcefully ushered inside, fed, blessed, invited back and ejected back onto the street. We spent about fifteen minutes watching groups of people practice for a Valentine’s Day dance that the company (a dance studio) were putting on before we continued on our way. The generosity and welcome we received seemed out of place on the dirty city street. Anomalies hide around every corner.
We continued to walk for a few kilometres, with no real idea of where we were going. The sun disappeared behind storm clouds at some point and took with it our indicator of north, so the wandering became mostly aimless. We ducked into Capital Square for a look, but almost every single shop was closed — and they were all tech stores! Rather disappointing, I must say.
Taking lefts and rights on whim whenever we came to an intersection, another large shopping centre presented itself. The sky spent all its rain whilst we were indoors investigating clothes and coffee, allowing us to move on unhindered an hour or so later. We came to an intersection with the street we (thought) we wanted stretching into the distance in both directions, took an “educated guess” and walked for aaages. Our moods fluctuated between ultra-confidence in our amazing navigation skillz and cries of woe at our utterly unknown location. Whenever you don’t want a taxi, there are five or six people trying to shove you into theirs. As soon as you really need one…
We stopped for recovery roti and realised that we actually recognised the restaurant in which we were eating! Trekking through the streets with renewed vigour returned us to… Jalan Petaling! We ate some more, slipped through the slowly dissolving night markets and went to bed satisfied with our day.
This morning we got out of bed and caught a train. It was eventful.
We’re planning on staying in Penang for three or four days, and then heading up to Phuket. We think. We’re not sure if we’ll stay anywhere on the coast between here and there, but it’d be nice. Flights from Chiang Mai back to Kuala Lumpur are quite cheap around the end of February, so that’s an option. So many unmade decisions… It keeps things interesting.
I think I might skip coming home and go hole up in Scotland or somewhere cold.