Wednesday, 2 May 2012

93. Through an Asian crossroads - into Malaysia

A ninety-minute ferry ride brought us into Malaysian waters and the duty-free island of Langkwai. Amid the gaggling Asian tourists on-board, a silent Hannibal Smith and B.A. Baracus blew things up on the screen. The A-Team film had apparently blown all the budget on production and ended up having to hire a five year-old from rural Thailand to do the English subtitles. Once we docked we loaded up on the jetty and made our way to the now deserted immigration booth, where a young female immigration officer, wearning a hijab matching her uniform, sternly asked "Why are you late?". Entering Malaysia feeling like scolded children, large posters reminded us that trafficking in illegal drugs carries the death sentence.

Our original idea was to cross the border on the mainland but we'd followed Troy over to Langkwai as he had heard it was a popular mooring place for wandering yachts and he was hoping to find a lift to far-off lands by easier means than pedalling. We visited a couple of the marinas on the island, chatted with some sailing folk and pitched up under a shelter overlooking a beach on the western Bahau bay as lightening and thunder built up to a crescendo that engulfed us in the middle of the night. After eating our museli in the baltic air-conditioned petrol station, we headed off on a northern circuit of the island. Torrential rains forced us to find shelter at a closed school building, where we waited for three hours before the deluge abated and we could carry on. The beaches and bays on the northern side were beautiful and deserted and waiting to be camped on but we headed back to Kuah to complete our loop of the island and catch the evening boat to Georgetown. We rode into the ferry terminal with 45 minutes to spare and casually wandered up to the ferry desk only to discover that Malayasia is one hour behind Thailand and we'd missed the last ferry of the day. All three of us piled into the cheapest digs we could find in Kuah and later I followed Ellie and Troy to the nextdoor bar where they were chatting with a group of ruddy mariners who appeared to have spent more of their lives on water than on land. As we were packing up to leave the following morning, Troy got a message from a yacht in one of the marinas that they were interested in meeting him. A few hours later, as myself and Ellie sailed on the afternoon ferry to Georgetown, Troy had found himself a ride to Sumatra and then the Maldives on-board a yacht.

People feeding the monkeys trash

Waiting for the rain to stop on Langkwai

Arriving to Penang island

When Captain Francis Light set foot on Penang island in 1786 and claimed and named the British settlement after King George III, Georgetown was to be a base for the British East India Company in the vital maritime artery of the Straits of Melacca. As well as being close to the commercially important Spice Islands, it was also midway between China and India. The settlement encouraged emigrants from both countries and over the years, the population expanded with a mix of ethnic Malays, Chinese and Indians including small numbers of other nationalities. Today in the old centre of the city, mosques and Chinese temples stand side by side while noodles and stir fried dishes mingle in the air with more pungent Indian spices. The Indians were predominantly from the Tamil-speaking south and many were Muslim who came across the Bay of Bengal to work on the rubber plantations or other manual labour. Many of the Chinese migrants worked in the merchant warehouses in the city and came to dominate trade and commerce, an imbalance with the local Malay populace that has continued until today.

We had only planned to have a day in Georgetown but somewhere between a Chinese breakfast of curried noodles and an Indian dinner of mutton curry and rice, Ellie picked up a bad case of food poisoning and she has spent the past few days in bed. In keeping with our tour of local medical facilities, we can highly recommend the Adventist hospital here in Georgetown, who weren't able to do much but at least reassured us after a couple of days of high fever and vomiting that it was just food poisoning and nothing more serious. Fortunately Ellie seems to be on the mend. Julian meanwhile has both bicycles sparkling. I also managed to break my kindle's screen. Having initially assumed that it would be a right off I discovered online that since 2009 Amazon have been issuing free replacements for kindle's with cracked screens and a short conversation with their customer service in Kentucky had a new device in the post to Ireland immediately, which is free provided that I return the broken device to them within thirty days. Even the postage is paid for, as long as I can find a UPS drop-off location - a task that is not as easy as one might assume in Malaysia. I think the Kentucky operator assumed I was in Georgetown D.C. rather than Georgetown Penang. So I have spent the last couple of days following up dead-end leads to addresses in the yellow pages although I think I found the office I need now which is on the other side of the island.

During our stay in Georgetown we've been oblivious to the wider protests that had taken place over the weekend against the ruling coalition government of Barisan National who have dominated politics since the early 70s. At the so-called Bersih 3.0 nationwide rally last weekend, opposition groups have been demanding electoral reform before the upcoming summer general elections. Unfortunately the protests became violent when protestors and police clashed in Kuala Lumpur. Instead our concerns were more local and as Ellie was bed-ridden in a dump of a hotel that we'd decided on quickly and gradually realised that the friendly Chinese management and dolled-up lady boys were running a busy brothel. Combine that with terrible toilets and an ant infestation and the last straw came last night when our roof proved permeable to the tropical downpour outside and we piled our gear in the dry corner and maneuvered buckets to catch the run-off, which soon overwhelmed us. Now we're a few doors down where for a dollar extra you get a seat on the toilet, a TV, clean sheets and a roof that doesn't leak and I don't get propositioned every time I leave the building. It's the small things in life.

Georgetown, Malaysia
Pedalled: 60,119 km

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hah, when we went from Thailand into Malaysia we were there nearly a week before realizing the clocks had changed! -Eric