What happens when you throw
yourself into the mystique of the Far East, wearing only sleeveless
T-shirts and pink Bermuda shorts, with no preconditions other than
Dr Lieberkind's TV shows.
Penang is an island off the south coast of Malaysia, located in the Chinese Sea. Situated just above the equator, it offers a constant tropical climate. It symbolizes the modern East, where vast primeval forests are broken by some of the world's most modern and fastest growing cities. The courtesy and efficiency of the East is tracked everywhere you meet the smiling population. It is well known that Penang is the "Pearl of the East", so I have to pass by to see it.
13.12 1990. At 6am, I park my Land Rover and mud in a limousine parking lot, as I have agreed with Claus and Trine that it should stay just outside the Arrivals Hall when they get home in 12 hours. Unfortunately, it's been rebuilt since I've been here last, so the only "central" space is the limo parking.
After the usual delays, we get in the air, and then down into London. After a little more delay, it goes to Istanbul. Short stop where we are sitting in the plane, then it heads on to Karachi in Pakistan, where for a brief moment we think we will avoid delay.
A small bump turns out to be pretty fatal: A food truck crashes into the plane, and there is a crack in the wing. After a few hours, we are allowed to leave the plane and walk through the rough hands of immigration authorities.
14. And then I get to spend some time in Pakistan - but that is another story.
15. Arrives at the hotel in Penang after 48 hours spent on 3 novels, an exciting day in Karachi and 0 hours of sleep. Gets the key to a truly delicious luxury suite, on the top floor. Here you will find everything from the bell over the bar and TV to the air conditioning, which, like the rest of the hotel, keeps the temperature down to uncomfortable 18-19C, in stark contrast to the outdoor temperature of 32C. In fact, the only minus about the hotel is the prestigious low temperature. Finally finding out that what I thought was a radio built into the pompous bed furniture, in fact, is the air conditioning control.
After the information meeting, the guide is
kind enough to get me some money for the weekend.
Stroll a little tour, to digest. It's just
damn dark, so the only thing you can see are millions of sparkling
stars sparkling over the fluorescent peaks of the waves, accompanied
by the cicadas' song, the crunch of the sand and the roar of the
We head east, to a fishing village, consisting of a few cabins, and one boardwalk, which however branches off and leads out 2-300 meters. The boardwalks are 1½ meter wide deck is mahogany, where against the 10-15 meter high poles that carry it are of palm stems. They cannot even be called wood, they are more like a bundle of straw.
The blue-painted fishing boats are 30-40 feet of Chinese junks, equipped with a wide selection of nets and other fishing gear. The boats have seen better days (2-300 years ago) but have been kept incredibly clean. I should not be able to say what their main catch is, but there are smells of fish at the cabins.
Then the tour continues along the winding
mountain road, through dense primeval forest. Incidentally, the
world's oldest, as it has not been significantly disturbed by
climate change, volcanoes, earthquakes or humans.
The next time one's knee comes to life is in a
Kapong. It is a small village where people are slowly trying
to "civilize" the villagers. The houses are far apart, on their 2
meter high poles. This seemed to be the easiest way to drain them in
monsoon times. Everything, with the exception of the bricks, is made
of wood, which in many places is artificially carved.
Into the bus march, (now I catch up with the
others - except of about 5 minutes), and then we drive towards the
snake temple. A monk once cured a Briton for boils or pimples, and
in turn got the land and money to erect a monastery. The first night
the temple was finished, it swarmed with poison snakes. They have
been allowed to stay, so now the tourists come buzzing, to be
photographed with a handful of toothless viper in the incense
Want the key, to go up after the expedition
gear. Get to know my "roommate" has it. Funny, because when I went
this morning, I lived alone. No one opens when I call, so now I need
my Visa card for the first time - to pick the lock.
I find the gear, and head out and starts walking along the coast, off the heavily twisted and busy mountain road, with my nose in the ground and her tail in the air. After trotting 5-10,000 kilometres, a small cosy restaurant emerges from the car ooze. As I finally get to explain to the little female servants, that I only need a table for one, since I don't have "a girlfriend", it turns out, the place has first class service.
On the other hand, there is a bit of spice and
a bit far between the meat in the large portions of food I get.
Walk all the way through the tourist area and
meet a couple of Swedes heading to Georges Town. We "buy"
collectively taxi and drives the 12 kilometres to the
Well, right now the trip goes to Georges
Town's Chinatown, which is a little Sunday sleepy, but very
large and interesting. Outside the 2-3 storey houses sits a small
house altar, with a few smoking incense sticks.
Children and adults sit on the steps and say with a sweet smile "hello" as you walk by. Then again, we are the only tourists. Walks around for 3 hours, from everything from chrome / glass jewellers to a cove where junks from the last centuries come to die. It seems strange that the vast majority of trucks and pick-ups have had removed ½-1 meter by the cab, to increase the load length. Very smart, but now the seats are just a narrow padded wooden bench. It will never win in Denmark.
Everywhere, in cities and in the countryside, it is teeming with motorcycles. Japanese, everything from Vespa-like to FJ1200, a rare occasion mixed with the pleasing sound of a Guzzi. One has to wear a helmet and everyone does. A seat belt is also compulsory and everyone, even the taxi drivers, uses it.
End up in a large supermarket whose interior
is very similar to a Danish one, but there are only a few brands I
recognize. Knorr, Mars and of course Carlsberg. Buying a few kilos
of fruit, and to my astonishment discover that there are several
chocolate bars in the basket as I reach the box.
Hear more animals than I see, but still manage to smash the retina on some ghost-craps and a gecko. It is a small problem that it gets dark so quickly that I can barely see my own sandy toes, and the animals have a safety distance of 5 meters.
Fumble back in the black night to the hotel pool side, where I am in the company of endless cups of coffee, writing down some of these lines. Meanwhile, I consider whether to return as the mean rocker, and scare off the intruding Norwegian away. Or just be the nice guy and make the most of the situation. It should just be added: I've switched back to decent clothes.
Also sits and giggles discreetly over the
body-sized Santa Claus, which seemed mandatory at international
hotels around Christmas time. Trying for fun to order a glass of
mulled wine. Can't get it, but it's fun to hear the waiter say it! (Glögg).
Sight-seen hour, up in the bus's 18-19C, and a visit to Georges Town's pillar town. 9 families settled 7 generations ago, at the water's edge (they had no land). When they lived close to the edge and could not build inland, the new generations settled further and further into the water, in pillar houses.
Now the "outermost" lives 2-300 meters out in
their picturesque houses. The tide removes all waste (from here),
and everywhere is embarrassingly clean and tidy. Running water is
laid out, and quick glances reveal everything from TV to Lego
bricks. Inch-thick mahogany planks cover almost the entire area,
right next to the fisherman's junks.
Next stop is the largest temple, built in precious wood and stone. Amazingly beautiful, with its 30 cm deep stone reliefs in walls and columns. After spending a fraction of the time we spent at the Jewel Factory, we are chased away (no return commission from a temple).
We are driving to Georges Towns City, where there is an hour of shopping. Takes a little around the "cheap" part and misses the bus on purpose. Eating pita bread with something very strong. Satisfied, and well burned in the mouth, I pay 5 kroner for this meal.
Lots off in the hectic city and reaches the "expensive" part. Buy 2 "Camel" watches for 70/90 DKK. Finds writing paper as this writing is evolving. End up in a music store, which also has music I know. Buy Scorpions 14 day old CD for half the Danish price (damn for souvenir).
Drink a soda and devour some chocolate in a
square, until it starts to drip a little. Negotiating me at a very
reasonable price with a taxi driver and driving "home".
Should be on "Temple Trip" 9.05, but discover to my great annoyance that my new watch is 1 hour behind anyone else's. Here, I have a watch for the first time in 10 years, and then get too late for (almost) the first time in 10 years.Trampling resolutely into the bush behind the hotel, carrying plastic bags and camera. Lean yield, but then I got heated up. Crawling back to the room, throwing ½ kilo of fruit into my stomach.
Walk down to the beach in the company of bathing suits, towel and a crime book. Despite it being the first day of real sunshine in 5 days, there are 20-30 meters between people on the 200 meter beach in front of the hotel. Since I'm not very sociable, I walk 100 meters, climb over some rocks, and have a little cove to myself. Swim and read for an hour. Think there are many spelling / typing errors in the crime book, until I reach page 45. Then I realize that it is in Norwegian!
When I return to the hotel, I discover that my
one new watch is waterproof: it is impossible to shake the water
out. I am lucky then, that I bought two.
Finding out that the only thing you can do, if you don't want to be out in the sun is; to sit at the bar or go for a walk in the primeval forest. Head by a small unused side road where the vegetation almost covers the asphalt. The harassing chickens harass, calottes leap around, malaria mosquito swarms, ants trampling (they are 2 cm) and a single monkey complains. Gradually the road becomes a dirt road. It turns into a path that fades into an invisible line, and I continue as another Livingstone.
In the zigzag, it leads up from the hillside, between 35 meters high trees, which are clad by lianas. In some places, a mountain stream runs merrily, while brightly coloured exotic butterflies basking, and I come to mind, that I have no idea where I am. It has been a long time since the animal trail stopped, and for the last ½ hour I have more wormed, climbed and mast back and forth.
Trying to go straight down, but the ledges are 20-30 meters high, the vertical boundary. Can hardly push me forward. A five centimetre wasp takes a lot of interest in me. I have to regret that I cannot get my hands up to my head as quickly, as I want to. It's actually a good dense primeval forest I've gotten myself into. Panic is such a negative word, so let's say I thought it was very exciting.
Beginning to purposefully crash me through,
despite vertical drops of 3-4 meters, steel-threaded spotted
growths, and the fear of scorpions, snakes, tigers and elephants.
Almost misses a bunch of Finnish or American tourists!
Head home to the room to wash the cobwebs and mud off, remove thorns and cleanse wounds. After being patched together, a red Dane gets up on the Tjæreborg bus to start tonight's "night market" tour. First, go to Georges Town's most expensive restaurant, which serves Chinese food. Chats with the table lady, who was a guide in China when I was there.
After that, for a Chinese fare, poor meal, the trip around town goes with the "trishaw": Tricycle, with space (almost) for two, in front of the rice machine. Gossip with China-guide Jane, and may not have seen everything, but it is now a lot of fun.
Stomping up in the bus, just to experience;
night market is closed. Understandably, since the lightning has lit
up the sky, in the half hour we have been driving the trishaw. The
mood of the bus "a little" pressed. Back to the hotel, and head to
bed while the rain is pouring down.