George Town, Penang Island. Stayed at Old Penang Guesthouse on Love Lane, a gloriously airy building, spacious, full of light and soft shadows. The room – a dorm, 4 beds and no space to swing a cat – had deliciously comfortable mattresses and enough powerpoints for everybody.
I spent two days walking, looking, tasting, exploring. Little India comes alive at night, bright-lit and blasting music; Chinatown in the early morning for marketstalls and tiny noodle shops. The temples are glorious: colourful, ornate and cool where the sun is hot. Clan Houses (gathering places for Chinese immigrants from the same clan) are dotted all over, and the Clan jetties (clan neighbourhoods built over the water of the strait) have their own kind of calm beauty.
Wandering, I came across a market building, the dirty white of faded grandeur and dim inside. Inside I saw skinless meats, tins of blood being put to the boil. I saw two men killing chickens, delicately cutting their throats then tossing them into a barrel, the throw the practiced, easy gesture of repeated motion over time.
I ate Assam Penang Laksa, drank terrible coffee. I met a toothless old man – excitable, ancient-looking – who told me about his travelling adventures, and I also his robust wife who seemed as if nothing but death itself could lay her down, and who told me about a UTI infection she once had. You can’t beat a conversation about UTIs with a stranger.
I left reluctantly and by train. A sleeper to Kuala Lumpur that arrived at 4.30am, sky still dark, city sleeping. I made my way via monorail to Bitang Butang and found a hostel, paid too much, didn’t care. I was tired and hungry and wanted to explore. I was uninspired by the Petronus Towers (which are basically just huge bits of building) and spent several hours sourcing bleach and powders and dip-dying my hair blonde.
Next day I saw the Batu Caves, about 8 easy stops from KL Sentral. I walked up twice after because the first time I hadn’t felt as though I’d really put enough work in getting there. Jumped off at a random stop on the way back, explored. Saw the old train station, the National Mosque with it’s giant turquoise roof, and visited an orchid garden that forced me to accept that I think orchids are a little bit shit. That night was dinner of Jalan Aloor, food street, where I ate a delicious meal then realised I had no money to pay for it, left my bag there, ran back to my hostel, returned with the cash to gales of laughter from the guys at the restaurant at my sheepish, sweaty grins.
A new day, a new hostel and a new hair dye challenge, pink and blue stripes – DONE. That night we went to a rooftop bar on a helipad with no barrier around the edge, and had drinks watching the last of the sunset the Petronus towers all lit up in the dark. That night, Chinatown, where a Chinese man unexpectedly bought me a Five Flower tea and then walked off into the night, raising his own tea glass in salute.
And then, the following morning I left, accidentally leaving behind my trekking tshirt, towel and toothbrush. Which all, interestingly, begin with T. Coincidence? I THINK NOT.
And now I am in Nepal, sans visa. But that’s a story for another day.