Sunday, March 11, 2007

Malaysia Tourists Prologue

Malaysia Tourists Prologue

With all the Kedah endurance ride stuff over, some of us foreigners were going to have a special treat of spending a day and night on Penang Island in a new hotel.

Steph's plans changed to where she'd have to miss Penang and fly straight to Kuala Lumpur. I'd go on to Penang (no complaints!) and fly to KL late Monday morning as scheduled.

She left early Sunday morning from Alor Star; Shah came by the room around 10:30 to tell me I'd be getting a ride to Penang with the "Dutch team" at 12:30 and to bid me farewell - as of now he was off duty! I thanked him, told him we really appreciated everything he did, we really enjoyed having him to work with. Boy are we going to be spoiled anytime we go somewhere else! I gave him an endurance net Tshirt - don't know if he'll wear a bright blue, but I know he'll appreciate the gesture. I think Steph inspired him to learn to ride horses!

I got a call downstairs from another liaison officer Neermal at 11 AM asking if I was ready to go now. I was, and when I got downstairs with my big suitcase (on which I now had to unzip the expandable zipper, from too much shopping!), the Dutch girls Barbara and Jeanne were already packed up in the car… and had no room in the trunk for my big(ger) suitcase! A little problem. No way we could squeeze the driver and Neermal, and us three and all the suitcases in. So, Neermal and our driver were immediately on the phone to tackle the problem, arranging for another driver.

While we waited, Neermal suggested we go by the White Coffee house for ice blended hazelnut white coffees, since it was kind of on the way… no complaints from here on that idea either! The other car arrived just then, and my suitcase got its own limo transport. The coffees were a wonderful cool treat for the hour or so ride down to Penang!

Instead of the heavily congested 4-mile bridge across to Penang Island and Georgetown, we took the ferry. We got out of the car and stood at the front of the ferry - a lovely breeze blew over us! It wasn't too warm, though it was certainly still not cool! It was just a 5-10 minute ride; then we had to wait on the other side because the suitcase car had to wait to catch the next ferry (about 5 minutes later). We were driven to this fancy new hotel along the waterfront (a bit of a muddy beach in front - the tide must be out). We checked in at the front desk - whoa, a pretty huge nice modern international hotel.

I went up to my room... up and up, to the 10th floor, and WHOA! It was a HUUUUUUUUUUGE room with a front view of the waterfront! Yikes! Did they make a mistake? Was somebody like me really supposed to be staying in here? I was afraid to spread out all over the floor like I usually do! The bathroom was bigger than my travel trailer back home! And much more elegant! Boy, Steph was going to be sorry she missed this!

No time to rest, since it was now almost 4 PM; had to get back out to see some of the town. I met Neermal downstairs, and we waited for Barbara and Jeanne. Neermal had to leave so she pointed out to us where to go for shopping. Of course I was thinking of a local market, of which there are one or two here in Georgetown that I've read about, and I think Jeanne was thinking of that too, but Neermal steered us to... you guessed it, the huge modern mall next door.

We went inside anyway because Jeanne wanted to buy some blank DVDs - Help me! Disneyland meets casino meets Mall of America. Eight floors (the 7th just for parking), thousands of people, announcements just like at Disneyland (in that same deep expressive happy voice!), noise and more noise. It was just missing the Ding-Ding-Ding-Dings of casinos. You had to wait in line to get on the escalators! There was a movie theatre in there too, and one of the movies playing was TONIGHT WE DINE IN HELL. Okay!

Finally Jeanne found DVDs, and after looking at the price of a scarf that was something like 90R (I paid 14R for mine in Alor Star), Jeanne said, "I think we want a real market." Yes! So we escaped the mall, and went back to the hotel to ask about a local market. (Barbara went upstairs to catch up on sleep.)

The boy at the front desk answered, "I think you should go to the mall." "We've been there. We want a local market." "I think that it is too late, it is only in the morning. Morning you try." Then he added, "I think that it is Sunday, no market." OK... we left figuring the boy just wanted us to go shop at the mall!

So Jeanne and I just decided to go walking, and we headed down the waterfront the other way, east. It was, as usual, hot and muggy, though we had plenty of shade from huge trees on both sides of the street. Some of the trees had naughty noisy crows in them, maybe the hooded crows that are all over this part of the world. There were a lot of young people out and about - it's the school holiday. Not too many traditionally Muslim-dressed people out; this looks much more like a holiday island, with plenty of tourists. We walked and walked, and finally turned to make our way back. We had found a local food court area that Neermal told us opened at night, so we planned to meet downstairs at 7, and we'd try to find Leonard and Carol, and Otto (all arrived before us), and Rohanna to come with us.

But before that, of course I had to run to the Starbucks next door on the outside of the mall. I ordered a double expresso over ice. My mouth was watering for the cold drink, I was dying from the heat… "I am sorry, we have no ice." Well, I tell you, I was just floored! "What, no ice?!" "No, no ice, sorry." I was so stunned I didn't know what to do - had my heart and mind and soul set on an iced breve (after adding my own thick cream, like the delicious Starbucks we had at the KL airport a week ago), that the thought of a hot steamy cup of strong coffee, no matter how good it was, filled me with horror. But of course not so much horror that I'd pass it up.

So I agreed to the double shot of expresso, and I was thinking at least a big cup I could fill up with cool heavy cream, and maybe I could leave it in my room's fridge to chill a while, when out came this teeny tiny cup of concentrated thick motor oil with a little whiff of coffee in it. It was about the size of a thimble, and there was no cream, no half and half, only weak milk, and the cup was so small, no more than a pinch fit in it anyway!

I took my miniature Starbucks concentrate to a table, and sat down. As I sipped from my hot thimble of coffee, I spied some people with big cups with ICED DRINKS in them, so maybe the girl just didn't understand me, or maybe they just don't put shots over ice. Being that it was so hot outside, and my expresso was very hot, I didn't want to hang around and stretch this imbibing adventure any longer than necessary. So I gulped down my liquid (two swallows) and left, and by the time I got up to my nice room 5 minutes later I was already getting caffeine-loopy. Great!

Jeanne and Barbara and I met downstairs at 7, and hadn't connected up with anybody else, so we went down the street to the food vendors. Oh my, there was so much to choose from, much that I didn't recognize, it was quite overwhelming! The place was packed too - I can see why it opens in the evening, because it would be way too hot to hang out during the day. But now, getting dark, it was a busy hangout. Barbara got some prawn mee (noodles), and Jeanne and I finally decided on chicken satay, prepared over a hot fire by a young smiling polite Indian boy.

We walked around afterwards, taking about 10 minutes to cross the insanely busy streets, stumbling across this fresh seafood market/restaurant, and I mean fresh - you ordered your fish or crab, and the boy fetched your live specimen right from the tanks. Alaska crab, shrimp, fish, geoducks, you name it.

When we got back to the hotel, we ran into everybody else - Rohanna had arranged for us all to go to dinner. We three were full, but we enjoyed the company of Carol and Leonard and Otto and Rohanna, so we all caught taxis to this traditional Malay restaurant that Leonard and Carol had already had lunch at today.

I was full, but I sampled a few dishes, two of which were killer salads - made with shredded mangoes or apples, onion, lemon grass, diced chilis, and lime juice, with some kind of sharp vinegar-y dressing - to DIE for! Plus fresh juice - apple, mango (!!), coconut straight from the coconut, etc. And the food was so cheap!

And here Rohanna gave me the news that Steph had changed her flight to New Zealand back to tomorrow, and was trying to change mine also; my 11:30 AM flight tomorrow from Penang to KL was now at 5:40 AM! (Or was it 6:45 AM… there was some confusion over that). So I'd be getting up at… 4 AM?? Yikes! So I passed up a night of partying (which I would have done anyway :) to get to bed, which didn't happen till midnight. I asked for a 5:30 AM taxi (I decided to bet on the later 6:45 AM flight), and a 5:15 wake-up call. I dug my alarm clock out of my suitcase to set for back-up, because I didn't quite trust hotel wake-up calls... which was confirmed when I got a wake-up call at 11:30 PM.

So, it would be off to KL early in the morning off little sleep, and find out when I got to the airport whether I'd be immediately continuing on to New Zealand, or if I'd get to stay in KL a day...


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