55053km travelled so far...
30.11.2009 - 10.12.2009 31 °C
Two weeks into our stay the empty house next door to ours was moved into. The two houses were almost adjoined and our balconies looked out to one another so friendship could have blossomed but unfortunately our new neighbours were incredibly unsociable and barely mustered the effort to say hello let alone have a conversation with us. Our new neighbours consisted of a morbidly obese upper class English man who insisted he was Scottish, a German man who insisted he was German, their miserable Thai brides and 4 noisy dogs who wouldn’t shut up all night and donated fleas to our bed (even so the dogs were definitely our favourite). After three weeks we were ready to go, and were looking forward to getting back to travelling. We waved goodbye to Braveheart, Fritz, the house, beautiful sunsets, flea ridden dogs and Mama Pooh, and set off for Malaysia.
On reflection, a major part of travelling seems to be meeting freaks whilst waiting for the next bus or train. Possible favourite in the Hall of Freak was a delightful one eyed drunk man, with no teeth and an open wound on his skull who suggested that we didn’t take the train but let him drive us 1000km through Thailand saving us hours on our journey, but possibly having our eyes stolen and being locked in his boot as compensation. There are so many more oddballs it is hard to choose the best.
We were not let down when we travelled from Thailand to Malaysia, in fact we were really quite lucky and the wait scored highly on the freakotron scale. Our train was 3 hours late, it was 2am and I was having an interesting conversation with the latest local lunatic. After getting the essentials of basic English conversation out of the way, he asked me “do you know what’s wrong with life?”. I replied that I didn’t and didn’t really want to know but asked him “what?” out of courtesy. He stared off into the distance, I presumed he was considering this question and framing his answer eloquently with maybe a reference or two from Freud. Time went by, kingdoms rose and fell and still he stared off into the distance. I thought he’d forgotten his question which was quite a relief when after five minutes he returned to earth and replied “money”. By this time I was half asleep and glad that the conversation was over but it jolted me awake. He continued in this vain for some time, asking a question, dropping into silence and then answering with a word or two after a couple of minutes. After gentle questioning techniques, and many time delays I found that he was high on opium, which explained his vagueness, interest in philosophy and glazed eyes. I was hoping the train would come to save us, but luckily he promptly passed out in front of me and fell asleep on a bench. We moved away to another bench just in case he woke up again and were greeted by a large 60 year old woman with no teeth, who looked like she had learnt how to apply cosmetics from Marilyn Manson and to speak English from Stephen Hawkins’ electronic voice box. Again we fell into the English for retards conversation (I should get it recorded then I could just press play and leave them to it, it’s very tiring at 2:30am). We feared another lengthy conversation but after she asked “where are you staying?” and we replied “on a train” (evidentially, or maybe not so to someone who hangs about during the early hours at train stations for fun), she ran out of questions and went off to shave her tongue with a loaf of bread along with the other local maniacs.
Once we finally got the train we were relatively safe, and it was very late so we went straight to our bunks. When we woke up we were near the Malaysian border. We stopped to get our visa stamped and for the officials to check there weren’t any “hippy types” on board, (or people with sandals or dirty shorts) which apparently was forbidden. They must not have noticed my dirty shorts and sandals because I got through to the other side. The train ride from there on was very interesting, the people were very different to Thailand with lots more Indian and Chinese on board, and with more of a Muslim feel with women wearing burkas or semi-burkas and bikini burkas. Everyone seemed very happy and smiley and it felt really nice to be back on with happy folks who didn’t want to suck money out of you all the time.
Our first stop was an island called Penang, we stayed in a city called Georgetown, which was not surprisingly was built by the English. It was an interesting mix of Malaysian, Chinese and Indian neighbourhoods, set in a colonial English setting. Walking down one street you could hear Indian music and smell joss sticks and vindaloo and then next you would be surrounded by tiger’s penises and chow Mein. We had a great time sampling all of the food, which was fantastic and incredibly cheap. One of the curries we paid £2 for was the best I have had yet, and the crispy pork was delicious too. With such great food, we spent lots of our short time in Penang eating, and the rest in a butterfly park and just wandering around the streets.
After Penang we moved on to the Cameron Highlands. The hostel we stayed at was fantastic and had everything set up well, we went on a hike through the rainforest, saw a snake, a praying mantis, and then got lost. We ended up a few kilometres away at a power station wondering where we were, and then walked back along one of the roads. We heard afterwards that a Malaysian family had gone walking in the forest and got lost for a week and that the founder of the silk trade in Thailand, a man called Jim Thompson, had gone into the forest in 1970 and never come out again. The next day we took a taxi with a few other people for a tour of the area. Our driver was great and had lived in the area since he was born, his parents were moved over from India by the British to set up the roads. He showed us photos of from when he was young and the area had changed so much, when he was young the area was run by nuns, priests and the British army and consisted of a few buildings in the jungle. He remembered not being allowed in white people’s houses (apart from to carry their bags), seeing tigers on a weekly basis when he was a shepherd, and lots of other interesting stories. He took us to the tea plantations, which are still owned by a Scottish family. They were really beautiful and the mist flowing over them was magical.
Next we set off to the countries capital, Kuala Lumpur. It seemed like a nice city, filled with mosques, shopping centres and overpriced alcohol (over £8 a bottle of beer in some places!). I brought my new macro lens there because electronics tax free in Malaysia and spent a couple of days in the butterfly park experimenting with it. Christy checked out the local mosque, wore a burka and was almost, nearly, not at all converted by a local Muslim man who worked there.
After a much too short stay in Malaysia we caught the bus down into Singapore. Naturally we were on the watch for mental escapees and were once again not let down. Behind us on the bus was a giant Indian man with an enormous handlebar moustache and limited English skills, who was accompanied by a small boy (with no handlebar moustache but better English skills) who we presumed to be his son. Whilst we were on a break at a service station he looked at me in a devious way, and pretended to have a camera in his hand whilst taking an imaginary photo of us. This was his invitation for a photo shoot outside, declining was not an option. We were ordered outside and rotated through various photo combinations as instructed by Mr Wong Raja; me and him, Christy and him, Christy and the boy, the boy and me, the boy me and a stray dog, and on and on. He obviously wanted some evidence that he had bonded and made best friends with some Westerners on his trip. The shoot went on for some time, without much dialogue, and of course we made best friends. It turned out that he was a karate master and his son was not his son but his apprentice and they were over in Singapore for a Karate competition (evidentially the young boy was the karate contestant; the Mr Raja’s belly was not one of an athletes). He didn’t really understand much English but had a very bolshie manner and pretty much bossed everyone around with sign language, and his timid apprentice translated and tried to keep his head down as much as possible. He insisted that we visit his home in India, next January, to meet his enormous family and to have more photo shoots. Imagine the photo combinations with an extended family of 300. We said we couldn’t which he wouldn’t accept, so to keep the peace we agreed that we would definitely probably maybe visit him then. Now happy, he continued to talk in length in very broken English, and when we did understand and replied he didn’t understand us. This breakdown didn’t seem to put him off one bit. When we got off the bus and transferred to the shuttle bus which moved us over to Singapore we tried to escape, but he followed shouting my name at full volume, and when a small Chinese man sat next to Christy he literally picked him off the seat and placed him elsewhere, then grabbed my heavy camera bag and threw it onto a seat to reserve the space for his apprentice, hitting a lady on the head with it in the process. The locals looks horrified but he didn’t seem to notice, he was a man with a Karate mission. He seemed to spiral further into madness on this journey and his conversation was interspersed with lots of snorting and head rolling. When in Singapore we managed to escape with a promise of a zoo visit the next day, we parted ways with a bear hug in which he picked me up and shook me up and down. We ran around the corner and thankfully so far we haven’t seen him again.
Singapore was really nice and much cheaper than we had expected. Everyone talks about how sterile it is, but it didn’t come across that way to us. We thought it was just a well organised and clean place, which can only be a good thing really. We found lots of hawker stalls to eat at which was about £2 per meal and got to eat with the locals. One evening we got to witness a show in which two of the Chinese owners of the stalls had a massive screaming argument which went on for 20 minutes and culminated in a light slapping match. Unfortunately the dialogue was all in Chinese, which was most inconsiderate for those who could only understand English.
We looked out of place wandering around the Ritz hotel in flip flops checking out the $5,000,000 worth of art work in it, looked at the Singapore eye, went to the amazing zoo and bird park (everything was almost free range!), saw the amazing Christmas lights in the posh area of town whilst wandering amongst Gucci and Versace shops and gawped at the prostitutes in the poor end of town (we didn’t purchase any Gucci products, a Singapore eye ride or a prostitute due to lack of funds).
We only had a few days but we really enjoyed Singapore and would love to go back.
After our brief visit we set off to Bali, which is where we are now. I will write another blog soon about our exploits here. If I don’t before have a very merry Christmas, we’ll be on the beach for it and I’m planning on going diving on Christmas Eve which will be somewhat different to normal.