By the time I left Phuket I realized I was running out of money and therefore time. I decided to spend some days in Penang, skip KL and move on to Singapore and then on to Bali. I took a bus and train to the Thai/Malaysia border and another train to Butterworth. From there I got a bus and ferry to the island of Penang.
Approaching Penang - I ended up not seeing a lot of Penang. One of the first evenings I was there I was having dinner at a small restaurant when a Malaysian guy came up to me and started to chat. His story was that he had arranged to meet an Englishwoman at the restaurant but she had stood him up. He wanted to talk about it. He bought us some beer and I listened to his tale of woe. By the time dinner was done I was expecting some sort of scam, but he just stood up and said good-bye and handed me a little packet as a present....
I was staying at the old Cathay hotel. I went back to my room still wondering what was in the package. It turned out to be a big chunk of opium. Crap. What to do now? Have I been set up? Will I get the death penalty? Should I flush it down the toilet? Throw it out the window? Either way they might recover it.
So, I did the only think I knew that would destroy the evidence. I ate it. What a mistake. I slept without being able to get out of bed for about 36 hours and had the absolute most crazy dreams I'd had before or since. I was really out of my tree. When I finally was able to get up and walk about I was dehydrated, malnourished and really disoriented. I walked around town a bit and took a few photos, but that's about it.
In a day or two I made it over to Butterworth and got on a train for KL.
Chinese Temple, Georgetown, Penan. Georgetown has a wonderful Chinese district. Great food. Interesting colonial buildings.
Pole houses over the water at Georgetown.
British colonial buildings, Georgetown
It happened to be Ramadan when I was traveling, so the train to KL was absolutely jammed. I had a reserved seat, but that didn't matter. There were people on the roof, hanging out the windows, sitting in the aisles, on the arm rests, etc. There was no way to get up to pee or eat or anything.
At one point we stopped at a station and on the other side of the train where I was sitting I could see a bar within. I climbed out the window, crawled under the train and made a beeline for the bar where I bought six bottles of Guiness.
I shared these with my seat mate about whom all I can remember is that she was British and quite grateful for the Guiness. I realize it was a total slap in the face of the Muslims on board to be drinking alcohol during their Holy Month, but I was a young and thirst crazed foreigner just coming down from a three day opium high. I needed those beers.
It was early evening by the time I got to Kuala Lumpur. I had little hope of getting a train ticket out that night but I decided to check anyway. There was one place left in a first class sleeper. Now I couldn't really afford that, but I used a twenty pound note that I had squirreled away which just covered it.
I stopped in at the Hotel Majestic, next to the train station, for dinner. The dining room was perfect: big thick walls with high archways, potted palms, formally dressed wait staff and a daily menu that looked like it was manually typed out on an old Royal typewriter. The atmosphere was marred only by the portable TV that was blaring out the Sonny and Cher Show.
When I boarded the train I was amazed. It too was like something out of the past: mahogany paneling, polished brass, flowers in the room, show shine service, a big ceramic commode. Just lovely. My cabin mate was the Nissan Dealer from Brunei who clearly knew how to travel well.
I wasn't in Singapore very long. I spent my time seeing the old parts of the city that would soon be gone and eating the street food that would soon be sanitized. I really liked the old shophouses like these.
A city of real contrasts then.
Singapore skyline from the water
Friendly Chinese shopkeeper
President Hotel, Singapore. This hotel was recommended by Tony Wheeler in "Southeast Asia on a Shoestring" and is pretty typical of the cleaner sort of cheap hotel that was available. I think one of the features of this hotel was a free bottle of soft drink upon arrival.
|India 1||India 2||Nepal||Burma|
|Thailand||Malaysia/Singapore||Indonesia 1||Indonesia 2|
Photographs and text copyright Michael Newman and William Garsden: 2020
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