Sunday, November 11, 2012

Lost in Penang

We flew into Penang at just after midday today. The airport has been upgraded since I was last there; now it's shiny and new and there are no signs anywhere, which means you get off the plane, into the terminal and then have no clues about where to go for immigration or to find your luggage. I'm sure when it's finished it will be lovely.

You could say the same about Penang, if you were being mean. We're in a five star hotel but it overlooks an enormous building site; there are all sorts of shiny office buildings that are surrounded by broken pavements and bits of rubble; it's not as bad as Kota Kinabalu, which appeared to have been colonised by an evil race of aliens who built giant shopping malls just to keep them empty, but at first it's an abrupt adjustment from the pristine sterility of Singapore.

However, there's a lot of old Penang that remains. Some of it is delapidated, some of it is renovated. That means once you get away from the parts that are shiny and new, it begins to feel like you're in a proper country again, one with history and all that good stuff.

When we arrived at the hotel, I wanted sleep, not history. We had unexpectedly paid for the upgraded version of a room at the hotel (free breakfast, free doughnuts throughout the day, all that good stuff) so I was keen to stay in and eat and sleep, but after an hour of me slumping on the bed and snoring, my wife forced us to go out into the town.

We went looking for an arts centre in an old shophouse, but with our unerringly bad sense of direction, we went the wrong way from our hotel and walked around most of Georgetown. In the rain.

I was sad and gloomy; I'd been for a run at 6 this morning and did 12 miles at marathon pace, which meant I only wanted to be in bed eating jujubes and not walking around on sore legs. When we finally found a fancy espresso shop with high-powered chocolate cake, my heart almost burst with happiness.

There are a lot of quirky shops nestled in one corner of Chinatown; little studios and cafes and places that sell soft toys in the shape of bad-tempered owls. We had a pleasant hour wandering around those, before I had to put my foot down and demand we had a proper meal today, which meant going back to the hotel because everything else seemed to have shut, or to be a Old Town White Coffee nightmare.

It took about fifteen minutes to get back from somewhere we'd taken two hours to walk to. That's either from better navigation, or desperate need for food. We ate like vultures, got a massage and then crashed out on the enormous bed in our room. Ah, holidays.


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