Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Too much coffee, some thoughts on lizards

I had two cappucinnos at breakfast, before we went out to the jetties on the southeastern edge of Georgetown. That's probably too much coffee. Perhaps I can blame that for the feeling of vertigo I had, creeping along a narrow walkway a mere six feet wide, towering at least a metre above the water.

From the guidebook, it sounded like there was a never ending labyrinth of walkways and jetties extending across half Penang's coastline, like an overgrown Tai O. I was a little disappointed to discover there were only three different jetties poking out into the sea. One is a concrete lump where you'd attach boats, but the other two are picturesque enough to justify their existence. One was devoid of people, the other full of tourists photographing each other near murals, selling tourists bottles of water, or playing with dogs.

We walked down to the end of the jetty, where there's a UNESCO-protected wooden shed (there's a temple in it, but years of living in Hong Kong and seeing temples on every street has made me jaded). Then we walked back along the jetty, past the tourists and the people selling things to tourists and a man carrying a large ginger cat, and walked back into dry land.

Divali wasn't exactly in full swing today, but we encountered three Indian men with one firework, a cardboard tube that made a loud bang and didn't do anything else. They were quite excited, and one of them came over and insisted on shaking my hand a lot.

They were the only people on the streets in Georgetown. If you'd wanted to film a post-apocalyptic film in Penang, today would have been good because there was absolutely nobody around in the morning. Perhaps everyone had gone wild last night and was now asleep. Perhaps they were missing out on drinking two cappucinnos for breakfast and damn the consequences. We went to the China House and had lunch.

Well, my wife had lunch; I had another breakfast, and then a large slice of treacly ginger cake. It's important to have a consistent, healthy diet before running a marathon. Well, one out of three isn't bad, if a collection of random cakes that I've encountered constitutes a diet.

After lunch I felt dreadful; devoid of energy and ready only to crawl back to bed. Instead, we went to the Peranakan Mansion, a glorious old house that's a collision between a Victorian stately home and a Chinese village headman's place. There was so much ornate stained glass and wrought iron that my head began to spin. Once you've had enough of the main house, you can head into the memorial hall, where it's full on with Chinese carvings, and there's also an army of bats in the roof.

I like bats, but as I peered up into the gloom, something fell from a great height and landed on my cheek. I've been shat on by a bat. If only it had seen the signs in the bathrooms it would have known the memorial hall was no fit place for defecation. But nothing doing. All I could do was go and drink another cup of coffee.

This didn't pick me up, but made me feel worse, so we walked over to a park by the sea and lay on the grass for a while, before walking back via Fort Cornwallis and a clock tower that was built sixty feet tall to commemorate Queen Victoria. (She had sixty feet, apparently, which explains why it was so tall, although I'm surprised that this isn't apparent from any photographs from that era. I know, it wasn't considered good manners in those days to show how many feet a monarch had, but then it seems strange that they'd refer to the sexadecile feet of the Empress of India. One can only conclude that the past is a foreign country; there's too much coffee there.)

We saw a foot long lizard walking by the fort. It had four feet, which means by my calculations twelve would be enough for a replica of Queen Victoria. Probably an awful idea. We prevailed on a rickshaw driver to take us from this strange place back to our hotel, where we ate complimentary cheese and cake until it was time to go to the airport.

I like Penang, but I'm not sure we really engaged with the local culture very much. We went to some shopping malls, we shook a man's hand and we got sunburn: it's a start, I guess.


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