Loading Map...

Georgetown, Penang

Written on: Friday May 2nd, 2008

A journal entry from: Around The World Without A Plane

My final stop in Malaysia and Rob?s last stretch as he had to fly back to Kuala Lumpur to catch his flight back to London, took us to Georgetown and the island of Penang. The site marks the first landing of Captain Francis Light in 1786, the first of the British to arrive in Malaysia that eventually led to Britain being in control of the whole of the peninsula some years later. Rob and I visited Fort Cornwallis here, where Captain Lightfoot first set foot, and true to form walked halfway around the city. But it was the nightlife that set Georgetown apart and provided the majority of our entertainment.  On our first night, ambling around town and discovering that Friday night in Penang was quite a sociable affair we both changed in to jeans, I put on a pair of shoes that I had been carrying since I had left London and was quite surprised to see how quickly the creases unfolded themselves and how comfy they were. After a few rums we went in to one of the nightclubs in town that had a crowd of people seemingly queuing outside and a wealth of club stuff at the door apparently omitting only those on the guestlist. Luckily this wasn?t the case, the clubbers were thronging to fill in a registration form for the club?s mailing/SMS list while the club staff were collecting and verifying them. Rob and I both filled out the forms in fictitious names and were welcomed in and pointed towards the bar for our free weapon of choice. I even got Rob on the dance-floor, both of us standing out not just because of our unrhythmic movements, but because I stood a foot taller than all the others and Rob towered like a telephone pole having to squint to see the tiny Malays below him. It was after we left the club when it closed at 3am that the night got interesting though. We were mincing about in the street when we got talking to a Malay guy who was also milling around in the busy avenue. I asked him if there was another party to go on to and he told us that he was a nightclub promoter and that he knew where we could find one. Kalvin, introducing himself, invited us to join him and one of the female club promoters who it must be said was particularly pleasing to the eye, to go party somewhere. We jumped in the car with Kalvin, got lost for about half an hour in the city of Georgetown, before eventually making it to a building that was decked out in an ornate Chinese style, featuring replicas of the Terracotta Army figurines. As we were led by the over-enthusiastic and over-friendly staff in to a spacious room with a TV that took up almost an entire wall I realised we were at a karaoke joint, but also immediately realised after being swindled on many occasions before, that I once again, along with Rob this time, might be the intended victims of yet another scam. Beers in a click of a finger arrived on the table in a big decanter that was normally probably more accustomed to champagne on ice. Despite the excessive levels of rum in my body I was on my guard and as the staff took a beer each and made themselves comfortable on the sofas I asked how much they were. For the ten cans of Carlsberg, which were now down to six as the staff had already began drinking four of them, and the use of the karaoke room it was costing us 300 ringet, about ?50. I pushed my can back towards the decanter and refused to drink anything apologising that I was not able to afford the drinks, but Kalvin, either in on the scam in the first place or embarrassed at having fallen prowl of the promoter?s scam himself by being persuaded to come here offered to pay for all the drinks. Still for about half an hour I refused to drink anything until it became evident that everybody else was so being as weak as I am I dove in to the cold can and then terrorised everyone with my personal interpretation of R. Kelly?s ?I Believe I Can Fly?. We actually had a really good time in the club, if Calvin was not in with the club owners, sadly at his expense. The following evening was much less shadowed with scam. We were fortunate enough to be in Penang in time for their annual World Music Festival, so along with Kate, a young Oxford undergraduate from Worcestershire and a guy from Glasgow whose name I am sorry to say I don?t remember, we took the free shuttle bus along to it?s venue of the Botanic Gardens. The music although different I?m sure to all of our usual musical tastes was really enjoyable. A band hailing from Iran, with a couple of Stanis and a Scot thrown in for good measure opened up, then an Irish quintet made sure everybody was up on their feet jigging with one another, with their impulsive feet-tapping folk music. Five French Canadian girls, with an Amish, lumbar-jack looking guitar player then provided some depressing feminist input with lines about ?being better without that man? and ?I was gonna hang myself after I drowned my daughter?, taking the mood down a notch or two before a local Kuala Lumpan group on huge bass drums and a somewhat weird, stoned looking Croatian band got people up dancing again finishing off the night. Rob had a midday flight back down to KL but arose early to accompany and see me off at the docks for my ferry to Medan in Sumatra. We arrived at the docks about 20 minutes before my boat was about to depart finding them strangely deserted and no obvious way of getting in. In fact the area behind the big blue boarded-up gates looked more like a building site than the docks I had imagined. I began to think that the docks might have moved to another part of the bay since my map was printed, but thought I should make sure before walking away. I spotted that the gates were unlocked and that I could push them open and wander through which is exactly what I did, with Rob in tow. We found what must have been one of the builders who upon me exaggerating the words ?boat? and ?Medan? led us both across the building site and into a building where customs officers were seated behind a Perspex window. A short Malay lady came whizzing past the desk to where Rob and I were standing and led us both to the desk. Rob tried to tell her that he wasn?t going on the boat but she either didn?t understand or wasn?t listening and so kept coaxing him up to the desk. Forced to the desk he managed to get the customs officers to listen and explain to the bossy lady that he wasn?t going on the boat but was just there to say goodbye to me. She seemed outraged and immediately shepherded Rob past the customs desk to where I thought I would be going next. It was only when I looked in that direction while my passport was once again being stamped that I saw a line of people queuing and realised that by traipsing across the building site of what turned out to be the new port, we had managed to evade customs, bypassing them altogether without showing a single document. After customs had finished with me, I tried to walk towards where Rob had been escorted to but now because I had been through customs the busy-body lady who had now acquired back-up in the shape and form of an identical short Malay customs officer refused to let me pass, telling me he had gone and I had to go the other way, ?It is alright? she tried to reassure me. Being early on a Sunday morning I almost brought her story, turned in the opposite direction and boarded my boat, but after Rob had come all that way to see me, I thought more rationally and caused quite a scene in demanding that I be let back the other side to say goodbye properly. They caved in in the end, but not before confiscating my passport to make sure I returned. Rob hadn?t as the lady had told me, gone, but instead was waiting the right side of a ticket inspection table. We said our goodbyes and I once again passed customs, was reacquainted with my beloved passport and strolled out in to the morning sunshine to the harbour. ?Boarding pass please?, requested one of the harbour men. I handed him what I thought was my boarding ticket, but which actually turned out to be just a paper receipt from my guesthouse. By negotiating the building site, not only had I missed customs but I?d also missed getting my boarding pass, so for me it was back to the highly officious customs lady once more and then back to the harbour just in time to catch the ferry.