Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Feb 20 2010

Back down

February 17, 2010

I woke up at 6 a.m. this morning, thanks to Chenbl’s snoring, and we were all out the door by 6:45. Gimzui drove us along completely dark roads, untarnished by streetlights, up a hill through a tea plantation to a place we could watch the sunrise. A handful of photographers were already set up along the road. Gradually the sky lightened, but it soon became apparent that cloud cover would keep most of the sunrise invisible, which was a shame as I was cold; I hadn’t expected to be cold in Malaysia, but the altitude and time of day combined to make me wish I’d brought proper shoes and pants. I walked up the road a ways to look at some interestingly colored farm buildings, wondering what it was like to live and work here.

We had breakfast in a building cantilevered out over a cliff in the center of the plantation. The curry dumplings, tuna sandwiches and sweetbread were all quite good. I took a look at the tea factory, and then Chenbl and I took a walk down through the fields where workers were harvesting the tea. Eventually a trio of foreign photographers showed up, making us a merry little crowd snapping away at the perplexed tea harvesters. At least they were merry; while the others were happy to continue, I lost my appetite for the whole thing and kept walking down the road to take pictures of leaves instead.

Gimzui said we should leave soon as it would rain, and he was right; as soon as we’d left the parking lot a heavy rain began to fall. Traffic was backed up along the narrow road, with cars edging perilously close to the edges of cliffs.

We returned to the hostel to get our things and then proceeded back down the mountain on the same road we used yesterday, as the other way was blocked by traffic. As we drove along the endless curves through the forests, the sun came out again, and I opened the window and listened to the sounds of the insects and birds; it was quite a racket, but very nice and refreshing. Eventually, however, it got hot again as we neared sea level, and I had to close the window before we got back on the highway north, towards Ipoh and Penang.

Ipoh is home to steep, jutting mountains reminiscent of Guilin in China, though many are halfway gone from gravel cutting that was causing landslides even as we passed through. We drove downtown and had lunch at a sort of market contained in a large, dirt, rather colonial high-ceilinged room with huge mirrors on the wall. The town seemed very interesting, but as tends to be the case when traveling in a group, there was no time for exploring. You need to get out and walk, preferably alone and aimlessly, for that. This hasn’t been the best trip for photos or video, but then again, I probably wouldn’t have come here on my own to begin with, so whatever I get is all gravy, really.

After lunch, we got back on the highway and continued over the long bridge to Georgetown on Penang. After putting our things down at the cheap apartment in the hotel, we drove to a night market, the stalls on either side of the street competing to see who could produce the most smoke. As I was looking around for things to eat, I spotted a Western man holding a professional-level video camera, accompanied by a sound guy trying and failing to look inconspicuous. Then I saw the blonde woman that was the focus of their attention a ways down the street, and I realized that the crew was from the Discovery Channel, and they were filming a Lonely Planet episode. I recalled the incident where the show’s producers had rejected me apparently based on my politics and general demeanor, and I resolved to approach the hostess. When I did, however, I realized that she was not from the Lonely Planet show, but rather one of the cooking shows. “Hi,” I said.

“Hi!” she said brightly, and started to move away rapidly. I get that a lot.

“Did you do a show on Taipei?” I continued, not really knowing what to say. Apparently she gets that a lot as well; she shook her head in a well-practiced manner.

“No, that wasn’t me.”

“Ah, sorry, my mistake.” And that was that. I went back to the Malaysians at the sidewalk table, embarrassed at the whole thing.

After dinner we drove to a very large, very well-let temple on the top of a hill. Many apartments were decorated with what look like Christmas lights for Chinese New Years, but this temple went all out, Disney World-style. Unfortunately, they went Disneyesque in the ticket department as well, charging to get into the nicest parts, so we didn’t bother. As there was no way a car could get anywhere near the place due to the horrendous traffic, we had to walk all the way up and back down again afterwards. Chenbl said the place was lousy with ghosts. Georgetown is full of old abandoned estates from the colonial period; apparently you can’t change the exteriors under a law passed a while ago, so people just leave them, resulting in an inordinate amount of apparently haunted mansions around town.

I’m getting more used to the curious mix of languages I’ve heard people using here. I don’t know any Malay, of course, but knowing English, Mandarin, some Cantonese and some Fukienese really helps. The English words are often simplified on signs as well, e.g. “Klinic” and “Farmaci”. Although the mix of cultures and religions here is fascinating, I’m not looking forward to being awoken at 5 a.m. tomorrow morning by the Muslims’ call to prayer across the street. But Gimzui is adamant that we get another shot at watching a sunrise; we’ll see, maybe.

posted by Poagao at 8:38 am  

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