Horse Still Galloping

Chinese New Year ( for the year of the horse) has always been well celebrated in Penang. Long before the central government started moving Malaysians and muslims to the island to  “balance” the population it seemed to go on and on and whatever “balancing” has done the holiday has now extended to 15 days in length, so two more days left.

We can expect plenty of firework displays tonight and tomorrow and the big event today is when unmarried guys go to the Esplanade to throw an orange into the water that apparently will mean this year they will meet and marry a girl.

Co-incidentally  this festival happens on St. Valentine’s Day which is also celebrated here  though certainly not in the way it has gone in the West where restaurants are booked months in advance and prices jump .

It amazed me when living in India how so many holidays were “adopted” and taken even though the Christian element in India in percentage terms is so small. An Indian civil servant ( they take all the holidays) works just 136 days a year. It seems Malaysia is the same

More and more Malaysian women are now wearing the burka rather than just the traditional headscarf. Indeed the government is keen that restaurants and hotels provide separate eating areas for women so they can take the face mask off and eat normally out of view of men. No such niceties as yet here at the old Copthorne. At breakfast the veil has to be discretely lifted and a morsel popped in before any male can get a look .

Not a wildly romantic dinner then for St. Valentine celebrations . Mind you if this separate area comes into being then it will be even less romantic won’t it. “You pop over there darling and enjoy your meal , I’m off to watch TV with the boys over there see you back at the car. Enjoy your Valentine’s Day ”

What seems very unfair at the hotel is the Malaysian guy in swim shorts and loose t shirt in the heat while his girlfriend or wife is fully dressed and then covered with a black heat absorbing  burka and then asked to walk down the beach with him with the sun beating down

All these black burkas always remind me of the old joke about the guy who runs into the pub and asks the landlord how tall are penguins. About this high says the landlord. Oh christ I must have knocked down a nun.

We are in separate part of the hotel to most of the guests, kept in the main for long stay types like us.

Cliff Rooms Copthorne

six floors with seven rooms on each floor and overlooking the small beach

Little Beach Copthorne

The annexe also boasts a small garden with a few bed chairs and umbrellas and over the weekend we take refuge there. The old Copthorne discounts like crazy at weekends to encourage occupancy from the local populus in Kuala Lumpur. They also turn a blind eye to numbers in the room so it is not unusual for eight people to be bedded down . Most are kids and the noise from the children’s pool is unbelievable. The garden area is an haven from the din. What makes Malay children so badly behaved I wonder. Unbelievably parents will often bring their three or four kids down to kiddies pool and leave them there while they go back to the room to watch telly. Maybe that is why they are badly behaved now I think about it, no parental guidance at all.

Very kindly once a week the garden gets sprayed to stop mossies and bugs . They were doing it last night and have a look at the machine they use

Mossie Killer

I tell you what it reminds me of

I don’t think I shall bother with the orange throwing this year. By chance I saw it 3 years ago and it really is a bit of a mob scene to be honest.

I was at the Esplanade the other day when trotting around the colonial piles. Just away from the sea is the large grass area where in Colonial days the British played cricket

leather on Willow Penang

As I walked over it, the area where the old pavilion was is still visible and I’m sure I could here in the wind cries of “hows that” and ” jolly good shot old boy” .

Tonight rather than cricket balls the locals will be bowling oranges.

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Old Age

I picked up my newspaper this morning and read it’s contents over a cup of tea before setting off up Pearl Hill. Pearl Hill is 500 feet above Tanjung Bunga beach and the dear old Copthorne pile It used to called Mount Davina after the wife of Stamford Raffles but it got changed. I walk it most mornings along with about 30 Chinese locals who get exercise while wallking up to the Chinese temple perched atop the hill. I will take the camera up one morning and get you some shots. The views are tremendous and there are still plenty of monkeys up there too.

However I walked with a certain spring in my step this morning not because it was a pleasant fresh morning which it was but because of what I had read in the paper.

Now those of you with working kids will love this article headed five tips on” Planning for your Parents” and you will all want to either be Chinese or hope that China invades the world fast.

Planning for your parents is all about planning for their old age and there are five key actions to be taken . (Brilliant)

1) Start talking about it early and make plans early. Your parents won’t want to talk about it ( rubbish I would love to !!) so you need to get things out into the open. Get them over their embarrassment about getting old.

2) First thing the children must do once the subject is broached is invest in a good medical insurance plan for their parents. ( Oh, I love it yes, yes)

3)Plan for the worst, your parents might be healthy now but be prepared for the worst case scenario . Children must plan to save enough money in case their parents develop a serious illness to cover all their parents extra costs not included in the insurance package.

4) ( now your going to love this one!!) Plan for the Best ( oh the joy) Children should not plan just for their parents to have a roof over their heads in old age  and an income just to get by on. Your parents will need hobbies and want to enjoy holidays as well. This should be borne in mind when putting money aside. ( Ah, that Queen Mary 2 world cruise is looking good )

5) Make your plans their plans. If children are thinking of buying a house make sure it is big enough to house your parents one day. Buying medical ? include you parents on the scheme early. Joining a club ? invite your parents to join on your membership.

No wonder I sprinted up the hill laughing and no wonder all the elderly Chinese I walked behind or passed coming down had a rather contented look on their faces.

Curry night tonight across the road at the Passage Though India. There are plenty of Indian residents on the island in fact far more than I remember 3 years ago. Maybe immigration has turned a blind eye or indeed encouraged them in as they do much of the more menial tasks that neither the Malays nor the Chinese want to do . Indeed the Chinese can’t as they are busy doing the five points above and need to be making lots and lots of cash

the British first bought Tamals from southern India to the country to work on the plantations so the idea is not new. In George Town there is an entire area called

Little India George Town

and it really is just like being in Madras

Sarees George Town

the colours the spice smell and the sarees are so different to the rest of George Town. Every other shop is belting out the latest Bollywood song and has copies of the newest block buster Bollywood movie on a pirated DVD.

Indian Shop George Town

After 3 years of working  in India and travelling around the entire country I love curry and as Passage Though India is brand new let’s hope it is good. It will however probably be dry as not only the muslim Indians but good Hindus do not drink alcohol . However the Sikhs most certainly do.

Up in the Punjab one time when travelling to do a presentation with the Punjab agent we stopped for lunch a small place on the road to Jalandhar . After an excellent lunch of lamb roasted in a tandor oven and eaten sitting on the floor at a low table using your fingers, we were invited to join a fairly raucous group of guys at a table nearby. They had their second bottle of scotch on the table and were busy working their way through it whilst the first now empty lay on the floor. I stayed on beer but spent an entertaining two hours chatting until one of them staggered to his feet and announced he had to go to work. He was on in the theatre in 20 minutes he said. An actor ? I asked one of his companions at the table after he had gone. No a surgeon at the local hospital down the road, he replied. ( The indians like the british call the O.R. a theatre ).

I told our driver to drive very carefully for the next 2 hours. I didn’t want to end up in a crash and be carried back to that hospital.

By the way ” all Sikhs are called Singh but not all Singhs are Sikhs ” Useful to know that isn’t it.

Tanjung Bungah

Which means flower cape is home to the Copthorne Orchid Hotel where we are to lay our weary heads for a month. Let me be clear, it has seen better days, much better days indeed in the 1980’s it must have been quite a classy joint but now it is most certainly in the sunset of it’s career as an hotel. Quite how the maintenance staff keep the whole thing going is one of those marvels of the world. Nothing has been done to the place since it opened in 1979.

Still it is amazingly cheap for a long stay. The deal is room and breakfast for £32 ( $50 ) a night plus 20%off food and 10% off drinks and laundry. The room is huge

Room 503 Copthorne Tanjung Bungha

plenty of seating area and two double beds. The bathroom is a wonder of old style plumbing and a team of plumbers somehow keep things kind of working though the odd flood does occur.

The balcony view from these long stay terrace rooms set well away from the rest of the hotel is superb

View Balcony Copthorne

Nice to wake up to every morning and with the large patio door slightly open at night you sleep to the sound of the waves breaking on the small beach alongside

Beach Copthorne

Swimming in Penang is not for the feint of heart. You have to be very brave or maybe very foolish. There are thousands of jelly fish waiting to sting you, loads of sea snakes waiting to bite you or plenty of catfish lying in the shallows which if you stand on one will push three or four barbs up through your foot. Still the old Copthorne has a big swimming pool

The Big Pool Copthorne

a few lengths of that and you know you’ve had a swim.

Opposite the hotel is an hawkers food market with loads of different food sellers. The great news is that the price of large bottle of beer ( 660cl) there is 13.5 ringits so we have come down from the hawker stalls in K. L. at 20 ringits to 15 ringits in George Town and now a more manageable price here . It is in fact about £2.15 a pint in UK money which is 70 pence more than we pay in Puglia. The food is cheaper than George Town too with a set  (10 pieces ) of satay at 7 ringits ( £1.30) and two huge bowls of noodles and chicken for 6 ringits.

I am sitting writing this on the balcony and the Lankawi ferry is just going pastLankawi Ferry from Balcony

At night as you enjoy a well deserved night cap the cruise ships sail out of George Town and light up the horizon as they file past and stop to drop the pilot just outside the window it seems.

I am drinking a cup of tea with leaves from Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands . In the old days the British Tea plantation owners would come to Penang for R&R away from their secluded lives up on the plantation. P&O my old company sailed ships in to Penang from Britain and often the tea planters would go out to the ships  and visit them. One tea planter was well known by the officers and a heavy drinker to boot. He would often keep drinking and the officer of the watch would drop him with the pilot onto the pilot boat.

One year he was due his 1 years leave back in Blighty so joined the ship put his bags in his cabin  and started drinking heavily in various officer’s cabins and on deck. The officer of the watch unaware he was a passenger ensured he was dropped with the pilot as always and the poor guy awoke the next morning in the pilot’s office while his ship and bags were on their way to Blighty.

Penang, Pearl of the Orient

Flew up yesterday afternoon to the Island of Penang on Air Asia. We left from the Low Cost Carrier Terminal at K.L. Airport. There is a new one due to be opened in early May and just as well. The old terminal was appalling yesterday, packed with Chinese New Year travellers ( they celebrate it for 15 days here) and unable to cope. The new terminal is already well delayed and the reports in the paper yesterday said that 65% of it didn’t conform to the basic Fire and Safety regulations here. The Minister stated that they would open it and figure it out later. So don’t light a cigarette if you get to use it when it opens.

No one seems to know why Penang island is called the pearl of the orient but today  a more appropriate name might be the bubble in the developers balance sheet. They have built on almost all the spare land and at night these huge high rises have not a single light on and are clearly empty. It is the same around K.L. as you fly out of the airport. acres and acres of housing without a single resident. When it will burst who knows but surely it must.

We are in Traders Hotel in George Town for 4 nights to have a look around the actual town before heading our to the coast for the long stay part of the trip.

So the pool

Swimming Pool Traders Penang

This is also the view from the bed chair so you are saved that photo. However thank god it is Chinese New Year ‘cos off to the right of this photo is this

Construction by Traders

There are three cranes around it and another building behind it going up. This week it is almost quiet but next week all hell will break lose again. On check in the receptionist proudly said “ah a pool view” and we thought wow. The room looks straight across at the building and you feel you could almost touch it. So from next week city view or nothing.

Given the cost of booze I booked a Club room here. They have a club lounge and free flow drinks 6 p.m. till 8 p.m. The plan was to drink heartily till eightish and then go out to eat thirst well quenched.  Looking at the price of a normal room we had to consume about £15 a night to make it up. An easy task I thought given the high prices.

Traders Club Lounge

This is part of the club area.

However I hadn’t really thought through a couple of key points. 1) that a few other like minded souls might have had the same clever idea and 2) that the Club also does food at that time and places it cunningly almost in front of the self service bar area

Traders Club Loube Bar

The jockeying for pole position as the bewitching hour approached in the club lounge should have worried  me more. It was a little like a sailing race start where you have to cross the line just as the gun sounds or you are either disqualified or at the back of the pack. Clearly others had been practicing their technique and timed their run to the food and booze better. We weren’t disqualified but we were way behind the others.

When I started as a sales Representative with British Airways my mentor told me the most dangerous time in the job was if you accidentally got between a group of travel agents and the free bar and buffet. You would he said be trampled to death.

Last night was as close as I have come to those days. The Chinese and Malays focused on the food and a large group of Brits on the booze. I am sorry to say the Brits would have given the Russians in Vietnam a good run for their money both in quantity drunk and their  physical size. It quickly became clear that the enjoyable part of the evening was not going to be trying to compete which was impossible but more watching the amazing amount of stuff being consumed and the tactics used to complete the task. Bottles of wine were going in just 3 glassfuls and the game was to get the staff to bring more to you not to others. Charm tactics for some, aggressively bashing the empty bottle on the door on the staff kitchen door for others. Bottles of gin, bottles of whiskey went like lightening followed by beer chasers, vodka shots and plate after plate of food. It was a feeding and drinking frenzy . We sat clutching our small Tiger beers lest someone thought they were spare and took them and watched in awe.

At two minutes to eight there was almost fighting as the final minutes ticked down till 6 staff fought their way out and emptied the fridges and shelves of what little remained. By 8.10 the place was empty and snores could be heard from the nearby rooms.

We went out to some stalls nearby to eat. I will talk more about the food in Penang which is superb on another post, last night 12 satay sticks for £1 followed by 2 huge plates o my favourite Penang food Kway Teow  ( a shrimp, egg, rice noodle and onion dish) for £2 and a large plate of spicy chicken legs for £1.30 filled us to the brim. Beer at the stalls is £3 for a large 660cl bottle so cheaper than K.L.

Here’s how to make Kway Teow

Colonial Relics

But first a tip to start the blog. We came in on the train from the airport for 70 ringits for 2  (£14 ) and then paid a cab 40 ringit ( £8) to drive us to the hotel. This morning flying on Air Asia from what they call the Low Cost Carrier Terminal which is on the other side of the airport we would have had the taxi then the train then the shuttle bus to the LCCT. Instead we got a limo no less to take us straight there from the hotel entrance for 100 ring its {20 pounds} and it took just 30 minutes

Last night we went to visit an American friend who vacations here for 3 months to avoid the Baltimore winter weather. He stays as a long term guest at The Renaissance Hotel and he gave us a tour of the hotel and it’s huge pool. It is really more like a resort than a city hotel.

We adjourned to the Club Lounge for a few drinks and chatted. As we chatted about travel and journeys he talked about travel in his grandparents day in the 1920’s and 1930’s and, being American, of the importance of ships and ships Captains. I had never really thought about it before but our friend told us how society weddings were planned not by the date the bride wanted to get married but when the married couple could sail to Europe on their honeymoon on their favourite ship and far more importantly with their favourite Captain. So if the ship and the Captain only came together in say November that year then that was when the wedding would take place. I remember reading that The White Star line moved Captain Smith to the Titanic because he was so popular with passengers despite some misgivings about his seamanship skills. With him on the maiden voyage the Company was assured that the most influential of rich society on both sides of the Atlantic would be onboard.

Before 9/11 quite a few airline Captains would saunter back to have a chat with the passengers but in the 1950’s and 1960’s as airline travel gathered pace it was de rigour for all Captains to spend plenty of time in the passenger cabin. Clearly a throw back to the old ship days. Indeed on my ship the Orcades we had a Staff Captain as well as a Captain whose job it was to spent most of his time with the passengers as so many of P&O’s Captains were ex cargo ships and had no time for what they called “human cargo ” quite often to their faces.

Anyway I digress from the relics ( Colonial not seaman). I went downtown to find the old buildings. There are quite a few. I chose to look at the Old Railway Station completed in 1910 and designed by A.B. Hubback. Surprising to me was that so many of the old Colonial buildings in Kuala Lumpur are designed to reflect the muslim style of architecture rather than the pomp and very Victorian style found in say India. It is rather nice that they felt sensitive enough to build in that style. The railway station from the outside is impossible to photograph now as there is a bloody great 4 lane motorway roaring past it’s front door but I borrowed this one from wikipedia

800px-Railway_station_KL_2007_010_pano

 

clearly it was taken before they built the motorway. Quite why after independence they built another at Sentral and gave up on this one I have no idea. The Sentral is just a concrete eyesore whereas this has character. It is an immense place and all the trains still stop here a few minutes after leaving Sentral. Go figure as the kids would say.

It is huge inside

IMG_0578

 

and keeps the theme in the ticket hall etc as well

Ticket Hall KL Old Train

 

From the station it was but a hop skip and a jump to the Central Market built in 1888  and still a market of sorts though catering to the tourist trade exclusively now

Central Mkt K.L.

 

I loved the inside so colourful and with amazing floors.

Central inside1

 

You can buy almost any tourist type tat here and I indulged with some over the top gaudy fridge magnets for the kitchen which I think I might have to battle to keep up there.

Around the corner from the market is Chinatown again an area the developers must be salivating about and tossing in huge bribes to knock down

Chinatown Street KL

 

Down one of the many small streets lined with these very colonial shop/house buildings Chinese New year was still in full flow

China Town KL

 

and round the corner the Temple was busy. The Chinese  seem to have a relaxed style to religion. Mercedes and Audis would pull up outside the entire load would run in, light a few incense sticks say a few words and 2 mins later were away off to make another fortune before dinner. Despite all the things the Malays have tried to do over the years including forcing companies to employ a minimum of 20 % of management  from the Malay population and taking almost all power away from the Chinese, they still run virtually everything in Malaysia.

Chinese Temple KL

 

this was the temple with a classic old Chinese guy outside straight from central casting.

Inside the incense was burning by the shed load.

Inside Chinese Temple KL

 

The multiculturalism of Malaysia was aptly demonstrated by the the Hindu Temple on the other side of the road

Hindu Temple KL

 

 

what I love to find is small alleyways where stalls cook food and serve beer a far cheaper prices than in swanky pubs and hotels . This Chinatown didn’t disappoint

IMG_0593

 

a large 660cl bottle of local beer was  20 ringit still a kings ransom for South East Asia at £4  or £3,60 a pint but way cheaper than in the hotel.

Of course the Club Lounge is even cheaper at The Renaissance as it is free flow on all drinks from 6p.m. till 9.30p.m. but you do need to be a Gold or better still a Platinum card holder with them to get in.

My American friend was telling me that he still has one of the sleeper suits that  British Airways gave out to First Class passengers. His was from the first flight to give this service and is still in it’s original wrapper. I was telling him that we looked at one stage to have a motif on the suit depicting the level the passenger was at in the Executive Club so others could recognise a Platinum holder from so the far more common silver or worse still a Blue which the wearer we hoped would be spurred on to increase his miles rather than appear for too long in the First Class cabin with his Blue motif. Perhaps wiser heads feared that the poor Blue fellow would switch to another carrier rather than be shown up. We shall never know.

The Reluctant Tourist

The trouble with being a tourist most of the time especially in the tropics is that you have to get out and about during the heat of the day. Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the mid-day sun and all that.

I am probably more a beach tourist than a city tourist. A bed chair and a beach to explore is my idea of heaven . Pounding around hot city pavements is certainly not how I  like to spend my days. So writing this blog is actually good for me because I am forced to head out and see what is on offer when often I would just be looking for the closest happy hour deal to my hotel.

We flew on Malaysian Airlines yesterday from Saigon to Kuala Lumpur. I have a few air miles on British Airways and found when they changed them to Avios points that the airline had decided to close out Italy as a destination  which meant until this trip they were almost useless. However I hadn’t realised that Malaysian had joined One World nor that it is now dead easy to book other airlines on the BA site. So for 9,000 miles and £12 in taxes each we got Business Class tickets. Of course having just sat down and about to enjoy a large glass of wine  the curtain into Economy flew open and a lad of about 13 carried in a bawling 3 year old and dropped it on his parents lap who , as always just happened to be sitting in the seats just in front of us. He shouted a few choice words in Hindi which I took to mean the brats all yours and left. Clearly the parents had booked the 5 children in economy and they had revolted. The crew not seemingly wishing to make a scene allowed the wretched thing to stay and it cried all the way to Kuala Lumpur. Thank god I hadn’t paid the US$ 610 normal fare.

The fast train from the airport to downtown takes 28 minutes and costs about £7 each. Then a taxi to the G Tower Hotel was another £8 but looking at the map he took us around the loop motorway rather than the far quicker downtown route. Taxis the world over ……

The room at the G Tower is huge and the hotel also boasts a Bridge Bar on the 28th floor that links the two towers. Not a good place to have a beer for the agoraphobics  clearly. I plugged in the Apple and noticed a letter from the Management on the desk. It wasn’t one of those hello type letters. It was the one you dread the most and makes you realise why they were discounting the place. ” We regret to inform you …….. renovation works underway…. drilling and banging sounds………apologise for inconvenience…..don’t think you are getting a refund or discount….. ” etc etc.

Sure enough at 8 a.m. even though  it is Chinese New Year and there is little or no construction taking place in the entire city what sounded like a single workman hit a pipe every 3 seconds for an hour and then went home. Better than a breakfast gong I guess.

So at 10 a.m. we were ready for some sight seeing . First stop those pesky towers that featured in the Sean Connery film Entrapment. I got a shot

Petronas Towers K.L.

But they are so tall at 452 metres above the street they are very difficult to snap. The Towers are taller than our house is above sea level in the hills near Martina Franca . We are just 390 metres above sea level.

It costs £15 quid each to go up and so we gave it a miss. Why ? Well a pint of beer here is an head spinning £8 most of which is made up of tax. Welcome to another soon to be dry, Saudi backed, muslim country. So the choice was a ride up to see what we saw from the aircraft yesterday or 4 pints of beer tonight. No brainer of course.

The base of the towers boast a Marks and Spencer and this

Harrods in K.L.

Harrods cafe no less. I didn’t even stop to ask what their champagne price must be.

In the book I’m reading on Vietnam the author makes the point about the divergence of wants between the local people and the tourist. The locals, he says, are  desperate to move away from the very things the tourist comes to look at. It is true for Malaysia as well. The locals want a modern vibrant city with huge motorways and plush buildings like the Twin Towers. Not so the tourist. The number one tour in K.L. is The Heritage Tour which takes them around all the old colonial buildings that have survived for now the developers sledge hammers. So I went in search of it in the midday sun.

Driverless Tube

The local metro trains are driverless, the station concourse has no ticket offices just change machines and ticket points . The stations have no staff on them , no “mind the doors” nor “mind the gap” people and no guards on the train. So those of you reading this in London where there is a 48 hour strike by underground staff rejoice that sometime soon Bob Crow and his bunch of overpaid members will be gone, toast, history. I have seen the future and I hope Boris has too.

It is amazingly cheap as well (unlike beer) clearly the Saudis don’t mind trains. 25P for four stops. That’s what you get when you are not paying drivers and guards £60,000 a year each to do nothing. Mind you it probably helps to have the Saudis as your favourite uncle I guess. It is a really easy system and with most signs in English and automatic voice announcements for each up coming station, it almost impossible to go wrong.

I know what you’re thinking but no I didn’t go wrong and nor were there any screaming kids either. They luckily are all on holiday this week and spend their entire time at the huge amusement parks that dot the outskirts of this very modern city.

Did I find any colonial relics ? Well building wise yes I certainly did . However one of the few benefits of high booze prices and strict laws on prostitution is there are no old relics from Europe staggering around with desperately young girls on their arms and that has to be a good thing

More tomorrow on those relics ( buildings that is ) when we get to Penang.