Mystery Plane

I have been very quiet on the blog front merely because there has been little to blog about here, You walk a hill ,lie on a sun lounger, eat lunch, lie down again, drink in the bar, eat some Chinese food and then go to bed . However all that changed as the “mystery ” of the MH370 flight has deepened and deepened. At the bar last night it was almost the sole topic of conversation and the TVs in all the shops are constantly tuned to the 24 hour news service. I have a new bar now which I have happily called the cheapest place in town. Beer is 12 ringit for 660cl .

It is a pleasant place in that everyone sits at two long tables and eats and drinks. A stall dispenses hot noodle soup with some unknown “fresh” fish in it and a friendly Chinese Malaysian dispenses beer from an efficient fridge. It means you get to chat to a variety of locals mainly over the age of 50 years. That is because in their wisdom in the early 1980’s the then ruling coalition decided to do away with teaching English in schools having already in the 1970s decided to do away with the teaching of all subjects in English. The result has been of course that Malaysia has plummeted down the league scale for English fluency ever since. They have reinstated English as a lesson but the majority of youngsters struggle with the language.

Last night I sat next to a Tamil Malay born here in 1962 just around the corner from the bar. His name was Sam and he runs a small car rental business in the big tourist area of Batu Ferranghi a few clicks up the road. He was fluent in English and told me how he had insisted on English as the language at home to help his son also become fluent. His son is a micro biologist having managed to get into a government university as part of the 10% of non Malays allowed entry. He however wasn’t able to find a job in the sector here through the quota system  and had now moved to Singapore where he was earning enough money to help Sam and his wife out by sending 1,500 ringit ( £300) a month back home for them. He had joined the Malaysian brain drain.

However last night he and most of the bar were talking aeroplanes and more to the point how Malaysian Airlines and the government seemed to have little or no grasp of the situation. The Malay language press conferences were they said like an amateur hour  production from Malaysian Airlines and the government ministers seem to be simply trying to point the finger at another department. Why did it take so long for Malaysian Airlines to even announce the plane was missing they all asked, why did it take an app website in Sweden to tell the Malaysian Air Traffic control that the plane was missing, Why did Malaysian Airlines keep saying for 15 hours that the plane had disappeared 2hrs 10 minutes after it took off when it was in fact 40 minutes and why can’t they find it.

The bar is of course Chinese and Tamil in make up as the Malays are forbidden alcohol but they all seemed to think Malaysia was beginning to look very bad on the world stage. Not that you could guess it from the government run newspapers that extol the efforts being made. So while foreign papers stated that  China was running out of patience my Star paper today headlined how happy China was.

Mention was made of 6/3/1 on several occasions in the bar and I asked what that referred to. Quota for jobs was the reply. 10 jobs available then 6 must be given to Malays, 3 to Chinese and 1 to Tamil or others. But I stuttered that is discrimination pure and simple . Yes they replied.

Intrigued I did some research today  on the causes of this and the big one is the NEP or National Economic Plan launched in 1970 following the race riots of 1969. So some quick facts;

Malaysia is made up of 54.8% Malays or Bumipura as they like to be called, 24.1% Chinese, 7.2% Tamil and 12.9% others. However at Independence in 1957 the Bumipura had just 2% of the wealth of the country. This was because they tended to live in Kampongs and had happily stayed an agricultural society. The British had first bought in Chinese to do the work needed to run the country and then the Tamils.

Belatedly The Brits during the run up to independence started to involve the Malays more and started an affirmative action plan . This continued after independence but with little effect culminating in the race riots.  NEP brought in quotas for jobs, university places, schools, and businesses designed to bring Malays into the body of the country by 1990 when the NEP was to be abolished.  However 1990 came and went and the quotas remained.

Malaysian politics make the Italian system look dead easy to understand. I spent all day on my bed chair in the sun trying to make sense of all the coalitions etc without any success. But basically the political parties are all based on race and certainly at their conferences aren’t wildly complementary to the other peoples of the country.

I read loads of articles by Ooi Kee Beng who heads up the South East Asia Studies group and he often makes the comparison between NEP and the old South African apartheid system as similar in objective. He continues  that such racial discrimination where  things like jobs, social security and housing benefits etc are decided by race not by need or ability actually leaves the Malays with a sense of entitlement that in the long run does them and the country no good and leads to  the brain drain and resentment that is happening now.

It seems even the city based Malays are now agreeing with him. Some 65% before the May 2013 election said the NEP quotas should be repealed and no longer be race based and they gave the ruling party a real shock at the polls. However Islam has now got in the way as to get the benefits of being a Malay you must be an Islamist indeed being an Islamist gets you into the club anyway. So rather than meritocracy it is race and religion that makes the place tick.

Malays do not need to take A levels to get into to University but a more simple truncated exam, professors often resign from universities when faced with having to pass them for degrees. They get reserved jobs and are at the top of the pile for new ones. Imagine the outcry if when Gordon Brown talked about British jobs for British people he really meant only Protestant Anglo Saxon British people . Would Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg be doing business with such a country ?

Where the NEP is really enforced is, of course, in government departments and it is sobering to think that Malaysian Airlines is government owned. Yes it is on the stock exchange but the main investors are the States of Malaysia. Any loss is born by the tax payer and they have been losing considerable sums for years. So are the people at the top of Malaysian Airlines really the best people? How do they sort things like aircrew seniority and engineers excellence given the 6/3/1 quota ? I don’t know but they seem worthwhile questions and I think the last thing Malaysia really needs is  an antagonised super power like China nor the rest of the world looking in depth at the country and seeing how the Chinese and Tamils, whose families have lived here for centuries, are still being treated seemingly  to allow the indigenous race to try and catch up a full 57 years after Independence . Or maybe it might be good for the place in the long run

Well back to the sun lounger only another week to go.

A Tale of Two Flip Flops

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness . ( sorry Mr Dickens ).

When planning this 5 month trip around S.E. Asia I asked my son who had done his gap year a few years before ( indeed it was the kids gap years that we have tried to copy on this trip though with what I call comfortable pillows at night rather than hostels ) what I should be sure to pack above all else. Decent flip flops he said . You will be in them almost all of the time in the heat and will be wandering around cities in them and on hot sand on the beach. It is essential you get a pair that will last and are comfortable. Hot sand always reminds me of the great scene in 10 when Dudley Moore starts across the hot sand trying to look suave and debonair . As he walks his feet begin to burn and he is reduced to throwing his towel down and hopping on it to advance shouting out in pain and looking like a mad man

Of course decent to me meant spend money. You get what you pay for etc. So in Oxford Street London last October visiting with him I popped into John Lewis . Wonders of wonders they had a sale on of flip flops, which I guess makes sense really in England with winter approaching. The most expensive leather style flip flops with extra padding on the heel were reduced from £40 to £15 and as these were top of the range I pounced and grabbed the last pair.  The draw back was that they were joined together with one of those security things that they remove at check out and anyway I really didn’t want to take my shoes and socks off in John Lewis on a busy Sunday. So they were placed untested in the suitcase for the trip. But hey £40 flip flops are going to be like walking on air aren’t they ?

Well Hong Kong wasn’t the place for flip flops so it wasn’t until Bangkok that they came out of the suitcase and got a walk about. They looked good but were just a tad uncomfortable. Wear them in and they will be fine I told myself, £40 flip flops will be great after a day or so won’t they. That night in the hotel room the first aid kit also got it’s first outing of the trip and plaster was placed on both of my second toes and the poor little ones. My little piggies looked very sorry for themselves and certainly not fit enough to go to market, stay at home or eat roast beef.

The next day was no better and so in Ban Krut I asked at the hotel where I could buy some new ones. Indeed my feet by then  resembled those of an arctic explorer struck down with frost bite. I half envisaged having to take my toes off with some old rusted blade they way they always seemed to have to do in tales of exploration years ago.

The hotel kindly took me into to town and to the only flip flop seller there. His choice was not great and so picking a pair was easy he only had one colour.

My Flip Flops

 

My son was right, I have worn them almost everyday since I bought them, they have walked  loads of beaches, trogged around temples, been into churches, been left outside mosques, seen good restaurants and tatty ones, sat in taxis, limousines and tuk tuks, had accidental swims in seas and puddles some with rather dodgy contents festering in them and generally been great companions as they have never moaned about their lot in life.These ones cost me 60 pence and the John Lewis ones were nicked in Vietnam when I accidentally on purpose left them outside one evening . I pity the poor Vietnamese who is now rueing the day he took them and looking at his swollen bandaged feet.

Having seen me through thick and thin yesterday evening I forgot I had worn them up to the pool in the morning and and so left them there when I came back down to shower and head out.

Once I discovered their loss I dashed to the pool but the lad had closed up and cleaned away. Lost I thought and was inconsolable as I cried into first my beer and then a rather large bowl of Singapore fried rice.

This morning sitting by the pool eating breakfast I asked the morning pool guy if they had been found. No he said and my breakfast was yet another sad affair. I planned a least 5 days of mourning and wanted to get into town to get a black armband and some suitable funereal music for the iPod. Luckily I already had this one on it

brings tears to your eyes doesn’t it.

But wait the pool guy is coming back. What colour he asks ? Green I say . Well come and see if these are they he says and takes me to his cubical where the towels are kept and guess what . There they were, my little flip flops sitting waiting for my return . Ahhhhhhh

Where you been ? my flip flops said in broken Thai english , we worry about you, you getting old and forgetful.

My flip flops sound just like my wife .

 

 

 

 

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.

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.

Pukka Penang

George Town is all about colonial history and so I trotted around a few of the sights for you this morning. Let me say it was hot. The whole of Malaysia is in the grips of an heatwave caused they say by a lack of winds to form cloud. Temperatures are 5-8C above normal.

The Portuguese were first here but only used the place to pick up water on their way to Indonesia. Then a few British privateers ( pirates) who used it as a base to plunder ships and finally The East India Company. Captain Charles Light hoisted the Union Jack on August 11th 1786 and built fort Cornwallis in the following years and that is still here

Fort Cornwallis

I am standing in the moat to take the photo .

To build the town Light needed to clear the area of jungle. He used the cannon you see in the photo to fire silver coins into the jungle. To find them the sepoys had to clear the area and so the job was achieved with little fuss. Light died of malaria  and is burried in the protestant cemetery along side hundreds of other Brits who came out here and died of the various tropical deceases. Whole families perished over a few years. These were hardship postings without a doubt.

In 1805 Penang was elevated to the status of Residency and Stamford Raffles arrived. Regulars will know we stayed at his hotel just recently !!

With the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 Penang took off and being a duty free port it became a real crossroads for trade. With wealth came more traders and the place was a real hooch pot of nationalities. The street names today reflect that. Burma Road, Siam Road, Katz Street, Armenian Road  etc. The British running the place did well and as always built some impressive places from which to govern the place.

The town hall of course

Town Hall Geaorge Town Penang

The city hall , though quite why they needed both I have no idea but hey when the money is slushing around why not spend it. What is that line from Hello Dolly ”  Money, pardon the expression, is like manure. It’s not worth a thing unless it’s spread around, encouraging young things to grow.” City Hall George Town Penang

It is great to see that some of the other buildings are now being renovated rather than knocked down. This is a massive project

Renovation George Town Penang

would that the British government would be as caring when building stuff here. This is their contribution to the classic architecture of George Town

British Council Penang

Oh dear a glass and steel box. Well done H.M. Gov.

In 1897 to commemorate the 60th year of Queen Victoria’s reign millionaire businessman Cheah Chen Eok started to build a clock tower . Unfortunately by the time he had finished it in 1903 the dear old girl had popped her clogs and gone to that great palace in the sky. It is still  here and I got a shot of it

Clock Tower George Town Penang

Mind you it isn’t just the more recent British governments that can muck things up. For reasons best known to themselves the local council a few years ago decided to match the clock tower with what looks like an Easter egg on the roundabout

Clock Tower and Egg

Hmm,. The other shame has been that since 1975 when I first came here most of the old colonial houses have disappeared under the builders sledge hammers . Few are left and most are now offices

Old Colonial House George Town

40 years ago there were street after street of these lovely buildings but they had huge gardens as well and so were a natural for the hammer. The game was to buy one and then open it to the elements and let it almost fall down. Then have it designated as a danger and Bobs your uncle you could build your 45 story apartment block instead.  Clever these Chinese and the bribes were too good for the council I guess as well.

Anyway our history lesson is almost over. On Aug. 31st 1957 the party was over. Malaya became Malaysia and the Brits upped sticks and came home to a pleasant little Edwardian number in Cheltenham or Tunbridge Wells where they could then plague the Times or Telegraph letter columns with missives on why they were disgruntled until they too died out.

We move from The Traders Hotel, George Town to the very much less salubrious surroundings of the Copthorne in Tanjung Bungah some 12 kms outside. So tonight is our last free flow of booze. from tomorrow we start paying for it. so i must get my skates on. we have battles to fight as the Club floor has lost it’s 12 British school teachers here for a conference on how Malaysia could show the Brits how to run schools and they have been replaced by 15 German engineers here to build a power plant. Something wrong here I think. Wouldn’t it have been nicer to have 15 British engineers. But that’s another story I’ve got to get to the wine bottle .

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