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.

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.

Tourism revisited

Despite the wonders of the internet it is still quite nice to have a newspaper delivered to one’s room in an hotel. Today I opened my New Straits Times ( new because like The Times of London it has gone tabloid size). The front page was full of details of the Prime Minister of Malaysia’s speech on tourism and the changes taking place that his country would focus on. It was full of marketing gobbledygook with weird phrases like the creation of a new global elite and money rich time poor super rich etc.

His speech almost echoed speeches reported in Thailand when we were there and Vietnam as well as similar ones heard from almost every tourist board around the world.

Anyway the gist of it is apparently that they want to attract the new high spending tourists from China, Russia, the Middle East and India. Well which country doesn’t ? The trouble is they often are mega rich because they work incredibly hard and rarely take holidays. They also tend to cluster where the others are in well established destinations . There also aren’t that many of them compared to mass tourism .

Since 1998 European and Australian tourism here in Penang has been falling every year as tourists head off to other places . Tourism here is now mainly from Indonesia , a little from China and Japan and the rest is weekenders from K.L. The most popular month for tourists is August . Penang has watched islands like Phuket and Ko Samui in Thailand and Phu Quoc in Vietnam take their bread and butter.

George Town on Penang is a UNESCO world heritage site and when here 3 years ago UNESCO in, to me, a surprising move as I always felt they didn’t make waves, threatened the State government with the removal of the UNESCO name as more and more of the town was being developed and ruined. Walking around today in George Town there was some proof that things had changed and the rows of empty buildings that greeted us then seem to have new tenants rather than being knocked down and another sky scraper put up in it’s place.Old World George Town

When here in the 1980s and 1990s Love lane was a thriving street full of shops with lots of tailors and dress makers. They all disappeared but now it has been re-invented as a back packer area with bars, hostels, cafes and small restaurants. It is again a vibrant place just different than before

Love Lane George Town

Another great trend is the development of rows of these terrace shops as upmarket boutique hotels.

The Seven Terraces Hotel is great example of this

Seven Terraces Hotel George Town 

The hotel has been developed by the same two guys that built several boutique places in the Old Fort at Galle in Sri Lanka. It isn’t cheap with rooms starting at £120 but nor is it for the mega rich either . There are a few of these now and hopefully loads more will follow as booking rooms in them is quite difficult, they fill so quickly.

If only this kind of development had started in 2000 rather than 2011 how different the tourism figures might have been and George town would have retained it’s original charm and still been the Pearl of the Orient .

Mind you things have gone  backwards in the last few years with the advent of the cruise liners docking here.

When I first came here in 1975 George Town resounded to the tinkle of bicycle bells . There were a few motor taxis but in the main you got around by tricycle taxi with a guy peddling away for all he was worth behind you .

Tricycle Taxi

It was exciting stuff as you were thrust out into the traffic first so he could see around the corner. They of course died out when taxis became the norm and a few decorated the driveways of hotels or the inside of the odd restaurant to remind people how it used to be. There was a feeling that this type of transport was somewhat demeaning for the pseddler and an hangover from colonial times so the State government was keen to see the back of them.

In Hanoi when the Communists came to power in 1955 they stopped the man pulled rickshaw as it was seen also there as Colonial suppression. Today one of the senior Ministers family own an huge amusement park just outside Hanoi and to get around it visitors  use one of the man pulled rickshaws. How quickly they forget when money is involved.

So too here in Penang, Colonial hangovers be damned, there’s dollars in them there peddles.

The cruise line guys here also saw the potential for resurrecting the tricycle taxi. Today three large cruise liners were docked in town and once again the streets rang with the sound of bells.

Tricycle George Town

They stretch back as far as you can see and about 40 had already gone past me. The trouble is for the lads peddling is that westerners ( and Malays who have a countrywide massive obesity problem ) have got much fatter than when these were the normal way to get around. This is probably more so for cruise passengers . So it was fun to see that in many of the tricycle taxis the couple could not fit comfortably in without one or the other sitting up off the seat. Indeed in some only one could fit and the partner followed behind in another.

God knows what the excursion office on the various cruise lines charge for this but hopefully these lads peddling away are well paid. Today the temperature was 35C (96F)and humidity was really high as well. Where two had managed to squeeze in several of the lads were pushing their tricycles rather than trying to peddle such was the weight inside.

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.