Today it’s KL. I’m sitting in a funky café in one of the more salubrious areas of the city. I’m waiting for breakfast to be served me while the fans whirr above me once again. I’m well rested after a hectic few days and looking towards doing the rounds of the city proper: first stop the Petronas Towers.
I should have been sitting here 24 hours ago but for the sort of unexpected occurrence that somehow becomes normal on holiday. We had packed up and checked out and where driving around to the other side Penang island for a look-see when a grinding noise coming from the left rear wheel made us stop. It had made troubling noises all the way to Penang, a sort of crunching sound, but it had become clearly worse since, and added to it was a squeaky, whiny sound. We stopped at a mechanic, were told it couldn’t be fixed before morning, and that was that.
Whisky and I continued up the road by taxi and checked into one of the mid-range resort hotels overlooking the beach. We had a complimentary drink by the pool and then a beer. Later we had a swim in the pool and played a round of table-tennis. Around us largely Asian couples mixed in with portly Brits enjoyed the facilities. As two clearly single men of relatively robust health we were out of place – family friendly is not really our go.
That evening we went in search of a massage further up the road in Feringhee, which in itself was a mix of luxury accommodation – including a 6 star hotel – a night market, and a bunch of restaurants and shops lit up like Vegas. Here there was a good proportion of Arabs. Most, if not all, of the women were covered up, including many wearing the full hijab. In these conditions it must be suffocatingly uncomfortable to be covered head to toe while your husband swans around in shorts and t-shirt.
I had my third massage in as many days, and the second for the day (the first deserves a post all of its own). Massage is big business like I say, and there are all sorts of variations on it, right down to cupping and ear candling (two I’m happy to avoid). On this occasion my masseuse was an acrobatic girl called Janet, who swung from poles embedded near the ceiling and walked up and down my back – not the first woman to have done that.
I left contemplating whether I was any better off for the experience. I certainly felt a kind of invigoration, but it was the kind that had me hobbling slightly. Given my experience with remedial massage earlier in the year that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing and besides, what the fuck, all part of the experience.
The rest of it all is pretty sedate. We had a lovely dinner that night eating delectable Malaysian curries served by an equally spicy hostess who – pun intended – clearly hoped to curry favour with us. She had her hair tied back tightly in a bun, large expressive eyes and wore a long, billowing, print dress which she would lift daintily past her ankles as she took the stairs. She played up to us, flashing those expressive eyes and indulging a verbal byplay that few men can resist and few women can approve of. We’re no different and so we generally fell over each other trying to flirt with her while she lapped it up.
Yesterday we finally started back with the car all mended. We circled Penang before taking the long road towards KL. Our car is a Proton, the people’s car if you like, an ordinary, under-powered lemonish sort of vehicle locally made and promoted. We managed to tool along at about 130 kmh on a freeway limit of 110 – an arbitrary number seemingly as no-one heeds it and no-one seems to police it. Every so often a European car – a BMW or Mercedes – would whiz by at about 150 kmh, as if with the car they had been given dispensation to drive as quick as you like. Mixed in with them were Hondas and Toyotas, prestige cars in relative terms to the Proton. Often they would rush by tail to nose, not so much tail-gating as drafting, sometimes three or four cars in line.
Along the way the sun shone and the rain plunged down. Then the sun would come again, and then the rain. The freeway cut through the sides of hills surrounded with lush vegetation. Often we would pass by these huge outcroppings of rock that emerged from the surrounding countryside like a pimple. They too were covered in a thick grown jungle, with sheer sides of rock that looked as if it might have been near liquid once with stalactite like croppings. Throughout all this I saw one monkey – roadkill, dead at the side of the road.