It’s early afternoon and I’m sitting in the cafe section of the bed and breakfast I’m staying at in Langkawi. It’s open on three sides, and the heat of the day seeps in, held at bay only by the quickly whirling blades of the ceiling fans. Directly in front of me is a small pool in direct sunlight. Beyond that is bushland rising into hills and to either side the two wings of accommodation, stark white, peaked roofs, contemporary Australian in style (I say Oz because the owners here have a strong Australian connection). As it is a funky place funky music pipes through the speakers, and by my left hand is a glass of cold water, beaded already from the heat. I feel a siesta coming on – I’m on holiday after all – but I’ll finish this first, just for you.
It is warm here, much warmer than KL. I have theories about this. KL is like a lot of Asian cities. Most days are cloudy, though rarely overcast. There seems always to be a haze, which makes for pretty sunsets at least. The temperature generally is in the low 30’s, but it rarely feels that warm to me. Because of the overhead conditions, the heat is diffused and is barely noticeable. It is only later when your shirt is damp and clammy that you feel any discomfort. 31 in KL feels much like a 27 back home.
Rarely in KL do you feel that direct heat that is characteristic of home, of Melbourne at least and those other parts with dry heat. In summer at home, there are days you are wary of exposing too much skin because the heat feels so direct. You sweat more freely, but with the dry heat, it is quickly evaporated. It feels hotter but cleaner.
It seems characteristic of many Asian cities, densely populated in semi-tropical zones, and with minimal controls on smog. Hot, moist, humid. Singapore in my experience is the cleanest of the lot, and outside of Vietnam, Laos, and northern India, the warmest. It doesn’t get any hotter than KL – the temperatures are similar – but it doesn’t get the haze, and so it feels much warmer. I remember when I stayed there I would go through a couple of shirts a day minimum. I had only to walk out the door to feel like I had sprung a leak. It was very unpleasant, and given the humidity, I was condemned to a wet shirt until I found air-con to dry in.
Langkawi feels similar to Singapore. The temperature is probably the same as in KL, but with no more than a few scattered cumuli in the sky it feels a good deal hotter. The humidity is less that of Singapore I would guess – in the 70s rather than the 90s – and more comfortable by that margin, but you can definitely feel it.
The good thing in a place like this is that are plenty of places to swim to cool off, and plentiful cheap cocktails to keep the insides at a pleasant temperature.
I arrived yesterday afternoon. After checking in I went for a walk. I found myself at a small beach where I sat and had a cheap cocktail while looking out over the ocean through the fronds of the palm trees, George Benson strumming his guitar in the background. It felt good to behold the sea. It’s one of those questions sometimes asked: are you a beach swimmer, or pool? I always muse on that, though given a perfect world the answer is always the beach.
I’m fussy. It needs to be a nice beach after all. And neither too busy or too crowded. Preferably it’s a surf beach – I’m an Aussie after all – where I can feel the tumble and roil of the sea, can feel it exuberantly pick me up and set me down again. The ocean is not to be wallowed in. And I guess the water temperature has to be just right.
After my cocktail, I stripped off my shirt and went for a swim. Technically a surf beach there were no waves to speak of, just a sudden but small swell that barely broke upon the beach. It was delicious in though. Ideally, I might have adjusted the water temperature down a degree, but better too warm than too cold. I swam out a bit then came back. I looked at the palm trees and the yachts at anchor and a girl in a black bikini and after 15 minutes I got out – it’s boring if you can’t body surf. I had a very cheap beer while the sea dried on me and then set off again.
Through the afternoon I walked the full length of the main beach before stopping for a late lunch. I followed that up with a couple of 2 for 1 Mojito’s staring out over the horizon. Nearby me a couple from eastern Europe drank icy cocktails and seemed tense until they had a long pash. Over yonder was a family group from China, even in a place like this carrying their characteristic flasks of tea. And four American girls in swimwear they might have inherited from their grandmothers discussed the things that teenage girls do all over.
I started back. I felt tired, a little sunburnt, and a bit weary. I stopped at a massage place and after a bit of wrangling agreed to a ‘strong’ massage. After convincing them we would all be more comfortable with the air-con on I lay down for my massage to begin.
On this occasion, it was a male – dark-skinned, very slender, no more than 21 but with a moustache Errol Flynn would be proud of. He started on me, inquiring as he went as to whether it was ‘too strong’, or ‘more’. Not for the first time in Asia I felt little more than a big lump of meat. I lay there inert and pale-skinned while he dug his strong fingers into my flesh. For his size he was strong, obviously well practised at exerting all his meagre weight in his craft. Occasionally the very slightness of the locals here makes me feel indelicate, at the very least.
I must have been more than double the weight of the kid last night, and probably a good 8 inches taller. Earlier in my visit to KL I’d had a massage with a jolly Thai woman who had said I was “too much big”, and laughed, “too much strong.” It’s often at times like that that I feel most foreign, and slightly embarrassed, not by my size so much, as by being served, and at the sheer healthiness my size represents. I become aware of a privilege which I haven’t really earned.
Naturally, I soon get over that, as I did once more last night. I left there feeling more creaky than I had arrived, but thinking to myself that it was a ‘good creakiness’. Back at the hotel, I had a lime juice, a G&T, and a chat with the bartender. Later I had a light meal and a chat with one of the owners, a very affable gay guy who had spent half his life in Perth, a few years in Melbourne (which, predictably, he loved), before returning to Malaysia to run the restaurant here.
By 10pm I had my light out. Maybe it was the heat or all the walking I did, or simply the fresh air, but I was bushed.
Today it was breakfast sitting where I am now. Then a walk and a quick swim and a light lunch. Siesta time looms, but first, I think, I should check out the pool.