Wednesday 15 August 2018


The flight to Penang down the Malay Peninsular was very comfortable and quick, just over one hour but when I arrived, partly on account of the weather, I hit a real “low”. No one to greet me but I wasn’t expecting that, so I followed my usual drill and headed for an ATM to withdraw some cash but naturally it came out is denominations far too large for the bus into town so I had a tea and Kit-Kat but the tea was truly awful which didn’t help my mood. It was raining by the time I caught the bus into Georgetown but, instead of the idyllic island I was expecting it was yet another town with too much traffic. The journey was about 40 minutes and as I was dropped off at the bus station, I naively hoped that I would find Mansion One fairly quickly but, in fact, it was a 20 minute taxi ride. You may remember, (if you’re paying attention!) I said how I sometimes misjudge the size of a city and not only had I done that, I hadn’t drawn a map in my book. Google Maps came later when I had an internet connection but, on arrival in a new country, I don’t have that of course. I had to ask a smart hotel nearby for help and they looked it up and hailed a taxi. I walked elegantly down the steps as though I had been staying there.

The drive seemed to go on for ever and the traffic was dense… and it was still raining. We found the apartments partly on account of it being next to a large private hospital called Glenrothes. I went into reception but the name didn’t seem to bear any resemblance to the place I had booked (through They had no idea who Arida was, the guy who had acknowledged my booking or what Apartment One was. I turned out that the reception people knew who Arida was but didn’t want to let on because they had wanted to have his apartment on their books and, in fact, they were hinting that perhaps I would like to rent one of their apartments instead. They let me use their wifi and I then saw an email from the guy asking to meet me outside Starbucks which shared the reception area. And very soon a very large Indian guy appeared with his wife outside the reception area of the (competing!) company and explained that the flat was theirs – I hadn’t realised that it was a private flat but in his defence, it was his business to let out property and he carried a small wifi credit card reader.

I was annoyed, this was more like Airbnb and I don’t like the idea of staying in private flats. Anyway, it was a large white soulless place; money but no taste. I wanted to quit, maybe go back to the other company but that would not have been a very tactful move so I decided to stay and he drove me to a local shopping mall where I could buy a SIM to get online and also some food for breakfast. Still raining. By the way, when I said he was large, I was being polite. He was so fat that he had to put his driving seat into recline in order to fit inside the car and he drove in this semi-reclining position. I’m sure it can’t be much fun being fat but for some people I guess there is a choice. I really don’t want to sound smug. I am lucky, I can shovel anything into my mouth and I never gain weight but for some people, that is fatal. Literally sometimes.

Instead of walking back to the apartment – I would have got wet - I took a taxi back down-town and had a welcome beer and some chicken meal or other – can’t remember exactly what it was but I think it involved rice. And then with my new-found knowledge about the location of the apartment, I took a taxi back “home”. Am I overplaying the fact that it was raining?

I had a chance to look more closely at the apartment. I often see this, money lavished on a property without thinking about the finer points. For example, most split air-conditioning systems have the chiller outside well away from the room it is cooling because that is the part that makes the noise. In this case, the chiller was bolted onto the wall directly behind the bedroom wall and it made a deep vibrating sound all night. But the following nights, I switched off the aircon and the room was not too hot. Another example, no draining board around the sink, just a (what I call) Formica type surface which looked suspiciously vulnerable to staining.

At that point I went to bed and fell asleep hoping that it wouldn’t be raining next day. Are you sure I’m not making a big thing about the rain? I’d been hoping to hear from my friend Jennifer but I sent her an email saying that I was feeling “human” now that I had wifi. I mentioned the weather.

Next morning, Friday, dawned fine (I’m sure you’re relieved about that!) and, because Jennifer was at work, I set about thinking up what to do for the day. She suggested Penang Hill, so that’s where I went! And we planned to meet that evening at one of her regular Meetup groups and then we could spend time together during the weekend.

Penang Hill is about 10km out of town and I just took a regular bus which was very cheap. There’s a cable railway, I think some people call it funicular but that is something different – a train crawls up a mountain by engaging a toothed wheel in matching teeth in the track. This comprises two cars which counter-balance each other because they are connected by a single cable. In this case, the track takes many turns and the pulleys which guide the cable are angled on the corners, otherwise it would jump out. It does alarm me slightly but I guess someone has done their homework. But even on a straight track, there has to be a crossing point in the middle which involves a curve in the track.

At the top of the hill are wonderful views across to the mainland. Before I came here I didn’t even realise it was an island but the city and outlying residential areas are huge. There are walk-ways, hiking trails, a few shops and a wonderful food area with loads of small kitchens serving up mainly Asian food at low prices. Drinks were sold on the lower floor. Alcohol doesn’t really enter into normal life in any of my Asian destinations, it’s available of course but not immediately obviously. At Penang Hill, all drinks were soft drinks.

I imagine the same location transposed to the UK and there would probably be one rather expensive and tacky fast-food outlet. This was quite enchanting.

On the Saturday, we went to Monkey Beach, an idyllic tropical beach. But to get there involved a trek through jungle close to the sea, with monkeys mocking us as we clambered over rocks ill-prepared. One of our number was wearing flip-flops! Haha, not me.