12 Hours in Transit, Or How I Made it to Macau

originally posted 26 November 2006, 11:08pm

I failed to achieve my goal yesterday morning: I had a steamed bun for breakfast. It was fantastic and I quickly made up for it by having 11ses with some roti across the street at the Indian place that was near my hostel. The one sight in Georgetown that I’d set to see was the Chong Tze Fai (sic?) house/museum. Chong Tze Fai was a Chinese businessman who made a fortune in the early 1900s in trade in the Southeast Asian region, with his favorite home being in Penang (the one he built for his 7th wife). Apparently, when he died in 1915 (??) he was called the Rockefeller of the East by the NYT.

I joined the 11am tour, which went thru the home (and also does a bit of a sales pitch for the B&B that operates from there). It’s quite a spectacular building, very Chinese + Western in the middle of a row of colonial British homes. It looks totally out of place, but the interior was beautiful and had fengshui touches all over as well as some interesting internal water cooling mechanism. After the museum, I walked around some and took a few more pictures, had my last order of hawker Indian food and headed out.

Back at 75 Travelers, I started my 12 hour journey from Georgetown, Penang to Macau, SAR. I got a cab from the hostel to the Penang Airport. From the Penang Airport, I took an Air Asia flight to Kuala Lumpur Low Cost Carrier Terminal. Upon arrival, I took a bus from LCCT to KL International Terminal (a 20 minute drive no less). Once clearing immigration in KL, the flight was a quick four hours to Hong Kong.

Upon disembarkation at Hong Kong, I was asked by a roving immigration agent for my passport and destination. I was the only person that I saw asked for this and as soon as I pulled out my American passport she visibly disengaged and when I said I was heading to Central she left me along. I figure there was a combination of two things going on: first, there’s a lot of Indians in HK, probably quite a few illegally and two, I was looking like a total scrub. I hadn’t shaved in 5 days and my white shirt was looking more yellow than white.

At the immigration counter, I was let thru without any issue or even a word. If this was the US, I’d ask (as I’d done before) why I’d been pulled aside, but figured this is HK so I’m not going to try to push my luck. I made my way to the Airport Express, which took me to Central, and from there took a MTR Island Line train to the HK Ferry terminal. I managed to catch the 1130pm ferry from HK to Macau, clearing immigration again (and another set of stamps). Total time in HK SAR was like 100 minutes. The ferry got me to Macau at 1230am and I took a taxi from the ferry terminal to my hotel.

Thus, after twelve hours and nearly every form of transport possible (sadly no horse or rickshaw), I made it to Macau. Taxi to plane, plane to bus, bus to plane, plane to train, train to subway, subway to ferry, ferry to taxi.

Once I arrived in Macau, I dropped my stuff off in my room and walked across the street to the Sands casino. I played roulette for a little bit but they closed the table I was playing at down after like 5 spins so I figured that was a good indication of time to leave and I went to the hotel (Mandarin Oriental) to sleep. It’s funny, I was thinking, the difference between where I slept Saturday night versus Sunday night. On Saturday, my room was a concrete box with a squeaky bed. The bathroom was separated from the bedroom by a concrete ledge and the shower was a nozzle over the toilet. On Sunday, the floors were marble and plush carpet, the bathroom had little designer shampoo bottles and fluffy pillows and a duvet on the bed. The even funnier part is, on Saturday I met a lot more interesting people than I did on Sunday.

It’s back to work now, for this two day training program. I’m in Macau until Wednesday when I head back to Hong Kong.

732 Words

Georgetown, Penang

originally posted 25 November 2006, 6:18am

Last night I ended up skipping the whole go out and drink thing and did the much more dorky go watch a movie at the mega-mall in KL thing. I caught the midnight showing of Casino Royale. Movies in Malaysia are so cheap: a full fare ticket is 10 RM, which is 2.5 USD. I got out the movie and walked back to the hostel around 3am and crawled in to the bunk bed I had in the dorm that night.

I woke up around 8am, took a shower and then went to the Indian resturant next door to have roti telur (which the guy behind the counter corrected my pronounciation for – ouch) for breakfast. I left the Red Palm at 10 and made my way to the bus station. The Pudu bus station is something to behold. Again, I felt like I’d stumbled in to train station by accident. I found the Transnational bus info booth and saw that my train, erm, bus was leaving from platform 9, which lead downstairs to a train-like bus arrangement.

The bus left at 1030am sharp, made one stop around 1115am to pick up some more people, did a pit stop at 200pm and arrive in Penang Island at 430pm. My guidebook showed that the bus station was within walking distance of the central part of Georgetown. That couldn’t have been farther from the truth. After walking around for 20 minutes in arbirary directions, seeing nothing by freeways and homes, I found a cab who told me *this* station was 20km south on the island, near the airport. D’oh. Obviously, I then took the cab to the backpackers area to find a place to sleep.

At the recomendation of the owner from Red Palms in KL, I tried 75 Travellers Lodge first. It wasn’t bad, so I got a room there, put my stuff down, and went out to explore and find food. Walking around Georgetown is like looking at city the British abandoned and the Indians and the Chinese took over. Everywhere is Chinese stuff with pockets of Indian-ness. I walked past and in to a few Mosques, some Chinese temples, some very south-Indian looking temples. I got a late lunch/early dinner at a Muslim-Indian resturant, some roti chani with a glass of orange juice. So damned good. Total price? 2.7 ringgit. After recharging with food, I continued to walk around and got quite lost trying to find Little India (of course, in search of more food).

Eventually, about two hours later than I had anticipated I found the old fort and the old colonial settlements and wandered around there in lieu of making it to Little India. There’s a 12 hour walk happening tonight, starting at the Esplande at 8pm until 8am tomorrow morning. I’m gonna try to catch the end of it tomorrow AM. Anyway, I made it to Little India eventually, taking snaps of almost every old run down building I could see. This place is rich in heritage. It’s very much as if the place was on pause for 100 years and now people are back again. I’d best describe it as a mix between Vallidoid in the Yucatan, Tallinn in Estonia and something else. Quite a visual feast.

I had dinner number two (masla dosa, or thosa as they spell it here) for 1.2 ringgit later and by the time I was done it was dark outside so I took to the streets again taking pictures of hawker stalls, cars driving with colonial backdrops, etc. Hopefully some of the pictures turn out well.

So, in my quest to be as gluttenous as possible, I’ve at over 3 meals a day, and they have all been Indian food. Fantastic. This is probably the first holiday I’ve ever taken where I’ll have gained weight.

Tomorrow my flight to HK leaves at 3pm from Penang, so I’ve been told to leave Georgetown around 1pm. From Penang, it’s KL, from KL on to HK, and from HK on to finally Macau by tomorrow night. Should be about 12 hours or so of travelling door to door. I might try to hit the beach tomorrow morning or see some more of Georgetown. Depends when I wake up.

P.S. the computers at this internet cafe have a sticker on the monitors saying “STRICTLY NO PORNOGRAPHY VIEWING.” There are over 15 computers in this tiny internet cafe. I can’t imagine how/who would have prompted the incident to have them require that sticker.

743 Words

All Around Kuala Lumpur

originally posted 24 November 2006, 6:52am

This morning I woke up fairly early, around 730am, showered up and went to the kitchen for breakfast. I ended up eating with a young Korean guy who is living in Manila and a Dutch girl who is on her way via KL to Australia for holiday. I really wanted some Indian food for dinner, so I ended up just having tea and then went across the street and got some roti something, which was basically a roti with a scrambled egg and a side of lentils for two ringitt. Fantastic.

I went up the road to the bus station to buy my ticket for Penang tomorrow. The walk from the hostel was only 20 minutes but the bus station was something else. It has departure platforms, prebooking and food stalls and the whole works. In fact when I walked in, I thought I had walked to the train station by accident. Tickets were bought, ~5h trip, 26 ringgit.

Back at the hostel, I met up with the two Brits from Liverpool that I’d been chatting with last night and we made our way over to Little India. They’d spent the last few days in KL, so we walked across the city to JL Masjid India and ended up having lunch there. I split ways with them, and went to Melaka Square. By that time it was about 2pm and blisteringly hot, probably over 100F. Melaka Square is a beautiful remnant of colonial KL, with a large grassy center and old English buildings flanking on all sides. The buildings are not quite Western per-se as they all have a Islamic flavor to them.

Given the heat I ducked in to the National History Museum for an hour to bask in the AC (and learn about the forming of Malaysia, of course). After the museum, I made my way to Chinatown to get to the Hindu temple that’s located there (go figure). After getting quite lost for a while, I ended up in Chinatown and at the temple. On the way, I passed a lot of building fronts that where made in the early 1900s, many of which had been converted to restaurants and eateries. The fronts are all old colonial style, but in a much more traditional British sense of a colonial building.

I stopped in a few to have coffee/tea or a soda. Most of these restaurants are owned/run by Indians, and they get quite confused when they try to talk to me. Largely they try to talk to me in what I can only guess is Tamil and when that doesn’t work they try Hindi. Sometimes I’m able to communicate with them by replying in Marathi if I understand what I’m saying, otherwise it’s English. I’ve been asked quite a few times where I’m from and if I’m Indian and what I’m doing. It’s an interesting thing, having so many Indians here among everybody else.

After stopping by the temple, I walked around some more and decided it was time to head back, so I took the monorail and the sky train and ended up going quite a bit further than I’d wanted to. That wouldn’t have been so bad had it not started pouring monsoon-style rain. It was a quick decision to jump a cab at that point. Back at the hostel I went and got dinner with some of the folks who are staying here and am now trying to figure out what to do later tonight.

My bus for Georgetown leaves tomorrow at 1030, so I should be in Georgetown by mid-afternoon. Not quite sure where I’m staying yet, so I’ll try to figure that out once I get there.

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First Night in KL

originally posted 23 November 2006, 6:07 PM

Talk about a day of errors. I woke up at 5:30am today to catch my flight from Shanghai Pudong Airport to Hong Kong. I got there with plenty of time to spare, even enough time to get breakfast at the airport. My taxi driver made it from Xujiahui to Pudong in 35 minutes, I think a new record (via A20 no less).

Once the plane was fully boarded in Pudong, it was announced to us that there would be a short delay since air traffic control had not approved our departure. Fast forward two hours. Still no approval, still sitting in the airplane. You know the situation is grim when they start serving the inflight meal before you’re inflight.

I landed in Hong Kong at 1240pm, easily missing my 1235pm departure to Kuala Lumpur. I went to the transfer desk to see what my options were, and the next flight out at 330pm was oversold and had 10 people on the standby list. They were further flummoxed by the fact I was in the transfer area without a ticket already (since I had come via two separately booked itineraries and thus wasn’t checked in to the flight to KL). In any case, they told me to come back at 230pm.

The designated time roles around and out of whatever miracle, they had a seat for me on the flight. Quick sidebar: I love Hong Kong, but can’t wait to get there on Wednesday. Thus at 645pm I landed in Kuala Lumpur. The first two things that hit me were first how Muslim the country is (headscarves, no pork/alcohol signs on windows of restaurants) and second, how many Indians there were. I changed 500 RMB for ringgit, and bought a ticket (35 ringgit) on the KL Sentral Espress train. The airport is some 70km out of town and the train got me to the central station in 30 minutes. From there it was a 10 ringgit taxi ride to the hostel.

The hostel I’m staying at is quite nice. Clean, very nice staff and decently furnished. There is a sign at the door saying no alcohol or pork allowed inside, too. I put my bags down and went straight out to the street to find food. The first Indian street vendor I saw, I sat down and ordered some daal and two sets of vegetables with rice. The food wasn’t that warm but it was damned delicious. All for 3 ringgit! I’m going to try to eat only Indian food for every meal while I’m here. After finishing me food and watching some of the James Bond movie they had on the wall, I walked around the Golden Triangle area, and up and down the Bintan Walk. It’s out of this world how much shopping there is mixed in with so many tented street vendors, serving Malay, Chinese and Indian foods. I even saw an Iranian restaurant.

As with every other Asian capital city I’ve been to, this city gives me a sense of city that I never seem to get in Shanghai. While there are the 30+ story office and apartment blocks, there is life on the street that conveys culture and cultural mixing. Seeing Indians, Chinese and Malays walking around on the street eating each other’s cultural foods is fascinating. There’s a lot to see in this city, from the old colonial builds to all the masjids.

Originally I was going to leave KL tomorrow for the Cameron Highlands, but I’m going to stay another day and explore some more before I head to Penang. Tomorrow will likely be Little India and some of the older city center parts.

607 Words