Thursday 5 July 2001 – Penang to Kuala Lumpur
Slept well. Had a great walk around Chinatown and revisited several sights from yesterday, including the Hainan Temple and Khoo Kongsi, a clan house that is part temple and part meeting house where I was shown around by an aged caretaker. I took his photo and asked if he’d like me to send him a copy, but he said he already had dozens that others had sent. I had a lime juice in a café before heading to the bus.
Whilst sitting there, the family I’d encountered at the bus station at Jahore Bahru – Gavin, a teacher from Geelong and his two teenage children – happened along. He’d lived in Malaysia about 20 years ago, and we had a bit of a chat. The bus ride to KL, in contrast to the trip up, was fast and comfortable and the bus only stopped once for a toilet break, which was fine by me (despite the fact that this, like all the buses I’ve seen in Malaysia had its on-board toilet padlocked shut).
Arrived in KL around 5.30, where we were unceremoniously dumped at the side of a road. This was unfortunate as I’d carefully worked out how to get from the bus station to the hotel. Fortunately it turned out that we were just across the road from the station, so I picked up my bag and walked into Chinatown, through the bustling night market to the Swiss Inn Hotel. Checked in, but was given a room without windows but with rising damp. Complained, and was given a room with a window and no rising damp, but with twin single beds.
Still, the window was preferable. I found the Telecom Centre, apparently the only place one could purchase phone cards and make international calls. I called Chris T to wish him a happy birthday. He wasn’t at home, but I managed to get him between rehearsals on the mobile.
Had dinner on the street (almost in a gutter!) in Chinatown, near the hotel. It consisted of what was called a ‘Chinese Fondue’, really just a sort of steamboat. One sat at shared tables with a large pot of boiling stock in the centre and a plate of assorted morsels on skewers – everything from tofu, seaweed, vegetables, prawns, beef and chicken to ‘crab claws’ (manufactured seafood bites). One paid for the items consumed.
I sat with a young chap from Perth and his Chinese Malaysian wife and her friend. He reckoned he was suffering from the heat, having only arrived a day earlier. I took it as a sign of my acclimatisation that I found myself wondering ‘what heat’, as KL struck me as slightly cooler than Singapore, possibly because of marginally lower humidity, being away from the sea. Went for a walk through the night market, which specialised in shoddy pirated knockoffs of practically anything you could imagine – CDs and videodiscs, T-shirts, handbags and especially the watches. ‘Hey, mister, genuine fake watch for you?’