Monday, 6 June 2011

Light on activities, HEAVY on GREAT slogans - Team Taylor visits Penang...

And a good evening to you from across the globe after another GREAT DAY in the Lion City. Okay, no 2 ways about it - we've got a LOT to cover and it's already 10:16 in the PM here (time for Los Prospectivos), so let's get cracking with the magic, the mystery, the misadventure that was...Penang.
Friday: This is why you DON'T go to bars in Singapore
So Friday the Bull knocks off word at the UNTHINKABLY early hour of 5:30 PM, shorts on, pit-stained t-shirt in tow, and heads to Harry's Bar and Grill to wait for Muffin Puffin (who's busy reconciling actuals to forecast - yep, it's every bit as exciting as it sounds on a Friday afternoon). I roll into the bar, order a pint of HPL (that's "Harry's Premium Lager" in case you're curious, and it's really anything but premium - except in price), open up my fake lonelyplanet on Malaysia, and start reading. Now to me, this is a clear signal to other patrons: "I like booze and I like books. I do NOT like talking to people." However, some folks have trouble interpreting signs like these, and soon I have a fella...let's call him, I don't know...Side Show Bob - ready to chat.
Side Show Bob starts out talking to me about innocuous things like "am a traveling in Singapore," and "life here is good - the taxes are great," but as I'm sipping on my beer he's knocking back double (make that triple - you should have seen these pours) gin & tonics (hold the tonic), and soon the conversation changes a bit. Side Show Bob is a little rowdier (which means I can't under stand a DAMN WORD his Scottish ass is saying - WOW), and he begins making a few veiled references to some of the ethnicities around us. I dismiss this, thinking perhaps he's trying to "relate to me" or something. And besides, Muffin has no phone and knows this is where I will be, so I can't really go anywhere.
JT soon arrives, we have a beer, and then Side Show Bob's companion (his wife) steps out for a cigarette. THAT, folks, is when things get interesting.
Side Show Bob (SSB): "Yeah, Singapore's nice, but South Africa was better."
Passing Time Sammy (PTS): "Oh, wow - you lived in South Africa. Amazing."
SSB: "Yeah, I lived there until I got thrown out by all the n%^&*$%."
PTS: (Looks at muffin, doesn't speak. I mean really - what is there to say?)
SSB: "Yeah, I have a wife down there and 2 kids. She's a n@#$#@, too. But I don't tell my wife here. Don't you tell her either."
PTS: (looks at Jenny again, contemplates screaming "FIRE!" to get away from this cat)
SSB: "Ah, here she comes again. Don't talk about my wife in South Africa. I had a good business down there, damn it!"
(pause while Singapore wife arrives)
SSB: "Ah, hi, darlin'. You want another drink?"
So here's the kicker - back when Side Show Bob was normal, we'd agreed to split a cab with him. And now we wanted away from this monster, but the only problem was that we'd waiting too long to join the queue, which meant that we needed his pre-booked taxi to make it to the airport on time. And how civilized was that ride? Let's recap:
1. Side Show Bob starts horse-cussing the driver the second we get in.
2. The driver is Muslim, and Side Show Bob keeps screaming, "Driver! Give me your @#%@in' helmet!! I need it!"
3. Our poor driver is going as fast as he can so that he can pitch the infidels out of his car.
4. We arrive and sprint into the Terminal as fast as we can (Side Show Bob had already offered to pay for the ride, as it was on his way).
Scarred for life, slightly sweaty, and still happy to be alive, we check in at Air Asia, where we're told the flight's delayed an hour. That means that we don't arrive in Penang until 1 AM, at which point the airport transfer guy gives us an ear about how he's been waiting 2 hours. HEY GENIUS! WE'RE ONLY AN HOUR LATE AND THERE'S THIS THING CALLED THE INTERNET! IT TELLS YOU WHEN FLIGHTS ARE DELAYED AND EVERYTHING!
And so, still reeling from the evening, Team Taylor did find solace in one of the most comfortable beds this side of the Prime Meridian.
Saturday: Food stalls, downpours, and...well, not much else
Team Taylor rose on Saturday about 10, skipping the shower (CP - I know you're shocked) and heading out into a BLISTERINGLY HOT late morning. The mission was Penang Street, where apparently there are more food stalls than grains of sand on the beach. And sure enough, 20 minutes later, we'd arrived at Penang Street - only that wasn't the Penange Street we wanted. We wanted "Jln Penang," which is "Penang ROAD." I had visions of a mall food court with Sarah Smith - that's all I'm sayin'...
And so we walk BACK to the hotel and over to Penang ROAD, where we learn something very interesting about Penang - THERE ARE NO RESTAURANTS ON THE ISLAND. Instead, you have food stalls with some plastic chairs and tables, and that's how you rock it. And so Team Taylor rocks up to this one joint, the ONLY Ang Mo's in about a 600 mile radius, and starts knockin' back some mee goreng and fresh fruit juice (Speaking of juice, it was EPIC in Penang - we tried watermelon, lime, apple, orange, honey dew, star fruit, sugar cane, and mango during the course of the weekend - all AMAZING). After that, however, the skies went gray and the Heavens OPENED. We didn't panic, however - all we needed to do was catch the 101 or 130 bus to Penang Hill, at which point we would find a land flowing with milk and honey. And so we hailed bus 101, and he said:
Driver: "No, no - you want bus 201."
Shocked Sammy: "But lonelyplanet says 101."
Driver: "Is wrong."
And so bus 201 pulls up.
Driver: "No, no - you want bus 202. That will go there."
Confused Sammy: "But the other driver said I wanted 201."
Driver: "Is wrong. You want 202."
And so bus 202 pulls up (there's been a couple knocking back beer watching us the WHOLE time)
Driver: "No, no - you want bus 203. That will go there." (I KID YOU NOT - THIS REALLY HAPPENED).
Frustrated Sammy: "Can we just ride this bus as far as it goes?"
Driver: "I no go there. You want 203. Definitely 203."
And so bus 203 pulls up (we've been standing on asphalt in 300 degree heat for 45 minutes at this point):
Driver: "No, no. Is wrong. You want bus 63." (63?!?!?! WHERE THE HELL DID THAT NUMBER COME FROM!?!?!?!?)
And so I storm off and hail a taxi.
Relieved Sammy: "Penang Hill."
Taxi driver: "No."
Taxi driver: "I no go there."
The Bull: "Yeah, I got that part. Why?"
Taxi Driver: "No go." (Bull slams the door as hard as he can - old man cusses him as he drives away. Bull contemplates bird but is in a foreign country and has heard the jails are less than pleasant.)
And so we walk BACK to the hotel, where we find a cabbie:
The Bull: "Penang Hill."
Driver: "30 ringit."
The Bull: "We'll just use the meter."
Driver: "No meter. Just fixed price."
The Bull: "It says ON YOUR CAR that the meter MUST be used."
Driver: "Is not true."
Driver: "Only law in KL. Here no law." (AIN'T THAT THE TRUTH)
And so, 45 minutes and $10 USD later, we show up at Penang Hill, only to see it COVERED in cloud. So what do we do instead? WALK 2 MILES to visit the Lok Sei Temple. And THAT, dear friends, was AMAZING.
Seriously - this was one of the coolest temples we've ever visited, and this was EASILY the most impressive thing in Penang. It went on and on, and the airwork and craftsmanship was EXTRA AWESOME. We spent a good 2 hours here - I even did the Buddhist "kill your feet with rocks" thing. In a word - OUCH. Oh, and we even took the "highest incline lift to a Buddha in Malaysia." I mean seriously - HOW MANY SUPERLATIVES DO YOU NEED TO GET CREDIT FOR SOMETHING? And in case anyone is curious - the ride took about 11 seconds and could have been walked in probably 3 minutes - good times...
And on the way back down, I had a GREAT shopping experience. So I've been questing after a knockoff Heineken shirt for some time, and on the way down from the temple a shopkeeper yelled at me: "shirts! 3 for 10!" Now we are talking TEN RINGIT, which is $3 USD. That means each shirt is a buck. So I rock up and pick out 3 of them. I take out a 10, and she says, "135." I look at her like she's from Mars.
The Bull: "You tell me 3 for 10."
Spiteful Lying Shopkeeper (SLS): "No, not those 3. Others are 3 for 10."
The Bull: "Just these 3?"
SLS: "Feel the quality."
The Bull: "I don't CARE about the quality. I want cheap. I give you 10."
SLS: "Okay, for you 120."
So I try to give her back the shirts, but she doesn't like that.
SLS: "Okay, 105."
The Bull: "3 for 10."
SLS: "Give me your best price."
The Bull: "I just did. 3 for 10." (hands back the shirts)
SLS: "Okay, 80." (Bull keeps walking) "Okay 60!" (Bull keeps walking) "Okay 40!"
But alas - she couldn't get to the # I needed, and so the search continues.
After that it was back to the city, where we tried Anchor beer and Jaz beer, both local and both decent. We went went in search of a sit down dinner, but there was NONE to be found. And so we found another street vendor for Indian, where we KILLED some DELICIOUS food. It was then back to bed, where we watched the first half of the brilliantly conceived film "Anaconda" - what a piece of double donkey trash (Terrier - that was for you). But hey, they did have robes for the guests, and so I had to take advantage of that. The name's Hef. But you can call me Hugh.
Sunday: Some GREAT one-liners
So I woke up Sunday and cracked open the newspaper. What was the headline?
I don't know what bothers me more - the fact that there actually IS an obedient wives club, or the fact that bullshit like that makes front page news. Really? REALLY?
The activity of the day (after another food stall pig out) was Penang Hill (take 2). This, ladies and gentlemen, was a COMPLETE exercise in futility. It's getting late and it's not worth the energy expended on key strokes, so let me sum up:
1. You arrive and "queue" with 4 million of your closest friends. I say "queue" because you actually just pile toward an opening without any discernable order, children screaming, hairy men sweating, and plenty of people cutting you off.
2. You wait in line 40 minutes to pay $10 US a person for the "thrilling funicular," which happens to break down just before you get on (EXACTLY what you want before a ride up a 3500 foot hill).
3. You pile on and ride to the top of this hill. You've now waited over an hour total (plus the 45 minute drive there), and the ride lasts 4 minutes and 55 seconds.
4. You arrive at the top and realize THERE'S NOTHING THERE. You look out a viewpoint shrouded in cloud, over pay for a juice, walk past a mosque and temple you can't go in, and then wander toward a hotel that's closed permanently. And THAT'S IT. You've now been to the top of the island. And your reward? GETTING BACK IN LINE TO TAKE THE DAMN TRAIN BACK DOWN.
5. We spent a total of 4 HOURS in line and transit, all for a grand total of 29 minutes on the hill. SERIOUSLY - someone shoot me in the face with an elephant gun.
6. It was then back to catch a bus to the hotel, which we did manage. And en route, we saw the GREATEST education sign ever. We pass a primary school, and in HUGE rainbow letters a sign reads:
Really - WTH is that all about. I couldn't stop laughing. Hell, I'm STILL laughing.
It was then a stop at the food gallery before rolling back to the hotel, where we caught a cab 3 hours before the flight on the assumption that traffic would be heavy. We actually got to the airport in about 30 minutes, which is really a miracle considering the traffic in Penang (among the worst I've ever experienced - it's like being in the Delta with Dingbat except in the center of Cairo with drivers from Delhi...yeah, that pretty much sums it up).
But the final highlight was a sign in the bathroom at the airport. I'm not even gonna type it - just check the picture.
And so there you have it - Penang in a nutshell. Honestly, I was less than impressed, and I would say skip this destination. Jenny and I had a GREAT time - no doubt about that. However, we had a great time because we love being together and getting into foolishness. Honestly, this has been the weakest of our destinations so far, and I can't imagine that any place will fall below it (knock on wood). That being said, the food was good, the temple AMAZING (there were about 10 BILLION turtles there - SO COOL!), and parts of the colonial area and Chinatown had some very cool architecture. All in all, interesting, but not worth a return.
Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print. Chat tomorrow!
Sam and Jenny

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