Friday, April 20, 2012

G-town, Part II

Unrelated pic, but temple lantern at night
Once the racing was done, our next question was, where to from here? Our initial plan was to head for Malacca, but upon some further thought, we found ourselves asking why. We've been there before, we saw virtually every museum, garden, temple, and ruin in the city, and although we enjoyed our time in Malacca, neither of us felt a strong pull to visit a second time. After briefly considering several other options, we focused on the Cameron Highlands, which is a region in the mountains toward the center of the country. The climate's supposed to be more temperate, the scenery different, so since we skipped the Cameron Highlands last time, we decided to make for the hills and some cooler weather. 

The ride leaving Nilai was easy, the highways open and smooth (as usual), and we made it around Kuala Lumpur with no problems. Unfortunately, north of KL, the sky began to look rather ominous, with very low, dark clouds replacing the fluffy white ones we'd seen until then. Soon, large, heavy raindrops began to fall here and there. We pulled over to zip our jacket vents and install our custom Hefty daypack covers and continued on. Then, within the next few miles, somebody pulled the lever on the one-armed sky bandit and hit the water jackpot. It rained buckets. The wind whipped the trees around, and the rain was torrential. I will say, Malaysia is very thoughtful of their motorcycling citizens, because under many of the overpasses are breaks in the guardrails with a path leading to a paved, protected area to shelter riders caught out in a storm. In areas without an overpass, there are even free-standing shelters for riders. Quite considerate of them; you might even say, civilized. We took advantage of the first one we came to and waited for the storm to pass. While we waited, we discussed the wisdom of going to the Cameron Highlands at this point. The road is twisty and reputedly dangerous in good weather because of the high volume of farm trucks. The entire area appeared to be socked in, and hiking mountain trails is much less fun when they're muddy and slick. So as we stood there, we decided to nix the hills for the moment and instead, return to our home away from home, Georgetown. The rain slacked off after about 30 minutes, so we got back on the road, passed the exit for the highlands, and headed to G-town. 

The rain did stop, the temperature remained cooler, and we had a very pleasant ride back home. By the time we reached the bridge to the island of Penang, our gear had completely dried! We got back to the Star Lodge, parked on the sidewalk, and asked Robert, who was standing on the front porch when we arrived, almost as if he was expecting us, about a room. They had one, so we checked in for five nights (we just wanted to take a break) and carried our gear to our room, and then walked out to find that our dim sum spot was (gasp!) closed. Not a problem, we went for wonton mee instead.

New favorite dessert, Ais Kacang (Special ABC)
Our five nights in Georgetown turned into seven glorious, food-filled, do virtually nuthin' ones. We started every morning with roti and coffee from Yasmeen. My new friend, Mohammad, makes them. Each time I arrive, he greets me with a wide smile, asks what I am doing that day, and often, shares an apom (they're sort of like crepes, made with ground rice, a little sweet, thin and crispy at the edges, thick and spongy in the middle) with me while he makes our roti. Every morning when I say goodbye, he shakes my hand and often gives me a hug. We ate our way from one end of Little India to the far side of Chinatown, with a stop at McDonald's for a burger somewhere in the middle. We returned to all of our favorite eateries for dim sum (they were only closed for a day), banana leaf lunches, tandoori chicken and naan, curry mee, Hainanese chicken rice, and more wonton mee, among other nummies.  We walked the esplanade along the waterfront and stopped for ais kacang, or special ABC, which is one of the strangest desserts we've found.  It's shaved ice with palm sugar syrup on it, bright red and green gelatin strips, sweet corn, kidney beans, all with sweetened, condensed milk drizzled on top, then, to make it special, a scoop of ice cream.  It is a very, very, odd combo, but it actually tastes good, and the multitude of textures is nice as well.

Duck definitely worth waiting for!
We did find a new (for us) place for lunch though. Jit Seng Duck Rice is apparently famous nation-wide for its ubiquitous duck rice. When we arrived at noon, they were still setting up for the impending lunch crush. We stood and admired the rack of whole ducks, hanging in the window from their necks, with skin, crispy and brown, and drops of fat dripping slowly from their tails (like Chinese water torture- just gimme some duck!). We sat down at a table and waited. When the man set the platter on our table, it was heaped with a combination of the most perfectly roasted duck and roast pork I have ever seen. It came with a plate of rice, sliced cucumbers, plum sauce, and homemade chili sauce. It was heaven. In our excitement, we neglected to ask what the price was before we ordered, and when the bill arrived, it was a bit higher than our typical lunch outing, but for what must have been 12 ounces of delicious meat, accoutrements, and drinks, it came to a whopping 8 USD.

View from the esplanade in the evening
In between meals, we did manage to squeeze in a couple of movies. The Hunger Games was entertaining. Neither of us had heard of the movie or the books upon which it is based, but it was pretty good. The Wrath of the Titans, however, was utter dreck. Somehow, we managed to sit through the entire movie, but when it was over, I wanted to ask, not for my money, but for my two hours back. The acting was stilted, the dialogue could have been penned by a ten-year-old, and every word was yelled. The special effects were alright, but the movie actually had less plot than a porn flick. Colin and I both really just wanted our time returned in full.

The very old cemetery in Georgetown
Every day was not fun and dandy, though. Colin spent one day in the room with the lights off, fighting a terrible headache and intermittent ocular migraines. He woke with a headache and got back into bed after breakfast. Mid-day, he felt better, so we went out to get some lunch, but his headache returned with a vengeance shortly thereafter and was accompanied by scintillating stripes through his vision. While he rested, I walked to the very old cemetery (the remains of Francis Light, the British founder of Penang, are there) to try some sketching. I used to enjoy drawing when I was much younger but have been missing the desire to do it for many years. I picked up a cheap sketchbook and colored pencils in town and sat down among the headstones and drew some of them. Even though the finished product wasn't great, it was nice to try it again for a couple of hours. By the time I returned to the room, Colin was feeling better, so we spent some time talking about the rest of our trip and beyond.

The City Hall building at twilight
From our discussions of late, we have decided that we are not going to continue to Indonesia and Australia. The roads in Sumatra will be too challenging (which is saying a lot after riding in India), and the ferry service between islands is infrequent and requires careful timing. If we go all the way down the island chain as far as East Timor, we are pretty much committed to going to Australia unless we want to backtrack at least a couple thousand miles to ship out, depending on where we would turn around.

We decided to scratch Australia simply because of the expense. After crossing paths with many Aussies on our trip and hearing just how radically expensive goods and services are there, we just don't want to afford it right now (and as one of our new buddies from Melbourne said, wait til the Australian dollar drops in value again, it's bound to happen). We will instead, go back to Thailand to get some quality time on the beaches there, and then we will return to Malaysia for a while and ship out of Kuala Lumpur. 

Colin's sister is planning a family reunion for July 7th, so we may attempt to be around for that, but who knows? We hate to commit to anything. If you haven't figured it out yet, our moods and opinions change like the weather.

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