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In a flap

Oh dear, I said no snakes today, didn’t I? I was wrong, there were snakes again. And giant millipedes, cockroaches, lizards, catfish, horseshoe crabs and many, many butterflies.

We were at the Penang Butterfly Farm, where delicate butterflies fluttered around us under the canopy of the mock jungle enclosure. An older western lady, presumably the owner, dressed in bright pink squeezed orange juice on to Alex’s finger to attract the butterflies, though none seemed to come.

Later enclosure housed a variety of insects, spiders, snakes and lizards. My favourites were the ancient horseshoe crabs, last remaining relatives of the trilobites.

Earlier in the morning, after a sumptuous hotel breakfast of western and Malaysian foods including nasi lemak and char koah teow noodles, we took Alex to the Kokonuts Klub play centre in the hotel. He played with the toy kitchen, slide and ball enclosure and with the blocks. It’s a pity that none of the other kids wanted to play with him.

Then we joined M-i-L and friend for a hired taxi tour for the day. The butterfly farm was the first stop, then we headed off to Penang Hill, over 40 minutes of  slow traffic away. All the while M-i-L was complaining that the driver, Vik, didn’t know the way to the Chinese restaurant she wanted to visit. All he wanted to do was follow some set tour destinations, whereas we wanted to eat.

Penang Hill did fall into the category of tourist destination, but it was the closest thing to a train I could find in Penang. Technically it’s a funicular, but it runs on rails which is good enough for me. It’s a pity that I never had a chance to ride on the earlier version, but the new airconditioned train is pretty swish and it runs fast past jungle and giant bamboo. Too full unfortunately for great photos and the day was very misty. We only got a brief view of Georgetown from the top due to the mist, but the ride was fun enough to make the high prices worth it.

From Penang Hill we stopped off at a grungy looking hawker centre at Air Itam and ordered a variety of dishes including Penang assam laksa, chee cheong fan, apom balik, mee sua and more. Sitting around the common table on plastic chairs under fluorescent lights, the ceiling stained with years of grease and oil. I love this atmosphere so much more than a sterile posh restaurant.

The taxi dropped us off in the middle of Georgetown and drove the oldies back to the hotel, where management were already prepared for the complaints.

Meanwhile B, Alex and I were walking along the hot streets. A shopping centre offered relief and a bowl of icy chendol  from the “Penang Road Famous Teochew Chendol” store. The toilets were so wet and filled with cigarette smoke that they offered no relief and we beat a quick retreat.

Reluctantly exiting the centre we wandered down the old shophouses along Jalan Ria and scooters and the odd car motored past. Most of the shops and restaurants were shuttered for Sunday or eternity. A couple were done up as ornate baba nyonya guesthouses, but their occupants looked less salubrious.

Turning left up Lebuh Campbell we walked until we reached Jalan Penang, where we decided to head back to the hotel. In the middle of the road the old tram tracks remained, though they hadn’t seen any trams since the 1950’s. A blue metered taxi, driven by a one Kanathasan Veerappan, was waiting at the side of the road  and we climbed in. The driver was everything this morning’s wasn’t. Knowledgeable about the area, friendly and helpful. He stopped off partway for us to buy a fresh coconut juice, then told us he’d turn off the meter and just charge us RM30, so we didn’t think he was taking advantage of us. That’s better than what the metered ride would have cost and better than most haggle taxis would have charged.

The afternoon was a swim in the pool and a evening stroll along the beach. The view was the classic tropical beach sunset, with the small fishing boats silhouetted against the grey waters. Alex splashed in the sea the whole way, until he got a jellyfish sting on his foot. We then hurried back quickly to the hotel, where they sprayed medication on the sting. He was alright then.

We walked down through the narrow night market stalls for dinner at at the Long Beach hawker stalls. They were buzzing with diners both Malaysian and foreign. The quality of food varied, but the ikan bakar (grilled fish) was excellent. The satay was not up to the standard of Haron 30, but was okay, if chewy. Hokkien noodles, prawns and the local spring rolls (nothing like the Australian version) rounded out the meal. It was a pleasant end to the day.

There are some people up in Sabah who aren’t having such a pleasant time of it. Some self-proclaimed ruler of the Sultanate of Sulu, encompassing parts of Borneo and the southern Philippines, and his followers have engaged in some military action. In response the Malaysian armed forces have sent in the artillery and the fighter-bombers.

From my understanding of the situation it seems like overkill for a small incursion, but it’s difficult to get a clear picture. What’s the background of the situation? Why now? Does it have the support of the locals? Why?

It doesn’t look like the top Malaysian paper the New Straits Times will offer any answers. This is a paper that the News Corp tabloids aspire to be. Full of jingoistic nationalism. Everything that the government says or does is wonderful, anything the opposition says verges on traitorous. Okay, currently in Australia it’s the opposite but as soon as the next government comes into power I foresee the Daily Tele offering their fully unqualified support, like the New Straits Times. It should be noted that this is an election year for Malaysia as well and the big bangs certainly play into the incumbents’ hands.

After this we’ll only have to contend with the constant sabre rattling between China, Japan, Taiwan and North Korea. So business as usual then.

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