Borneo was an incredible experience and both G and I left vowing to return to the island at some point. I think we were both feeling a little sad to leave when we got to Kuching airport but we were headed to Penang, food capital of Malaysia. After the food in Sarawak, we really needed a square meal that didn’t contain fermented shrimps.
The hostel we had booked in Georgetown was pleasant enough, but the real selling point was its proximity to Little India. Indian has really become the food of choice for us when travelling around. We were fortunate on our flight that the in-flight magazine had a feature on Georgetown and so we arrived with a list of things to do and we were ready to get exploring. Sadly the weather had other ideas and it hammered down the whole first day we were there. Normally this is no barrier to us going out and exploring, but with my toe effectively an open wound, we were a bit limited in what we could do… happily there were many places to go and eat!
The weather report looked ominous for the following day that we had also planned to spend in Georgetown and we ummmed and ahhed about whether we should risk it and book another night in the hope of seeing Penang in the sun. After many poppadoms and deliberation, we decided to stay and the gamble paid off.
We continued to indulge in our habit of visiting butterfly farms at every opportunity and the one in Penang was probably the best yet. The butterflies were stunning but it was the other fauna that set it apart. Frogs, beetles, centipedes, even a massive snapping turtle ensured we spent a good while enjoying the butterfly park and trying to get some decent photos.
Heading back towards Georgetown, we stopped off by the beach to have a little explore. The beach was beautiful but the signs warning about jelly fish invasions rather put us off going for a dunk. We settled for a stroll down the beach and it was here I saw my favourite sign of our travels.
Slightly breathless from laughing on the way back there, Georgetown eventually loomed into view and we started our street art tour. Some of the pieces were wonderful, others downright odd, happily they made up for the fact that the supposedly scenic buildings were all covered with scaffolding.
After our time in Penang, we decided to have a stopover on the way back to Kuala Lumpur and really wanted it to be the Cameron Highlands. Sadly a mixture of my toe, weather uncertainty and the cost of accommodation meant that we’ll have to visit the highlands another time. Instead we went to Ipoh, a place not commonly on a tourist itinerary but not short on character. On the advice of the eternally useful tripadvisor we visited the nearby Kellie’s Castle.
Kellie’s Castle is an unfinished folly built by a Scottish man who seemed to be perpetually unlucky with his business ventures. Despite making a fortune from palm plantations originally, everything went horribly wrong for him from that moment on. He lost most of his staff to Spanish Flu, had licences rescinded by the government meaning his commodities became effectively worthless and a whole host of other misfortunes. The folly he started was therefore never finished and eventually sold by his descendants who had opted for a quieter life back in Scotland. His loss is Ipoh’s gain however and the eerie rooms, numerous secret passages and half-built structures were magnificent. The roof also provided us with a great view from which we saw an absolutely enormous monitor lizard floating downstream. It was so big we both initially thought it was a crocodile which was a little concerning as it was between us and our taxi. By the time we got back to the river however, the lizard was downstream and paid us no attention which I was equal parts happy and disappointed about, he would have made an amazing photo, but not being his lunch was, on reflection, probably a good thing.
From Ipoh we enjoyed another luxury bus ride to KL. Having seen KL at the start of the Malaysia trip and again at the end it was odd how different it felt. Previously I thought it a futuristic megapolis, my second impression drew my attention far more to its similarities with the other places we’d visited. Uneven pavements (curse them) pretty grubby streets and plenty of evidence of destitution were all on show if you look past the glossy veneer of the newer blocks. However, this did not mean I don’t like KL, in fact we both had a lovely few days, mostly buying clothes before prices went through the roof in Australia but also exploring more of the city.
One of our forays took us to the Escape room, a claustrophobia sufferer’s nightmare. The premise of the Escape room is getting out of one or more rooms by solving problems you encounter in there. The rooms are themed and graded on difficulty. Of course, we opted for the most difficult room which was themed as the movie ‘Taken’. Marvellous. The first thing that happens is I’m handcuffed to a briefcase and we’re both locked in a darkened room with a single torch and countdown timer on the wall. Although we found a key to the handcuffs, it didn’t actually open them and immediately we were stuck. We followed multiple red herrings before finally pressing the ‘hint button’. In comes an assistant and struggles for a good few minutes to open the handcuffs with the key we found in seconds but disregarded. Eventually, the handcuffs opened and we set to continue. This sort of thing kept happening; we next got stumped again when a UV torch’s batteries died and we couldn’t read the massive clue written on the wall. It was really frustrating to find out that we had done the right thing but for whatever reason it hadn’t worked but I’m very proud that G and I remained friends even when we discovered a severed arm. After many technical glitches, we did solve all the problems and get out in time, but obviously we were gutted that it wasn’t a bit of a smoother experience. We’d definitely do something like that again.
After a couple of nights in a budget hotel, we took up an offer from a friend to stay with them in their apartment in KL. We spent two nights with the lovely Sheldon family, using their pool, eating their food and being absolutely transfixed by their six month old daughter Rosa. It was lovely catching up, having our first G&T in many months and putting the world to rights over dinner. Eventually though, our time in Asia came to a close and we boarded our flight to Melbourne being very excited about the next leg of our journey.
Speaking of legs, since Airasia is so wonderfully cheap, I opted to pay a bit more for a seat with leg room. Sadly this did not pay off as my reclined seat brought me within millimetres of the guy behind me who spent the flight throwing up. I moved seats and Jordan, a fellow lanky passenger who I had befriended followed suit. Neither Georgi or I slept well and getting to our hostel felt almost as long as the flight! Georgi seemed very excited that it was cold and wet and generally miserable. ‘It reminds me of home’ she said. Why you’d be happy about getting exactly the weather you were hoping to leave behind or being reminded of home after travelling halfway around the world is beyond me, but George was positively beaming so I’m wasn’t going to fight it! After a short sleep and a sandwich(!), we went to meet the owners of the house-sit we’d organised.
The house sit was for an apartment not far from the city centre, minutes from the beach, with a pool and gym on site and sounded perfect. There of course was a catch for this and in this instance it was two puppies. Both of us were feeling a bit nervous about them as the owner didn’t really seem to be that on it with their training having had them for 6 weeks but when we arrived they were very calm and pleasant. Considering they are Pomeranians, they didn’t yap once which we thought signalled another win for Team G.
The next morning we arrived and made a series of discoveries about the dogs. The first was that despite the owner having had them for six weeks, they weren’t house-trained. They also didn’t know their names, couldn’t sit, went crazy at any unfamiliar noise and were generally a handful. Thank god both of us had been teachers in the past. This was almost exactly how I’d have described several of my pupils. Progress is, obviously, outstanding. These guys will be top of puppy class once we’re done with them, despite their ADHD, MLD and fixation with treats.
It may be a cliche about dog-walking but it’s about the most social thing I’ve ever done. Taking the dogs out twice a day means we’ve met loads of people, even someone who works for the company I used to work for (they’re everywhere!). Our favourite person so far is a lady called Tracey who is wonderfully irish and incredibly blunt. I also had a slightly awkward moment when taking the dogs out in the morning on my own when Darryl, a local, tried to set me up with another dog owner who frequented the park. I assured him that my girlfriend wasn’t imaginary and that she just didn’t get up in the mornings (ok not strictly true, she cleans up the ‘accidents’ while I take the dogs out). He didn’t seem too fussed and I was introduced anyway, ahh Australians. What are they like? Access to the dogs and the social life they enable was something I very nearly threw away or rather dropped on day one of the house sit though.
The apartments here have a key fob and a door key and rather annoyingly but very securely you have to use the fob in the lift to allow you to reach your floor. Taking one of the dogs out on a toilet training mission I used dropped the keys while getting out the lift. Where should the only set of keys for the building I’m staying in for two and a half weeks fall but between the lift and the building, straight down the lift shaft? Where else?! Whoops. Cue sinking feeling. Fortunately G was still in the flat, teaching the other dog basic Euclidian geometry. The next day the concierge confirmed that I could get the keys back during the next lift service in two weeks or pay $254 to get them today. Drawing on the problem solving skills honed in the Escape room, I made a visit to the estate agent and got a spare set for free. Phew.
Our job search started in earnest when we arrived in Melbourne and Georgi, being the efficiency machine she is has already secured a job doing recruitment. I don’t know what it’s for but maybe she can recruit me and save me the painful business of looking for suitable roles?! I’ll put it to her anyway and report back!
We also had a breakthrough in our relationship when we signed up for a joint bank account. As currently G is the only one employed and therefore earning and I have to stay in the flat with the dogs, I have prematurely achieved my life-long ambition of being a kept man and I’m looking forward to making the most of it for a whole week before it drives me crazy.
This afternoon, we are immersing ourselves in Aussie culture, sorry, ‘culture’, and heading to the big public square to watch the grand final of the Aussie Rules Fight, sorry, ‘Football’. I’m very excited.
Last but not least, the Gallery will be updated very soon and shortly after that we aim to get some videos from our travels up.