Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Malaysia: Georgetown

New country, new currency, new language but, like the Thais, Indians and Australians, Malaysians also have the good sense to drive on the left-hand side of the road.
Friday 17 September:
Georgetown is the oldest British settlement in Malaysia, established in 1786 by Captain Frances Light, whose son later went on to found Adelaide. Fort Cornwallis was build where he made landfall, first a bamboo stockade then, in 1793, a moated brick and earth bastion in the shape of a star. Only the cells, chapel, powder-room and battlements remain, together with a string of cannon. Like most defences against the French it was never used in anger, not even when the Japanese arrived did it see action. In the evening I order a chicken meal from one of Little India's restaurants and I'm rewarded with a large portion of rice, three-ladles of vegetables and spicy dip-in sauce, all served on a banana leaf, plus a side dish of dhal and a main dish of tandoori chicken, but no cutlery. This is authentic, so I wash my hands and get stuck in - it tastes great, worth writing home about.
Saturday 18: In the port area posters on travel agent windows tell me that the next ferry to Medan (Sumatra, Indonesia) is on Monday morning - good, I have time to explore the old colonial town. I just love the porticoes of the yellow-ochre Town Hall, white City Hall and gun-metal powder blue of the Victoria Memorial clock-tower, built by a rich local Chinese trader to respectfully celebrate the monarch's diamond jubilee.
Sunday 19: Georgetown is now a World Heritage Site, not just for it's colonial architecture, but also for the building styles that the East India Company workforce brought with them. Within a short walk there are Hindu temples, Muslim mosques, Chinese clan temples (each extended family of the same name built one), Buddhist temples, Christian churches and a Protestant graveyard. I try to book my boat ticket to Sumatra - I'm sorry Sir, the ferry no longer runs due to competition from cheap flights, it was cut to three days a week and still they couldn't make it money - the last sailing was on 14th June.
In the evening, dressed the part, I saunter into the cocktail-bar of the Eastern & Oriental Hotel, the precursor of Raffles in Singapore. I'm disappointed, apart from the white-jacketed waiters and slender pilsner glasses - I've tasted better beer in plusher south-London pubs. In fact, the whole hotel has a tacky British holiday-camp feel about it - piped
country & western music, with all the edge and grit taken out, what I call shopping-trolley music, doesn't help.
Monday 20: I move to Stardust Guesthouse where the breakfasts are better and in the morning visit the Indonesian consulate - perhaps I can get a sixty-day visa here before I leave. Sorry sir, you need a valid British passport (okay), passport-size photo with a red background (I only have blue, but this can be remedied) and a return ticket (which I can't get because there is no ferry!) - try the Kuala Lumpar (KL) embassy the smiling official suggests. So, I get my sandals fixed (glued this time) again and explore Chinatown.
Tuesday 21: Having slept on it, I reserve a sleeper to KL. The nearest ferry-crossing to Sumatra is further down peninsular Malaysia at the old Dutch port of Melaka, south of KL. Yes, I could enjoy a few relaxing days in Melaka waiting for a boat.
I've chosen today to see the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia and I like it on several levels. In the centre of Penang island, outside Georgetown, it's not huge but nevertheless it's delightful, with lots of little temples, prayer halls, statues, gardens and a pagoda linked by cable-car to the highest level.

Photos of Georgetown and Panang Island.
The 9:00pm ferry to Butterworth gives me plenty of time to catch the 11:00pm sleeper to KL.

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