She was having lunch at the same time and place as me, at the top of Penang Hill today during what ended up being a much longer, more strenuous and wonderful day of hiking than I expected when I set out at 9am with a small water bottle and my wallet. I just decided walking, steep hills and all, beat standing in long lines for the funicular, first at the bottom, then again at the top. 🙂
One of these is the side of a gorgeous modern shopping mall in the main expat and shopping district in town; the other is the back view of an old (the old? the oldest? I didn’t have a guide book…I didn’t take my tourist reponsibilties very seriously, so sorry…) mosque downtown, close to Merdeka Square, about which see more below. 🙂
The Sultan Abdul Samad building, according to our corres-pondents here at so much world, so little time, is the most photo-graphed building in Malaysia. So why should so much world, so little time be an exception?! This lovely little building was once the home of the British colonial administration and now houses, if I recall correctly, court offices. It’s across the street from Inde-pendence Square, aka Merdeka Square – home of the world’s largest flagpole, about which more later. (Are you sensing a trend here in KL?) Part of what I found so delightful about KL, to be honest, is its scale: it’s not too big, not too small. True, it lacks the extra- ordinarily vibrant street life of Bangkok or Beijing, but frankly after a year in Beijing and 17 months of China’s vibrant streets, I rather welcomed the change: KL is vibrant and multi-cultural in ways that are new to me; waking to the sound of the morning call to prayer is something I’ve not done since a week spent in Jerusalem nearly 20 years ago. There are streets full of Indian spice shops and vendors, and others full of Chinese shops and vendors. Then there are the ultra-modern ultra-chic malls peopled by anything from tight mini-skirt toting sales girls promoting Mentos to more traditional muslim families with women in full burka; and, of course, everything in between with a healthy spattering of us pasty-faced travelers, tourists and expats.
I’d decided to really treat myself to a nice hotel in KL, and I hit it dead on with the Hotel Maya. This is the staircase next to the sweet little restaurant that served the morning buffet breakfast – the whole hotel has this awesome open-column architecture, and sadly I never found time to take a shot of the pool or spa, which sort of float above the central column in the middle of the hotel.
Size, it would appear, does matter. KL is proud to boast, at Merdeka Square, the world’s tallest flag pole in the spot where, 49 years ago this August 31, the flag of an independent Malaysia was raised for the first time.
Turns out I seem to actually know what I need, on occasion. Three nights in KL gave me a chance to catch up with emails, sleep, order great room-service food, and generally leave behind the stress and tension of leaving China in such a rush. After that fine transition out of my Beijing life, I thought a few days of total decompression (and not in the bad, diving-related sense) were needed. I’d chosen Tioman Island, off the southeast coast of peninsular Malaysia, as my destination of choice to just let everything go. My choice seems to have been a good one. After four days there, I’ve landed in Colombo quite well rested, delighted at my new higher-level diving abilities, and very much ready and excited to get to work here. Now if I can just stop hanging on the blog long enough to learn my new responsibilities, maybe I’ll get a little something done here. 🙂 Wish me luck.
Tioman, the information sheets tell me, is the third-largest island in Malaysia, after Penang and Langkawi. Yup, when you order Penang Curry in the Thai restaurants in New York and San Francaisco, you’re odering something named after an island in Malaysia. Go figure.
It’s roughly half the size of Singapore – which basically means Singapore is bigger than I realized, though part of what makes Tioman seem big is that there’s only about 5km of road on the island: from a bit north of the aiport (you can see the runway in the foreground on one of these shots), to the Berjaya Resort south of Tekek Village. One of these shots shows you both the main pier for Tekek Village, and the control tower for the airport, which gets 4 to 6 flights a day.
They’re building a big new airport on the southern end of the island, for Boeing 737s. I think this is sad: there are plenty of islands you can fly to on big planes and stay in big resorts. There don’t seem to be quite so many where all the bridges are still made of wood, and where there are more motorbikes and walkers than cars, by far.
That’s Pulau Tioman in Malaysian, assuming I’ve understood correctly. I actually spent a full week in Malaysia without one single guide book: it all came through the web and recommendations from friends (big, big ta out to once and future MSF colleague Ching, who doctored our patients in Nanning until just about this time last year and is now back in London – but who took time from her busy schedule to tell me about good places to let it all go in Malaysia), and I’m happy to say it worked out wonderfully.
Tioman Dive Center is located on the grounds of Swiss Cottage, and is the best and only necessary reason to stay there: the location is perfect, but otherwise the Swiss Cottage feels a bit like a campground: accommodations are basic and spare, and they pretty much leave you alone. Seems I may have gotten a few bedbug bites (at least, I don’t think they’re mosquitos), but other than that I’ve no complaints and many happy memories, as these photos attest: all taken from the grounds, or from the deck in front of my little room, where I watched the waves breaking 10 feet away every morning and evening.
So these were my days on Tioman: run in the morning and watch the sun rise. Go for the morning dive. Have lunch. Relax. Go for the afternoon dive. Relax. Watch the sunset. One evening: go for a night dive (very, very cool: finally saw photo luminescence, or whatever it is where you move your hand in the water and little bacteria light up and luminesce in little sparks in the water). Eat lots of good Malaysian food. Sleep well. Tough life, huh? I did complicate things a bit by signing up to get my advanced open water certification, but considering the dives I got to do, it was certainly well worth it!
If you’re wondering how I got that nifty angle on the sunset – like, not right at beach level, but sort of above the beach? – here’s the secret: I was in the tree house. 🙂 Though I got on my own case a bit about that fact that here I was on vacation – relax, right? – and what do I do but sign myself up for the Advanced Open Water Diver course, which meant theory readings on saftey and decompression illness and underwater navigation etc. But when you consider that the bulk of said readings occurred on this little platform, with the views you’ve just been seeing and many more, you’ll understand that it wasn’t all that painful. And the rewards…ah, those wreck dives. And the sheer coolness of seeing stonefish (highly poisonous, usually well camouflaged and just sitting on the ocean floor) hanging out a the hull of a wrecked ship at 30 meters beneath the surface. Sweet, huh?