Published: February 3rd 2013December 28th 2012
Fate is similar to a game of chess; an unseen and unknown opponent makes a move and you decide how to react. And so it was when I was made redundant from my government job of more than 12 years; it was my turn to move a chess piece. Challenges such as these provide opportunities – you can let the situation control you, or you can control the situation. As per usual, I chose the latter, and thought the best response to this challenge was to head overseas – a path that gives me both clarity and knowledge.
The only way to realise such extended travel was to become homeless, and with only a few weeks between the confirmation of redundancy and the ability to use my Singapore Airlines Krisflyer points for a free Business Class flight out of Australia, there followed a frenetic rush to prepare my 11 years of accumulated possessions and place them into storage. On 17 December 2012, with far more luggage than normally is carried (who knows what will be required on this prolonged sojourn) and a healthy redundancy pay nestled in my bank account, I luxuriated in my business class seat for the flights
to Malaysia. With a copious seating area and superior food, it was a fine way to commence this journey with no itinerary and no destination.
The first city visited on this phase of my life was Melaka, the historical port town located between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. Fought and controlled for centuries by the Portuguese, Dutch, British and Japanese – its status as one of Malaysia’s premier heritage town is well deserved. My accommodation was the splendid Holiday Inn – a place more palatial than my usual choices, but deliberately chosen for its large room and extremely comfortable bed where I spent much time recovering from the hectic pace of the previous weeks.
I allowed myself brief but fruitful sojourns into the historical heart of Melaka. The labyrinth streets of the old town were built around the slender but delightful Melaka River. A few years ago some wise folk decided to rejuvenate this serpentine channel of water by building kilometres of boardwalks and adorning the buildings with large, colourful murals. The success or otherwise of any rejuvenation is the frequency with which locals frequent the area, and strolling along the manicured banks of the river, the overwhelming majority
Gua Tempurung - Perak, Malaysia
Thanks to Jaja for being my model in the mid-right of the picture.
of those eating, relaxing or idly chatting were Melaka residents. When compared to the more famous Jonker Street that appeared only populated with visitors visiting the numerous tourist styled shops, the river was a far more pleasant experience.
At dusk, the river was embraced by a serene aura as the amber street lamps slowly subsumed the fading natural light. Families settled to eat by the banks of the river, teenage girls would congregate to share stories, and men with cameras atop tripods prepared to capture the transformation from day to night. The only disturbance being the frequent tourist motor boats that plied the waters – affording its occupants with far too little time to enjoy the area. Ambling back to my hotel, I observed numerous trishaws emblazoned in flashing, festive lights and pounding out different tunes as they carried joyous couples and families.
All too soon, I was aboard a train with frigid air conditioning that carried me towards Gopeng in the state of Perak. I was invited by Jaja Radak
, who I met at last year’s Malaysia’s International Travel Bloggers Conference and Awards (MITBCA) (see Confessions of a Briefly Famous Travel Blogger
). For several nights, I swapped my five star hotel bed for
sleeping on the floor of a modest tent lodged amongst stately trees, some of which contained foul-smelling durians. After being exposed to their malodorous properties many times previous and hearing the oft-stated phrase “They are delicious!”, I concluded that in order to form a definite opinion about the supposed King of Fruits, I would need to taste one for myself. So with a fortified nose and outstretched hand, I gathered a small durian piece between my fingers that had the same consistency as soft cheese. Coincidentally, the taste is similar to a soft blue-vein variety, but since I am not enamoured of these cheeses, I found that tolerating the smell did not justify the taste.
Thankfully, I did not venture to the state of Perak just to taste durian, but instead to engage in some white-water rafting and caving. I had not rafted in years, so was keen to familiarise myself with the Kampar River. The obligatory test float down stream saw me sustain my only injury of the day, when my left buttock landed heavily on a protruding rock. The next three hours was spent drifting beneath gorgeous scenery of pointed hills and lush foliage, where birds glided
and butterflies flittered. This serenity was punctuated by adrenalin rushing rapids that saw two of our raft’s five occupants topple over the side and into the turbulent waters.
The following day, we drove past dramatic limestone cliffs to Gua Tempurung, a rather humid cave with spacious chambers and many stairs. It was one of the more impressive cave systems I have seen. There was even the opportunity to squeeze through tight fissures and crawl along shallow underground rivers, but I was not feeling too adventurous on this day, so passed on the opportunity.
Jaja’s hospitality was an impressive as seeing a female forging a career in a male domain of adventure travel. The location of her nascent camp was gorgeous, and sleeping to the sounds of a Malaysian jungle before awaking to mist-shrouded hills was invigorating.
On Christmas Day, my plan to travel by bus to Penang was scuppered, as bouncing between bus company counters at the main terminal in Ipoh revealed all seats were fully booked. Thus, I wore the unexpected expense of a long ride in a slightly uncomfortable taxi to my destination. The heart of the historical Georgetown, is home to numerous ornate Chinese
buildings, grand white colonial structures and streets filled with Indian shops and restaurants – a reflection of the diversity of this truly multicultural country. My favourite site was the sumptuous Pinang Peranakan Museum, a beautifully restored mansion replete with many hundreds objets d'art
, but equally captivating was the popular street art of Ernest Zacharevic's, who three-dimensional work (including bicycles and motorcycles) saw crowds queuing to pose for photographs.
In Penang, life is all about the food, and I ate myself into near oblivion. My Christmas Day dinner from a bustling street stall was a delicious serving of Char Kuey Teow
with prawns, egg and chilli for the grand price of one dollar. But my epiphany in realising Penang as the culinary capital of the world occurred when I met another MITBCA delegate, Jessica Tan
, who took me to a Nasi Kandar
restaurant. This is a speciality in Penang, and comprises of combing any meat, seafood or vegetable from the large array on display, and consuming it with lashings of spicy gravies and rice – an extraordinary meal.
Boarding a pre-dawn ferry, before journeying on yet another excessively chilly train to Kuala Lumpur, I had time to reflect on
the oneiric aspect of my current life – something seemingly detached from customary reality. Usually, I can peruse a calendar and pick my location at any point of time, but nowadays, my life is shrouded in mystery: the unknown has succeeded certainty, adventure has supplanted the prosaic, and freedom has replaced routine. The future is an endless corridor with thousands of doors – and behind each one awaits an opportunity, encounter, or experience. True freedom can be overwhelming, but once mastered, it is inspiring.
There are more photos below