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Published: March 18th 2018
Ahhhh. This one is different. In giving some thought to what to capture about Langkawi as we leave for Penang, I find myself thinking of the people interactions more than the tourist sites. So am going with it.
Goy, one of our homestay hosts, invites us to pop around the corner to their black door neighbour to buy some coconuts. The modest money would make a difference to their family, we’re told. A diminutive grandfather greets us with a grunt and smile revealing some uncertain orthodontury. A wee girl in only superman underwear stands hold a flowing hose under her chin, like you’d do a buttercup. Shower day for her. Her bright eyes follow us as we pantomime some questions. The old fella takes a long bamboo pole with a metal hook on the end and starts wrestling his coconut tree to down some fruit. Goy picks a couple green mangos off another tree as we wait. We head back to our gated home with a warm sendoff.
Goy later sits cross legged and chops the coconuts - a fierce woman, she. We chat about her home in Thailand near the Laos border. How she came to meet Didi
and live in Malaysia. She taught herself to crochet off YouTube and is almost finished a dainty crop top for herself. She is teaching herself English the same way. She says she holds back when new guests arrive to gauge them a little before she speaks.
At Tangjun Ruh, a slew of mangrove tour booths, along with whispy cotton clothing stalls and a couple restaurants are at the end of the road, just before some of the most glorious white sand beach you could find. We park right in front of one of the booths and ask the hijab-wearing woman if it‘s ok to park there - she spreads her hands open and nods assent. Her Jackie O glasses keep her eyes unseen.
On the beach, green islands, blue waves, sun and whispy clouds - and almost no people. We spend a few hours on a reed beach mat under the tree shade, a few dips, a walk out a sandbar stretching out into the middle of the bay and are totally zoned out. A halcyon day.
Later, we head back to the car to find our keys are missing - an hour spent retracing steps, trying
to communicate words that are not in the normal tourist lexicon. No luck. The woman whose booth we parked in front of (whom we learn is named Wati), helps and shares our concern. She calls our car rental for us, to explain our situation in Malay and to request a new set of keys be delivered. As we eat lunch in the meantime, Wati comes looking for us - she has found the keys slightly covered in dust along the road. We hug in shared joy and she calls off the car rental dude. We see her another day and its like old friends reuniting.
A similar vibe bubbled up when we return to our neighbourhood Malay Thai restaurant. A warm reunion after the rain storm experienced a few days earlier.
We stop at the Scarborough Fish and Chip place for lunch. The fish is beautifully made and the picnic tables sit just above the white sand. A group of six arrive and can’t find seating. We offer the end of our large table and a conversation strikes up. They are a group on a work getaway from a large insurance company in Penang - lots of laughs
as one woman stands on the seats to get the right picture of their drinks. We figure out we’re on the same flight to Penang....we see them at the airport and greet like old friends again.
Many people seem to have a multi-cultural story, often reflected in their relationships. The gentleness and laid-back energy among people, and even vehicles, was quite amazing to watch. Never heard a horn honked - after Vietnam the lack is noticeable. We turned down a one way street the wrong way - people motion for you to turn, maneuver around you and move on. Cut someone off, and they let you go without a change in their demeanour. It’s all very relaxed and lovely.
The Scarborough resto is owned by an Indian guy from England. A sushi restaurant ranked the best in Malaysia for several years is here on the island. An upscale-for-us Italian restaurant was having a special for International Women’s Day and as Didi wrangled a reservation, we got as gussied up as we could and had a most special evening. The owner/chef is an Italian, who trained in England and has lived in Malaysia for a decade.
Lorenzo was self-deprecating and charming. He explained that his restaurant hit the 22nd best restaurant of something like 390 on Langkawi - he thought they should celebrate before they tank in the ratings. One or two bad reviews and you drop fast. Twenty-two percent was deducted from everyone’s bill that night for the celebration, as well as a complimentary dessert for women.
As a side note, restaurants declare if they are pork free, to let patrons know they are Muslim friendly.
One evening the neighbourhood erupts in a child screaming, a man yelling loudly and a woman adding to the fray. Our host explains the child ran away from a dog and the dog followed for play. Dogs are considered dirty to Muslims and contact means you cannot partake in some rituals of their faith for a period of time. Thus the kid’s reaction. And thus the noticeable lack of dogs seen around the streets.
Another delightful, almost cultural observation, our German host Didi is by far the most precise direction giver we have encountered in several years. If he says its a 50m walk and turn left, it is exactly a 50m walk. Alas no one
uses street names, so landmarks continue to be all important.
Other than a drive through, we skip the main beach and tourist area of the island, Pantai Cenang. We favour the quieter ends of the island and notice a beach chair and umbrella business on one small beach - each time we passed the chairs were empty. On our last day, we thought we’d treat ourselves and stopped. Keeping in mind most meals for two are less than $7, the vendor’s price of $35/day was jaw dropping. He hadn’t seemed to figure out that charging less and having more people would likely improve the bottom line for him and the neighbouring snack shack. The chairs remained empty.
We drop our car off at the airport. No signs on where to go, so we pull up where everyone unloads. Some guy says to just park it there. We ask a few people in the airport what to do with the keys; one says to call the company. Mmmm, we missed that bit. We called the fellow (likely the same one who was bringing us spare keys a few days back) and without ever understanding each other, he turns up
10 minutes later, takes the keys and bids us farewell. Now this car rental company never took our Visa information - they asked for cash, didn’t inspect the car on our return, nor concerned themselves with gas levels. No muss, no fuss. Well dinged cars have their privileges.
Langkawi has been a true delight for us. Talking it through, we figure it has a bit of the bohemian, summer-camp energy of Easter Island, with a rich cultural and food thing that an island like St. Marteens has, and the beaches and islands of some remote pristine place. If we were to come back, we would do more island hopping, snorkelling and no doubt eating. But that last bit seems to be a highlight of Malaysia...Penang’s food is famous. On we go!
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