George Town, Penang. Monday 11th December 2017.
Fifty minutes after leaving Medan I landed in George Town. Easily the shortest flight I’ve taken on this trip. A very cheap local bus got me to the hostel I’d booked into and soon after I was in a local Chinese café enjoying a cheap meal and an expensive birthday beer. Twenty three Ringgit in total, seventeen of that was for the beer (just under 5.50 to the pound). I don’t think I’ll be getting drunk too often! This wasn’t such a surprise , as I’d already discovered this when I was in Sarawak.
George Town is a creation of the British East India Company and lies on Pulau Pinang (Penang Island). It was founded by Francis Light in 1786, on land granted by the local Sultan, as an entrepôt – a port which is used to store imported goods but which are then re-exported. An essential facility in the days of sail. It was Britain’s first presence in SE Asia and has many beautiful colonial era buildings as a consequence. The colonial history of Malaysia is a rich one, but I’ll write more about that later.
It is the country’s second largest city and of its near 800,000 inhabitants around 55% are of Chinese origin. Of the remainder, around 35% are Malay, with about 8% of Indian origin. So it came as no surprise to see plenty of Chinese shops, temples and eateries and, in Little India, similar temptations for the palate. The heart of George Town was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2008. This has enabled the old part of the city to be preserved and gradually refurbished, with very strict controls on demolition and building. All this made it a fascinating place to spend a week or so.
But tourism had to wait. The day after I arrived I received an email from Mr Lim, the shipping agent, to say the onion boat had just docked. I walked over to his office and met a very friendly and cultured Malay who immediately put me on the back of his little motorbike to take us across the ferry to the mainland port. At the ferry we had to wait while the cars and trucks were loaded then all the bikes crammed into the space that was left. We didn’t have to pay because getting off the island is free but you pay to come over from the mainland, either on the ferry or the two road bridges.
At the port Mr Lim took me to the customs office to get my carnet stamped – done without any physical checks as to the details of the bike. I suspect that was because Mr Lim is a regular. Then we rode over to the docks where the unloading had already started. I could see my bike over on the starboard side of the deck but the boat had moored port side to the dock, so we had to wait two hours before Trixie was hoisted off. I enjoyed, for a while, watching the crew put the boxes of vegetables into cargo nets, which were then craned across and dropped onto the backs of the waiting trucks. Two of these were old, but well preserved, Mercedes 911s, like something out of the 1950s, and driven by a couple of pugnacious looking Chinese Malays. Add in the swinging of the cargo nets, the clatter of the diesel engined crane and the shouts of the deck crew, and it looked just like a scene from a 1960s British thriller. I kept expecting Leslie Howard or Stanley Holloway to turn up and steal a truck or something.
But eventually my wait was over and I suddenly saw Trixie up in the air, on the end of a rope, and soon she was safely on solid ground. I was very happy. It was only at that point that Mr Lim asked for his money, which I thought was very fair of him. I followed him out of the port and onto the ferry, which he paid for. All part of the service, it seems. We parted company and pretty soon I was parking my bike on the forecourt of the hostel. When I sit and think about it, that was the sixth shipping event of the trip, and that’s excluding ferries where I was present. I’m very happy to say that now I’m on mainland Asia I don’t expect there to be any more for the next few years.
The Visitor Centre organises free walking tours so one sunny Saturday morning I joined in. We walked and listened as our knowledgeable guide told us the history of the city and how it grew into such a multi ethnic place. Most trading ports are of that nature anyway, but George Town’s growth brought in thousands of Chinese immigrants as traders and artisans. Later on Indian immigrants were encouraged, to work the rubber and other plantations. The authorities allocated each group a section of the growing city, leading to different cultures living next to each other but rarely mixing. Among the Chinese there were two different groups, often leading to clan violence.
He took us to a couple of the Chinese temples, as well as an Indian one. They are very heavily decorated buildings, with every statue or carving carrying some kind of significance. All of them welcomed visitors and we were free to have a look around. One of the Chinese temples had escape routes built into the walls, initially to evade attacks from the other Chinese, but later to escape the unwanted attentions of the Colonial Police. He showed us one small doorway, adequate for a small Chinaman but too small for a burly British copper to follow him.
The Chinese follow Buddhism mixed in with Taoism. There are eighty eight Taoist gods and the ever practical Chinese will, if their gods don’t come up with the goods, quite happily go and pray to the thirty Hindu gods along the street. In fact as we left one of the Chinese temples I saw a shrine to the Hindu god Ganesh on a street corner, with a young Chinese woman offering prayers there. It seems he was right.
One of the crucial architectural features of George Town is the Shop House, usually Chinese occupied. These buildings are crowded in along the central streets, occupied by shopkeepers or artisans. They will be two or three storeys high, with the ground floor being the area for business and the other floors used as living accommodation. Many of them had been carefully restored and refurbished, others clearly had not. Some where quite dilapidated and were propped up with steel supports. But the heritage rules meant they couldn’t be demolished and would, one day, be repaired. Add in the small cafés, street stalls and rickshaw trikes, walking these streets made me feel as if I was in Old Shanghai. At the other end of the old town is Fort Cornwallis, a defensive structure instigated by Francis Light. It’s fairly low key but has a seaward facing defensive wall, with plenty of cannons along its perimeter. None of them have ever been fired in anger though. There’s also a Lighthouse and a tall flagpole, designed like a ship’s mast. Nearby is the Queen Victoria Jubilee Clock Tower, a rather nice example of celebratory architecture. All of this is alongside the Esplanade, adjacent to a nice park, which is also overlooked by the Colonial era courthouse and city administration buildings. They look very splendid, with the typical architecture of that type.
That tour gave me some ideas for further exploration during the rest of my time in George Town but a more urgent need was to replace my damaged laptop. Another case of screen cracking. Self inflicted of course. The methodology isn’t important. let’s just say I seem to getting quite good at it. Yes, I’ve damaged enough laptops to have developed a method! The manager at the hostel pointed me towards the ICT Mall, full of phone and computer stores, and not too far away. A visit there, then some internet research, and a second visit, led me to buy another Lenovo, for about the same amount of money that I would have paid at home. It has an American keyboard, so there’s no £ sign, but I’ll have to learn to live with that. But this time I really, really, really must look after it!
Having had a quite busy time on my ride up through Indonesia, I was more than happy to relax a bit. The easy going atmosphere of the town, along with the hot sunshine, made me a bit lazy. It was popular with tourists too, so there were plenty of Europeans around, doing the same as me. One evening I sat with a group outside the well known cheap beer shop, tucked away in the back streets. It’s an unofficial drinking den, with a few plastic tables and stools on the road outside. I don’t know where they get their supplies from but I could get beer at about half the normal price. The group included a Frenchman who had lived in Russia, working as a translator, his Belgian girlfriend, a German, a Scot and a Taiwanese. A beery United Nations. I had plenty in common with the French guy and learned a lot about Taiwan too. If only I could remember some of it!
George Town has its funky side too. Around the old centre there is an assortment of murals, tucked away here and there. The visitor centre provided a map so I was able to spend a couple of hours seeking them out. Interesting and clever, I thought. The pictures show what I mean.
After a pleasant week acclimatising to Malaysia’s relaxed pace (for me, at any rate), it was time to head south towards Kuala Lumpur. It was getting close to Christmas and I had plans. My friend Jan was flying in for Christmas and new year. We’d booked a hotel in KL for a couple of nights then we were due to go to Penang for Christmas itself, before heading back to KL for new year. A busy time lay ahead. The other part of the plan was to ride down to where Tony, my Niece’s husband’s brother lives, and leave my bike at his house, safely out of the way. I was also hoping to organise a desperately needed rear tyre and chain.
The near 400km ride down to Puchong was both easy and instructional. Once off the island I picked up the E1 highway, a motorway type road which runs the length of the country, from Singapore to Thailand, along the west coast. It’s a good road, with plenty of service areas, and wasn’t too busy. Smaller bikes tended to ride along the hard shoulder and I even saw a couple of cyclists riding along it too, almost certainly illegally. Bigger bikes would also use the hard shoulder sometimes, but mostly for undertaking traffic. What with seeing them weave between the lanes too, I got the impression there’s a definite ‘devil-may-care’ attitude among Malaysia’s big bike riders. I kept things steady of course, I was in no great rush. I was intrigued to see small shelters at intervals alongside the road, each with a signpost portraying a motorcycle and an umbrella. It was easy to work out what they were for and is a recognition by the Malaysian authorities of the importance of motorcycling. When I pulled into a service area I was impressed to find a vast number of small shops and cafés, fruit stalls etc. They didn’t all have fuel stations but when they did there were always two brands to choose from. And, more importantly, the price was the same as at any other servo. This was so refreshing after the extremely overpriced fuel and rubbish food available on British motorway service areas. I think there are lots of lessons to be learned here. On the other hand though, these highways do have a toll on them, so the user still pays, one way or another. So what did it cost me in tolls? Well nothing, in fact. As I approached the toll booth I just followed the signs that led bikes into a separate lane, which either goes alongside the toll booths or goes round the back of the adjacent buildings before rejoining the road. Either way, it’s free, just as it ought to be.
The only glitch on this journey was that the bike started playing up. It started hesitating a bit, which gradually got worse and eventually I had to stop at the side of the road. I suspected vapour lock in the fuel tank so I took the fuel cap off and, while I was at it, put in my extra five litres of fuel. It seemed to be OK after that but I wasn’t especially low on fuel so it left me wondering what it was all about.
Tony, and his wife Maggie, were kind enough to put me up for the night. Tony used to ride bikes, but doesn’t any more although his son, Jesse, has a nice Kawasaki 250 Ninja. When I explained to him my need for tyres and a chain he took me round to a motorcycle tyre shop he knows and, after a bit of research, the owner, Rain, was able to get some on order for me. The plan was to get them fitted in the new year. That gave me a sense of relief because I’d had visions of traipsing round various bike shops around KL seeking what couldn’t be found. Adventure bikes are rare in Malaysia, their tyres even rarer. I could now relax and enjoy the holiday.
Tony gave me a lift to the station next day and I made use of KL’s excellent transport system to get to a hostel I’d booked, just for one night, planning to transfer to the nearby hotel next day prior to collecting Jan from the airport. Between the hostel and the hotel was a long row of expensive restaurants and bars, causing me to worry about just how costly our time in KL would be. But I needn’t have worried. Up at the other end of the street was Jalan Alor, one of KL’s most famous night food markets. I’ll go into detail about it later, but suffice to say it was definitely the cheaper end of the street. Next day I took my bag to our hotel and left it there while I went to the airport. From KL central station there’s a nice, cheap airport bus service.
Jan came through eventually, being pushed in her wheelchair by a helpful assistant. Wheelchair? Yes, unfortunately Jan had been suffering from a dodgy hip and had to use a stick. It meant she couldn’t walk too far either, something we needed to take into account when sightseeing. Once we were back at KL central station we got a taxi to the hotel. I was impressed by their taxi system. They have two types. Those you can hail (like a black cab) and those you can pre-book (like a mini cab). At the station you have to go to a desk to book the cheaper mini cab, where you pay them the fare, then give a chit to the driver. I assume he gets reimbursed later. The great thing about it is that it completely avoids any dodgy dealings by the driver. No chance of being held to ransom for extra fare, as can happen in some countries. There is a third system called Grab Taxi, which works the same as Uber. I used them quite a lot in the end.
We settled in to our room and then went up to Jalan Alor to eat. We were in the Bukit Bintang (Star Hill) area of the city, very much aimed at tourists and Jalan Alor is one of the major attractions. We had to run the gauntlet of massage parlour touts as we walked up the hill, then run the gauntlet of food stall touts as we walked down Jalan Alor. This is a fabulous, almost unreal place, famous for the food. There are stalls along the edge of the street and cafés behind them. There are tables and chairs between the two and all the cafés have picture displays of what they sell, up above their frontage, to help you choose. The touts will happily show you a menu and don’t ever get upset if you end up saying no and moving on. There is every kind of Asian cuisine imaginable, some expensive some not and some in the middle. Once seated the food would usually come from one café and the freshly made drink from another. We drank some delicious fruit juices on our visits there. We never had a bad meal or a bad deal. The cafés are spread along both sides of the street for 3-400 metres and it’s a brightly lit, noisy, friendly place, which keeps going until the wee small hours. The entertainment was a bit bizarre. There were two, or maybe three, wheelchair bound people, who suffer from restricted growth and limb deformities. Probably barely a metre tall, and at least one of them accompanied by a similarly affected child, they cruise up and down their section of the street in electric wheelchairs, singing to pre-recorded music – karaoke, in other words – and relying on the generosity of the diners for their money. It was hard to tell if they were all from the same family but it was interesting that they seemed to work as a team, never encroaching on each others section of the street. It was a fascinating place to be, that’s for sure.
After that nice experience the rest of the night became a nightmare. Thinking about it, that’s not correct. To have a nightmare you need to be asleep and that was severely lacking. Among those swank restaurants just up the road was a nightclub whose duty, in its opinion, was to keep as many people awake until as late as possible. Around 4.30am in this instance. We were on the 18th floor and couldn’t sleep for the noise. We changed rooms next day to one on the opposite side of the hotel.
A lazy day was very much needed. A bit of local exploring ensued, where Jan checked out the local stalls for some gold among the dross, while I found a barber to get my very bushy four month old beard trimmed, along with a haircut. I quite liked the result, if I’m honest.
As an energy efficient way of seeing some of the city (our energy that is), we booked a half-day tour with a car and driver. It was a well practised route, taking us to a variety of places on the well worn tourist trail. The first was a stopping place from where we could see KL’s famous Petronas Towers, and could be photographed with them as a backdrop. Not a big thrill, but it was nice to see them in the flesh. Next was a visit to the Batik Centre, where they produce examples of textiles with this particular type of pattern on it. Its heavily patterned designs are drawn onto the cloth using a technique which involves applying lines of dye resistant hot wax to the material, then applying dye within the lines. The wax is then removed with boiling water, leaving behind a very clean line between each pattern, which can be as intricate as is desired. This technique has been used around the world from ancient times but these patterns originate from Java, Indonesia. It’s very delicate work. Lovely to look at, far too expensive to buy.
Nearby was a chocolate factory, whose products had some kind of special feature, the nature of which I now forget. We bought some samples but were pleased to escape the hoards of tourists, all of whom seemed to be suffering from some kind of choco-madness, judging by the way they were stuffing their baskets full of the whatever they could see on the shelves.
The National Museum was next, a nice looking place spread across three buildings and with displays such as old steam engines outside. By the time I’d located the main entrance and ticket box, we only had half an hour in there. But what we saw was interesting and I definitely thought it would be worth another visit. We drove around some more, stopping off to admire the very fine looking King’s Palace; the very grand and decorative Old Railway Station; the impressive, but modern,Grand Mosque. The final stop was Merdeka (Independence) Square, calm on that day but from where NYE fireworks would be launched at the end of the month. It was surrounded by some very fine looking buildings, colonial era but very much influenced by Islamic style. British architects in those countries were invariably happy to incorporate local designs, especially for public buildings. Four hours well spent in the end.
We’d booked a hotel back in Penang for Christmas, not far from George Town. And here I have to confess that I made a right pigs ear of the travel arrangements. I’d been on line to check the train service but instead of booking it I decided to wait until Jan had arrived. She wasn’t particularly bothered about being consulted and I should have just booked seats. Of course, by the time I tried to do so the train was full. The alternative was to go by coach but all the early departures were full too. So we had a lunchtime booking, which left an hour late and took twice as long as it should have because of the heavy holiday weekend traffic. It was an expensive taxi ride from the bus terminal to the hotel, arriving at 10pm. A massive fail on my part. Luckily there was a food court right opposite the hotel, so we were able to get a really nice meal even at that late hour.
Unlike the Hotel Soleil in KL, which was very much in need of refurbishment, this one was very nice indeed. As in many other countries, the main celebration here takes place on Christmas Eve and the hotel were offering an all-you-can-eat buffet, so we booked onto that. Although the hotel seemed very busy, when we came down for the meal there weren’t very many of us. But the food and entertainment were good, with a choir coming in to sing carols for us and Santa Claus coming round with his sack of goodies. The staff all dressed the part and despite the low numbers, we had a good evening. As time went on the staff came in to eat and it was clear that this was their annual staff party too. They were still having a good time when we decided to retire.
On Christmas day we got the bus into George Town and had a bit of a wander round. There were plenty of people about and we went to look at some of the temples. Jan was fascinated by them, especially the decorative work around the roofs, doors etc. It was nice to look at them again with someone to share the experience. There’s a big Tesco shopping centre near our hotel so we stopped off there for a meal, enjoying the ‘Christmas Special’ in one of the restaurants there. But not a single slice of turkey to be seen!
Boxing Day, as is often the case, was a day for going out. No sales to fight our way through, thankfully, so we got tickets for the hop-on, hop-off tourist bus. It goes in two directions; along the beach road, through the resort town of Batu Ferringhi and out to the national park. Or into George Town and around the tourist sites. We chose the Beach Route as it was reckoned to take three hours and ought to be prettier.
It did wander its way along the coast and although we passed a couple of nice beaches, what we mostly saw was hotels. And restaurants. And tourist shops. The coast along that side of Pilau Pinang had once been natural and remote, with Batu Ferringhi just a village. Sadly, tourism and its economic demands has that effect and as tourists, we had no right to complain. The end of the line for the bus was at the entrance to the national park. Nature walking wasn’t our thing so we stayed on board as it headed back, after only an hour of travelling. Then it turned off down another road and stopped outside Entopia, which is a butterfly and insect centre. We looked at each other and said, “Let’s do this”.
I’d never thought such a place could be so fascinating. After all, a butterfly just flies around and looks pretty, right? Well yes, it does. But that simple act is really something when there’s thousands of them, of all different colours and patterns, and you can get right up close to them. The centre is essentially a huge garden where you twist your way around the various sections. The goes path past various cages which contain different species of lizards and some other insects. The whole place is covered over with netting so that the butterflies are out in the open but kept secure. They tend to hang around in gangs, on one plant or another, feeding on the flowers. It was easy to get good photos of them too. They seemed happy to land on people as well, much to the delight of the kids there. The staff got them involved in some activities. They handed out some butterfly pupae and let them hold the stick insects. Then they gave them some newly hatched butterflies, held in small plastic containers, which they were allowed to release for their first flight. It was a pleasure to enjoy these simple things through the kids eyes. They loved being involved.
Back on the bus, then back to the hotel. But we had a cunning plan. The (expensive) bus ticket was valid for twenty four hours and as we’d only boarded after lunch, we decided to use the rest of the time next day and go in the other direction, into George Town.
The hotel provided an excellent breakfast, with a huge variety of food. It was even possible to almost get a full English breakfast most mornings, but without bacon of course. On this particular morning it was very busy so we shared a table with a young Indian family. She teaches English, so obviously spoke it very well. He supports Liverpool FC, and as they’re my second favourite club, we had something in common. The problem is that I haven’t had much to do with football recently and am rather out of touch, so I had to wing it a couple of times when we were chatting. If he made a comment that was too challenging for me to answer I somehow contrived to have my mouth full.
On the tourist bus once more we had a different style of journey as it crawled through the busy streets. George Town has enjoyed plenty of growth over the last few decades and this is reflected in the traffic. We were planning to get off at the Kek Lok Si Buddhist monastery, situated up on a hill. As we neared it the traffic ground to a halt in the narrow street and it soon became clear that something had happened. Eventually we got moving round the stationary bus that seemed to be at the centre of things. As we passed by we could see the body of a man lying on the road, half underneath the bus. His head was covered with newspaper so we presumed he was dead. Our assumption was that he’d been knocked down by the bus but it seemed very callous to just leave him there as people passed on their way. We’d seen a fire engine, and eventually an ambulance. So why didn’t it take him away? It all seemed a bit odd.
The path up to the monastery was very steep, and therefore challenging for Jan, but she was able to bear it because, as she said, pain is always easier when there’s shops to look at. And there were indeed hundreds of stalls to be walked past on the way up. Once at the top Jan’s hip cried “Enough!” and she decided to rest while I explored the temple complex. The highest building was still under construction but I was able to wander round the others and be impressed by their hugely decorative design and the Buddhist statues. I do have a criticism, which is that it seemed to be a bit of a mish-mash of different buildings, with different statues inside them, with no apparent logic to design or layout. And no info boards to explain anything either. I’m guessing the growth of these places is organic rather than planned, and happens as and when funds are available. Still, there was a great view of he city from up there.
Our time in George Town came to an end. We’d decided that new year’s eve would be best spent in the capital so we travelled south once more, back to the same hotel as before. Once again, our room was on the noisy side but we were able to change with no problem. I had a row with housekeeping about towels. Because the shower curtain was too short the floor kept getting wet. I insisted on keeping the two extra towels we’d gained when we changed rooms but housekeeping didn’t like that idea and actually came back up accompanied by security. We were gobsmacked at this action, but security could speak good English and understood our predicament. We kept the towels. Round one to us. But next day housekeeping came round while we were out and took away the extra towels. Round two to them, so it ended up a draw. Amusing in its way, but not exactly a landmark of customer service. What with the need for a complete refurbishment, Hotel Soleil is not one I’d go back to.
Kuala Lumpur does have some nice markets and we visited a couple while we were there, as well as a couple of malls. The first was at Jalan Petaling, a street full of stalls selling all the kind of stuff you’d expect to see. Clothes, shoes, trinkets, electronics, sunglasses etc. Some of the shops behind the stalls were for more serious goods, such as bolts of cloth and hardware. Jan was quite taken by a bag embroidered with owls and, after a bit of haggling, got it for a good price. Around the corner from there was the local Sri Maha Marianmman Hindu temple. A very nice example of the type, with decorative statues and fittings throughout.
It was an interesting afternoon and a precursor to the NYE celebrations. We’d discussed going down to Merdeka Square to watch the fireworks but neither of us felt up to dealing with what would be huge crowds. Instead we decided to see what was happening on our doorstep, up in the bar and restaurant section of our street. None of them were doing anything special really, just serving food and drink until the wee small hours, the same as they do every night. So we decided to become part of the noise rather than be annoyed by it, and booked a table at an Italian restaurant. It was a very nice evening. The food was good and we went down to one of the bars for a midnight drink. We met an Aussie guy whose speciality was searching for oil. That’s a bit of a different job but it seems there’s not much of it going on at the moment. He was spending most of his time in Malaysia, drinking away his savings. Living is cheaper here than in Aus, that’s for sure, although the beer definitely isn’t. The clock struck Midnight and everyone was out in the street, singing, dancing and generally celebrating. But I do have to say this. Boys, blowing those stupid vuvuzela horns for longer than five minutes doesn’t make you the hero of the hour, it just makes you an annoying bastard. Sorry, I had to get that off my chest.
On new year’s day, after a fair bit of not doing much, we went out to the second KL market, Central Market. This one was mostly under cover and on two floors. In terms of quality it was a level up from Petaling, with a greater focus craft orientated goods. Quality material with Batik designs; Pashmina shawls; Indian clothes; good quality carvings. Even an art gallery. The ambience was nice too, with a sort of ‘town centre’ layout. Two main ‘streets’ but with ‘alleyways’ linking between them. We discovered a place called Old Town White Coffee, which sold snacks too. They do something during the roasting process to give it a distinctive taste and it’s very nice, especially with hazelnut added in. The coffee is halal. The company originated in Malaysia although it’s now sold throughout SE Asia. The odd thing to me is, in what way can coffee possibly be non-halal? Answers on a postcard please.
Our final trip before Jan’s return home was a coach trip down to Melaka. It’s not far south of KL and is a fascinating city. It was the first place in Malaysia to be occupied by Europeans. First the Portuguese, then the Dutch and finally the British. It therefore has a fascinating history, more of which will be related later. Suffice to say for now that there were some interesting old buildings to see along with old shops selling new things. Many of the shophouses are occupied by tradespeople whose families have been there since they were built. We visited the old Portuguese church, up on top of the hill (loads of steps to challenge Jan), the remains of the Dutch fort, destroyed by the Brits, and some restored fortifications. In the middle of that was a very nice lunch at a Chinese restaurant, with plenty of good food. It was a good day out and by the end I’d decided I would come back for a longer visit.
We went to Jalan Alor for the last time that evening. We’d had a variety of excellent meals there, mostly cheap, occasionally a bit dearer when we treated ourselves. The atmosphere there is terrific and has the perfect blend of Asian outdoor eating and tourist attractiveness. Bright lights, chatter, the wheelchair entertainers and crowds of people in the street. We were never surprised when we found ourselves sharing a table with others. That’s the nature of street eating. Jalan Alor is exactly what you picture in your mind when travel writers wax lyrical about Asia.
Our last day saw us leaving KL to go to a hotel out by the airport, chosen because it ran a free shuttle bus for guests. Jan’s flight wasn’t super early but we didn’t want anything to go wrong. Closer is always better. So our last day was a quiet one and our last meal a simple one in a local café. Next morning I waved Jan off as she was wheeled into the depths of the departure lounge. I went and found the bus back to KL, ready to resume my travelling life after a very pleasant Christmas break.