The clarion call came. It was cousin/sister, and no we don’t have cousin/sisters in England, we have sisters, or cousins, but this is Malaysia and they are Chinese. Could we head up to Penang for an advertising shoot, for a business she is promoting. Why us...well I leave that to your imagination.
On Wednesday evening the North/South Highway was quiet, for once, and the five hour journey sped by. We entered Penang in the late evening and had the pleasure of staying overnight at The Northam All Suite Penang, along Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah (previously North Beach then called Northam Road after Northam in England’s Devon). The only thing which really irked me, was the government’s compulsory RM10 tourist tax per night and a further RM3 because it is a’Heritage’ area. Don’t they know that tourists come to Malaysia because it is cheap!
The suite was spacious, with a vague Art Deco air - wooden finishings and rattan furniture. If I were staying longer I would have be glad of the large writing desk, but there again if I were staying longer I would not have been happy at the multiples of RM 10 adding up for each night stayed. Across the road the only eatery open was a food court - The Northam Beach Cafe, serving not quite the Penang food people flock to the island to try, coupled with a very weak ‘Elvis’ songster trying to compete with his chosen music. After a long drive, it was a disappointment.
Morning came and we went, to our ‘shoot’.
As mentioned copious times (elsewhere), I am not a heath spa, feng shui, lets all hold hands and chant Om sort of person, much to my other half’s disgust (as she is). However, I am all for being pampered, and if that pampering includes attractive young women from Myanmar with sweet smiles, tender touches and video/still cameras with their crews, so be it.
To get on my good side, and yes I have been known to have a good side, I was inundated with beautiful drinks comprising of blue pea flower ice cubes, and cream soda. Did my other half let slip that I am a fan of cream soda, I wonder. The drink colour, a pale blue was entirely suited the ambient music. Although ambient music might bring recollections of irritatingly boring lift or supermarket muzac, this was not that, but more towards Brian Eno or Amethystium of which I do approve. So marks for good drink and good music so far.
And yes, I was promoting a spa. Life has its little jests.
I was be-robed in white towelling, and motioned to sit in an adjustable chair. The aforementioned young lady from Myanmar was charged with massaging my feet and calves, all for the cameras, slow mo and stills. Curtains were opened, and closed, pink ‘tea’ (in a charmingly transparent teapot with matching cups and saucers) was placed on a table between my other half, and I. We were requested to look this way, and that, turn, pretend to read a magazine, pretend to drink tea, turn again, look at your better half, smile, laugh. It was all much too much like play play to be taken seriously.
That Thursday morning we were treated very well, but time rushed up, clapped us on our backs to remind us that we had to scamper back to Kuala Lumpur. And then it rained. Driving, the deluge became so bad that the car’s windscreen wipers could barely keep up with the torrents of water hitting the windscreen. I peered out, trying to see, but the road ahead had become one white sheet with falling water, as if in some strange horror film fog. It was then that we realised that it was time to take refuge at a wayside facility (in Malaysia these are called R&R - rest and relaxation). Generally speaking there are few rest stops on Malaysian highways which are actually worth the effort of stopping. The food in these areas is generally cheap and cheerful, without the cheerful. The R&R we chose was no exception. We attended to various bodily needs and chatted about the lack of diversity in the cuisines on offer in the rest stops of this very diverse, multicultural county.
It was time to get back on the road again. Time to get my better half to work. Only, a short way along the North/South highway, now heading South, we ran into a traffic jam. This mega-jam lasted more than several minutes. Vehicles were backed up, moving at a snail’s pace. After some lengthy time, the traffic picked up speed. To our left, and no doubt due to the heaviness of the rain, a truck had overturned and was being hauled back onto its wheels as we passed. It was sobering. A chilling reminder to take care on the roads in heavy weather. With a huge sigh ‘she who must work’ dropped me off home and went on to her art class.