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balance (2): penang

Wednesday, February 16, 2005


i gratefully was able to get a little space and a much needed dose of novelty today by hopping an air asia flight to penang, malaysia. ‘o’ saw me out and admonished the taxi driver to drive slowly, as they have a tendency to go mad on the freeway to the airport and for some reason no taxis seem to be equipped with working seatbelts. i arrived to the airport in one piece, and an hour and a half later touched down in penang. my first impression of malaysia is that it is extraordinarily lush and green. it is also ridiculously hot! by the time i had caught a taxi to georgetown i was already soaking wet and in need of a shower.

georgetown is the backpacker’s street, but it in no way resembles the more modern khao san road in bangkok. there was not much catered to westerners at all, just a few internet cafes and coffeeshops. the buildings are all small and dark, with mostly chinese signs. if i hadn’t already gotten a recommendation of where to go, i would have had a hard time finding anything. i managed to get myself to the agency first- NJ books; a small, dingy bookstore run by a couple of pushy indian guys behind a screen. they grabbed my passport, along with a 320 ringgit fee, and promised to have it ready to pick up in 2 days. i wandered out into the traffic and the searing heat, and after a couple of wrong turns managed to find my hotel- the 75 traveller’s lodge. it was sort of dingy as well, but at least it was clean, and my room had an air conditioner. the proprietors were friendly and gave me a map of the city and a list of bus routes to popular attractions.

i wanted to make the most of my time there, but i unfortunately had caught a bad cold from ‘o’, and that coupled with the heat made me reluctant to leave my cool room. i did venture out around noon to visit a coffeeshop. it was run by an old chinese couple, who served me spring rolls and a ‘skor’ (local beer), and several elderly expat men sat around watching the news on tv. suddenly i heard a man behind me hissing and saying “you- girl!” i turned and saw a large indian man with a mustache holding his helmet and sitting on his motorbike. he leered at me and said “i can see your panties... would you like some company?” i told him to please not bother me and turned back to my beer. again he started up- “i want to touch your body, can i come home with you?” i rolled my eyes at the other patrons in embarassment and ignored the man until he went away. i have to say, writing this later on, that i have never in my life had so many problems with disgusting, groping, leering men as i ended up having in penang. i don’t think i’ll be eager to visit another muslim country again. but anyway i left the coffeeshop (after realizing that the smiley chinese owner had intentionally shortchanged me) to walk around and turned down an empty sidestreet headed towards my hotel. i heard a motorbike and turned to see the same man, following slowly behind me. he grinned and said “i want to go to your room with you and massage your sexy body.” shuddering with revulsion i yelled at him “leave me alone, i don’t want your massage, go away!” instead he drove down to the end of the street and turned back around in my direction. “you know you want me to touch you”... and on and on. he circled back and forth while i walked the entire length of the street. finally i saw an old chinese lady up ahead and i screamed “go away!”, hoping he’d be embarassed and leave. but he circled around one last time and came as close as he could to me without being on the curb. he whispered loudly “i want to lick your p***y” as his grand finale, and sped off. men are fucking idiots. indian men are the most revolting, horrible, stupid, sleazy men on the face of this earth, and i feel sad for indian women who have to choose among them. also, again i regretted coming alone. ‘x’ used to ridicule me for my reluctance to travel solo (my first indication that he really didn’t give a rat’s ass about me or my welfare), but men simply don’t understand how often a girl who looks any more appealing than a dog gets mercilessly hassled. i don’t like feeling that my safety is in jeopardy. in the case of a man, it might be conceivable that if someone bothered them they could trample the person flat. in my case, if i get really unlucky, there is not much i could do in my defense. ‘o’ always says i am the only halfway pretty girl he has ever met who travels alone (i never meet girls travelling alone period), and he doesn’t blame people for wanting to fill in the vacancy as partner... but what kind of man thinks i am interested in hearing him degrade me? ugh. i stomped back to my room in a foul mood, wishing i had thought to at least get his license plate number.

when the heat had died down a bit i went back out. i had a list of places to look for in georgetown but all of them had since been closed down. i couldn’t figure out where or how to get food, until finally i stumbled upon a small restaurant and bar. i sat and had a beer. almost immediately there was a tap on my shoulder, and i met a half indian guy (born in malaysia) who had coincidentally just returned from thong nai pan yai in ko phangan. he teaches tantric yoga and massage, as well as salsa dancing (?!). he was relatively unthreatening and friendly, and we talked for a couple of hours and he had a lot of great insights. the chinese new year (year of the rooster) is being celebrated all this week, so he invited me to come with him down to the waterfront to see the festival. i agreed, despite knowing that he probably didn’t just want to be friends. but then a weird thing happened. he went to the bathroom and after i swallowed the last of my beer i realized i needed to go as well. so i followed him back, to his obliviousness. our stalls were right next to each other and i could hear everything clearly. suddenly i heard a slap-slap-slapping and heard him sighing and groaning. was he-? noo..... yes by golly he was! masturbating in the stall next to me. i left to go back to my table and shake my head in disbelief.... and much later he emerged as well. i didn’t quite know what to do after that... i mean a guy is perfectly entitled to a good chicken choke now and then, by why then? it gave me the willies. when he also started telling me he wanted to “heal” me with his tantric massage, i sighed, faked illness, and stammered that i didn’t think i wanted to go with him to the celebrations after all. he looked totally crestfallen and i felt bad because he really had been nice to me, but ewwwww! he asked if i wanted to do yoga with him in the morning and said i could meet him in his room at 9am, and i agreed with no intention of meeting him, shook his hand, and left.

when i arrived to my hotel, i had intended just to shower and go back out, but a sudden storm erupted. the rain pelted the windows and there was loud thunder crashing. at the same time, all the chinese firecrackers started to go off around the neighborhood. these firecrackers sounded more like bombs, i was actually afraid they were going to burn down my hotel and i planned an escape route in my head. those crazy chinese. i lay on my bed reading a couple of malaysian magazines and listened to the racket late into the night, finally drifting into a dream-filled sleep around 3am.


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