Diary of The Travelling Seanchai :- Reflections on Valentine`s Day

Reflections on Valentine`s Day

2007-02-12 to 2007-02-14

Hey all,


Well I didn`t go to Penang like I said I would, deciding instead to forego the packing and unpacking routine for one day on another island. So I stayed on in Langkawi and watched Ireland somehow snatch defeat from the jaws of victory with France which did nothing for my mood…


There is nothing wrong Malaysia per se, in its own right it`s a beautiful country with diverse attractions for visitors and a nation of helpful and more importantly English speaking people. But after coming from Thailand, it`s always going to be hard to match up. But Langkawi did give us one last day of memories.


We took a boat to see the lake of the Pregnant Maiden. According to legend, a virgin was incorrectly accused of adultery and was sentenced to death. She always protested her innocence and apparantly bled white blood at her execution. She had cursed Langkawi for 7 generations (which is now over) but there is a lake in the centre of an island which is entirely freshwater and they don`t know why it isn`t salty like everywhere around it.


So we jumped right in! It was very different from the water we are used to, (which is usually extremely salty and buoyant), making it difficult to swim around for too long as we couldn`t just float. Well most of us couldn`t, somehow Tina was still able to float in Fresh Water which gave rise to us thinking that she could be pregnant somehow!


There was a platform so we all dove in and took a series of goofy photos afterwards. One of our new favourites for all guy photos is the `boy-band photo`, where none of the guys look directly into the camera! We named the band, “The Pregnant Ladies” in honour of our deceased patron.


We set off again and were treated to nearly a hundred dolphins swimming by. I had to resist an almighty urge to jump in and join them but I thought better of it. Potentially getting attacked by Flipper and 80 of his mates would have been too much! We then went to a section of the sea near where eagles nest and our boat driver threw out some fish guts which had them swooping over us and into the water to retrieve them. It was quite a sight…


One of the realisations (I shouldn`t say disappointments) of travelling is dispelling your notions about authentic Asian food. Chicken fried rice is not like what we are used to in the Western World, it`s fried rice with some chicken pieces on the side (bones attached). Also, one of the lads looked for local fried rice and then duly spent 10 minutes picking out the little fishes and fish eyes out of his dinner..


I had my own experience when I sought out a Laksa, the national dish of Malaysia and a favourite of mine over the last few years in Sydney. I had made the assumption (wrong as they often are) that if I loved it in Sydney, it would HAVE to be better in Malaysia, right?! Well it proved harder than I first thought to find it but when I tracked down a street side stall that made it, I got excited. Tina was there to watch the spectacle of my tucking into some Authentic Malay food but you know what, sometimes the imitation is better than the original.


Firstly, they didn`t have chicken or beef, only fish (she thought I was crazy to ask for anything else with Laksa). I asked (more in hope than expectation) was it shrimp or prawn and she just said, “No”. Obviously not feeling that she should have to explain what in fact was in it, she set about her task. Feeling adventurous I accepted the dish. Firstly there was a bloody egg on it. I hate eggs. Eggs make me gag. And here was this wonderful meal (in my mind) with an egg on it. Tina, bless her, quickly took it up and ate it and commented just how fishy it was.


Oh my God, it was putrid. A raw fishy smell protruded my nostrils and I could feel the oily composition going down my throat, tinged with pieces of lime rind just to confuse the tastebuds completely. It was only my good upbringing that insisted that I don`t embarrass the lady and I set to trying to eat as much as my iron like constitution could handle. But was it ever hard going…


It seemed to define my Malaysian experience and after another night out, I left Langkawi next day to make my way to Kuala Lumpur. A boat ride to Kuala Perlis and then nearly 8 hours on a bus with no internal lights so I couldn`t even read. I have never been able to sleep on buses so it gave me a lot of time to reflect on my trip, the people that I had met and the amazing places I had seen.


Saigon with its insane traffic and the Asian tradition Irish band; Cu Chi Tunnels where I shot my first gun and discovered a new fear of claustrophobia; Nha Trang where we taught English at a school to help the children to not have to provide services to paedophiles to make money; Marble Mountain; the amazing children from the Mong Tribe and the trek in Sapa; the secret Christmas service in Luang Prabang and floating down the river while tubing in Vang Vien; the Yank and his amazing life, kid and bar and Chang Mai where bombs interrupted but did not disrupt our New Years Celebrations; Pai and the infamous Damian incident; Bangkok and the people watching on Kho San Road and my first tailored suit; Siem Reap and the truly amazing Angkor Wat; Phnom Penh and the torture chambers but also the orphans of the Lighthouse Orphanage; the beauty and simplicity of Koh Phi Phi and the family of friends I made at “The Rock”; Ko Lanta and being on the wrong island but spent an evening with some of the most amazing characters; Koh Tao, beautiful, beautiful Koh Tao and the amazing group that we assembled there, the craziness and unexpected delight of the Full Moon Party and even Langkawi with its laid back style and oh so hot beaches.


Each place has a special memory and a favourite incident or story for me but Thailand has on a whole been the most amazing country which is unfortunate for Malaysia.


It`s like when you meet a beautiful girl who is an amazing kisser, well she ruins you for any other girl! Everything now has a new benchmark and unfortunately Malaysia is bearing the brunt of the Thailand hangover.


The lonely planet says that Kuala Lumpur (KL) is a very safe start for any backpacker to start their Asian experience, a `baby pool` by comparison to the open sea torrents of places like Cambodia, Vietnam and Bangkok. And it`s true. I suspect that it will prove to be an anti-climactic finish to this trip but certainly a cleaner and safe one.


I arrived in at 2am last night and caught a cab to my friend Niall`s place. Most backpackers tend to `splurge` at their last port of call when leaving SE Asia, a place where the toilets can be flushed, hot water is readily available and there is a bed that doesn`t have cigarette holes and stains all over it!


Well I am doing that and I don`t even need to pay for it! I can honestly say that on the couch at Niall`s class apartment is by a country mile the most luxurious place I have stayed in three months! I OPENED A FRIDGE TODAY!! And it wasn`t to get a bottle of water in a 7/11 store! I also had my second hot shower in three months and I had over 50 channels to choose from on the TV.


It was lavish, sumptuous and somehow wrong… It really brought home that I am going back to another big city, back to my comforts, back to free Internet at home and the same bed every night. Before I left, a trip to Manly from Bondi Junction (in Sydney, about 90 mins by public transport) was unheard of. Now, anything less than 10 hours is considered a short spin!


Don`t get me wrong, it`s great to not have to worry about accomodation or someone stealing my stuff or being woken up by rats etc but I have loved that unpredictability too. And I miss it… This trip was as much to find out and quell the doubts in my head that I could ever be a backpacker after spending over 6 years in Sydney than it was to see SE Asia.


I set out today and walked around KL, a very tidy city with a good ethnic mix, fantastic shopping and the Petronas Towers. I stood below them for a few minutes and I couldn`t help but think of the Twin Towers in New York and when I visited them in 1998. The Petronas are 115 feet higher and I just couldn`t imagine what it would be like to see these two come down like on 9/11.


Niall told me this morning that he couldn`t believe that I was calling into him on Valentines Day!! I had completely forgotten (silently cursing myself that I didn`t inform my local postman of a forwarding address) and I felt bad as I knew that he and his girlfriend would want to spend the evening together. Never one to be the third wheel I will let them go out and I will see what other losers are out there tonight on their own!! If there`s an Irish pub in this town, I`m sure to find a few.


But it`s with some degree of sadness that I write this entry. I am not sure if it`s because I have come to the end of this leg of my travels, if I`m jealous of those still travelling or maybe not being able to share today with a certain someone but whatever it is, I`d better snap out of it quick!


The one thing about being in KL is that it has fired up in me the desire to be in small changeable, impulsive and irrational towns or islands again. That`s where you meet the characters and for a short time at least you feel accepted and infused with the spirit of the place. How to go about it though is another matter and something which I will have to give a lot of thought to.


I am going back to Sydney for two weddings and a music festival and maybe one or two little trips that I still have to tick off so there should be plenty to write about. Then it`s back to Ireland for another wedding before a bit of travelling around Europe and then my own brother`s wedding in Italy in May! (There must be something in the water with all these weddings!).


If you have been a regular reader, thank you. It`s been great to get this all out on paper and to relive the memories so regularly. And if you have posted a message on the message board, thank you very much. It really has been a tonic at times to read them and to see at least that someone is enjoying the entries.


To the Sydney crew, I will see you this weekend (can`t believe I am saying that), to my Irish friends, I will see you next month hopefully. To those still travelling that I have met along the way, safe travels and stay in touch, our paths will cross again.


The Travelling Seanchai

Diarmuid Considine


You`ve got to be awake for your dreams to come true


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