March 22, 2006

Oriental Penang

I picked my hotel in Penang through an online service, and booked the second cheapest option that offered air-conditioning. The location was the real attraction, right in the thick of good eating, cultural icons and an ample supply of trishaw riders. I couldn’t afford the luxury and indulgence of the Eastern & Oriental, but there’s not that much to differ between one hotel and another – is there?

On the corner of Penang Road and Chulia Street the worlds of India and China blend together with the unique flare and moderation of the Malay. This is why I chose the location. Food is being cooked along the sidewalks at all times of day and night. Indian roti, tandoori, curries and dhal. Chinese noodles, congee, koay teow and fluffy buns. Malay laksa, nasi lemak, loh bak and panggang chicken. For $3 you can get a meal and a drink and a second meal. With a full tummy I head for the hotel to try and finish some writing.

The best thing about the Oriental Hotel in Penang (not to be confused with the Eastern & Oriental Hotel) are the little signs on display to promote the first floor drinks lounge. They promote the salubrious atmosphere of friendship, chit-chat, togetherness and a happy hour that lasts ‘all nite long’. The buzzword however is “Cheefulness”. It’s possible that this is no misspelling, but rather a local phrase that translates into “abundant selection of prostitutes”.

On my way out of the hotel one afternoon I was propositioned by a Mali lady-boy who is convinced that all my fantasies can be made real for the small sum of $40. I didn’t have the heart to explain to him, or her, that my plane ticket from Kuala Lumpur only cost me $20; plus I can take that ride as often as I like without breaking any laws of a moral or legal nature.

Returning to my hotel at night the same bunch of trishaw riders are lying about the footpath sleeping or talking. A couple have broken out the checkers boards and use beer caps for pieces. One suspects that these lads could be busier if they didn’t charge three times the equivalent taxi fare. Most of them are skinnier than an Australian soldier in Changai Prison, so maybe its better they remain mostly idle in fear of shortening their life span.

Once inside my home away from home I am greeted with friendly smiles, my room key and the marvel of air-conditioning. I step inside the elevator and take note of where the emergency-stop is located, suspicious that seven floors may be too much for this old tin box. As the doors close I thought I could hear the faint echo of Air Supply singing "You’re every woman in the world". But maybe it was just the fumes from cheap cleaning solvent overwhelming my senses.

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