So my last trip of the year was not to Marseille, as I had originally expected.
Voila, I had a few more days of leave unexpectedly, so I decided to go to Penang, a place I had liked very much having been there twice but only for short stints of time. This time round I just wanted a quiet and refreshing time to myself, enjoying a book and some coffee, taking lots of long walks. These envisioned walks was almost impossible due to the suddenly sweltering weather that even I could not handle, it didn't rain at all (only on the last night I was there!) and anyone would need a respite from the heat after 20 minutes or so. Still, it was good. As always I am blessed to meet kind strangers there and never once felt lonely. Me and my travel friend stopped by a guesthouse on Chulia for a cheap beer to cool off and the owner was a natural entertainer, he even showed me his passport where he spent 'one night in Paris', and some incredible tales. Adding to that, he was waiting for his birthday when the clock struck midnight, so we hung around for a while, and I chatted briefly to a china lady traveller who now also resides in France.
I wasn't impressed with the postcards commonly found and knew the best ones were to be had at the Eastern & Oriental Hotel, in Georgetown, a short walk away from my chic hostel, a Japanese inn concept known as Ryokan; they were on Muntri Street. It was in our 4-bed dorm where I found to my delight and amazement 2 Finnish sisters who shared the dorm with me and my travel friend!
The Eastern & Oriental's front porch opens up to a rather unassuming horizon and that was where I had my comforting me-time sitting on the rock boulder, reading a book and waiting for the sunset. And also waiting for the postcard shop to open, because a sign had informed me the staff was out to dinner. My dinner was later a very delicious pizza with serrano ham and mushrooms la' italia, at Soul Kitchen just a few steps down from Ryokan. The folks at Soul Kitchen were kind too; they noticed I was losing the battle with the bloodsuckers of the night and was using one hand to put a slice of pizza into my mouth and one hand to swat the invisible squadrons with their electric tennis racquet shaped swatter (I love that contraption, it makes a satisfying sizzling sound when the enemy has been vanquished) and they kindly gave me a kind of balm to rub on my bites. Now you know why people prefer not to go al fresco at certain times of the day.
I had a very pleasant chat with the lady at the E&O's shop counter who gushed excitedly about Singapore once she realized I was a Singaporean. She was going to relocate for a while with her daughter to work there once again, and regaled many tales, I shared in her excitement for her new journey of 2013. It must not be easy for such a decision as there are many things to consider, for them, it entailed some hard months of savings just for a few months' initial survival without work in expensive Singapore. But they remain enthusiastic about enjoying another culture, a faster-paced one, despite the laborious shift work they would be taking. I wished them well and hope they had a good relocation. We chatted till the sun had set and I walked home slowly, resolving to enjoy what other people did in Singapore, instead of doing the boring old usual stuff.
On my last day in Penang I went with the Finnish sisters to Penang Hill. I was stoked, it was the very place I had wanted to go but did not want to go alone. We took a quite-modern furnicular, swiss-made, up the Hill, it zoomed up speedily and we went early to avoid the scary crowds arriving by tour buses, those we saw on our way back. There is quite a few nice hiking and biking trails, amazing jungle plants and we even saw a giant black squirrel and a large spider, possibly the only two wildlife spotted. I have always wanted to meet Finnish people because I know 2 in the same building workplace as I, and wondered about them at times.
Also, Julien and I had such a bad habit of saying 'finished (sounds the same as finnish)' all the time, we made a rule not to mention the Finnish so often!
I ended up doing the countdown on NYE with 2 Finnish men. Watching faraway fireworks from someone's roof. Drinking 'Finlandia' (Haha, they said they bought it because it was the cheapest at Bangkok airport.) mixed with our local passionfruit tea. The mix, and the fair one who doled out the mix was very popular with the taiwanese-looking girls at the house party we went to! They were really nice though a tad serious for their age being a tiny 21. Watched with glee at their trying sushi for the first time and really liking it, then finally seeing young people when I brought them to the 'young people spot' and met some Couchsurfers, on our famous Bridge at Clarke Quay. They were quite satisfied with the hordes there. They said they had walked around the city for a whole day and failed to spot any young 'uns. A devastating sign of our ageing populace. I liked their company very much, so far I have brought around many people of different nationalities here but I think my preferred type are those who are quietly observant, curious, and serious. Voila! So then I found myself agreeable to visiting the only one theme park we have, Universal Studios, with the two, and they were stoked to be like boys of 10 again and I was stoked to have someone manly to accompany me to rides I was not acquainted to. Surprisingly yes, I too felt like a kid of 10 again, and found I have no fear of falling, I just let myself be turned upside down and swiveled here and there quite happily. The Transformers ride was a remarkable experience and the Battlestar, everyone has to try both the red and blue rides!
I was inspired by the way they travel, it is not like the Singaporean way I am used to and unfortunately tend to fall back upon - the way of traveling and not enjoying the walk or the journey but rather too focused on the destination itself, the need to plan for every single itinerary even in pockets of time where the best is to just wander around and find some cool spot to while away the hours...not to mention the over-compensating of intensive shopping as almost everywhere we travel to, we find things are at such a bargain that it is a waste not to shop... and then we never wear the things we buy, because it would look too outstandingly ethnic. I'm different now, I impress people now with my dispassionate window shopping, mainly because I know my backpack is too small and also my wardrobe still has those dresses I never wear. I'm only a bit obsessed with finding nice bracelets, earrings and postcards still... ...
Meeting the young Finnish, I was reminded about the first backpacking trip I did when I was 19 with my best friend. Though it was only to KL and Melaka we felt like heroes carrying this backpack everywhere, and finally not traveling with our parents! The Finnish men were actually traveling together with one of the sisters I had met in Penang who was attached to one of them, they parted ways for a few days to travel independently, and after Singapore the men parted ways as well; one heading to Bali for 16 days and the other taking the slow train up the Malaysian jungle all the way to Kuala Lumpur. It's nice to travel like that, sometimes I need the independence and sometimes it's nice to meet again and share experiences. Especially now that I like to take photographs, I may linger for a long time at a spot just to capture the essence of some old buildings or chase down some alley cats. And I think it's good to breakaway from the group for a bit.
They are one of the nicest travelers I've met and this unexpected short travel friendship really refreshes me for the new year as I embark on my own journey. 2012 was incredible, having some surprises and many moments I hold close to my heart. For 2013, I think I am a bit closer to finding a dream come true, and I will have a smile on my face as I remember the last trip of the year.