IT HAPPENED AGAIN! When I was cruising around Maran looking for a good breakfast a Malay man came up to me and invited me into a restaurant to eat with him.
“What you want? . . . I’m Din”
“Roti Telur and coffee . . . with sweetened condensed milk . . . I’m Nick.”
He also ordered me two rice snacks. One was coconut rice and fish baked in a banana leaf, really chewy and filling. The other one was just pandan flavoured coconut rice but it was a textural sensation. It had been deep fried in some kind of super-resistant leaf so the edge was super crispy and the middle was gooey and chewy. Without me even noticing, I was probably too busy euphorically slamming rice into mouth, Din paid for everything. I said thanks and gave him a bewildered look to which he said.
“You look tired, you need it.”
Yesterday after I stopped riding, I had a good look at myself in the mirror and Din was right. I looked like shit. I had a ring of dirt around my collar, my neck was circled by a line of salt where my sweat had dried against my t-shirt, my arms were so glistening with sweat and sun-screen they looked like they’d developed their own viscous, my hands were speckled by the granulated discharged from my bike handles, my legs were covered in dirt and bike grease, my shoes were browned from roadside dirt and food droppings, my face looked hobo-esque and my hair had been blow with enough salt and dry air to look like the end of a broom AND to top it all off I’m sporting a terrible hair cut. An Indian barber who enjoyed arguing with his son has given me a embryonic mullet. I’m sorry Alice but when you see me my head may have given birth to a bogan.
Luckily Malaysians are all lovely and instead of pitying me they give me things.
Last night I stayed with a lovely Chinese couple I met through a website called warmshowers. It’s an organisation set up to help bike tourists find like-minded people to stay with.
Peh and his beautiful wife Kylie (that’s a really cliched and meaningless phrase usually reserved for bitches or people with inner-beauty but Kylie was actually pretty) live in luxury, well that’s how it felt anyway. I realise that after staying in Malaysia’s shittiest hotel (I refuse to call it a Chalet like they did, bastards) and then riding 75km in 35C heat, anything probably would have felt like luxury. They live in the Chinese district of Kuantan (many Malaysian suburbs, and even schools, are racially grouped) which Peh described like this:
“Many rich people live here so they just buy land and build whatever they want.”
They didn’t live in one of the nearby mansions but their house was lovely and spacious anyway. It had amazingly large wooden front doors that opened inwards to allow Aragorn-like entrances. Everything was wooden or white and there was lots of space and zero clutter, except for a rather dissonant and large display case of bike paraphernalia. The room they gave me for the night, which Kylie inaccurately apologised for being untidy, was easily bigger than any room I’ve ever lived in.
I think I may have talked about how I love food too much in my warmshowers email because when it came to dinner time they playfully quizzed me on what Malaysian foods I’ve tried and what he have in Malaysian restaurants in Aus. They said I had to try Ikan Bakar, and holy fuck were they right. Ikan Bakar is a method of preparing fish where you wrap a whole specimen in a banana leaf with yum stuff like sambal or curry paste and they you rotate it over hot charcoals until the banana leaf starts to char.
We went to this massive beach-side stall (if it has only one wall, it’s a stall right?), which was getting absolutely pumped. All the stalls and restaurants nearby were empty but this place was madness . Their thing is to put all the fresh fish iced and out on display like at a market, you simply take which ever creature you wanna eat, put it in a bucket and, depending on the fish, tell them how you want it cooked. Kylie chose a red and white squid about the size of my forearm and a stingray* bigger than my chest. We got the squid deep fried and the ray done traditional Ikan Bakar style. It was so fucking excellent I could have wept like a North Korean at a state funeral over how happy I was.
The next morning I thanked them too much and they told me where to go next.
Malaysians are shit at giving directions. Whenever you ask anyone where something is or how to get there they say ‘go straight’ and then point in a rough direction to where they think it might be, which is rarely straight. Because of this I have been lost several times, most annoyingly in an industrial shipping zone populated by aggressive truck drivers (and their trucks) and copious amounts of air-born dirt. It was incredibly stressful, I had three choices of how to avoid discomfort and/or serious injury.
1. Ride on the road and risk getting unsympathetically demolished by a truck
2. Ride on the sand on the side of the road and risk crashing*
3. Ride in the jungle next to the sand
Even though it was about as flat as an egg carton I went with option three. Safety first right dad? The pot-holey jungle track ended up being very tiring, I was stuck in the hell hole for about an hour because everyone just kept telling me to go straight but all the roads curved back on themselves.
Even aside from my sojourn into the shipping district of Kuantan, I found it a bit hard riding today. I think I pushed myself a bit hard at the start of the trip when I probably wasn’t fit enough (I didn’t go below 3,5 gear for like 4 days) and I stupidly did my old sportsecize routine before a big day of riding. A combination of my legs being sore and a lack of shade on the road today made me feel a bit lonely and sorry for myself.
Well that was until I discovered paradise.
I understand that maybe you thought paradise might look a little different but I now know the truth. In between Cherating (a small and almost exclusively touristy beach town, in which I got lost looking for a turtle sanctuary) and Chukai (were I am staying) there is a road-side stall in the middle of a field of dirty rocks, which has an eden-like quantity and quality of food ready for you, humble servant of pleasure, to indulge in. There must be more than 40 bain-maries there, none of which are mummifying through inactivity. They are all regularly being filled with fresh ingredients and when they run out they are replaced with an equally fantastic serving of something. As soon as I saw the food lined up like steps to the heavens, I thought to myself ‘this is why I’m here, this is why I’m doing this’.
To give you an idea of how excited I was to pillage this unlikely oasis I’ll give you a price comparison. Most meals I eat are between 2 and 5.50 ringgit ($0.60 – 1.80 Aus). My meal in Eden cost me 30 ringgit ($10 Aus) , not because anything was expensive but because I tried my darn best to eat it all. If you want to know how silly that amount of food actually was, check the food diary. The list was too long to put here.
How annoying are unhelpful people? Today when I was riding into Chukai I stopped to ask a guy whether I was in the town centre yet (roads are so over populated by improvised homes and entrepreneurs its often hard to know when a town actually starts). He looked at me straight in the eyes and just kept walking. I called out to him and he ignored me. It didn’t matter if he couldn’t speak English, the only word he needed to understand was the city he was in.
I tried to talk to the hotel reception today to tell them the wifi and air conditioning doesn’t work in my room. The old man sitting there just waved his hand and said ‘no speak’. I tried to speak as basically as I could while signing whether there was anyone I could talk to but he just kept waving and looking at the tv. I went upstairs got my ipad and wrote what I wanted to say in Malay. He looked at the translate text and said ‘no speak’ again. I pointed at the iPad and said ‘Malay’ then he just said ‘sorry’, still while watching tv.
How do these people get by in a country so full of nice people. They must be dickheads right? Everywhere I go people are constantly approaching me and asking where I’m from and where I’m staying. They want to talk about my trip and Malaysia and they are always smiling and laughing.
On a slightly related note, today four different groups of hijab-laden women told me I was handsome. Two ladies even said it when I was in my post-riding state (lengthy description above). One middle aged and slightly rounded lady, off whom I bought some new tropical fruit to try, was so flirty with me I thought she was going to hug me. At the end of our chat she showed me the back of her stall where four women (some young, some very old) were sitting. She said ‘these are all yours you can pick’ then she looked at me with a big smile. She obviously saw I was totally confused because she clenched her face inwardly like a scared urchin and said ‘oh, your married?’ I said yes without thinking and everybody laughed like cray including me. Before today, no Malaysians had commented on my looks in anyway, imagine if I was travelling with Sam, they’d all be wetting themselves.
I’m on the East coast. I’m going to go for a swim tomorrow.
*see food diary
* When we were on tour in Tasmania I was briefly called the Sand King because whenever we encountered sand I would inevitably run into it without noticing and then slowly fall over still attached to my bike. Some of my friends would ride up next to me and see that I had crashed but, strangely, still sitting on my bike.
p.s. any feedback is welcome, on length, content whatever. Hit me.