I can’t go for a swim. There aren’t any beaches in Chukai. There is a massive river but its one of those raging ones so if you swim in it you end up in a different city several hours later. I had no intention of going on a river trip to Vietman without my bike or any significant swimming ability so, despite being on the coast for three days now, I still haven’t been in the ocean.
It’s a pity because the only reasons I decided to stay in Chukai last night were so I could swim and get over this annoying chaff-related butt rash I’d developed from riding with a sweaty spaceship. I had to find something else to do today so I scoured the internet for Chukai’s attractions. All the interesting stuff like tropical beaches, turtle sanctuaries, kayaking and other pseudo adventures things are back in the direction I came from – apparently the only thing Chukai has to offer is coffee.
Coffee in Malaysia is generally served in three different ways. The most popular way, what you get if you just order ‘coffee’, is a long black poured over sweetened condensed milk (SCM). The other two varieties are the same but substituting sugar or fresh milk for SCM. From my experience, every restaurant serving coffee (the word cafe and restaurant are close to synonymous here) uses nescafe. As you can imagine it would be pretty easy to distinguish yourself by serving anything but nescafe, which is exactly what Hai Peng Coffee does.
Hai Peng is the place to go around here. It’s not only the most popular cafe in the city but also the state, for local tourists, it’s a destination in itself. Unfortunately it’s also shit. It’s notoriety comes from the fact they roast their own beans but it hardly matters because, like all the other cafes, the coffee has already been churned weeks ago so it can be made instantly. The difference in taste to the regular nescafe cup is marginal but the price is much higher. Most coffees here cost about 30cAus but Hai Peng was charging up to 10x that much.
Apparently they used to serve great Malaysian food as well but now that they’re famous they’ve moved up in the world, they now serve status rich but flavourless Western-Malay fusion. It’s mostly normal stuff like sandwiches and standard Malay meals but then they have weird shit like this:
It’s all crap. They’re just supermarket bread-rolls, canned fruit and those industrially mass-produced satchel spreads. Pretty much everything is over $3, that’s not much for me but it’s massive over here. They all love it though, it was packed today and apparently most days they have lines to get in. There are even a bunch of blogs from upper-class Malaysians talking about how good it is. If Hai Peng opened in Sydney everyone would think it was shit. We’d probably love it anyway just because it would be so weird. Kind of like Ching Yip Coffee Lounge in Chinatown I guess (if you haven’t been I would recommend going, not for the food but because it’s like a portal to another country).
I remembered Peh telling me that only rich people eat in Western restaurants and it’s seen as a ‘special’ thing to do. I think it all says a lot about the fetishisation of Western culture here.
Anyway because Malaysians are so bad at telling me where things are I was deceived into thinking it was just around the corner when it was actually about a 30 minute walk. It was a good opportunity to hitchhike so I did. Easy as; met a lovely guy called Eddy with two cute kids. We chatted about Malaysian food, my trip and how it was going to be impossible for me to buy a new book. Only big cities have bookstores and apparently they’re very expensive.
I had a good laugh at myself this morning. When I went to the hotel reception to renew my room I asked if there were any other ones available. The lady, who looked like a retired roller derby champ, told me there was one room with no window, space, air con or any furniture besides for a bed. It was $5 cheaper than the room I had so I took it. Now I’m sweating like a Goth on a beach, thinking about how easily I spent $10 on my over-indulgent lunch yesterday.