May 28, 2006
|28 May 06 - To Cherating
Had breakfast with Helen (included in our room price, but only tea and toast) and shared a taxi to the bus station. I was sorry to be saying goodbye to her as have really enjoyed her company - it makes such a difference to how you feel about travelling when you meet nice people, whether other travellers or locals - however I am sure that we will meet up again either in NZ or England. My bus to Kuantan at 1000 arrived first (Helen was going to Melaka - where I went 8 years ago - for a night before flying to Kuching on Tuesday). It was also a very comfortable bus and I had two seats to myself. I wonder how the bus companies can make money as they are rarely full. I guess they could be subsidised by the Government.
After about half an hour, the bus driver pulled in at the back of a petrol station, and he and the conductor got off, without saying anything to us. They were gone for about 20 minutes, and sauntered back. I thought that quite unusual behaviour, as if we'd known we could also have got off and stretched our legs. From then on it looked like there would be no more stops and I eventually had to walk down to the driver to ask him to make a loo stop. Fortunately I wasn't the only one who required it, and again we stopped for 20 minutes but weren't told how long we had. The journey to Kuantan was on route 2 which goes across the country from KL to the East. We got to Kuantan at about 1400. I got a taxi to the local bus station, a bit too far to walk to with my backpack, and waited for a local bus going to Cherating. It was a ropey old bus, with driver who I'm sure kept looking at me in his mirror and conductor who rather unprofessionally spent most of his time snogging his girlfriend at the back until more passengers got on for him to sell tickets to, and left at 1500. At about 1620 it pulled in (we were driving on route 3) and I was told that was my stop, and the conductor (taking a break for air) pointed down a road leading to Cherating.
It was a fair walk along the road, and most of the guesthouses/restaurants I passed were closed, which was rather a concern. However, eventually I got to the road running parallel to the beach and there was more life. I checked out one place to stay where they had just one chalet left, and thought it quite good for the 40 ringitts asked (there are about 7 ringitts to the pound), but decided to leave my bag there and just check out at least another place before making a decision. However, the next place I checked was full, so decided to go back to where I'd left my bag which was called 'Ranting Resort' (so perhaps it will be ok for me to let off steam there when I feel like it!) and checked in.
I was keen to get to a computer as hadn't updated this website for a few days, and found a nice one run by an American Moslem woman called Firdaus, married to a local with 3 children. She was really friendly, but warned me that if there was a storm the computer would shut down. It was threatening rain for about an hour and soon it absolutely poured and the street was flooded. My poncho (supposedly waterproof, but only for about 2 minutes, so that's going back when I get home with a rude letter)was absolutely useless protection against the deluge, and I waded in water up to my shins (ok a bit of an exaggeration) to a restaurant, as by then it was nearly 8pm and I hadn't had lunch. Had a rather strange tofu with ginger and rice meal, and waded back to my chalet to read.
29 May 06
Tried out 'Amie's Cafe' for breakfast, which advertised home made muesli and brown bread, but of course that comes at a price. Amie herself is an American, married to a local, who first came here in the '80's. I asked her about the Rainforest World Music Festival in Sarawak which she had been to atthe last minute and said it was great. Gave me a suggested place to stay, in case I should go (I'm now thinking about it again!).
Cherating is a traveller's hangout although there are more local tourists at the moment, with their families as it is half term (the schools here seem to be pretty much as per the English education/holiday system). Despite that it is rather tranquil, although I was aware of children up, about and ranting at 'Ranting Resort' quite early this morning.
Then went to the internet cafe and chatted to Firdaus about transport possibilities to Tioman Island. I can take a taxi to Kuantan, to get the 0900 bus to Tanjung Gemuk, from where there is one boat at 1200 to the island. The alternative is to get the local bus very early in order to connect with those, or go later on the local bus to Kuantan, and get a bus to Mersing, a bit further south of Tanjung Gemuk, but where there are more frequent boats to the island. Thought I would decide tomorrow. Firdaus looks quite Tibetan, and I mentioned this. She told me she has Japanese and Chinese parents. She is really very helpful, and a great mother to her three young boys.
Decided to walk to the cultural centre, at the other end of the main street, but it was shut on Mondays and only appears to be open from 1500 - 1800, so thought I'd pay it a visit tomorrow. At 1500 went on the beach. I was surprised to find that even here the water was very warm, and shallow unless you walk out for about a mile, and enjoyed a couple of hours. The locals of course were in the water fully clothed - it must be such an uncomfortable feeling, but guess they're used to it.
Hadn't had lunch again today, so decided to have a nice evening meal. I had earlier spotted what looked like a nice little restaurant by the river (a river runs parallel with the beach, feeding into the sea) which did pasta and pizza. I questioned the waiter (I was the only person there at this stage) if they made the pizzas themselves, and he told me his girlfriend was Italian and was the chef. Treated myself to a large g & t, garlic bread and indeed the pizza was delicious. I chatted to her and she didn't sound in the least bit Italian. She told me her mother was English and lived in Hampshire. Blow me if her mother doesn't live in Liphook (which is very near to Alton!) - small world.
I also chatted to the only other customers at the restaurant, a NZ chap called Andrew and his Polish girlfriend, Magda. They had just come from Tioman Island, having spent 4 nights there and loved it. They recommended to be ABC to stay, which was where I was going to head for at Air Batang, and said it was very sociable, drawing a small crowd of divers who, if you asked nicely, would let you onto their boat to go snorkelling at a much cheaper rate than anywhere else. Happy hour at the bar meant beers were about three for the price of one. They really sold it to me (not that I hadn't already been sold it) and wished they'd been able to stay there longer. Went away happy, looking forward to my holiday on Tioman.
30 May 06
My watch battery had suddenly died yesterday, and was told I would have to go to the next town Kemaman where there were some jewellery shops. So, after breakfast, I took the local bus which took about 15 minutes, chatting on the way to a girl from Bali who had moved here to get work - difficult to find in Bali for the locals after the last bomb. Kemaman was nothing to write home about, although I did get some fruit - which doesn't seem to be offered for sale in Cherating, and of course the watch battery, so a 'fruitful time' (ha ha) was spent.
Had a spot of lunch and finished a book which I wasn't really enjoying ('Cloud Atlas') so I could swap it for another, and went to Firdaus' place to use the computer. After that decided that I would take the taxi option to Kuantan, to tie up with the 0900 bus for the 1200 boat to Tioman Island tomorrow. Unfortunately the 0900 and 1000 buses were full. She didn't think I'd make it to Mersing in time to get to Tioman the same day, and didn't want to waste a day there, so booked for the next day. I'm quite happy about spending an extra day here as it's a really laid back place, although too many more days and I would get bored.
Went to the Cultural Centre which was supposed to have demonstrations from 1500 - 1800 of all sorts of crafts like weaving, batik, blow pipes, wood carving etc etc. When I got there, there were a couple of young lads playing with a blow pipe, and a sleepy woman with a little shop which wasn't exactly being overrun with prospective purchasers. I had a go at the blow pipe and got 5 out of 5 in the target, far better than my feable attempts in Ecuador two years ago. There was the sign promoting a batik class from 1130 - 1700, and to contact Mr Ayam. The lads told me to come back at 1700 when the absent Mr Ayam should be back. It wasn't even 1600 and didn't fancy hanging around until then or going away and coming back, as he probably wouldn't be there. So they told me to go back at 1000 tomorrow, which I thought was the better option.
After a laze and a mugging up on Borneo (seriously thinking now about travelling there in July before going home) I went to a restaurant at the end of the beach, where I sat on the verandah and enjoyed the cool breeze which was blowing, while also enjoying some food and drink. It could not compare with the view from the Bamboo Huts at Koh Pha Ngan, neither can the beach, but it was pleasant nonetheless. Started a book 'Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close' by Jonathan Safran Foer, which is extremely good and incredibly well written and hard to put down. Thoroughly recommended, and a bit in the style of 'The Curious Incident of a dog..' etc Guess it's probably been the talk of literary circles in the UK since I've been travelling, but then I'm a little behind with what is 'in' in the literary/art/film world at the moment.
31 May 06
Before children started screaming I was brought to consciousness by the most incredibly beautiful and extremely varied and complicated birdsong I've ever heard. The bird had an enormous repertoire. However, after 40 minutes the novelty wore off somewhat. I thought about going out to look for the bird but didn't as it would only have flown away, as it seemed to be on my verandah.
Got to the cultural centre just before 1100 as didn't think Mr Ayam would be there at 1000 and because I'd been a bit lazy getting up, and wanted breakfast. Indeed the famous Mr Ayam was there and fortunately was happy (well actually he wasn't happy as seemed rather a depressed character - artistic temperament I guess) to take me on. I warned him before we started that I haven't an artistic or creative bone in my body, but would try my best. This information didn't help to alleviate his depression. The cost of the class depended on the size of the batik I wished to do, a large one obviously couldn't be completed in one day and being a beginner it made sense to have a go with a smaller one.
I decided that a turtle would be the picture, and saving it would be the theme! So first I copied a turtle, and I have to say didn't do that so badly. This and the lettering was then traced onto a piece of white cotton. Then I started outlining the drawing with a mixture of paraffin, resin and wax. By this time I looked up and realised I was surrounded by young people, who had previously been clearing the rubbish from the grounds, who were watching as I worked. So suddenly I had become the 'batik demonstrator' which was quite unnerving as I didn't have a clue what I was doing, although started explaining to them what I had done so far as if I did have a clue. They appeared interested and I was just glad that the turtle had turned out looking like a turtle. It turned out that they were there as part of a 3 months community service. Apparently in Malaysia one in three youngsters, aged around 18, is selected randomly from the population to do a 3 month stint of community service.
Mr Ayam, who remained Mr Ayam and didn't bother asking my name - although he did ask where I came from, not sure he was listening or if he heard wasn't impressed - was telling me what he thought of the Americans (not a lot) and that he considered Malaysian people as leaves (think he meant he wasn't too impressed with his compatriots either). I tried to cheer him up by saying what a nice job he had, doing his batik all day which I didn't think could be stressful, but then he said how little the Government cared about crafts and culture, that the Malaysian people didn't care about it much either and so on. It seems that the cultural centre there only puts on demonstrations if they have large groups, and he said that usually at the last minute they have something better to do. They just get odd people like me wandering in through the day. It seemed a waste of such facilities and people's talents.
So, after the wax, I then painted in the picture, lettering and background. A bit of a mess in places, but then my first (and probably last) attempt at batik. By then it was nearly 1400 and, although I wasn't hungry, Mr Ayam suggested I go off for a break and return at 1600 while the picture was drying. He himself was finishing off a very large and beautiful floral painting which I could see would take years of practise to accomplish.
Went away to use the computer at Firdaus' place, and back for 1600. On the way I was munching an apple, as hadn't had lunch, and spotted a monkey rummaging in a bin looking for food. Went to give it my apple core (which the monkeys when I was kayaking in Thailand would have appreciated), but it bared its teeth and made as if it was going to attack me, which threw me backwards and scared me somewhat. Back at the batik workshope, where Mr Ayam continued to use me as a sounding board for all his woes. I started to feel quite depressed with it all, where in the morning I had been quite happy, finding working on batik quite relaxing. He had hung up the large batik he had been working on and I decided I would like to buy it as it was my favourite. I went back to my chalet to get some more money, and was told that my batik wouldn't be ready until later this evening. I was put in some fixer (sodium silicate) and left to 'fix' for two hours, then the glue was removed by washing in boiling water. All of this, Mr Ayam took care of. It also had to be dried.
A couple of families turned up to watch Mr A doing his batik, and one of the mothers said she would bring her children the next day to try batik, as Mr A had a programme for children. However, when they went he told me they wouldn't come back and would slate them. He really did have quite a chip on his shoulder and wasn't in the least bit impressed with his own people. He told me that he wasn't well liked in the village, his views not always corresponding with the conventions.
While I was there his wife, who was Japanese and had been manning the shop, left with a friend for home. After she had gone, Mr A started moaning about how his wife nags him, that he shouldn't have got married etc etc. I told him that once men start talking about how much their wife doesn't understand them it's time to go, so I got up to go. He arranged he meet me later in the restaurant where I was going to have dinner, with the large batik I was buying and my own when it was dry.
Went back to my chalet to shower and change, and to say goodbye to Firdaus who started to preach to me a little about Islam, at which point I made a hasty exit. Went to an Indian restaurant, which was fairly new but whose portions were very small, and Mr A came along as promised. He had the batiks nicely pressed, and had apparently put mine in his spin dryer and then ironed it. We chatted about various things and he told me he would like to give me a souvenir as he was enjoying our 'communication'. He had already given me a small batik he made while demonstrating the traditional technique to a family - which is much quicker than the modern method. He said I would have to get on his motorbike and go back to the cultural complex (which would be in darkness!). Told him it wasn't necessary for him to give me a souvenir (and I wasn't really sure what kind of souvenir he had in mind!!) as I had had a nice day, apart from his moaning. He accepted the rebuff.