I had my first real Asian experience. More authentic I guess you could say. And no I’m not talking about a special massage, I would have written about that long ago… I’m speaking of Incheon, South Korea to be exact and it just didn’t feel authentic to me. It felt like any other modern city with its 500 coffee shops, clean parks with nature trails and kayak rentals to float around on in their man-made pond. I suppose if I would have left the city it would have been more “Asian” so to speak.
Left the city I did and where I ended up a few months later is Penang, Malaysia. Which is still a city, but that’s besides the point. The name Penang should get backpackers attention since I did see quite a few there and left me wanting to again runaway with society’s rebels and hop on the trail. I only had a few hours here on a layover, but I was in good company. One of the pilots I flew in with had lived there for a year or so and knew the area quite well so he knew right where to go downtown. This place had a smell I recognized from the dirty streets in some cities in Central America. It was almost aromatic like the burning of incense but more probable to be the drainage that flows alongside the side walks, separating them from the streets. One of the guys couldn’t stand it, but he also didn’t like street food and was also complaining about the heat and humidity. Mind you this was at night and probably in the 80’s. As for me, I was starting to really like this place. I felt I was getting back into my element of wandering around some unknown dirty city with quirks you can only find by stumbling onto them. I just wish I had more than a couple of hours to do my stumbling.
I was surprised to see so many Chinese running the shops and I asked my friend if we happened to be in china town and said that everywhere in this place is china town. I guess Paul Theroux was right when he said the Chinese own most of the businesses in Asia. I tried to decipher the Chinese from the true Malaysians but was unable to. I’m sure if I was to stick around longer I would be able to tell the difference. It was easy to spot the Indians, most of which worked at the airport.
The old buildings had an old architecture to them and when left unmaintained had their own beauty about them. seeming left to crumble but with inhabitants still inside, some had trees growing out of them on their second story floor, but most had crumbling bricks with wooden shutters with missing paint left to rot away. They were 100 percent picture worthy but it was nighttime and my phone just wouldn’t do them justice. I needed my camera, and for it to be daytime. I needed my camera and for the sun to shine, but I would be back on the plane by the time the sun came up.
So we walked on and found a place that served dessert with an open air room basically with no door to go inside but a large opening in the front of the building where anywhere else in the modern world would have been a glass window with a door opening. But not this place. Not the real Asia. This place had little plastic seats to sit on, more like plastic end tables. But if you wanted to sit in a lazy boy then you should just stay at home. I ordered something called iced kacang which was half slushie with a scoop of ice cream on top complimented with corn, kidney beans… yes, kidney beans, some type of gummy candy and some other type of white fruit. I felt like it would have been something I would have made when I was a stoned out teenager looking to make the next greatest meal complete with everything, nutrients (corn), fiber (kidney beans)… It was surprisingly good though! Would it be able to hold its own back in America, maybe not so much. This is something that should be left to Penang and stoned out teenagers in their parents kitchen.
Back at the hotel looking into the mirror I noticed an advertisement saying “We would like to put our hands all over you. Use your room phone and dial extension 4858.” But it was much too late and I had to leave for the airplane in 5 hours. So sleep it was. Well, more like a power nap.