Surreal is an understatement

So it’s official – we’ve had a full weekend here in Malaysia! (No, I’m not being more dim than usual – weekends are Friday and Saturday here.) 

Yesterday morning, after our full 12 hours rest, we woke up at ten and called our preferred taxi driver, Abdullah. We trotted out of the lodge, got in, and when asked where we want to go, said, “Take us to the food”. And perhaps where there’s also some shopping nearby? He suggested Chinatown, which we said sounded good! He dropped us right by the market which was directly next to the Chinatown gate, all shiny and tall in yellow and red and gold. The colours and style of the gate carried all along the sides of the buildings, picked up with hanging red paper lanterns with glistening gold-yellow tassels. We walked a little stretch along the road and back, looking into eateries, before deciding on one (the “T. Homemade Cafe”), which looked popular and had the kind of menu that we could point at to choose our food like proper tourists, and seemed almost like a little collection of food stalls in a big, air conditioned shop (later, when we were trying to decide dinner, we saw that this is one of the best rated places in KT, so, yay!)

I had Mee Puchong, I think? Which was char sui pork on a bed of thin, oyster sauce noodles, served with a little bowl of soup stock with a tofu dumpling in it! Which was very nice indeed! And a coke (they gave me a glass with ice, but I drank it from the can, savvy aren’t I). All of which cost me about 80p. Jess had pointed to her preferred dish on the board and had promptly been asked, “How many?”. She’d thrown up her hands confusedly and let them fall into a shape that must have represented some kind of number, as she was served six pork dumplings, in wonton soup, and a glass of what was essentially but refreshingly very, very tart cloudy lemonade. This was all, however nice, admittedly slightly incongruent with the typical breakfast we’re used to.

We did some reconnaissance at the nearby supermarket, then went to the actual market. We’d been told by Awin as she left us the day before that dress code is full length trousers and long sleeved tops. I was a bit, “…Ah” at this, as though I am resplendent in long linen trousers I’ve only got two long sleeved tops, though I supposed I can get a few more and rotate them under t-shirts. Jess, who had only two pairs of long trousers and at most two pairs of ¾ length sleeves was in a bit more of a pickle. She bought some slightly ridiculous but oddly flattering red floaty trousers for RM10 (£2.00), and a blue top with lacy sleeves for RM38.80 (£7.00) To add another top to my small collection, I bought a nice enough floaty blue shirt, which has a built top such that it looks like an open shirt over a blue tank top; it cost me £7 and while it isn’t drop dead gorgeous on, it suits well enough for purpose, at least until I can get something a little more flattering.

We went around the supermarket and bought some fruit, bread and jam for our room to make breakfast the next few days, and some Cornettos, obviously. I became particularly enamoured of a bottle of rose flavoured squash which came in a horse-shaped bottle, but I have resolved to only buy it when we’re settled into the university halls at the beginning of next week.

Sssssh, I'll come back for you.

Sssssh, I’ll come back for you.

We called the taxi back to the lodge, and lounged around for a good long while – we enjoyed ourselves, watching three episodes of Miranda, and mucking around on the computer. Pretty much standard procedure back home, really! We were planning to go out again to Chinatown for dinner, at one of the places we passed earlier, at around seven, so decided to start trying to call the taxi company at… half six? Ah. There we hit our snag. We called Abdullah, and though he picked up and was very apologetic, he said he was at home now. So, oh well we said, let’s call the number for the taxi station. It rang out. Just, no one picked up. Like, 10 times. Over the course of half an hour. No one was in the house, so we followed the instructions on the piece of paper so helpfully tacked to our door that says, ‘Call Nicky for assistance with any problems!’.

So we did as instructed, asking for the number for another taxi company – we had, of course, googled every permutation of ‘Kuala Terengganu taxi’ we could think of. He could not get one, or didn’t know one – I think he said he was on his way to Kuala Lumpur. Anyway, he then said, “I will send my friend to pick you up. Tell him where you want him to take you, then call him again to pick you up.”

Simultaneously, Jess and I’s ‘MY MUM WOULD NOT LIKE THIS SITUATION’ alarms went off. No getting into a car with a stranger, no matter how nice he may be. So we replied, “No, it’s okay, we have food here,” thinking somewhat sadly but resignedly of our fruit and bread. Then, we had an utter stroke of brilliance. We googled ‘Kuala Terengganu takeaway’ which, let me tell you, yielded considerably more results. We decided to go for an easy, guaranteed option and order a Pizza Hut (I know, I know! That is beyond awful, we’re in a foreign country, but, at least we knew it would arrive, and we could order online, instead of calling a number from our overseas mobiles, where the restaurant may or may speak English). We got all our order ready (we may have had to snoop at the lodge’s post to get the house number, but that’s only to be expected), were about to click the capital letter-ed ‘GO’ button, when we got a text from Nicky; “My friend is already on his way”.


But we weren’t going to get into a car with a stranger, so we resolved to turn him away politely, offering him some money for the trouble of driving over, so Jess leaned over and clicked ‘Order’ on our pizza anyway. The doorbell rang and we were like, wow, that was fast of the Pizza and/or Nicky’s friend, but in came the other occupant of the lodge! We didn’t actually catch his name, though he asked after ours, but we’ve missed the period in which it is socially acceptable to ask now so can never ever refer to him by name ever again. It’s like Fresher’s all over. He is a middle aged guy – Malay, I think, here in KT on business, where he was today such that he only just got in quite late. We were having a good chat, sat in the living room, when the door rang. We looked guilty over to the guy like, “…This is for us.”

Nicky’s friend opened the door, and said, ‘Hi, I’m Nicky’s friend”. And we explained the situation, and said, can we give you anything for your trouble? He said it would be okay, but I dashed upstairs anyway for my purse (Jess, meanwhile, asked how far he’d come – he said not far at all, which made us feel better). We gave him RM10, which doesn’t seem at lot, but one way of the taxi fare to China town was RM12, so who knows? Anyway, just a gesture. We felt dead guilty that’d he’d gone out of his way to pick us up, but at the end of the day I’m kind of hoping he went home, like, score. I went to my mates house, didn’t have to drive anyone anywhere, and came back with a couple of quid.

We went back to the living room and were sat chatting when the gent who, while standing up to switch on the air con, looked out of the window and said, “Did you order a pizza?” Oh, the mutual looks of joy that must have been on our faces. We collected our Large BBQ Chicken with Mushrooms, with sides of Spicy Chicken Fingers and Cinnamon Twists, and paid the guy – RM50, so, £5 each. Yaaaaay. We offered some pizza to the nice fella, who declined out of politeness though he as clearly eyeing up the Cinnamon Twists, and just chatted, asking him about his work, and he asked us about what we were doing at the university, and what our favourite foods are in England, and why England did so badly in the World Cup  (“None of the players on British teams are actually British”). We watched an episode of the (incredibly easy) American version of The Cube, and laughed with this fellow at how silly the lady on it was crying over everything.

(Did you know that on the American version, they 100% definitely keep their prize money after completing a challenge? There’s no possibility of ‘if you don’t walk away now, you’ll run out of lives and lose all the money you’ve got, haha you loser’. Not something I expected to learn in Malaysia.)

So after a pleasant night in and washing up our pizza plates, we escorted ourselves to bed and chatted for a few hours, bedding down just after midnight. When not running on empty, we simultaneously noted our pillows were a little firm for our liking. Jess accepted this with quiet dignity- this not exactly being my style, I stumbled around in the dark to find and roll up my towel for use as a substitute, though not long after I came crawling back to my actually not half bad pillow, cuddling my towel like a five year old instead. 

Pillow not pictured, but aren't our homemade blankets pretty? Lucy clearly makes them at this old-style sewing machine in the living room.

Pillow not pictured, but aren’t our homemade blankets pretty? Lucy clearly makes them at this old-style sewing machine in the living room.

We had resolved to go out in the early afternoon, to the market and stay out for dinner, however the number of calls we’d made to the taxi companies the night before had made our ‘we should buy a Pay As You Go phone to call domestically’ plans a little more urgent. So we were killing time until 2:00pm, with a view to going to Pasar Payang – the large, covered market by the riverside – and then a mall, for some more clothes shopping but, as a priority, to purchase a phone. We spent some time in the living room, where I managed to fail miserably at eating an orange (I ended up hacking the poor thing to death with a kitchen knife) and we watched TV briefly with our new friend (oh good god, we really to need to learn his name). He put on the TV – there are a limited number of English channels, which I think he may have rather kindly been putting on for our benefit, and while we’d managed to find an enjoyable gameshow to watch the night before, our choices were far more limited this morning.

He – and, I cannot stress this enough, he – put on Ice Princess. For those among you who have never had the joy of previously sampling Ice Princess, here’s the poster.

She never wears either of these outfits.

She never wears either of these outfits.

This Disney Channel Original Movie classic features a most random assortment of stars, which to my great joy included Kim Cattrall of Sex & The City fame, and the young Hayden Panettone Panettiere, who plays Juliette Barnes in my mum and I’s much loved Nashville. She decides to skip out on her scholarship to Harvard University to take up figure skating. It featured that most wonderfully of cliched lines;

“You’re giving up your dream!”

“No, mom! I’m giving up your dream!”

I cannot describe to you how strange it came across to me for this to be the viewing choice for a middle aged male businessman, but I have always been a great defender of liking whatever you want so long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else, so, whatever floats his boat! We had a great time.

We then called up a taxi for Pasar Payang – the old gent who dropped us off did not speak a word of English, but we – on our vague homework of ‘please’s and ‘thank you’s we’d looked up yesterday – babbled through. We explored the ground floor of the market first, which sold all food – it smelt ridiculous! As you walked through, you’d pass through a sticky sweet smell near a candied nuts or fruit stall; through heady spice smells; to a strong whiff from the fishmongers. We then went to the upper floor of the market, which sold all clothes, fabric and knick-knacks. Jess bought herself a long blue dress (the lady would not be haggled with), a flowery pattern top and, finally, a rather beautiful long blue silk top. I myself bought only one blue, floral and paisley long sleeved top – I kept falling in love with button up shirts, which were either really, really not in my size, or were in pretty silk and cost RM280, which was a little pricey for a market stall.

(That said, I have just turned to Jess and said, “I wish I’d bought that white shirt,” and, without even looking up she replied, “I know you do.” There is a lot of regret, but – it was nearly down to my knees!)

On our way out, we stopped one of the stalls that we’d passed earlier and bought some bedding. We don’t know if the halls at the uni will come with any but, regardless, it worked out – if they don’t, then we have some. If they do, we have some, and won’t need to take the existing set to the laundrette half way through. Jess did some lovely haggling, and we each bought a really quite good quality looking set of fitted sheet, pillowcases, duvet cover and duvet-blanket-thing, and a separate pillow, for RM65 (an outrageously expensive £12.34). Jess’s set are all a matching lilac, of which I am a little jealous – my bed linen is a light floral blue, but my pillow is a violent pink. The perfectionist inside of my is shut up by my unceasingly love of the colour pink.

We grabbed a taxi back to the house with the same driver who ran us out, and asked him to wait for one minute while we dropped our packages inside and Jess ran and grabbed a drink, which I rather meanly rushed her through as he was waiting on us. He then asked where to – we said, “The Mall, Mesra Mall”. He was deeply confused and really did not understand, so eventually we decided to cut our losses, get out and have a proper snack and a drink to refresh, get the address of the place we were going, and order another taxi.

Doing just that, we got into the taxi half an hour later and said the same thing. This guy kind looked at us like we’d each grown another head. He explained that Mesra Mall is a good two and a half hour drive away – we’d apparently gotten a bit over keen in our googling of shopping locations, and had just picked a random shopping centre from Terengganu province. Asking where there was a Mall that would have a phone shop, he resolved to take us to Mydin Mall, thankfully only five minutes down the road. He was the nicest taxi driver we’d have thus far, who spoke good English, so we booked him to come pick us up tomorrow morning, to take us to the university at 7:45am. I saw him write it in a little book and everything so, hopefully, he can be relief upon.

Mydin Mall reminded me of the hypermarches you get France and Spain – a giant food hall, with a little strip of associated shops along the outside. In such shops we found a Samsung shop, which could sell us a phone but no SIM card, and a general phone market stall, where we came perilously close to being allowed to by a little RM65 blue Samsung of which my father would be proud. The lady ran off to grab a phone for us from some sort of back room, I suppose, as clearly the model we had chosen was not in the highest of demand, before being told that they couldn’t sell us a SIM card without a passport to register the number to. Obviously not having it with us, we checked briefly in the food area to see if they by any chance had any (Jess somehow setting off the store alarm as we walked through the door), before called the mission off and went into the little food court area. I bought Nasi dagang – rice steamed in coconut milk and a tuna steak in a chilli curry, served with a little side of pickled vegetables and chilli sambal. Jess had the similar Nasi kuning, which is served with yellow, or ‘golden’ rice. Jess declined, but I opted wholeheartedly in for the whole chillies offered me in the curry’s sauce, which were a little on the hot side but, gosh. I love spicy food! This is admittedly a new development, but I love it! I can feel the heat going through my veins and recharging me and flushing out all the bad energy.

Jess on the other hand was, in the kindest terms possible, a huge wimp about the bite of chilli sambal she got, and dragged me to the KFC for a large lemonade. On the back of this journey, we went into the ladies toilets, where we attempted to subtly shuffle into the same cubicle so I could use the room key to hack the security tag that was setting off the shop alarm on Jess’s bra out of the little fabric pouch it was in. It was like surgery. I should be a bloody doctor.

We did a very quick food shop – after our slightly disastrous attempts at going about today, we fancied calling it a night and eating in. Jess did not express the customary excitement at a giant foreign supermarket that I am used to from my family when we go abroad. Food! That we’ve never had! And brands that we don’t recognise! I find this kind of stuff really exciting but then maybe, simple minds and all that. We grabbed some cans of soup – easy – and some more Cornettos – mini ones, flavoured like Oreos and Black Forest Gateau this time – and on on our way to the tills walked again past the horse-shaped bottles of syrup and squash across which I brushed my fingertips longingly, though we settled on a small, non-horse-shaped bottle of orange for now.

While I paid, Jess called Abdullah the taxi man – he asked where from, and where we were going. To avoid confusion, Jess clarified again where we were wanting to be picked up from; “From Mydin Mall, yes.” Guess where he went to pick us up from, and was idling outside before we called him? Not Mydin Mall, that’s for sure. He said he would pick us up at the ‘big door’, so we walked around the building to what was, yes, a big door, and Jess purchased herself a ‘Waffer’ (a waffle folded over with strawberry jam inside) to pass the time.

An hour or two later found us lounging again in the living room, when a knock came at the door. We looked at each other confusedly and a little unsure – do we open it? – but I ended up biting the bullet and going for it. The door opened to reveal a little old lady, who let herself in, and who’s husband was apparently first-cousins with the lodge’s owner, Lucy, and who also attends church with her. She apparently stayed here a few months ago, and had a leave a week and a bit into her stay as some work needed to be done on the house. We learned this all of this only as she announced it in the booming voice that sweet and well meaning elderly people use when they feel they are telling you something of great importance. She never paid and wanted to square up with Lucy, to which we had to slightly bemusedly explain to her that Lucy wasn’t here. She then began asking of us, resplendent as we clearly are in our great knowledge, how much our rent is – before abruptly pausing to use the loo, of course. Jess ended up looking up for her how much lots of things cost per night and per month and per person, all of which I wrote down for her on some of the official William’s Lodge stationary because, as she proclaimed, she was old and could not remember. Lucy should have us on a pay roll. Oh bless her, she was very sweet, and eventually left, thanking us profusely.

I flopped exhaustedly on the settee – proclaiming this to be a physical representation of our day – and have not gotten up since, except to claim for myself one of the mini Cornettos. They truly are mini – without too much exaggeration they are the size of a large thimble.

And that’s our weekend! Gosh it’s been a long one – though we’ve had a comically amusing weekend, getting our first taste of the local culture, our problems with taxis have solidified the idea that the journey to uni each and every day will be too difficult into something concrete. It’s not purely a matter of time or distance any more – the service is simply a little too unreliable! I look forward to checking out the halls room, as well as starting work and all that entails – tomorrow!


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