Resort Life

I can see how people stay at these resorts and never actually catch a glimpse of the country they’re in. They’re a world unto themselves.

As my partner waited at the local hospital to get steroids for his eye I stayed back and explored the surreal land-within-a-country that is the resort. After breakfast from the buffet (it’s huge – cakes, doughnuts, fresh local fruit, roti, noodles, dahl and cereals spill over about five counters and onto tables in the middle of the room. Fresh eggs are being cooked to order and a rainbow of chutneys and pickles are available as garnishings.) I’m the crazy lady with a baby in one arm and a plate containing my breakfast of roti cannai and a glass of juice (which is a combination of all the varieties they have on offer-yes people stared as I filled my glass).

We’re seated by the window by the friendliest man ever, who on day three of our breakfasts has remembered our room number and wins a cheeky girn from the baby. The baby is in an exceptionally good mood this morning and as I try to bend his knees to fit them into the high chair that he’s currently standing in, he cranes his neck to grin at the couple trying to have a private conversation next to us. They’re suitably charmed and I get on with breakfast so they can return to their conversation in peace.

I’m trying to kill time and to distract myself from the worry of my partner’s eye troubles so I load up our travel bath (which for those with babies, is an unnessary and incredibly awkward item to pack if you’re staying in hotels with baths of their very own – duh) with washing and head down to the hotel laundromat. It’s tucked away behind the conference rooms, currently hosting something to do with broiled chicken, which I try not to think about too much. The baby is a champion this morning and after entertaining me for a while with some new facial expressions that he’s trying on for size he falls asleep, and stays that way for the next two hours as I watch the washing spin and wonder whether the bits on my arm and tiny bruises on my feet are in fact symptomatic of Dengue fever. You’d think, if you listened to me, that noone ever visited here without catching something, but rest assured that this is (I hope) all in my head.

It’s nice to have the opportunty to actually explore – the resort has severl pools, a water slide, a bar, two restaurants, a tiny row of shops, loungeroom/library, a an adventure centre for kids, a spice garden and a clinic. Given that everyone here speaks English, you could forget that you’d flown all the way to Penang at all. I’m hoping that everyone has at least one meal at a hawker stand and has the chance to see more of the amazing sights that Penang has on offer.

Baby and I manage to amuse ourself until lunch time, people watching from the balcony and we both (I’m sure) breathe a sigh of relief when my partner returns to our home for the week safe and sound, and with lunch! He’s actually got relatives from Malaysia who have driven down to spend a few days in Penang with us. They’re determined that I should experience everything the country has to offer, and by that I mean ‘fill me with as much food as humanely possible’. They’re incredibly sweet actually, and go out of their way to make sure that everything’s vego/no dairy and have brought us lunch and dinner in when we’ve had to stay in the hotel to looks after eyes and/or babies. Todays spread (and I do mean spread – when I say they’re determined to feed me EVERYTHING I’m not kidding), is some delicious fried cauliflower, similar to the ejje(sp) from my favourite Lebanese restaurant, some curries, and two types of naan. I eat as much as I can handle and just as I’m ready to burst I discover that there’s cake too. It’s kuih – malaysian cakes that are a cross between dense cake and jelly. There’s a blue one, a brown one, a pink one, a green one and a purple one, with a brown sugar paste to scoop up with each mouthful. Two I don’t love, but the others are delicious and I know that the person who provided them will be thrilled that I’m enjoying food that she loves.

finish our resort day with a swim in the pool and room service. If I can just manage to convince myself that every mosquito on the island is not out to get me, I may in fact get an early night before our final full day here tomorrow.

Travel, with baggage.

It’s that time again! And by that time I mean the second time ever that I have been overseas, and therefore felt the overwhelming urge to lay my thoughts out in some sort of bloggerly format.

We’re in Penang, land of more gauva varieties than I knew existed, beautiful temples, madcap drivers, reclaimed beaches and monkeys that (according to my Lonely Planet) may or may not have rabies.

By we, I mean myself, my partner, and our little six month old. Whose mad idea was it to travel with a six month old anyway? Let me tell you why it is an insane idea before you jump on a plane to any exotic locations yourself.

1. At six months he is crawling. So long plane trips =very restless tiny legs = 3 exhausted travellers arriving in Penang.

2. We’re just transitioning from bassinet (a big one, since I know that might raise a few questions) to a cot. As in, he’d never slept in one before we arrived in the hotel.

3. He gets heat rash. And eczema. And scratches his head (a LOT) when he gets hot. And we’re in Penang. Did I mention that it’s been at least 30 degrees and muggy since we got here?

4. I’m used to whipping out a boob to breastfeed in Melbourne. Where it’s cold, and expected. Here I’m battling with a scarf for modesty (Melbourne gets none of that) and said boob is sticking to my t-shirt because of the above-mentioned humidity as the tiny person thrashes about wildly wondering where his breakfast is and strangers stare at me (or at least I assume they do).

5. EVERYONE wants to touch his face. I’m not a toucher. This feels quite intrusive to me.

6. I’m totally neurotic. So whose idea was it anyway to read the sections of the Lonely Planet that refer to muggings, rabid dogs/cats/monkeys, mosquitos with malaria/dengue fever OR to look at the sign in the airport about child trafficking. I was having conniptions before I even got on the plane.

Madness aside though (although more on travelling with an infant later), Penang is beautiful. We’re staying at a luxury resort, so I do feel 100% tourist as I look out my window onto the three pools, beach, waterslide and countless banana lounges. Everyone is incredibly friendly, I think I’ve said more hello’s to friendly strangers in a week here than I have in the last six months in Melbourne (although there is the face touching to contend with). Despite not eating meat (by choice) or dairy (not by choice) I have eaten some AMAZING food, particularly a giant Indian breakfast spread (which was really just Indian hawker food at breakfast time, but it was delicious, so don’t judge me). Along the beach huge trees (which I’m told are also of Indian origin) burst up out of the sand perfectly illustrating the juxtaposition of jungle and beach that Penang embodies. When I stand on the sand I can see the coastline ghosting out into the water further down, huge boulders jutting out of the ocean and then just behind my shoulder a collection of shacks and huts where locals sell everything from giant fresh green coconuts to reflexology and massage. I have a roundabout argument with a man about how my fear of heights means that I will NOT be going parasailing and then a noise to my left shows off the giant parachutes as someone much braver than me takes off on the tandem adventure above the sea.

There’s a wealth of things to do and explore, and we’ve booked a driver, so have it pretty easy when it comes to getting around. This brings me neatly back to madcap drivers and travelling with infants. The former is self explanatory, I almost miss the hoons in my suburb at home although these drivers seem less aggressive at least, and the latter, well – a word to the wise, figure out how you’ll be getting about with your infant before you leave the country. Mine is strapped to me and then I’m strapped to the car (with a seatbelt). He doesn’t love the situation, particularly on longer drives home in the afternoon, and I’m sporting a raunchy purple hickey on my chest after a failed attempt to feed him while strapped in on the go. Not recommended.

I vowed before we left to stay away from the malaria ridden/dengue fever carrying mosquitos, although I found child safe insect repellent before we left Australia. Day one we set out on our first lot of adventures. We arrive at the Spice Garden. They hand over some spray bottles and tell us to cover up in insect repellent (this is not the child safe/natural tube that I have conveniently left back in the hotel room). I figure it’s fine, so put it on his legs and mine. We start up the mountain the three of us and three Americans who don’t know what lemongrass, turmeric or nutmeg are. I love the tour, our guide is gracious and informative and the steep rainforest is the absolute perfect setting for this demonstration garden and cooking school which showcases spices that I eat all the time but have never seen (mostly) unprocessed in the flesh. There’s free sweet tea halfway up and I’m able to buy a delicious refreshing juice at the top. We finish with a peaceful walk through the ornamental part of the garden and I’m almost able to stop wondering if each itch on my foot is a mosquito bite filled with potential death (although I add ‘these plants here are toxic to babies’ to my list of neuroses). We manage to fit in a tour of the batik factory (which gives me a much greater appreciation for the print) and the butterfly house (which is an absolute winner for babies who love things fluttering magically past their eyes as mine does) before climbing (and by climb I mean drive) the mountain to the tropical fruit farm.

Like the spice garden, the fruit farm is primarily for show, as neither makes enough produce to actually supply anything on a large scale. Think of them as living museums if you like. The tour includes a walk through the gardens with fruit tastings, and a juice and fruit buffet at the end. I’m equal parts sad and relieved to have missed the Durian season, although I smell one and it’s not as bad to me as my partner (who has eaten the fruit) has made out. I reckon I’d give it a go next time anyway. We walk through the gardens trying amazing tropical fruits, some that I recognise from home (guava, dragonfruit, bananas) and some I’ve never seen, including the ‘miracle fruit’ which makes everything taste sweet for the next thirty minutes. I can vouch for this fruit, as our guide (who I suspect takes quite a lot of pleasure in telling tourists to bite into tiny fruit that are like exploding balls of sour) fed us the miracle fruit and then encouraged us to bite into the sour balls again and even they were palatable. Fresh passionfruit, already sweet was explosive following these miracle fruit and frankly I’m surprised that more people haven’t tried to grow them in their backyards. Sadly, the baby cracks it just before the end of the tour and so I am too distracted trying not to make a spectacle of myself in front of the women all wearing full burkas and their husbands to remember to tip him as I was planning to.

Tipping here is confusing, as $1AUD = 3 ringgit. So I feel like a millionaire, but then by the same token everything seems ridiculously expensive (although once I remember to convert back to Australian dollars it actually seems ridiculously cheap, as my $10 ringgit/ $3 definitely legit new raybans can attest to). Anyway, 10 ringgit seems like a stingy tip but my partner assures me it isn’t (which he justifies by explaining just how badly people get paid – I’m not sure if this is a good thing). One thing is for sure – those ringgit will buy you a LOT of food.

We’ve been eating at hawker places, which is what people do unless they really want to stay western in which case the hotel offers spaghetti and meatballs. I like a food adventure and so take my dietary restrictions to the Indian stall, where I can get delicious bowls of dahl and roti for nothing at all, and I choose not to wonder weather the underfed cat with no tail that was nosing around the kebab place has eaten anywhere else. My partner’s goal for the week is to eat his body weight in satays and after the first day I’d say he’s eaten enough to fill up a foot or so, but I guess we’ve still got a few days to go.

The night is not bad (although the people in the next room who had to listen to the baby crying from around 3am might disagree) and we ‘wake’ (I’m kidding, we’ve been awake since three of course) to  the huge Indian banquet I mentioned early. It’s a good start to a day spent wandering through temples, where I ponder at the face that temples, yoga studios and meditation rooms always seem quite cool despite stonking hot weather, and have photos taken of me looking brave/terrified with a python wrapped around my shoulders.

We return to the hotel room where my partner realises that things may be going horribly wrong with his corneal graft and my little boy starts cracking it because he hasn’t slept. I remember suddenly that despite everyone speaking very good english, how far away we are from home, and even though it’s warm and sunny outside I feel a pang for my dog, curled up eight hours away in the rain in Melbourne.

*I read this aloud to said partner as we sat in almost sensory deprivation in our hotel room and he worried that I wasn’t having a good time. In all honesty, I’m having a great time. I’m just a bit neurotic, tired and homesick.