Monday, March 21, 2011

The Cute Town With a Catch

Location: Taman Jambu, 34000 Taiping, Perak, Malaysia
Oh man. Travel has its ups and downs, and that's why people love travel, to be sure, but sometimes the downs are really scary. Like, we've had rough rides on the roads. There was that minibus wending its way through northern Thailand, and the driver's gone from Chiang Mai to Pai before and he knows there's 729 bends in he road (or whatever number the t-shirts boast), so why would he gun the engine and never relent? Why would he insist on whipping angrily around every hairpin turn?

We had a tuk-tuk driver like that in Bangkok, too. He drove us from the mall to our hotel like he was pissed at us, but every time he happened to turn his head his expression was calm and slightly bored: jackrabbit starts and abrupt braking was just his style, as was squeezing between vehicles in active traffic.

But this is a different kind of loathing I want to talk about. We checked into a cheap hotel, Peking Hotel, because it looked pretty nice and it's cheap. We blew into Taiping, Malaysia, this afternoon and no sooner did our boots hit the sidewalk than the skies released a torrent of rain. We hid in a KFC for a couple hours, making small talk and having a little lunch, waiting for the downpour to relent but it never did. It only ranged from "pissing" to "end of world." Eventually I put on a rain jacket and took some advice from a friendly young Muslim man (who refused to acknowledge Rebecca, unfortunately) and sought a cheap hotel in the SW end of town.

Now, cheap is a fluid term. Were we in the States, a cheap hotel room could mean one that costs four times the price of a cheap hotel room in Thailand. And in Thailand, a cheap hotel room might be half the cost of a cheap Malaysian guest house room. Cheap can mean completely different things to someone who lives in a town and someone who's visiting it. So, yeah, when I went to find the new hotel he was talking about, it probably was cheap by his standards and maybe even cheap in a city-wide relative scale. I didn't know that, and I thought it was pricey and I thought we could do better.

Oh, hubris.

I was pointed to the Peking Hotel by the pleasant woman running the hotel I'd been directed to. She understood I was looking for something a little less expensive and deduced I was running around in a rainstorm to do it. She said she thought the Peking was the cheapest in town and it was just behind her building. I thanked her very much and trotted over to check it out. I was shown a nice room with firm beds and hot water. It had three large windows and we didn't need AC, so I ran back and retrieved Rebecca and we moved in. We started to unpack a little and get comfortable; we set up our laptops in the upstairs lobby, admiring the '60s retro feel with Chinese and Muslim aesthetics.

Then she saw a very large mouse dart into our room from the hallway. What's the difference between a large mouse and a rat? I have no idea. I just grabbed a pair of shoes and threw them around to herd the bastard back out into the hall, at which endeavor I found success. It was then Rebecca identified a pile of rat feces in one corner of the room and from there it was no effort to locate two more similar piles. I started swearing.

Then she found a swarm of ants around her luggage. She brushed them off as best she could and we disposed of any snack food we brought from the bus trip. And then her concern shifted from the mustiness of the room to the chemical content of the atmosphere: there was a layer of cheap pesticide lingering about, so we have to keep the windows open and the fan on, and smear bug repellent on ourselves before going to bed. And that'll be good for the mosquitos coming in through the open windows, but what's to be done about resident rat when he decides to show up again?

Maybe he can contend with the bat we found circling overhead in the lobby. Dammit. It was my wish he might fill himself up on the mosquitos, but nature rarely kowtows to the unspoken wishes of man. To clear our heads and alleviate some of the guilty sting I suffered as a result of shoddy hotel selecting, we went out to explore the town in evening.

Many of the shops had closed or were closing. The 7-11 was open and we had some friendly conversation with a clerk behind the counter--she was baldly surprised to learn anyone from the U.S. was visiting Taiping. And as we thought on it, we hadn't seen any Western tourists all day. We found one white guy poking around in a market but that was it. Who knows where he was from? Shopping for groceries, odds are he might be living here.

There was a street vendor grilling chicken satay on skewers, and I was of a mind to get back into street food. Why not? It's fun and cheap. He didn't speak any English (many people in town are quite fluent, however) but his coworker did and I got my snack. Rebecca, on the other hand, borrowed my camera to photograph rats running up and down the alley next to him. We walked on in search of an ATM that would accept our card, and we stopped at a magazine shop, and we went back to that 7-11 for ice cream, and we headed back to the hotel. On the way back we passed what might have been a kind of kitchen/butcher stand, you know, they don't cook the food but they dress the chickens for those who do, and it was locked down like an open-air warehouse, chain-link fencing rather than rolldown steel doors. Next to it was a large dumpster full of what smelled like fish parts, and the ground was scattered with small fish spines and guts and the air stank accordingly.

Naturally, I spotted a rat, and then another. Of course. But it was Rebecca who pointed out the large swarm not far away. I tried to get a photo of it but half of them fled--you can still count eleven rats in this photo if you look carefully. I would like to point out it was several hours before this that we decided to cut short our stay in Taiping: rather than linger around and explore, we're getting the hell out tomorrow morning.

1 comment:

amandamcbrady said...

maggie thinks they are cute