Love on an island: Penang

Within thirty hours of touching down in Heathrow after my Canadian adventures, I was back at the very same airport, almost rested, totally washed and just about re-packed. There I saw NewMan for the first time in three weeks (we instigated a no video Skype rule - it was interesting, frustrating but very romantic). I felt a little nervous as I approached him but as his arm slipped around the base of my back to pull me to him I felt fully at ease again.

Then I moved to one side to let my Mum hug him, following which my father shook his hand. We then proceeded to have a family meal at Cafe Rouge in Terminal Four, Heathrow; my parents, NewMan and me. Considering the unnatural surroundings and situation, it all felt very natural. Wonderfully so. Though what I liked most about about this, apart from spending time with my three most favourite people, was that only fifteen hours following our hugs with one Mum, we were then hugging the other Mum, NewMan's Mum. The scene of this reunion was the lobby (or just outside actually as she rushed to greet our taxi) the Eastern & Oriental Hotel in Georgetown, Penang, an island off the western coast of Malaysia. We stayed there with NewMum and NewMan's Aunt for four lovely days.
Now I have two confessions to make:

I didn't do any sight seeing.

And I loved it.

Jet lag woke us early most mornings and so we all ate huge breakfasts before NewMan and I went back to bed to sleep in. We would all four later meet by the pool and would sometimes chat for hours about everything and nothing that happened since we were all together at Christmas or we would soak up the heat in silence, reading our books. And invariably I would then sleep more, so sleep deprived from previous weeks. We ate dinner early, never straying too far from the hotel and afterwards we played Scrabble outside surrounded by the stars, palm trees and on one occasion an adventurous snail. This was our routine for all four days apart from one afternoon when we indulged in a delicious English Afternoon Tea. We three women regularly ganged up on NewMan, and in turn he and his family would talk about people and times gone by that I knew little about, but loved to listen. I treasured the downtime by switching my phone off and not thinking about work for the first time in months, maybe more.

But then the morning before our flight to Kuala Lumpur I could almost hear my camera begging to be taken out, so I went for the shortest of walks around Georgetown. The photos I took are literally only a snapshot of what Penang has to offer and a small part of me feels horridly guilty that I didn't see more, learn more, feel more for the island.

My limited impression is that it's a small island wearing big island shoes. It's much more developed than I thought, floods of traffic pulsed through the streets, tall high rise buildings seemed to spring up out of nowhere and then duplicate so that around some corners high rises were all you could see.

Tourism is alive and well here but it does little for the island's real spirit - the flashing neon lights and unenthusiastic bar touts are evidence of that. Industry has certainly enriched Penang but I couldn't help but wonder if it had also deprived the island of something, though I couldn't determine precisely what. But the beautiful architecture and colonial style houses that were more abundant and delicate than I expected and the majority of which are only partially restored, I sense that they maintain the real character of Penang and long may that continue. But I had more important things to do. NewMan's family live so far away, although I made it one of my travel goals for 2012, when we left Oz in January we both thought that it could quite easily be another year or two before we saw his Mum again. Our meet up in Malaysia was an unexpected bonus that our current lifestyle afforded us. I'm glad we made the most of it because, quite frankly, Mum hugs are the best and I'm already looking forward to my next one with my Mum. So forgive me, Penang and thank you for understanding.

Frances M. Thompson

Londoner turned wanderer, Frankie is an author, freelance writer and blogger. Currently based in Amsterdam, Frankie was nomadic for two years before starting a family with her Australian partner. Frankie is the author of three short story collections, and is a freelance writer for travel and creative brands. In 2017, she launched WriteNOW Cards, affirmation cards for writers that help build a productive and positive writing practice. When not writing contemporary fiction, Frankie shops for vintage clothes, dances to 70s disco music and chases her two young sons around Amsterdam.
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