Day 8: A failed conversion, definitely haram

It’s my birthday today, and as I write this, I am listening to the call to prayer from the mosque whilst drinking a cocktail bought by Tarryne. Something about this feels a little awry…

We went to Penang Hill via the Hop-on-Hop-off bus, a viewpoint on the mountain from which you can get an excellent panoramic view of Georgetown. To get up there, you have to ride a funicular installed during the colonial era. Apparently, the British built the resort because they couldn’t deal with the tropical heat, at least according to the bus commentary. Seems like a fair point.

I am not claustrophobic, but I started to think I was after I was crushed by a gigantic fat Russian bloke on the way up. They’d all come from the cruise ship which had pulled into Penang that day. However, the ride was only short, and there was a stunning view from the top.

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And that’s only one side of town!

On the bus to our next stop, we met a few other Brits. They worked on the aforementioned cruise ship, and were spending their day off exploring the island. We had a good chat with them about the region, what their plans were, and what we were hoping to do. “It’s nice to meet other people” I said to Tarryne, “but I wouldn’t go out of my way to meet them”. I wish I wasn’t so darned antisocial sometimes.

Now, the next stop was on the front of our Malaysia guide book, so we were very excited to see what it looked like in reality. It didn’t disappoint. Kek Lok Si temple is a massive Buddhist complex just outside of Georgetown, and my god, it was beautiful. It took us hours to go round, because at every turn, there was something photogenic and worth remembering. We also lit incense and paid for wishing ribbons. Although we could have chosen many things – excellent academic results, successful careers, love etc, I cheated a bit and wished for “all things to be as I wished”. Perhaps I should then have paid another ringitt to wish “that wishes came true”!

Anyway, we tried our best to join in with the traditions. I think Buddhism may have a bad rep in the UK, because it’s associated with stupid white hippies who think they are “so spiritual, man”, but here in SE Asia it feels totally natural. Maybe we’ve “found ourselves” yet again. Tarryne likes meditation and I find the Buddhist concept of mindfulness quite helpful for my anxiety, so maybe we’d fit in. If only we could convert…

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Whilst we were waiting to get back on the bus, a binman originally from Tamil Nadu started chatting to us. For once, a stranger spoke to us with good intentions! He saw we were eating coconut pastries and recommended a local cake shop, saying it had been owned by the same family for generations. He also gave us recommendations for other things to do in his town. He was really sweet, and possibly the nicest binman I’ve ever met.

Back in Georgetown, and in order to show we’ve sampled all the major religions of this region, we went into the historic mosque in the World Heritage centre. I wore a rubbish, makeshift hijab that Anaab would have been ashamed of, but it did the trick. The imam was very friendly and explained the concept of prayers, Ramadan etc, but as most of my uni friends are Muslim I already knew the basics. He invited us to come for a chat in the minaret, and we both thought we’d go and say hello. However, when we arrived, he was preaching to some other tourists about Jesus and his role in Islam. He saw us and invited us inside, but we decided to leg it. I know it was rude. I’m sorry. But since neither of us believe in Jesus anyway, it would have been a waste of everyone’s time. I just felt bad for the tourists already inside. How much more polite nodding and feigned interest would they have to do? I know not.

Tomorrow, we leave for Langkawi, a beach resort island. Our whistle-stop tour of South East Asia has now well and truly begun!


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