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  • gloria139

Penang was going great … until it really wasn’t

I have not spent a lot of days of this trip entirely on my own. So when I had the opportunity to go solo in Penang, another great metropolis in Malaysia, I took it.

I started with the colonial buildings left by the British who actually founded the Penang city of George Town, under the auspices of the Great East India Company, in 1786 in what was essentially swampland.

Then I wandered over to Little India where the silk dresses were so beautiful and a cheap and my size. And I was tempted ... but I asked myself when will I ever wear something like that in Bala ... or even Ottawa. And I took a pass.

My next stop was Chinatown. Like Kuala Lumpur, Penang is a blend of three cultures - Malay, Chinese and Indian - but this is the only city in Malaysia where the Chinese outnumber the others. And the Chinatown is a bustling place, even on Easter Sunday morning.

I was so hot from the walk by 11 am that I stopped into a restaurant for a lemonade and ended up ordering a full plate of fish and crispy noodles in broth. It was delicious and my entire bill came to about $5. Though I cut a strange figure - a hot sweaty white woman eating alone in a place populated entirely by Chinese.

After I finished, I strolled to a local mosque and had a wonderful tour with a woman who explained the meaning of all the prayers and prayer times.

Then I headed back to the port where I got a cab driver named Ben to drive me around for the afternoon. It was about 12:30 pm but the revised itinerary we were sent in February said we had until 5:30 to get back in the ship for a 6 pm departure... so I had loads of time.

Ben took me across town to the hill which stands about 900 metres above George Town and I took a very steep funicular to the top.

The view of the city was expansive and gorgeous.

And I treated myself to a virgin pina colada - it was too hot for alcohol.

Then Ben took me to Bhuddist temples that are across the street from each other. The Thai temple features a reclining Buddha.

The Burmese temple is centred around giant sitting Bhuddah.

Ben took me to a great chocolate and coffee shop and I bought a little of both.

Then he drove me through the rest of the old town before dropping me back at the port at about 3:30 - loads of time obviously. But I was about $20 short in Malay money to pay his fare so I got him to drive me to a money changer. And then we got back to the port at about 3:45.

As soon as I jumped out of the cab, the port guard screamed in Malay- translated by Ben - that my ship (which was 600 yards away through a complex set of warehouse type buildings, was leaving. The schedule had been changed, the departure time was 4 pm and I had missed the 3:30 all-on-board order.

This was the nightmare I had envisioned since the start of this trip.

I ran like hell - calculating the whole way how much it was going to cost me to get a plane to Colombo Sri Lanka - our next destination - plus hotel and clothes and cabs and maybe a toothbrush. Eventually, around one corner, I came across a ship security guard who radioed ahead to say I was coming.

I had to run down the dock, the full length of the ship, with people leaning out their balconies cheering me on - no doubt sarcastically.

One Poesia officer stopped me close to the ship and grabbed me by the shoulders. She got me to take deep breaths and said not to worry - they would not be leaving without me.

As I boarded, I heard them call my name over the loudspeaker - the embarassing thing that happens when passengers miss the departure time. It is something that does not happen very often.

They were already searching for my passport to leave with the port authorities so they could sail without me.

I got to my room, hot and sweaty and panting. It was totally my fault. There were multiple ways I could have figured out that the times had changed. I just didn't.

But I couldn't help think about what would have happened if I had decided to stay out until 5 instead of 3:30.

Shudder. Two days at sea now for me to calm down.

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1 Comment


Eleanor Bates Dunn
Eleanor Bates Dunn
Apr 10, 2023

I have never missed a ship's departure but I've seen a few people desperately trying to make it -- at one port in the Caribbean, one of the four (much younger) British gals who went partying on shore tried to board the P & O Liner which was docked beside us. Then one of the four did not turn up at all, obviously preferring partying on shore to returning to the ship. One of her pals made a terrific scene at the gangway because the ship wouldn't wait for her friend, so security had to literally pick her up and carry her on board. I was one of those hanging over the railing on the Promenade deck watching this activity.

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