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BATIK ART BY JONATHAN S. EVANS
Confessions of an Itinerant Batik Artist

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MALAYSIAN DREAMSCAPES

 

 

After emotional good-byes with Choosri, we caught the night ferry to Surat Thani and found ourselves back on the Thai Mainland once more. It was the end of March, we still had new countries and continents to see and half the world to circumvent. We decided to go overland through Malaysia down to Singapore and took a minibus to Penang as a first step. Penang was a city on an island off the Western tip of Malaysia on the Malacca Straits. It was truly a multi-racial, multi-ethnic city, packed with fascinating shops and restaurants. Unfortunately we had only scheduled three days there but managed to make the most of our time, walking all over the city. We ran into Michael, an American ex-patriot whom we'd known slightly in Koh Phangan and had his company all that week. He was a sailor, had lived in Japan for years and was going through the breakup of a relationship with a Japanese girl whom he had really wanted to marry. I suppose that we spent a lot of that time talking about his affair, about love and the problems of communication between different cultures. I hope that we helped him a little for I liked him. He was a good person to run around with and took us on the funicular railway to the top of Penang Hill where we could see both sides of the island and look down at the whole city spread out below us.

One of the most interesting things that I remember about Penang were the Chinese shops selling paper goods for the dead to take with them on their journey to the AfterLife. These shops sold paper clothes, perfect shirts, ties, pants and shoes for the dead to wear, fake money and a wide variety of consumer goods like TVs, stereos and small scale cars, all beautifully rendered in paper.

All too quickly we found ourselves on a bus heading South to Singapore where we were to pick up our next flight to Indonesia. The bus trip unfortunately only gave us a limited look at Malaysia's very beautiful landscape and somehow arrived over three hours late at its destination.

Singapore, our next stop, was a huge, mostly modern city, spotlessly clean, super-ordered and very much a contemporary business center. We had twenty-four hours there before we moved on and had a lot to do that day. The Post Office at Raffles Quay yielded a lot of welcome mail although Simma's letter mentioned Gene's death from Aids complications in New York. We checked into a tiny private room at the Rainbow Homestay Hotel right on the edge of India town which was a typical travelers' scene and a good cheap deal in an expensive city.

It was at this hotel that we let our guard down for an instant and could have lost all our money. I had taken off my big leather money belt at the Hotel's front desk in order to show our passports and to pay our bill. I didn't miss the comforting weight of the belt until we were four floors up in our room. Then I suddenly realized that I'd left the belt and everything of value we owned, our money, passports and airline tickets down there on the desk. I shouted out what had happened to Catherine who had begun to unpack our backpacks and ran for the elevator in a blind panic. It was occupied so I sprinted down the four flights of stairs, leaping six steps at a time and ran across the foyer to the front desk. Mercifully, the money belt was where I had left it, nobody had noticed it there yet and it was untouched. We were lucky that time. We got a free all-you-can-eat breakfast of hard-boiled eggs, tea and toast there and loaded up before we went out into the city for a day of exciting and exhausting consumerism.

At the complex called "People's Park Shopping Center" we looked at a lot of compact automatic cameras before buying a Fuji camera. It was amazing how rude and unpleasant most of the salespeople were. I suppose that they were continually dealing with people shopping for the best buys, for Singapore is world famous for its cheap electronics, but generally they refused to give us any information whatsoever about their products and were barely civil with their public. Catherine bought some new contact lenses and we went back to the hotel to collapse after the rigors of spending money. In the evening, after a fabulous thali meal in India town, I bought a small world radio. I felt that we were lucky to get out of Singapore with any money left and found spending money like that a grueling and quite emotional experience.

 

 

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