By five in the afernoon we were at Georgetown, the capital of Penang Island. The bridge crossing had been a breeze and I marvelled at the engineering feat that had created it—a thirteen and a half kilometre wonder. In Georgetown the bus trip finished in the centre of town at Komtar, the transport hub, where I found a taxi driver and asked him to take me to a hotel on the beach.
He turned out to be another chatty fellow but this time I could understand him He said he would take me to the less expensive and less touristed beach. He did, and at the Naza Taiyya Hotel at Tanjong Tokong I negotiated a price for a room for a week.
The hotel had an absolute beachfront position and the sea views from my room on the fifth floor were spectacular. It overlooked a long sweep of sandy coast, lined with coconut palms and mangrove trees, that curved around to a far headland. Directly in front, the hotel was a little island covered with green trees that looked close enough for me to swim out to, and on one side was the misty outline of Sumatra. Along the beach beside the hotel was the Chinese Swimming Club and I could look down from my room into their Olympic-sized pool and watch swimmers training in the lanes. Behind that the distant skyline was pierced now and then by thirty- or forty-storeyed narrow blocks of buildings. They were unattractive to my eye, and I wondered why they didn’t topple over.
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At night I would leave the sliding door to my room’s balcony open so that I could hear the surf breaking on the sand below and see the rain, which came most nights, accompanied by flashes of sheet lightning that lit up the entire sky.
Next morning I managed to catch a bus to the centre. The receptionist told me that the bus that stopped on the hotel’s side of the road went to the city but that the bus on the opposite side of the road went to the beach at Batu Ferringhi. But I was so sure I had come up the other side of the road from town in the taxi, I stood there instead.
I waited at the stop with a gathering crowd for thirty-five minutes watching six buses go by until finally one pulled over and let us on. And, I went to the beach! Enough said. It took a long time to come back again but I had plenty to spare, so why not?