When Matt discovered Durian… and the immigration police crackdown
Kuala Lumpur, Perhenthian Kecil, Penang
So, the happiest Rachel had probably ever been to be on a plane (imagine her discovering Matt had been in a non-fatal wolf attack), we headed to Malaysia and left the earthquakes behind.
We met Rachel’s friend Maz in Kuala Lumpur the next lunchtime. Rachel knows Maz from when she had a bad break up, dropped out of uni and went to live in the rainforest in Borneo for a while — as all badly behaved, middle-class white girls do.
Maz is fiercely intelligent with an incredibly dry sense of humour, so he and Matt were to get along famously.
Maz was disappointed that Matt had shaved his head, so looked a bit less like Jack Whitehall than he expected. Jack Whitehall is big in Malaysia, and why not?
The three of us did a whistle-stop sightseeing tour of KL, checking out Maz’s neighbourhood, the National Monument and the bird garden where we had a drink with a majestic hornbill soaring around us.
(Rachel: Matt, can I put if you couldn’t be a mighty hawk, you’d be a majestic hornbill?
Matt: No. Mighty hawk or bust. No plan B.)
We ended the day seeking out that infamous fruit, or as Maz puts it, the “King of Fruit”, the Durian.
If you don’t know Durian, its that smell you get in Asia. That spiky fruit which smells like someone died. But it is also very popular. It is an enigma.
Matt was very keen to try something notoriously disgusting, because he is Matt. Rachel was less keen as Maz once gave her rotten Durian as a trick, for the banter (known in those days as jokes).
Rachel also has memories of Orangutan and Durian which don’t really wet the palate. Orangutans like Durian so much that they eat it, and then throw it up, and then eat it again, and then throw it up… repeat for like 3 hours.
Anyway, all three keeping on brand: Matt, liked the disgusting Durian, because he likes to be different, Maz loves the disgusting Durian, because it is his Malaysian birthright, Rachel hated the disgusting Durian, because she is normal.
Anyway, Matt and Maz sat and talked about the fetid, putrid fruit, as if it were a fine wine for a while. There are different grades, all-you-can-eat Durian restaurants, Durian, stalls, Durian ice cream, Durian…bags? Everything. Its a cultural icon.
Anyway…we nipped to the station and said a genuinely emotional goodbye to Maz, who is one of those friends you really wished lived less than 6,500 miles from you.
The next day it was time to get back to where we really belong, on a night bus.
We can confirm Malaysian night buses are seriously below par — I mean, on Argentinian night buses you get wine with you meal….I mean, you get a meal!… so you can’t really compare. The latter however averaged about 24 hours, whereas this was an almost inconveniently short seven.
Another 2 hour local bus and a 30 minute boat ride later (and a variety of useless, idiot foreigners unable to plan their way out of a wet paper bag), bleary eyed but bushy tailed, we arrived at Perhenthian Kecil, the naughty little sister of the Perhenthian islands.
This had been what we had been looking for and failed to find on Bali. Rachel had visited nearly a decade ago, and astoundingly, it has really barely changed, except for the addition of a pier and one fancy hotel (and much deader coral…David Attenborough is right, kill all humans).
We rocked up to our dive shop where an extremely enthusiastic American called McKenzie greeted us. *Wonder Years voice* It was going to be a really bad day for McKenzie, but she didn’t know that yet *Wonder Years voice ends*, so was welcoming and we were generally really excited for a few days diving and enjoying the idyllic setting.
We went to our room and when we got back the vibe had distinctly changed. Everyone was talking in whispers, when another manically cheery staff member Sharon, told us our dives for the afternoon had to be re-scheduled.
We were a bit disappointed, but didn’t think much of it, and took ourselves off to enjoy the genuinely ridiculous beach.
So, at this point, having had a pretty isolated time in China (Martin and Viv excluded), we were keen to form A Gang.
A really good Gang is actually rarer than you might think travelling. I mean there’s plenty of gangs (small g), but often you quietly think they are all wankers (hello Dana).
By this point we had been travelling for around 7 months (minus knees, or MKays as we say), and although we had met individuals or couples we BLOODY LOVED (shout out Danique, Steve, Martha, Fraser etc (if you’re an etc…sorry! still love you), we had only made two genuinely excellent gangs.
There was Jessie, Danny (/Ryan) and Josh in Peru, and the Luizas and Pam and Linn in Argentina/Brazil.
So when we saw a group of rowdy Brits on the beach, we grabbed some rum, and thought we had it sorted.
They were medics who had managed to get signed off from a secondment, and were instead spending it on the lash in SE Asia.
One of them, Alice, who was a legend, had a dad who is a specialist hip surgeon in Bristol. Turns out he’s bessie-mates with Rachel’s knee surgeon, so Alice sent a snapchat (Millennials) to her dad of to the two of them.
We had a really fun afternoon with them, but as the sun went down, it all went a bit pear shaped, and the next morning it was clear, we had yet to find our people.
All was not lost.
The dive shop had to cancel all dives the next day — for as still unclear reasons — so instead put on a boat to a neighbouring beach for a party.
After waiting for everyone to gather booze from the only place on a Muslim island that sells it, we were off, and we had a party on one of the nicest beaches we had ever been on. It was El Nido good, and that’s really, really good.
That could be a swimming pool.
And here’s where we properly started hanging out with these babes.
Leah (Norwegian), Jani (Norwegian) and Eva (Dutch), because our bessies for the week and we had a gorgeous sun soaked time with them, snorkelling, sun-bathing, and fielding off various boy-shaped dramas mainly centred around a particularly unpleasant pantomime villain called Chris.
Chris, who was admittedly charming, liked to kiss girls and make them cry, and then engage in intense discussions with everyone asking why people thought he was an asshole.
If people think you’re an asshole, you’re an asshole — that’s how being an asshole works.
He even tried to kiss Rachel when Matt wasn’t there, which caused her to laugh in his face.
Enough about Chris, and back to the diving, one of the main reasons we were on the Perhenthians.
After several days trying to dive with our original booking, the centre closed down for a few days so the incredibly wonderfully professional Sharon wouldn’t have a breakdown.
It turned out half the islands foreign dive-centre staff had been marched off the island, literally in handcuffs, as the new Malaysian government had decided to crackdown on immigration.
MacKenzie did not have a nice time in custody on the mainland. Milky, the incredibly pale English person also caught up was, VERY annoyed with immigration enforcement and said that he couldn’t BELIEVE how bad Malaysian immigration enforcement were….as though Theresa May hadn’t recently deported loads of British pensioners to Jamaica…
Anyway…immigration officials, in all countries, not least our own, have not earned a reputation as happy go lucky chaps, eager to help, with sympathetic ears and kindness in their hearts. It sounded like the people who were detained has a pretty horrendous time and it was all very dramatic for them.
But not for us, who went about our business frolicking (I mean, what could we do?) and Matt moved to a dive shop with Malay instructors who were actually legal to finish his Advanced Padi.
He did a very exciting wreck dive.
And a very exciting night dive.
And on our last day on the island he was finally certified! Two days of dives in five is not the model of efficiency but when it looks like this….so what?
Our last night was spent at one of the beach bars watching the fire shows. After Matt got back from his night dive, Rachel decided after a long time nagging, that she would finally show Matt that she could play with fire properly.
Probably unwisely without a fire-free rehearsal, she took hold of the fire-poi and cracked out some old skills.
We are happy to report that life and limb were maintained, and Rachel more or less remembers what she’s doing.
Matt is less proud to report he THOUGHT he was good at Limbo, but Jani really smashed him out the park. “She was much shorter and he was much drunker so who knows who is really best?” sayid an independent observer, unconvincingly
The next day we left the really, really wonderful three girls behind to fend off Chris alone, and headed to Penang.
We hadn’t planned to go to Penang but it was really cool!
It’s really famous for its food, and we spent most of the two days eating our way around the delicious street food available. We (Matt) went to Sun Yat Sen’s house and saw an old Hokkien Clan House. The town was called Georgetown…don’t the British get everywhere?
We discovered peanut and sweetcorn pancakes are a thing sent from heaven, and the most delicious barbecue pork bao (pau in local dialect, those straits Chinese) we have tried is not in fact in China, but hiding in a food-hall on Kimberly Street.
We had absolute LOLs in the Upside Down Museum, which the hostel worker warned us was “just for kids”.
We also made a friend called Catherine who shares the rare breed with Rachel that is posh, but not a wanker. She worked in a local bar (when we met her and Rachel introduced herself in style) and had a fun evening with her and her colleague Aku who lured us in with beer pong.
We spent the evening hanging at the bar teaching them the definitive rules of Shithead(TM Megahaus), when a fight broke out on the street and some locals ran at some (idiot) Westerners with a knife. Everyone got out unscathed, and we avoided the drama ordering McDonalds delivery (WHAT!) at 3am.
When we met Catherine the next day it turned out after we left, someone tried to light her hair on fire, resulting on her quitting the bar. Penang has a pretty extreme gang subculture. Matt blames the British.
There was a lot of drama going on, but thankfully, none of it involved us, so it was time to Vamos — next stop, Thailand.