Thursday, January 20, 2005
We woke up a little cranky because of the lack of sleep, and the continental breakfast didn't help – it was pretty poor. We headed back to the observation car to see if any of the scenery had changed overnight – it hadn't. Still lots of oil palms and rubber trees. Some of the rubber trees had little catchment systems to catch the rubber. After a little bit we got off the train at Butterworth, which is on the Malaysian mainland right near the island of Penang, which is a popular tourist destination. We got on a bus, which then got on a ferry, and took the ferry across to Penang. During the short bus trip our guide told us all a little bit of Malaysian history, which we already knew because of our tour in KL the week before.
We got off the ferry in Georgetown, a colonial city with many buildings from its time as a British base still around. We all wandered through the busy city streets and a street market as one large, disorganized group. It reminded us of field trips in elementary school. After a bit of walking, we all got onto trishaws (like rickshaws but the person is riding a bicycle and so there's a third wheel in the back. On the trishaw ride we saw some mosques, some temples, some churches, and an old British fort – Fort Cornwallis. The city is quite rundown because rent control was done away with a few years back, the prices got jacked up, no one could afford it, and now many of the buildings are vacant and the owners have no income.
We got back on the bus, back on the ferry to the mainland, and then back on the train. Before we got off the bus, the tour guide informed us that on the island of Penang, 68 people perished in the tsunamis, but that they were all locals, as if that made it better somehow. After getting back on the train we ate lunch, this time by ourselves. After lunch we went back to the observation car, where it was noticeably warmer and also noticeably drier. Also, the scenery had changed, the forests had been replaced by low scrub and rice fields, and every so often there were large limestone outcroppings sticking out dozens of feet above the ground. One couple remarked that it looked like the San Joaquin Valley, so we struck up a conversation with them, figuring they were from northern California. They were from Marin County , but knew all about southern California as well, one of them having grown up in Pasadena . Also, the women's father (grandfather?) had been a trustee at Harvey Mudd College many years back, so it was a small world sort of thing. Crystal got bored of talking, so she went back and took a nap, Justin stayed out talking with the old folks, including a couple from Britain.
After a short while we passed into Thailand, signaling the end of our ability to read signs. The Thais use a different alphabet, so we wouldn't be able to learn the signs and recognize the words like we had in Malaysia. It became apparent that all the scenery was fields, so Justin, tired from no sleep the night before, went back to the room and took a short nap. We both went back to the observation car, this time with a video camera, as the captain had told us that around 5pm we'd be able to get some good footage of the train snaking up the mountainside. We did get some footage, but the snaking wasn't all that impressive, nor was the mountainside. We passed a number of small towns – Thailand seems to be both more and less developed than Malaysia. There are more developed areas, but the level of development in the developed areas doesn't seem to be as high.
Just before dinner we were treated to an authentic Thai dancer performing – we have no idea if she was authentic, but she could dance much better than we could. At dinner, Crystal ran out of room for food (they give you a ton), and the staff kept trying to talk her out of it. At last they came to a compromise, stating that they wouldn't bring out the main course, but only if she agreed to let them put a plate of fresh fruit in our room in case she got hungry in the middle of the night. After dinner we went to the piano bar, which we avoided the first night because 1) we were underdressed and 2) we thought we wouldn't fit in. We went this night because we figured it would be a long time before we got on a train again, and we wanted to know what it was like to be in a pompous piano car with a bunch of rich retired folks. It was about as expected, but we enjoyed it nonetheless. We tried to figure out the songs the piano player was playing – Justin got most of them, guessing songs from show tunes. In his formative years his parents tortured him with hours upon hours of show tunes on the stereo, so when the piano player started playing “Memory,” "That's All I Ask Of You," and “Phantom of the Opera” Justin unfortunately knew the songs. Crystal must have looked nice in her gown, as some German lady wanted to take a picture of Crystal, by herself. It was a little odd – maybe it's a German thing. We got to sleep alright, probably because of lingering exhaustion from the night before.
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