Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Mummy! I lost my dummy!


It has happened before but last time it was actually stolen - my Lonely Planet, that is, in Sri Lanka, that was. This time I simply left it on the plane. Last time I freaked out and tried to hunt down the culprit - a Kiwi who had "borrowed" it at the airport - and scoured Colombo for him. I was insensed. Then I gave in and tracked down a lone surviving copy of the old edition ("reprinting") at the Hilton, of all places for an LP guide. This time it was lost through my carelessness and I cared less. I tried to practise some non-attachment and learn non-dependence on the old dummy. Instead the well-tried arts of consulting the locals (but not taxi-drivers!) and of following one's nose. Last night in KL this led me to the "Y", convenient for the "Stesen Sentral" (the Malays could teach us a thing or two about spelling reform) and a spotless and utterly characterless room but conveniently located and perfect for a gradual adjustment to local conditions. Its blandness may have been suitable for Malaysia too, such an abject enthusiast for consumerist capitalism, such a typical ex-colony. As Sri Lanka is too but, thanks to its size, diversity, strength and depth of its culture, substantially not India. Post-colonials seem to be living out a sort of parody of the lifestyle they learned from their colonisers. Visiting your own country's ex-colonies is so much more uncomfortable (India, again, excepted) than visiting those of another European power. Hence the Frenchified Lao, Cambodia and Vietnam - whatever else has intervened - will (I hope) charm not taunt with half-familiar similarities.

And, of course, the next morning the first thing I did was to track down a replacement (and new) LP for Malaysia et al. It helps in being prepared for the new place, before your "nose" for what's where gets tuned in. It gives invaluable orientation through its maps and transport information, less essential information on where to stay and where to eat. Trouble is with dummies, you come to rely on them. As a result I assumed that the info about getting into town from the out-of-town bus station (stesen) was still valid from the guide published last year. Consequently I wasted at least an hour - whereas, without the guide, I would have asked around more (and definitely not the taxi-drivers, in this case) and got to my destination that much earlier. Except that, without my guide, I'd have had no map and no idea of where to look around for a place to stay. There must be a lesson there - something like: be selective in your use of the guide, try to wean yourself off the dummy, dummy!

Now in Penang, where history hangs heavier than in the green, new, often sparkling. Kuala Lumpur. Staying in Chinatown, in a bottom-end Chinese mansion for 4 quid tonight but moving upmarket to another Chinese mansion but spick-and-span (no other word in this colonial settlement full of architectural references to a bygone age of small merchants and exotic trading). The arrival of Lady J requires no less. Tomorrow also comes the Hindu festival of Thaipusam, banned nowadays in India but pursued with enthusiasm here - it must take enthusiasm in a very technical sense to induce devotees to pierce themselves with hooks, bamboo sticks and who-knows-what-else. Reportedly, the ones with insufficient enthusiasm are the ones that end up in hospital. I am trusting that the coincidence of Lady J's arrival and the festival of self-wounding remain just totally coincidental!

Then on the following day, heading north either to Langkawi and into Thailand that way or directly up the isthmus about as far as Surat Thani, giving a number of beach options, for unwinding before heading for the hills and rivers of Lao.

I am trying hard to hang on to the feelings of newness (despite the familiarity). It's all too well-known, that feeling of everything descending into sameness and visual cliché. The climatic transition from mild-but-dark-and-wet to hot-and-humid (sometimes wet) seems to have gone easily. (Who's complaining?) And even the let jag hasn't got me too much despite occasional Spoonerist lapses and the fact that I'm now in danger of declining into dwimbling even as I type. Enough before I do!

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