home sweet home
We’re in Penang, home to some of the most delicious street food we’ve ever seen, and a handful of completely crazy people – who live in our hotel.
We did our usual roaming of the streets in town looking for a good deal on accommodation, made more difficult by the tichiness brougt on by 4 hours of belting rain that we rode through to get here, and had almost settled on a quite nice looking heritage building, converted into a modernish hotel, for 60 ringgit a night, when Sal walked down an unlit alley and emerged with good news.
‘hey this palce has a garage to keep the bike in… the room is pretty shit though, 30 ringgit a night’ ($10)…
Little did we know…
The old chinese man at reception, Ihock, wearing just a pair of khaki coloured shorts, was talking flat out when we came in to register, initially we didn’t realise it but he was talking to us, (about how cheap his hotel was), and he went on to explain that ‘hetdbfh hegc I see bike hfhch hdhchf hfhc h one towel per room hfhv hf hf hfbff my place very cheap gjgbg ghgnlflg gjgng gj!!!!!!!!!!’
‘ok, so which room are we in?’
‘hff kcd dididndhtdbedyd eneyfteue 6’
‘yes, 6 6 nuba 6, GO GO go to YOUR ROOM NOW!!’
it turns out we are in the Unesco heritage listed part of town, full of cool bars, coffee shops, lovely guest houses and quaint old chinese stores… and the Pin Seng Hotel. Home to the most odd ball collection of residents that we’ve ever seen.
When we arrived there was an old man at the door smoking a cigarette, dark skinned, over weight, stained t shirt, middle eastern looking, with a bum bag around his waist, and sweat trickling off his forehead. I thought he was security… now we call him Ali. Crazy man No. 1.
Ali lives here, Ali smokes cigarettes, Ali asks us if we smoke, EVERY TIME WE SEE HIM. No sorry Ali, we still haven’t started. The rest of the time Ali talks to himself with arms flailing in incomprehensible sentences. Ali also asks everyone who walks through the door ‘do you speak French, do you have cigarette?’ (Ali doesn’t speak French!?).
Then there’s the blind (actually vision impaired) gentleman who fumbles his way along the corridors looking for his room, the toilet, the cupboard containing warm beer, or it seems our room which he’s quite fond of… we call him Hussein ‘ no Hussein, this is still not your room’. Hussein is crazy man no. 2. Hussein is drinking warm beer from before we wake up, until after we go to sleep. He sits at a table crouched over the beer, with a jam jar half full of brown water water and old cigarette butts. We wonder if he ever confuses the jar with the glass as they are both equally close to his mouth. Hussein will respond to any voice he hears as though he’s being spoken to, but the responses are hard to make out.
Now i come to the craziest of the lot, ‘the Westerner’ we call him. I walked out of our room into the hallway yesterday to find him standing just in front of our door, both hands stuffed into his mouth but still trying to talk, I actually screamed. He didn’t flinch though, just went on talking through his fingers. He’s proper crazy. Caucasian, maybe 60 years old, 5 foot tall, thin and always wears the same white tank top and blue shorts.
Westie has apparently taken it upon himself to take care of the other crazies in the place, he empties ashtrays, pours hot beer into dirty cups for Hussein, and bums cigarettes off strangers for Ali.
It all sounds a little exaggerated, but i kid you not, this place is stark raving mad. And we love it!! The Chinese owner Ihock sleeps in the store room next to the front door, which is a room about the size of my mum’s pantry. He locks the steel bar front door around midnight, presumably to keep us all from leaving.
During the course of the night, we hear noises that range from a yet to be identified woman vomiting next to our window, to something that sound s like a waterfall, which I’m slowly deciphering as being something to do with Ali, and his wash room routine.
Any request from Ihock at reception is responded with in totally bizarre shrieks and grunts which eventually we can now sometimes understand. The handful of ‘normal’ looking people here all have the same bewildered look on their faces, that ‘what the fuck is going on here????’ look.
I left my helmet outside this afternoon, quick as a flash Ali brought it to our room ‘helmet, grunt, outside, grunt, you have cigarette?’. It was all i could do not to laugh.
Every now and then, a couple of ridiculous looking backpackers wearing zip pants and money belts wander in to ask how much the rooms are, it’s priceless… the owner flat out starts screaming at them, explaining that his rooms are really cheap, and clean, and there is nowhere else in town for this price’
They make their excuses and run away… we laugh, Ihock grunts, Ali asks them for a cigarette and Hussein bumps into them with his walking cane, while Westie is still trying to eat his fingers while hopping up and down on one leg in the carpark.
True to his word though, it is very clean. Our room is at ground level, it’s unremarkable except the fan on the ceiling which is enormous, like Ihock stole it from an aircraft hanger. On the lowest setting it blows more air than we could ever want, but it’s hot here, so we leave it on, and consequently it’s gale force wind all the time.
We have a wardrobe and a small sink, but no bathroom, a small table and two plastic chairs. The bed is thin foam, the floor is concrete painted deep red, the walls are pale blue and there is one fluoro tube on the wall for light. There is one power point on the wall, just a bit too high for any of pur cords to plug into and reach the floor, so there is usually something balancing precauriously on the outlet. The showers are cold, but not brutally, so even a rinse at 12am is quite comfortable… It’s about 1am now and Ali’s washing routine has begun, it sounds like Niagra falls in here, where the fuck does all that water come from???
Ihock spends the mornings cleaning, he mops the floors and does the washing. Quite novel to be somewhere so clean after Indonesia. He even puts the pillows out in the sun, arranging them in rows on top of the cars in the laneway leading to reception, if anyone out there can think of why he might be doing this please let us know!
Ihock adds the bills with an abacus.
The row of communal toilets at the end of the hall is very well ordered, they have western style toilets and squatters too, toilet paper provided – what luxury! Sal went to the toilet in the middle of the night though to find Ali perched on top of one of the bowls in the dark with the door open, as she opened the adjacent door and went into the cubicle, Ali leaned close to the wall and shouted ‘BOO!!!’ She had tears in her eyes from laughter as she told me the story in the morning.
I’ve described the three main protagonists in this show, but there are many other supporting actors too. At any time off the day there will be between 3 and ten people in and around reception and the hallway leading to our room, usually just sitting alone on a plastic chair, rocking forwards and back and mumbling quietly. It’s quite nice the way they all seem to take care of each other though, like when Westie steals a cigarette for Ali, or Ihock sees Hussein stumbling in the hallway about to walk into our room and gentle guides him past.
This place could be the basis for some weird show at the Fringe festival, I’m just not sure anyone could do it justice… At ten dollars a night it’s the best entertainment we’ve had in a long time.
It’s also the cheapest room we’ve found since that pearler upstairs at the ferry office, but we dont talk about that anymore.
So we’re here for almost a week to explore Penang’s street food and vibe, after which we fly to Sipadan for what’s supposed to be the most amazing diving in the world.
‘It was AMAZING, we saw an angel fish and a snapper’
Katie Clark 2015