Saturday, April 16, 2011

Georgetown, Malaysia

If it's anything, Georgetown is atmospheric.  But to get there, I must walk down the narrow unlit hallway of 75 Traveler's Lodge, past the open doorway of a skinny old Caucasian whose head is fringed with wiry gray hair down to his shoulders.  He sits in the dark against the far wall of his room and lightly strums a guitar, peering into the hall.

Beyond that, the lobby opens up to the street.  The glare of the Malaysian afternoon sun makes it impossible to discern the details of what's outside until I step out, allowing my eyes to adjust.  The road is wide enough, perhaps, for a car and motorcycle to pass each other and is lined with wall-to-wall lime washed brick buildings; shop on the bottom, living space on top. 

This has been declared a UNESCO heritage site for just over a decade.  What this means is that all of the buildings that might have been earmarked for demolition have suddenly become valuable and are required to remain, but not necessarily to be restored.  Most outside walls are stained in black from years of exposure while wooden shudders and doors have deteriorated to the point of failure.

There is a great diversity of architecture, however, which is owed to the economic history of the region.  At the end of the 18th century, Georgetown became an important hub for the East India Trading Company and countless other organizations.  Entrepreneurs from the west as well as India, China, Japan, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and, of course, Malaysia gathered to do business.  As a result, the place became a mosaic of world cultures and, owing to the affluence of the peoples, was graced by the finest architecture of each nation.  Elaborate religious structures representing the various faiths were erected and Chinese temples, Christian churches, Muslim mosques, and Buddhist Wats now appear on every street.

I entered one such temple after passing through a mansion-turned-museum.  It's patrons had, however, gone under a fairly dramatic transformation.  Dozens of bats inhabited the highest and darkest corners, clinging to the brick walls and wooden pillars.  Robyn's suspicion is that the creatures are the vampire caretakers of the aforementioned museum although I think that the large open courtyard located in the building would be an ill-suited feature for such terrors of the night. 

The end of our time in Malaysia marks the 10-day countdown to the end of our trip and the pile of responsibilities waiting there after 4 months of neglect.

10 days in which to...

  Revisit the nicest beaches we've ever seen, spend hours in transit, order noodle soup from street vendors in Bangkok...

and that's about as far as the plan's gotten.

David J Parker

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