13 September 2008

Letter 3.33

Penang, Malaysia -- '78

Penang, and its town of Georgetown, is Somerset Maugham country. He used to write short stories at the E & O Hotel. I stayed in less prestigious surrounding in Batu Feranghi, a fishing village about 10 miles outside of Georgetown, and wrote no short stories. A Holiday Inn is a-building on the beach. I didn't build anything but didn't tear down anything either.

Loosest border I've ever crossed (atleast for this train; maybe it was carrying some midnight ramblers?). They didn't look at anybody's bags, and gave us our passports back in bunches to sort out for ourselves. The southern isthmus of Thailand has some very huge rocks, 50 and even 100 feet high, rising out of flat ground, rice fields; trees cling to the top of the rocks and the sides are barren granite. Cavesin some of them. They looked like they just dropped out of the clouds. Might linger here a while when I come back this way -- as I will since I have to renew my visa in a few months in Malaysia. The wretched cold I had in Singapore promptly disappeared (to my surprise) when, in Penang, I had a spicy curry meal. From my alms-collecting days in Ceylon, where chilies were a definite occupational hazard, I've viewed with rueful humor the Indian -- and Ceylonese -- claim that chilies are necessary for health in the tropics. Perhaps no pain's in vain.

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