This is a rather hurried letter (written in a Chinese "restaurant" over my curried rice) to use my last Malaysian aerogramme before I hit Thailand. That may not be for a day or so yet, depending on whether I get a lift to the right places. If I only get to Alor Setar I'll look up a Japanese Peace Corps worker I met in Indonesia (civil engineer on an irrigation project). In that case I'll probably take a train across the Malaysia-Thai border where there are Communist guerrillas operating.
The Sydney Café facilities were pretty poor (about Indonesian standard). I slept on a stretcher in a dorm and was woken each morning at 0545 by an alarm clock and a muezzin (or whatever they call them in this country) wailing out his call to prayer from down the street. There were lots of other odd voyagers in the Sydney Café - both east- and west-bound - and all with their tales to tell. Quite a fascinating life!
Life on Penang is so uncomplicated and restful to mind and body, I felt I was getting lazy. One must not lose the will to move. Scott of the Antarctic knew the feeling!
On Monday I tried swimming in the warm tropical waters and brought the last of the scab off my leg. It looks reasonably healthy but I won't leave Thailand until I'm sure it's OK. I took a bus around to Batu Ferringhi on the North Coast: all the beaches are particularly beautiful, with white sand and waving palms. This one in particular (about as long as but narrower than N-S Avoca) is the playground of the idle rich, amongst whom I did not number myself. Idle I may be, but not rich! I found my taxes were being used by the RAAF to buzz the beaches in a helicopter. I suppose they have to find something to do.
Yesterday I made arrangements to see the RAAF base this morning. Consequently I went and bought some new trousers in order to look more presentable. $10 inc. alteration would be slightly more expensive than Singapore. I also bought film for $61: more expensive than Singapore but cheaper than at home. They say film is very expensive in India but cheap in Europe, esp. Britain. I don't know what to do about getting slides processed: there is nothing between Melbourne and Bombay. Could send them on to Britain I suppose. They recommend having them processed quickly in these humid climes.
This morning I donned my new clothes and set off at 0700 for the RAAF base: three buses and a ferry. Customs checks at Butterworth (necessary because Penang is a free port) were negligible. I rolled up to Service Police but the guy I'd arranged to meet was in the air, so I contacted another Squadron Leader who delivered me to 75 Squadron HQ where I had a friendly chat to the C.O., a Wing Commander (I think he's equivalent to an Army Lieutenant-Colonel, isn't he?) One of the pilots showed me around the hangars, sat me in a cockpit and explained the Mirage controls etc. and another took me up to the control tower: all very instructive.
It's now 1315: I'd better go and start thumbing before it's too late.
1430. I have just had a ride in an air-conditioned Mercedes 220D to Petani with the personal secretary of the Malaysian ambassador to the U.S., a dapper little guy in a floral shirt, white trousers and shoes. He has left me on the outskirts of Petani after shouting me an Indian lunch (my second lunch but then I didn't have any breakfast and I was still hungry!)
This area is the "rice-bowl" of Malaysia: there is no tin but some rubber. I was surprised to find sugar-cane juice for sale all over Penang. There were lots of juice extractors on the streets. I drank a lot of it at 5c/small glass. The pineapples were delicious. For the rest I seemed to survive on mee soup (eaten with chopsticks of course!) with an occasional fried egg and cups of coffee. For my next lift (to Alor Setar) I sat on a wooden bench seat in an old rattletrap of a truck: such are the vicissitudes of this life!
Found there are no trains to Thailand until 0630 tomorrow. So after a good deal of trouble I have located my Japanese friend and will be sleeping on a stretcher in this bachelor's pad. The guy in charge of vehicles for the Muda Irrigation project has offered to lend us a Land Rover tomorrow to drive the 40 miles to the dam. The said dam has made possible two crops of rice p.a. on a couple of hundred thousand acres - no more importation of rice. There seems to be no fresh milk in SEAsia - all "reconstituted" powdered milk or condensed milk.