Monday 10 October 2016
Four years and eight months ago to the day, we arrived for the first time in Penang, on a rather late flight out of Bangkok. We were celebrating our first meeting in 1976, which we treated as our anniversary celebration. Having survived for some years on one income, Laing decided that with his recently activated early pension we would only ever travel long haul in the comfort of business class.
This journey took us from Bangkok by air to Penang, then the train to Singapore (before the station at Tajong Pagar closed), and finally on to Bali by air once more. Penang was the only place we had not visited before.
We had recently seen a part travel but mainly food programme about Asia presented by Rick Stein. One of his stops, and therefore a programme, was based in Penang, and he stayed at the E&O. When we saw the building we fell in love with the hotel. Its old world charm appealed. We knew it was recreating in modern terms (fake is an accurate term although the pejorative overtones associated with this word do taint it somewhat) an idealised colonial past, where the likes of Kipling or Somerset Maugham would reside (an extended stay being de rigueur) and create tales located there, recalling the days of the Empire at its height, or of the unruly, untamed, passionate, wife of an absentee rubber plantation owner indulging in improper liaisons with a well known roué whose scandalous past now culminates in a tragic lust that is sadly his first and only true love.
Such was our instant ardour on seeing that episode, we knew Penang was a place that had to be visited.
We arrived at the hotel nearer midnight than is respectable, but at least it was the right side of that ungodly hour.
We were offered cold cloth towels to freshen up, and a delicious, chilled, fruit drink. On my solo visit in 2016, I was told the mix was orange, melon and pineapple. It was smooth and just the right level of sweetness, unlike the Singapore sling I tried in the excessively noisy Long Bar at the E&O’s sister Sarkie hotel, Raffles.
Once the formalities were complete, we were led by the butler (how wonderful this all sounds, it is, trust me, however they do not butle for you alone) to our room.
We knew we were not on the ground floor but the first floor. It seemed incredibly lazy to be taken up in the lift for just one floor.
The room felt huge. It seemed like a map was needed for the bathroom. The bath was long, wide and deep, not that we ever used it.
The generously sized twin beds looked of a time when mosquito nets would have been suspended from above. The sort of bed a boy could turn into a fortress, or the bridge of an enormous powerful aircraft carrier and still have room for the rest of the flotilla. Not that I ever had such visions of power as a child!
There wasn’t much of a view to see in the dark, but we had a lovely little balcony and the swimming pool lay below.
When we woke the following morning there was something more to look forward to, a magical, misty scene with marine traffic coming through the Strait of Malacca delivering various cargo, not just huge container vessels or oil tankers , but also a regular flow of ships bringing tourists to the port at George Town.
Not only did we have all that excitement, but the local fishermen were at work on the hotel doorstep. It seemed hardly possible they would be working apparently so close to shore and each morning they would fish a different area, or haul in the pots they had laid.
And we hadn't even gone for breakfast yet in Sarkie's Corner!