An English woman, an Irish man, a German, an Italian and a pole sit down for dinner at a Muslims table.
Our final stop in Malaysia was to be a week or so living in a beach front shack on a small island called Dayang Bunting off the larger but still fairly small island of Langkawi. We had booked our accommodation through AirB&B and the description promised cheap and cheerful and delivered both. Jane, who more and more assumes the role of my PA had been exchanging emails with our soon to be host Shade to tie up the details, frustratingly for her, his responses (although always prompt) were more laid back than even I could manage i.e. most contained what we were to learn was his mantra in life “don’t worry, be happy”. I guess that for Jane, this was probably a nightmare, she now had to contend with two very lackadaisical people, at each end of the project and she was in full organisational mode. We arrived in one piece, edges a tad frayed and a day early having cut short KL as the planned overnight train was fully booked for the next month leaving us only one option, to travel early 3rd class, which turned out to be much more comfortable than feared.
On landing at Tuba island as instructed, we had a 30 minute or so wait for Shade to come pick us up and transport us the couple of miles along recently paved roads and over the single track bridge that joined the two islands to our temporary bungalow home. He duly arrived in his battered old white Proton with odd yellow panels and no rear window leaping out of the “wreckage” to greet us with a welcoming smile so wide and warm it could melt the ice cap. This short journey was an introduction to Shade, he began telling us about the island, his life and his philosophy on it, this dialogue ( yes dialogue, he did pause and allow comment, although this may have been mainly to allow him breath) continued effortlessly to the point we waved goodbye at Langkawi quay 8 days later.
Arriving at our destination, a remote spot at the end of a small track, we had not passed any recognisable shops or restaurant, clearly these islands were a long way from being “developed”, yes the government had built nice new schools and laid some tarmac but it was still very much a fishing and rubber plantation economy. Our hosts offered us full board for an extra 50 ringets (£10 each) per night, seeing little option, we accepted. As it transpired this proved to be amazingly good value, we ate famously as the Irish say and left the island several pounds heavier and converts to Malaysian cuisine. Other extras thrown in were use of some kayaks and a couple of Honda motorbikes, the latter we used to Buzz round the islands, me at the front and my newly discovered biker chick Jane riding pillion.
Our first evenings dinner was served on tables set out on the lawn, we were joined by a Korean family that had been staying for a few days and were leaving the next day, destination undecided. They were good company and much braver than us travelling so unconcernedly with two young boys in tow. The food cooked by Shades wife Barkat was delicious, Shade the most attentive of hosts and the setting splendid, a great introduction to what was in store for us over the next week.
Midway through our stay on this little island, after a good breakfast we boarded our hosts fishing boat for the 35 minute passage to Langkawi, the main island. This was a for Shade and Barkat to pick up fuel and supplies and a shopping trip for us. We would also be bringing a German couple back to the island to join us and another couple that had rocked up unexpectedly yesterday, he Italian, she Polish. That evenings dinner was a delight, with great food, lively conversation, travellers tales and only the slightest hint of underlying racism ( no, not from Jane, this time :-)). I don’t want to put a slight on what was a lovely evening and perhaps I was reading to much into a few loose remarks but it seems that a slight tinge of xenophobia is an all to common occurrence even with apparently intelligent and worldly folk, do we all harbor some level of resentment towards immigrants irrespective of our own ancestral origins? Discuss.
As I sit here in Thailand, on the balcony of our splendid bamboo bungalow with the waves gently lapping the palm fringed white sandy beach in front of me, I am recalling our time on Dayang Bunting, only a week ago. Remembering Shades constant (almost smothering at times) attention, bringing food and drinks, offers of trips out, Barkats amazing cooking and the regular supply of interesting fellow travellers keeping the conversations fresh. Yes we lived in a tin hut that rattled in the wind, the beach was muddy and the sea a bit murky but I wonder if that for all of Thailands postcard perfect appearance, warm inviting seas, tasty foods, colourful sights and beautiful people will it generate memories to match those we carry from our time in raggedy but quirkily splendid Malaysia, it’s going to have to pull its finger out!