Despite the obvious rewards, a traveller’s life is a life of tribulation in many ways.
Firstly there are the early morning starts to take advantage of cheap airfares (they never seem good value when the alarm sounds at 4.30am). Then of course, the aimless trapesing of dark, unchartered backstreets whilst searching for well-priced accommodation at an ungodly hour. There are unfamiliar beds, absent bed-linen, muscle aches, mosques, the endless packing and unpacking, an unwelcome dawn crow of cockerels the morning after you couldn’t quite fall asleep despite counting thousands of imaginary sheep.
The list goes on.
Throw the unpredictable sleep patterns and teething episodes of a mini-me into the mix and there is a perfect storm of tiredness gathering on the horizon every few weeks.
It just so happens that after steadily rising to a Beaufort scale 5 in the Cameron Highlands, the four winds of insomnia have centred upon Georgetown, Pulau Penang to create the mother of all sleep storms
Georgetown is a World Heritage city whose history is primarily marked by the landing, settlement and building of a fort by the British a few hundred years ago.
Having deceitfully taken the island from the ruling Sultan in exchange for protection from the noisy neighbours in Siam, our forefathers then set about building a trading post of great importance at the northern extreme of the Straits of Malacca.
A walk around the old dock area of Georgetown today is reminiscent of a visit to say The Bay area of Cardiff or any other important UK port city with a hangover from the days of Empire.
The commercial buildings are so obviously influenced by classical European architecture with imposing columns and pediments commanding the streets around the original, decaying walls of Fort Cornwallis.
On the other hand, the old residential districts a few blocks inland, are a warren of Chinese shophouses whose uneven facades are usually decorated with wooden shutters, often in shades of pastel, most probably in a state of advanced disrepair.
It is upon one of these characterful streets that bears the almost poetically perfect name “Love Lane” that we find accommodation at the Red Inn Heritage.
The attractive building has a series of steps leading up from ground level to a wide verandah. Beyond this a set of broad double doors are flung open to reveal a long, high-ceilinged hallway flanked by wood panelling and a staircase doubling back at the rear to lead up to the second level.
This was at one time, an uber cool house.
There is a 52” LCD with a range of DVD’s to choose from. Free coffee, free drinking water, two computer terminals,(wifi also available) and a well stocked fridge from which it is possible to purchase over-priced drinks, both alcoholic and soft.
All in all, the perfect pad for the money being asked.
We check-in and receive our key in lieu of a 25 Ringgit deposit.
It is the last double room available.
I reference the writing on the small, green key fob.
To my horror it reads “Room 101”.
Anybody familiar with the dystopian future prophecised in George Orwell’s novel “1984” will be familiar with the phrase and all that it represents. Less intellectually inclined readers will likely still recognise the term from Nick Hancock’s derivative BBC show where a studio audience help Hancock decide whether a guest celebrity’s pet hate deserves to be cast into Room 101.
Either way, if you find yourself checked-in to Room 101 you should be at least a little perturbed.
Not being superstitious in the slightest, I can only deduce that we have been allocated such a room for a reason. This is going to be a test.
Over the next three nights, my suspicions are proved to be qualified.
Room 101 of The Red Inn Heritage lies immediately behind the vast front communal area.
A communal area I might add, with a pool table whose baulk cushion lies no more than 5 ft from the thin dividing wall that separates us from its players.
It’s strange, but I’ve never really listened to the sound of a pool table before visiting Penang.
The ratchet-crank that indicates coins being spent. The deep thud of a heavy object as a cue ball bounces off the hard surface. The rapid rattle as a ball ricochets between the jaws of a pocket before dropping and rolling along a loose metal ramp. The slowly decaying rumble of a miss-hit ball landing on a hard floor and rolling to a standstill.
An “Oooh!”, a “Jammy!”, and the obligatory “Get in there!”
It is these sound one picks up on when one is desperate to sleep whilst others are still at play.
The 52” widescreen also seems to boast a state-of-the-art cinematic surround sound system judging from the piercing pitch of car wheel skids, the occasion rounds of semi-automatic gunfire and the loud explosive episodes that reverberate around our room.
Then there are the drinkers. Oh, the little teases.
They know what they are doing, because it was me that used to do the very same thing.
Hushed, drunken whispers that will soon unintentionally return to being a loud chorus of barks with an occasional bout of belly laughter as its bassline.
A shuttle-run along the corridor to the nearby loo.
A loud call to an acquaintance at the entrance to a distant bedroom.
Heavy footsteps on creaking first floor floorboards.
Elephants in the house.
A bright neon from the corridor streaming in through the windowpane above the door frame. Light enough to read still, though our switch went off over two hours ago.
The air-con too cold. Too warm with it off though. Too cold again now.
Three nights of this.
I was tired when I arrived from The Cameron Highlands due to an inconsiderate party of outdoor drinkers, now this.
It seems we are now firmly on the Banana Pancake trail. I dread to think what two months in Thailand will do to me.
The more upmarket accommodation we will enjoy when my parents visit will by then, possibly be a Godsend.