Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Sitting on bus in Georgetown

Yep, Georgetown.  Named so lovingly after King George of England (I'm not sure which one) when Sir Francis Light "bought" the rights to the island of Penang from the kingdom which controlled it in the late 1700s.

Today I saw an old fort which was constructed shortly after the transfer of ownership, a couple beautiful old mosques, an old church, and countless old buildings which date back to the 1800s.  The fact that they are a) still in use and b) still looking good is both a testament to the builders and the tenants through the ages who must have completed at least minimal maintenance during their tenure.  Many now house the areas of little India and China town, which I'm not sure if the original builders ever anticipated.

It is a bit odd to walk down a street which is reminiscent of a classic European city, yet covered in signs with Hindu words and/or Chinese characters.  Although these minorities were present during the time of colonial ownership, I suspect they never inhabited the colonial style buildings.

It is a very modern city though, with several buses running all over the island, all fully equipped with wifi which is connected to mobile broadband.  Although it is certainly not lightening fast, it is sufficient for simple browsing.

The first couple nights here I stayed in a guesthouse with a pair that I met in the Cameron Highlands, but spent the days at a couchsurfing gathering hosted by Michel, a Frenchman who is a CS ambassador.  He is a bit eccentric but very generous and very much in love with couchsurfing.  He rents a 16th floor condo about 100m from the beach and has equipped his 2 spare bedrooms with 6 small beds - all free and all for CSers!  The view is beautiful and he gets to enjoy lovely sunsets every night.

Tomorrow I am flying to Medan, Indonesia which is on the northern tip of the island of Sumatra.  I got anti-malaria pills for the first time and finally found some mosquito repellent loaded with DEET, hopefully between these and staying relatively covered up during high-risk times, I'll be fine.

On a side note: "In 2008, there were 247 million cases of malaria and nearly one million deaths – mostly among children living in Africa. In Africa a child dies every 45 seconds of Malaria, the disease accounts for 20% of all childhood deaths...Approximately half of the world's population is at risk of malaria. Most malaria cases and deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa. However, Asia, Latin America, and to a lesser extent the Middle East and parts of Europe are also affected. In 2008, malaria was present in 108 countries and territories." - WHO

I remember seeing a big display in UN Headquarters in NYC last April when I was there for the national Model UN conference.  It was a mock-coming detailing the plague of malaria in the developing world.  It was something I had never really seen or thought of before, especially not something I had ever worried about.  Having never traveled to an area where there is any real risk of acquiring the disease, it is easy to forget.  

It is amazing that even in the most high risk of areas it is easy to greatly decrease the risk of contracting the disease by proper use of mosquito nets and protective clothing (long sleeves, pants, socks, etc.).  However, in many places even if there are thousands of nets available, most people are unaware of a) the importance of using them, b) the advantages of using them, and most importantly c) how to use them.  

This is an incredible problem and the fact that nearly a million people a year die from a disease so easily prevented is atrocious in a world where we (the developed world) are spending untold millions to ineffectively patrol the Gulf of Aden for Somali pirates 1.  The piracy patrols and piracy in general could lead me to rant for hours, but the point is that despite the economic downturn of recent years, it would be incredibly easy to greatly reduce the number of deaths from malaria, and while this may then lead to other problems (sadly: overpopulation, increased malnutrition/starvation, etc.) it has been included as part of the UN's Millennium Development Goal #6 and should be given attention accordingly.  For those who have never heard of the MDGs, maybe you should read them.  They represent the challenges and hopes for the start of this century, hopefully not the whole thing.

Climbing off the soapbox, I'll finish my post.

After a couple bad experiences with couchsurfing - or at least less than positive - I have renewed faith in the project after meeting Michel and the other surfers staying with me there.  I have successfully secured a host for my arrival in Medan, Indonesia tomorrow, and will hopefully be able to plan enough in advance to continue surfing, rather than staying in guest houses and hostels.  By doing this I should be able to easily get by on a budget of about $15/day or less, rather than then ~$30/day for the first 36 days.

My goal is to traverse Sumatra to the southern tip, take a ferry to Java, cross that to Bali, and then take a combination of flights back to Bangkok to meet with friend/s who are coming to visit in early-mid December.  I have at least 3 weeks to make the journey, maybe 4, and it should be a hell of a ride.  Although it is a predominantly Muslim country which has suffered from bouts of violence in recent history, everything I have encountered, read, and heard so far has give me nothing but positive thoughts on the upcoming experience and I believe I have nothing to fear.  My only mission is to experience the culture, beauty, and history of the place, while spreading love and understanding, and hopefully generating more positive feelings towards the US of A as they begin to understand that we're not all hell bent on destroying Islam and those who follow it.

Pictures again are delayed, though I have many.  I need to work on sharing some so you can see the beautiful things that I have over the past week or so in Malaysia.

My trip will definitely be taking a turn for the better in the coming days, and I will welcome it with open arms!

For those of you with extra time on your hands and want to learn a little more about this world we live in, take a look at James Mawdsley's book The Iron Road - A stand for Truth and Democracy in Burma. At about 450 pages it is an easy read which is saddening, motivating, and uplifting.

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