Saturday, February 7, 2009

Like a fly caught in a web - Penang, Malaysia

Tall and baroquely decorated minarets, vaguely psychedelic statues clutching at colourful columns in the Hindu Shrines, Chinese pagodas shrouded in clouds of incense and houses of the corporations with soft pastel pink, yellow and green façades. The streets are lined with restaurants, lodgings, craftsmen’s workshops and merchants’ storerooms. Everything seems to be wrapped up in a thin and pale veil of colonial and ancient dust. This is Georgetown: the pulsing heart of Penang.

It’s late, eleven at night. I’ve just put my bags down in my room and I’m already strolling around to smell it, taste it and look at it, in order to try, maybe in vain, to seize it and hold on to it, if not yet to remember it. I walk past a Mosque and a group of men with embroidered robes and headdresses sitting and chatting in front of it. The notes of a familiar song catch my ear and I slow down my pace. As a spider that hurls itself on a fly which got caught in its web, a man with dark skin and a thin moustache comes up to me.

“Just a look…Indonesia!”
He gestures towards the band and starts talking again.
“Enter...only a like…go.”
His English is not too good, but the number has obviously been staged again and again.
“Hmm, maybe later, ok?”
“No. Now...come on!”

His smile is so charming that I feel drawn to it like a cobra to his enchanter’s flute and a few seconds later I find myself following him into what seems to be some kind of food court.
I know the song: how many times did I listen to it when I was in Kunming.
“It’s Chinese!” I cry out.
“No, Indonesia.” he insists.
At a closer look the singer might actually be Javanese.
“But he’s singing in Chinese!” I try again.
“Indonesia…also China, Malaysia…English language.”

What is he talking about? Are there going to be other bands playing?
I take a better look at him and I notice a misalignment between our gazes.
While mine has so far been fixed on the band, his eyes are scanning the space that separates us from a group of people sitting at a table. They are all women.
My perplexity only lasts for a few more seconds, as I put the pieces of this jigsaw puzzle together. Indonesia, China, English language, women and that sentence…If you don’t like it you can just leave.
Ha-ha...He’s a pimp!
“Ah, no…thanks!”

No comments: