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Today's quote:

Saturday, September 12, 2020

The Lankawi Express


I have a confession to make: "Ghost Train to the Eastern Star" has a $35-price sticker on the back but I got it for a mere two dollars at Vinnies. Some three hundred pages into the book, I love it so much, I feel like writing a cheque for $33 and sending it to Paul Theroux. Not knowing where to send it, I promise to buy his next book at full cover price. Having got this off my chest, let's get back to page 316 and chapter 21 - Night Train to Singapore - The Lankawi Express:

"When the train pulled into the station at Butterworth, I felt ill - the laksa, I guessed. Greedy for the taste of it, I'd had seconds. I had not stopped at Penang on my previous trip. I might have passed by this time too, except that my guts were gripping. I was dizzy and couldn't bear the thought of onward travel. So, bent double, I took the ferry across the harbor to Georgetown, got a taxi to the Eastern and Oriental Hotel, and curled into a ball, rising only to rehydrate with glasses of water fortified by a pinch of salt and a pinch of sugar. I felt so ghastly the ext day I took a pill; when that didn't work I went to a Chineses herbalist down a side lane and got a potion. I stayed in bed. After three months of travel I was seriously laid low."

I am glad he was, or else I'd never read his enchanting account about a place I had enjoyed living and working in back in 1978 when I was consultant to the Suruhanjaya Pelabuhan Pulau Pinang, or Penang Port Commission for short. I also had lived in the Eastern and Oriental Hotel, in a ground-floor room facing the pool and the Strait of Malacca.

Back then a weekend trip up the coast to a remote fishing village, Batu Ferringhi (Foreigner's Rock), had been the occasional highlight of my stay. Paul Theroux "went there again, in a taxi, and found that it had become a corniche of high-rise hotels and condominiums, luxury homes, big resorts and dreary tenements crowding the beachfront, a place of unparalleled ugliness." Wasn't it Oscar Wilde who wrote, "People destroy what they love the most"?

Paul Theroux was impatient to get to Singapore, so he bought a ticket and returned to Butterworth on the ferry and got a night train to Kuala Lumpur, and a later train to Singapore. I, too, took the same train at the end of my contract at the end of 1978, and went down to Singapore for a short stop-over before my flight back to Australia.

Googlemap Riverbend


P.S. Many of Paul Theroux's wonderful travel books are freely available online at www.archive.org:
Ghost train to the Eastern Star
The Great Railway Bazaar
Down the Yangtze
Riding the Iron Rooster - By Train through China
Sailing through China
The Old Patagonian Express : By Train through the Americas
Patagonia Revisited
Travelling the World - The illustrated Travels of Paul Theroux
To the Ends of the Earth - The selected Travels of Paul Theroux
Dark Star Safari - Overland from Cairo to Cape Town
Fresh-air Fiend - Travel Writings 1985-2000
The Happy Isles of Oceania - Paddling the Pacific
The Kingdom by the Sea - A Journey around Great Britain
The Pillars of Hercules - A Grand Tour of the Mediterranean
The Tao of Travel
The Imperial Way - By Rail from Peshawar to Chittagong
Sunrise with Seamonsters
World's End and Other Stories
The Collected Stories
My Secret History
My Other Life
Paul Theroux (which is a book not BY but ABOUT Paul Theroux)
The Mosquito Coast
Saint Jack
And these are just his travel books. For some of his just as fascinating novels, click here. To read any of these books, simply SIGN UP (totally free!), then LOG IN, and BORROW. Don't thank me; thank archive.org by making a small donation.