Most people passing through Penang do so because of the UNESCO World Heritage status given to this Malaysian tropical island on July 7th, 2008. Few stay more than the couple days needed to breeze through the main sites and have a quick gastronomic tour. Even fewer do not complain about the higher beer prices not found in other neighbouring Southeast Asian countries.
“What do you like about this place? You have been here for so long!”
Once again, the tricky question kicks in. Let’s put it this way: after much vagabonding, a destination can become home. At least, for me it did.
I still remember the awe creeping into my own, cutting its way up from the cobbled tiles into my toes, and devouring me as I was strolling down Lebuh Chulia at sunset: a crimson sun playing hide and seek behind the Kapitan Keling Mosque’s dark domes. Across the street, a swarm of rainbow-colored Indian gods orchestrated the evening pujas of their devotees like master puppeteers, while the simmering noise of Chinese delicacies deep-fried at the back of the next alley was the increasing soundtrack to this fading black and white movie.
Day after day, this scenery was my malarial mosquito bite. I quickly forgot what was waiting back there, in my native country of Italy. Quite a destination for some… but nothing compared to this exotic assault to the senses, for me. All of the obligations, the family, friends and opportunities, they all slowly disappeared as watercolor dripping from a water-splashed canvas. Mine was ready to be painted with something new, a vision of brighter colors.
Building up a center around which my life could gravitate was quite a hard task: nevertheless, the process ignited a series of meetings, coincidences and situations that brought me to do what I love – writing and travelling – and calling a new, faraway place as my “home”.
Part of my decision to scratch my itchy travel feet may have been due to the lady I met close to those same fascinating dark domes, three years ago. On the other hand, at that moment I was ready to put down flags around a new comfort zone caved out of my travelling. A very exciting accomplishment I am still proud of up to this day. In a way, it is like marking places we can use as rest areas along the windy vagabonding highway: stop, have a sandwich, use the loo. Then start off again.
In the end, I just lavishly answer: “Because it is beautiful, you just have to scratch the surface”
I try to bury all of the tumultuous emotions I recalled deep into a rapid gaze – and I am very cautious of keeping them to my own mental grave – before I point my interlocutor towards the cheapest beer stall in town. It is a rowdy place tucked away at the corner of a dusty lane, buzzing with swaying people, and looking like a not very secure place to sit and enjoy the locals’ company.
“But… do you think is it safe?” they ask.
“Yes, it is” becomes my final answer.