Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Chimes of freedom

Some of you will have observed that I haven't updated this blog since December 26th (incidentally the fourth anniversary of the terrible Sumatran tsunami that wiped out nearly 300,000 human lives). Not to worry, I'm alive and well, but I was in Penang for a couple of days and I didn't get anywhere near a computer. When I finally got home on December 29th, visitors began turning up in an endless stream - and they were sufficiently charming to distract me from blogging.

I was in Penang to "officiate" at the opening of Penang-based Mexican artist Ricardo Chavez Tovar's latest installation in his series, The Muse Is Not Available. Ricardo had asked me to be guest of honor at his exhibition in Kuala Lumpur in June 2007 - but I was forced to cancel out at the last minute, so I couldn't possibly refuse this time.

Getting there took a couple of hours longer than expected on account of the holiday season. Bus tickets were all sold out and I had to wait more than two hours in Ipoh to continue my journey to Penang. Once there, of course, it was really sweet to catch up with my old friend Askandar Unglehrt, surrealist artist and owner of the Armenian Street studio gallery where Ricardo's installation was being set up. Askandar met his wife Tengku Idaura (a Kelantanese princess) in Paris in the late 1960s when they were both studying French and she has since become my friend too. I enjoy discussing art with Askandar and politics with Tengku Idaura who diligently keeps up with the blogs.

Meeting a few blogger friends in Penang was an unexpected bonus and a real treat. At Ricardo's opening I bumped into the très chic Estrelita Soliano Grosse, her affable husband Stephen, and their delectable nieces, Shakunthala and Vayshnavee.

A little later, Walski and his wife showed up and drove me to Paula Khoo's residence off Green Lane where other friends (mostly bloggers) had gathered with a delicious potluck dinner to belatedly celebrate Paula's birthday.

Standing (L-R): Peng, Yew See, Walski, Philip, Daniel, Paula, Antares, Jong; Kensan (seated)

In real life, Paula Khoo is a personable powerhouse of a multi-tasker with a truly generous heart - someone I'm genuinely glad to call a friend. Walski, like his blog, is instantly befriendable and ever so smart. Daniel YKL lost his voice to laryngeal cancer a few years ago but remains irrepressibly cheerful and expressive, a most lovable guy indeed. Kensan offered me a lift back to Askandar's house and we ended up chatting till past 4.30AM. Discovered Kensan was a former banker with the most adventurous past anyone can possibly imagine!


As to be expected I slept right through my cellphone alarm and by the time I was ready to catch the bus home, it was past 3PM. When I got to the Sungai Nibong bus terminal I was told no tickets to Ipoh were available until 4:45PM, so I sat around drinking coffee with Askandar (right) till it was time to board the bus. The traffic was dense as hordes of holidaymakers were heading home. Shortly after Butterworth the blue sky gave way to a torrential rainstorm which made progress even slower.

The fat guy seated beside me busied himself with a portable video game and, I suspect, let out gas several times - the silent but deadly type. I began to feel claustrophobic and yearned for the good old days before airconditioning when bus windows could be opened to let out fetid air.

To compound my discomfort, the cold, wet weather took its toll on my bladder. After 20 minutes of trying to focus on other matters, the need to urinate turned into an intense preoccupation and blotted out all other considerations. I politely asked the bus driver to pull up at the next petrol station and he reassured me that the bus would be stopping just up ahead. That "up ahead" went on another ten minutes or so with no stop in sight...

I told the driver the situation was becoming urgent and he again insisted the restroom stop was mere minutes away. Rather than create a commotion by grabbing the wheel and forcing the driver to stop, I decided to unload at least part of the contents of my bursting bladder into the half-bottle of drinking water I had on hand. The fat guy beside me was fast asleep and the passenger across the aisle was looking blankly ahead. Furtively I unzipped my fly and inserted the tip of my willy into the bottle... aaaaaahhh.... blessed relief! The bottle was too small to hold the entire contents of my distended bladder but enough had been discharged to minimize the discomfort. I screwed the bottle cap back on and zipped up discreetly. Long time since I've lived so dangerously - boy, it felt really good!

The rain was still pissing down when we got to Ipoh around 8PM - too late to catch a connecting bus to Tanjong Malim where I had parked my van. "Try the train," the bus driver had suggested, so I walked ten minutes in the heavy drizzle to the Ipoh train station. There I was told the next train south would depart at 1:12AM, but only 3rd class tickets were available. No problem - but now I had a 5-hour wait ahead of me. Next to the station the century-old Majestic Hotel was advertising rooms at RM73 nett, RM40 for 4 hours. I figured I owed it to myself to spend the next few hours in relative comfort and booked a room for 4 hours.

Only problem was, there were no food outlets at the Majestic Hotel. The nearest eating place was a Mamak restaurant 15 minutes' walk in the steady drizzle away. Finally at 12:30AM I checked out and made my way to the station where I discovered a landslide near Taiping had blocked the tracks.

Nobody could say when the southbound train would arrive. I attempted to take a nap in a corner of the station but a raucous group of backpacking youths generated enough noise to wake up an entire cemetery. Each time I enquired at the office I was told something different. One KTM employee nonchalantly suggested I catch the early commuter to KL at 5AM. Then the signboard on the platform began flashing the ominous announcement that the next train to KL would depart at 9AM...

By this time the entire journey home had acquired a distinctly surreal atmosphere. I felt like I was trapped in a labyrinth in some interminable bad dream where the moment you think you've reached your destination the place transforms into some other location. Who could possibly have expected that a simple bus journey from Penang to Tanjong Malim could stretch out beyond 14 hours... which is ultimately how long it took me to get home (the southbound train eventually left Ipoh just before 4AM)!

The overwhelming joy I felt when I reached my van and found it safe and sound... it was at that moment I knew what my resolution for 2009 was going to be. Like Dorothy after her adventures in the Land of Oz, I resolved that in 2009 I will not leave home just to be sociable and obliging. The only inducements that might tempt me to venture beyond KL would be the offer of a substantial amount of cash (nothing less than 50k!)... or a weekend of uninhibited, uncomplicated, unprecedented sex.

View from my veranda

[Additional photography by Estrelita Soliano Grosse and Paula's husband, Khor]


Lisa Lee said...

I must say you lead a very hip and unusual life :)

Anonymous said...

LOL Antares, you are the man! How come you didn't tell us your bus adventure the other day?? That must be one of the greatest stunt =D

SFGEMS said...

Great men/women think alike. I was writing my post about my "adventures" too. After posting it, I saw that you did one too!

Miss you! See you soon!

Missed your blogposts! Glad you're back!


Starmandala said...

Lisa - wow and woot again! :-)

Eagle Man - if you ever have to travel on one of those express buses with no toilets, I suggest you pack an empty 1-liter bottle with your hand luggage... or else borrow Sheikh Muszafar's astronaut costume!

Lita - the pleasure's mutual :-)


Hi Antares,

It was a pleasure meeting you in Penang. You are such an interesting person. Will surely make a trip to Magick River soon. Cheers.

kensan said...

Wow!14 hours to reach you home sweet home?I am really flabbergasted!The Minister of Transport needs to be sacked really Antares.
Anyway,A very happy and healthy new year to you and family!Thanks for the wonderful time at the wind-swept side walk cafe with our dear friend,Askandar.

foodbin said...

you're Frank Zappaish- is this the right word to describe you

Gerald Wee Eng Kian said...

Good to know that I'm sufficiently distracting. I usually reserve this term for traffic stopping women.

KTM will always mean Kenapa Tak Mari? [Why not coming] for their embarrassing lack of efficiency. Looks like having Pak Blah run away from government and riding it has had no effect whatsoever.

Anonymous said...

you are one hell of a joker. keep up the postings. we surely need people like you to brighten up our days.
- anon joe -

Anonymous said...

by the way, what happened to THAT bottle?

Walski69 said...

My dear Antares... it was truly a pleasure meeting you in person (finally). A truly unique and special soul, and someone I feel privileged to be able to call friend :-)

Yes, it seems like the trip up to Penang this time around was a special adventure... The Mrs & I re-discovered much of Penang that we'd taken for granted in trips past. But for me, meeting you was definitely an important highlight.

Sorry that you had such a horrible journey back, though. But I guess tough times on the road are a cosmic reminder to each of us how special that place we call home is. It's something I've come to realize while traveling all these years.

My promise to you, though, is to make it to Magick River one of these days... sooner, rather than later.

Peace, my friend. :-)

Starmandala said...

Stephen - Looking forward to another real-time encounter!

Kensan - Not just the minister of transport but the entire Umno/BN cabinet deserves the boot. Their self-serving tendencies in public office have spawned nothing but complacency, mediocrity and indifference. People tend to take their cues from their leaders - so we know what we must do! :-)

Foodbin - In my teens Frank Zappa was among my major influences. Only difference between us: he could read & write music... and I can dance!

Gerald - Your djembe playing can be distracting, that's for sure :-)

Anonymous - You seem very interested in my bladder & its poetic outpourings. Truth is, I initially thought of keeping the bottle for emergency use but decided to nourish the plants in front of the Ipoh Railway Station instead.

Walksi - Seeing you at Magick River would be a great pleasure & a signal honor indeed. Thanks for making my day, bro :-)

zorro said...

Dang, Antares, RPK and I and the whole gang was in Penang. Paula knew...probably she thought we had all left Penang on 26 Dec. Let me know when you hit KL next.

Unknown said...

My dear buddy, mentor, guru and most inspiring friend Antares,

I am so so sorry I missed reading this post as I was away and also because of the hacking and only found out about this when hubby burst out in laughter while we were enjoying a Saturday night dinner at Hameediyah Restaurant, Campbell Street. :-)

Thanks so much for joining us that evening and for your wonderful CD but most of all for your friendship, wise counsel and inspiration that you have breathed into my life. Most of all, hehehe thanks for giving Khor hehehe a laughing workshop cos he laughed all the way home and to my surprise could repeat almost every single item of your blog post:-).

Meeting you in person as well as Walski and Mrs. - the best way to bring 2008 to a close because the friendship forged in cyberspace between us has been sealed in the real world. I just wish I had been with Kensan and Dr. Askandar later cos it has been years since I saw him.

Thank you for being the same person as you appear in the virtual space and in the real world. And also thanks to the others who were there and wish Uncle Bernard, RPK + entourage could have been there too...

This blog post is my favorite cos your description is such a riot!!!

My family will definitely make it to Magick River one day...this I assure you :-).

Nonetheless, we will always welcome you if you ever make it to Penang in the future :P-).

If you want to reminisce re the food hehe details are in my other blog :-).

Thanks for the compliment lah but I dun deserve the powerhouse description hehe but am multi-tasking at home for sure hehe:-)

Thanks for everything Antares!!! Suffice to say we miss you and hope to see you again!!!

hugs and lots of love,

Anonymous said...

Hi Antares. You sound like a Nowhere Man who went on a Magical Mystery Tour with Lucy In The Sky With Diamond in a Yellow Submarine!

Anyway, nice meeting you. Hope we can meet up again.