I spent a long time in Penang. Outwardly, to the world, I was contemplating my life, reading up on philosophy and meditating life, the universe and everything. Penang is not a bad place for doing this. The hotel was atmospheric, there was a wide variety of food within walking distance and no malaria to speak of.
This is not a lighthouse. It’s the minaret of the mosque at Acheen Street. It looks like a lighthouse though.
In reality I was anxious, unsure about my future, uncertain even what to do with my one precious life. Unable t o make decisions, desperately trying to figure out what it was I really wanted from Life, the Universe and what to have for Breakfast…
There was no answer. After quitting my job to go travelling, I cycled through Europe, walked through the Himalayas and, after arriving in South East Asia, finally came to a grinding halt. Why go on? I couldn’t be bothered anymore. Just more exotic locales, enervating for a while, but quickly fading and coalescing in an ever increasing blur of past adventures. There had to be more.
To help me think about these questions I turned on the internet, only to find out that the means of distraction were in greater abundance than the means of instruction.Well, I knew that, but I ended up spending a lot of time watching YouTube videos about Quantum Mechanics, which I found very fascinating, but of very little help in answering the question of how to live my life. I felt increasingly like Schrödingers Cat, not quite sure where I was…
After reading Nietzsche, Camus, Heidegger and Tom Clancy, I found out that:
There is no purpose in life.
In other words, life is absurd.
We can therefore choose our own purpose
We can either a) let others decide how to live our lives.
Or b) we can be the author of our own lives.
We are ultimately free.
But to be free is to be responsible.
Which means that we have to choose wisely.
Maybe choose a?
Nah, choose b.
Because, if life is absurd, we can’t really go wrong here anyway.
So, be the author of your own life.
Time for coffee.
Later I tried my hand at a short animation which I greatly enjoyed making. I posted it on YouTube, which, I later realised, was futile: it is estimated that hundreds of hours of new videos are uploaded to YouTube every minute ….!!
In the evening I ate at a foodstall next to Mad Max. This is the guy that’s charring sateys every evening. He wears an apron, safety goggles and an old baseball cap. I called him Mad Max because he resembles the crazy pilot in this movie. His burnt chicken stall stood at the corner of the street to the rotten fruit stall. That’s how Murray calls it: the rotten fruit stall. In the morning it always has several crates of oranges on offer with patches that are sold very cheaply, 30 sen per piece. After my meal I had a coffee on Chulia Street at the small stall where two Tamils serve a decent brew. It’s next to the 7-Eleven.
It was too hot to go outside and I sat under the fan, drinking tea and reading Harper Lee’s To kill a mockingbird. I didn’t know what a mockingbird was, but I found it a captivating and, unexpectedly, a deeply funny book..
History of Penang
Negotiations between Francis Light of the British East India Company and the Sultan of Kedah:
We like your island. Can we have it? What? What do you mean we can’t have it? Oh, come on, it’s not like you’re doing anything with it…What’s that? We can have it if we help you against the who? The Siamese? Who are they? They are being mean to you, are they? And the Burmese… The Burmese, you don’t like them, do you…? Good thing we have good guns and fast ships. Sure we can help you out…so we can have the island…? Awesome.
It was then agreed that Penang would become British for 10.000 Spanish dollars per year and even today the Federal State of Malaysia pays a token 10.000 ringgit to the state of Kedah.
Francis Light died of malaria in 1791, or acutally in 1794, and was buried at the cemetery at North Road.
Remains of Francis Light
At the cemetery were also the graves of several Chinese refugees from the Taiping Rebellion. This sparked my interest and I got reading about this Chinese civil war. One of the deadliest in human history and I had never even heard of it! Most historians estimate the number of dead to be some more than 20 million (which is more than the estimated death toll of the First World War)..It started wth a disappointed candidate for the civil service who had flunked his exams for the third time and who came to believe that he was the son of God, the younger brother of Jesus Christ, rather than a dropout from the Imperial bureaucracy. The rebellion was contemporary with the American Civil War, but instead of a conflict between fighting armies, it was a total war where many civilians died.. .In a later stage there was a European contribution as well in the form of Charles George Gordon, who led the Ever Victorious Army, which I thought was a very clever name for an army.
Nothing of this has anything whatsoever to do with the History of Penang….
From the cemetery I walked back for some lunch at the sea side. There were some tea stalls under some big trees where I ordered a maggi and ice tea. A nice breeze blew from the sea. After that I walked around the fort with its cannons aimed at a mighty cruiseship that lay docked nearby. Not much further, I passed the elegant clocktower built by Cheah Chen Eok, a Chinese millionaire, for 35.000 Straits dollars. A plaque mentioned him as being a philantropist who was known for his modesty…. He had earned his fortune in the tin mines of Malaysia where his workers were dying under miserable conditions from malaria and beri beri. This seems somehow difficult to reconcile with the idea of its owner being a philantropist….. Most miners were Chinese who, to get them through the hard days, were encouraged to smoke opium. It may have been a happy coincidence that Cheah Chen Eok was in the opium business as well….
Walking along the esplanade, I saw some Tamils with a net fishing at a sewer pipe. I winced when a revolting smell of urine reached my nose and made a mental note not to eat fish at any of the Indian restaurants… When I reached a stone bench I sat down on the hot concrete and watched container ships sailing through the Straits.
Yeah, like Cambodia was like totally chill dude, the food was amazing, tacos for under two dollars….like, totally awesome….
Tacos for under two dollars… maybe I had to go to Cambodia.
Life is absurd…