Disclaimer: This post isn’t about The Notebook you think it is!
I watched ‘Rick Stein’s Far Eastern Odyssey‘ last night. I was just channel-hopping, but caught the voiceover telling me he was, this week, visiting Penang. Which is on my list for our upcoming adventure! (Getting scarily close now – but that’s another story).
Why? Well firstly because it is ridiculously fun to say. Pe-nannngggggg…. Sorry. But also because it is known as “the street food capital of Malaysia”. This post from one of my fave food blogs got my taste buds going! Now it’s pretty well-documented that one of my biggest reasons for going travelling is all the FOOD. I love food and I love trying new things. It’s all part of the adventure, isn’t it? New experiences, tastes and flavours. We’re even going to try and do a cooking course while we’re out there. I could already quite happily live off Wagamamas alone, so I am expecting South East Asia to be, well, food heaven. And with Malaysia already being such a mish mash of Malay, Thai, Indian, Chinese and, yep, European food – Penang must be pretty flippin’ good.
I didn’t watch the whole episode as I was up at 5.30 yesterday, and my bed was calling. I only actually saw him do one recipe, for Beef Rendang, which was already on my Must Try list. So in terms of food to get excited about, I didn’t really learn much!
In truth, it isn’t really the food that I wanted to write about here. It isn’t really even Penang – even though I’m still pretty up for going. That wasn’t what struck me while watching the episode. It was the bit when he walked into his big, old-colonial style hotel and there was a shot of some of the guests milling about the foyer. They were all 50-60 plus, white, and judging by the swankiness of where they were staying, pretty well off, dressed in capri pants and khakis. Then there was a shot of Rick in the hotel dining room, lifting silver cloches to reveal the different breakfasts on offer (which he helpfully described as “fish curry” and “chicken curry” – cheers for the insight, Rick…). And it just made me… a bit sad. I think I may have genuinely sighed. What is the point?
I know everyone is different, and everyone wants different things out of their trips abroad. But for me, if you’re going to go somewhere – go and BE there. I’m not saying stay in the grottiest hostel you can find, just for the “authenticity”. I’m just saying – travel to really travel. Experience where you are. You can’t really get to know a place, and understand its culture and what makes it tick, and revel in the differences to everything you know – if you’re in some swanky, air conditioned 5 star. Where the only interaction you’ll get with local people is thanking the guy who carries your back to the lift. That is so not the point. That is so not for me.
Okay, everyone needs to be comfortable. And there’s a difference between backpacking and 2 weeks vacation. But firstly, I wouldn’t go to somewhere as exotic and different as Penang on a 2 week holiday and not get stuck in. I’d think – crap! I’m only here for 2 weeks? How can I experience as much of this place as I can? When you’ve got so many exciting things to be out doing and seeing (and eating), you’re not really going to be mooching about the room much, are you.
Think about it – what do you really need? You need the basics – a shower, a roof, a bed – and a clean one if you can find it. But to me that really is it. Somewhere to sleep, somewhere to get clean, and for me, a notebook to try and preserve it all. I have kept a travel diary on both our previous trips, and they are among my most treasured items. The very last thing I’ll do before we fly is go to Paperchase, or Waterstones, on my own, quietly, and with solemn excitement, choose The Notebook that I’m taking to the other side of the world with me.
People have started to ask me – now that the countdown is ticking – if packing is freaking me out. On the surface, yes – because packing is always stressful. But I’m not worrying about how I’ll fit in all the stuff I want to take. I’m concerned about making sure I have the things I need. I don’t need a hundred different outfits, or hair straighteners or even more than one pair of shoes (hello, faithful flip flops). If anything I’m looking forward to stripping back. I’ve never been that materialistic – many a time a voice in my head has told me that that £30 Topshop top that everyone is wearing? Having it won’t change my life. “Stripping back” and remembering what’s important is one of the lessons I know I’ll come with. And I for one think it’s one more people would really benefit from learning.