4 days I spent in Penang. And for a destination to go from just being a place of "refuge" as I decided what to do for the remainder of my Asia trip, to being a place that felt so like home, was complete and utter unexpected randomness.
When I arrived in Penang last Friday (the 18th), which is the island off the west coast of Malaysia, I met a Finnish guy called Janne, who got me to a cosy guesthouse run by Jim. This I've already mentioned before, but I'm mentioning it again..No harm in repeating myself. A couple of days me and Janne spent exploring the city, sitting in cafe's, taking in the local atmosphere and pondering what our fate could be for the very near future (the upcoming week to be exact).. Janne's fate was already set..He was going to Krabi in Thailand and had a nice and neat plan to follow, up until new years. But Niamh however, hadn't a notion what to do or where to go next. There were many options as to what to do. But it's never been a strong point of mine, the whole "making decisions" side of life.. (it can make things so much more difficult..)
Whilst hanging out and having so much fun in Penang, each hour went by, and we met more and more people who had their plans for Christmas and new years eve. I was starting to feel a little lost, even though I felt so at home where I was. I was meeting these amazing people in the hostel, I felt so great and was enjoying myself thoroughly. Yet I was still patiently waiting for the answer to the question: "where does my Christmas spirit lie this year.." to come falling out of the sky. It would have been far easier for that to have happened than for me to actually take the time-out I needed in order to decide what I wanted or hoped to get from my last few special days on this amazing continent. Not only were they going to be my last few days, but it was also Christmas!
Anyway, Saturday I felt okay. There were no decisions made at that point. But a happy chappy I was. Sunday I started to get a little doubtful if I was even going to bother with making an effort to celebrate the festive season. It didn't make matters easier that I chose to forget about it, as I got side-tracked by all the people around me. I got caught up in the commotion of meeting people that I chose not to even contemplate my next move. Monday was the day I started to feel anxious. Everyone around was suddenly starting to move on. Janne was leaving. Oh no!! This should have meant I was to leave too??!! Oh.. But hang on..I wasn't alone.. There was an amazing girl who was also staying at Jim's place, by the name of Tina. So, once more I again, got sidetracked by all the commotion around me and ended up spending the last few hours of Janne being in Penang, with him just chatting in a cafe and drinking tea. After that, I again got sidetracked by Tina, who is at the moment in the middle of making an online shop and needed some help taking photo's at the beach. So before I knew what was happening I was on a bus, meeting so many random people, whilst we spontaneously made our way to the beach. And then of course, the night was over, it was 2am and Niamh still didn't know what she was doing.
But it didn't matter, even though it kept me from my much needed beauty sleep. All I I needed was peace and quiet to think about what I wanted. Tuesday morning came the crunch, once I had sat down and considered all of my options when it came the festive celebration: 1) go to Krabi in Thailand and hang out with Janne, 2) go back to Kho Phangang and spend time with David and the guys (if they were still there), 3) stay in Penang eating Indian curry with Indian Jim, 4) go to Kho Lipe in Thailand with Tina or 5) go off somewhere by myself and hope to meet some great people.
Well to put all of this into perspective, I figured: what's the true meaning of Christmas? To me, it's to spend time with the most special people you know, if that's an option. It's also to spread the love and joy, (which should actually be done at anytime of the year, but that's a different story). It's also to feel comfortable, where ever you are. It's not a time to feel homesick, which is something that can happen to a lot of travellers, knowing that the family is all together, except for one missing piece, which happens to be the traveller on the other side of the world.. And what can take away any possible feelings of homesickness? Being around people that you have connected with and who make you feel loved..something that is usually felt so strongly when the family comes together on Christmas day, but with no family in sight, a special connection with special people makes up for any love that is felt to be lost by being absent from the family gathering at this time of year..
So, Tuesday morning, I pondered, I contemplated, I humm-ed and I haa-ed.. I asked Jim when the next bus to Kho Phangnang was, he said in 3 hours time. I said I might take it.. He said you've got 2 hours to make up your mind. So I emailed the guys on Kho Phangang. It was 80% certain that they would still be on the same beach, in the same bungalow. But I had no way of knowing for sure, because no one had phone signal and they only went online every couple of days (due to isolation). The last email I had received was on Sunday, from David. At that point they were still there, still happy and still had room for me at the bungalow. But sometimes situations and circumstances change so suddenly, that a lack of security, especially without any contact, can lead to all different kinds of either welcomed surprises or difficult complications.
So I emailed, hoping that someone would be online, before deciding whether or not to get the bus to the island. That way I'd know whether or not I had a home for Christmas. I emailed, and waited for the reply.. I waited and waited.. Nothing. The reply was supposed to give me the answer as to whether or not I was getting on that bus. Time was ticking..and suddenly 2 girls walked into Jims place, looking for a room. The only room that was possibly available was mine.. Jim looked at me: Niamh, are you staying or going? Oops..pressure..it always works well for me, when I'm having to make difficult decision.. Without thinking: "Yes, I'm leaving!" So I packed my bags, got on the bus and left Penang an hour later, after saying goodbye to a place that had felt like home so quickly. I said goodbye to Jim and to Tina and then I was feeling like a little kid: I was getting the same feelings of excitement you can get whenever this song is being played on the radio: "driving home for Christmas.." The only differences: I wasn't doing the driving, snow or ice was nowhere in sight, and I wasn't going home but I was trying to return to a place that had become my home away from home throughout this trip. I really felt there couldn't be a better place to spend Christmas.
At this point, I still hadn't gotten a reply to the emails. I still didn't know if everything was still possible, if I still had a bed, if they were still there even.. I was taking a risk, but I figured I had nothing better to do with my time. And why not give it my all to experience this Christmas away from home, with the most special people I've met on this trip. It's also a great way to "wrap it up"..
So I left Penang at 4pm yesterday (Tuesday), got 2 mini buses, we then broke down on the side of the road at 1am, hung around for an hour and a half, I ended up meeting more great people: A French guy by the name of Ju and a Belgium girl by the name of Lore. I didn't sleep much on the bus, because of the breakdown. We got to the ferry at 5am, had to wait 3 hours, then had a 2,5 hour ferry ride and we all got off the boat at 10.30am, delighted to be back on this island..
Now, however, I sit and I'm waiting for a reply..still.. There's no email appearing in my mailbox, as I'm typing this. I've been checking every few hours..and will still wait patiently to see where my fate lies. Will I make it to bottle beach, our little place of paradise, tonight or tomorrow? Or will I make it there at all before Christmas? I cannot know just yet, but either way, it's already been an adventure getting here and the people I met along the way have, once again, inspired me.
My Christmas will be a good one, whatever happens both today and tomorrow. Because I'm already delighted to be here. I'm stable within myself and feel so good. I feel happy where ever I am and am always surrounded by special people..
An update as to how this all goes, should be coming soon!