As dawn broke on another hot hazy sunshine morning in drought stricken Malaysia yesterday, I threw on my gym shorts quickly and headed down to the condo gym. Attempting to get a decent workout in before the unbearable heat, I’ve forced myself to wake up in the darkness, gulp down some coffee and hit the elliptical machine while it’s still reasonably cool. Now reaching over 115 days with temperatures in the mid 30’s (mid 90’s Fahrenheit), the comfort level remains horrible as Southeast Asia’s hottest winter on record continues, leaving our bodies in a state of perpetual dehydration and dryness. With three hours of relief last week, a rare rain event came rolling through Penang but only lasted an hour or two, leaving the grand rainfall since January 1st in the neighborhood of six hours for over three months. Understanding what it must feel like to a thirsty wild animal in the Serengeti desperate for rainfall, we’ve spent most of our recent days on the sweaty balcony or searching for air-conditioned event worthy of the long walk down to the bus stop.
Fortunately, Southeast Asia’s best book sale came rolling into town last week for a ten-day run that’s always worth a visit. Billing itself as The Big Bad Wolf Book Sale, the semi-annual event is held in a large hall of Penang Times Square, one of the local malls easily reachable by bus. Always escaping something, last year we attended during the middle of Asia’s worst haze since 1998 and it felt like the entire island was there. Deciding to go on a weekday this time, the crowds were smaller than the Sunday rush but there’s still hundreds of people taking advantage of the bargains and incredible discounts.
Not really expecting to replicate many enjoyable experiences I had at Chapters and Indigo book stores (Canada’s largest book chains) during my longer than expected bouts of involuntary unemployment, I was pleasantly surprised at the cornucopia of mainstream books from mostly North American and European publishers. Organized by topic and displayed on large tables, cooking enthusiasts seem poised for the time of their lives with over five tables of every style from Arabic to Zambian and everything in between. Given how nobody cooks in most Southeast Asian countries, this surprised me and although tempted, it’s insanely too hot to cook in our kitchen anyway so I moved on. Priced amazingly low, books cost what they should at this event, usually marked down 50 to 80% from the highly unreasonable manufacturers suggested price making most $20 to $30 books somewhere between 5 to 20 ringgit.
Admittedly, I haven’t read nearly as many books as I’d hoped during our first nine months of early retirement due to a variety of reasons from lack of a quality serene beach to my hatred of electronic books. Although we did secure a library card in Calgary last spring that gives us unlimited access to a world of e-books from Calgary’s above average public library system, there’s something about holding a brick and mortar book that’s unmatched compared to holding a device. Obstructing my vision, Malaysia’s extremely bright skies make outdoor reading on a device almost impossible anyway for someone with limited vision in one eye (I’m legally blind in my right eye but hate self-pity and don’t believe in pulling in readers through “poor me” stories so I’ve never posted about my condition). Impressed by an array of non-fiction and current political events including a variety of American social commentary, it’s obvious Malaysians are more educated about American politics and lifestyle than the throngs of idiots wasting their votes on a doomed run for the presidency by the world’s biggest egomaniac.
Dedicating my day to browsing while Diane perused dozens of different topics from travel to popular fiction, I swore I wouldn’t waste any cash on books that ultimately sit on the shelf anyway and with another move planned to Thailand next year, it seemed like a reasonable decision. But this sale isn’t your average discount rack sell off like many mall kiosks we’ve seen since arriving in Malaysia. Although I’ve never actually bought one, I love browsing enormous coffee table books on various topics from architectural masterpieces to newspaper headlines covering the last century. Of particular interest are sports books and last year I spent hours thumbing though a large picture book about every major league baseball stadium ever used in America. As a quasi-Canadian married to an Edmonton native, it’s no surprise my favorite sports books revolve around hockey. So imagine my surprise when I stumbled on an awesome picture book detailing every Winter Olympics since inception. Shown below, the book featured pullout collectible souvenirs from each event through the 2010 Games in Vancouver.
Enhancing our enjoyment of an afternoon out of the blazing heat, they play continuous streams of U.S. pop and rock music from many genres including some unusually cult bands like California’s Cake to Taylor Swift’s most popular hits. Before I knew it, Diane finished strolling and we made our way up to the cashier. Naturally, I defied my pledge and walked away with three books on varying topics that I’d love to read as soon as I find the right time and place. Taking Master Card and Visa, using our US dollar credit card still saves us money despite the recent unprecedented 15% drop in the US dollar versus the Malaysian ringgit so we wound up buying eight books for a total of $20.55 USD. Valued at over $135 if you go by the cover price, the Big Bad Wolf Book Sale is an amazing steal and is one of the few events in Penang not to be missed for anyone who enjoys reading. On the way out, be sure to visit their impressive collection of American memorabilia that brings back memories for old farts born before 1980. Venturing to other countries in 2016, the company plans future expansion but we hope they keep prices low and we’re looking forward to returning during 2016’s version of the ridiculous event known as The Haze Season.
Heading home on Uber, the driver played LITE FM, the clear station of choice in Penang. Completely contrasting the sadly stereotypical view exhibited by many Americans that couldn’t ever place Malaysia on a map, most radio stations in Penang play the same music Diane and I listen to on American based pop stations via IHeartRadio hosted by air personalities like Ryan Seacrest. Despite being a moderate Muslim nation, Malays like Western culture as much as Europeans, Australians and anyone else despite the ignorant brand of populism being touted whereby xenophobic misogynist candidates have voters convinced that “they’re all terrorists“ that need to be banned from entering America. Glad we’re among the eight million worldly American citizens living outside the homeland, at least we don’t have to worry about moving in the unlikely event of a lunatic presidency. Thankfully, Trump just hit a 70% unfavorable rating that includes men, women, old, young, gays, blacks, Latinos and even 53% of registered republicans. Reassuringly, this article easily shows why the GOP is already doomed in November unless they reverse course and nominate someone sane in July. (see below picture)
Returning home later that day, we made our daily trip to the condo pool where we find ourselves spending most afternoons in between trips,. (Our next adventure begins April 19th when we visit Myanmar for three weeks). Making an unusually close range visit, the dusky leaf monkeys that live all around the area decided they wanted the delicious light green leaves on the trees surrounding the pool area. Placed high on the hill five stories up, the surrounding area remains jungle and we usually see the monkeys from a far distance. Determined to eat only what lied right next to the pool, we spent about an hour observing a large troupe of adorable clown faced monkeys chowing down. Probably my favorite part of living in Malaysia, the wildlife presents a unique opportunity to see tame monkeys and unlike aggressive macaques, dusky leaf monkeys are vegetarians with no interest in whatever food humans have to offer and they’re just friendly enough to enjoy up close without feeling intimidated. Great entertainment !!
Hoping the heat wave breaks eventually and normal rainfall returns, we’re growing accustomed to intense heat even though it’s not much fun. Visiting Myanmar towards the end of their hottest month, we’re not expecting much relief in the newly formed democracy but at least it can’t feel much hotter.
Cheers from hot, humid and parched Malaysia.