Monday, 9 February 2009

Rather than retype everything, here is an email I sent out today whilst still 'in the moment':

This literally just happened, and I'm still mid-panic attack, but I have to tell people about it. Okay...

So yesterday I met my friend Sak from Shanghai in incredibly random circumstances - his boat was arriving at an island as mine was leaving it, we had no idea we were in the same place and no mobiles. Luckily we caught up on facebook and met up for a drink last night, which was great.

In the course of the conversation Sak, who has travelled in Malaysia more than me, gives me a warning:

"You have to be careful in Malaysia, you know? Like, they have the death penalty for even a small amount of drugs, and they use tourists to try and smuggle them. They hide them in your bag, see if you get through and then pick them up on the other side. If you get caught, you're screwed - of course you're going to say 'It's not mine' but even if you're lucky you'll still go to jail."

My mind went immediately to the sweet German couple (the non-smoking, moderate drinking types) I'm sharing a room with and I joke that they might be drug smugglers. We both laugh.

As I'm walking through the ferry terminal in Langkawi, out of the blue, Sak's words come back to me. I figure I might as well check my bags, knowing there's nothing there. I open a front pocket and can't see anything. I reach inside, and it's then that my hand makes contact with what is very clearly a plastic bag filled with white powder.

I'm not sure I need to describe how much panic I felt at that moment, but it's fair to say I was nearly crying, struggling to breath, feeling faint - about as scared as I've ever been. Not sure what to do, I make a rash decision to get rid of it as quickly as possible. I can't see a toilet anywhere nearby so I take a deep breath, walk as calmly as I can - given that every muscle in my body has just turned to icy jelly - over to the nearest dustbin. Looking around in what can only be described as a guilty, panicked way, I grab the bag and drop it into the bin, and start to walk away.

Now, as I'm doing this, I catch sight of something printed on the bag, the word "Trisara". It takes me five paces for the penny to drop, and for me to remember that I took a plastic bag of bath salts from the nice hotel I stayed at with my mum, the Trisara. It's another moment before I realise where I left it - in my bag's front pocket.

I'm not sure there's a lesson here - perhaps just 'don't be a twat' - but as terrifying moments go, this has to be up there...

Apart from that I'm now in Georgetown, Penang. It's completely unlike anywhere I've been before, with architecture in the colonial style which I've seen in movies but never in real life and strong influences of its Chinese and Indian communities. It achieves the rare feat of incorporating recognisable western features (malls, starbucks, mcdonalds) without seeming to lose any of its soul. Which makes it a pretty groovy place in my book.


Magdalena said...

An absolutely wonderful post! Thanks a million.

previously.bitten said...

that was a very gripping email. I was worried that it would be true - as much as I hear these stories, i've never known them to actually occur. It would be terrible to start fearing, on a realistic level, that outcome.