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The Temple of Intoxicated Pit Vipers

Our third morning at the Hutton Lodge began with us packing up our belongings and stashing them in the staff room at the hotel. Our mission for the day was to wheel south toward a much discussed snake temple.

It was, rumor told, filled with pit vipers that had come to the temple of their own accord (tired of the monotony of life in the jungle perhaps), where they were promptly sedated by a Chinese monk by the name of Chor Soo Kong, using a special blend of incense rumored to turn the deadly poisonous vipers into docile wall ornaments.  We pictured a darkened room billowing with clouds of fragrant and intoxicating smoke.  On the cold, clay ground, we envisioned gigantic pit vipers, their bodies arching and slowly writhing as if entranced by the burning herbs.  Get too close, we thought, and they may spit poison into our eyes and strike with vicious fury.  Sounded like the kind of place that might make a good waypoint, so off we went, wheeling hard southward.

We made our way down the coast, where we were soon able to leave the highway, and ride on a delightful wooded side-path, which snaked in between the highway and the straits of Malacca.

Our ride took us past a number of strange settlements and construction projects. When the hunger hit, we found ourselves outside a rather posh looking mall in a suburban district, and made our way inside to find sustenance.

We wandered the mall, looking for food, and spending quite a bit of time in a dried snacks shop, where I had the great misfortune of sampling a salted prune that rang throughout my mouth with a most vile flavor that refused dilution no matter how much water I drank.

An overpriced, but thankfully large meal of chicken and rice, and a cup of Joe at the local Old Town White Coffee shop later, we were back on the cycles with renewed energy on our mission for the snake temple.

We stopped at a large Chinese temple, which proved not to contain any snakes. Rather, we found an old man inside who directed us in half-words of English toward the water. He assured us that our destination was “na fa.” And though we were almost certain that we had completely failed in communicating anything to him about the snake temple, we decided it would not hurt to follow his vehement gesticulations in the direction of the sea.

We were glad we did, since, though there was no snake temple to be found, there was a large fishing dock, where men unloaded piles of glistening fish and a fellow was operating a strange garbage transport vehicle, which emitted plumes of blue smoke as it grunted up 45 degree inclines.

Back on the road, we decided to dart into the interior of the island, away from the sea in search of the temple.

Again and again, we would stop to buy water from a merchant of some kind, or at the very least, sweet soda served in a plastic bag.  It was quite hot, and we were sweating hard.  He or she would direct us very clearly toward somewhere in the midst of this vast industrial park. But each time, we were unsuccessful. We did enjoy a fine tour of the airport, and the local Penang free trade zone, but alas, no snakes.

We were enjoying a can of “100 Plus”, the local energy drink, when in desperation we asked a local Tamil truck driver who was refueling and purchasing snack food at a local convenience store one last time for directions. His response was so ridiculously hard to interpret, and spiced so heavily with head wobbling and the phrases “so simple” and “no anyway place” (which we took to mean one-way road) that we were torn between bursting into laughter and dutifully heeding his directions. So we decided to simply do both, and, low and behold, we found ourselves arriving at the elusive place.  We gave silent thanks to the Tamil driver and his wonderfully peculiar way of communication, and in we went.  We braced ourselves for the dozens of snakes writhing entranced on the clay floor, and the holy men who would have the no-doubt thankless task of sedating them.

I’ll be honest, the snake temple is nothing to write home about.  It seems as though the architects of this experience had read neither One Thousand and One (Arabian) Nights (كتاب ألف ليلة وليلة‎), nor had they considered consulting the temple’s design with children raised on Chuck Jones cartoons.

But there were some very drugged snakes inside, and plenty of incense, though not the billows we had expected. AsiaWheeling after all is about the journey, not the waypoints themselves.

So let it suffice to say: we were quite underwhelmed with the whole experience, and will dispense with all mention of the snake temple from here forth.  Back on the road, we wheeled hard back toward the city; traffic was thickening, and we were eager to get home before dark.

Famished from the day’s wheel, we made our way to another emergent-style Penang restaurant.  Scott had a powerful lust for fried oysters.  Coupled with egg, they made for a delicious appetizer.

Followed by banana leaf rice (pulut inti)…

and a healthy dose of chicken.

Now there would be just enough time to say our goodbyes to the friends we had made at the Hutton Lodge, take a few minuets to work furiously on correspondence before piling, cycles and all, into a taxi cab and heading for the bus depot.  The office was a hardscrabble collection of transport brokers, one with large tattoos on her arm that meant “nothing”.

We spent that night in an anti-anxiety medication induced half sleep, propped up on loudly patterned seats in a squeaking and yawing overnight bus to Malacca.

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  1. Mark/Dad | February 28th, 2010 | 1:10 pm

    As usual, the great food pics make me hungry! Did you get your hair trimmed at Sunny Phoon Hair Studio?

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