Gurney Getaway – Day 2 (December 28, 2004)

Sunrise in Penang as viewed from Gurney Drive
Sunrise over Penang.

0750: A sunrise is a beautiful sight to behold. Wuan and I woke up early to catch one. The dawn sky was beginning to brighten. The sun was already a few degrees above the horizon. Scattered clouds obscured it partially. The sight of its shimmering reflection on the sea spread warmth inside us. Waking up a wee bit earlier was worth the effort. It was indeed a magnificent spectacle, especially from where we were, high above everything else with an unimpeded view all the way to the horizon.

Breakfast at Gurney Hotel Coffee Bean
Breakfast at Gurney Hotel Coffee Bean.

0917: One of the things I did not do the last time we were at Gurney Hotel was discovering how an egg benedict really tastes like. We headed down to Coffee Bean which was just beside the hotel. I do not know if their Eggs Ben is the same since I do not know one from the other. It was not exceptionally good but times better than the awful hawker food we had at the food court opposite Eon Bank at Burmah Road the evening before. Wuan had Chicken Sandwich which was slightly nicer than the eggs I had.

Neglected lamp post standing forlornly at Gurney Drive
Old lamp post at Gurney Drive.

0950: Having filled our stomachs, we headed out to explore the length of Gurney Drive, again. It was low tide. The sea had retreated a good 60 meters out. The exposed mud emanated a stench not unlike that of a sewer. The sun was pleasantly warm against my skin. I have not felt this kind of sensation for a long time and loved every second of it. It was fun going out with Wuan again after such a long time being apart from each other. She asked me what that structure that was standing forlornly by itself at the edge of the beach was. It used to be a lamppost. Most of the others had toppled over through years of neglect and erosion of its foundation by the sea.

Egret at Gurney Drive
Egret looking for food at Gurney Drive.

0958: Wuan spotted a lone egret wading close to shore looking for food. We were all excited. We have never seen one at such a close range. Wuan climbed down to the beach to take closer shots. I jokingly told her that I would keep a lookout and warn her of any foaming white tide rushing towards us. She went up right to the shoreline of the rising tide and started snapping. The bird was not intimidated by her presence. At one stage, it even stopped what it was doing and seemed to strike a pose just for Wuan.

Kite seller at Gurney Drive
Kite seller and customers at Gurney Drive.

1005: We parted ways with the egret and crossed path with a man hawking colourful kites of all sizes. Their long multi-coloured tails fluttered cheerfully in the breeze. Watching those little kites rising and falling with the wind induced a feeling of light heartedness in us. Wuan and I sat there for a while, enjoying both the gentle wind and the sight of the little bits of cleverly crafted paper brightening up our morning.

MPPP enforcement officers at Gurney Drive
MPPP enforcement officers at Gurney Drive.

1052: MPPP enforcement officers had set up a roadblock at the junction of Jalan Pemenang. Vehicles were prevented from going up to where Gurney Plaza and the roundabout were. We wondered what the reasons for the roadblock could be. A little further up, we noticed silt collected in puddles on the pavement. It was drying up fast under the heat of the sun.

Bird in mud at Gurney Drive
Bird in mud at Gurney Drive.

1100: Wuan and I debated whether that bird was stuck in the mud and was dead or it was just standing still there sunning itself and waiting to ambush its lunch. We observed it for a while under the blistering heat. When it became unbearable, we moved on. The bird was still as motionless and we were none the wiser whether it was alive or dead. We kept looking back, hoping to catch glimpses of it moving, however fleeting. It was still as stiff.

Cleaning crew at work in Gurney Drive after the Tsunami
Cleaning crew at work in Gurney Drive after the Tsunami.

1106: Further up the road opposite Gurney Plaza, it was evident why the road was closed. Another round of cleaning up was in progress. There were water tankers from Propel in their bright luminous orange, one from MPPP in their uniform blue and one from PLUS in white. The technicians manning those vehicles donned jump suits of similar colours while the MPPP crew were ubiquitous in their yellow T-shirts and black pants. There was even a cute little street sweeper truck with brushes on its underside. Upon closer observation, the workers were busy shooting jets of water down drains to unclog the silt and debris that got stuck inside.

Hard at work cleaning Gurney Drive after the Tsunami.

1111: At the roundabout, firemen were hosing down the road while the MPPP crew were busy sweeping away the silt with their lidi brooms. Cleaning what the tsunami left behind was no easy task. A skid loader was also used to scoop up the thick mud in certain spots where it was virtually impossible to hose and sweep the grime away.

Oriental Restaurant at Gurney Drive
Oriental Restaurant at Gurney Drive.

1115: The most obvious sign of the destructive force of the tsunami was the collapsed wall of the Oriental Seafood Restaurant. Tables were upturned and the floor was covered in a layer of thick mud. The height of the tide could be measured by the muddied wooden railings of the covered bridge leading to the restaurant. It must have risen at least 3.5 meters from the seabed when it hit that part of Gurney Drive.

Dried mud at Gurney Drive after Tsunami
Dried mud at Gurney Drive after Tsunami./em>

1124: The dried mud produced some interesting patterns. How far had those that inundated Gurney Drive travelled? Were they swept in by the force of the tsunami from around the vicinity of the epicentre to Penang or from nearby seas? Are these muds toxic? These questions beg for answers.

Tsunami cleaning crew taking a break at Gurney Drive
Tsunami cleaning crew taking a break at Gurney Drive.

1129: The cleaning crew were stopping work for the morning. Wuan and I guessed we have had enough of the sun too and headed for the cool sanctuary of Gurney Plaza. Those two hours in the sun certainly made us a shade or two darker. And we did not have any sunscreen on. We loitered around the shopping complex, cooling ourselves down and window shopped.

Fish & Co at Gurney Plaza
Fish & Co at Gurney Plaza.

1252: Lunch was a shared platter of tuna salad with Wuan at Fish & Co. It tasted a tad too salty. We also had a mocktail called the Pink Passion which smelt faintly of some body shampoo that we had used before. I think I shall stop using fruity fragranced shampoo from now in order not to mess up my olfactory senses again. It really killed the pleasure of that drink. A short while later we hopped over to Nandos and had one half chicken in hot peri peri marinate. Surprisingly, for one who is averse to anything spicy, my mouth was not burning. Nevertheless the chicken was nice. So was the coleslaw.

View of the promenade at Gurney Drive
Casuarina trees along Gurney Drive.

1550: As we made our way back, traffic was at a crawl as the road to the roundabout was still closed. We rested under the shade of a casuarina tree and took in the sights and the salty breeze that was still blowing. People were beginning to fill the promenade. Some couples even sat by the edge of the beach oblivious to the danger and possibility of Penang being hit by those devastating waves again.

View of Northam Tower from Gurney Hotel
Northam Tower by night.

2044: We stayed in almost the entire evening, nibbling on the buns and snacks that we bought from Cold Storage earlier. The television was on. CNN kept running footages of the devastation and flashed the death toll repeatedly. A catastrophe of this proportion was just too overwhelming and difficult to comprehend. The entire world had never experienced a tragedy like this and I hope we never will again.

Gurney Getaway – Day 1 (December 27, 2004)

Gurney Hotel Penang
Gurney Hotel, Penang.

The suite at Gurney Hotel had been booked well in advance. We were apprehensive initially. The staggering number of deaths reported in Malaysia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and India were daunting enough. We had heard and read that Gurney Drive was pounded by the tsunami. We were not sure if any life was lost but the fatality elsewhere in Penang had us worried. The thought of Penang being hit by aftershocks and another tsunami weighed heavily in our minds. Yet, we were curious, wanting to see for ourselves the real situation there. Wuan and I checked with the hotel several times and were assured that the hotel was still operating.

View of Gurney Drive from Gurney Hotel
View from the hotel’s pool deck – crawling traffic below.

Like babies, we took small cautious steps when we reached the hotel with Peter’s family whom Wuan had invited to join us. We looked around. The sea was calm. The road was clean. Evening strollers wandered leisurely at the promenade. There were no hints of anything unusual except the traffic. Crawling vehicles snaked the length of the road as far as our eyes could see. We guessed a lot of them came to see the gravity of damage the tsunami wreaked. We Malaysians are a curious lot. We slow down to watch motor accidents but seldom stopped to offer help. And now we visit disaster areas for the same purpose.

Shadow of Gurney Hotel cast on the surface of the sea at Gurney Drive
Shadow of the hotel against the calm sea.

The view from the hotel’s pool deck on the seventh floor was breathtaking. Small boats bobbed in the distance. Tankers and cargo ships anchored in the middle of the channel. The sun was setting. Birds were returning to roost. The strong cool breeze that was blowing in ruffled my hair. Indeed, it was the Gurney Drive I had always known. I had come to get away from the grim footages of destruction and death continuously being broadcasted by CNN. Still, I could not shake off that feeling of gloom and doom. Those images distressed me greatly, as was the death toll that continued to rise by the hour. We retired early that evening, exhausted by the macabre events of the past two days.

Gurney Drive Escapade – Day 3

View of sunsire from Gurney Hotel

It was about five in the morning. My coughing woke us both up. We could not sleep anymore and lazed in bed for a while. The room window looked out to the east and we hoped to catch the sunrise that we missed the morning before. Unfortunately, the sky was cloudy. The rising sun was hidden from view. We got up to get ready for breakfast. After getting all dressed up, we looked out the window to find the sea was bathed in a shimmering reflection of the sun that had risen about thirty degrees from the horizon, still partially obscured by the clouds.

The Evergreen Laurel Hotel is located just beside the Gurney Hotel. We dropped in to check on the breakfast menu and decided that RM29 per person for a buffet breakfast was a tad too expensive. Our next choice was Khaleel Nasi Kandar which was further up the road. There is only one nasi kandar shop in the entire stretch of Gurney Drive. Half-boiled eggs and toasts are not a Mamak’s speciality. It was a mistake ordering those. We would have had a heartier breakfast had we ordered roti canai or thosai instead.

We did not linger at the seafront although the weather was just right. We wanted to go back and pack up and then rest a while before checking-out. Wuan is always on the lookout for photo opportunities of pretty flowers. At the driveway to the Evergreen Laurel Hotel, some vines hanging down from the wall were blooming. Although it was not the prettiest of flowers, the morning sun gave it an unusual glow that made it an interesting subject.

Checking-out was simple. Wuan just returned the keycards and retrieved the credit card slip from the receptionist. The slip was printed out when she was requested to pay for room for the first night. We had booked a taxi to come fetch us. While waiting, Wuan went out and took more images. We did not enjoy this mini-vacation much due to my relentless coughing, food that was below par and irretrievably spoilt by the messed-up room reservation.