At about 12:30AM on the 29th of March 2005 an earthquake measuring 8.4 on the Richter scale occurred off the coast of Sumatera, not too far from us. We were violently awoken by the bed flipping, Exorcist style, and the creaking noise as the highrise hotel tried to twist itself apart. The main part of the quake went on for perhaps 2 minutes but it seemed a lot longer. Those who know me will understand this: when the earthquake woke me, I thought “oh, its just an earthquake” and went back to sleep. Kirsten however was not so dismissive and her panic became infectious. I looked out the window and I could not see any other buildings shaking, and even the palm trees looked still. That was when I started to worry: perhaps it wasn’t an earthquake, perhaps it was just something wrong with our building! I quickly joined Kirsten in dressing, grabbing our stuff and out to the exit. Kirsten needed a bit of convincing that the elevator wasn’t the best way down, but she followed me to the fire escape. As we made our way down the 7 floors more guests joined us. In true Malaysian style, when we got the to bottom of the escape our way was blocked: the doors were barricaded from the outside and the area was being used for storage. I knew that there had to be another exit and led the others to it, and we got out through a fire ladder to the street.
There was a carpark/open area near the hotel and it was here that people were massing, many still in their pyjamas. It seemed that most of the town had left their beds and the streets were crowded with frightened people, waiting for some authority to tell them what to do. Eventually one of the local restaurants turned on their street-facing TV’s to CNN, and the crowd was 30 deep trying to get news. In this crowd we met two backpackers.
The guys were from Norway and Holland, and both were living in Thailand. They had to come to Penang once per year to renew their Thai visas, which is a common practice. It turned out that they had the two rooms next to us in the hotel. We did not feel ready to return to our rooms so the four of us decided to do some drinking. After the first jug, one of the guys pointed out something about the other patrons: although there were more women than men, Kirsten was the only female. We were in a she-male bar. The beer was flowing and after about 2 hours the guys decided that they wanted to go on a trishaw ride, so we bid them farewell and ordered another beer. When Kirsten went to the bathroom, as a single guy I attracted she-male attention and soon there were a few at my table winking and shaking their arses at me, ignoring my shaking head and ‘go away’ gestures. I was very happy when Kirsten returned a few minutes later. We finished up around 3:30 and went back to sleep.
We got up early to catch the 8am ferry back to Langkawi, passing the Norwegian guy in the lobby, who looked very, very sorry for himself. The ferry ride was uneventful and we spent the rest of the day sleeping, eating, drinking, swimming. I went to the internet cafe and posted a few more photos.