Frothy white foam crashed onto the windows as we powered through the water. Rocking from side to side the ferry appeared to be swirling around inside a cappuccino. Looking out to the crashing waves made my stomach double flip, and then flip again. My eyes scanned the area looking for something stable to focus on, trying to keep the sea sickness buried deep. The words on the page of my book were jumping around as if they were on a trampoline; I managed to grab hold of a sentence, the same sentence I had read at least five times. I was left with no choice but to close my eyes and try and escape the formidable sea through sleep. I was just drifting away to stillness when the ferry pulled into the harbour at Georgetown on the island of Penang. It was time to set foot on terra firma again, to my extreme relief. I had successfully crossed the treacherous waters of the Straits of Malacca without releasing my breakfast on the floor of the ferry, or worse still on one of its other passengers.
Once stability on two feet had been restored we set off to walk the streets of Penang’s capital. From every angle I was greeted with Georgetown’s unique sense of character. From the street art created by the artist Ernest Zacharevic, to the ancient Chinese clan houses. Even the paint peeling off the buildings, creating a patchwork effect, gave this city a sense of charm that was intoxicating. Hours were spent wandering through the labyrinth streets of history restored to life through modern businesses. Old buildings now revamped into quirky hotels and restaurants. Chew Jetty, where immigrants from China settled in the middle of the nineteenth century, now a walkway of stalls selling everything from bags to mobile phone cases with images of the cities instantly recognisable 3D sculptures on them.
But, it was an afternoon spent in a tea house that really made my time in this city so special. I opened the door to an endless view of tea, in all different forms, and delicate Chinese tea sets. I stood in wonder, as a tea lover I was in my own little version of paradise.
‘Welcome,’ a whisper from behind snapped me out of my trance.
The owner guided us to his small table in the middle of the store and proceeded to pour us an endless supply of the purest tea I have ever tasted, while educating us on the history of making tea in his hushed, melodic voice. I sat with my cup, which was the size of a new-born baby’s hand, sipping and nodding my head to every piece of knowledge he shared. I was no longer in a shop in the middle of a capital city. I was in ancient China, surrounded by fields of tea. Mountains loomed above me and eagles were soaring through the sky. The midday sun was beating down on the fishermen as they collected food for the village. And I, the apprentice of this old tea master, was learning the art of this ancient Chinese practice.
The jingle of the doorbell snapped me out of my daydream. I was transported back to the shop with a mind full of knowledge and a fondness in my heart for this gentle man who had gave us everything and expected nothing. I had gained a whole new level of respect for those green leaves that provide so much comfort and happiness throughout my days. So I left Penang, with all the knowledge my master taught me, and headed to the tea capital of Malaysia, the Cameron Highlands.