Call to prayer

I didn’t notice until last night the strong Muslim influence in Ipoh. Across a broad avenue from my hotel is a giant Mosque complex, and as the sun set prayers were broadcast loudly from its skyscraper-like concrete minaret. For almost an hour a clear male voice called hauntingly to the clouded night. It was beautiful, calming, peaceful to sit on the terrace and enjoy the sound even though I couldn’t understand a word.

My hotel is obviously staffed by Muslims, and the function last night was for a hundred women in colourful headscarves. The guidebook, which is now three years old, says there should be a pub in the station building but there’s no sign of it now (though it was not rated well, so perhaps it died a natural death). I felt the urge to have just one or two sundowner beers and went looking for some at six different stores and service stations nearby, to no avail. Very surprising, as in Singapore and Melaka beer is widely available.

I resorted to the only pub this side of the bridge, the Miners’ Arms, an odd British-themed joint run by Indians that was extremely quiet on a Monday night. After two very slow drinks while reading I went back to the hotel, and as I headed to my room I noticed a middle-aged German man sitting on the terrace with a large bottle of Tiger beer in front of him. I went up and asked him where he got it: “a 7-11 about ten minutes walk away”, he replied. I cheerfully said I wasn’t that desperate, and sat a few tables away from him and got out my book again.

After ten minutes I noticed some movement to my left: the same man was holding out a warm can of Tiger to me with a smile. “If you want it,” he said, and I accepted gratefully. He returned to his room so I went back to my book, but when he came out again I went over to him and we chatted for an hour about our travels past and present.

This morning I was awoken around 5.30am by more prayers, a different voice not quite as melodic as the night before but still the same calming, gentle call. Welcome too, as I don’t have an alarm clock and wanted to be up early for my bus. I’m sitting alone on the vast terrace as I type this, the sun still not up as the city slowly wakes, feeling more relaxed than ever.

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