If it’s Wednesday, it must be Penang

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Gradually succumbing to American Touritis as the airports, taxis, hotels, meals turn into a blur. But there are lots of differences here in Malaysia. For the first time since I left Auckland there’s a full blue sky even if it is accompanied by 33 degrees and 99%humidity. We’re also surrounded by beautiful green hills and beautiful green gardens. Even the University we visited this morning is called the University in a Garden – The University Sains Malaysia. Everyone speaks English and the food is spicy. Arrived yesterday in Penang about 6.00 pm and leave tomorrow morning at 10.00 am, so another place I won’t be seeing much of. We’re here for a meeting between Malaysian Vice Chancellors and NZ VCs, so I get to pretend for 48 hours.

As always there’s a welcome dinner though, for reasons not fully explained, the dinner is also attended by 20 Australians and people from 15 countries in the British Commonwealth. Whatever Kiwis think about Australians, they’re not usually boring (as opposed to boorish) but I managed to sit next to the exception at dinner. Malaysia, being strongly Islamic, is not keen on alcohol, so it was guava juice and water. We did have a cultural performance, some traditional dancing, but by the time they got on stage most people in the room had lost the will to live so even that was a let down. Eventually, about 10 o’clock I saw a chance to escape, only to find out that the Chair of the New Zealand Vice Chancellor’s Committee wished to call an emergency meeting of us all – in a room without windows – to discuss the new legislation on tertiary education reforms. I thought the low point in my career was when I had to explain to North Shore City Council that the new bus station should be called Akoranga and not Barry’s Point, but this came close. The things I do for the future of New Zealand.

We had a morning meeting today, all big chairs, big titles and microphones and then a celebratory lunch (celebrating still being awake) which was actually quite tasty. However, to make sure we really enjoyed ourselves, they put on band – average age about 45 – who played some ‘all-time classics’, finishing off with My Way.

This is all a bit unfair, because, as usual, the Malaysians are wonderfully efficient, very charming and helpful, and very hospitable. It must be soemthing to do with putting too many Vice-Chancellors in the same building. We should stick to a maximum of two in any city at any one time.

Just going back to Chinese English names which all young Chinese now have (see an earlier blog) – the two receptionists at the checkout in Shanghai were Sky (male) and Cleopatra. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to just give yourself another name – I feel a competition coming on! Now how about Troy, or Blaze……..mmm. And going back to street harassment in Shanghai, I was offered a ‘happy ending massage’.

So I leave Asia tomorrow heading for London via Signapore. A total of 15 hours in the air but I manage to end up in London at 7 o’clock in the evening. I think Friday will be a ‘go away, I don’t want to talk to anybody day’, after which it’s off to see the Leharnes and Jan and Ed. Despite what you read on this blog, it’s been a very interesting and productive 11 days (or is it 11 weeks?)

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