The working-class sentiment of a ferry ride is something that I love dearly. I could've Grabbed from the Butterworth station onto the island of Penang, but the cost was RM1.20 (30cents) and the free shuttle was sitting right in front of me. Couldn't pass up. On a short, gorgeous cruise looking directly into the rather modest skyscraper of Penang, all I knew about this city 3hrs north of KL was that it offers great food; exactly what I came for.
Food, as been said, is amazing to say the least. What they are known for, like Hokkien Mee aka prawn noodle and Asam Laksa, sour fish broth noodle soup made me go ahhhhhh. Of course you see many Hawker centers (one Koay Teow soup I had across the street from Asak Laksa ahhhhhh) and markets, then there'd be really hip coffeeshops and bars that also serve snacks that look interesting and yummy. I saw so many more that I would've liked to try if I had a younger man's stomach, but whatever I managed to put down was worth every goddamn calorie. No fucking shit this is an eating town. I could see myself driven to excess. With noodles, coffee, and booze but I digress.
As I walked, baked in heat and drenched in sweat through the streets of the ex-British colony named George Town, I thought to myself this was as close to being in China as I have come. The collapsing buildings, the red lanterns, the age-old signs of local business - and of course the people and their language that live among them. Its aesthetic, energy and collage of old and new, I almost immediately fell in love with, as many have; although the city centre was once again overwhelmed with tourists from west and east, I managed to find serenity in back alleys, coffeeshops and some art gallery (or street art scene found sporadically). They seem to proudly embrace their heritage while staying on the cutting edge, the music and club scenes apparently impress even the most privileged. I'd be convinced if someone told me this is Malaysia's Portland or Austin.
And if you're in the mood for a bit of history and what money could buy in the yesteryears, there is a house in the middle of "Beverly Hills of Penang" that turned itself into a Museum which holds about 1/4 of personally acquired antiques found in the area. Not only the building itself a time capsule from the colonial days, the collection is massive, extensive and impressive. From one of the largest non-religious stained glass pieces in existence, electric appliances from the turn of the century (still in working condition) to an Erard grand piano whose one key was destroyed by a careless visitor a few years back. My heart sank, The guide they employ here can tell you in details what they have gathered about every piece offering a peek into what Chinese immigrants, whose presence predated the British colonization, had to do to survive and prosper; intermarry with land-owning Malays, immerse themselves in western culture and customs donning hat and petticoat, amass wealth right underneath the whites with hidden policial ambitions. Quite extraordinary.
Maybe it's more like New Orleans, but I digress.
Then there are many Buddhist temples sprinkled all over town; a neon-lit Kuan Yin temple floating over the bay (under construction) that you reach via a narrow walk through a local fishing village (awkward), a Thai-style golden temple home to a reclining Buddha, right across the street from a Burmese temple much more modest than its neighbor yet just as exquisite with the rembrandt-esque paintings telling of the Buddha life story. Then you stretch out to the hills of Air Itam there's a 100-ft Kuan Yin statue built in 2002 above the much-older buildings including a pagoda that merges Chinese, Thai and Burmese architecture styles. There will be an entire post focused on Buddhist architectures and arts after I go through Thai, Cambodia, and of course Japan.
Until then, here're some pix of #KeepAsiaWeird
Soundchaser/two-time Independent Music Awards finalist. Currently travelblogging at #beatvagabond and working on new material.