Maybe it's more like New Orleans, but I digress.
Until then, here's some pix of #KeepAsiaWeird
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's some pix of #KeepAsiaWeird
"~kuala is the point where two rivers join together or an estuary, and lumpur means 'mud'." According to wiki.
KL stands out from other cities in one aspect; cultural diversity trifecta. The official census might disagree, but while there it feels like an even 3-way split between Malay (Muslim), Indian (Hindi) and Chinese. I'm not gonna be here for the election, but the racial/cultural divide might come to the surface which usually is kept on the down low. To my benefit, this means that you can eat in three ways. Let's go eat all of 'em, and I've got the Ace in the hole; Shinji the GM. (Please check Category: Malaysia) from the right side bar)
His accumulated knowledge of POIs and places to eat/drink is massive. So we go, from Pan Mee (Hakka-style noodle), Tau Fu Fa (tofu in sweet milk), Ebi Soba (prawn noodle), Loti Tissue (bigass deep-fried paper-thin bread), Nasi Goreng Malay-peasant style, Bak Kut Teh (beef bone soup), sugar cane juice, fried crab skewers, Chinese Chicken Wings and even drive 2hrs north of the city to Ipoh for stir-fried bean sprouts. Who the fuck does that? TWO JAPANESE MOFO. and it was worth every bit of it. The texture, the flavor, the minuscule calory intake. The order of duck roast was rather unnecessary, could've had the third serving of this delicious sprouts.
Ipoh also is a nice sleepy town outside of the hustle-bustle of KL; more greenery, a haunted castle built in the early 20th century, a suspicious local man that keeps following you around the train station like a fucking zombie. Good times.
The more time you spend outside of KL, the more presence of China you can tell. As Malays have been rather advantages in many aspects and non-Malays mainly excluded from any politics in the caption, most Chinese with significant financial gravitas moved to other cities like this, Penang my next destination and as close to the city centre as Genting Highlands, mere one-hour drive and up 5000ft above where they built mini-Macau back in 70s complete with tramways offering (I'm assuming) great views of the city. Since then they updated themselves with brand shops, arcades and restaurants as Vegas did. I'm no noob to Tiger Cubs Mega-malls but the ones here are not to be easily forgotten. A great use of hillside terrain. Impressive. But we're not here to shop, we here to WIN.
Once inside, the interior looks eerily familiar; no pix to show as the armed guards everywhere, but the carnie-theme, color scheme, undeniable wear and tear that makes you feel like you're in a bad dream...Circus motherfucking Circus. And bingo, that's what the joint is called. What else is similar? The minimum bet; this was totally unexpected as I've gotten used to everything being 1/4 of the US cost, by but that's certainly not the rate I lost. On roulette tables, $5 minimum. Blackjack, $25. Baccarat - I don't even know what it costs back home, but this one is hugely popular here. And the rest looks like an Indian Casino in an alternative universe. Strange 3-die craps tables that probably have way worse odds than we know, childishly simple game of rolling the ball and guess what number it lands on, and so forth. I'm no exgpert, but it seems that they prefer faster and simpler gameplay, at much higher stakes. Imagine the cheapest blackjack table you find is $100 minimum. And these Chinese uncles and anties are LOVING IT. They're rowdy, dead serious and ruthless. Look at China. Can't wait to visit Macau.
One last mind-blowing thing; they offer their own ATM card. GM managed to win back some on a video-roulette that looks like it's been in use since 90s, but we can't cash out. The clerk tells us that we need the card. Players card for comps? Sorta. It stores the credit you win on these machines, and you go to Genting ATMs on the floor to get the actual cash. Then the GM remembered he had one at home, with some credit left on it. Goddamn genius these Chinese gangs.
Well, for our consolations, the bird nest soup at the restaurant was fucking delicious.
Outside of food, coffee and Applesauce (a person), there was only a few things on my agenda here in Sai Gon; one was a motorbike. Ride around Sai Gon, testing my skill and luck. Not athletic at all and my track record has more crashes than falls, but I tell you; I see more accidents in LA traffic on a daily, than this madness in which everyone is constantly inches away from bloody disasters. And they are always inches away because they pay mad attention to their surroundings, much like massive hordes of fish in the ocean, swimming in every direction and never colliding with each other. As if it's in their DNA, from old pops on a trolley to school kids no older than their day. I saw one bumper-to-bumper, a skinny brother lightly tapped on this auntie's license plate. But boy did she go out for his blood and make a soup out of it. The boy could only hold on to his helmet as she slapped him nonsense. God I love being in this traffic.
Of course it's no pleasure cruise; one; you could die. Easily. They'd rather kill you than hurt. Two; the indochina sun so merciless I wish I wore a skirt. The tan I've got on my arms is two-tone, and my body I'll leave up to your imagination. Three; the city is a maze. On top of unfamiliar street names and fucking roundabouts, G Maps get often confused and leads you to some nerve-racking sharp turns and the worst of all, is late. I'm on earbuds so I don't have to go one-handed like Grab-boys, but a lot of times you need a visual. It also doesn't allow you to make illegal U-turns so when you miss a street, it kicks you into some hood alleys where grannys got chickens by their feet.
Speaking of Gmas; in or outside of the city proper, I make sure to grab a coffee, sit down in the sun, and observe powerful characters on the street being who they be. I hate to come off ageist, but the older they get, the less fucks they seem to give. How refreshing. Makes me wanna live. Makes my worries seem small. Reminds me to stand and/or sit tall. Also to watch where you're going 'cause you could easily fall. Don't be so confident with your judo roll. The majority that you'll meet here are probably "less-fortunate" than we are in the states (and Japan), but I'm also think that they've their life priorities straight. Every time I come here I feel my cynicism evaporate, my senses elavate and about all of this I want to elaborate. Like I am doing now.
Sai Gon thrills me. Next time I come she might kill me but until then, she continues to heal me.