Blog // Tales from the trail

10 Dec
2015

Penang Jollies, Malaysia

By Corallie

From Butterworth to Georgetown

From Butterworth to Georgetown

After 10 days or so on the farm, we took ourselves off to Penang for a little island jaunt, taking advantage of it being less than an hour away, and a little bit to escape the early-morning rooster calls. Arriving off the bus at the fabulously-named town, Butterworth, it was just a hop, skip and very efficient ferry ride over to the island. The conveniently-located bus terminal on the other side of the ferry, to anywhere in Penang, didn't go unnoticed either - no having to rely on unscrupulous taxis to take us the last few kilometres into town. As it was, the guest-house was within walking distance, which was serendipitous because that is how we stumbled across two joints that we would frequent over the next few days - the 'Awesome Canteen' for our morning coffee (and afternoon, creatively-mixed, espresso, ice and tonic water) and 'China House' for our evening G&T whilst listening to some memorable (for the right reasons!) live music. We had chosen well!

Barrista at Awesome Canteen - the home of espresso tonic

Barrista at Awesome Canteen - the home of espresso tonic

Mmmmmm, smell my beans!

Mmmmmm, smell my beans!

A brief bit of history explains the eclectic mix of architecture in the ancient capital, Georgetown. Having always been a busy trading port, Penang has seen the comings and goings of Chinese merchants and European colonisers including Portuguese, the Dutch and lastly, the British, which led to a large influx of Indian settlers too. The town is still bustling, although many of the original Chinese merchant-houses now operate as trendy cafe-bars or guesthouses and banking seems to be today's mode d'affairs.

The old versus the new in Georgetown

The old versus the new in Georgetown

The very colonial Town Hall

The very colonial Town Hall

Clock Tower to commemorate Queen Victoria

Clock Tower to commemorate Queen Victoria's 60th year as Head of the British Empire (it leans a little!)

Stop! Look! Cross!

Stop! Look! Cross!

Chinese temple

Chinese temple

A-MAZE-ing selection of second-hand books down Chowrasta Market!

A-MAZE-ing selection of second-hand books down Chowrasta Market!

Taking a break from rickshaw-ing

Taking a break from rickshaw-ing

We ventured to the Cornwallis Fort, which was apparently taken over with some ease by the Japanese (on bicycles!) in the 2nd World War; possibly the most dull tourist attraction I have ever seen, not really even an attraction bar the cannon, but it was pleasant sitting on the grassy verge with the warm sea air blustering past.

Looking out from a bunker

Looking out from a bunker

There's a nice feeling of urban permaculture around town, several of the restorations maintaining the open-roof courtyards housing fragrant frangipanis or herb gardens, the natural light flooding in (and the rain too, but nothing a border channel can't take care of).

Cafe restoration around the resident trees

Cafe restoration around the resident trees

On one of our walks, we happened across the 'Founder of Modern China', Dr. Sun Yat-Sen's house in Penang; the house he had taken cover in whilst planning a revolution of seemingly epic proportion. While we had almost no idea what our effervescent tour guide was talking about as he sashayed around the long, narrow house - a combination of a mixed accent and translation quirks - we politely smiled and nodded and took part in the photo shoot that he set-up to recreate scenes that he imagined the former infamous tenant might have once been involved in.

Table of revolutionary discussions!

Table of revolutionary discussions!

Our loveable tour guide, Kenny

Our loveable tour guide, Kenny

Chin-chin! Re-enacting

Chin-chin! Re-enacting 'drinking tea' on our tour...

Street-art is a big attraction in Georgetown and having already been advised to get our walk-on, it wasn't difficult to spot the more well-known pieces although it was harder to actually see them for the surrounding gaggle of people. There was a new artist in town (rumour had it a young Russian girl) who was busily creating an assortment of beautifully-painted Indian-influenced pieces and we were lucky enough to catch her in action, albeit as we whizzed past on a moped.

Looks like Penang

Looks like Penang

Penang

Penang's street-art

New addition to the block

New addition to the block

Freedom of expression

Freedom of expression

I had felt very much at home since arriving in Malaysia, putting it down to the blend of it being a Muslim country with strong influences from the sub-continent - much like being down-town in Satwa in Dubai listening to the call to prayer on a balmy evening. A visitor to Serukam farm earlier in the week was a bubbly lady called Tan, who volunteers as a tour guide in Penang. She invited us to join her walking tour, 'Journey of Harmony' on Saturday morning. Stuffing a Chinese pork bun in our mouths as we rounded the corner to the meeting place, a little late us usual, we were expecting to go on a tour of Penang's tourist hot-spots. In fact, it was to be a simple walk down 'Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling' road and a window into Penang's most well-trodden path. "Penang", she explained to the group "is an example of harmony, diverse religions and cultures peacefully living together. But harmony is more than tolerance of each other, it is about acceptance." And this was definitely the word that stuck as we walked around.

Tan taking us on her Journey of Harmony (under a tree that is almost 200 years old)

Tan taking us on her Journey of Harmony (under a tree that is almost 200 years old)

Our 20-strong group mostly compromised 'Penang-ians', I felt, an indication of the community's inclusive and energetic spirit. The aim of the tour was to highlight how four elements - water, light, lunar and flora - were common across Penang's main religions, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam, each represented by a historical building of worship on this road. For someone who sits on the fence when it comes to religion - not a self-confessed atheist because how can you ever really know? - the word acceptance really stood out for this community and underlined some of the heartening stories. For instance, opposite the Hindu temple 'Sri Maha Mariamman' stood a long line of Muslim-run restaurants, yet not one of them serves beef on their menus out of respect for the frequent Hindu worshippers (and as the co-tour guide pointed out, the policy also attracts more customers!). Each of the communities built around these sites represented Penang's, and ultimately Malaysia's, colourful population stemming from centuries of trade and the tour highlighted the similarities between them, not the differences. Feeling very positive at the end of the tour, in contrast to how one feels after reading the news, I wondered why religious centres don't do more 'open-house' events to counter all the second-hand propaganda that is so prevalent.

Penang

Penang's Anglican Church, built in 1818, is SE Asia's oldest Anglican Church

Looking into the Buddhist

Looking into the Buddhist 'Goddess of Mercy Temple' (Kuan Yin Temple) - where students are sent to pray for good exam results!

Lighting incense sticks as an offering to the deities

Lighting incense sticks as an offering to the deities

Flowers for sale along Masjid Kapitan Keling Street are used by the different communities in their cultural and religious practices

Flowers for sale along Masjid Kapitan Keling Street are used by the different communities in their cultural and religious practices

The Masjid Kapitan Keling has been built up over centuries but goes back as far as 1792

The Masjid Kapitan Keling has been built up over centuries but goes back as far as 1792

We escaped the urban environment for a day out in the national park. After a sweaty couple of hours of jungle-trek, the trees opened out onto a turtle-nesting beach, unfortunately no turtles that day, but lots of information and buried nests protected by the turtle centre on-site to give the hatchlings a bit of a kick-start in life.

Jungle Trek in the National Park

Jungle Trek in the National Park

The return leg of our moto-adventure saw us climbing over the hills on the other side of the island whilst being chased by some grisly-looking clouds. However the rain kept mostly at bay and there were some views to be captured before we made our way back through the island's surprisingly busy traffic.

Overlooking the more modern side of Penang

Overlooking the more modern side of Penang

Looking down on Kek Lok Si temple - the most famous Buddhist temple in Penang

Looking down on Kek Lok Si temple - the most famous Buddhist temple in Penang

Having eaten our way through 'Little India', 'Chinatown' and the Malay food stalls, we headed back to the mainland (in this direction, a free ferry-ride) and Serukam farm, feeling rested and ready to get back to daily rice and the early-morning rooster alarm, eager to see what had grown since we'd been away.

Penang - a city of immigrants

Penang - a city of immigrants

Night-time stroll

Night-time stroll

Pretty parasols of Penang

Pretty parasols of Penang

Comments on this posting:

  • mog: Such a beautiful city - we loved it there and if only we had to pray to get a good result - life would be amazing!

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