Pearl of the Orient – Penang

3 Feb

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And so after some street hawker food that demonstrates that i must speak more clearly (I think they managed to hear ‘tofu’ as ‘seafood’ judging by the abundance of shrimp and octopus and the distinct lack of fermented bean curd)… and a bit more of an exploration of Kuala Lumpur’s Lunar New Year celebrations, it’s onto the train.

Kuala Lumpur (15)Kuala Lumpur (14)

Kuala Lumpur (6)Kuala Lumpur (5)

(magic colour changing sculpture)

I’m not sure that the choice of movie is entirely suitable – showing ‘Unstoppable’ on a train is in the same vein as showing Die Hard 2 to people on an aircraft or Speed on a bus journey – but what’s more fun is the subtitles – obviously created by someone with access to a dictionary but no actual understanding of English – the words are English.. and if you put them together in the right order they sound like the dialogue… but they don’t actually make any sense.

And the train rocks through the night, speeding towards an early morning arrival into Butterworth…I’m a bit concerned that I have missed my stop, because I can’t see any station signs, and it’s past 5am. No need to fear, really, because Butterworth is the end of the line.

The ferry across to Georgetown on the island of Penang is a bargain at RM1.20 return.. around 25p.. although I note that devaluation has hit their process hard – the boarding gate still takes two 50 SIN pieces (RM0.5) so rather than replace it they now have a ‘man in charge of the shillings’ to change your RM1 note into old fangled change.

Georgetown seafront (48)Georgetown seafront (39)

 

I’ve got to say, it’s quite an active harbour area with lots of boats silhouetted in the morning sunrise. Quite an active ferry, too, with hundreds of women in traditional dress and hijab and dozens of men on buzzy little motorbikes exiting the ferry like bees leaving the hive in search of pollen.

But I should back track a bit.  I started this bit of the trip as ‘Plan B’:

Plan A was to fly from Sydney to Bangkok – scuppered when Qantas changed all their flight details, thus leaving me in Singapore without ongoing connection planned

Plan B was to fly to Singapore (check) take the train to Kuala Lumpur (check) and then the day train to Butterworth/Penang – but that was fully booked due to New Year (I found when I got to the station)

(Plan B also suffered from planning error when I asked the travel agency to move my flight to 28th Feb rather than 28th January. I realised this at around 24 hours notice. Doh!)

Plan C was to take the overnight train from Kuala Lumpur to Butterworth/Penang (check) , stay on Penang (check), and then take the overnight train from Butterworth to Bangkok – but that was fully booked due to New Year ( I found at 7am this morning, having taken the perfectly reasonable precaution of waiting at the station until the ticket office opened just in case.

So, plan D is to take a minibus from Butterworth to Hat Yai and then catch a train/take a bus to Bangkok. I hope there is one free….

So this is what it looks like now. Probably.

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When I get to the hostel, I find my room mate, Silvana, from Kuala Lumpur, is already there. I’m not sure if I am surprised or not. We’re not sure who is stalking who – I booked the hostel first, but she got there first..

Silvana

Anyway, I took a pleasant enough wander round East Georgetown taking a look at the hawker stands, a glass of prosperity fizz from McDonalds, a stroll by the sea…

McDonalds Prosperity Fizz

After dinner, four of us go up to the Kek Lok Si temple. This traditional buddhist temple is lit with what looks like a billion lights for New Year.. pity the poor monks who have to put them up (apparently quite acrobatic and a little heart stopping to watch). Anyone who decorates their house for Christmas should take a look at how it’s REALLY done. Thousands and thousands of paper lanterns, all sorts of lighting across the entire temple.. really breathtaking.

Penang_Kek-Lok-Si_Temple_5Kek Lok Si Temple (28)Kek Lok Si Temple (25)Kek Lok Si Temple (8)

The business of being a temple carries on, of course, but at New Year lots of families do what we do – come and see the lights, stay to see the firework celebrations unfold in the town below, and then make New Year prayers and offerings at any of a dozen shrines in the temple.

Kek Lok Si Temple (23)

The Chinese believe that the sound of firecrackers and the colour red frighten the Nian, an ancient chinese monster… they also leave food outside to appease it and stop it eating their children. So hence the practice of releasing firecrackers in the streets, and of sending lucky red envelopes with money in (an even number, but never $4, $40 or $400 which would be unlucky)

A fabulous firework display including some of the biggest (and loudest) fireworks I have ever seen… and more firecrackers than I have ever experienced. Apparently there is a huge black market trade in firecrackers imported from Thailand.

The Chinese also have some prohibitions around working at New Year – so our hostel owners can’t sweep the floor or do laundry. They are also going to a family dinner today, so I offer to man the front desk in return for a night’s accommodation (or at least a chair in the corner).

Sattcle Hostel (5)

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