Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Feb 20 2010

Penang

February 18, 2010

The call to prayer wasn’t unpleasant at all; it did wake me up, but I went right back to sleep, getting up way past actual sunrise. Gimzui took us to the waterfront, where a rickety boardwalk led out to a bunch of forlorn fishing shacks. Mosquitoes feasted on my calves, and the foul odor was explained when an old man rode up on a motorcycle and deposited a large quantity of waste into a blue barrel by the water’s edge.

As I walked gingerly out on the boardwalk, dogs in the huts launched a volley of barking against the intrusion. I had no intention of going out that far, however, instead watching the mudfish flapping around on the flats and taking pictures of the scene. Chenbl and I then walked up the coast a little ways and were invited on a tour of the docks there by a Malay fisherman whose friend was untangling a net. Smoke from garbage fires was billowing out over the water from nearby cliffs, but the sky was a spectacular shade of blue. Gimzui said the whole thing would be torn down soon, so it was good that we got to see them before they’re gone.

Breakfast was delicious curry “pancakes” and hard-boiled eggs at an Indian place across the street from the hotel, which is feeling more and more like the old Langford Hotel in Winter Park where my family stayed while house-hunting after moving to Florida in 1981. In a good vacation way, that is. It was getting quite hot, but still not as muggy as Taipei in the summer.

We drove to the old part of town by the coast, full of brilliant white English-style government buildings, to a busy temple. Out in front was a rack of huge purple incense logs, while the scene inside was much the same as most Taiwanese temples, except for the mixture of Malays and Indians. I took a picture of a fellow sitting by the gate, and the woman sitting next to him immediately demanded money. The singing wasn’t that good, though, and they cursed at my back when they didn’t get any.

The Malaysians, who know what they are doing, went to have tea indoors during the hottest part of the day, while Chenbl and I foolishly went for a walk around the area, stopping in at a shop run by an old Chinese woman. While Chenbl chatted with her, I talked with an old Hindu man who thought that Penang was going downhill “thanks to all of those Muslims.” He seemed affronted when Chenbl later came up and asked him if he was Muslim.

Our next stop, after taking pictures of a garbage recycler on his porch step, was Sun Yat-sen’s old revolutionary HQ. After paying a small fee, we got a tour from the junior-high-school girl inside. The old courtyard construction really does keep the places cool, and there were some ingenious pre-electrical-era arrangements in the kitchen. It was odd to think of the old revolutionaries holding their secret meetings there, always on alert for raids and ready to escape into the maze of Indian and Malay establishments behind the place. The upstairs is being rented out to some artist types. “Not just anyone can rent out those rooms,” the student told us when we inquired. “They have to be, you know, someone.”

It was truly hot out now, the perfect time, I felt, to go hat-hunting. We eventually found our way to the Muslim market opposite the Police HQ, and I quickly realized that most of the hats were too small for me. I managed to find a couple that fit, though. The owner, an older man in a black hat just like the one I’d bought from him, tried to fix another hat I’d already bought and didn’t do a very good job.

Our hosts, refreshed after an afternoon of tea, called up and arranged to meet us outside. It was a relief to get back into the air-conditioned car and drive out to the other side of the island, to a coastline covered with resorts and beaches. At the end of the road was a fishing village. Young Malay men with braids and dark, soft mustaches kicked a yellow soccer ball around while stray cats strolled around rubbing people’s legs. We talked with a couple of young fishermen who claimed they were 18, though they looked much more like 14 at most, as they smoked while sitting on the dock. Huge jellyfish, both white and orange, floated in the green water under the docks.

Back in town that evening, we had dinner at an old restaurant, a delicious meal around several tables as there were quite a few of us; apparently the Malaysians got word around of our visit, so we had over a dozen people in a convoy of vehicles. Afterwards, one of them gave us a ride back to the hotel, giving us a guided tour as we went.

Tomorrow we’re driving back to Kuala Lumpur, most likely stopping in Ipoh again for lunch and a haircut.

posted by Poagao at 8:47 am  

1 Comment

  1. cold and muddy here. Been cold and muddy, or cold and icy, for the last two and half months solid. Everyone I know is going through some form of Seasonal Affective Disorder, including me.

    Reading this post I had to pull on the collar of my shirt – I felt the sun, the heat – I saw the cat, the girl showing you the shaded courtyard – I longed for a hat.

    Thank you.

    Comment by Zhara — February 20, 2010 @ 11:50 am

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