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Penang, Malaysia

by admin on June 12th, 2010

Penang is the biggest and most inhabited island in Malaysia. Its main town, Georgetown, has recently been proclaimed a Unesco heritage site for its unique combination of colonial and traditional architecture, cultures and food. Penang is the only one of the 13 Malaysian states where the Chinese form the majority, although it is expected that the Malay population will take lead in the close future.

People from all over Malaysia and Singapore (and Asian food lovers from all over the world) come here to enjoy Penang’s famous street food, which is said to be amongst the best in the world. I cannot say that we enjoyed Penang’s food that much; this is partly because we are not Chinese or Malay food fanatics and partly because since I admittedly am a bit of a hygiene freak, I didn’t dare try a lot of the street food, so we probably missed out on some tasty dishes.

The Nyonya dishes are unique in the world, combining Chinese, Malay and Indian cuisines. The Baba Nyonya people are descendants of Hokkien Chinese who have lived here since the beginning and have developed their own culture within Malaysia.

Georgetown is a crowded, dusty, humid hot, and rather large city, where the historical centre is full of attractions like Buddhist and Hindu temples and old traditional mansions built in the spirit of Feng Shui. Away from the historical part, modern malls and all kind of concrete structures are popping out everywhere.

It is easier to walk in the street, since the sidewalk are usually taken over by parked motorbikes… or other things:

Backstreet:

Construction work:

Blue window and plenty of sunshine:

The sewage system (often causes unpleasant “odor”):

Another Buddhist temple (the usual offerings of fruit, rice and flowers):

One issue…

Superficially, one sees Malay, Chinese and Indian living in complete harmony in Penang. Things are not that pink though. While eating at a Nyonya restaurant, the (Chinese) lady working there complained to us a lot about the treatment of minorities by the Malaysian government. She said her brother had to leave Malaysia to study in the US, when in Malaysia he was refused admission to University. According to her (and we don’t have any other source of information on this issue) – the Malaysian government has set a limited number of University seats for minorities – the rest being reserved to Malay students. She was outraged with this system, saying that Chinese are usually more competitive in school than Malay students and that, if fair competition was unhindered, they would take over most University spots.
She may be right about that, but we also understand the Malaysian government trying to protect its own people by reserving some seats for them. It is a delicate issue.


Kek Lok Si Temple (“Temple of Supreme Bliss”)

This is the biggest working Buddhist temple in SE Asia. It is about 1 h by bus away from Georgetown, next to a rather unpleasant small town. The bus drops you off in this town and to get up to the temple (which is on a hill) you have to go through a dark, musty and claustrophobic staircase full of cheap souvenirs. When you finally get out of this “cave” of souvenirs, the first thing you see is this turtle pond, which must host some hundreds of turtles all squashed together and on top of each other (I wonder if they were all alive):

Finally, once you pass the turtle pond, you can feel that you are approaching a place of worship. The noise and craziness (it seems that even the heat) fade off, monks are walking around doing their chores… the only thing that disturbs the quiet are tourists. We wondered why no one does anything about the way up to the temple, but I guess… that is not the monks’ business.

We were really curious what this next thing represents, but couldn’t find out. We thought it is a portrayal of the defeat of some demons (look under his feet), but we were not sure. If anyone reading the blog knows, please leave a comment and explain to us:

From → South East Asia

One Comment
  1. Gerald McLaughlin permalink

    Hi You Two
    Keep the pictures and info coming. As you know I live vicariously. They are fantastic pictures quite neutral comments and I do not blame on the issue of “street foods”.
    Love Gerald/

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