Hello Dear Family & Friends!
"Salaam Halekum. "
The response: "Halekum Salaam"
(May the peace of Allah be with you. Muslim greeting. )
isn't remote at all. It's only an hour's drive away if your car
could go straight upwards."
"Walk your talk". Malaysia, specifically Penang, creatively, busily and colorfully goes about its business, a living example of religious and cultural respect and tolerance. Cultural diversity at its finest. Hardly a week goes by without a religious holiday or cultural event. Everyone benefits from the various cultural holidays declared and observed by all, regardless of their ethic origin. Chinese, Malay or Indian, they are all descendants of their grandparents or great grandparents who immigrated here, bringing with them their culture, foods and dress. When asked they all proudly say they are Malaysian, yet speak their ethnic language fluently.
A lively port, this Pearl of the Orient, has had many cultures sail to her shores over the last centuries. Humans lived in present day Malaysia as long as 40,000 years ago. With few documents in history it was the Chinese who first recorded trading in Malaysia, followed by Hindu traders bringing settlers from India. The Peninsula consisted of many separate small kingdoms, always warring with one another for power. In the 1500's the Portuguese captured Malacca and in 1641 the Dutch bumped them out as the top European trading power. Wit the new title they inherited the battles with the neighboring kingdoms. The British wanted a piece of the action, and in 1786 the sultan of Kedah, looking for help against the Siamese to the north, leased the island of Pinang to the English East India Company. Borneo was under the Muslim rule of Brunei.Malaya, Sarawak, and North Borneo was under Japanese rule from 1941 to 1945. After the war ended ethnic rivalries thwarted attempts at independence and instead the immigrants were encouraged to work in the tin mines and rubber plantations. Malays comprised 50% , Chinese 37% and Indians 12%. With language and cultural differences, mainly between the Chinese and Malays, independence wasn't realized until 1957. Politically and in big business, disputes between these two groups continue to this day.
In 1981 Mahathir was elected and led Malaysia for the next 22 years, until 2003. In 1991 he launched his “Vision 2020” program to propel Malaysia into the ranks of developed industrialized nations by 2020. Despite some economic set backs in Asia, Malaysia has continued to attract foreign investment and to develop as a major center of electronics manufacturing.
With the government civil servants mainly Malays, Chinese in business and development and Hindus in small business, it seems all share in the wealth. Mahathir wanted to build a country built on freedoms for all. We will see if his dream is ever realized.
And so we can share with you our fun multicultural days spent with our Chinese friends, Clarae and son Boon, from Butterworth - across the bay. We met Clarae and Boon in the airport in Kuala Lumpur. Boon was restless after a long flight from Japan and for some reason we decided to shoot a rubber band at him, as had been a game at home when the kids were growing up. He laughed and we continued to play until boarding the flight. Fellow travel enthusiasts we have developed a close friendship. One such intercultural day we visited the homes of Chinese friends in the morning, toured St Anne's Christian Church built in 1867, then in the afternoon were invited for lunch at a Muslim wedding. Later we went out to a Muslim village or 'kampong' in the country, Permatang Tok Bidan. There we were warmly welcomed into the original wooden home of the Awang family, ate sweet potatoes served with coconut and rode motorcycles through the rice fields. What fun! Everything seems to revolve around food, great food might I add, so after stopping for Chinese vegetarian dinner we went to a market just in time for a dragon dance and parade, which we gladly joined in. An Indian somosa on the way to the ferry we were fat and happy and filled up to our eyeballs with fun, food and culture.
The following weekend we returned to experience the magnificent New Tow Boo Kong Temple rebuilt in 2000 for RM7 million. This very classy temple has a remarkable front prayer hall, sacred prayer hall and inner courtyard. Celebrating Nine Emperor God's Festival it was decorated to the hilt complete with thousands of lights, 6 ft tall incense sticks, a fountain to throw coins in for good luck. They had Chinese opera, a fire ceremony where enormous woks full of medicinal herbs and oil were cooked over fires, and hundreds of food stalls marked with yellow flags proudly stating they were vegetarian only.
Later we heard
of a procession or
lighted parade with god's descending and putting men into
trances. Not to be missed, we stood with our jaws dropping
as lighted musical floats went by followed by the uncanny skewering ritual where men
their cheeks with 8 ft long aluminum poles and suspended lights
and even boys
bikes on them. At the intersection they would dangle
strings of exploding firecrackers from the ends of the poles as
they spun around to music. If that wasn't enough men had 6-8 hooks
in the skin of their backs pulling 6 ft high paper mache images
on wheels behind them. Home after midnight we were buzzing
from the noise, excitement and cultural festivities. In
over 4 hours we didn't set eyes on another foreigner in the
Several weeks later was Deepavali, the Hindu "Festival of the Lights". Amidst blaring music in Little India I bought a Happy New Years sign in Hindi for our door and decorated our place with strings of white lights. One of the largest celebrations in the Indian culture; lights, fireworks and loud music ring in the New Year. Oil lamps are lit in the homes for thanking the gods for happiness, knowledge, peace, and wealth. We were invited along with Clarae and Boon into the home of their Indian friends and were treated royally to a specially prepared vegan Indian feast. Thinking back over Christmas and New Years and Thanksgiving at home I guess food feasts were the center of activities also.
We reciprocated by inviting our friends, Clarae, Boon, Ms Goo, Chea and Ooi to visit our luxury condo we had rented at Miami Greens for the month. Like living in a fancy resort in the sky we swam in the pool, went down the water slides and enjoyed the views of the ocean and monkeys in the forest to the side. A day in Penang involves Christians, Buddhist, Muslims, and Hindus all interacting and while they maintain their cultures they don't seem to notice the differences. As the saying is here - side by side, but different. Maybe it is side by side but really all the same!
Interesting/funny signs reminding us we were in Malaysia: Pest Pecker (Pest Control), Tit Bits Gift Shop, Dum Camera Shop, Visa application asking Number of wives, Malaysia Red Crescent instead of Red Cross, Wifi line discouraging unlicensed users, "Get-Your-Own-Internet", "Park in our driveway but your car won't look the same when you return!" Hawker stand offering only deep fried necks, gizzards, buttocks, heads or feet of chicken. Don't miss the wide array of choices at the Red Garden food stalls: Roasted frog, gizzard curry, dried squid, eel stew, happy dim dim, deep fried octopus, and on and on. Exotic food never heard of or imagined is available in Penang and all tasting great. Thank goodness for all the standard Asian fare for us 'newbies' and especially the vegetarian Thai place in the corner! A lot can be said of Penang and Malaysia in general, but boring or bland isn't one of them.
Love, Light & Laughter,
1 US Dollar = 3.64 Malaysian Ringgit
Ramadan is super busy, expensive and best to avoid Penang (around July annually). Also book far ahead for the week of Chinese New Years when prices also rise.
Planning a train trip? check out www.maninseat61.com tips on most of the trains in the world.
Try www.agoda.com for possible discounts on some of the hotels listed below. Sometimes when you fly on Air Asia they offer discounts if the hotel is booked at the same time. Worth checking. Their Tunes Hotel looked interesting to check out.
Airbnb.com also has options - usually starting around
Indian Rest. across from Woodlands is on Jl Lebong Penang
Victoria Inn [$30] just East of Little India and only 1 block from Ferry to Butterworth. New hotel, friendly helpful staff, clean and cool. Owners get cheap on wifi, etc but staff works hard to help. Book on agoda.com. Quiet in middle of block, upper floors (#403-404 405 406).
Star Lodge, 39 Munthri-
Great guesthouse but limited number of rooms. Basic but
clean and extremely helpful staff during the day. Get a
room on the 2nd floor (prices 65rm and up)
Traveler's Lodge 75 Munthri , same owners, Just down the road - give them a try until the Star opens up - bigger rooms (prices all going up - quoted 85rm - less by week.)
Muntri Branch Clinic:
Lam Wah EE Acupuncture Clinic: Across from Star Lodge,
36 Muntri St
Acupuncture clinic 71 Munthri. - a few doors down from the Star Lodge on Tues and Fri evenings only
Tuesday there was no acupuncture because of the Koran Bee [the national contest to see who reads the Koran best]. Never assume a business will be open.
Another option is Hutton Inn, a little more expensive but the upper floors of this old colonial style hotel are quiet as is Hutton JL on which it is located. Check agoda.com for better price than walk-in.
Or try 3 star YES Hotel next to Mingood Hotel on 60 Transfer Rd. They had a special when we checked ($33) or try agoda.com Get a room back away from the road, towards Mingood. Newly remodeled. phone # 04-2266 501 email: firstname.lastname@example.org
LSY Health and Organic Products:
open 7-noon for juice
Teoh Chooi Keat Email: email@example.com
Go Organic: 7j Marble Arch Pulau Tikus
Other veggie restaurants near downtown:
Lilies Vegetarian Kitchen: Madras Lane. From Komtar
walk down Burma Rd past Komtar Center (round building) - left on Madras Lane
Red Garden Food Paradise: Great Thai food Opens at 5pm A wild local, fun hang out with music/Kareoke at 9pm but be careful walking home at night after dark. (Always/Anywhere) Don't stay nearby (Red Cabana Inn) if you want to sleep.
Believe it or not - one of the best places in Penang is the lunch cafeteria of the Penang Adventist Hospital - first floor All types of curries, Chinese, etc for only about $2. No msg which is a relief. Next to the Indonesian Embassy. Take bus #101 to Gurney Plaza then walk a block
3rd floor Gurney Plaza 3F-60
The Twelve Cups,