Saturday, January 11, 2014

Malaysia: Part 1


I myself wasn't quite clear on where exactly Malaysia was before going.

Apparently I could have taken a car, but The Google told me there are tolls.

It has been a long time coming for a new blog post, and ironically, this one won't even be about my time in Kolkata [Calcutta] teaching English in a local school. Rather, it's about my recent travels to a place not only outside of Kolkata, but outside of India itself: Malaysia.

Before the start of my time in India back in June, I remember telling a college friend that I probably wouldn't get to visit any other countries during my grant period as both my time and funds were limited. However, lucky am I to report that this is already my second time traveling in a new country outside of India during the past month [the first was in Sri Lanka, stories to come soon].

The streets of Penang [and our favorite stop for nutmeg juice]

Anyway, I had the time between Christmas and 6th January off from teaching, so I decided to spend it visiting a friend, J, who is currently doing research in Malaysia. J and I were in the same study abroad program that sent me to India the first time around [and to China, too], so the thought of travelling with her again after about two years was too exciting to pass up. Luckily my program agreed and approved my travel plans!So first, I met J in Penang, a city which ranks eighth in terms of population size, but perhaps first in terms of charm. After spending three nights there, we jetted off to the popular beach resort island of Langkawi for two nights, and then finished off our trip in Melaka, another city complete with its own Old City area.


Jetty time

UNESCO World Heritage Site

So colorful!

J and I spent our days in a quirky area of the island known as Georgetown, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Although the area contains within itself another UNESCO World Heritage site, Chew Jetty, the biggest draws of this area were its many and varied food options, its adorable shops, and its art galleries. It was a good meeting point for us. Whereas J loved to plan our days so we wouldbe in the right places at the right times to try the best local foods, I never travel to eat; I eat merely to have enough energy to travel. So it was an eye-opening experience to travel with someone who cares about where she spends her food budget; I am certain I would not have tried half the dishes I did had it not been for her enthusiasm. Meanwhile, I served as an art-buying advocate, often reminding my friend that she was investing in her future when she bought artwork [which is an activity which frequently and rapidly drains my souvenir budget on trips]. Who can say no to that logic?

My memory of Penang will be filled with images of various street stall foods, including noodles, laksa [a kind of a fishy soupy dish and my least favorite of the trip and perhaps of all time], and dumplings. I got a chance to enjoy again some of my favorite Chinese dishes, including bao/pao [buns, typically filled with pork] at the first of many dim sum breakfasts and dan tat, flaky egg pastry cups. And I now have a new favorite drink: nutmeg juice. And a new favorite way of doing fast food: hawker centers. These are large, bustling centers filled with street food stalls, so you have many food options all in one place. [Options that I didn't really take advantage of, as I was obsessed with the first Thai dish I tried there.]

C is for Cat. Also, Creepy.

It will also be difficult to forget our beloved Armenian Street, which we walked so often, it felt like home before we left. On weekend nights, Armenian Street awakens and hosts a lively spattering of street stalls and street performers. Oh, and also a creepy cat-covered parade float that glows ominously from a dark corner of a wide alley.


Cats, although sort of a city symbol for another city in Malaysia, appeared frequently around Penang. From the smallest key chain to the MOST MONSTROUS OF MURALS, cats were popular here. Interestingly, many other murals made their way onto the walls of Penang's buildings only a few years back; they now are a major sight to see for tourists. Many of these scenes speak to peoples lives in Malaysia, including those of the bicycle rickshaw drivers and children, for example.

The most famous of Penang's murals,

a pair of kids posing with a pair of kids.

Perhaps the most famous mural depicts two small children riding a real, three-dimensional bicycle fastened to the wall beneath them. Despite the fact that the mural is a fairly new installation, it is fading and the bicycle, too, looks like it has seen better days. One can't help but wonder if this speaks to how what seems like the previously quiet life on Penang's old cobblestone streets is giving way to the hustle and bustle that accompanies an increasingly large tourist presence in the area.

China House's awesome wall "graffiti"

Oh hey.

As previously mentioned, the Penang tourist scene has resulted in the appearance of quirky art and coffee shops in the Georgetown area. Our favorite one, China House, even sold both coffee and art, and also some of the best cake either of us has come across in the past few months. And it also provided us with the amusement of a pretty awesome localish cover band one of the multiple times we stopped by. I love and miss live music, so that was a great night! [And did I mention the cake?]

At the risk of overloading this post with info and pics, I will finish up here for now and include the rest of my Malaysia stories in a Part 2 post.

[As is popular for the young'uns of India to say,] Tata,Rach
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