After 2 and half weeks on Borneo, where it’s all wildlife and trees. It was time to get back to a proper city; 5 days in George Town, Penang was just the ticket.
One of the first things I noticed was the amount of street art. Most of it painted by a Lithuanian fella (Ernest Zacharevic) as part of last year’s George Town Festival. Since then other artists have followed and it’s become an evolving scene.
There’s also the wrought-iron caricatures, which seem to be on every street and give a short anecdote about what happened there. It’s all part of a sustained effort to give the town a more arty feel (and it’s worked).
The other thing George Town has more than its fair share of is temples (and historical buildings in general). There are more temples, clanhouses, mansions and mosques than you can shake a stick at.
I don’t know one end of a temple from the other, nor do I understand what goes on in them. So for me they’re just a spectacle, and the more ostentatious the better. My favourite clanhouse was the Khoo Kongsi, which was built like a temple because they like to worship their ancestors. It was where they filmed Anna and the King (1999) with Jodie Foster*, and they’ve a museum there that gives you the lowdown.
Lastly, I can’t write about George Town and not mention the grub. It’s a cultural melting pot and each community has their own food – all at a reasonable price too. You can have a bloody good feed for under a fiver (RM25).
There just weren’t enough meals in the day for all the food I wanted to try. But I can recommend Yeap Noodles (9 different types), and the Indian desserts at Thali NR Sweets Cafe were top drawer… Or if you’re feeling adventurous give the frog porridge a whirl at the Red Garden.
One thing I’ve learnt on this trip so far is that I’m more suited to a city, and George Town (with its British colonial history and influences from across Asia) was right up my street. The atmosphere is laid back, the street markets and hawkers are still part of daily life, and many of the old shophouses are now cafes, bars and hostels… And the people at UNESCO obviously agree, in 2008 they made George Town a World Heritage site, so it feels like a town on the up.
*Ps. While we’re on the subject of Jodie Foster, I thought I’d share my favourite quote of hers.
Normal is not something to aspire to, it’s something to get away from. – Jodie Foster
For years I thought it should be the other way round.