30 March 2014
We took the train from KL to George Town on the island of Pulau Penang, up off the northwest corner of Malaysia.
George Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site - which means it's a pretty special kind of place. Here's the info from the website:
"George Town, historic city of the Straits of Malacca has developed
over 500 years of trading and cultural exchanges between East and West
in the Straits of Malacca. The influences of Asia and Europe have
endowed the town with a specific multicultural heritage that is both
tangible and intangible.
Featuring residential and commercial buildings, George Town represents
the British era from the end of the 18th century. The town
constitute a unique architectural and cultural townscape without
parallel anywhere in East and Southeast Asia."
UNESCO granted this town status as a World Heritage Site because of the unique multicultural heritage of the people, the buildings, the ongoing community.
And it really is amazing! Gorgeous! Beautiful! All of these incredible buildings that date back to the 1800s, when this was a British center, mixed in with mosques that are hundreds of years old, as well as Chinese temples and buildings that are roughly 100 years old or more. History and heritage at every turn.
Our hotel is in this part of town, full of interesting buildings with entrances like Chinese gates, painted tile pictures on the walls, intricately carved doors and windows, and colours that vibrate in the humid and hot air. With ubiquitous red lanterns, floral garlands, tropical flowers like frangipani and bouganvillia, and rickshaws (well, bicycle rickshaws called trishaws) decorated with silk flowers and parked on sidewalks and along the roads.
It's beautiful, and so interesting. We walk around and I just stop and photography everything. And of course, it all looks different at night, when those lanterns are lit and everything looks mystical and you could swear ghosts are gathering under the streetlights.
We came planning to spend a few days, which have turned into a week, and will turn into ten days or so. This place is just interesting, fun, great for exploring with a free shuttle bus, and there always seems to be something going on. Maybe that's because there are special events the last weekend of each month - so we visited a street market in the Little India section of town this morning. Last night we saw fireworks as part of the festivities nearby. In the park right near our hotel, there's an evening flea market almost every day. As I said, it seems as if there's always something going on.
One of the quirkier things about George Town (I like quirky) is the street art - just sort of random little murals scattered around the town. According to a brochure we found, "it all started with a street art project called Mirrors George Town by the George Town Festival 2012. Since that time, street art has been popping up all over the inner city and has stirred up quite a media frenzy." The brochure includes a map indicating the locations of the various bits of art. But of course new paintings show up, so you never know what you might find.
Look closely at the bicycle and motorcycle, they're real and put in place permanently. The people are painted on, but really look as if they're riding around.
And of course, the hat wanted to get in on the fun.
There are also wrought-iron figures and caricatures scattered around - each one has a little explanation, telling why a street might be named something, or why a building is important, or who used to live and work in this area.
As I said, this is just kind of quirky! What's really funny is to see hordes of tourists, day-trippers from bus tours or cruise ships, who pose with the various murals and try to look as if they belong in the scene! (Since we're here for more than just a day, we can laugh at the tourists acting like tourists instead of acting like locals, the way we do.)
Just to add to our excitement - there's a British TV drama that will be filmed here in George Town, and Richard found a casting call for extras. They're looking for people of Indian or Caucasian descent - and apparently British-looking people aren't easy to find around here. So we've sent off our photos, and will go in for a casting call or audition or something like that. We'll see what happens - I'm sure they're just looking for people to fill in the backgrounds of scenes, and the two of us could most certainly handle that. Could be fun! (I, of course, am hoping for a ballroom scene so I can waltz or foxtrot or something - again, in the background.)
Today we found a temple or memorial or something, and they had huge joss sticks (incense) out front - these were the largest joss sticks I've ever seen! Our neighbourhood temple also had some special incense thing - there was a large pan on a tripod, with incense burning, apparently all day long. By evening, this giant wok-like pan was overflowing with ash and soot. Someone told us that today is a special festival to honour one's ancestors - which makes sense, since the hat insisted on sitting on one of the decorative joss sticks. I guess it was the hat's way of honouring Dad.
People in KL told us that Penang, this island, and this province, is known for having good food. And yes, we've been eating well here.
But the BEST place we've found is the China House, a wonderfully unique café, restaurant, bar, bakery, art center, theatre. Really, they have it all! http://www.chinahouse.com.my/
This is the longest café/restaurant in George Town, maybe in Malaysia. The front door is on one block, and the back door is at the end of the opposite block. Yes, the place is narrow and runs the length of the entire block, with a lovely garden and courtyard in the middle. They make their own cakes - each day, they must have close to 30 different cakes from their repertoire of over 100 different possibilities.
You know those paintings by Wayne Thiebaud, the canvas covered with rows and rows of cakes or pies? That's what the display table at China House looks like - a Thanksgiving table overflowing with carrot cake, banana cake, pear and ginger torte, raspberry frangipane tart, chocolate chocolate and more chocolate, berries, vanilla, bananas, and on and on. It is AMAZING!!!! (And I'm being nice and not showing photos of these cakes - also known as food porn. You don't need to drool on your computer.)
My favourite is the Chocolate Tissimo - or Chocolatissimo, which makes for a very long name. This is chocolate to the max. The cake is almost like a dark chocolate brownie, with walnut bits; the topping is a rich chocolate mousse; and the mousse is covered with chocolate flakes. Fortunately, serving sizes are about 1/12 to 1/16 of a cake, so even though this is a major calorie fest, it isn't one of those spots where a slice of cake can be half a day's worth of calories. No, these are reasonable slices of rich, delicious, totally worth the splurge cake. Oh, yes, they also have some tarts, tortes, and maybe pies. And brownies. But I'm stuck on Chocolatissimo, and don't see any reason to move on.
So yes, we're having fun. We'll see what happens with our auditions, we'll head back to KL at some point, and til then, we'll keep having fun here in George Town!