Penang AKA Dinnertown

Nov 16, 2012 by

We arrived into the main port in Penang around 9pm, and headed for a guesthouse that was recommended to us. The star lodge was reasonably priced (50rm/fan), clean enough and the staff were friendly.

The first morning we headed on a walking tour of Georgetown, stopping at the museum and a fabulous mansion house in a kind of Chinese style. (please excuse my ignorance!)

It was pretty hot and we seems to both be suffering a little with it, so we eventually stopped at a coffee shop and had expensive yet very tasty coffee before continuing to explore little India. This was quite festive as it was the eve of the Indian new year, and signs for happy Deepwali and Diwali were up everywhere.
That evening, as the night before, we ate at the red garden food court, a setup similar to the food court we ate at in Chiang Rai, bit this had different offerings. There was all kinds of options from famous local dishes such as Hokkien Mee (prawn noodles), Curry Mee, Laksa an Char Koey Teow; to Chinese, Indian an phillipino stalls; to more western dishes duh as fish and chips and steaks. I chose a Chicken Byriani and was very pleased! Another dish I tried here was the BBQ belly pork, interesting, but not my favourite!

We rented a motorbike during the next day and went for a scoot about the Island, I was really suffering (perhaps from the BBQ belly pork, or the almost raw ‘bacon’ I had for breakfast the previous day) so found it hard o be enthusiastic, and so we gave the expensive butterfly farm and tropical fruit farm only a small amount of custom via their Cafes, and continued on around the island taking in the sights as we went.

The most striking thing for me, apart from the gigantic Chinese temple, was the sheer amount of high-rise buildings. Apart from the clean painted hotel buildings near Batu Ferregi, there were many ugly grey concrete monstrosities, out of sight of most tourist routes and teeming with people (evidenced by the millions of items of clothing drying on the windows). If I was feeling less queasy I might have remembered my camera and stopped to take photos, just to bolster the memory of just how miserable it looked compared to the nice township of Georgetown. It reminded me of how i felt when I got the bus to Ikea in Dublin, which went through the grottiest estates north of the city.

Georgetown however had a nice feel to it, and whilst it was quite dirty and shared many of the smells and animals of other cities we visited, it seems to have a nice undercurrent of art and sophistication.

On our last night, we popped back into an art gallery that we had poked around the previous evening (Penang Unique Art Gallery) and picked up a couple of postcards, whilst striking a conversation with the owners Clovis and Joey. They very kindly invited us to dinner with them, it was the celebration dinner for the Chinese gods birthday (singular/plural? I couldn’t quite work it out) at the local Chinese Chamber of Commerce and town hall. The price was 35rm each but that included a 10 course dinner, drinks and entry into a raffle!

We were a bit nervous but accepted the offer, why on earth not eh! So after sharing fancy tea with Clovis, served out of a tiny tea set, we all walked to the nearby venue. We were a little late, and so the hall was nearly full, perhaps 200 to 300 people, and the only seats left were at the front, marked VIP, and so Clovis had a word with a buddy and we all sat there along with a family consisting of a large Chinese gentleman, his wife and their young daughter.

A quick scan of the room and we realised that we were the only western faces in the room, but we seemed welcome and so we started to settle into it! The free beer helped 🙂

The entertainment was interesting, a kind of Karaoke show, but with performers — there were three separate acts, two solo girls and a group of grls, each one happened to perform their own version of the Gangnam Style song, and they took requests for Karaoke songs, we even got a song with English lyrics dedicated to us!

Our 10 courses included a prawn/rice/cashew/crispy something dish, shark fin soup, an expensive fish, crispy chicken, and various others I could’t quite work out. After the final desert course of something like a lychee with jelly in juice with ice (delicious!) we all readied our raffle tickets for the draw. They were all sorts of things on offer, toasters, desk fans, badminton rackets, rice cookers and blenders etc. as the numbers were read out the compere also called out the English versions for our benefit, and as the three main prizes were drawn we for more excited. Third prize was a microwave oven, second was a tablet device and first a flat screen TV. We were hoping that 3777 and 3779 were lucky for us, but who knows what we would have done with a flat screen telly!
As the final prize came up, everyone stood up, and the moment it was called everybody simply left, aprt from the lucky winner! We filed out with everyone else, and I got accosted by a chap who followed us back to the gallery, and wouldn’t stop talking to me, but he was quite harmless and turned out to be a novelist (in search of a publisher) however, it was awkward, as I had assumed he was a friend of our hosts, but they did not know each other, and I would rather have had the chance to chat more with them rather than this chap. We left after a a bit of a chat and many thankyou’s woh promises of sending on our photos of the evening and them likewise.

So if you visit Penang, please take a few minutes to pop into their art galley, Penang Unique Ary Gallery on Love Lane, they have given much of their space, their time and skills to a local charity ‘save our strays’, and proceeds mostly go to that. Plus, they are a lovely couple 🙂

Next morning we left for our next stop, Pulao Pankor, apparently and Island Idyll (according to the copy of LP we have 2009).

I had the feeling that Penang is
a vibrant forward looking city, it was interesting to explore, in much the same way as Luang Prabang. Oh and the food was delicious!

The only real downside for me was the obvious overt prostitution visible at night in the area we stayed at. I was shocked to see some evidence of the brutal reality of the trade, but I don’t really know if i saw what i thought i did and don’t want to describe it.

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