Mon 18 Oct 2010 04:59
Location: Tanjong City Marina, Georgetown/Penang, Penang
Date: Monday,18th October 2010
Nothing virtual about this earthy place: my favourite spot in SE Asia so far. Georgetown the colonial name, Penang the name now of both the Town and the Island, shades of NY,NY!
Arrived her several days ago from Pangkor, where things continued to unfold in a rather unreal way. The fuel did indeed materialise, and a good price too. I began to think that I might stay for a couple of days and explore the Island: 'Malaysia's no 1 Island Resort', etc etc. My mate James, the absentee manager, had explained that although there were no facilities for washing etc at the Marina yet, I would be able to use the recently completed hotel, 200 metres away on the same reclaimed strip of land. So I checked in at reception: wierd, very quiet: no guests yet. 'Only just opened', said the nice man, looking at the same time a bit perplexed by my sudden appearance and request. 'I will find out for you sir, and in the meantime, why not have a swim in our pool?' Why not indeed, and very nice too. Mid swim, I was accosted by the duty manager, a young (well, they are all young these days!!) Muslim lady with her notebook drawn, and pen poised: She stood by the edge of the pool, headgear and all, and interrogated me, as I stood dripping into the waist deep water. What was my name, how was this spelt, who had given me permission to swim in the pool? Who is James Khoo? He is the manager of which Marina? I don't think that there is a Marina here. etc etc. Anyway, she didn't call the police, and I scuttled back to my little shell, just like a hermit crab, and departed at dawn the next day.
Another day of gentle motoring into mostly calm seas, with occasional headwinds. Tides not very kind, and it was well dark as I approached the Channel between Penang and the Mainland. Quite confused to find myself confronted by two huge concrete structures in what should have been deep water. Surrounded by flashing orange buoys, all uncharted. Then I remembered reading about the second crossing (and yes, thinking then about the 'second coming'). Like South Wales (and all comparisons end right here), Penang has run out of road access to the 'Mainland', and a bigger bridge is now in the process of construction.
Tanjong City Marina is the only option for visitors, it is in the downtown area, close to all the 'Heritage' sites. Very rolly however, as there is no breakwater, and the ferries to the mainland dock 50 metres away. Staff clock off here at 23.00, but I was lucky enough to find help with the lines, close to midnight, as Fleck surged to and fro in her little pen, like a rodeo steer in his wooden box, as the cowboy jumps aboard. Although there are 100 berths here, only 30 boats can be accomodated as it has silted, and as each boat has to occupy two spaces to prevent collisions. My lines are covered with bits of T shirt to minimise chaff, and the motion on board is uncomfortable as Fleck pulls up short on one mooring line after the other.The Governments Marina Building Scheme has not been a great success, and I think that I have commented before on the poor planing of much of the entrepreneuriel stuff out here. Even so, Malaysia is hoping for 6% growth this year, striving for 'Developed Nation Status' like its neighbour, Singapore. I have not been familiar with this term: Is the UK a 'Developed Nation'? Frankly, if we are 'ahead' of Malaysia, it won't be for much longer!
What is so interesting about Penang is that its buildings and culture so strongly reflect the mixed race origins of the population. Moreover there seems to be very little racial tension between 'indigenous' people. On the other hand the newspapers do seem concerned about more recent economic migration. A lot of workers come here from Sri Lanka and The Philippines.
There is a preservation order on the old part of town: mostly Chinese 'shopfronts': terraces of shops with covered walkways. The shops would have been open fronted originally, a few now have doors and glazing, but only if they have air conditioning! Within China Town there is a 'Little India': same shopfronts, but everything has moved further into the streets, making for a more crowded feel, especially with cars weaving in and out! A lot of money will have to be spent eventually, as many of these old buildings require repair.
There is some sort of temple in most streets The colourful ones are Chinese or Hindu. The Mosques are drab in comparrison. It is also Deepavali time: so lots of extra decorations, and fireworks at night. The locals eat at roadside stalls, sometimes these are concentrated into Hawker Centres: many different outlets around a central seating area: sounds familiar? Food is about a pound, coca cola 50 pence. Tasty but not refined, and there is no washing up. plastic plates get a cold water rinse between uses to level out the grease! Four main styles: Chinese, Nonya (Straits-born Chinese), Malay and Indian. Very tasty, and all the recomendations have been good. To be honest I prefer to eat upmarket: for £7 you get tablecloths and air con, and you dont stick to the chairs, tables or crockery. Seafood is expensive even in the foodstalls, or you get a very small portion. Indeed small portions are the norm: These nice folk havn't been Westernised yet!! Best Indian has been at the 'Passage through India' . Hilarious: do I think E M Forster? no, I think Dheli belly! Down here at the Port are the Clan Piers: each arriving Chinese Family built their own stilted village over the water, and these remain to this day, with the original families still resident. And still the original plumbing, to judge by the colour and smell of the water around my boat!
There are grandiose Colonial building a bit further out, but not very interesting, and no atmosphere. Away from the centre Georgetown starts to feel like any other modern city: shopping malls have sprung up in the last year or two, and there are dual carriageways, huge blocks of flats, and estates of terraced modern townhouses, all with driveways to accomodate one or two cars. The developement goes on for miles.
There are a number of Bhuddist Temples, including, quite a long way out of town, the iconic Temple of Supreme Bliss (Kek Lok Si). A visual distraction quite sufficient to precipitate one of my migraine attacks. The Temple Complex is built on the side of a hill, and a covered pathway leads up into it, completely lined by souvenir shops full of complete dross. Reminded of St Micheals Mount in France, but there you get a sea breeze!I In Penang think body odour!
Anyway the Temple complex is huge, with all sorts of individual temples and ornaments strewn about in a haphazard way. Colourful, but upsetting to my orderly mind. At the very top is the remarkable 36 metre bronze statue of Kuan Yin, goddess of mercy. And now they (Who, indeed?) have decided to cover her with a domed roof, on ugly columns, which is well on the way to completion, and which in my humble opinion is quite monstrous.
To add to its very cosmopolitan pastiche Penang now has a huge Tesco hypermarket. The layout is just the same as a UK store: kids stuff/homeware/electrical on the right, food on the left. But of course the stuff is all a bit different. Rather less meat, certainly less dairy stuff, and a huge fishmongers dept, with live fish in tanks, if you want something really fresh. Oh, yes: I have found two Starbucks: creme brulee frappachino probably has more calories than a complete Hawker Stall meal, but I find myself addicted to both!! The frappachino is six times the price of the Hawker meal!
Begining to get itchy feet now, and will head off to Langkowi later this week, once I have stripped Tescos of its bottled water supplies for next years sailing; I don't think that there are any hypermarkets in Langkowi, but I never cease to be surprised by what lies up ahead: life itself!