Friday, August 31, 2018

Five observations about Penang that probably can apply to Malaysia too ;)

from within the temple grounds

A modest (but good!) durian stall in Balik Pulau

A sight that's evidence of how multi-cultural and -lingual Malaysia is

One month after spending a fortnight in Spain, I returned to Penang to visit the parents and eat more durians.  While back home, I also made a day trip to Ipoh (which I last visited last year with my mother and my German friend) and Teluk Intan (which I had never previously been to).  In addition, for parts of this visit, I was joined by a friend each from Hong Kong and South Africa, both of whom had never previously set foot in my home state.

Like my South African friend must have felt when I went back with him to his home country late last year, it is really interesting to see one's own native land in the company of foreign visitors and hear them sharing their impressions of it.  Certain things about it that a person growing up in Malaysia can take for granted/doesn't think is all that worthy of comment can be quite novel and/or a big deal if one is not familiar with them.  At the same time, it's also noteworthy when certain of your own thoughts and feelings about a place, its people, etc. also end up being shared by people encountering them for the first time.

The following -- in no particular order -- are five observations my friends made about Penang which I think can be stretched to include (much) of the country, and reckon may make for interesting reading on Malaysia's 61st Merdeka (Independence) Day:-

1) There sure are a lot of schools in Penang.   

To be honest, I'm not sure that there are more schools in Penang -- and/or Malaysia at large -- than in most other parts of the world.  Upon returning to Hong Kong though, I've got to realizing that there do seem to be more schools located on main roads in Penang than in the likes of Hong Kong, Philadelphia or London.  I'm not quite sure why this is -- but it does make them more easy to spot and can end up giving the impression that education is something that Malaysians prioritize by putting front, right, left, and center! 

2) There sure are a lot of religious buildings about too, and quite the variety of them to boot!

Despite not being especially religious, I will readily acknowledge that quite a number of Malaysians would identify themselves as being members of a religious community.  In addition, there indeed are a variety of religions practiced in Malaysia.  So I guess it's true enough that Malaysia may have more religious buildings than many other countries -- and it's also a source of pride and joy to Malaysians that places of worship used by people practicing different religions can be located close to one another, like along Penang's Street of Harmony.

3) There also are so many eateries around the place!!

Whenever friends in Hong Kong ask me where is the best place to eat Malaysian food, I tell them that they need to go to Malaysia.  Yes, there are Malaysian restaurants in Hong Kong but the fact that they all invariably have a variety of dishes on their menu makes them suspect to me because the very best food in Malaysia is produced by cooks that specialize in just a few dishes or sometimes even just one particular dish.  And with such specialization as the norm, this makes for there being quite the number of small but very good eateries sometimes seemingly everywhere in Malaysia!

4) Eating is a super popular Malaysian past time

There's no two ways about it: Malaysians love to eat.  And as I've shared on this blog, I honestly didn't realize that there were people in this world who eat to live as opposed to live to eat until I spent time living in Tanzania.  On a related note: I found in Tanzania that what people ate frequently had a lot to do with what they could afford and what they considered prestigious.  In contrast, Malaysians just are happy to eat whatever they consider delicious -- which can be quite the range of things since Malaysian food draws upon a variety of culinary traditions: not just Malay, Chinese and Indian but, actually, Sumatran, Kelantanese, Hokkien, Cantonese, Hakka, Nyonya Baba (aka Peranakan Cina), South Indian (particularly Tamil), North Indian, "Mamak" (or Indian Muslim), etc., etc., etc.! 

5) Malaysians have quite the sense of humor!

After a Japanese friend in Hong Kong asked me about whether Malaysians are allowed to be polygamous, I told her (and the other friends we were with) about my favorite Malaysian cartoonist and his cartoons addressing that matter that segued into my favorite Lat cartoons.  And when my South African friend visited my family home, I took the opportunity to bring out my collection of Lat books and share them with him.

Something else that got him laughing out loud was my mother and I regaling him with our memories of school rivalry that resulted on our saddling rival schools with some not so nice, and sometimes pretty sassy, nicknames based on their initials.  So, while, say, the boys of St Xavier's Institution liked to think of themselves as "Smart X Intelligent", pupils at other schools preferred to label them "Stupid X Idiot", and how the pupils of Convent Pulau Tikus and Penang Chinese Girls High School hated people telling them that they attended the Centre for Prostitute Training or were Prostitutes and Call Girls for High Society respectively! ;D


Bill said...


I so enjoyed this entry because in sharing your friends' impressions of Malaysia, these recalled my own impressions when I was lucky enough to visit this country several times in the past...When I visited the port of Mersing where ferries leave for outlying islands and I stood on the mudflats and beheld the South China Sea for the first time, it marked the day that began my lifelong passion for Asia...Malaysia offers so much diversity...

All along the East coast was more conservatively Muslim, contrasted by the English influence of the Cameron Highlands with its tea plantations and ancient forests. Penang which was alive with the diversity that set the tone for my lifelong love for this country. Anyone who has sampled the food there, walked past the many shophouses, visited the clan houses or stepped inside the healing atmosphere of the Penang Buddhist Association, will carry away precious memories...Long live Malaysia!


YTSL said...

Hi Bill --

Thanks for your Malaysian recollections! So you traversed Peninsula Malaysia from east to west? Many years ago, I actually went from Penang to Kota Bahru and then down to Cameron Highlands before returning to Penang.

Before I went to the East Coast, I had worried about the cultural conservatism and had not packed shorts because I assumed that people there would look askance on a female wearing them, only to find many local female Kota Bahru residents walking around in them!

My other abiding memory of Kota Bahru was how spicy the food there could be. At a night market, the kuah (sauce) drizzled over my plate of nasi campur caused me to have to drain three bottles of soda, a couple of them very quickly indeed! ;b